Archive for Ethics

For-Profit Justice

Dave Killion — July 10, 2012

A. Barton Hinkle wants to remind us that justice is harder to come by when you’re not a attractive, youthful, caucasian female –

“Not many have heard about Amilkar Figeroa. The 26-year-old was shot and killed in South Richmond in 2009. A year later – the last time it got any coverage – the case remained unsolved. Ditto for Levon Alford andJomond Lightfoot, two other open-case homicide victims in Richmond. And Ashraf Alatiyat, who was killed during a robbery at the Come and Go Food Market he owned on Jeff Davis Highway. During the past five years Richmond alone has racked up 31 unsolved homicides of black men and women. When was the last time you saw one of them on TV?

We hear a lot about the disparate treatment of minorities in the criminal-justice system. Young blacks are arrested for drug crimes 10 times more often than whites, even though five times more whites than blacks use drugs. But there is also widely disparate treatment of minorities in non-judicial realm as well.”

“This is not a new or original insight. There is even a name for the phenomenon: Missing White Woman Syndrome (MWWS). “

The article suggests some reasons why pretty young white female victims get all the attention, but I want to point out that the damage created by the phenomenon is greatly exacerbated by the type of legal system we have. Currently, when police must choose between expending resources on a low-profile case or a high-profile case, they will get more positive publicity and bigger budgets if they solve the latter. However, in a system where the expense of pursuit, trial, and incarceration are borne by the convicted, the pay day for solving the slaying of a black or hispanic woman is likely to be equal to that of a white woman’s. Private detectives would be lining up to take on cases even where the victim cannot be identified! Until that happy day, I’m afraid we are stuck with a system where too many minorities disappear, and perpetrators can get away with murder.

Libertarians; Equal Opportunity Defenders

Dave Killion — July 5, 2012

Libertarians go through a lot of ink criticizing police, and not much criticizing private security guards. There’s good reason for that. When mall guards interact with mall visitors, they are keenly aware that their employers will take a dim view of aggression and discourtesy. The feedback mechanism from consumer to employer to guard is is very responsive. With publicly-employed police, there is a greater disconnect, and officers do not face the same incentives to conduct themselves well. The results are entirely predictable. Today, however, I bring to your attention the cause of an RCMP officer that definitely merits libertarian support

  “An RCMP code-of-conduct inquiry is underway into a Mountie who played a part in the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton and appeared on a website posing in sexually explicit torture images reminiscent of the pig-farmer’s crimes.

In some of the graphic pictures obtained by The Vancouver Sun, Cpl. Jim Brown appears to wear only his regulation-issue Mountie boots and an erection as he wields a huge knife and a bound naked woman cringes in terror.”

If Cpl. Brown were a private sector worker, I would have no objection to his boss firing him for any (or no) reason what so ever. But tolerating the persecution of a public “servant” for engaging in legal and consensual adult activity while off-duty is a different matter. Before firing workers, private sector employers must consider that there are costs to doing so. This consideration encourages tolerance on the  part of the employers, and affords workers some degree of protection. Public sector employers face no such limitations, and are free to act on purely political considerations. Is the difference a big deal? Well, if the photos in question were of a private security guard, do you think we’d be reading newspaper articles about it?

A Small Cheer for the CBC

Dave Killion — June 30, 2012

I just finished listening to a podcast of Episode One from the new CBC Radio One program “The Invisible Hand“. The topic is so-called price gouging, and I have to give credit to the show’s producers for taking on such a tricky and tough topic right out of the gate. Opposition to gouging is widespread, given the concern we all have for fairness coupled with the misperception that raising prices during an emergency is harmful and unfair. Despite this, ‘The Invisible Hand’ presents evidence that leaving the market to function free of government controls will produce good results.

Although libertarians will likely learn very little from this episode, CBC Radio speaks to an audience that often works hard not to hear good economic reasoning, and for that reason alone it is important for us to lend our support to this show. Please visit the site, recommend it to others, leave a favourable comment, and best of all, go through the existing comments and down-vote the economic ignoramuses and anti-social naifs. It’s an easy way to do a little good for the cause of freedom.

Exploitation = Employment And Opportunity

Dave Killion — June 20, 2012

In this new video from Learn Liberty, Matt Zwolinski explains how sweatshops benefit the poor. It is difficult to cover a lot of ground in a five minute video, so Zwolinski provides extra material at the link. But wait, there’s more! Go here for Zwolinski’s response to some of the concerns voiced to him AFTER the video came out. A sample –

“In the developing world, factory jobs can be life-changing.

Now, as you say, no one really comes out and advocates that we just take those jobs away full stop. But they do advocate policies that have the effect of taking those jobs away.”

“Sweatshops, or the MNEs that contract with them,might be able to afford higher wages or better working conditions… But what they can afford to do is less important than what they will do. And very often, sweatshops and the MNEs that contract with them respond to consumer pressure by shutting down, automating production, or moving elsewhere. And that hurts people who can ill-afford to be hurt.”

Zwolinski makes a good case for avoiding policy that is intended to help, but harms instead. Please help him spread the word.

Via Carpe Diem

Taxes and Morality

Dave Killion — May 24, 2012

A small study recently published in the journal Symbolic Interaction examines why many Americans hate paying taxes. DUH! It’s because they are selfish and greedy, right? Well, maybe, but that’s not what the haters think

“In essence, middle-class Americans, the results suggest, see taxes as a means of robbing hardworking citizens of their dignity.

The participants “portray taxation as a threat to the moral order because they believe taxes deprive deserving hardworking middle class people of dignity, while rewarding others who are undeserving (both rich and poor)… “

I haven’t looked at the study in any detail, so for all I know it’s just more of the same old junk science that permeates our lives. But if it’s not accurate, it should be. It should be obvious to all of us, Canadian and American, that it is immoral to seize the possessions of one group  and hand them over to another. The fact that it isn’t suggests we suffer from a massive character deficit, and libertarians might be wise to focus more on making the moral arguments rather than the economic arguments.

Via Neatorama

Being Deserving is not the Same as Being Entitled

Dave Killion — May 7, 2012

According to information on the Facebook group ‘Help Save Souris Dialysis‘,11 patients residing in and around the town of  Souris, Prince Edward Island,  may be losing perfect access to their dialysis sessions. At Liberty PEI, Libertarian Book Club member Ashley Johnston offers a libertarian critique of the group’s view regarding healthcare entitlement. Here’s a taste –

“Words have meaning and the above quote (we ALL deserve nothing but the best healthcare) means that we should all get all treatments available. Even if all of the communities resources paid for nothing else, no food, no shelter, no roads, and all of that money was put into healthcare there would still be treatments that we could not afford. So then let’s even take away the hyperbole and revise the statement to read, ‘we all deserve the healthcare we can reasonably afford.’ Assuming you could find a bureaucrat with enough ‘reason’ to handle my money wisely (I won’t hold my breath), this still fails morally because of coercive taxes, and still has to be shown to be the optimum method of saving lives.”

Ashley’s takedown is thorough and complete. My take-away is this; no one has the right to forcefully take the possessions of one party and give them to another, and there is nothing about the second party’s needs, wants, or deserts that creates a right where one didn’t exist before. Understanding this very simple point is the line that demarcates the libertarian from the authoritarian.

Rejecting Caesar’s Sanction

Dave Killion — April 26, 2012

What Dog has united, let no man tear asunder.

If you are single and will one day get married, you might want to consider what business it is of the state. And if, like all good libertarians, you conclude ‘none’, then you might want to weigh the value of a state marriage certificate against the indignity of submitting an application to our overlords. And to aid your contemplation of this matter, who better to turn to than that Wazir of Wiener Dogs, The Whited Sepulchre? Attend to him as he quotes from the wisdom of Will Campbell –

“If there is a body, a community, which is truly Church, or even claims to be Church, why should it be the executor of Caesar’s documents? What is a marriage license but a legal contract? And what does any legal contract promise and offer except the right to sue one another at another time and place before another of Caesar’s agents? Perhaps such contracts are socially necessary but what does that have to do with us? And even if we are not Church now but want to become Church, free from the demands and legality of Caesar, why not start by returning all of his documents and refusing ever to do it again? “No, Mr. Caesar, that is not our understanding of what marriage is all about. If you must protect yourself and your citizenry in this fashion you may continue to do so. But not with our help and blessing. Let the faithful come before the altar of the One we must serve rather than, and before, you. And acting on His, and only His, authority we will pronounce them man and woman, husband and wife.”

Read the whole thing here.

Incidentally, I see Mr. Sepulchre is soon taking part in an event that sounds like an awful lot of fun. I can’t say for sure what inspired this affair, but I certainly have my suspicions…

Hoppe on Abortion

Antony — February 22, 2012

Dave’s post from yesterday reminded me of an interesting video that I’ve been meaning to share. In it, Hans-Hermann Hoppe addresses a few difficult issues from a libertarian perspective, including abortion, parent-child obligations, and lifeboat scenarios. He also brings up a topic that came up in our last book club meeting: whether children are the “product” of their parents, and thus owned by them.

I think his arguments are reasonable. Basically, libertarian theory does not necessarily provide clear answers to many of these difficult issues, but it does guide us in how to deal with them. And I think that is the important point. Regardless of how we feel about the ethics of specific issues, we should try to solve problems through voluntary means, and without recourse to state power.

Questioning Mr. Libertarian on Abortion

Dave Killion — February 21, 2012

The late, great political philosopher Murray Rothbard has been an integral player in the formation of libertarian thinking. Reading his works has helped clarify many issues for me, but I am not certain he has arrived at the right conclusions concerning abortion. From his monumental work “The Ethics of Liberty” –

” The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.”

Imagine a plane owner freely grants a passenger consent to ride across the ocean in the owner’s plane. Midway through, the owner decides the passenger is no longer wanted and is therefore a parasitic “invader” that the owner has a perfect right to expel. Expulsion will be fatal to the passenger. What is there that makes expulsion ‘okay’ in the abortion example but not in the plane example? Nothing that I can see.

I have not met many people who are so pro-choice that they feel abortion is a mother’s right at any and all points in a pregnancy even up to the moment of delivery. What this suggests to me is that there is some point during the pregnancy when a fetus becomes a human being with the right not to be killed. I have no idea where that line is, and I don’t know how that line should be determined. I doubt libertarianism has an answer for that, either. This goes a long way in explaining why there is no libertarian position on abortion. I don’t like that, but I can derive some comfort from being able to demonstrate that in a libertarian society, abortion would greatly decrease as a result of market forces. That’s not much, but for now it will have to do.

Libertarian lawbreaking

Dave Killion — February 18, 2012

Hang on, my buddy has some rope back in camp!

The one thing that separates libertarianism from all other political philosophies is a rigid adherence to the notion that no one has the right to initiate aggression. It’s not right to do so in order to provide for the less well off, it’s not right to do so because doing so is intended to have a positive outcome, and it’s not right to do so even if it will benefit those who are deserving. Individuals own themselves, which means they own their honestly acquired possessions, and there is nothing about the needs, wants, or desserts of others that changes that.

This leads some critics to come to false conclusions about the willingness of libertarians to ignore the sufferings of others, and in an effort to illustrate those conclusion, those critics deploy life-boat scenarios the likes of which I discussed in this previous post. These scenarios are extremely implausible (and certainly no justification for coercive redistribution) but critics know libertarians have plenty of evidence to support our rationally-derived confidence in the ability of civil society to tend the less-well-off, so they must try and concoct situations where civil society doesn’t come into play. That’s not easy, but since I’m a good sport I don’t mind helping them out by supplying a more likely scenario, and then responding to the criticism –

A libertarian is out camping with some buddies, one of whom has recently purchased some rope. It has been strung up between two trees to hold up a tarp, and about thirty feet of it dangles down into a coil on the ground. The rest of the group goes on a hike, while the libertarian tends the campfire. Suddenly, a call for help is heard, and the libertarian dashes over to a nearby precipice where he sees a man hanging on for dear life to a branch about ten feet down. Our hero runs back to camp, but the only rope available is his friend’s new one. Not only is his friend unavailable to give him permission to use the rope, it is tied so tightly  that the coil would have to be cut away. At this time the critic would point out that taking the rope would amount to theft (which is a form of aggression), and the libertarian must either let the cliffhanger plunge to his death, or acknowledge that it is okay to steal (aggress) for a good cause.

Stupid imaginary critic, even when I hand it to you, you get it wrong! The non-aggression principal doesn’t mean you have to let people die rather than commit an act of aggression to save them. It just means you have to make restitution for your aggression afterwards. So the libertarian cuts the rope, saves the day, and buys his buddy a new rope. And in real life, if his buddy was such a dirtbag he insisted on restitution, the cliffhanger would probably cough up for it. So even life-boat scenarios fail to discredit libertarianism. Tough luck, critics.