Against the Police
They don't create oppression; they just make it possible
What I'm about to say may surprise you, but I assure you it's the honest truth: in my personal experience, cops are overwhelmingly decent folks. They almost always conduct themselves "professionally" and have generally treated me with respect. I'm not saying stories of law enforcement abuse haven't affected me--they absolutely have, and I'll get into that. I'm not saying my arsenal of privileges haven't colored my experiences. But as far as my personal dealings, I've encountered very few who were anything but by-the-book and courteous.
Because they are so frequently decent, I'm sometimes tempted to reconcile the profession of policing with the kind of free society I dream about. After all, I have several friends and family who are police officers, and I'm loathe to let ideology darken my opinions of them as individuals. I want to believe policing is possible outside the hegemony of a state, and that these people can be meaningful participants in a stateless community.
But I never persist in that belief very long. I cannot think of any acceptable justification for the existence of law enforcement as an institution at all. The entire enterprise is abominable, root and branch. There is no escaping the conclusion that, everywhere they exist, police are mercenary occupiers serving a power hostile to the authentic human flourishing. As I intend to show, so long as our society exhibits privilege and injustice, I cannot pretend law enforcement does not prop it up in some fundamental manner.
I often hear defenders of "Right to Work" (RTW) laws say that unions are collusive and extortive in a way that is simply unfair to employers. Neither workers nor management should be forced to negotiate through unions, and RTW laws simply level the playing field by ensuring that employees can always negotiate directly with management. The point of labor unions, to the mind of RTW supporters, is to exploit the Wagner Act that forces all parties to negotiate in good faith, and to thereby move wages and benefits up in a way a free market in labor would never allow. The aforementioned article on RTW even compares unions with Mafia protection rackets in this regard.
To describe this line of reasoning as selective would be a gross understatement. After all, let's assume that labor unions are as evil as the RTW lobby says they are. Even granting that for the sake of argument, labor is not the only interest engaging in collective bargaining. What about the individuals involved in the employing corporation? Aren't these businesses effectively "capital unions" exploiting incorporation laws to achieve a better bargaining position relative to labor? Isn't the reason why investors pool their resources and form businesses to get better deals in the market through economies of scale? Isn't that why they try to get investors rather than simply borrowing all the money for their start-up costs--to spread the risk and the reward?
So unions of labor are only one side of this story; to emphasize collusion on the workers' side is to leave another form of collusion totally unaddressed. Corporations are capital unions, organizations whose members work together to negotiate wages and benefits (and other costs, of course) downwards to get the best return for themselves. Why is one form of collusion wrong and the other not?
Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Dr. Matt Zwolinski has a video defending sweatshops. I suppose if this were just another libertarian site, it might not concern me. After all, he's hardly the first libertarian to associate our philosophy with defenses of exploitation.
What gets me is that the site is called "Bleeding Heart Libertarians". Ostensibly, the goal of the blog is to defend libertarianism as a compassionate philosophy. It adds insult to injury for libertarians to make the same tired arguments not only in a flashy new medium but also on a site intended to represent a compassionate, concerned variety of the philosophy whose label we both employ.
It's not that his arguments are wrong per se. Yes, sweatshop jobs are the best of a crappy set of options for far too many people in the third world. Yes, shutting down those sweatshops without doing anything else would not improve anybody's situation. And yes, I can't contest the point that people should do things to help their situation, even if they don't remedy it completely.
As a footnote to my last post, here's the choice Jeffrey Tucker leaves us with in his ringing defense of fast food:
Murray Rothbard used the phrase "do you hate the state?" to ferret out real from mild libertarians. As a correlative question, we might ask "do you love commerce?" to ferret out real defenders of real markets as versus those who just enjoy standing in moral judgement over the whole world as it really exists. Yes, I too am against corn subsides, and against all subsidies, as well as taxes, regulations, inflation, zoning, public roads and everything else. In a free market, everything would thrive even more than it does today, and that goes for fast food too.
I have some responses.
It is natural to look for meaning in tragedy. History, myth, literature all represent means by which humans attempt to come to terms with the dark sides of our experience and to find something valuable in it, so that the tragedy was not for naught. The motivation is not simply to avoid similar tragedies in the future, but to give ourselves a sense that we understand what's going on, that all this isn't just a huge chaotic mess from which we will never be able to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We seek comfort as much as insight.
It is not natural, however, to fit tragedy into an ideological narrative. Ideology doesn't originate within us but arises from our acceptance of a narrow system of thought to which we attempt to conform. So complex events and nuanced actions must be shoved like a square peg into a round hole in order to validate the black and white ideological approach in our gray shaded lives. But we adopt ideological approaches for similar reasons: to give ourselves a sense that we can explain it all, that if we can just achieve the world prescribed by the ideology, such tragedy will never occur again.
The attack on Representative Giffords is now being portrayed by many as an outgrowth of the "climate of hate" surrounding conservative politics in general and the Tea Party movement in particular. The assassin would never have attacked this congresswoman, many claim, if there wasn't a poisonous undercurrent of anti-government sentiment. While an individual is responsible for his or her actions, we have a responsibility also to preserve a civil discourse and ensure that loose cannons do not employ our rhetoric in the service of violence.
It's been almost two years since mutualist Shawn Wilbur left the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. While I hated to see him go, his stated reason for the departure was unimpeachable to my mind. Wilbur felt he could neither articulate what brought the Alliance together nor see any way in which the disagreements within the Alliance were able to be overcome. How could the Alliance accomplish real work without real consensus? In what sense are we allies if we have fundamental disagreements that merely get glossed over?
At the time, Allies were debating the proper reaction to an inflammatory essay that had been written by a non-left libertarian. This debate turned into a crisis: one left libertarian denouncing the other as out of bounds and beyond the pale. As all parties stood their ground, things digressed into nasty insults and accusations that mainly exhausted us. It got to be surprisingly ridiculous, but what surprised me the most was the fact that, of all people, Wilbur - the one who likely understands the historic trajectory of this movement more than anybody else, and therefore would have the most to say about where all this is headed - was the one to leave.
Among Wilbur's arguments, as I understand them, was the absence of any way to resolve the dispute to everybody's satisfaction. The Alliance had always been a vague and inarticulable one, grounded in shared tendencies but no shared principles that had ever been made clear, let alone binding. Add to that the concept of ALL being a place where "we all agree to disagree" and you have the basis for neither ideological commitment nor ideological boundaries. Personal attacks were all anybody had, because there was no shared premise of alliance, and I imagine Wilbur couldn't see the point of continuing to associate with such a meaningless brand. If all we were going to do was be an online club of likeminded malcontents, why bother winning this fight?
I haven't weighed in much on Wikileaks because everything I'd write has been written by better writers. Readers here shouldn't need to resort to wild speculation as to my position: Wikileaks is in the absolute right on each and every matter, and the government as per usual in the wrong. Cablegate is just the latest in a series of heroic and perilous pantsings administered by Assange et al. The weakness of the lumbering, bureaucratic monolith of the U.S. government is exposed for all to see if they choose; it remains to be seen whether Americans care.
My interest today has more to do with Amazon.com's booting of Wikileaks from their web services hosting. The Amazon Web Services statement explains the supposed motivations are not the result of Joe Lieberman's bullying - the tone suggesting outrage that anybody would dare think Amazon.com would cave to such pressure. Instead, they provide two reasons for their decision:
Wikileaks' supposed violation of their terms of service because they do not own the content they are publishing (even though the public pays for it)
I've tried to chew a bit on Bryan Caplan's post about why he is not a left libertarian before I raced off to refute it point by point. That's because I suspect no refutation is necessary; Caplan throws into rather stark relief precisely why left libertarianism has more to do with attitude and temperament than blatant differences on principle.
Caplan argues over and over in his article that certain left libertarian arguments do not make sense because, if you consider the issues from an economic point of view, everything balances out. In doing so, he glosses over a key difference between his approach and that of left libertarians generally; many of us find the typical libertarian reduction of all matters of justice, culture, etc. to economic calculation totally warped and inaccurate. More and more of us are rejecting a rigid market fundamentalism that seems to discount any issue that cannot be modeled economically. There's more to human flourishing than marginal value.
For example, Caplan may be right that we effectively forego a fairer rental agreement with our landlord in exchange for lower rents. It's certainly an elegant argument that provides a clean explanation for our entrance into supposedly free contracts with such little negotiating wiggle room for ourselves. Of course, for economists, it's all about explaining within the constraints of the model - there's no price one can place on human dignity, the social effects of systemically lopsided contracts, etc. A pure economic argument does not address whether justice is served, or why people place such a low priority on being treated fairly. It doesn't attempt to back up the speculation on people's motives for accepting skewed contracts with evidence; the mere assertion that our market system has mediated this contract is proof positive that it is fair and balanced, and so the only task left is to come up with explanations for why we chose such an arrangement.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down several key restrictions on corporate campaign contributions. While many lament the expected influx of yet more corporate cash into an already compliant political system, does anybody really think McCain-Feingold had accomplished much of an improvement? These regulations only affect those who cannot afford the lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who spend their careers finding ways to circumvent the spirit of the laws.
There are two key elements to the court's conclusion: the constitutional prohibition of free speech restrictions and the status of the corporation as a person. Libertarians should not complain about the court's conclusions with respect to the first element. The government must abstain from interfering with any person's political contributions, monetary or polemical.
In the past the court has seen fit to abridge first amendment rights in cases where the government has a compelling interest. Campaign finance laws have usually rested on this basis, relying on the court's acknowledgement of the need for balancing a variety of interests. In throwing out McCain-Feingold, the Supreme Court can be seen as effectively reining in these deviations from the letter of the law. A strictly defined freedom of speech should certainly be defended.