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What is the worst that someone could do in anarcho-libertarianism?

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Alternatives Considered Posted: Fri, Mar 30 2012 11:46 AM

As part of my thinking on my book, I've been spending a lot of time trying to get inside the mind of those who are not anarchists, trying to understand what they see as the "scary scenarios" (because these make for possibly compelling plotlines and "arguments" in the book: to show how it doesn't play out the way that they fear it would). 

 
Most - and perhaps even all, if I paint with a wide enough brush - of the fears of a *non libertarian* anarchy (that is, an anarchy in which not everyone has committed to the NAP) basically are scenarios in which anarchy turns into statism: a rogue defense agency, some sort of oppressive cabal of rich/powerful people, rogue corporations setting themselves up as an oppressive power, etc. 
 
There are definitely some difficult issues to resolve there, but I hope to take a stab at them.
 
But I'm having a harder time seeing the fears in an anarcho-libertarian world, by which I mean: assume that the people have adopted the NAP, and that as a consequence (since the state relies on aggression and is therefore incompatible with the NAP), there is anarchy. What is the fear there? 
 
IOW: what is the worst that someone could do *assuming they still follow the NAP*
 
I'm not trying to develop any theory here, so you can interpret "worst" however you want, but for the point of writing a book, it's something like "the thing that people predict/imagine that makes them most skeptical of the empirical results of anarcho-libertarianism."
 
So for the purposes of my book, this doesn't really include "accidental" things like, oh, downstream pollution: even in an anarcho libertarian world in which everyone was truly committed to the NAP, there would be accidental violations of the NAP, but that's not really the kind of "exploitative evil" that seems to really be at the heart of most skeptics' thinking. 
 
It seems to me that the worst kinds of things would be the "sleazy" things like: extortion (not with a threat of violence, but with a threat of some non violent thing), slander, blatant attempts to take advantage of the lack of IP in sleazy ways (again, this is just a description, not an argument, so yeah, I'm totally on board that the things that are done now *with* IP are much more sleazy), maybe attempts to use economic power in what some might consider "bullying" tactics, e.g. to gain a "monopoly", bribery (so statists might imagine that a rich person could manipulate things to their advantage by bribing whomever they need to do so)(yes, of course, this is actually easier now than it would be there, and that could be something I'd show).
 
Any brainstorms you have would be appreciated. Also, I know there are a couple of works out there (papers, articles, posts, books, something like that) that I have seen mentioned here that sort of deal with this issue, not from a fiction angle, but along a them of "yes, this is nasty, but it should still be legal in ancapistan", things like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. If any of you can recall those references, that might also be helpful.
 
One more question: as a former minarchist who converted to anarchy when finally presented with an argument for why statism violates the NAP, I have drunk that koolaid so thoroughly that I can no longer remember if I previously had a "principled" argument for minarchy or not: do minarchists actually present a principled argument? What do you consider the classic references for the minarchist/anarchist libertarian argument? Do those minarchist arguments mostly come down to dealing with those who, either explicitly or secretly, would still violate the NAP?
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Alternatives Considered:
Also, I know there are a couple of works out there (papers, articles, posts, books, something like that) that I have seen mentioned here that sort of deal with this issue, not from a fiction angle, but along a them of "yes, this is nasty, but it should still be legal in ancapistan", things like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. If any of you can recall those references, that might also be helpful.


Except shouting fire would not be legal in ancapistan. Explains Rothbard (emphasis mine):



Consider, for example, the classic example where liberals generally concede that a person's "right of freedom of speech" must be curbed in the name of the "public interest": Justice Holmes' famous dictum that no one has the right to cry "fire" falsely in a crowded theater. Holmes and his followers have used this illustration again and again to prove the supposed necessity for all rights to be relative and tentative rather than precise and absolute.

But the problem here is not that rights cannot be pushed too far, but that the whole case is discussed in terms of a vague and wooly "freedom of speech" rather than in terms of the rights of private property. Suppose we analyze the problem under the aspect of property rights. The fellow who brings on a riot by falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater is, necessarily, either the owner of the theater (or the owner's agent) or a paying patron. If he is the owner, then he has committed fraud on his customers. He has taken their money in exchange for a promise to put on a movie or play, and now, instead, he disrupts the show by falsely shouting "fire" and breaking up the performance. He has thus welshed on his contractual obligation, and has thereby stolen the property — the money — of his patrons and has violated their property rights.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the shouter is a patron and not the owner. In that case, he is violating the property right of the owner as well as of the other guests to their paid-for performance. As a guest, he has gained access to the property on certain terms, including an obligation not to violate the owner's property or to disrupt the performance the owner is putting on. His malicious act, therefore, violates the property rights of the theater owner and of all the other patrons. There is no need, therefore, for individual rights to be restricted in the case of the false shouter of "fire." The rights of the individual are still absolute; but they are property rights. The fellow who maliciously cried "fire" in a crowded theater is indeed a criminal, but not because his so-called "right of free speech" must be pragmatically restricted on behalf of the "public good"; he is a criminal because he has clearly and obviously violated the property rights of another person.

 

- For a New Liberty

 

From there, the case could go to be arbitrated by a private firm.

 

There are certainly acts that people can do that do not violate the NAP, but can still be morally questionable (such as watching a man drown while able to save him; of course, one is not obligated to save him as it pertains to the NAP, but the act of not saving while in a position to do so is morally questionable). I would say that situations like this could be categorized as abandonement (child neglect would also fall in this category).

 

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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what is the worst that someone could do *assuming they still follow the NAP*?

I like this question, and there are two ways to look at it.  The first is whether or not the NAP on its own, is enough to establish a libertarian legal code.  Imagine walking through the woods and coming to a foot bridge and an old man at the other end.  You ask him if its safe to cross, and he assures you it is, but he was lying, and you fall through the bridge and die.  According to the NAP alone, he hasn't done anything illegal.  I don't think these loopholes would be likely to exist in a libertarian society, because I think the NAP would never stand on its own without reference to things like negligence and intent.

The other way is to look at the immoral and unethical acts which would be "legalized" in a free society, which is kind of what you seem to be doing.  A more interesting way to do this though, instead of trying to list all of the shitty things a creep could get away with, is to analyze the institutions and ask "which type of society is more likely to breed virtuous men?"  A libertarian society puts WAY more emphasis on cooperation and conflict resolution, which means that antisocial and immoral behaviors have a much higher opportunity cost.  The rich don't exist in a vacuum, and I think if they don't play nice, their power would diminish in a free society much faster than in would in a state.  

As far as principled minarchism goes, the big point (from what I understand) is that law cannot be effectively treated like other goods.  I think the issue has been addressed pretty well by both sides, which I think has most minarchists (at least the humble ones) taking a sort of healthy skepticism towards anarchism.  There are a lot of factors in play when comes to organizing a society which makes states (even minimal ones) a safe bet as far as experience goes.

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

"enough about human rights. what about whale rights?" -moondog
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Fortunez replied on Sat, Mar 31 2012 8:00 AM

Is it violating the non-aggression principle if one offers someone money as an incentive for them to aggress against another person? I assume the contract is invalid since you can't infringe on another's rights in a contract, but wouldn't that mean if that person aggressed that you wouldn't have to pay them, since their was never a valid contract? Would they both be considered aggressors, or would only the person who was "hired" be the aggressor? I can't seem to logically figure out how one is aggressing against anyone by giving someone else a "false" incentive to aggress. It seems to me that everything that the only act of aggression that occurred was between the person that was "hired" and the victim. I'm not saying I think this is moral, I just can't figure out how it is aggression and I'm hoping somebody can answer my question.

 

 

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Wheylous replied on Sat, Mar 31 2012 10:31 AM

Is it violating the non-aggression principle if one offers someone money as an incentive for them to aggress against another person?

We know your game, Eugene.

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Fortunez replied on Sat, Mar 31 2012 11:33 AM

What do you mean? I haven't really done any intensive research into the Non-Aggression principle as I prefer to read about economics, and I was hoping Rothbard or someone may have wrote about this and somebody here may be able to logically lay it out.

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ThatOldGuy replied on Sat, Mar 31 2012 11:58 AM

 

Fortunez:
What do you mean? I haven't really done any intensive research into the Non-Aggression principle as I prefer to read about economics, and I was hoping Rothbard or someone may have wrote about this and somebody here may be able to logically lay it out.

If you're serious about learning what the NAP is, as well as what the term 'contract' entails, I'd read the following:

The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard

For a New Liberty by Murray Rothbard

 

Both provide systematic proofs for the NAP as well as detailed elaborations as to what contracts (title transfers of property) are and what they are not (promises).


Hoppe also writes a nice explanation of the NAP in his essay Argumentation and Self Ownership, which is an excerpt from his larger work:

A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

 

 

 

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Anenome replied on Sat, Mar 31 2012 12:07 PM

I reject the premise that we can gain anything by analyzing this question while assuming that -everyone- accepts the NAP.

The reason why I think anarchy will not work in actuality is tied to how a society deals with those who -do not- accept the NAP.

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
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ThatOldGuy replied on Sat, Mar 31 2012 12:18 PM

The question is what is "the worst" that someone can do in "anarcho-libertarianism;" anarcho-libertarianism implies acceptance of the NAP and the OP clearly states that this is a question regarding what can be the "worst" that can be done while not violating the property rights of anyone:

 

 

Alternatives Considered:
IOW: what is the worst that someone could do *assuming they still follow the NAP*? 

 

 Is the answer subjective? Yes. Is the question interesting? I'm curious, at least. 

Your point, as to whether everyone will accept NAP always, is a separate matter. And if it was the case that someone violated someone else's property rights, there would be private security and arbitration services available; it is not necessary for anarcho-libertarianism for there to be no anti-social elements- just to limit such anti-social elements as they arise through non-aggression.

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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"I reject the premise that we can gain anything by analyzing this question while assuming that -everyone- accepts the NAP."

I think you're demonstrably wrong here, right? It's a necessary but not sufficient condition that a group of people all following the NAP will function well to then make the conclusion we really want to make: that it will function well when most, but not all, people follow the NAP. IOW, I agree that is the question we ultimately want to answer, but as the hard problems are dealing with those that don't follow the NAP, we should at least be sure that the problems in dealing with those who do follow the NAP aren't as hard. Basically, you just can't be as evil if you follow the NAP, no matter how hard you try.

Recall my original motivation: I'm trying to write an anarcho-libertarian novel. My goal is to try to illustrate how things would work so that non-anarchists have an alternative vision in their minds of anarchy vs the childish Hobbesian view. So you can think of my goal as more of a 'sales pitch' rather than an academic argument. As such, I think there could be value in illustrating that when NAP people are dealing with other NAP people, there really isn't that much evil they can do. It's only when NAP people deal with non-NAP people that we get back to seeing the kind of things we see in our current state (when in practice none of us is following the NAP because of our forced participation in the state).

So maybe that context helps motivate the question a little better? I agree that pondering the question doesn't give us ultimate answers... but I think it's part of a sales pitch.

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"detailed elaborations as to what contracts (title transfers of property) are and what they are not (promises)"


I've asked Rothbardians this before and never gotten a satisfying answer. Let's say I contract with you that between the hours of 10 and 11, I will not wave my hands if you do not either. Each night that you violate that, I will violate the next night, and vice versa.

How is that a title transfer of property? Property means the ability the choose the disposition of something without others claiming the same right. In no way are you taking property title of my arm. I still get to decide where it goes and what it does subject only to one constraint: that I have agreed voluntarily to not choose to wave it during that hour. This so much more clearly lays out as a pair of conditional promises then as a transfer or property title that it seems tortuous to try to force it to be the latter, if it's even possible. To me a contract is a set of exhaustive conditional promises, undertaken because of the principle of signalling: it is a signal to others that may incentivize them to choose behaviors that the promiser thinks would be to their advantage. Most of teh time, this is the return of a conditional promise based in large part on my conditional promise. That is, if I signal that in case A, I will do X, and in case B (default), I will do Y (pay damages, etc), then that creates a incentive for others to do things I want them do (meet the conditions of case A).Property is just one kind of an agreement, not the basis of all agreements. Property is the specific agreement/promise that I will not interfere in your decisions regarding the disposition of your property if you will do the same with respect to mine. I've yet to have a Rothbardian convince me that the derivation you make is better.

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Alternatives Considered:

I've asked Rothbardians this before and never gotten a satisfying answer. Let's say I contract with you that between the hours of 10 and 11, I will not wave my hands if you do not either. Each night that you violate that, I will violate the next night, and vice versa.

How is that a title transfer of property?

The short answer is that this isn't a contract even if the consenting two (you and I, in this case) say it is; it's a promise. A contract is where the conditions are such that if it is broken, it implies that someone has their property stolen. I don't know if you've read the works I've above recommended, but Rothbard is very clear in what constitutes a contract and what constitutes a promise.

 

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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"The short answer is that this isn't a contract even if the consenting two (you and I, in this case) say it is; it's a promise. A contract is where the conditions are such that if it is broken, it implies that someone has their property stolen."

I fail to see anything interesting or insightful here. On the one hand, you're just defining away the discussion: I argued that, as a descriptive notion, a contract is just to promises. You wave that away by *definining* a contract - presumably as a prescriptive notion, that is, this is what contracts *should be* - differently. On the other hand, I see no reason to think that a contract - as, apparently, a special case of a legally binding agreement - is more interesting than the larger category of legally binding agreements.

For me, it's important to recognize what I said: that "property" in the first place, as a descriptive observation, is just an agreement. So if "property" as a formal legal concept has to pre-exists "contracts", it is also the case that to have "property" - and thus contracts - you have to have "agreements". And agreements are just promises. So the first principle, the thing that sets the whole legal framework in motion, is the promise. And why not? A promise, like prices in a free market, are *information*. If you make a promise that I can trust (relatively speaking at least), it is information about what you are likely to do in the future. This information then allows me to be much more efficient in making my decisions, including making such promises in return. These pieces of information are exchanged just like any other mutually agreed to exchange: because each participant judges that their trade is win/win. So any "free market" begins with these exchanges of information - promises - and then builds up to a legal system with "property" and "contracts".

So I guess I don't necessarily disagree that "contracts requre property", but I think there's something that has to come before.

I've read Rothbard etc to some extent, though I generally prefer to read more modern thinkers building on the Rothbards etc. Obviously I'm in general agreement. I just think sometimes that Rothbardians are a little overconfident that they have things 100% right. For example, when you say that Rothbard  "proved the NAP", that sets off red flags for me. You can only "prove" things that are extremely precisely stated and defined and rigorously proved with a statement-reason format and starting with assumptions that are universally accepted, and I've never seen a Rothbardian point me to that level of "proof". A rambling, conversational paragraph is not a "proof", not by the standards that would convince me, anyway. I have little idea what "proving the NAP" even really means: proves what, exactly?

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Alternatives Considered:
I fail to see anything interesting or insightful here. On the one hand, you're just defining away the discussion: I argued that, as a descriptive notion, a contract is just to promises.

In your original reply to my post, you stated that you were never satisfied with how Rothbardians reply to your hypothetical scenario; if you’re going to ask that I answer a question from a Rothbardian perspective, I’m naturally going to respond your question citing Rothbard’s perspective in the interest of answering the question.

Rothbard defines a contract as I defined it above (a property-title transfer). In the above segment, you state that I’m “just defining away the discussion” and then go on to reassert your definition of contract. I’d suggest here that perhaps the reason you are never satisfied with Rothbardian replies is because you disagree with the Rothbardian definition of contract; I’m not defining contracts as ‘what they should be,’ but as Rothbard states that they are (as your request implies when you replied to my post asking for a Rothbardian perspective).

Alternatives Considered:
For me, it's important to recognize what I said: that "property" in the first place, as a descriptive observation, is just an agreement. So if "property" as a formal legal concept has to pre-exists "contracts", it is also the case that to have "property" - and thus contracts - you have to have "agreements". And agreements are just promises. So the first principle, the thing that sets the whole legal framework in motion, is the promise.

Rothbard would disagree with how you define property. Property is anything over which one has justly (explained from Rothbard's perspective below) acquired exclusive control; there is no agreement required in order for a thing to constitute property.

My body is my property; I can only assert that my body is not my property by tacitly conceding (because making a proposition requires exclusive control over my body) that my body is my property; therefore, the right to self-ownership is axiomatic. I can appropriate unowned goods found in nature and claim them as my property as doing so does not violate the property rights of anyone else- if I lived in isolation on an island where there was no one else was present, the question of property rights would no longer be an issue as property rights form a normative construct designed to limit conflict ("conflict" being a situation in which a scarce object is used in incompatible ways by multiple parties).

This is the outline that Rothbard provides: property rights come about through 1) the right to self-ownership 2) the homesteading principle, and 3) the right to voluntarily exchange goods with others. These means by which property comes about constitute the first-comer theory of property appropriation.

When you state that ‘property in the first place … is just an agreement’ you are at odds with Rothbard in asserting a late-comer ethic, if I understand what you state here correctly; if I’m mistaken, please elaborate on what you mean by this.

As it pertains to your argument, Rothbard would state that property does not start with agreements, but with the right to self-ownership and the homesteading principle and neither of these conditions presuppose agreements with others; in fact, both must be presupposed in order for anyone to even make an agreement.

The last condition, the right to voluntarily exchange goods appropriated under the first two conditions, is where ‘agreements’ must necessarily come into play. Exchanges are not promises, but are instead instances where titles to property are voluntarily transferred. This is to say, Rothbard sees all voluntarily arrived at exchanges of property as contracts (I don’t know if he explicitly states this, but it can easily be implied from what he does write).

As such, the appropriation of property does not require promises to be made.

Alternatives Considered:
And why not? A promise, like prices in a free market, are *information*. If you make a promise that I can trust (relatively speaking at least), it is information about what you are likely to do in the future. This information then allows me to be much more efficient in making my decisions, including making such promises in return. These pieces of information are exchanged just like any other mutually agreed to exchange: because each participant judges that their trade is win/win. So any "free market" begins with these exchanges of information - promises - and then builds up to a legal system with "property" and "contracts".

Prices are not information in the manner in which you speak as the information, which prices do communicate, presupposes the existence of property rights and property rights exist independent of promises. Promises are what one says one will do; they may be, and often are, broken. Prices are exchange ratios of goods resulting from the voluntary interactions of individuals, based on the institution of private property, in the past. So prices and promises are categorically different: prices are information on what has happened in the past; promises are, as you state, what one says one will do in the future.

Alternatives Considered:
So any "free market" begins with these exchanges of information - promises - and then builds up to a legal system with "property" and "contracts".


Free markets do not rely on promises. Free markets rely only on the adherence to the Non-Agression Principle and property rights; all else that happens, with these two conditions met, is besides the point.

Alternatives Considered:
So I guess I don't necessarily disagree that "contracts requre property", but I think there's something that has to come before.

If this is the case, and this is in reference to your argument that agreements form/precede property, then you must elaborate in order for me to respond to this further than I already may have done above: why do promises precede property? 

Alternatives Considered:
For example, when you say that Rothbard  "proved the NAP", that sets off red flags for me.

This was admittedly a mistake on my part; I should have slowed down in that post. Rothbard does make the case for societies living in voluntary relations in those works, though; this, however, is not a proof of the NAP upon scanning those works again (it’s been a while).

Alternatives Considered:
I have little idea what "proving the NAP" even really means: proves what, exactly?

In this context, ‘proving the NAP’ would mean that it is logically/ethically valid. Hoppe provides this in the essay I posted above, if you are interested in such for the sake of your book. 

 

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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