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The Weekly Abolitionist: Prisons Without Punishment?

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[1] 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[2], 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[3]. In such cases, Barnett proposes that criminals could be sentenced to prison, where those debts could be worked off. Importantly, Barnett believes[4] 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[5] 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[6], 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.

[1] pp. 187-191.

[2] pp. 190-191

[3] 177-181.

[4] 178.

[5] 78.

[6] 78-79.

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist and Chess Review 52

Patrick Cockburn discusses the march of ISIS.

Howard Lisnoff discusses what the truth about the Vietnam War is.

George H. Smith’s 10th part of his series on social laws.

Gene Healy discusses Obama’s war powers.

Andrew Syrios discusses the left and the warfare state.

Bryan Caplan discusses conservative relativism.

Abigail Hall discusses radioactive fallout in Fallujah.

William N. Grigg discusses the demonizing of Muslims.

Robert Fisk discusses the internet and ISIS.

Ron Paul discusses Ebola and limiting government.

Roy Eidelson and Trudy Bond discuss new evidence linking the CIA to the APA’s “War on Terror” ethics.

James Bovard discusses how Obama wants to fight extremism with extremism.

Winslow Myers discusses the insanity of endless war.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark discusses the folly of arming governments.

Jason Byas discusses why student libertarians shouldn’t hide their anarchism.

Yigit Guany discuses the half-truth about ISIS and imperialist violence.

Richard M. Ebeling discuses radicalism and free market thinking.

Michael Holtzman discusses Obama’s new war in the Middle East.

Alyssa Rohricht discusses force feeding and detainees held by the U.S. government.

Kevin Edmonds and Ajamu Nangwaya discusses the occupation of Haiti by U.N. troops.

Justin Raimondo discusses the insanity of U.S. foreign policy.

Walter Olson discusses the recent spate of gay marriage rulings in the U.S.

Sheldon Richman discusses the fearmongering surrounding ISIS.

Walter Block discusses libertarianism.

Gregory Elich discusses Western support for the Khmer Rouge.

Trevor Hultner discusses Krugman on Obama.

David Swanson discusses faulty arguments for war.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses the failure of CIA arming of rebel groups.

Garry Kasparov beats Jan Timman.

Garry Kasparov beats Lajos Portisch.

The Weekly Abolitionist: Exploring the Causes of Mass Incarceration

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.

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist And Chess Review 51

Cory Massimino discusses Ron Paul and thick/thin libertarianism.

Ryan Calhoun discusses the anarchist as lover.

Anthony Gregory discusses modern Progressive class analysis.

Stephen Kinzer discusses lessons to be learned from WW2.

W.T. Whitney Jr. discusses U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Michael Tracey discusses how the Center for American Progress is selling out the anti-war left.

Dave Lindorff discusses whether the new war in Syria is a war crime or not.

Peter Certo discusses the new war in Syria and Iraq.

Daniel Pye interviews John Pilger on Cambodia and U.S. policy.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses the new phone standards and law enforcement access.

Richard M. Ebeling discusses freedom and exception making to it.

Jason Hirthler discusses the new war in Iraq and Syria.

Dan Glazebrook discusses the war in Syria.

Ben Reynolds discusses the absence of moderate Syrian rebels.

Wendy McElroy discusses how legitimate rights belong to us all.

Sheldon Richman discusses U.S. policy and alienation of Muslims.

Justin Raimondo discusses empire and liberalism.

David S. D’Amato discusses open competition as a remedy to corporate power.

Richard M. Ebeling discusses the legacy of Hayek.

Patrick Cockburn discusses the impending ISIS takeover of a Kurdish town.

Kevin Carson discusses Damon Linker’s recent critique of libertarianism.

Sarah Lazare discusses ending the war in Afghanistan.

Yasmin Nair discusses how liberals helped build prison America.

Justin Raimondo discusses the reasons for the new war.

Lucy Steigerwald discuses whether Obama is better on foreign policy than Bush.

Kevin Keating discusses the breakdown of state militarties and G.I. resistance.

Melvin A. Goodman discusses Leon Panetta’s memoir.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown discusses the practice of making rape victims pay for their own examinations.

Relatório da Coordenação de Mídias em Português: Setembro de 2014

A seguir estão os nossos resultados relativos a setembro:

E abaixo estão os nossos 10 artigos mais republicados do mês:

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, 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.

Também palestrei para o Grupo Frei Caneca dos Estudantes Pela Liberdade (EPL), no Recife, falando sobre o mesmo tema. O vídeo da palestra já foi disponibilizado.

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!

Erick Vasconcelos
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:

And below is the list of our 10 most republished articles this month. Evidently, the indications refer to the Portuguese versions:

I should say something about the overwhelmingly positive response I got after writing the article about the 1990s privatizations in Brazil. According to, 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!

Erick Vasconcelos
Media Coordinator
Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS)

The Weekly Abolitionist: The Pernicious Consequences of Mandatory Minimums

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 StatesExploring 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.

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist And Chess Review 50

Lucy Steigerwald discusses the blank check for war.

Jacob Sullum discusses the 6 ways in which Obama contradicts himself on the war against ISIS.

Ted Galen Carpenter discusses whether America will learn from its Middle East mistakes.

Joseph R. Stromberg discusses Tyler Cowen’s new book.

Kevin Carson discusses a new Reason poll.

David Stockman discusses the situation in Syria.

Nick Turse discusses piracy in Africa.

Avens O’Brien discusses the unintended consequences of foreign intervention.

John Stossel discusses freedom of choice and politicians wanting to ban stuff.

Wendy McElroy discusses voting and libertarian ethics.

Wendy McElroy discusses racism and libertarianism.

Sheldon Richman discusses how foreign intervention impacts freedom at home.

Patrick Cockburn discusses British entry into the war against ISIS.

Franklin Lamb discusses engaging the Syrian opposition with more than just weapons.

Joeva Rock discusses militarizing the Ebola crisis.

Eric Margolis discusses U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

George H. Smith discusses the sociological views of Durkheim.

Laurence M. Vance discusses the I was just doing my job excuse for cops and soldiers.

Shamus Cooke discusses potential war with the Syrian government.

David Swanson discusses ending the war today.

Ben Schreiner discusses a reference guide to the new war.

Tarqi Ali discusses Middle Eastern politics with Patrick Cockburn.

Kent McManigal discusses libertarianism.

David S. D’Amato discusses politics being out of style.

Coleen Rowley discusses the different reactions to beheading and drone killings.

Patrick Cockburn discusses ISIS at the gates of Baghdad.

Rannie Amiri discusses the repressive monarchies allied with the U.S. against ISIS.

Robert Parry discusses neocon policy proposals for Syria.

Aron Nimzowitsch defeats Akiba Rubinstein.

Bobby Fischer defeats Lhamsuren Myagmarsuren.

Uber: Spontaneous Ordure

Over at Reason, Nick Gillespie defends the Hayekian “spontaneous order” idea from Damon Linker thusly:

An obvious example of spontaneous order from the contemporary moment isn’t Iraq or Libya but something like the way Uber operates vis a vis traditional taxi cartels.

I happen to be with Gillespie versus Linker, but I think the idea of Uber as “spontaneous order” is, well, off. In actuality, Uber is an attempt to capture/enclose an already existing spontaneous order that’s been around forever but is finally organizing itself in a capturable/encloseable way.

In the beginning (at least since there have been automobiles, and presumably since there have been coaches) were the jitneys and the gypsy cabs and the mutual acquaintance car pools. They operated beyond the regulatory pale for the most part, but they couldn’t really be done on much of a mass scale.

Then came the Internet and, more slowly than we might have expected but still pretty fast, up went the first primitive mutual discovery systems: Bulletin boards and other fora dedicated to, or with threads for, ride-sharing and car-pooling. These started mostly among students wanting to make it back and forth home for the holidays and so forth and looking for other students from the same area and going to school in the same distant area, and among workers in particular metros who maybe wanted to carpool from the suburbs to an urban edge where they could catch the train on in to work.

Then the more advanced stuff (cell phone apps, etc. to make mutual discovery quicker and easier) became feasible. Uber and Lyft saw that the big money was, in the short term, adapting those methods to the state-approved revenue model (patent the methods, trademark the brands, get government regulators to write a hall pass for you and lock down your potential competitors) as a way of enclosing them and charging rent on them.

Which, to be honest, seems like a natural impulse, just like a worker with some particular skill might decide that his bread is buttered on the side of putting on a tie and jacket and interviewing for a wage position doing Thing X rather than hanging out his shingle as a freelance provider of Thing X.

But that doesn’t make it a good thing. The real future of the spontaneous ride-sharing order isn’t with Uber et al. It’s with the open source apps that let people car-pool, ride-share and cab-hire without passing through some proprietary toll booth.

English Language Media Update for September 2014

A brief update:

In September, I made 42,334 submissions of C4SS material to 2,597 publications worldwide.

For September I am currently aware of 44 media “pickups” of C4SS material … but that figure may be a little low.

For one thing, I’ve noticed some peculiarities in Google search results over the last couple of weeks. Pickups that I knew were there aren’t showing up; there may be pickups that I didn’t and don’t know are there missing as well.

Secondly, one day as I was searching for pickups I had a computer problem that ended with a shutdown between autosaves of my “pickup tracking file” and I still haven’t figured out what, if anything, got lost (partly because a piece may be published and/or picked up one month and detected/cataloged the following month … so I’m finding it hard to do an exacting audit).

The official count of pickups since we started tracking them back in 2010 is 1,938. Lately we’ve been averaging in the neighborhood of 50 per month. I am reasonably confident that we will make the 2,000 mark before the end of the year.

As always, thanks for your support for the Center!

Yours in liberty,
Tom Knapp
English-language Media Coordinator
Center for a Stateless Society

Libertarian Socialism?

Some people have a hard time seeing how a libertarian could call himself or herself a socialist. I understand the confusion. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this was far less a mystery. In market anarchist Benjamin Tucker’s day, socialism was more an umbrella term than it is today. It essentially included anyone who thought the reigning political economy — which they called capitalism (and saw as a system of state privilege for the employer class) — denied workers the full product they would have been earning in some alternative system. The Tuckerite socialists’ alternative was full laissez faire — without patents, tariffs, government-backed money/banking, government land control, etc. The collectivist socialists had some nonmarket system in mind. The point is that socialism was more a negative statement — against capitalism — than a unified positive agenda on behalf of a specific alternative system.

Some might say that the common element for all these variants of socialism was a belief in the labor theory of value. But it may be more precise to say that the comment element was more general: namely, that workers were cheated by the reigning system. That need not commit one to the labor theory. (On the relationship between cost of production and price in Austrian economics, see my “Value, Cost, Marginal Utility, and Böhm-Bawerk.“) In fact, Austrian economics contains an implicit exploitation theory, which was made explicit by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. As I wrote in “Austrian Exploitation Theory“:

Böhm-Bawerk was merely applying the more general exploitation theory held by free-market thinkers at least back to Adam Smith: Monopolies and oligopolies (suppressed competition) harm consumers and workers through higher prices and lower wages. For Smith monopoly was essentially the result of government privilege. This largely has been the view of later Austrians, also.

This should be uncontroversial. In the corporate state, government privilege restricts competition among employers in a variety of ways and — just as important, if not more so — forecloses or raises the cost of self-employment and other alternatives to traditional wage labor. So worker bargaining power is reduced. The difference between what workers would have made in a freed market and what they actually make represents systemic exploitation.

I’m not saying that libertarians should call themselves socialists today. That would not communicate well. But this semantic history has its value.

Informe del coordinador de medios hispanos, agosto y septiembre de 2014

Durante agosto y septiembre traduje al español “Por qué el Papa está menos equivocado que Keith Farrell” y “El rol de los bienes comunales en un mercado libre“, ambos de Kevin Carson, y “El anarquismo individualista y la jerarquía” de Cory Massimino. También publiqué un artículo propio en español, “Los fondos buitre vs. Argentina“, y reproduje la traducción al español de Javier Villate de “‘Economía verde': demasiado verde para ser buena“, de Kevin Carson.

Por último, pero no menos importante, traduje por primera vez al inglés un artículo originalmente escrito en español: “La situación del trabajador en Argentina” de Horacio Langlois.

En C4SS dependemos exclusivamente de las contribuciones de nuestros lectores para mantener el trabajo por nuestra causa, por lo que tu contribución es sumamente valiosa para nosotros. Si crees que C4SS es un proyecto importante para promover una noción de genuina libertad económica y social, te invitamos a apoyarnos con una donación.

¡Salud y libertad!

Alan Furth

Spanish Media Coordinator Report, August-September 2014

During August and September I translated into Spanish “Why the Pope is Less Wrong Than Keith Farrell” and “The Role of Commons in a Free Market,” both by Kevin Carson, and “Individualist Anarchism and Hierarchy” by Cory Massimino. I published an original op-ed in Spanish, “Vulture Funds vs. Argentina,” and I reproduced Javier Villate’s translation of Kevin Carson’s “‘Green Economy?’ We’re Not Green Enough to Buy It.”

Last but not least, I translated into English an article originally written in Spanish for the first time: “The Situation of the Argentine Worker,” by Horacio Langlois.

At C4SS we depend exclusively on the contributions of our readers for supporting our cause, so your contribution is extremely valuable for us. If you believe that C4SS is an important endeavor for promoting genuine ideas about economic and social freedom, please consider making a donation today.

¡Salud y libertad!

Alan Furth

The Weekly Abolitionist: Do We Want Cops & Politicians in Prison?

Do we want cops and politicians to go to prison? Is that a demand that individualist anarchists, radical libertarians, and other enemies of the state should get behind?

Intuitively, it seems like we should. We’re instinctively outraged that cops can outright murder people and almost never get locked up for it. We’re understandably incensed that politicians from Richard Nixon to Ted Kennedy can commit heinous crimes and stay free, just because of their high social standing.

More fundamentally, even when cops and politicians are operating strictly within the limits of the law, they commit acts that would otherwise be seen as high crimes. As long as they follow all the right rituals of law, cops can threaten and kidnap completely peaceful people, and batter them if they resist. By waging war, politicians commit mass murder, and by expanding the prison state for campaign contributions, they literally sell people into slavery.

Ordinary people would certainly at least go to prison if caught doing any of those things. Anarchism is in part defined by a rejection of political authority, which means that we do not morally distinguish between the actions of a cop or politician and the actions of any other individual. So, one might think that the straightforward conclusion here is to one day set up libertarian tribunals to dish out punishments against agents of the state.

This view is understandable, but gravely mistaken.

Before law enters into the situation, we tend to hold to a pretty strict standard of self-defense. Which is to say: in any interpersonal conflict, we reject the initiation of force and only accept violence to the extent that it’s both proportional and genuinely necessary to protect the person being harmed or threatened. When someone goes beyond that minimally necessary amount of force, then they also become an aggressor, and their actions must also be condemned. After the fact, we demand that aggressors make restitution to their victims, but never counsel revenge.

There are very, very rare instances in which forced confinement may be justified, but this is only the case when someone is proven to actually be an ongoing threat to everyone in the community. Even then, this justification doesn’t apply for even the vast majority of violent criminals, and a justification for forced confinement does not justify forced confinement in any particular place. Nor does it justify the near total control that prisons have over prisoners. Hence why prisons are still inherently unjust.

A response might be offered that cops and politicians are indeed ongoing threats to the community at large. That much is true.

Yet the reason cops and politicians are ongoing threats to the community is not because of some psychological condition shared by all cops and politicians. Nor is it about any other quality shared by the particular individuals who occupy those positions of power. Rather, the individuals in those positions of power are ongoing threats to the community precisely because of their positions of power.

In other words, the minimal amount of force necessary to subdue them is just to get them fired or out of office, with the long-run goal of eliminating their jobs entirely. As for getting justice, what should be demanded is restitution – either in the form of hefty monetary compensation, or making amends through some other restorative process. Unlike punishment, that restitution can actually work toward giving back some of what’s been taken from their victims.

Which brings us to what may be the most important point: putting cops and politicians in prison does absolutely nothing to actually solve anything. When some on the left called for the trial and incarceration of George W. Bush (and others in his administration), prison abolitionist Dean Spade dissented, writing:

[T]he call to imprison Bush Administration officials is unsatisfying to me.  Imprisoning them would do nothing for those who have been killed in the wars, and making the call, to me, suggests that we believe the criminal punishment system is an apparatus for dealing with dangerous people and seeking justice, which is not true.  I would rather we put our energies into fighting for things we actually think can ameliorate the harm that has been done and prevent it from continuing.

Even if Bush had gone to prison, the United States government would still be bombing Iraq again in 2014. Even if Darren Wilson goes to prison, the police will continue to arrest black youth at wildly disproportionate rates. To the extent that their sentences would count as victories, they would only be symbolic victories. Those symbolic victories would lead many of us to believe everything was finally under control, numbing our passions for justice, and distracting us from the root causes of their aggression. Just like any other case of punishment.

The desire to fill prisons with those who are most truly dangerous in our society – namely, agents of the state – is a hard one to shake. Even still, it must be seen as a lingering form of retributivism felt by radicals brought up in a culture of criminal law, and like all forms of retributivism, it must be rejected. Especially given that its rationale is the same that empowers the very people it’s trying to fight against.

ESFL Regional Conference – C4SS in Amsterdam

Libertarianism is growing slowly, but steadily in the Netherlands. The European Students for Liberty (ESFL) is currently at the forefront of spreading the free-market gospel to young people. Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend ESFL’s Regional Conference in Europe’s libertine capital: Amsterdam. Through the busy streets I made my way to Oudemanhuispoort, passing a Soviet-themed “coffeeshop”, several gay bars and a shop specializing in 3D printing.

The conference featured a wide range of topics. I learned about the importance of open borders, the history of (inter)national drug-prohibition, free-market feminism, piracy in the horn of Africa, and libertarian hacktivism. What was the highlight of the conference were not the lectures or official debates; the day offered the opportunity to talk to people all across the classical-liberal, libertarian and anarchist spectrum. It was surprising to see how many people recognized the C4SS badge pinned to my sport coat and the conversations it started allowed me to explain free-market socialism, left-libertarianism, feminism, and provide insight into thick vs. thin libertarianism.

I had an interesting conversation with an American anarcho-syndicalist turned anarchist without adjectives about technology. C4SS sounded familiar to him and I pointed towards Kevin Carson’s work on the subject. He talked excitedly about how the People’s Republic of China was planning to build futuristic self-sustaining cities to house its worker population. I remarked that it sounded like the pinnacle of central-planning and managerial socialism and that the real interesting thing about China is its underground economy and its ability to efficiently produce quality knock-offs and I shared with him a story from Kevin Carson’s Homebrew Industrial Revolution about the Chinese underground bicycle industry. He was quiet for a few seconds and said he’d never thought about it that way. A rebellious low-tech spontaneous order is indeed far more awe inspiring than any grand futuristic centrally planned project.

At dinner I took a seat near three young German speaking libertarians and one fellow Dutchman. The topic of conversation quickly turned to left-libertarianism and I talked about my leftist reasons for being a libertarian and how the free-market is the best solution to the problems faced by socialists in the 19th century. In reference to Caroline Devine’s talk on Free-Market Feminism earlier that day I received a few questions about feminism and I went on to explain rape-culture referencing Charles W. Johnson’s essay Women and the Invisible Fist. Although my conversation partners weren’t thoroughly convinced of feminism’s necessity at the end of dinner they did seem somewhat open to the idea. As we left, the Dutchman confessed that he was an anarcho-capitalist heavily influenced by Hoppe and that he nevertheless enjoyed my presence and willingness to calmly and clearly explain so many foreign concepts to him.

All in all the conference was a success. Many young people were introduced to libertarianism through a varied array of topics and the topics of the conference proved for great conversation starters during the social aspect of the conference including my many smoking breaks. C4SS has attained some level of notoriety amongst young European libertarians and people were very much interested in our viewpoint. At the end of the evening I made my way back to Amsterdam Central Station through a cloud of pot-smoke, passing several aging hippies, groups of mohawk sporting punks and a pair of flamboyant transvestites skilfully strutting their way across a cobblestone road in stiletto heels. If it wasn’t for Amsterdam’s big-government and corporate capitalist nature I would swear I was walking through liberty’s Eden.


The Weekly Libertarian Leftist And Chess Review 49

Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall discuss how foreign intervention can lead to domestic tyranny.

Anthony Gregory reviews Radley Balko’s book on police militarization.

Ivan Eland discusses why Congress should vote against Obama’s new war.

Patrick Cockburn discusses a true between Assad and non-IS elements of the Syrian opposition.

Dan Sanchez discusses the U.S. and Saudi use of radical Islam for their own purposes.

David Swanson discusses how ISIS thinks Bush was right.

A. Barton Hinkle discusses the imperial presidency under Obama.

Steve Chapman discusses corporal punishment.

W. James Antle the Third discusses the lack of a legal basis for the rebooted war in Iraq.

Bruce Fein discusses how Obama is like LBJ.

Ben Schreiner discusses the triumph of propaganda.

Kevin Carson discusses the “libertarian” character of pipeline politics.

Kevin Carson discusses September 11th.

Peter Van Buren discusses the renewed intervention in Iraq.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses a court ruling about a SWAT raid on a barbershop.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses immigration controls.

James Kilgore discusses mass imprisonment.

Benjmain Dangel discusses pot legalization in Uruguay.

Aaron Malin discusses police training in Missouri.

Ed Krayewski discusses the new bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria.

Joel Schlosberg discusses crashing the party of Lincoln.

Patrick Cockburn discusses whether Turkey is aiding ISIS.

Bionic Mosquito discusses whether warfare can be civilized or not.

Derrick Broze discusses why profiling Muslim Americans is not libertarian.

Shamus Cooke discusses the U.S. intervention in Syria.

Robert Fisk discusses the bombing of Syria.

William C. Lewis discusses the bombing of Syria.

Franklin Lamb discusses the scene in Syria.

Efim Geller beats Vasily Smyslov.

Efim Geller beats Anatoly Karpov.

Director’s Report: September 2014

The Center for a Stateless Society continues to keep pace with itself, month to month, and it is all because of you — our supporters and donors. September has been a month filled with opportunities for us to correct historical inaccuracies and vulgar libertarianism; to watch Scottish near-independence, continued US “bomb-em” diplomacy and millennial wooing; and to combat ridiculous and shameful wobblie red- and klan-baiting. In other words, we are having a blast. But October and the rest of 2014 are sure to be just as interesting and we need your help to keep our powder dry and our hatchets scoured.

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 September, C4SS published:

29 Commentaries,
Weekly Abolitionists,
Life, Love and Liberty,
Weekly Libertarian Leftist Reviews,
5 Blog posts,
Missing Commas,
3 Reviews, and
19 C4SS Media uploads to the C4SS youtube channel.

And, thanks to the dedication of our Media Coordinators and translators, C4SS translated and published:

Italian translations (2 more than August),
Spanish translations (1 more than August),
24 Portuguese translations!

Our appeal to the Portuguese speaking world, especially in Brazil, continues to grow. The C4SS Portuguese social media presence, as a metric of this growth, is increasing at an outstanding rate. Just last month we were cheering C4SS’s Portuguese facebook “like” page for reaching 2,000 likes, up from 1,000, in only two months. Now the same page is, again, already half way towards adding another 1,000!

Speaking of Social Networking

As facebook becomes even more pathological with its “real name” policy, being a medium for serving legal documents and the prediction that it could vindicate infectious disease models by losing 80% of its users, two alternatives social networks are becoming more attractive — even describing themselves as anti-facebook in their policies. These alternatives are the kickstarted “Decentralize the web” 4 year veteran Diaspora* and the nascent “You are not a product” Ello. Whichever service you decide to transition to, never fear, C4SS will be there:




The C4SS Q4 Tor Node Fundraiser

Four times a year, every quarter, C4SS pays a freedom friendly data center in the Netherlands to continue operating an always-on Tor Node. In order to sustain this project we need your help.

Essentially, the tragedy of past revolutions has been that, sooner or later, their doors closed, “at ten in the evening.” The most critical function of modern technology must be to keep the doors of the revolution open forever! –Murray Bookchin

Part of the dissolutionary strategy advocated by C4SS is called Open Source Insurgency or embracing institutional, organizational or technological innovations — low-tech or high-tech — that render centralized or authoritarian governance impossible (or so damn costly as to be regarded as impossible). One of these innovations is Tor. And, so, C4SS maintains an always-on Tor Node.

Fundraising with GoGetFunding

C4SS has maintained a Tor relay node for over three years. This is our fourth quarter fundraiser for the project. Every contribution will help us maintain this node until January 2015. Every contribution above our needed amount will be earmarked for our fourth quarter fundraiser.

We encourage everyone to consider operating a Tor relay node yourself. If this, for whatever reason, is not an option, you can still support the Tor project and online anonymity with a $5 donation to the C4SS Tor relay node.

If you believe, as we do, that Tor is one of the technologies that makes both state and corporate oppression not only obsolete, but impossible, please consider operating as a Tor relay or donating to support the C4SS node.

The State is damage, we will find a route around!

If you are interested in learning more about Tor and how to become a relay node yourself, then check out our write up on the project: Stateless Tor.

Please donate today!

Bitcoin is also welcome:


The Benjamin R. Tucker Distinguished Research Scholar in Anarchist Economic Theory

C4SS has, currently, awarded three academic positions:

The third, The Benjamin R. Tucker Distinguished Research Scholar in Anarchist Economic Theory, was presented to David S. D’Amato this month. All of these positions are designed to honor, motivate and signal exemplary work towards developing and extending this little experiment we call left-wing market anarchism. D’Amato takes his place along Kevin Carson and Nathan Goodman as just such an exemplar. During September, D’Amato lived up to the mantle of “distinguished research scholar” with two wonderful pieces on the history and promise of a reemergent 19th century individualist anarchism.

Possession of Liberty: The Political Economy of Benjamin R. Tucker:

… The burden of principled consistency fell to Benjamin Tucker and Liberty as it falls to left wing individualists and C4SS today. Tucker suggest that “Anarchy may be defined as the possession of liberty by libertarians,—that is by those who know what liberty means.” That question, the meaning of liberty, is what we as anarchists are attempting to puzzle out. For so many, the life and work of Benjamin Tucker has been the lodestar in that odyssey, ever an inspiration and point of reference. …

Left Wing Individualism:

… The individualist anarchists were sticklers about consistency; if labor was made to come under the law of competition, of supply and demand, then so too should capital. As Schuster points out, the “scientific anarchism” of people like Benjamin Tucker thus “did not appeal to the Capitalist because it demanded not ‘rugged individualism’ but universal individualism” (emphasis added). Because the individualists regarded them as the proximate results of coercive privilege, rent, interest, and profit — the “trinity of usury” — were treated as akin to taxes, allowing the owners of capital the stolen difference between prices under a regime of privilege and prices as they would be under true, open competition. …

George Reisman — Piketty’s Capital

One of the unofficial services that C4SS provides to the world of libertarian discourse is the constant reminder that we do not live in a freed market. The universe we inhabit is riddled, layered, corralled and bludgeoned with those primary and secondary interventions that culminate into that political master noun the state. It is a service we are happy to provide and Kevin Carson is our star representative. Carson comes to the aid of George Reisman, again, in his thorough critique of Reisman’s critique of Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century:

Reisman, like most of the Austrians, equates increased productivity to capital accumulation and capital intensiveness. Piketty, Reisman says, “advocates his program on the basis of ignorance of the essential role of capital in production, which is to raise the productivity of labor, real wages, and the general standard of living.” But Reisman’s criticism, in turn, is based on ignorance of actual technological history, or of anything else outside the dogmas of Austrian economics.

George Reisman is entitled to a priori axioms. He is not entitled to a priori facts.

Scottish Independence, Almost

September saw the potential for an independent Scotland and its defeat by a sliver more of opposition. This turn of events pulled into the light a number of issues dealing with myths of legitimacy, the interests of corporate and aristocratic elites, and admissions of economic instability and vulnerability. Joel Schlosberg discusses the inevitable dissolution of empire in the acid decentralization in his article The Conquest of the United Kingdom by Scotland:

The Scottish economy, with its diminishing oil and gas revenue, has been hit particularly hard by deindustrialization. But as post-industrial technology rapidly becomes the norm, an economic base is increasingly viable. Key services can be unbundled from geography; the referendum received much of its impetus from the effects of the most limited competition of Scotland being able to pick and choose between the UK and the EU. And full competition of currencies, for one, will go far beyond the choice between the pound and the euro. Decentralization to a point matching the level of the traditional Scottish clan system will no longer be a romanticized memory, but everyday reality.

The sun is setting on the imperial state.

Red-baiting and Klan-baiting

This month we witnessed new attempts to use old scare tactics. The strangest part about these tactics is that they are designed to appeal to established, comfortable status quo types, not radicals that respond to “…between these two classes a struggle must go on until…” with an, “Of course! Let’s do it! Today!” Reason magazine (our favorite target for September) published a howler of an article, Meet the Left-Wing Extremist Running for U.S. Senate, by A. Barton Hinkle. And we just couldn’t resist.

Kevin Carson’s Smarter Red-Baiters, Please! points out the irony of the piece:

I’d also like to note just how ironic it is for a publication like Reason, which is so uniformly hostile to “union bosses” and NLRB-certified union shops, to run an article blasting a union that also hates these things. The Wobblies, by and large, prefer to bypass NLRB certification and union bureaucracy, instead functioning as self-organized unions on the shop floor, eschewing exclusive bargaining unit representation and automatic dues deductions, and returning to tactics like wildcat strikes and direct action on the job that the Wagner Act was passed precisely to prevent.

While Joel Schlosberg’s Klan-Baiting the Wobblies: Unreasonable goes for a line-by-line take down:

Hinkle then presents a passage from the IWW Preamble as self-evidently Leninist. Let’s take a phrase-by-phrase closer look:

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.

First of all, this “working class” and “employing class” aren’t simply automatic aggregates of workers and employers. What makes the population into classes isn’t an inherent tendency of voluntary decisions to engage in employment relations to stratify power, but the predominance of such relations by systematically ruling out alternatives to wage work, artificially increasing the amount of wage work necessary to earn enough to survive, and limiting the opportunities for wage work to those permitted by a restricted pool of employers most of whom can act together as a stable cartel. All of these, and the resulting formation of privileged employers into an employing class, require the coercive power of a state to back them up.

Thus, the division of society into a productive class and a coercive exploiting class that do “have nothing in common” is entirely consistent with longstanding libertarian class analysis of a “productive class” and “political class” drawing their wealth from what Franz Oppenheimer called the “economic means” of obtaining wealth through labor and voluntary exchange and the “political means” of compulsory taking. The analysis is also a rebuke to the “we’re all in this together” liberal rationales, with their eliding of conflicts of interest.

Both conclude with a rebuke of Hinkle’s attempt to compare the anti-KKK IWW to the anti-IWW KKK. Carson concludes:

Hinkle actually compares the I.W.W., in sheer odiousness, to the Klan. Well, except there are no legitimate reasons to hate, terrorize and lynch black people — but plenty of legitimate reasons to believe corporate power and the present distribution of wealth and income result from injustice.

There is, however, one organization that really is as evil as the KKK, and was founded for the express purpose of terrorist attacks on Wobblies, directly analogous to anti-worker terrorism by Mussolini’s industrialist-funded black shirts: The American Legion. Maybe Hinkle could take them on.

And Schlosberg drives it home:

Finally, we get the comparison to the Ku Klux Klan. The comparison of a group that produced posters denouncing the KKK as “anti-labor”; that was formed in large part as a direct response to the exclusionary racism of the elitist unions of the time; that prominently counted within its ranks such people of color as Lucy Parsons, Ben Fletcher, and Frank Little; that was among the first to systematically defy segregation laws; that was repressed by KKK-style vigilante thuggery. All solely on the grounds that they must be comparable to the Klan since they’re as “extreme”. And all particularly ironic since Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’;” – and who is equally opposed to “extremists for hate or for love”.

But hey, IWW and KKK have the same number of letters in their acronyms, so potayto, potahto.

We Haven’t Forgotten

We still have our David Graeber Symposium on Debt: the first 5,000 years. There is only one article to be finished; it should be ready soon. Thank you for your patience.

Please Support Today!

All of this work is only sustainable through your support. If you think the various political and economic debates around the world are enhanced by the addition of left libertarian market anarchist, freed market anti-capitalist or laissez faire socialist solutions, challenges, provocations or participation, please donate $5, today. Keep C4SS going and growing.

ALL the best!

Nationalism, Isolationism and Libertarianism

Both nationalism and isolationism are incompatible with libertarianism. They emanate from the idea that the national collective is the basic moral unit of existence. If either flourishes, individualism and liberty suffer. Individual freedom can’t survive people being subordinated to a mystic national social super organism. Neither can it flourish when individuals limit the scope of their concerns to only their immediate national community. In both cases, the individual person will be faced with sacrificing their interests and rights for the supposed “good” of an alleged national social super organism. The implications for human freedom are that the individual will lose their freedom in relation to how much the “good” of the national collective demands it.

In spite of the above; the major libertarian theorist, Murray Rothbard, once penned a piece advocating peace within the context of the Cold War that began like this:

To begin with, I wish to put my argument purely on the grounds of American national interest.

How strange to see a libertarian couching their argument in terms of collectivist nationalism. What about how peace will benefit countless people on a global scale by saving them from death at the hands of militaristic warmongering? And lead to the conditions for fruitful internationalist alliances amongst the oppressed everywhere. The oppressed no longer feeling the need to look to nationalist states to protect them from aggressive imperialists.

Rothbard later says:

Simply a genuine policy of peace, or, what is the same thing, a return to the ancient and traditional American policy of isolationism and neutrality.

By using a term like isolationism, he is setting the stage for people living in the territory controlled by the American government to collectively concern themselves only with each other. Of course, Rothbard is discussing the isolation of American military power rather than the kind of isolationism that is anti-trade, anti-migration, and anti-exchange of ideas across national borders. It still has bad connotations of only caring about people within your own immediate collective. Libertarian individualism is about rootless cosmopolitanism rather than national borders. It’s about caring what happens to people without distinctions based on the accident of birthplace. This can mean not being neutral as an individual in the context of something like Nazis vs Jews.

Let us not allow opposition to imperialist interventionism to cloud our judgement about events overseas. If a person is being oppressed or unjustly coerced anywhere on the planet, it’s our concern. An injury to one is an injury to all.







The C4SS Q4 Tor Node Fundraiser

Essentially, the tragedy of past revolutions has been that, sooner or later, their doors closed, “at ten in the evening.” The most critical function of modern technology must be to keep the doors of the revolution open forever! –Murray Bookchin

Part of the dissolutionary strategy advocated by C4SS is called Open Source Insurgency or embracing institutional, organizational or technological innovations — low-tech or high-tech — that render centralized or authoritarian governance impossible (or so damn costly as to be regarded as impossible). One of these innovations is Tor. And, so, C4SS maintains an always-on Tor Node. But we need your help.

Fundraising with GoGetFunding

C4SS has maintained a Tor relay node for over three years. This is our fourth quarter fundraiser for the project. Every contribution will help us maintain this node until January 2015. Every contribution above our needed amount will be earmarked for our fourth quarter fundraiser.

We encourage everyone to consider operating a Tor relay node yourself. If this, for whatever reason, is not an option, you can still support the Tor project and online anonymity with a $5 donation to the C4SS Tor relay node.

C4SS maintains a Tor relay node with a freedom friendly data center in the Netherlands. The relay is part of a global network dedicated to the idea that a free society requires freedom of information. Since June 2011 C4SS has continuously added nearly 10 Mbps of bandwidth to the network (statistics). Although we can’t know, by design, what passes through the relay, it’s entirely likely that it has facilitated communications by revolutionaries, agorists, whistleblowers, journalists working under censorious regimes and many more striving to advance the cause of liberty and the dissolution of authority.

If you believe, as we do, that Tor is one of the technologies that makes both state and corporate oppression not only obsolete, but impossible, please consider operating as a Tor relay or donating to support the C4SS node.

The State is damage, we will find a route around!

If you are interested in learning more about Tor and how to become a relay node yourself, then check out our write up on the project: Stateless Tor.

Please donate today!

Bitcoin is also welcome:

The Weekly Libertarian And Chess Review 48

Lee Fang discusses the funders of pro-war punditry.

Dan Sanchez discusses Tolkien, Plato, and the state.

Kevin Carson discusses the controversy over Burger King.

Darian Worden reviews a book about the Modern School movement.

Shamus Cooke discusses Progressive Democrats going to war.

Patrick Cockburn discusses fear of ISIS.

Laurence M. Vance discusses the legalization of heroin.

Richard M. Ebeling discusses the market.

Ivan Eland discusses the fight against ISIS and U.S. policy.

Arthur Silber discusses suicide and being a parent.

Arthur Silber discusses suicide and parenting.

Majorie Cohn discusses perpetual war under Obama. interviews Ted Rall.

Sheldon Richman discusses the clueless character of America’s foreign policy elite.

David R. Henderson discusses Richard Epstein’s case for intervention.

George Leef discusses a new book on libertarianism by Tom Palmer.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses ISIS and fixing the government.

Studies in Emergent Order discusses Anarchy and Legal Order.

Colin P. Elliot discusses how police militarization is a consequence of policing the world.

Gary Chariter discusses a new book on who rules America.

George H. Smith has released the eighth part of his series on social laws.

Sheldon Richman discusses the anti-militarist heritage of Herbert Spencer.

Robert C. Koehler discusses the God of war.

Peter Hart discusses the PBS left on airstrikes.

Joel Schlosberg discusses the conquest of the U.K. by Scotland.

Kevin Carson discusses online learning.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown discusses Ron Paul at LPAC.

Robby Soave discusses a case of zero tolerance school policies.

Viktor Korchnoi draws Edmar J. Mednis.

Mikhail Tal beats Mikhail Botvinnik in a world championship game.

Missing Comma: The Aftermath of “Gamergate”

It’s been about two weeks since Gamergate came to a head and I’m still trying to sort out all that happened. Lots of what I saw and read (and a lot of what people told me in conversation) suggest situations worth exploring in greater detail, and when I am able, I’ll do that here. These will be issues that are applicable to the entire journalism profession, such as freelancers rights. But for right now, have two pieces of content that I think are important “Inside Baseball” critiques of both Gamergate and the games journalism industry.

First, Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition, 9/8/2014:

And finally, John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun on Objectivity:

Here’s the main issue with the argument that objectivity should be a goal for games criticism: Objectivity isn’t possible. It is, at best, an ideal – an unreachable target, toward which some attempt to strive, believing the closer one is to it, the better a job one is doing. However, this is a position RPS rejects, as we believe such a goal is antithetical to useful, accurate reporting on games. It’s our belief that any who claim to be objective are actually failing to understand the implications of that claim, and ultimately undermining themselves when it’s shown that they are not, actually, objective at all.

Go read the piece. It’s long, but wonderful.

That’s it for me for this week. You can follow us on Twitter at @missingcomma where I promise to start tweeting at some point I SWEAR. You can also follow me at @illicitpopsicle and Juliana at @JulianaTweets0.

“It takes money to make money”

“It takes money to make money.” An old, oft-repeated saying, it is certainly true enough as a statement describing the functioning of capitalism. The idea is that once one possesses capital, she can loan it to others for interest or rent, or else invest it in some productive enterprise to earn profits, sitting back and watching her money pile up. On its face, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this, with saving, investing, lending and getting rich. But our little maxim also suggests something of a problem.

After all, why should it take money to make money? Arguably, anyone with the principle of parsimony and a willingness to work hard ought to be able to make money. To get at the basic truth contained within it, we should consider the phrase at its most literal, boiled down to the abstract principle it is meant to illustrate. Put simply, the notion that “it takes money to make money” is just the claim that wealth is able to reproduce itself without work — that rubbing two coins together will make them mate.

Seeing this principle at work, 19th century libertarians such as Benjamin Tucker regarded capitalism as a system of privilege that “gives idle capital the power of increase.” Tucker challenged the capitalist myth that the great fortunes of his day were purely and simply the result of the virtues of hard work and saving. Far more often, capitalists’ riches were a product of “cleverness in procuring from the government a privilege” through which competition could be prevented. Such deep-rooted, systematic suppressions of competition consolidated wealth in the hands of the few.

Today’s market anarchists argue that these free market critiques of capitalism remain relevant, perhaps more than ever given, for example, the role of intellectual property in the global economy. A genuine free market transaction is positive-sum, a benefit to both exchanging parties. Conversely, exchanges in capitalism are zero-sum, one party benefiting at the expense of the other. The latter system is one of exploitative exchange, based on systematic bargaining power imbalances instituted by the State.

While markets exist in capitalism, they are not its defining feature, which is rather monopolism. The fundamental principle of capitalism is indeed quite simple: use the coercive power of governmental authority to monopolize everything of value, compelling workers to labor for whatever bosses deem appropriate. To call such a system a “free market” is to commit oneself to the most obviously absurd fiction, to use language to obfuscate the true, statist nature of capitalism.

Among free market libertarians, much turns on whether unbridled, voluntary exchanges will lead to the “power of increase” that worried Tucker. Many believe that genuine free markets will in fact allow and result in such a power, and they tend to equate free markets with capitalism. For many of us, however, Tucker was right in seeing true laissez faire as a kind of socialism, a way out of the exploitations of capitalism.