Re: Justice and Punishment

Anton Sherwood (
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 23:26:28 -0700

den Otter wrote:
> > From: Anton Sherwood <>
> > And why wouldn't this sentimentality be at least as effective in keeping
> > smaller, commercially competitive forces in check, as it was in keeping
> > (say) the KGB honest?
> Because these smaller forces will probably be more like mercenary armies, and
> these have less inhibitations when it comes to molesting the populace.

I usually assume that small firms are (if anything) *more* responsive to
customers' wishes than big ones, not the reverse.

> > > Yes, my system would have a military, but this would not be the only armed
> > > force in the empire. There would have to be several, to provide the necessary
> > > balance. ...
> >
> > But all ultimately under the same command, unlike PPAs.
> Yes, the system relies heavily on the competence and benevolence of
> the leader ....

"A system that depends on the right man is a wrong system." (Milton

> > > We have minimum wage because if you would go much lower people would be
> > > starving. ...
> >
> > Who would accept a wage that doesn't pay for the food to supply enough
> > energy to go to work??
> That's the way it often was in ye olde days (still in this century, mind you),
> and that's the way it *still* is in many 3rd world and even not-so-3rd-world
> countries around the globe. Many people simply don't have a choice
> (or at least they firmly belief that they don't have a choice) and those who
> can't add to their insufficient income by such things as begging, stealing
> & hustling will ultimately get too weak to work and die.

So how are Third World populations growing?

> > You can't legislate a living wage. You can only forbid people to accept
> > a wage that you think is too low. How on earth does that benefit them?
> > How is it better to have NO wages than to be working for less than the
> > average politician would accept?
> Actually, it's not that bad: minimum wage means that corporations, shops etc.
> with a (high profile) reputation to hold up will pay more than they would other-
> wise to their workers (think Mc Donalds and such),

I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean McDonald's, as a matter of
pride, pays all its workers some amount more than the minimum (always
staying a little bit ahead as the politicians jack it up)? Or do you
mean merely that without a minimum Ebenezer Scrooge can hold his head
high in public?

(Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser in a book by Charles Dickens; I have no
idea how well-known it is outside the Anglophone world)

> and that those who are
> willing to work for less can still sneak into a sweatshop or some other kind
> of "illegal" work.

Where instead of being able to turn to the police if their employers
abuse them (e.g. by not paying wages when due), they must hide FROM the
police. Wonderful.

> Otherwise, more people would be badly paid then today;
> companies need a minimal x amount of workers, and minimum wage is the
> difference between 10 reasonably paid workers or 30 badly underpaid workers.
> So those who *do* have a legit job benefit directly, and those who don't can
> still find (illegal) work anyway.

So you advocate a system in which a minimum wage is legislated but not
enforced? Or selectively enforced?

> > Oy vey. If anarcho-capitalism depends on everybody's goodwill, so
> > what? If that's a serious flaw then we're in deep trouble, because
> > DAILY LIFE IN ANY SYSTEM depends on everybody's goodwill to the same
> > degree. Every single person in several counties is betting that I (and
> > the rest of our neighbors) won't steal a car tonight and go burn their
> > house down.
> Oh really, well I guess we don't need the police then. Or PPAs for that
> matter. Hey, all's cool if you can trust your fellow man. Needless to say,
> it ain't so, we *don't* trust eachother and have good reason for it too.

Don't we? You trust the pedestrians on the street not to stab you. You
trust the waiters at restaurants not to poison you. You trust your
neighbors not to rob you (have you never lent your key to a neighbor to
feed your cat while you're away?).

If we did not mostly trust each other, crime would be largely

> The state is a product of the fact that on one hand we need a lot of
> co-operation to thrive, while at the other hand we don't trust eachother
> very much. The state is the context wherein civilization can exist.
> PPAs are basically just small, weak states, and will therefore have
> more limited means to uphold law and order (not to mention a
> pleasant environment). ...

We have government (in the broad sense which includes PPAs, contracts,
custom etc) to protect us against a TINY MINORITY of badguys. The
state, which depends for its livelihood on a public perception of its
necessity, puffs itself up by exaggerating what threats exist (Saddam is
going to conquer the world if we don't get him!) and inventing new ones
(pornography on the internet! protect our children!).

> Also, in anarchy there *may* be a better balance of power, so the chances
> that a _big_ dictator kills you may be smaller, but the chances that a
> "local" one will do it, or just any guy with a gun, are far greater.

A couple of interesting data:
Most ethnic groups in the USA are *less* violent than their home
countries. (Sorry I can't recall where I heard this)
The state where it's easiest to carry a gun (Vermont) has very low
crime. States that have recently made it easier, like Florida, have
falling crime rates.

I'll take my chances with "just any guy with a gun," thank you.

> In any case, anarchy inevitably leads to structure,

Says who?

> and structure leads to centralism.

Oh dear, not you too.

> Why not skip the decades or centuries of little wars and
> annexations and go right to the final product?

World wars?

> > Or by taking power away from the politicians; private parties, spending
> > their own money, have no reason to take bribes.
> Wherever there's an organized structure of some kind and capitalism, there will
> be bribes.

Bribes to hired managers, yes, but with private ownership there's always
a boss who has a motive to stamp out bribery.

Suppose I'm a robber and you're a police captain. I offer you $100 a
week to ensure that I won't be arrested for any crimes in your precinct
(I steal $1000 in an average week). Unless you have strong moral
scruples, you accept: the stuff I steal doesn't come out of your pocket
-- on the contrary, if my robberies make the news, you may get a bigger

But suppose you're a PPA owner. If I steal $1000 from your customers,
they (in aggregate) find your services worth $1000 less than otherwise.
You may even be obliged by contract to pay for those losses (an
insurance structure). So you won't accept my bribe unless it's more
than $1000, which of course I won't offer.

Now suppose you're a middle manager at a PPA. You feel underpaid, so
you accept my $100. Now your boss, the owner, finds that your
department is $1000 less profitable than before. You run a substantial
risk of being fired for incompetence, even if the bribe is never

> > > Sure, but if you like it, it probably wasn't crap in the first place. I meant
> > > *real* crap, like food so full of conservatives that you'll develop cancer
> > > over time, or a television set with lousy sound etc.
> >
> > There are civil remedies for such things. Political control over the
> > market cannot prevent them; it can only ensure that they happen more
> > often.
> Civil remedies still depend on a government to enforce them.

Yes, in the broad sense: government may include the State, but it also
includes custom and contract, even if there are no private enforcement
agencies. There are *still* small societies where enforcement is
entirely private, ad hoc.

Who enforces treaties?

> Besides, "political control over the market" doesn't have to the communist
> kind of meddling, it can simply mean that useful new products may get some
> extra help, and that there's a state-sanctioned "seal of quality" so that
> you know what products meet minimum standards, or are outright good,
> at a single glance. Products don't *have* to have this seal (and the testing
> that comes with it), but buying them is at your own risk of course, while
> products backed by the state entitle you to damages & refunds etc, in
> case of a failure. The damages etc. are split between state (and have
> financial repercussions for the responsible government workers) and
> the producer of the goods. This way, everybody is motivated to deliver
> a quality service. ...

A good scheme, but why can't it all be done privately? Jews who keep
kosher already look for the mark of a certain council of rabbis, for

[gradual transition]
> Somewhere there must be a breaking point where politicians are no
> longer in control. Yes, it could work out OK, but it will be quite hard
> to dismantle such a venerable tradition. And what will happen to
> all the former gov employees,

Those who provide genuine services (as opposed to spending their lives,
and ours, *preventing* services) will find markets for their rare

> who will get the army hardware, the
> _nukes_ etc. Who will get the White House? Bill Gates?

Who cares?

> Does he buy the nukes too (wholesale style), and a couple o' carriers
> too when he's at it?

Such worries are misplaced. Before long, every tycoon will be able to
*make* nukes.

> Of course he would have to share with some other
> wealthy folks, and maybe he would be poor by then, but in any case
> I can well imagine a Russian scenario where former politicians and
> bureaucrats sneak back under different "names" into the positions
> of power, packed with cash made from the privatization process.

I like to think that our institutions are open enough, and our people
are idealistic (naive?) enough, that such corruption would not be so
easy here. We have institutions against corruption; they're far from
perfect, but they're more than Russia ever had.

> Also I can imagine all sorts of mafia types having a ball, no longer
> hampered by even token government intervention. What is stopping
> them from creating a new order under a different name and sucking
> the people dry in only slightly different ways. Will the raw intellect
> and bold dedication of Jack the Lad be able to stop them? Uh oh...


There's a novel, by the way, in which a Mafia takeover is portrayed as a
good thing: THE SYNDIC by Cyril Kornbluth. I didn't find it entirely
satisfying - for one thing, the Mafia appear to be monopolists in all
the things you'd expect a state to do, while insisting that they're not
a government.

Perhaps part of the message of THE SYNDIC is that no matter what the
system is, people will get used to it and find retroactive
justifications for it.

> And then there's the problem that the transition from governments to
> a free market world can never happen all over at the same time. Some
> areas will simply be left out, and without western backing any hint
> of fair rule will quickly fade from the less developed countries all over
> the world. Their dictators will be quite interested in all the formerly
> classified hardware and expertise that suddenly hits the market.
> Saddam: "bring on the nukes! I have oil, you have weapons and
> people to operate them -- we trade". Ok, business is business.

On the other hand, J.Storrs Hall sketched a private nuclear insurance
against war (is that essay still somewhere in ExI archives?). The
insurer gives potential aggressors a list of its clients, and promises
that if any of them is damaged by attack, the attacker's capital will
glow in the dark.

> > What if we buy off the politicians? Tell them: "You deserve to be
> > taken out and shot, but that's a lot of trouble, so instead we're going
> > to give you all the gold you can carry, and a one-way ticket to any
> > other continent."
> Hmm, what continent would that be? And guess who its new rulers would be?

Maybe they'll all go to Switzerland. Maybe they'll go to Africa, and
bring First World delicacy to the dictatorship business. ;) Either
way, not my problem.

> Besides, we *will* buy them out, in a way, like the Russian people did
> with their politicians (only, those stayed of course).

Ex-politicians won't be a problem if, by then, the people have learned a
healthy and sophisticated distrust of them. (A long task, I admit.)

> > Around here, I often see stickers on shop windows saying "protected by
> > XYZ Security" - some private firm which, when it hears an alarm, sends a
> > couple of goons. And it's not the same firm whose sticker is on the
> > shop next door. It helps if such firms are friendly with each other,
> > but they obviously needn't have all the business in town.
> There is a major difference between present-day security firms and PPAs,
> since the former work within the framework that's maintained by the
> state, and the latter *are* the state. The main reason why you can have
> competing security firms working in relative harmony on the same turf
> is because they would get busted by Big Brother if they tried to "take"
> a region by force, and kicked out the competition. With BB gone, it's
> a whole new ballgame.

I have more faith in human nature. With Big Brother gone, so long as no
one PPA controls more than about 1/3 of the available force (which
includes individuals with guns, not just other organized PPAs), it has
to worry that if it turns tyrannical ALL THE OTHERS will gang up and put
it out of business.

> It's not unlikely that criminal organizations, no
> longer able to profit from illegal drug trade after the state's demise,
> would be among the first PPAs. A couple of gangs, or devisions of the
> same gang, could devide a city and treat the people in it more like
> slaves than as customers.

James Donald (whom I know from talk.politics.libertarian etc) says that
some gangs specialize in providing security services (and perhaps
adjudication, i dunno) to drug dealers. He says of one such gang, whose
name I have alas forgotten, that so long as they stuck to the customary
business of terrorizing ordinary people, the police tolerated them; but
when they shifted to providing actual services to willing customers, Big
Brother smashed them.

> > Why would they [the military] suddenly become less ethical if they shared the
> > business with other firms?
> Because the military as we know it would be gone in anarcho-capitalism (who's
> going to pay for a huge standing army that offers no direct protection), and the
> new PPA enforcers would generally be of a different breed than the patriotic
> young men in the regular army. ...

I should bloody well hope so. When I was a lad, the thought of going
into the military (or the police force) repelled me because I knew that
I'd be required to do some things I find morally abhorrent. It
certainly does not comfort me to know that such institutions are
entirely staffed by people who lack my moral scruples.

They are controlled by officers who, by temperament (pre-selection) and
training, think in terms of command and obedience. As David Friedman
put it, their jobs are clearly marked "nobody but control freaks need

> > > Also, their conscience (that of the regular soldier) is stopping
> > > them from turning on their own people.
> >
> > Do people lose their conscience when they work in the private sector?
> Some certainly do, and often it's a different kind of people that is attracted
> to PPA work. I would expect a greater number of "brown shirts" (bullies
> that are only tough enough to terrorize unarmed or badly armed people) in the
> PPA business, while the army is more about patriotism, courage and honor.
> (at least they *try* to keep up this image).

Oh? I thought it was about earning money for higher education. ;)

In the United States, private citizens (including private armed guards)
shoot far more badguys than the police do -- and they shoot the wrong
person far *less* often. I keep forgetting the ratio, but it's between
three and eleven.

> > A few months ago, a boy about 17 was herding goats one evening on the
> > Rio Grande (border with Mexico), and shot at something. We'll never
> > know why he fired (rabbit? coyote?), because four Marines sneaking about
> > - looking for drug smugglers - assumed he was firing at them, stalked
> > him for twenty minutes (during which he apparently was oblivious to
> > them) and killed him.
> I don't know what really went down there, of course, but people have always
> been somewhat more trigger happy when the target is of a different ethnic
> background, and of course assholes can be found in any organization.
> The same guys could just as well 've been working for a local PPA.
> If a client complaints about mexicans in his neighborhood the PPA people
> will probably shoot them just as easy as any Marine would.

And would answer to other PPAs on a charge of murder.

Those Marines, I'll bet, will never get more than a reprimand. They are
protected by the mystique of the uniform: the institutions are reluctant
even to investigate the possibility that they did wrong, because their
commander (who may have a friend in Congress) is sure to whine about how
unfair it is that these fine boys, who sacrificed a promising career in
burglary or bar-bouncing to serve their country, should be "persecuted"
for just trying to do their jobs, fighting the good fight to keep
America free of those who would corrupt our children with pornography --
er, drugs ...

> > Something like it is common in "primitive" societies; indeed the
> > definition of "primitive society" seems to be "stateless society".
> Yes, makes you think, doesn't it? Maybe it just doesn't work for more
> advanced societies (or at least it seems that centralization plays
> a crucial role in the development of modern nations).

Or maybe parasites are attracted to rich societies, and they've left
these obscure exceptions alone until recently.

> > Iceland relied entirely on private enforcement for centuries, and was
> > generally peaceful. (The sagas, which concentrate on violence, tell of
> > years going by between events in the bitterest feuds.)
> But will it work for a technologically advanced society? I'd hate to see
> a return to hunter-gatherer communities or something like that...

Iceland was never a hunter-gatherer society. Its first inhabitants were
Irish monks; they were displaced (killed? we'll never know) by Norse

> > Where the central authorities are relatively benign, they will probably
> > last longer; where they are recognized openly as tyrants and thieves,
> > they will soon be gone, as already in Northern Somaliland.
> And have things actually gotten better since then?

>From what I hear, it's peaceful there, and Boosaaso (aka Bender Qaasim,
a coast town) is developing as a trade center. They've got a hollow
"state" to show to foreigners who might otherwise be tempted to insist
on giving them one, but it has no real power. --There may be an article

> > > Apparently the system is doing fine even without hew laws.
> > > I sure don't see any coup d'etats in the USA...
> >
> > Then you haven't heard about how the politicians have taken to wiping
> > their backsides with the Bill of Rights? We don't need coups d'etat, we
> > have tyranny coming in the front door in the name of "national security"
> > and "protecting our children" and "preventing terrorism" and all that
> > baloney.
> Agreed, most of that is pure crap, but at least you can still openly say so
> without risking jail or worse ;-)

Even that is dubious. If you say too loudly that the War On Minority
Drugs is evil, your door will be broken down. Unless of course you're
conspicuously and unquestionably conventional in all else, like
WFBuckley or the scattering of anti-prohibition politicians.

> Needless to say, I would get rid of unnecessary
> bureaucracy if I could, few people hate it more than myself.

> > (Last week I was required to show my state-issued portrait before using
> > an air ticket. What in the name of little green apples is this supposed
> > to accomplish?)
> I guess they were looking for terrorists then...or maybe even worse: potheads!

Well they let at least one pothead slip through. ;) If I were a
genuine terrorist, wouldn't I have six forged passports with six
different names?

My friend George O'Brien offered the opinion that such harassment is
meant to convey the message "we're in charge, so shut up and obey." The
more of this crap I have to endure, the more compliant I supposedly
become, by force of habit. (Neil Smith suggested that the same is true
of the semiannual time-change.)

"How'd ya like to climb this high without no mountain?" --Porky Pine
Anton Sherwood   *\\*   +1 415 267 0685