STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
Libertarianism and Private Prisons: Response to Gus DiZerega Part Two

This is the second part of my series on Gus DiZerega’s view of libertarianism and private prisons.

Gus writes:

Non-profits often pad the salaries of their top people, especially big ones. Padded salaries come from shifting resources away from other purposes, like that sheriff in Marion County. Just because something is a nonprofit does not mean those in charge are not greedy. Consider the Komen Foundation and others like it. There is nothing sacred about nonprofits. Some are great and some are corrupt. In addition, where will the non-profits get the money they need? Someone has to pay for them. We are more likely to contribute to causes that support positive goods than ones that incarcerate bad guys.

Gus makes a good point about non-profits here, but there would be competition between non-profit prisons to offer the most humane conditions. I’ve already stated that clients of defense associations would pay for prison expenses. As for people preferring to donate to positive goods rather than the improsinment of bad guys, I’d point out that the humane treatment of bad guys is a positive value. There is also the possibility of error in judging guilt and the positive value of helping innocent people get freed or have comfortable conditions while serving their sentences.

In public prisons in democratic countries if people are incarcerated they retain the rights of citizenship including being able to see an attorney. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of why that matters. In that case the accused ended up with court appointed attorneys. This is something that beggars the imagination happening in a libertarian anarchy. Ron Paul did not even help his most important fund raiser pay his medical bills, and libertarians as a whole raised only 10% of the total needed. His survivors were left with a huge debt. If libertarians cannot help their own people who have rendered them great services, why expect them to help the accused who often are guilty?

Defense associations could provide for competent attorneys in the absence of the ability to hire one. This would be paid for by th clients of said defense associations. As for the lack of charitable giving by libertarians, is that a consequence of libertarian ideology or a reflection of personal characteristics of existing libertarians unrelated to their ideology? I argue it’s the former. The libertarian, Jacob G. Hornberger points out that Americans gave 150 billion dollars to chairty in a year I’ve forgotten. If more of them became libertarian, I see no reason why they wouldn’t retain this charitable sensibility. Steven Horowitz has written about the importance of mutual and so have others like Kevin Carson. There is clearly libertarian support for charitable giving.

Some libertarians such as the one I quote above then shift the ground to ‘restitutive justice.’ I agree that when possible restitutive justice is a good thing and vastly superior to incarceration. We need much more of it. Nevertheless it needs to be enforced with the threat of less desirable punishment if the person does not provide restitution. Further some crimes have little chance for restitution, such as murder. If you claim, as some libertarians do, that they should pay “weregeld” or some other medieval notion, we need to remember that back then the fine for killing the equivalent of a Koch brother was vastly more than for killing a peasant. It would be the same in a libertarian society where ‘the market’ is the final evaluator of worth. Indeed, this happened in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire during a time in our history that libertarians generally praise as superior to our own for ‘freedom’.

House arrest is an alternative to prison for murderers. It has similiarties but isn’t exactly the same. In a left-libertarian market anarchy, there would also be a strong civil society alongside a freed market. The market would not of necessity be the final arbiter of worth.

Gradually this spread of kind of thinking far beyond libertarian circles has encouraged even supporters of public services to think about them in private terms in which citizens become consumers. But whereas the term :citizen” applies to everyone equally, the term “consumer” is the opposite. Everyone is a consumer, but not at all equal even as an ideal. The results are hideous when the logic of consumers and of privatization is applied outside its appropriate sphere.

I am not sure why a consumer is not equal, but a citizen is. There is often differential access to power in statist societies and all citizens are not equal. Is it because there is a difference in money between consumers? There is a difference in power between citizens even with formal equality before the law. Why can’t someone be a citizen and a consumer too?

For libertarians one public value is determining what constitutes property rights. Until they are determined the vaunted libertarian market cannot exist much past the point of barter. Libertarianism is parasitical on government in this respect. It depends on it for the market to work but then claims that government is what keeps the market from working even better.

This assumes that property rights can’t be defined by private defense associations which are community based and thus have equal input. They would only be private in the sense of being non-state or non-government.

Democracy is complicated and never perfect, but it is a vastly more rational way to address problems of public concern than libertarian boilerplate about ‘stateless’ societies existing beyond the level of a village.

Democracy and anarchy are not of necessity mutually exclsuive. As for stateless societies beyond the village level, there are examples like Medieval Iceland that were beyond said level.

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