Hey, everyone … if you follow C4SS more than casually, you’ve probably noticed that I work here (Senior Fellow, Senior News Analyst, English Media Coordinator). You may or may not know that I’ve been an Internet political writer for about 20 years, starting in 1995. Yeah, it’s really been that long. And it having been that long seems like a good point at which to publish a collection. Not a “best of” collection, exactly, but a sampling of material starting in during my “libertarian, but one of those conservative-constitutionalist leaning types” and ending here at “fire-breathing left market anarchist.” Just the stuff I found interesting and thought worth sharing.
KN@PPSTER’s Big Freakin’ Book of Stuff weighs in at about 400 pages in trade paperback format. You can download it 100% completely free in PDF format by doing a “right-click/save as” on this here linky-looking text. If you decide you like it enough to pay a little something for it, that’s great … and I’d prefer you send that money to the Center for a Stateless Society.
If you’d like it in EPUB or MOBI formats, it’s available for $1.99 from FastPencil. The dead tree paperback version is also from FastPencil and priced at $13.99. Just click on the cover graphic over there on your right to order.
It’s election day in the USA. The mass incarceration nation is deciding which political opportunists will rule. On the state and local level, citizens are casting their votes on ballot initiatives that will determine the structure, specifics, or application of state coercion. Some of these ballot initiatives probably deserve support from prison abolitionists, specifically initiatives to reign in the disastrous war on drugs. Other initiatives create new prohibitions and restrictions on human liberty, and ought to be opposed.
But I think it’s worth looking beyond ballot initiatives and the particulars of this election cycle, and instead examining how elections intersect with the prison state. One obvious intersection is felon disenfranchisement. According to the Sentencing Project, “an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.” There are major racial disparities in this disenfranchisement, “resulting in 1 of every 13 African Americans unable to vote.” These disparities are exacerbated by what the Prison Policy Initiative calls prison-based gerrymandering. In many states, prisoners are counted on the census not for the communities or regions they have been forcibly taken from, but for the community in which the prison is located. This dilutes the voting power of black communities and other communities torn apart by mass incarceration. Moreover, it increases the voting power of communities that receive concentrated economic benefits from prisons, such as communities where prison guards live.
The result is that those most directly harmed by the state have no vote on how it is operated. Those who spend their lives not interacting in the voluntary sphere of communities and markets but under the constant power of the state’s prison guards get no vote regarding the government that controls the prisons. Those who have had their friends, family, and community members taken from them and locked in cages have their voting power diluted through prison based gerrymandering. And when prisoners are released, they typically remain disenfranchised. While the violence of the law has taken years of their life from them, and licensing laws restrict them from entering many professions based on their criminal records, they have no vote on the government that forcefully impacts their life. Clearly, the government does not operate with the consent of those who are most brutally governed by it.
My friend Ørn Hansen points out that this ought to seriously undermine arguments about every American having a duty to vote, writing:
Before you call people out for not voting or you call people stupid or worthless or privileged for not voting, remember that some of us people are legally prohibited from voting because of legal issues. Your system is a sham and cuts out a large portion of people from it because they have been convicted of certain crimes or because they don’t have certain forms of ID. Maybe that’s why we don’t trust your system: because they don’t want to hear from us.
The system excludes people from participating in its elections, and then the system’s sycophantic lapdogs blame and shame them for not participating in the state’s grotesque decision making rituals. Of course, it’s worth noting that even if everyone ruled by the U.S. government were permitted to vote, there would be no duty to vote, as Jason Brennan explains.
Just as mass incarceration impacts how electoral processes work, electoral processes have played a key role in the rise of mass incarceration. As the federal government gained control over sentencing policy and other criminal justice issues, crime became a key election issue. According to the National Research Council, “The two parties embarked on periodic “bidding wars” to ratchet up penalties for drugs and other offenses. Wresting control of the crime issue became a central tenet of up-and-coming leaders of the Democratic Party represented by the center-right Democratic Leadership Council, most notably “New Democrat” Bill Clinton.” These frenzies of punitive power tend to reach a boiling point in the lead up to elections. The National Research Council’s report notes that “the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have been far more likely to enact stiffer mandatory minimum sentence legislation in the weeks prior to an election. Because of the nation’s system of frequent legislative elections, dispersed governmental powers, and election of judges and prosecutors, policy makers tend to be susceptible to public alarms about crime and drugs and vulnerable to pressures from the public and political opponents to quickly enact tough legislation.” Electoral politics likewise tends to make prosecutors and judges behave in more punitive ways. “In the United States, most prosecutors are elected, as are most judges (except those who are nominated through a political process). Therefore, they are typically mindful of the political environment in which they function. Judges in competitive electoral environments in the United States tend to mete out harsher sentences.”
So democratic participation in elections in a sense gave us mass incarceration, a policy that has disenfranchised and excluded many from participating in electoral democracy. Yet this disenfranchisement is one of the least destructive impacts of mass incarceration. Rape, torture, murder, the caging and abuse of children, forcible denial of basic health care, the rich and well-connected stealing from the poor, and countless other atrocities mark the true costs of the carceral state. No election, no public opinion poll, no amount of political participation can make this just or acceptable. Even if all the prisoners and their families were given full voting rights, Lysander Spooner‘s words would ring true: “A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years. Neither are a people any the less slaves because permitted periodically to choose new masters. What makes them slaves is the fact that they now are, and are always hereafter to be, in the hands of men whose power over them is, and always is to be, absolute and irresponsible.”
If left libertarians, individualist anarchists, mutualists, radical libertarians, and the like, ever needed to spontaneously order, this is the time. The Alliance of the Libertarian Left and the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) are seeking your help.
From November 13-16th in San Diego, California, the Libertalia Project will be hosting its annual Libertopia Festival. The weekend is aimed at creating a temporary, free community where people interested in the ideas of liberty can come together to learn, educate, network, and create. Now in its 5th year, Libertopia has become one of the biggest yearly gatherings of libertarians and anarchists.
Which is why the Alliance of the Libertarian Left (ALL), a project of the Molinari Institute, and a coalition of various left-leaning libertarians, is trying to get to Libertopia. ALL publishes books, magazines, and pamphlets, as well as op-eds syndicated to mainstream media outlets around the world, to spread the message of free markets without capitalist domination, and voluntary social order without the state.
$400 will get ALL a booth at Libertopia 2014 and give left libertarianism a voice at the festival. The opportunity to engage this year’s Libertopia attendees on the ideas of radical market anarchism and left libertarianism is priceless in the fight against statism.
In a separate, but equally important, event, C4SS, also a project of the Molinari Institute, and a left-wing market anarchist think tank is trying to become a sponsor of the 2015 International Students For Liberty Conference (ISFLC) from February 13-15 in Washington, DC. ISFLC is the year’s premier libertarian gathering, bringing together over 2000 libertarians last year alone.
Students For Liberty, and it’s annual International conference, are leading the way in the modern libertarian student movement – providing it’s hundreds of members with resources for libertarian activism and spreading the message of liberty to the thousands more in SFL’s global network. It’s no surprise, then, that C4SS is trying to sponsor this wonderful event.
C4SS utilizes academic studies, book reviews, op-eds, and social media to put left market anarchist ideas at the forefront of libertarianism and to eventually bring about a world where individuals are liberated from oppressive states, structural poverty, and social injustice. In only 8 years, C4SS has substantially grown into a successful think tank, making big waves among the modern libertarian movement, especially the students.
$500 gets C4SS sponsorship at ISFLC and each sponsor is guaranteed at least a table in the exhibit hall, 2 attendee registrations, and a listing in the program and webpage. Getting a significant market anarchist presence at the year’s biggest libertarian event is crucial to spreading these ideas and making anarchism a substantial, unafraid, and robust part of the liberty movement, instead of a timid minority.
While C4SS and ALL are barely a decade old, they have already achieved massive success with spreading left libertarian anarchist views. The market anarchist community is bigger and more vibrant than ever with our ideas spreading to other libertarians like wild fire. This fire needs to keep going and more wood needs to be piled on.
That’s where you come in.
Both the Alliance of the Libertarian Left and the Center for a Stateless Society are extremely close to affording sponsorship at Libertopia and ISFLC respectively but there is more to go. If you find these ideas worth exploring and you want a more diverse, intellectually stimulating libertarian community — whether you are a left market anarchist or you’re a conservative minarchist or you’re an anarcho-communist or anything in between — please share this post and donate if you can.
Every penny counts when we’re building the new world in the shell of the old
Well, I feel kind of dumb. For some reason it completely escaped my notice that a month had ended and that it was time for me to post our English language media numbers for October (I finally noticed when I went to record a new submission to newspapers and saw that I still had last month’s sitting there in the text file I use for such things.
So, here we go:
In October, I made 31,534 submissions of op-eds to 2,597 publications worldwide. That number is lower than usual — we’ve been fairly regularly topping 40,000 monthly submissions — because content creation slowed down a little this month and because more of our content was US-centric instead of stuff I could submit as relevant worldwide. I expect we’ll be back above the 40k mark this month and next.
In October, I identified 47 “pickups” of C4SS material in English language publications worldwide including “mainstream media” and select high-readership/prestigious media. We’ve been running in the neighborhood of 50 pickups per month, so this number isn’t surprising. My goal for 2015 is to get us into the 100 pickups per month range.
- Trevor Hultner’s “Paul Krugman: ‘Leave Obama Alone'” was our most popular piece with media — five pickups.
- David S. D’Amato’s “Blue or Red, They’re All About the Green” got us our first Utah pickup — the Price Sun Advocate.
- Alan Furth’s and Erick Vasconcelos’s work as our Spanish and Portuguese media coordinators is blowing my stat-keeping and goal-setting — I was hoping for 2,000 pickups by the end of the year, but our other-language pickups already have us coming up fast on 2,100. Fantastic work, Alan and Erick!
How are we doing? Well, I mostly focus on “external media” metrics, and I try to be a stern self-taskmaster. We continue to get market anarchist material published in mass media, but I want more, more, more. What I usually don’t pay a whole lot of attention to is how well we are known and how welcome we are in the American libertarian movement. But I have a couple of data points on that to share.
In late 2013, I attended the Students For Liberty southeast US regional conference at the University of Florida in Gainesville. C4SS Senior Fellow Charles Johnson, aka Rad Geek, ran an ALL Distro table to sell left-libertarian literature. The reception was friendly, but few people seemed to know who we were or what we were about.
On October 25th of this year, Charles and I were joined at the same event by C4SS Fellow Cory Massimino. Same kind of table, same kind of literature … but this time everyone seemed to know at least a little about C4SS / left-libertarianism / market anarchism, and most people seemed interested in finding out more (anecdotally it looked to me like we had one of the busiest tables there).
Also anecdotally, the right-libertarian response to C4SS specifically and left-libertarianism / market anarchism in general seems to have greatly increased in tempo over the past year. We’re finding ourselves engaged — both in terms of agreement and positive mention on one hand and disagreement/attacks on the other — far more frequently and by more and more prominent writers.
So, I think we’re accomplishing things on a number of fronts. And I appreciate your support for our work!
Yours in liberty,
English Language Media Coordinator
Center for a Stateless Society
Hi everyone! This will be the last Missing Comma post of 2014. I’m pushing a lot of things back so that I can get my backlog of op-eds – which I’ve had since last September – out of the way. Once I’m done with those commentaries, however, I’m making Missing Comma my top priority. 2015 is going to be an amazing year.
But before I talk about what I’ve got planned, I want to make a personal plea. If you listen to public radio, you’ve doubtless already heard the “F”-word – Fundraising. It’s that time of year where every media organization not connected to a larger entity is asking its readers, viewers, listeners and other sense-data collectors for money to help the work along. C4SS is a completely member-run, reader-supported media organization. Unlike public media, or the Nation, or Reason, or any other of the dozens of media orgs that get support from massive foundations and advertisers, the Center for a Stateless Society survives month to month thanks to small donations. We don’t even get money from the Koch Brothers, and they supposedly give money to everyone!
In 2014, your donations helped C4SS expand its translation programs, keep a Tor node up and running, pay writers, start a podcast channel, and appear at major libertarian student conferences all over the place. (We’ve currently got two crowdfunding campaigns going to get C4SS to Libertopia in a couple of weeks and the International Students For Liberty Conference in early 2015, which you can help directly here and here.) We’d like to do so much more in 2015.
For just $5 a month, you can help C4SS keep doing this kind of work and more. For just $5 a month, you can help us bring market anarchism to wider and wider audiences, increasing the possibilities for a liberated future.
As for Missing Comma? Well, in order to help C4SS expand its other projects, this blog series aims to utilize a self-funding model in 2015. We’ll be setting up a Patreon account closer to January, but we’ve already got a list of tiered perks started:
- $5 a month gets you hand-designed step-by-step guides to hack the media, from starting your own news blog to podcasting.
- $10 a month gets you an honorary producer credit on the Missing Comma podcast, to be relaunched in January, plus above.
- $25 a month gets you one Missing Comma t-shirt (design forthcoming), plus all of the above.
Your support will help us – and C4SS – have a fighting chance against major media outlets who would have you believe there’s nothing more important than the two-party political horse race and the view from nowhere. With your support, Missing Comma will be able to put out daily content, expand our social media presence and pay contributors. No matter what, we’re committed to teasing out the relationship between anarchy and journalism.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in January.
October 28 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most classic and revered political speeches in American history. Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” roused the American people and was a crucial moment in his ascendance to the conservative leader he became. That’s why it’s crucial that we forget it.
A popular conservative news site writes, “we would do well to also remember the choice he made that became the spark, spirit and driving force of his vision for the country.” Ah don’t the rhetoric and buzzwords fill you with a sense of patriotism? If it doesn’t you probably hate America…or something.
Contrary to the right-wingers ahistorical love affair with the Reagan presidency, he didn’t, “build his politics around a profound respect for the honest, hardworking men and women who made America work”…whatever that means. He was a big government, war-mongering, statist with little concern for anyone not entrenched in his administration.
Reagan raised taxes 11 times. He tripled the federal budget deficit. Overall federal spending ballooned. He bailed out the absurdly regressive social security program. He doubled the size of the department of education, increased farm programs by 140%, and more that doubled foreign aid. Perhaps worst of all, he funded the rise of Osama bin Laden.
What kind of small government hero is this?
Why are so-called “limited government conservatives” praising one of the most statist presidents in recent memory? Perhaps it’s because they are simply ignoring history and buying into the propaganda. On the other hand, it might be that conservatism isn’t actually all that dedicated to freedom and liberty like it says it is. Maybe it’s all just rhetoric. Maybe the conservatives are just as tyrannical and statist as liberals. Just maybe.
Writing in response to Reagan’s fetish for military spending, that has plagued the Republican Party since, Murray Rothbard wrote, “How can we reconcile the plea for individual liberty, the free market, and the minimizing of government with the call for global confrontation and increased power to the FBI and the Pentagon?”
The answer is we can’t. There is no reconciliation. It’s the conservative contradiction.
Of course, we can’t be that surprised modern conservatives ignore this contradiction and buy into the “war on terror” rhetoric and other such statist nonsense. After all, they are caught up in the game of politics. But how on Earth do libertarians get caught up in the Reagan fetishizing?!
In an attempt to find common ground or work with the right, libertarians have often fallen into the trap of Reagan worship; somehow spinning a few select quotes into evidence that Reagan was a libertarian. Does the above track record look remotely libertarian to you? If you have the slightest knowledge of the work of Spooner, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and others you’ll quickly realize the Reagan presidency was the total opposite of libertarianism. It ought to be frowned upon by any principled libertarian.
Fusionism is a strategy doomed to fail. Libertarians aren’t just “republicans who smoke pot.” Libertarianism is a radical, principled, anti-political, anti-conservative ideology. While conservatism glorifies tradition, stagnation, and the past, libertarianism embraces dynamism, tolerance, an open culture, and innovation. Rightly understood, it belongs on the left, like its classically liberal forerunners.
Trying to claim Reagan as one of ours, or trying to moderate our radical-ness to appeal to the right leads to the disintegration of truly libertarian principles. We would not do well to remember Reagan’s speech. It’s imperative that we completely forget it, the entire Reagan presidency, and conservatism as a whole if we want a free future.
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Students For Liberty’s New Orleans Regional Conference. It was a delightful event, featuring a talk by C4SS’s own Roderick Long along with many other radical, principled, and insightful speakers.
One of the most interesting presentations was by Maggie McNeill, a retired sex worker who blogs at The Honest Courtesan. Her talk debunked a variety of common myths surrounding sex work, and made a compelling case for decriminalizing prostitution. Moreover, she argued that the criminalization of sex work undermines everyone’s liberties, even for people who never intend to buy or sell sex, and that the “War on Whores” is beginning to take the place of the War on Drugs.
Increasing enforcement of anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws enables the state to target the same people they’ve targeted under drug prohibition, McNeill argued. She explains that when young people join gangs, one of their roles is bringing in revenue. Men largely do this by selling drugs, while women often do this by selling sex. Thus, the War on Drugs enables the police to arrest and incarcerate young men of color for selling drugs. In the case of prostitution, however, the men in the gang can be arrested and indicted as “traffickers” or “pimps.” In both cases, McNeill argues, young men of color are criminalized.
Another similarity between prostitution prohibition and drug prohibition is the way they empower police to detain, search, and arrest people for utterly absurd reasons. In some cities, police arrest women for prostitution simply for possessing condoms. Yes, the desire to have safe sex is considered evidence of prostitution, especially if you’re a transgender woman of color. In my home state of Utah, police can arrest someone basically for “acting sexy.” When Andrew McCullough and I argued before the Utah State Legislature that this law was overly broad and would criminalize perfectly legal speech, especially that of strippers, the bill’s proponents adamantly denied this. However, our view was grounded in direct quotes from the bill’s text, while the bill’s proponents never referenced the bill’s text and instead indulged in paternalistic fear mongering about prostitution. The bill was sponsored by Democrat Jennifer Seelig and argued for by Chris Burbank, a police chief who is praised for his liberal approach by ordinarily skeptical commentators like Radley Balko.
Anti-prostitution laws often get support from liberals, progressives, and even some leftists, largely because they are promoted in the name of protecting women and stopping sex trafficking. Just as prison abolitionists invoke the name and the moral appeal of the struggle to abolish chattel slavery, anti-prostitution activists cast their work as a struggle against slavery and name their movement for increased police state power after abolitionism. One anti-prostitution group calls themselves “Demand Abolition,” for example. Conflating prostitution with slavery has a long history. The early 20th Century movement against so-called “white slavery” was used to criminalize people of color and lay the groundwork for the surveillance state, Thaddeus Russell argues.
Today, pro-criminalization radical feminists smear opponents of criminalization as misogynists. Amnesty International has been repeatedly attacked for supporting the decriminalization of prostitution, for example. Feminist support for criminalizing consensual sex acts and enabling racist, misogynistic, and transphobic police repression represents a disturbing theme that Angela Keaton explored in her talk at the NOLA Conference: the co-option of liberation movements by the state. Keaton pointed to Gay Inc’s silence on the plight of Chelsea Manning, the push to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the imperialist armed forces, and the Feminist Majority Foundation’s support for war in Afghanistan (against the wishes of feminists in Afghanistan). Other examples include the push for hate crimes laws and the carceral feminist positions on both domestic violence and prostitution.
Presentations at the NOLA Conference by Maggie McNeill, Thaddeus Russell, and Angela Keaton all touched on this crucial issue in various ways. I’m glad young libertarians were introduced to serious and radical thinking on issues of social oppression, as well as critiques of the co-option of liberation movements to serve the interests of the state. There are still more SFL regional conferences happening this fall. Check here to see if there’s one coming up in your area.
Durante el mes de octubre traduje al español “La izquierda punitiva y la criminalización de la homofobia” y “El partidismo servil de los socialistas brasileños“, ambos de Valdenor Júnior, “La competencia como ‘ley de protección de la competencia’“, de David D’Amato y “Dejemos que el mercado contenga el Ébola“, de Thomas L. Knapp.
En este momento estamos recaudando fondos para que C4SS esté presente en dos eventos: Libertopia y la Conferencia Internacional de Estudiantes por la Libertad (ISFLC) 2015.
Libertopia es un festival y conferencia anual muy prominente en la que se explora y debate sobre la teoría y la práctica del libertarismo radical. Este año se celebrará en San Diego del 13 al 16 de noviembre.
En ISFLC se reúnen mentes libertarias del mundo entero y a C4SS solo le faltan 500 dólares para poder tener una mesa que nos represente en el evento. Es una excelente oportunidad para difundir ideas radicales de anarquismo izquierdista en el ambiente libertario tradicional.
Con una donación de 5 dólares nos ayudarías a tener presencia en ambos eventos y apoyarías nuestro crecimiento para que en un futuro no muy lejano podamos empezar a hacer presencia en eventos y conferencias en el mundo de habla hispana.
¡Salud y libertad!
Spanish Media Coordinator Report, October 2014
During October I translated into Spanish “The Punitive Left and the Criminalization of Homophobia” and “The Slavish Partisanship of Brazil’s Socialists,” both by Valdenor Júnior, “Open Competition as ‘Competition Law’” by David D’Amato, and “Let the Market Contain Ebola,” by Thomas L. Knapp.
At the moment there are two events that we are currently raising money for in order to secure a C4SS presence: Libertopia and ISFLC 2015. A $5 dontaion will not only help us get there, but will also contribute to our objective of being able to have a presence in similar events in te Spanish speaking world in a not too distant future. Please help us reach that goal with a $5 donation!
¡Salud y libertad!
October marks another productive month for C4SS. Maybe not as productive in quantity, but certainly in quality. C4SS is a media center and think tank: we focus on crafting editorials for mass media reproduction (over 2000 reprints, and counting, documented) and academic level studies.
Each month we invest more and more into book reviews and studies. We are honored by the opportunity to publish Dr. Mark Hyde’s study critiquing Chile’s “privatized” pension system and we have four more studies on the way covering such topics as: Property and Power, Famous Anarchists, Libertarian Environmentalism, and Bitcoin Crypto-equity.
October is the month we began publishing the reviews of David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years that we have collected. If you haven’t yet, check out William Gillis‘ Debt: The Possibilities Ignored.
We also found time for another volley against Paul Krugman‘s mythology regarding economic history, state power and presidential beneficence. And we have successfully funded our Tor node just in time to begin raising funds to send C4SS Fellows to Libertopia and ISFLC.
Building viable and disruptive institutional alternatives, with their attendant and supportive ecosystems, require, among other things, enthusiasm, participation and resources. Each factor contains important information required to make course, budget and growth decisions. C4SS is an organization that operates predominately on your support. Our growth and influence, since 2006, has been slow and steady, but we would love to do more. We want to do more, but we need your help.
If C4SS, as an organization and an idea, is something you like having around or would like to see do more things (like funding more studies, publishing more books, helping with travel expenses for writers to speak at events, updating the youtube graphics, etc), then, please, donate $5 today.
What will $5 a month get you from C4SS? Well let’s see,
For the month of October, C4SS published:
And, thanks to the dedication of our Media Coordinators and translators, C4SS translated and published:
We Need Your Help to Meet You in Person
The libertarian world is full of meet and greet opportunities from book fairs to conferences. At the moment there are two events that we are currently raising money for in order to secure a C4SS presence: Libertopia and ISFLC 2015.
Libertopia is a prominent annual conference/festival exploring radical libertarian theory and practice. This year’s meeting will be in San Diego, Nov. 13-16.
$400 will get us a booth at the upcoming Libertopia meeting to promote our literature and to engage conference attendees in conversation about left-libertarian ideas.
Please help the fund the Revolution!
The International Students For Liberty Conference is the year’s premier gathering of libertarian minds from all over the world – and C4SS is a mere $500 away from getting a table at this event. This is a wonderful oppertunity to further imbue radical left anarchist ideas into the mainstream libertarian project.
Every penny counts and the Center appreciates any and all help you are willing to give. Let’s get C4SS to ISFLC 2015!
Please help out both fundraisers today with a $5 donation!
C4SS and Tor
We are happy to inform everyone, especially the Tor community, that we have secured the donations needed to maintain our Tor node for another quarter. We want to thank everyone that contributed towards making this happen.
Debt: The Possibilities Ignored
We have decided against waiting and will begin publishing what articles we have reviewing David Graeber’s Debt:The First 5000 Years. Our first article is by William Gillis: Debt: The Possibilities Ignored.
It’s no secret that economists and libertarians have developed a bad habit of assuming things about history and other societies on first principle without actually checking archaeological or anthropological findings. On occasion the divide can be quite stark. David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years gets a lot of momentum by attacking a widely circulated economic fable purporting to explain the origin of currency wherein coinage precedes credit. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the “I need a blanket and all I have to barter with are five chickens but everyone in my village likes cowry shells” dilemma at the start of elementary economics textbooks has no clear historical basis; there’s little evidence small tribes or villages needed to invent physical currency to facilitate market exchange internally because reputation and credit are far more natural and flexible.
To say this is sympathetic territory for me would be an understatement. In my longest essay in Markets Not Capitalism I emphasized the role reputation and goodwill play in relationships as more fundamental and foundational than property titles and critiqued the recurring assumption that property titles are inherent to all societies. Even though my conclusion was a full-throated defense of property titles, albeit repositioned as a looser, less absolute, second order derivation from goodwill and reputation, you might be forgiven for expecting a strictly positive review of Graeber’s breakout book. Certainly many of my colleagues did. And there is a lot to be found of value in Debt for libertarians and anarchists of all stripes. It is a refreshingly audacious work hearkening towards the kind of grand theory building radicals used to do and I’ve found myself handing it out to young activists hungry for something of more audacity and scope than Gelderloos or Bonanno. It’s been far too long since a work of anarchist theory topped bestseller lists. And anything that so flusters and discombobulates liberals, marxists, and vulgar libertarians alike is surely of value.
However Debt is not without its flaws, some of them quite vexing. …
In early November we will publish Kevin Carson’s contribution to our understanding of Graeber’s Debt.
New Wine in Old Bottles
… There is a world of possibility in disruptive technology, with ideas for decentralisation waiting in the minds of an increasingly anti-state, tech-savvy generation.
This modularization is not confined to the digital realm. In fact, physical manufacturing is the main focus of Carson’s work. Citing the unsustainability of the Sloanist industrial model – which fetishizes “enormous market areas and costly, product-specific machinery” – he demonstrates the superiority of localised production. Emilia-Romanga (a prosperous region of Italy) is used as a case-study for community-based supply chains, small-scale general purpose machinery and a style of manufacturing that is far more responsive to local demand. The advantages of local production, especially in an anarchist society, are made clear. Less intermediary steps in the chain of production give regions more resilience to economic downturns, whilst workers’ bargaining power is improved as wage labour becomes an optional supplement to the income of self-sufficient households. …
The Anarchist as Lover
… Love is not solidarity. Solidarity is nothing more than loyalty to the cause of a group. It isn’t love. I am told often why I should have solidarity with this group or that despite any personal connection with those involved, despite my judgment on the rightness of their actions. It is not love because love isn’t loyal. Love is infatuated, it is dedicated, it will not merely speak a word of agreement and obedience with The Cause. Lovers do not require obedience. What would you not do for those you love? Do you have to be put in line and told what to love? No, we do not need that kind of dedication to our fellows. We need angered, impassioned, unstoppable individuals guided by their connection with those around them, with those who have shown us they are worth us fighting for and along side. …
Wildness as Praxis
Grant Mincy is C4SS’s resident expert on ecology and environmental activism. He has a fantastic new study on how property rights, political power, the anthropocene and ecology relate to each other within an left market anarchist context. His feature article, Wildness as Praxis gives us a hint of what to expect in this upcoming study.
… The question then becomes, what will follow? The answer is something both beautiful and complex, while liberating and dynamic. Perhaps it is time to revisit our classical naturalists — of which there are plenty. However, one thing that John Muir (or your favorite historical eco-advocate) and his ilk had was a connection to the natural world and a desire for conservation. They did not much care to talk about what governments ought to do, but rather what they ought not do. Environmental achievement was obtained by pronouncing the splendid beauty of natural ecosystems, the challenges facing nature, and the innate need to protect wild spaces — even for our own well-being. Muir and other environmental advocates also practiced their ideals as they labored for the great outdoors.
In order to meet the demands of a changing Earth we will have to adapt. We will be required to constantly change, just like our mountains and rivers. Anarchist and Deep-Ecologist Gary Snyder, in his essay, The Etiquette of Freedom, describes, in great detail, the need to reclaim the words nature, wilderness and wildness — and it is in wildness that we will discover anarchism. …
Classical Liberalism and Conservatism
Speaking of studies, C4SS is honored to publish a detailed critique of Chile’s “private” pension system written by Dr. Mark Hyde. In Dr. Hyde’s Classical Liberalism and Conservatism: How is Chile’s Pension System Best Conceptualised?, yet another privatization scheme is exposed as a conservative defense of a corporate status quo,
… In view of this evidence of policy design and outcomes then, the assertion that the architects of Chile’s multi-pillar retirement system created a “private” pension arrangement that was compatible with the core principles of classical liberalism is looking highly questionable. In reality, there are many stark points of contrast between its design and these tenets, particularly the classical liberal emphasis on the primacy of liberty. But if Chile’s “private” pension arrangement during our period of analysis cannot be regarded as a particular instantiation of classical liberal principles, how is it best described?
According to one authoritative historian of economic affairs, the deployment of state power to augment the wealth, power, and authority of corporate elites is not characteristic of laissez faire, neither did it emerge during the “neoliberal” era of the late 20 th century. Rather, the growing prominence of conservative economic policy and regulation on behalf of corporate elites can be traced back to the very early 20th century when large business enterprises were confronted by smaller and more efficient firms in intensely competitive markets. Characteristically, corporate elites responded to this challenge not by rationalising productive effort in order become more competitive, but by seeking preferential treatment from the state in the form of market privileges and subsidies. These early statutory measures laid the foundations for the institutionalisation of a very distinctive but prevalent form of capitalism, as acknowledged by scholars at different points across the ideological spectrum. …
The conservative commitment to the market is also very distinctive, endorsing individualism and competition to the extent that both can be a source of the wealth, power and authority of corporate elites; and thus subordinating the market to the goal of sustaining a hierarchical social order. This means ultimately that conservatism adopts a “pragmatic attitude towards the economy, realising that compromise and concession may have to be made to maintain social order” …
Poor Paul Krugman
In his recent Rolling Stone cover story (“In Defense of Obama,” October 8), Nobel Prize-winning economist, peak liberal and New York Times commentator Paul Krugman lays out what he believes is a qualified defense of Barack Obama’s presidency: A sycophantic love letter from a man who surely must know better, but either has chosen to ignore six years of war, economic pain and social tension, or simply doesn’t care. …
… Contra Krugman’s beloved historical myth that “the robber baron era ended when we as a nation decided that some business tactics were out of line,” any potential robber-baron power Amazon wields depends on the very same uniform, artificially large-scale federal transportation and postal shipping infrastructure that locked in the profits of the Gilded Age business cartels. Dismantling those subsidies, not propping up publishing’s Hachettes, would be the real way to keep Amazon honest.
… To repeat, the Robber Baron Era never ended. And far from being the Robber Barons’ enemy, the US government has been their chief tool for survival to this day. And perhaps the single most important function of the US government in upholding corporate power is enforcing “intellectual property,” so central to the business models of the proprietary content industries in the Democratic coalition. The most profitable industries in the global economy — entertainment, software, biotech, pharma, electronics — all depend on “intellectual property.” “Intellectual property” is central to the dominant industrial model by which Western corporations outsource all actual production to independent shops working on contract, but use patents or trademarks to retain monopoly rights over disposal of the product. …
The Robber Barons are with us just as much as ever, their power depends entirely on the capitalist state, and “progressives” like Paul Krugman — wittingly or unwittingly — are their shills.
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For libertarian prison abolitionists, Randy Barnett’s The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law is an indispensable book. Not only does Barnett offer a persuasive series of arguments for a stateless legal order, he further argues against the legitimacy of punishment altogether.
However, even as crucial as Barnett’s work is for libertarian prison abolitionists, it is not a prison abolitionist book. Despite opposing punishment, Barnett does still defend hypothetical prisons on two grounds: incapacitation and restitution. In this post, I’ll try to explain why even Barnett’s very limited defense of prisons still fails.
What is a prison?
Before doing so, it’s important to remember what exactly we mean by “prison” when we say that we are “prison abolitionists.” By prisons, I refer to large compounds where people are involuntarily confined (typically with many other criminals) in response to their having committed a crime, without the right to voluntarily transfer to another location if that other location would confine them just as well, and where the administration has almost total control over those confined. A given prison might not clearly and precisely fit all of these conditions exactly, but this at least gives us a general idea of what we’re talking about. As will be important in what follows, it also shows that one can hypothetically be forcibly confined without the location of their confinement being a prison.
Barnett holds that one non-punitive purpose for prison and prison sentences can be incapacitation. In other words, he believes that a prison sentence can be legitimate as a means of extended self-defense. If it is legitimate to use force in direct self-defense, then it is clearly legitimate to prevent someone from (for example) leaving a room if you know they would immediately aggress against someone if they did. If this is this the case, and if we accept that certain kinds of actions can communicate intentions toward future actions, then forcibly confining someone based on crimes they’ve committed in the past can also be potentially legitimate.
So far, Barnett’s argument is sound as far as it goes. However, the next step that Barnett takes is where he goes too far. Namely, he contends that this leads to the re-emergence of the crime-tort distinction, and consequently, prisons.
While it may be legitimate to forcibly confine people who pose ongoing threats, this is only going to be a very small subset of criminals. Even for violent crimes like murder, the fact that someone has aggressed against another person is not good enough of a reason to believe they will do so again. The average crime is a product of things like passion or circumstance, not of the psychotic nature of someone who genuinely poses an ongoing threat. Furthermore, most people who are ongoing threats are typically ongoing threats to particular people, not the general public, and can often be handled with a restraining order. Those who are ongoing threats to the general public are also not necessarily especially serious ongoing threats, and could potentially be handled in some way other than simply confining them.
When dealing with those remaining serious ongoing threats to the general public, forced confinement can be legitimate. However, it is not legitimate to confine them to a particular location when another location might do just as well. Nor is it legitimate to place them there automatically as a result of the particular crime they committed – Barnett is right to suggest that actions can communicate future actions, but this must be as part of a larger, highly contextual interpretation of those actions.
It is also not legitimate to place them there in such a way that puts them under the near total control of the administration. In fairness to Barnett, he seems to agree there, saying that prisoners “would be entitled to take legal action to ensure that their rights are respected”. It seems difficult, though, to see how that entitlement could be actualized without also allowing even a limited right of exit to another location (provided that the alternative location would work just as well.)
Finally, why this issue gives us the re-emergence of the crime-tort distinction is left unexplained. Surely, tort law is able to handle self-defense just as well as criminal law, and it’s unclear what necessary thing that bringing back the crime-tort distinction actually does in this instance.
Working off Restitution Debts
Barnett’s second, much more far-reaching and problematic justification for prisons involves cases where an aggressor is not immediately able to pay restitution, or might be expected to try avoiding payment. In such cases, Barnett proposes that criminals could be sentenced to prison, where those debts could be worked off. Importantly, Barnett believes that “they would be released only when full restitution had been made or when it was adjudged that reparations could more quickly be made by unconfined employment.”
The main problem with this approach, and especially with Barnett’s use of it, is that it clashes with inalienability. Without a sturdier justification for bringing back the crime-tort justification than the one he gives, restitution debts become legally indistinct from any other debt. Thus, unless Barnett is willing to sanction debt slavery for a debt generated by hitting someone’s car, or even failure to repay a loan, he cannot justify debt slavery for a debt generated by actions we currently think of as crimes. Wages can be garnished, and all sorts of other, more normal methods of debt collection can be used, but you cannot imprison someone and force them to work.
Notice, by the way, that even if you accept Barnett’s limited re-emergence of the crime-tort distinction, this does not justify imprisoning someone simply to collect their restitution debt. This is because Barnett’s justification is only argued for on the basis of incapacitation, and at no time does he provide a reason for also allowing restitution debt as an independent justification for incarceration. If the only reason a particular criminal in Barnett’s hypothetical is still in prison is because they have not yet paid off their restitution debt, then they are there for a reason that Barnett has not argued for.
Inalienable & Nonforfeitable Rights
Barnett might also resist the claim that his defense of inalienability is inconsistent with his defense of restitution-based imprisonment is by drawing a distinction between alienating and forfeiting one’s rights. As he states earlier in the book:
“A claim that a right is inalienable must be distinguished from a claim that it is nonforfeitable. ‘A person who has forfeited a right has lost the right because of some offence or wrongdroing.’ One who wishes to extinguish or convey an inalienable right may do so by committing the appropriate wrongful act and thereby forfeiting it. But notwithstanding the consensual nature of such an action, it is the wrongfulness or injustice of the right-holder’s act, and not the right-holder’s consent, that justifies the conclusion that an inalienable right has been forfeited.”
All this may be enough to justify a distinction between the way we define the concepts of inalienable and nonforfeitable rights, but it does not justify a difference in the way we judge them. Virtually every argument for inalienability will also be an argument for nonforfeitability. Barnett’s own argument, that you are indeed physically unable to give up control of yourself, whereas you can easily physically give up control of alienable goods, is one such example. Committing a crime no more makes you able to give up control of your body than saying “I hereby give up control of my body.”
A defender of the claim that criminals can forfeit their rights by committing crimes might say that we need forfeitability in order to account for the justice of self-defense. If I’m coming at you with a clenched fist, clearly with the intent to swing it at your face, I forfeit my right to run in your general direction, and to swing my fists. Without forfeitability, someone might say, we cannot make that judgment, and are reduced to total pacifism.
Where this defense goes wrong is that it mistakes what’s morally going on in this situation. Someone who physically prevents me from attacking you is not acting against a right that I’ve forfeited, but one that I never had in the first place. If I never raised my fist or even had the thought of hitting you, I would still not have the right to use my fists in that way. If I did hit you, I would still retain all the rights that I had previously had to my fists – for instance, you couldn’t retributively cut them off – that I had before doing so. At no point does the concept of forfeitability need to be appealed to in order to explain self-defense.
For these reasons, Barnett’s defense of prisons without punishment does not succeed. Even still, because these reasons do not have to appeal to the concept of punishment, I take them to be the strongest reasons given for prisons. Thus, it is important to take the time to specifically address them independently of more standard justifications.
 pp. 187-191.
 pp. 190-191
It’s well known that the United States has the largest prison population on Earth. It’s less obvious why this is the case. To truly understand mass incarceration, we should examine what caused America’s prison population to grow so dramatically over the last several decades.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, a recent report by the National Research Council, helps explain the growth of America’s prison state. Last week I discussed the report’s findings regarding the impact of impact of mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes laws, truth in sentencing laws, and other harsh sentencing policies. This week I’ll discuss the report’s findings on the underlying causes of mass incarceration.
The authors begin by exploring how the federal government’s power and influence over criminal justice matters grew, and the substantial impact this had on the rising prison state:
Before World War II, the making, implementation, and enforcement of criminal justice policy in the United States were almost exclusively within the purview of the states or local authorities, not the federal government. From the 1940s onward, public officials and policy makers at all levels of government—from federal to state to local—increasingly sought changes in judicial, policing, and prosecutorial behavior and in criminal justice policy and legislation. These changes ultimately resulted in major increases in the government’s capacity to pursue and punish lawbreakers and, beginning in the 1970s, in an escalation of sanctions for a wide range of crimes. Furthermore, criminal justice became a persistent rather than an intermittent issue in U.S. politics. To a degree unparalleled in U.S. history, politicians and public officials beginning in the 1960s regularly deployed criminal justice legislation and policies for expressive political purposes as they made “street crime”—both real and imagined—a major national, state, and local issue. (105)
In response to race riots and other social unrest, “President Harry S. Truman and his supporters invoked the need for more “law and order” as they sought a greatly expanded role for the federal government in the general administration of criminal justice and law enforcement at the local and state levels and in the specific prosecution” (107). While Truman and his allies largely did not see their legislative proposals enacted, “all this legislative activity in the 1940s and 1950s deeply influenced how future discussions of law and order, crime, and the federal role in law enforcement would unfold. In advocating these measures, Truman and his allies helped establish a federal role in state and local law enforcement” (108).
The process of increasing federal control over criminal law continued, fueled by voices across the political spectrum. Civil libertarian impulses paved the way for an end to indeterminate sentencing and the rise of mandatory minimums. “The American Bar Foundation’s expansive research agenda in the 1950s and 1960s on the problem of discretion and arbitrary power also was a contributing factor to the political push for more uniformity, neutrality, and proceduralism in law enforcement and sentencing.” Also influential was “the American Legal Institute’s project to devise a Model Penal Code (to guide sentencing policy)” (108).
Of course, much of the political push for increased penal power came from the right. For example, the Goldwater campaign was among the first to push “law and order” as a key issue. After the Goldwater campaign, “the law-and-order issue became a persistent tripwire stretching across national and local politics. Politicians and policy makers increasingly chose to trigger that wire as they sought support for more punitive policies and for expansion of the institutions and resources needed to make good on promises to “get tough”” (108).
The 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Act was a bipartisan bill that helped expand federal power in the realm of law enforcement. Liberal Democrats initially supported the act as a way of pushing proceduralism, police professionalism, uniformity, and fairness. However, more conservative politicians in both parties placed provisions into the act that served to expand police power and undermine the various rights that had been granted to suspects, defendants, and prisoners by the Warren Court. “Thus, with mixed motivations, both liberals and conservatives helped clear the political ground for this and subsequent measures that expanded the criminal justice system and ultimately gave local, state, and federal authorities increased capacity for arrest, prosecution, and incarceration” (110).
A similar process occurred with the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The bill was initially supported by liberals, because early drafts “provided federal grants to police for equipment, training, and pilot programs and also greater federal investments in rehabilitation, crime prevention, and alternatives to incarceration” (110). Republicans and southern Democrats substantially influenced the bill, however, and “successfully inserted provisions on wiretapping, confessions, and use of eyewitnesses that curtailed the procedural protections that had been extended by Supreme Court decisions” (111).
There were a variety of racial factors at play in the rise of the “tough on crime” politics that pushed increased incarceration. The Democratic Party’s split on Civil Rights issues enabled the Republican Party to use crime as a wedge issue and a key component of their “southern strategy.” Associating crime and racial fears for political gain was nothing new. The major distinction was the coded nature of this racism:
The southern strategy was different in that it rested on politicizing the crime issue in a racially coded manner. Nixon and his political strategists recognized that as the civil rights movement took root, so did more overt and seemingly universally accepted norms of racial equality.14 In this new political context, overtly racial appeals like those wielded by Goldwater’s supporters in the 1964 campaign would be counterproductive to the forging of a new winning majority. Effectively politicizing crime and other wedge issues—such as welfare—would require the use of a form of racial coding that did not appear on its face to be at odds with the new norms of racial equality. As top Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman explained, Nixon “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while appearing not to [emphasis in original]” (Haldeman, 1994, p. 53). (116)
The southern strategy was key to the rise of mass incarceration, and white voters consistently support more punitive policies than blacks. However, it would be an oversimplification to suggest that black leaders and voters played no role in supporting the rise of punitive policies. For example, “some black activists in Harlem supported the Rockefeller drug laws, as did the city’s leading black newspaper (Barker, 2009; Fortner, 2013). In New York City and elsewhere, black leaders called for tougher laws for drug and other offenses and demanded increased policing to address residents’ demands that something be done about rising crime rates and the scourge of drug abuse, especially the proliferation of open-air drug markets and the use of illegal drugs such as heroin and then crack cocaine (Barker, 2009; Fortner, 2013; Forman, 2012)” (119).
Republicans often led the way in pushing punitive policies, but the push was generally bipartisan. Indeed, “The two parties embarked on periodic “bidding wars” to ratchet up penalties for drugs and other offenses. Wresting control of the crime issue became a central tenet of up-and-coming leaders of the Democratic Party represented by the center-right Democratic Leadership Council, most notably “New Democrat” Bill Clinton (Stuntz, 2011, pp. 239-240; Murakawa, forthcoming, Chapter 5; Schlosser, 1998; Campbell, 2007)” (120).
Ultimately, the U.S. government’s institutional features play a key role in explaining the rise of mass incarceration. As the National Research Council report notes, “the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have been far more likely to enact stiffer mandatory minimum sentence legislation in the weeks prior to an election. Because of the nation’s system of frequent legislative elections, dispersed governmental powers, and election of judges and prosecutors, policy makers tend to be susceptible to public alarms about crime and drugs and vulnerable to pressures from the public and political opponents to quickly enact tough legislation” (124). Electoral politics likewise makes prosecutors and judges behave in more punitive ways. “In the United States, most prosecutors are elected, as are most judges (except those who are nominated through a political process). Therefore, they are typically mindful of the political environment in which they function. Judges in competitive electoral environments in the United States tend to mete out harsher sentences (Gordon and Huber, 2007; Huber and Gordon, 2004)” (124).
This fits what we would expect from a public choice perspective. Research by Daniel D’Amico explores the perverse political incentives that give rise to disproportionate punishment in detail. Similar problems have also been explored in Paul Larkin‘s work on public choice theory and overcriminalization. This research can help us understand how America became the world leader in mass incarceration. Hopefully it can give us an idea of the institutional and ideological shifts that are necessary to change it.
A seguir estão os nossos resultados relativos a setembro:
- 24 artigos publicados no total
- 5 artigos originais brasileiros (3 meus e 2 de Valdenor Júnior)
- Nossa página do Facebook saltou de 2055 curtidas para 2531 (+476)
- Nosso perfil do Twitter saltou de 81 seguidores para 91 (+10)
- 82 republicações em jornais e sites de notícias
E abaixo estão os nossos 10 artigos mais republicados do mês:
- Erick Vasconcelos, “Como as privatizações criaram novas estatais no Brasil” – 13 republicações
- Erick Vasconcelos, “Por que os debates eleitorais são um circo” – 9 republicações
- Kevin Carson, “Obama quer derrotar o Estado Islâmico — mas não tanto” – 7 republicações
- Valdenor Júnior, “Quantos mortos pela PM são o bastante?” – 7 republicações
- Valdenor Júnior, “A criminalização do aborto e suas vítimas” – 6 republicações
- Brian Nicholson, “Os policiais realmente “se encaixam na descrição” – 5 republicações
- Kevin Carson, “Você só tinha um trabalho a fazer, ONU” – 5 republicações
- Kevin Carson, “O dia que mudou tudo” – 5 republicações
- Erick Vasconcelos, “Aécio Neves e a ideologia tecnocrata” – 4 republicações
- Joel Schlosberg, “A conquista do Reino Unido pela Escócia” – 4 republicações
Tenho que reservar um momento para falar da recepção extremamente positiva ao texto que escrevi sobre a questão das privatizações no Brasil. De acordo com o site HowManyShares.com, ele foi compartilhado 101 vezes e recebeu 86 curtidas no Facebook, além de ter sido mencionado no Twitter 11 vezes. Ele também foi republicado no site do Instituto Mises Brasil, o que garantiu um alcance ainda maior. O link para o texto do IMB recebeu 841 curtidas, 443 compartilhamentos e 138 comentários no Facebook, 39 compartilhamentos pelo Twitter e 3 pelo Google+. Esse texto representa o tipo de trabalho que eu pretendo continuar a fazer no C4SS no futuro.
A partir de outubro, porém, devo diminuir um pouco o volume de traduções e publicações diárias no C4SS em português, me concentrando em completar os projetos que tenho em andamento junto ao Centro. Naturalmente, nós não vamos deixar de comentar e falar dos assuntos mais importantes no mundo inteiro a partir do ponto de vista anarquista de mercado.
Você pode ajudar o nosso trabalho. É a sua doação que mantém o C4SS em funcionamento!
Coordenador de Mídias
Centro por uma Sociedade Sem Estado (C4SS)
Portuguese Media Coordinator Update: September 2014
Here are the numbers for September from the Portuguese C4SS embassy:
- 24 published articles
- 5 original Brazilian articles (3 written by myself, 2 by Valdenor Júnior)
- Our Facebook page jumped from 2055 likes to 2531 (+476)
- Our Twitter profile went from 81 followers to 91 (+10)
- 82 article pickups from newspapers and news websites
And below is the list of our 10 most republished articles this month. Evidently, the indications refer to the Portuguese versions:
- Erick Vasconcelos, How Privatizations Created New State Companies in Brazil – 13 pickups
- Erick Vasconcelos, Why Electoral Debates are a Circus – 9 pickups
- Kevin Carson, Obama Wants to Defeat ISIS — But Not That Badly – 7 pickups
- Valdenor Júnior, How Many Murders by the Police are Enough? – 7 pickups
- Valdenor Júnior, Victims of Abortion Criminalization – 6 pickups
- Brian Nicholson, Cops Really “Fit the Description” – 5 pickups
- Kevin Carson, You Had One Job, UN – 5 pickups
- Kevin Carson, The Day That Changed Everything – 5 pickups
- Erick Vasconcelos, Elections and the Technocratic Ideology – 4 pickups
- Joel Schlosberg, The Conquest of the United Kingdom by Scotland – 4 pickups
I should say something about the overwhelmingly positive response I got after writing the article about the 1990s privatizations in Brazil. According to HowManyShares.com, its original URL was shared 101 times and got 86 likes on Facebook, and had 11 re-tweets. It was also republished in the popular Mises Brazil Institute (IMB) website, reaching even more people. IMB’s link to the article got 841 likes, 443 shares, and 138 comments on Facebook, was re-tweeted 39 times and shared 3 times on Google+. I intend to continue working in that line in the future for C4SS.
I also gave a lecture for a local Students For Liberty (EPL) chapter in my town talking about the same subject. A Youtube video of the lecture has been made available.
From October onwards, though, I will be scaling back the volume of translations and daily publications on the Portuguese C4SS embassy, to focus on completing my other ongoing projects with the Center. Naturally, we will still continue to comment and talk about important issues from all over the world from an anarchist point of view.
You can help us out! It’s your donation that makes our work possible!
Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS)
Mandatory minimum sentences have been receiving a fair bit of scrutiny lately, largely due to the efforts of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). And rightly so. Mandatory minimums remove discretion and context from sentencing, resulting in grossly unjust and wildly disproportionate sentences for minor offenses. Moreover, they’ve caused some troubling shifts in who has discretionary power in the criminal justice system, and they’ve been a driving force behind racial disparities in incarceration.
In April, the National Research Council released a report, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. The report explains many of the reasons incarceration rates have increased so dramatically in the United States, and analyzes the consequences of mass incarceration.
The report largely ascribes the growth of America’s prison population to changes in sentencing policies. Until the 1970’s, the federal and state governments employed a system of “indeterminate sentencing,” in which “sentencing was to be individualized and judges had wide discretion” (72). But over the next few decades, America’s sentencing laws changed drastically. The report identifies three phases of this shift. During the first phase, from “1975 to the mid-1980s, the reform movement aimed primarily to make sentencing procedures fairer and sentencing outcomes more predictable and consistent. The problems to be solved were “racial and other unwarranted disparities,” and the mechanisms for solving it were various kinds of comprehensive sentencing and parole guidelines and statutory sentencing standards.” These changes were designed with liberal goals in mind, and often featured “population constraints” to control the growth of prison populations. The second phase, however, was far more punitive. “The second phase, from the mid-1980s through 1996, aimed primarily to make sentences for drug and violent crimes harsher and their imposition more certain. The principal mechanisms to those ends were mandatory minimum sentence, three strikes, truth-in-sentencing, and life without possibility of parole laws.” The authors characterize the third phase as a “period of drift” with relatively few increases in punitive policies (73).
The authors primarily blame the prison population’s growth on this second phase. They note that “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which require prisoners to serve a minimum percentage of their sentence before being released on parole, substantially increased prison populations. Citing research from the Urban Institute, the authors note that “When implemented as part of a comprehensive change to the sentencing system, “truth-in-sentencing laws were associated with large changes in prison populations”” (80). These laws primarily increase prison populations over the long term. The authors quote Spelman, who notes “Truth-in-sentencing laws have little immediate effect but a substantial long-run effect. This analysis makes sense: Truth-in-sentencing laws increase time served and reduce the number of offenders released in future years; the full effect would only be observed after prisoners sentenced under the old regime are replaced by those sentenced under the new law.” Because these laws only show their full effects in the long term, many studies understate their impact on incarceration rates. “The Urban Institute, Vera, and RAND studies underestimate the effects of truth-in-sentencing laws on prison population growth because they cover periods ending, respectively, in 1996-1998 (for Ohio), 2002, and 1997. Mandatory minimum sentence, truth-in-sentencing, and three strikes laws requiring decades-long sentences inevitably have a “sleeper” effect,” the report notes (82).
In addition to expanding the prison population, these sentencing policies put a lot of discretion in the hands of prosecutors. The authors note that “Two centuries of experience has shown that mandatory punishments foster circumvention by prosecutors, juries, and judges and thereby produce inconsistencies among cases (Romilly, 1820; Reekie, 1930; Hay, 1975; Tonry, 2009b). Problems of circumvention and inconsistent application have long been documented and understood.” While mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing laws, and other mandatory punishments were designed to produce more standardized, consistent, and certain punishment, they can actually have the opposite impact. The authors provide specific examples of how this operates:
“Legislative prescription of a high mandatory sentence for certain offenders is likely to result in a reduction in charges at the prosecution stage, or if this is not done, by a refusal of the judge to convict at the adjudication stage. The issue…thus is not solely whether certain offenders should be dealt with severely, but also how the criminal justice system will accommodate to the legislative charge” (Remington, 1969, p. xvii). Newman (1966, p. 179) describes how Michigan judges dealt with a lengthy mandatory minimum sentence for drug sales: “Mandatory minimums are almost universally disliked by trial judges…. The clearest illustration of routine reductions is provided by reduction of sale of narcotics to possession or addiction…. Judges … actively participated in the charge reduction process to the extent of refusing to accept guilty pleas to sale and liberally assigning counsel to work out reduced charges.” Newman (1966, p. 182) tells of efforts to avoid 15-year mandatory maximum sentences: “In Michigan conviction of armed robbery or breaking and entering in the nighttime (fifteen-year maximum compared to five years for daytime breaking) is rare. The pattern of downgrading is such that it becomes virtually routine, and the bargaining session becomes a ritual. The real issue in such negotiations is not whether the charge will be reduced but how far, that is, to what lesser offense” (Newman, 1966, p. 182). Dawson (1969, p. 201) describes “very strong” judicial resistance to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of narcotics: “Charge reductions to possession or use are routine. Indeed, in some cases, judges have refused to accept guilty pleas to sale of narcotics, but have continued the case and appointed counsel with instructions to negotiate a charge reduction.” (78-79)
This has a variety of consequences. It erodes the deterrence that is supposed to come with harsher sentencing. But perhaps more importantly, “Mandatory punishments transfer dispositive discretion in the handling of cases from judges, who are expected to be nonpartisan and dispassionate, to prosecutors, who are comparatively more vulnerable to influence by political considerations and public emotion” (79). In addition to putting leniency in the hands of prosecutors, harsher sentences enable prosecutors to secure convictions without due process, as they can stack charges in order to coerce defendants into accepting plea bargains.
These harsher sentences also play a key role in producing racial disparities. The report summarizes the literature on racial bias at various points in the criminal justice process, including bias against black people who match particular stereotypes. While this racism is clearly present, the authors argue it is statistically small compared to the impact of sentencing policies. They argue that, “The reason for increased racial disparities in imprisonment relative to arrests is straightforward: severe sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s greatly increased the lengths of prison sentences mandated for violent crimes and drug offenses for which blacks are disproportionately often arrested” (96).
If social science had played a leading role in policy discussions, these harsh sentencing laws would likely have been seen as undesirable when they were proposed. Unfortunately, “consideration of social science evidence has had little influence on legislative policy-making processes concerning sentencing and punishment in recent decades. The consequences of this disconnect have contributed substantially to contemporary patterns of imprisonment. Evidence on the deterrent effects of mandatory minimum sentence laws is just one such example. Two centuries of experience with laws mandating minimum sentences for particular crimes have shown that those laws have few if any effects as deterrents to crime and, as discussed above, foster patterns of circumvention and manipulation by prosecutors, judges, and juries” (90). It’s predictable that the state would ignore social science evidence. Voters are rationally ignorant, as the cost of studying relevant social science exceeds the benefits to voters of understanding issues. But worse still, as Byran Caplan documents in The Myth of the Rational Voter, voters are rationally irrational. That is, it is instrumentally rational for them to persist in irrational biases that are directly counter to social science, rather than simply being ignorant and agnostic.
The harsh sentences passed during the 1980s and 1990s have been extraordinarily destructive. They have shifted more power into the hands of prosecutors, undermined proportionality, exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and played a key role in bringing us an America that incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth.