Thursday, May 31, 2012

Modern states and dina d'malchusa dina

(who da boss?)

Dina de'malkhuta dina in our times, when there is no king but rather what is called democracy, needs further clarification. As I already explained the position cited in the name of Rivash quoting Rashba, one does not accept dina de'malkhuta dina except where the law originates with the king. But in a case where the law originates in courts, and the judges have discretion to rule as they think proper, or to invent new laws as they see proper, there is no dina d'malkhuta dina, as there is no law of the king. [...]
This is even more true since we have here [in the United States] an institution called a "jury" where the government takes drunks from the market who have never studied law and who establish the law based on a majority vote. Indeed, even the government sometimes creates law, and the Supreme Court contradicts it. Certainly in such a system there is no dina de'malkhuta dina according to Rivash and Rashba. 
— R. Menashe Klein, Mishnah Halakhot 6:277
I wanted to re-iterate the final point of the previous post.

Halacha was decided in the times when the kings held absolute power. The kings owned all the land under their control and could acquire their subjects (and those of others) as slaves if they so wished. I still don't know why, but Halacha grants them such power — the act of kibush milchama (conquest by war) creates a kinyan on the conquered property.

Over time, the kings' subjects demanded to be freed from slavery and that kings should be governed by the rule of law themselves. Signing of Magna Carta is a famous example of such transition. Note that if you look at the signing from libertarian point of view, it is the kings recognizing their subjects' rights. But from strictly Halachic point of view, it's the landlords sharing their property with the tenants (and/or freeing the slaves).

In some countries, the kings were eventually deposed. That act by itself may have been an act of robbery according to Halacha. Of course, if you read into Alter Rebbe's wording, the way that each king acquired his land and his kingship was also robbery, a simple example of kinyan gezeila (source):
וכן אם נכרי בעל הקרקע שנותן רשות לישראל לקצוץ הוא מחזיק קרקע זו מיד המלך שנתנה לו אע"פ שהמלך עצמו כבש קרקע זו במלחמה מיד אחר אין זה גזל שהקרקע נקנית להגזלן בכיבוש מלחמה קנין גמור כמו שלמדו חכמים ממדרש הפסוקים 
[...] וכל זה בחוץ לארץ
Note, besides the language characterizing the king, the source: "as the Chazal learned from the psukim". We don't have really clear explanation here how the kinyan works and why it works the way it does. But the simple idea is that the king's law is the law because he owns all the land, and we must listen to him. Again, I have found no indication that Alter Rebbe believes that the king has these powers because he represents the society. Alter Rebbe simply states that the king acquires whatever "the strength of his arm reaches".

Anyway, as I was saying, with time the kings were either deposed or forced to share their property with everyone else. It's interesting to note that Russian Tzar until the end resisted this move, insisting on his right to autocracy:
Despite a visit to Great Britain before his accession, where he observed the House of Commons in debate and seemed impressed by the machinery of democracy, Nicholas turned his back on any notion of giving away any power to elected representatives in Russia. Shortly after he came to the throne, a deputation of peasants and workers from various towns' local assemblies (zemstvos) came to the Winter Palace proposing court reforms, such as the adoption of a constitutional monarchy, and reform that would improve the political and social life of the peasantry. 
Although the addresses they had sent in beforehand were couched in mild and loyal terms, Nicholas was angry and ignored advice from an Imperial Family Council by saying to them: 
"... it has come to my knowledge that during the last months there have been heard in some assemblies of the zemstvos the voices of those who have indulged in a senseless dream that the zemstvos be called upon to participate in the government of the country. I want everyone to know that I will devote all my strength to maintain, for the good of the whole nation, the principle of absolute autocracy, as firmly and as strongly as did my late lamented father."
 According to the way Judaism views the monarchy and its relationship with the land and the people, the Tzar was merely defending his rights to manage his property without his slaves' advice or participation. We all know how it ended.

Whether or not deposing the Tzar was against Halacha (murdering him and his family seemingly was, although I feel no sympathy to the person who has personally ordered numerous pogroms against Jews of his country), whether or not rebelling against George III, signing of Magna Carta, deposing James II and severely limiting the powers of William III after the Glorious Revolution (and further reduction of the power of the Crown), recent secession of Canada from the Commonwealth, and other acts cancelling monarchy's power were against Halacha, the fact is that in all modern Western societies, the government does not have absolute power. It does not own the land, and the people are not the government's slaves. The Queen of England is a symbol; the "might of her arm" extends perhaps as far as her corgis, but not much farther.

After millenia of being conquered by the kings, the people finally conquered their masters and thus became sovereigns themselves, making kinyan each on his own property. In the American Constitution and framework of society, the people's sovereignty is very clear and explicit. In most other countries of the West (not in Russia, however), it is at least implicit.

Therefore, I think that whenever people quote opinions of Rambam and other poskim verbatim, without trying to figure out to what extent they apply, they are assuming that we still live in the Middle Ages. I think we need to come to terms with the fact that "nature changed" not only in medicine, but in the society as well, and re-examine which halachos apply and how.

Despite the lamentable fact that Rabbi Menashe Klein was clearly disdainful of the common law, as evidenced from the quote above, his halachic analysis seems to agree with my argument above. Also, while he unfortunately doesn't understand fully how the trial by peers works, he is right about one thing: the government is not the sovereign! Its law is not final. Supreme Court can nullify the laws; the juries consisting of "market drunks" can nullify the laws; the states can nullify the laws, and even local towns can nullify laws.

But we don't even need to go that far. In the British Empire, dina demalchusa has ended in 1689 with signing of the Bill of Rights (just read the provisions to see that the "drunk from the market" presiding in the jury is nothing comparing to the new limitations set on the British monarch).

This is not just a game of words: the Queen literally has no political power. She sits on her throne only at the grace of the Parliament which is controlled by the taxpayers. So, even though it's called "monarchy" and the Queen is called a sovereign, it's really not that different from USA, where "the government sometimes creates law, and the Supreme Court contradicts it". In UK, the Queen may not create any laws at all.

In other words, dina demalchusa is dead in the Western world.

Hefker Beis Din hefker and dina d'malchusa dina

(consent of the governed)

Some people use the principle of hefker Beis Din hefker ("that which the court declares ownerless is ownerless") to explain the concept of dina d'malchusa dina ("the law of the country/king is the law").

In other words, there is a principle in Judaism that the Beis Din is allowed to declare something as hefker. That is why the Beis Din is allowed to re-assert the existence of a debt beyond the Jubilee Year: although on the outset of the year, all debts must be forgiven, the Beis Din is allowed to declare the particular sum of money as hefker and then transfer it to someone else, thus effectively re-establishing the debt.

So, the argument goes, the same happens with dina d'malchusa: the government (acting as a court) transfers property from the individual to itself. As a result, the government can create an obligation to pay taxes (or exercise eminent domain for that matter). Interestingly, according to this argument, the government's laws regarding traffic are not binding morally (although the government's fines are).

There is a number of issues here that are not clear to me:

0. (I was going to put this last, but then I decided to put it ahead of all the other points for those with ADD.) It is clear from many rishoinim that dina d'malchusa may not supersede Halacha. If, according to Halacha, you owe me something, but according to dina d'malchusa you don't, you still owe me something. Rambam says that if a non-Jew and a Jew come to a Beis Din, if the Jew wins al pi Halacha, the Beis Din should say that the Jew wins al pi Halacha. If the Jew wins al pi dina d'malchusa, the Beis Din should pronounce the latter. Other rishoinim say that the Beis Din should decide according to dina d'malchusa, since that's what governs both the Jews and the non-Jews, and, therefore, we choose the lowest common denominator. But even these poskim would agree that in the case of two Jews, we should pasken al pi Halacha, not dina d'malchusa.

But if hefker Beis Din hefker applies to the secular governments, why should the latter (or Rambam's ruling) be the case? In Reuven v. Shimon, the secular government says that Reuven gets the money. It declares Shimon's money hefker and transfers it to Reuven. So, in all cases of monetary disputes (and nezikin in general), always rely on dina d'malchusa! Clearly, most (if not all) poskim would find this ridiculous.

1. From what I understand, Beis Din is allowed to declare something as hefker only with the agreement of the original owner. That is how the pruzbul works. But in the case of the government, the individual did not permit the government to make its property hefker (certainly not those who attempt to avoid taxation).

There is an issue here of the common practice creating a chazaka (assumption): one could argue that since the majority of people agree to the government taxing them, the assumption is that an individual permits the government to declare whatever amount of his property ownerless that the government wishes. But for a number of reasons I don't think this would work here; for the most part, because (as Lysander Spooner demonstrates), it's difficult to separate the consent and approval of the governed from the tolerance and fear of the government and choosing the lesser of two evils (just because some people vote for Mitt Romney doesn't mean they like him; it means they hate Obama).

Second, taxes are clearly not voluntary. It's not a "custom of the land" to pay taxes, like it's a custom of the land that if you sell a car, you sell it with whatever tires it has on. If people were given a choice, they would not pay the taxes (even though Warren Buffet laments about the fact that he pays less income tax than his secretary, he still doesn't donate any money to the Treasury).

2. It's not clear to me that a non-Jewish Beis Din has the same powers as the Jewish Beis Din. There is the concept of dinnim in Judaism: that Bnei Noach have to establish courts of law. Rambam rules that the courts of law must exist to enforce the first six Mitzvos Bnei Noach. Ramban rules that the courts of law must exist to protect people from aggression. But I haven't seen that the Noahide courts of law have the same power as Jewish courts of law in all matters.

Furthermore, it's not clear that non-Noahide (and non-Jewish) courts of law are seen as valid instruments of law at all. We trust them to establish the veracity of contracts, but that is only from the fact that they verify the truth of contracts and enforce them: i.e., from the reality that they are a reliable source of information regarding the veracity of what it says in a contract or a bill of sale. It doesn't mean that they have any sort of moral or legal validity. (In fact, in the countries like Russia where the courts are notoriously corrupt, we don't trust them.)

3. It's not clear that the non-Jewish king (or a government) has power of a court. The king clearly has a power to make a kinyan on other people's property, but this is not the same idea as hefker Beis Din hefker; what's at play here is dinei ha'melech (laws of the king), whose legal origin is still uncertain to me. Which brings me to another point:

4. From what I have seen, at least from Alter Rebbe, it doesn't look like dina d'malchusa dina is based on some concepts like social contract or support of the populace or hefker Beis Din hefker. It is based on a kinyan (and Ran rules likewise): the fact is that according to Judaism, the non-Jewish king owns the land, and the reason he owns the land is that he conquered it and thus made a kinyan. I still don't understand why that is the case. From what I have read, it seems like we don't have a reason: we just learn it out of the psukim about Moav and Amori.

I.e., the simple truth is that when a king comes with an army, he acquires stuff by force, and it's legitimately his because Torah says that it's so. It is not based on yeush, because he can even acquire tracks of ownerless land which otherwise would require actual homesteading to acquire by private individuals (i.e., a private individual cannot acquire trees in a forest by building a fence around the forest -- he needs to prune each individual tree; on the other hand, if a king conquers the land in which this forest is situated, he owns the forest).

As I said, I don't understand how and why this works. To me it sounds like some sort of reverse yeush: that people give up in advance on acquiring that which the king has means to protect. As Alter Rebbe says, "the king owns that which the strength of his arm reaches". I.e., as far as the kings are concerned, might makes right, literally. (And by "right", I mean legal right, not ethical one. I will expound upon this point in the future.)

(Note that we don't see this directly from the psukim. There, one nation acquired another's land by conquest. But it could be the case of yeush. So, we rely on Rambam's interpretation that this was not yeush but kinyan, but I don't know why he rules this way.)

I reject the argument that property makes sense to speak of only within the boundaries of the society (and the king is a representative of the society), because that would assume that if two goyim met each other in a true wilderness (outside of any society), they'd be allowed to rob each other, and that would be a valid kinyan. Maybe that's the case al pi Halacha, but I'd like to see the source first.

Also, like I wrote before, if we have the concept of dinnim, we need to know what to enforce. That means that the commandment not to steal precedes the concept of courts and the government. But to know what stealing means, we need to know what property is a priori.

As an addendum to the last point, if it's the case that dina d'malchusa dina is based on kibush milchama (the conquest of the war by a king) and the fact that the king made a kinyan on all the land, then dina d'malchusa dina would not apply to the USA: according to the way American society was created after it broke off from the UK, the government is not a sovereign. (Unlike in the UK, where it still is.) The people are sovereigns, and they appoint the government as their agent to secure their rights. (A guard in a condominium does not own the building; the people who live in it do.)

If you look at people's political, legal, and ethical arguments, it's clear that the majority of Americans believe that they own their property, not the organization called "US government". Even the liberals who argue for socialist policies do not argue so because they believe the government owns everything; they argue so because they believe socialism is better for everyone in the end. When Justice Alito said (see the oral argument's transcript) —
you think that all the money belongs to the government [...] except to the extent that it deigns to allow private people to keep some of it [when] it doesn't take it by taxes
— it was clear to everyone he was using the argument ad absurdum (and the lawyer vehemently denied that interpretation of his own words).

If you look at the concept of eminent domain, it requires compensation for taking of the land; furthermore, there is the takings clause. If all the land belonged to the government, the takings clause would be redundant. As someone put it, the federal government exercises the right of eminent domain because we let it. (And by "we", he meant the tzibbur. But there arises the ethical question of the majority allowing some organization to rob the minority.)

One may say that it doesn't matter what the people believe — but, their beliefs create the legal reality of property ownership: if at no point did the people believe that the government owned all the land, then how did the government (that arose as a result of the people's will) come to own it? If the government at some point believed that it owned it, but now it believes that the people own it (this is especially relevant to the remaining monarchies around the world), then it transferred the ownership from itself to the individuals.

Therefore, you don't have a kinyan of all the land by the government. Some of it is privately owned, and some of it is owned by the tzibbur. Therefore, we have to derive what the government may or may not do from the halachos of tzibbur (as they apply to non-Jews). There are definitely statements in Halacha like that the tzibbur may force individuals to pay for those things that everyone uses (for instance, for building a wall around the city), but it's not clear, for instance, that the tzibbur may prohibit smoking marijuana in one's private residence or that it may take someone's property to be used for the communal use. (Also, I don't know if those halachos apply to non-Jews.)

In general, we should remember that every chumra is a kula and vice versa. So, whenever we are machmir on ruling what the government may do, we are meikel on the ossur of gezeila between Bnei Noach.

[source for the image here]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Krugman murphed; in the middle of the bubble pop

I think this is an awesome article by Robert Murphy (seen in the picture above) that both debunks Paul Krugman's Keynesian smoke-and-mirrors rhetoric and (more importantly) shows the Austrian economic model in action.

First, Murphy uses Krugman's own data to show the folly of defending the Fed:
How do you like that? By Krugman's own admission, the two worst panics occurred after the Fed was formed. And if we take Romer's numbers [...] and plug in a decline of 455 for the most recent recession (which Krugman himself says will be an understatement), we get that the average "output loss" (measured in the units Romer defines [...]) during recessions from the pre-Fed era was 158.1, while in the post-Fed era it was 356.4.

Does everyone see the significance of this? Krugman himself said that panics will always happen, and the question is how they are contained. Using Krugman's own source, we find that the establishment of the Fed generated (a) the two worst panics in US history and (b) a string of panics that were on average more than twice as bad as the average panic from the pre-Fed era.

Steve Horwitz does a good job explaining why Krugman's understanding of US banking history is flawed, because we didn't have laissez-faire banking in the late 1800s. But we don't even have to rely on such explanations for the matter at hand. Remember, these data weren't pulled from Krugman after a session of waterboarding. He volunteered them as if they were somehow supposed to embarrass the critics of the Fed. What would the numbers have to look like, for Krugman to have admitted, "Hmm, it seems like for once, empirical reality has turned against my Keynesian nostrums"? Would the post-Fed panics have to be three times as bad?

Next, Murphy provides empirical evidence supporting Austrian Theory of Business Cycle from the latest recession's statistics. In particular, this figure shows why we should not help economy in the times of a recession:

This period is when the bubble popped. When the collapse started happening. What do we see happening? We see the job markets starting to re-adjust for misallocation of resources (in this case, human resources) that had happened in the times of the bubble growth.

The long-term industries were over-invested (as Austrian Business Cycle Theory predicts) due to artificially low interest rates. Then the bubble popped -- and the self-adjustment by the market started happening. The short-term (service) industries started hiring, while the long-term (construction and manufacturing) industries started laying off.

Give it a year after the biggest peak of the market collapse (2008-2009), and things would have righted themselves out. This is what happened in the Unknown Depression of 1920 (when Woodrow Wilson had a stroke and did nothing to "help" the markets).

But then Obama's stimulus package and bailouts kicked it. They eased the effect on the long-term industries, but that is precisely the opposite from what we wanted to happen. We wanted the construction and manufacturing industries to fail, so that service industries could bid on their capital (including employees). We wanted the big banks to fail, so that smaller banks could buy their mortgages and hire their workers and re-negotiate with the mortgage holders. (Instead of bailing out the big banks Obama-style or allowing them to re-negotiate Romney-style.) Instead, we "softened the blow", which was maybe a good thing in the short term, but a really bad thing in the long term:

Figure 5

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Does law define property?

Moving on: why is libertarian definition of property the only correct one, if one accepts libertarain non-aggression axiom?

In other words, if you agree with the following —
if you find yourself in a state of nature alone with another person, it is not right for you to take or use his belongings (those aspects of his surroundings that he has homesteaded by using and/or altering) or his body without his permission, using violence or a threat of violence...
— why should you agree with the idea that natural rights is the only appropriate definition for property? Perhaps property is whatever people agreed it is; whatever "the law" says it is. (As a friend of mine said, "it's not aggression if it's not your property; and, if the society says it's not your property, then it's not yours; so, society taking away your stuff is not immoral".)

Here is why: as Frederic Bastiat said,
It is not because men have made laws that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property exist beforehand that men make laws. What, then, is law? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.
The argument is very simple:

Why can't we say that the law itself creates the concept of property? That society creates the concept of property?

Because the concept of property precedes society. It exists already in a state of nature. Society, on the contrary, is built upon the concept of property: that, in order for the people to behave in a moral manner towards each other in a society, they cannot take each other's property.

Society consists of two aspects: willful cooperation and ethical behavior towards each other. First happens naturally, when people decide to exchange property. Second happens when people respect each other's property and are able to defend against aggressors attempting to take the property away. If the society decides to "come together" and establish law that binds it together, it must follow Bastiat's formula: law is "collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense".

When I asked my other friend how the Noahide courts should decide on what "property" that should not be stolen is (should they just make arbitrary definition of property? was the idea of property dictated by G-d? should they figure it out by themselves?), he said: "They should use seichel."

If you think about it, the mitzva of Dinnim follows the prohibition of stealing for Bnei Noah. Even if it didn't follow it in the list, it would follow it logically: "We must establish courts to enforce moral behavior." Well, what's moral behavior? "Umm... Well... you know..." Obviously, we must know beforehand what we must enforce. But, if the prohibition of stealing, taking somebody else's property, precedes the commandment to establish courts, it must stand on its own right. Two Noahides who meet each other in a forest on a deserted island may not steal from each other. But in order to know what "stealing" means, one must already know what property is.

In other words, whatever we would consider to be property in a state of nature is that property that the courts must safeguard from stealing, not whatever the courts decide is property.

Some may argue that the humanity does not exist in a state of nature a priori. That humanity collectively owns all property of the world because it was bequethed to it by G-d. I will argue in a future post that first, this is not true, and second, even if it were true, we would still have to dissolve our concept of property back to the natural rights.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Non-agression axiom

Tom Hanks in Castaway

I wanted to write a post about how libertarian definition of property is the only one morally acceptable, but then I decided first to explain what libertarians mean by their non-aggression axiom.

First, let's start with the following scenario:

Imagine I live in a state of nature. I live outside of any society, outside of any jurisdiction, on some deserted island, in the wilderness, on another planet, etc. I have a number of things that I use: my body, some sharpened rocks that I have found and sharpened myself, some sticks, some clothes that I made. I have nobody around me and, as a result, no conflict and no need for law.

Next, imagine yourself under the same circumstances. Perhaps on the same island or the same planet, but physically far enough from me that we should never meet each other or use the same resources. Both of us live in a state of nature.

Next, imagine we are picked up with all our belongings (all parts of our physical surroundings that we used in some way) and transported to another state of nature (another island), but now, in a very close proximity to each other. Now we may have need of some sort of laws or rules.

So, here is the libertarian axiom: Under such "state of nature", it would be wrong for me to take any of your belongings away from you without your permission (either using force or threat of force). It would likewise be immoral and unethical for you to do the same.

So, what do we mean when we say that it's an axiom? Is it some sort of self-evident truth? Is it something that we received from a prophet or an oracle? Is it a concept that we have developed from observation of the world?

Well, what are geometric axioms? When Euclid said that "all parallel lines don't intersect", what did he mean? I think he meant, at the time, that it was self-evident to anyone that parallel lines did not intersect. That's what being a parallel line meant. On the basis of that definition, all Euclidian geometry (the geometry on a flat piece of paper) is built.

A few millennia later, geometricians developed the geometry on a spherical surface. It turned out that on a sphere, "parallel" lines (or, what was defined as parallel lines — the meridians) always intersected. As a result, geometric figures on a sphere had different properties: for instance, if the sum of angles in a triangle drawn on a piece of paper is always 180 degrees, that's not the case for a triangle drawn on a sphere. The sum of angles could be 270 degrees:

Later, Lobachevsky surface was discovered: a surface, shaped like a saddle going out to infinity, on which lines could be non-parallel and non-intersecting.

So, what did the Euclidean axiom about parallel lines mean now? Well, it meant that whenever we are taking this axiom as truth, we are working on a flat surface. The axiom itself defined the reality about which we were talking at the time that the axiom was in use.

So, what does the libertarian axiom mean? What do we mean that a statement that "it would be wrong for me to take your belongings by force in a state of nature" is an axiom? We mean two things:

1. For most people, it's a self-evident truth. It might be because they grew up with it, or because their personal code of ethics tells them so, or whatever other reason. How they arrived at it is irrelevant for now.

2. When we take that statement as an axiom, we create (or define) the reality which we are talking about. I.e., what we mean is: we are talking about a society in which people would consider such a behavior unethical. (I don't mean aggression within society. I mean that the people living in our imaginary society would agree that if they were plucked out of it and transported to a state of nature, it would be unethical for them to commit such acts of violence.)

In a society in which the libertarian axiom is not accepted by the people (a society in which people would welcome aggression and violence, in which most people believed that might is right, or in which people were amoral), libertarianism would not necessarily hold true.

On the other hand, if a person did accept such an axiom as ethical and/or if he wanted to live in a society where people believed it to be ethical, then he would have to accept libertarian principles, especially, libertarian definition of property.

To be continued...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Kibbush Milchomo and the concept of property

I was talking with a friend over Shabbos about the concept of right of conquest, kibbush milchomo, as it exists in Judaism. I don't really understand this concept personally. Why, if Bob takes from Joe something without permission, it's stealing, but if Bob and Joe are kings, it's a valid kinyan, transfer of property.

In general, among rishoinim two opinions exist:

1. Rashi and Tosfos rule that kinyan through kibbush milchomo happens as a result of yeush. If the flood destroys my house, I despair of owning the items inside it. If someone rescues one of the items from the flood, he may keep it: at the moment that I despaired of owning that item, I gave up the ownership of it. The item became ownerless. Hence, the rescuer can keep it.

Same way, when an advancing army seizes my house, I despair of ever owning it. (Certainly, if I am a king who lost territory.)

Nuances may apply in both cases (for instance, we have to establish that the yeush really happened, that the war ended for good, etc.), but overall, this explanation makes sense to me. Nor does it defy my intuitive understanding of property as being natural. Nor does it somehow deify governments or put it on the pedestal of representatives of the society. The war happened; the owner was meyaesh; the kinyon happened.

2. Rambam and Rashba disagree. They say that kinyan through kibbush milchomo happens in its own right. I won't give the evidence that they do so; suffice it to say that I got it from Dr. Bleich's "Sotheby Sale" article in Contemporary Issues of Halacha, vol. III.

It is this latter opinion that I do not understand.

My friend gave two possible explanations for the opinion. (I am summarizing and removing a lot of details):

1. Property is a physical concept. It is that which I have physical control over. If I live in a society and someone takes something from me by force, if the government recognizes this act as illegal, not all hope is lost: I can still go to the government which will take the item back from the thief and give it back to me. This scenario explains, by the way, why there is no yeush in this case. But here, we are not worried about yeush; the point is: in terms of who will control the item, the game is not over. It is still under my (eventual) control.

But, when one government takes some land or items from another government: what are you going to do? There is nothing to do. The physical control is that of the winner. In other words, might makes right.

Similarly, in the case when we are in a wilderness, where there is no law (and please don't call this anarchy), whoever at the time has control over some item -- that's his property.

What's my problem with this explanation? Somehow I can't believe it to be the view of property al pi Halacha. I haven't asked a shayla, but it seems to me that if I asked a rav whether I can legitimately take something from someone by force on a deserted island, he would say "no".

Plus, why not say that as long as I am in actual physical possession of an item, even under the government, it's my property? If the government decides to give it to someone else back, it's his property.

I will give one more problem I have with this explanation a little later. But first, I will give my friend's second explanation:

2. Property is a normative concept. It is something that people agreed upon. So, in order for property to exist, you need society; or, rather, the concept of property exists only within the context of a society. But which society? What if two different societies exist next to each other? Then, whatever the society is in charge of the particular plot of land, that's the society that will "create" the concept of property on this particular land.

So, whenever there is a war, and one country conquers land belonging to another country, the property of the land changes hands. (Note that my friend does not approve of wars in general, or wars of conquest in particular. He is merely looking at the reality of what happens, in his opinion, to the status of property. The act of war that led to this change should be condemned and avoided at all costs according to my friend.)

Why doesn't this happen when private individuals steal from each other? Because there is a society "above" them. So, if Joe steals from Bob, then the item still belongs to Joe, since the society in which both live has determined (or, rather, defined it) it so.

But there is no society "above" two countries, since each of them is an independent society. So, there is no "international" context in which to define the idea of property. In other words, just like "weight" is a concept that makes sense within confines of a particular gravitational field, "property" is a concept that makes sense within confines of a particular society. Plots of land changing control of societies is like an object moving from one gravitational field to another (and thus acquiring weight due to another set of circumstances).

What about anarchy (a society with "private" courts of law), I asked? He answered that if a given plot of land is inhaibited by the people who belong to an anarchic society, then the concept of property is created by common laws of that society. If members of another society, for instance, monarchy, conquer that land, then another society gives context to property on that land. This is what happened when England conquered medieval Ireland.

But in a situation of no society at all (i.e., total lawlessness), no concept of property can exist, even if people are around. In that context, again, "might makes right".

He added that the right of conquest works when no international law exists. If such law exists, like today, and defines defines property and prohibits its transfer through conquest, then right of conquest could not be a way to transfer property.

I personally see these problems:

1. It's true that society gives context to property. But that may mean that property makes sense to speak of when people live in a society (i.e., when there is more than person around). It's not the case that society of people decides what property is. It simply means that we need to start using the concept of property whenever we need to have a society.

2. Furthermore, it doesn't mean that a specific society determines or defines property. Society in general defines property.

3. I think my friend would agree that it is still immoral (and probably ossur) to take someone else's property if you're stranded on an island. One doesn't need to set up a legal system (monopolistic or anarchic) to know that what I have is property. We may have different ideas of what is moral or not in these circumstances, but "might makes right" would not be one of them.

4. If what he describes is right, then we have the strange conclusion in the following scenario: Bob and Joe live in England, and Bob takes a diamond from Joe. But, England is at war with France. Bob flees to France. He is now under a completely different society. There is no set of international relations between the two countries that recognizes each other's property (quite the opposite: if England takes one of France's territorial possessions, it will keep it, and vice versa). So, while he is still in England, he is a thief. While he is in the Channel, he is no longer a thief, but the diamond belongs to nobody. When he is in France, he for sure is not a thief, and the diamond is his.

Again, it seems that Halacha would not allow such "transfer of property".

5. As someone suggested online, in order even to recognize another state, a state ipso facto must respect the other state's claims to propertyl it becomes normative between those two societies at the moment of recognition.

I.e., when two states don't recognize each other's existence, that's one thing. But if they do (even though they are at war), as has happened in human history at some point (allowing for "rules of war" to develop), then it's problematic to say that they do not recognize each other's property. Hence, when state A is at war with state B, state A still considers B a society, and all the land under B's control is property, albeit according to B's, not A's rules. In such a situation, after the end of the war, A must return all conquered property to B.

In other words, my friend's model only works when two states don't recognize each other as legitimate societies. If they do, then a given plot of land has already been given definition as property by a society. Not necessarily my society, but so what? If I don't recognize the other society as a legitimate society, that's one thing. In that case I can never have negotiations with its leaders, as they are all a bunch of outlaws (in my view). The moment I started negotiations, however, I implicitly recognized the other side as a legitimate society and a legitimate source of the concept of property; hence, I shouldn't have a problem with recognizing that the plot of land I conquered was still property of the society to which it belonged beforehand.

6. In Judaism, there is a concept of Noahide Laws. The seventh law is "dinnim", setting up courts. The concept means that there should be courts of justice that will at least enforce the preceding six laws, one of which includes theft of property. But how should the courts determine what property is? Should courts in each society arbitrarily determine what they think is property and what isn't? (Perhaps this is where dina demalchusa dina comes in?) I asked my friend, and he said: "They should use seichel." To me that sounds like they should try to determine, objectively, what property is.

But if property is an objective (albeit normative) concept, then it is not defined by the context of a particular society. It is something that exists naturally. (See my post explaining this idea.)

7. What about Yakov and small vessels? Chassidus makes a big deal about Yakov going back to get his small vessels (and as a result encountering the angel), because tzaddikim value their property, since it has sparks of holiness destined for them to uplift. Was Yakov on anyone's jurisdiction, or was he in wilderness?

It seems that the latter is the case. In that case, in Judaism, property is not even a normative concept. Property is that which someone homesteaded, and he has rights to it, because Hashem recognizes his rights.

So, I still remain ignorant on a rational explanation of Rambam's and Rashba's shitta. I am interested to read suggestions (or sources) in e-mail or comments.

A simple explanation comes to mind: it was a sort of international minhog among the nations until the second half of 20th century. It was a sort of international dina demalchusa, the law of the land. When a property was conquered by an army, goyim considered it to be transferred. End of story.

To me, however, this explanation seems inadequate, precisely because it bases Halacha on the existing goyish customs. Halacha recognizes reality of existing behaviors by goyim, but it does not necessarily legitimizes them just because they exist. There must be an intrinsic reason why Halacha considers kibbush milchama a binding kinyon.

This especially comes to light when you consider the source of Rambam's opinion: he holds that the keilim stolen by Romans from Beis HaMikdosh are no longer consecrated. Normally, yeush would not remove the status of kadosh from an object. But kibbush milchomo did, since it was a legitimate kinyon, in Rambam's opinion. So, what does this have to do with international minhogim? Here we are talking about the intrinsic spiritual property of an object.

There could, of course, be always the possibility that Rambam and Rashba are wrong. After all, the concept of kibbush milchomo derives from one line in Torah. The explanation of yeush fits perfectly well with that line. But I want to explore the possibility that Rambam and Rashba are "equally right".

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Do libertarians believe in intrinsic values?

There is a video on YouTube called "What's wrong with libertarianism?" (I won't dignify it with a link, since the author has disabled comments.) The video is a large collection of the author's views on libertarianism. The author makes a lot of seemingly self-evidently absurd statements about what libertarians supposedly believe. In the manner of: "libertarians believe that it's ok to eat babies; libertarians believe in animal cruelty". When the listener hears such statements, it should be obvious to him that libertarians are at best a confused and at worst an evil bunch. The problem is: every statement in that video is either outright fallacious or a misinterpretation.

One straw-man statement in particular stood out, because many of my friends make similar statements about libertarians (and free-marketeers in general):

"Libertarians don't believe that things have intrinsic values. Libertarians think that just because something is unprofitable on the markets, it has no right to exist. Therefore, libertarians are against the government taxing people to pay for certain projects, like art, science, etc."

Is that true? Let's see:

"Libertarians don't believe things have intrinsic values." I think this statement is wrong.

I think libertarians do believe that things have intrinsic values. For instance, I believe Jewish education has intrinsic value. Jewish books have intrinsic value. They are not like salad; they don't have value because someone likes them; they have value intrinsically.

What libertarians are realistic about, however, is that every person's view of what things' intrinsic values are is different. I may think Jewish books have intrinsic value, but you may disagree. You may think that Salman Rushdie's books have intrinsic value, but I may disagree. My father-in-law may think that golf magazines have intrinsic values, and I may disagree, while he disagrees with me on the intrinsic value of Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism.

Next, having realized that people disagree on the value of things, Libertarians believe that it is wrong for people to coerce each other to pay for things they don't personally consider valuable. (I realize that to some people this concept may not be self-evident. I will address the question of why that's the case in a later post, iyH.)

It is wrong for me to coerce you to pay for Jewish books if you disagree they are valuable. And if you agree they are valuable, but you're a Litvish Jew, it's wrong for me to coerce you to pay for Tanya, if you don't want to. Just like it's wrong for a Litvish Jew to coerce me to pay for a biography of a certain rosh yeshiva from Bnei Brak, if I consider that book worthless.

Just like it's wrong for me to coerce you personally, it's wrong for me and 51% of our mutual neighbors to coerce you collectively. What's the difference? Just because I got the mob to agree with me doesn't mean that my actions are good. They are either good, in and of themselves, or not. (Which brings out a point: democracy is basically an implementation of the logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum on a societal scale.)

Which brings me to the next part. "Libertarians think that just because something is unprofitable on the markets, it has no right to exist." I would say that this is a misinterpretation of what libertarians believe.

They believe anything that doesn't violate people's rights has a right to exist. The question is: who's going to pay for it? If something is unprofitable, that simply means that not enough people in the society value it. Or, if they value it, they don't want to put their money where their mouth is. Perhaps they value it, but want someone else to pay for it. (That's usually the case with the "progressives".)

But then, going back to the first point, what right do I have to force someone to pay for something that only I value? I think portraits of the Lubavitcher Rebbe painted by a particular artist are valuable. But not enough people in the city agree with me (or at least, not enough people are willing to pay for them). What next? Why do I have a right to coerce them to support an artist who paints the portraits? Or, let's say, if 51% of the city agrees that they are valuable, but 49% disagrees, do the former have a right to coerce the latter?

If you go through every point made in that video, you can similarly see how each of them is a straw-man argument. Unfortunately, the video is actually a good representation of what most people think about libertarians and libertarianism. Even those who are sympathetic to libertarians usually make stunted version of libertarian arguments, especially when compared to the neo-socialist arguments.

Homework assignment: try to figure out why this statement is a straw-man argument: "While liberals argue that we should help people, libertarians argue that each person should have a choice how to spend his money. Each group values different things."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Competition of servants

(Free markets are a competition of servants)

This article illustrates what libertarians mean when they say that private entrepreneurs will be always more effective than the government. The government lacks the concept of innovation. It doesn’t know when to risk and when not to. And it’s above competition.

The last point is especially important. It’s not true that every entrepreneur out there is smarter than the government and can provide better service. But if the subject of the article was a bad entrepreneur (if he was bad at predicting and providing what the public wants), his money would simply go away to those who knew better. (In fact, when he was losing money, that’s what was happening.)

The market "overall" knows what to do best because it has millions of separate entities making different decisions and competing. The terrible 1% is 30 million people. 30 million separate entities — and that’s not even all the entrepreneurs on the market in the US. The federal government is just one entity. It consists of a few hundred Congress members, a president and nine judges (plus their staff). Most of these people have no proven business skills. All of them lose nothing if some government project (like war on poverty) ends up a failure. And they have nobody to compete with. (In fact, oftentimes, if someone competes with them successfully, they simply outlaw the competition. I.e., they make use of their monopoly access to the violence to weed out those who provide a better service for the public.)

Of course, if the government tells J.P. Morgan: "We will pick up your losses", then the free market flies out of the window. J.P. Morgan can try much more risky things than it normally would. Except it’s the free market that gets blamed when J.P. Morgan messes up and results in billions of losses and needs to be bailed out. Then, the "progressives" cry out for more regulations. Because it was too much freedom and too few regulations that caused the problem. Not the fact that the government encouraged recklessness.

The above is true about any kind of business. It’s true about casinos; it’s also true about charity (including medical charity). If people want to give charity, they should do so through competing organizations, whose business-models the customers themselves can pick. Not through a massive web of bureaucracy.

Friday, May 11, 2012

E pluribus unum

It is said that even if Hashem did not give us the land of Israel and the Holy Temple, just bringing us to Mt. Sinai would be enough. The famous question is asked: what do you mean, it would be enough? The whole point of bringing us to Har Sinai is to give us Torah, which we would keep in Eretz Yisroel. The answer is that it would be enough, because when Jews received Torah, they were unified as one person. (We learn that Jews were tired before receiving of Torah. Why were they tired? Because it took them an effort to become unified. We learn from this that Jews get their strength from argument, which is why the main pastime of a frum Jew is to learn Gemara and argue.)
        Being unified “would be enough”, because unity amongst Jews results in the unity between the holy Names of G-d, between Him and His Presence, and between Him and this world. (For a detailed kabbalistic explanation of this process, see Derech Mitzvosecha, mitzvas Ahavas Yisroel. Suffice it to say that each Jewish soul contains sparks from all the other Jewish souls, and unification “below” draws forth the unification “above”.)
        This is why it is said that loving your fellow as yourself is the basis of the whole Torah. The point is not so much that the purpose of Torah is to bring peace amongst people (how exactly does putting on tefillin result in peace?), but that all Torah mitzvos accomplish the same thing that the single mitzva of ahavas Yisroel accomplishes: unity between G-d and His Presence in this world. And this is the whole purpose of creation and giving of Torah.

Now, the concept of unity is a tricky one. How can two separate entities become unified? This problem of disunity existed throughout the history of creation and of Jewish people. It all started from shviras ha’keilim, the breaking of the vessels of the chaotic world of Tohu (don’t worry, I won’t talk about that in detail now). The sfiroes of Tohu did not get along, couldn’t cooperate, each thinking of itself as the most important one — and kabloom! Chernobyl b’ruchnius.
        And the story repeated itself many times and indeed still goes on today. The theme of disunity is the theme of Omer. As everyone knows, the students of Rabbi Akiva quaralled, had no respect to each other, and a plague sent by G-d and augmented by socialized healthcare system killed many of them, r"l, in this very period of time.
        But what does it mean that they quarreled? These were the greatest sages of their generation, and they couldn’t get along? What were their disagreements about? What were the disagreements of the Jews in the desert about that they had to put aside to receive Torah? Now that we are writing a string of questions, what was the deal with the sferoes of Tohu? We shall examine these answers after the commercial break.

The Rebbe writes in the sicho devoted to Lag B’Omer that you can’t really blame the Jews in the desert, the spheroes, the students of Rabbi Akiva. They were not arguing about petty matters. They were not practicing sinas chinum. They didn’t care about chitzoinius (“your shtreimel looks worse than my hat”). Each of them had a shitta. Each of them had a job to do, a role that they played. And they took that job seriously.
        Think about it: if Chessed is merciful, and it’s taking its own job as the source of mercy seriously, how can it tolerate Gevurah? What do you mean, gevurah? Chessed! And Gevurah had the same attitude. In order to “live and let live”, to “agree to disagree”, one has to take a slightly mild view of one’s own shitta. Look at it with a bit of sense of humor. And these guys couldn’t afford doing that. They were responsible agents of their missions. The sages really believed, each of them, that they were right. Of course, each one of them was, but it’s all nice and good for us, sitting here in our b’dieved armchairs, to say “eilu v’eilu”. For these people, their shittos were their whole world.

So, what is one to do? Well, says the Rebbe, this is a serious problem. This is not just a problem for the sages or spheroes or the Jews in the desert. This is a problem for any two people that are trying to create a relationship. Any kind. Two friends, two colleagues, a husband and a wife, a parent and a child, etc. How can two people become one? What do you mean, one? If I am X, I am X. I cannot be Y. I can tolerate Y. I can respect Y. I can agree to disagree, even, but to be absolutely completely unified with Y? But then what happens with my identity, my “job” (which I take seriously) of X?
        Elsewhere (Inyanei Toras HaChassidus), the Rebbe explains that giluim (revelations) of G-dliness are always in conflict with each other. Because, as explained above, in order for each gilui to be itself, it must be itself and nothing else. Gevurah is Gevurah. End of story. That is why we can’t eat meat with milk. Meat is Gevurah; milk is Chessed. They don’t mix well.
        But the Essence of G-d, says the Rebbe, does not have that problem. Because the Essence includes all the revelations in itself (in potential). So, when the Essence is brought into play, no threat to the identities of individual revelations happens — and they can co-exist. Which is why G-d Himself can disobey rules of logic and do things that are mutually exclusive. Which is why, when Moshiach comes and G-d’s Essence is revealed (may it happen now), there will be no contradiction between the fact that G-d is revealed (which, under normal circumstances, would destroy this world) and, at the same time, the world exists and is a world, with its physical matter. (And, incidentally, we shall be allowed to eat meat and milk together.)

So, what’s the solution to disunity? Bring G-d into the equation. When the spheroes gain the awareness that each of them is not just Chessed or Gevurah, but Chessed and Gevurah that are each doing a job for G-d, this awareness allows them to co-operate, since each of them is doing essentially the same thing (serving G-d), albeit in a different way. The deepest identity of Chessed is not its vessel, but its Light, and the whole point of the Light is the idea that it’s on a mission from G-d (“light reveals the luminary”). Furthermore, this co-operation allows them to do their jobs better. And voilá, the world of Atzilus (aka Tikkun) is here. Jews are given Torah. Sages stop dying.
        And two people become one. This is the only way. In order for a relationship to be that of true, absolute unity, not just tolerance, one needs to bring G-d into it. G-d in the relationship is what allows the two people to become completely one and at the same time each retain his-or-her unique identity.

Gutt Yom Tov, y’all. May we merit to see speedily the time when the greatest unity of all possible is achieved: that between G-d and His nation, with the coming of Moshiach.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fly using planes of National Aviation

New Russian "superjet", the hope of Russian aviation, S-100, was advertised as the new entry of Russia in the international aviation markets. Some of which, as the jet’s pilot said during the interview, Russia was still present in, until recently. I assume he means that Russian war planes were present in these markets’ air spaces.

The plane was thoroughly Russian. Now, of course, not all parts were made specifically in Russia (the flag with blue-white-red is French, by the way):

Nevertheless, Russians put it together. And a Russian pilot flew it.

As you can see on the map in the right-bottom corner, Mexico, Indonesia and (of course), the Fatherland, made "concrete orders" (a few other countries made "preliminary agreements"). The plane was flown to Indonesia for demonstration flights.

Yesterday, during the Indonesian demonstration flight, the plane flew straight into the side of a mountain. All 45 people on board are expected to have perished, although obviously, the rescue teams are having some difficulty reaching the crash site.

This map shows the jet’s flight right before the crash (which happened at point 0):

It’s not clear what happened, but based on the altitude reports, in points 3 and 4, the jet was flying barely above the mountains, within the radar’s margin of error. It was flying at something like 1900 meters, while the minimum allowed height in that region  is 3300. The pilot kept asking permission to drop altitude.

As I said, the reasons are not clear, but one possibility is loss of air pressure within the plane. It might have become difficult for the people to breath at higher altitudes, and as a result, the plane had to go lower, until it flew into the mountain.

Another reason could be that the pilot was tired or drunk.

Thank G-d, American airline industry has become denationalized and deregulated recently.

When people ask me whether I am planning to go back to Russia, I make uncertain noises. (I don’t like the idea of travelling in the countries with totalitarian regimes. That’s why I am not sure what I think about travelling to California.) But even if I went there, how would I move around? Russian planes crash. Russian trains crash (because of the confusion in time tables). Russian drivers are nuts (and there is a good chance of being hit-and-run by a drunk police driver). According to Lebedev, travelling by rivers is great, but I think that would rather limit my mobility.

It is little known that until 1861, Russia had slavery, just like the United States. It was called serfdom, but it was basically slavery. Unlike the United States, however, in Russia, 75% of its people were enslaved.

Even when the slaves were freed, they continued to live under an oppressive tzarist regime. Which was replaced by an even more oppressive socialist regime. Which was replaced by a period of societal chaos and now another oppressive regime.

This nation has lived in slavery for the last 1000 years.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

War of Much Aggression

Question on Quora: "What is the most misunderstood historical event?"

My answer:

American Civil War, aka War Between the States, aka the War of Northern Aggression, aka the War Between Southern Confederacy and Northern States' Federal Government.

1. First, it wasn't a civil war.

It was not a war between two parties trying to control the same government. It was an attempt of the Southern States to secede from the Union. You may say that it was a rebellion, but see the next part.

2. The Southern States had the right to secede.

The Constitution (10th Amendment) reserved all rights for the States and their people except those that were reserved for the Federal Government or were explicitly denied to the States (right to coin money, right to form international treaties, etc.). A right to secede from a union between sovereign nations is a right that was not explicitly denied to the States by the Constitution; nor was it reserved for the Federal government (a right to expel a state from the Union). Therefore, constitutionally, the States had that right.

Were the States sovereign nations before the signing of the Constitution? Historically, after the Colonies broke away from the United Kingdom, they reverted to the state of nature. Afterwards, they each re-formed into states, each with its constitution and legislature. Afterwards, the States formed a union, in which their sovereignty was preserved. (Also, what is the very last thing that you see if you look at the back of the Constitution? That's right: you see signatures of the representatives of the specific States.) The Constitution was ratified as a contract between sovereign nations and a government they were creating.

Claiming that the States had no right to secede is the same as claiming that when two people enter into a contract or a treaty (without specified time limits), they have no right to terminate the contract whenever they wish. It contradicts the accepted practices of contracts.

Therefore, the Civil War was an attempt of the Southern States to secede from the Union. It would be no different from, say, Spain deciding today that it wants to secede from the European Union and EU invading Spain to make it a "subject" of Brussels. I.e., your regular expansionist invasion.

3. Was the war about slavery?

Well, yes and no. It was in the sense that the Southern States seceded when it became clear that the Congress would be dominated by the anti-slavery Northern States. But it's not so simple as to say that the war was a crusade to end slavery in the South.

First, Lincoln and many other Northerners did not care about the slavery per se. They cared about preserving the Union. Lincoln is known for saying that if he could preserve the Union by freeing all the slaves, he would do that; if he could do it by freeing half the slaves, he would do that; if he could do it by freeing none of the slaves, he would do that too.

Many Northern abolitionists were in favor of letting the Southern states secede for three reasons: a) they did not want to be in the same Union with the states involved in the abominable practice, b) they believed (correctly) that Southern states were adamantly pro-slavery due to the reasons of honor and politics, c) they knew that the economic forces would make slavery unprofitable very soon (as they did in many other countries).

So, what was the war about? In no order of importance:

a) Southern States' rights and honor. Southerners felt that they had the right to self-government in the areas that locally concerned the individual states, not the Union altogether, and the the Federal government was abusing its powers. Plus, the Southerners felt that the Northerners were disdainful of the Southern culture and were trying to turn the Southerners into second-class citizens. (Yes, I know it's ironic for slave-owners to feel this way. I never claimed they were consistent. Many of the Founding Fathers were also slave-owners and were also inconsistent.)

b) Money. The Northern States wanted to dominate the Congress in order to be able to impose tariffs on the European imports to "protect" Northern manufactured goods. European nations, in retaliation, imposed tariffs on American exports, which were, for the most part, agricultural products (mainly cotton) from the South. So, if the Northern States controlled the Congress, they could make things favorable for the Northern manufacturers and hurt Southern farmers.

c) Northern racism and economic interests. Many Northerners wanted slavery abolished (both in the Southern States and in the Federal territories). Not all of them had humanist motives. Many of them (including the author of the famous Wilmot Proviso which would ban slavery in any territories acquired from Mexico) wanted the labor markets available for the white men.

They were 19th-century version of modern-day opponents of doing business with illegal immigrants and China. There are two reasons to oppose that today: i) one can be concerned about the welfare of the Mexicans and the Chinese, ii) one can be a racist and more concerned about "bona fide Americans" getting the jobs. The same was the case in the North in the 19th century. Many anti-slavery advocates wanted the labor markets secured for white men and former slaves shipped out of the country back to Africa or the Caribbean.

d) Southern racism and economic interest. Yes, obviously, there were Southerners who considered the slaves to be non-humans and who had interest in keeping them working in plantations, cotton gin or not. To ignore that would be intellectually dishonest.

4. Was the War worth it?

This is a complicated question. Obviously, the lives of many slaves became better off as a result of the War. There is no denying it.

Then again: the War remains the bloodiest single conflict in the US history. US remains the only Western nation to end slavery by killing a lot of its own citizens. (Even in Russia the serfdom ended around the same time peacefully.) Slavery was going to end anyway, and very soon: changing economic realities (the invention of the cotton gin, etc.) would make sure of that. Of course, the slaves might not be ok with waiting for another few decades for the markets to change, but it is not clear that all the murder of the soldiers and civilians was justified...

Economically, the War (and the ensuing Restoration) devastated the South, and its effects are still felt.

Politically, the War was a case of freeing the slaves and enslaving the free. It reversed the polarity between the Federal Government and the States. While originally, the Federal Government was a government of enumerated powers, whose sovereigns were the States (who could threaten to nullify the Government's laws if they proved to be unconstitutional or threaten to secede), after the war, it became clear that the ball was in the Federal Government's court.

The size and power of the Federal Government, its involvement in people's personal lives, in the economy, in all aspects of the society started growing and grows still. No American today is free from the tyranny of the majority, one way or another. While before, if one did not like conditions in one state, he could move to another, today, the conditions are made more-or-less uniform by the Federal tyranny. One's choice is to move to another country, which is not as easy as to move, say, from Louisiana to Massachusetts.

Effectively, whatever gains in political freedom for individuals and communities had been accomplished by the War for Independence from Britain were reversed by the signing of the Constitution and by the Civil War.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Livestockholm Syndrome

From Wikipedia's article:
In psychology, Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.
Citizens of many countries suffer from Livestockholm Syndrome — a paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which citizens express empathy and have positive feelings towards the governments that have enslaved them, sometimes to the point of defending them.

These feelings are generally considered irrational by libertarians in light of the danger, risk, abuse of rights, and financial damage endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of a greater abuse from their captors for an act of kindness and excuse the abuse by arguing that their captors do some good things and that without their captors, such good things would be impossible (despite contemporary and historic evidence).

Interestingly, the victims of the governments are not oblivious to the damage they incur from their captors. But they always manage to attribute the damage to other factors (e.g., too much free market — in the cases when the damage was done by too much regulation or central management), oftentimes calling for more involvement of the government, one way or another.

The syndrome is a particularly dangerous meme in that it is very contagious and self-reinforcing. Seeing other victims' livestock-like behavior reinforces a citizen's conviction that without the kind shepherd, the herd would not survive.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Anarchist and anti-anarchist

Anti-anarchist: We need the government to protect the economy. You won't have free markets without the government.

Anarchist: What you need is not a government, but law, justice, and protection of people's rights for the free markets. That's true. You also need paper. But just like there is no reason to nationalize paper industry, there is no reason to nationalize "government" industry.

There is no reason that paper-producing service cannot be provided by competing private agencies (non-monopolies). Likewise, there is no reason that law, justice, or protection could not be provided by competing private agencies.

Anti-anarchist: What you're advocating for is mafia!

Anarchist: Actually, mafia is the government's creation. When the government says it's illegal to sell alcohol (or gamble, or carry guns), only the outlaws (violent individuals with high time preferences who don't care about social norms) get involved in that activity. The moment the government legalizes alcohol, mafia organizations go out of business. Why? Because the public would rather buy beer from a local bar or alcohol store than from Al Capone.

The same goes for protection or law. The public would rather hire a peaceful law/justice/protection–providing firm than a violent mafia organization.

Anti-anarchist: But won't the warlords take over?

Anarchist: Let's go back to your first question for a second. When you said that "we need a government to have free markets", you didn't mention what sort of conditions in a society you need to have a government. Surely not an already-existing government — that would be paradoxical. (Unless you claim that government is some sort of unmoved mover.) So, even the governments need something else that will allow them to exist. What?

Some people say that they need consent of the governed. But that is actually not true. As Lysander Spooner explains, most governments operate without the citizens' consent. (In that, they are different from most other businesses.)

It is more accurate to say that what they need is the people's tolerance. A government will not be able to survive, despite all armies, if the populace does not tolerate its existence. That is why governments have fallen in the history. Now, let's go back to anarchy and warlords. If no government can exist without tolerance of the governed, why would you say that a bunch of warlords competing with peaceful protection agencies could exist without tolerance of the governed?

In a society whose people demand a necessarily peaceful government, even more so will the people favor only those competing private "protection agencies" (mini-governments) that are peaceful. Just like they favor bars owned by reputable people/organization rather than anti-social jerks who gun-down any competition.

So, the only way that warlords could take over an anarchist society is if the population overall prefers strife and conflict over peace and tranquility.

Sources: Robert Murphy's video and talk.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Society vs. government

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

― Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

Interestingly enough, proponents of privatization of Soviet collective farms in 1980s were accused of attempting to starve the people.

More on the topic: “The Role of the Government