Walter Block on Slavery: Another View

Many moons ago now, Walter Block was summarily condemned by the president of the university he teaches for — Loyola University New Orleans, a Jesuit university — named Rev. Kevin Wm. Wildes. In his criticism of Dr. Block, he mentions Walter Block’s purported criticism of slavery as “not so bad— you pick cotton and sing songs,” which was quoted in a New York Times article about Rand Paul. He claims that this is tantamount to “hinting to endorse slavery enforced against someone’s free will,” which would then “contradict [Dr. Block’s] basic libertarian principles.”

Many libertarians rightly noted that this quote was taken out of context in the original NYT article, that likely Rev. Wildes never read the source of the quote himself to ascertain any context, and that the quote was not an endorsement of, nor did it “hint” at, endorsement of slavery. In the original piece, Dr. Block was writing in hyperbole in order to draw attention to what was wrong with slavery; namely, it was a forced association between individuals. In the original piece he talked about slavery noting various innocuous features of slavery, which include picking cotton, singing songs, and eating gruel. These are not why slavery is wrong. It is not wrong because of what minimal benefits slaves receive, i.e. food, shelter, or singing while they work; it is wrong because a slave does not get to choose his or her employer or the nature of his or her work. They are bought and sold without the consent of the individual slave. This is a fundamental denial of a slave’s freedom of association.

To put it another way, let’s assume a relationship in which a slave gets better working conditions. They have a beneficent master who is kind to his slaves, feeds the slaves the same food he eats, dresses the slaves in nice clothing, etc. Do we not still condemn this relationship just as much as the one where a slave is fed gruel, beaten, and barely dressed? Of course. In fact, the hypothetical I just presented is the same kind of argument some Southern slave-owners were making leading up to the Civil War; that most slaves were treated kindly and liked their masters. Yet, historians understand that regardless of the truth of this argument of “beneficence”, the institution of slavery is still inherently wrong.

And this brings me to the neglected point in the discussion. Dr. Block’s line of thinking, that most people can recognize slavery is wrong because of its denial of the principle of freedom of association, is not quite true, particularly of his detractors. What do I mean, exactly? Most of his criticizers tend to be of the liberal, socialist, communist, or other leftist ideologies. Hence, it is probably true for them that slaves being fed gruel or forced to live in poor housing is just as wrong as the forced nature of the slave relationship. These individuals are of the idea that every individual is entitled to a minimum wage, adequate housing, food, and so on. This is why things like sweat shops are looked at as inherently “evil”, exploitative, and are akin to slave labor. They subscribe to the idea that if an individual has no other options than to take a job in a sweat shop they are being exploited; whether they chose this or not is of little consequence to them.

In this light, it is easy to see how even if Dr. Block’s detractors understood his argument on slavery, they would likely still disagree with him.

Target Credit Card Breach, Bitcoin, and Misplaced Blame

On Thursday, Target acknowledged that credit information of up to 40 million of its customers was stolen between November 27th and December 15th in one of the largest digital thefts in history. Frustrated customers are going around blaming Target for its lack of security and even showing a mistrust for credit card transactions if businesses such as Target are not able to keep their information safe and prevent fraud. Many target users are thinking using cash might be safer, since a cash transaction will not result in any of their information being kept and put in a position that may be vulnerable to theft.

This theft is reminiscent of some of the “Bitcoin heists” that have been making rounds on the internet over the past couple years. In one such theft, $500k (25k BTC, what would be $15 million at today’s exchange rate) was stolen, from a user named “allinvain” on the Bitcoin forums, in which the user claims their online wallet was hacked and had an unauthorized transaction sent to an unknown Bitcoin address. In another such heist, up to $100 million was either siphoned off by a hacker or the owners of the website Sheep Marketplace over the course of about a week, prompting the shutdown of the website. In another, the popular MtGox bitcoin exchange website had the user information of all its users publicly posted somewhere, thus compromising all these users accounts with the exchange.

As is typical of some of the coverage of these thefts, Bitcoin itself’s legitimacy is usually questioned and writers wonder whether the Bitcoin network is really secure and free from the possibility of fraudulent duplication of its currency and hacking. However, this fear is always misplaced. Bitcoin itself is not what has been vulnerable in these attacks, but third party users or third party wallet software. For Bitcoin to be vulnerable, an attack would have to be carried out on the network itself using an overwhelming amount of computer power allowing it to create a false blockchain longer than the legitimate blockchain created by honest users, a nearly impossible feat that has not happened and likely never will. As some have noted, if an attacker had acquired enough computing power to have over 50% of the network’s computing power in one place, it would probably be more beneficial for them to use that computing power legitimately and mine for bitcoins, which would likely lead to their amassing of a greater number of bitcoins and not create a panic like a massive fraud would. Thus, the Bitcoin protocol itself is essentially impregnable to an attack by hackers (with today’s technology).

What has proved vulnerable is wallet software and online businesses. Just as with Target, online Bitcoin businesses who do not have adequate security protocols become vulnerable to hackers who exploit any information they come across and can use to access the system. With Target, some suspect a Target employee may have clicked on an e-mail that introduced a bug into the system. Similarly with wallet software, if you, as a user, leave your encryption password lying around somewhere that has no security features and that could be easily accessed, such as in a word document, you are not being secure in how you treat your bitcoin account and can have your account attacked relatively easily. Whether it’s Target, MtGox, a Bitcoin wallet, or anything else, when information is left in unsecure places or users do not follow adequate protocols to ensure their system is not compromised, theft is bound to occur. We do not see the EFT (electronic funds transfer) system being blamed in the Target theft, do we? Or the U.S. dollar, the unit of currency denominating balances? Yet all the time Bitcoin is blamed or suspected to be vulnerable in occurrences of theft.

What is to blame is particular users of these systems who do not treat their digital information with care to ensure security is not compromised. Human error is consistently to blame in these thefts and that is where blame should be placed, not in the networks in which funds reside, or the funds themselves, which remain secure and are relatively unassailable from attackers without any revealing information unknowingly divulged by users. Individuals also need to be more careful with whom they do business with because, as the Sheep Marketplace theft proves, not every business in existence has good intentions and can be trusted with large sums of money. The omnipresence of financial institutions, banks, and regulations have only served to dull our duty to make responsible decisions with our money that would reduce the incidence of theft or underhanded actions by those who would seek to deceive us. Those dealing in Bitcoins have learned this lesson the hard way and will continue to do so as long as carelessness continues to be employed in the use of money. Leaving digital information unsecured is no different than leaving a gold bar or stack of hundreds on ones doorstep, and it seems as if only negative reinforcement has been jarring enough to imbue this lesson to the same extent (or has left the wrong lesson!).

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Clear Your Conscience; Voting Does Not Imply Consent to the Government

no treasonRecently, I got into a short discussion on Facebook whether voting implies a Lockean “consent of the governed.” My (friendly) opposition claimed voting is consent because voting is an affirmation of your United States citizenship. They claimed it is a voluntary action; nobody is putting a gun to your head to make you choose whether to vote or not. Hence by virtue of voting, you are signing a contract agreeing to abide by the Constitution and laws passed by the government, regardless of the outcome of the election. I didn’t think it was appropriate to (nor would I have been capable of) respond in a Facebook post, so here is my response.

My initial reaction was an intuitive feeling that voting, or participating in the system in some other way, cannot be considered consent. In the same way we may assert someone who is coercively imprisoned cannot be said to be consenting to their imprisonment if they accept food from their imprisoner, we cannot say that participation assumes consent. Likewise, someone using government roads or some other service cannot be said to be consenting to the government; in the case of roads, individuals are left with very little choice but to participate and use the government roads since it has monopolized the production and maintenance of roadways, through its coercive system of taxation, by which they can provide this benefit for free. This effectively monopolizes the system because no business can compete with free goods and services. In both situations, individuals are left with no real choice but to participate in the system, since the State has all but made it impossible to withdraw from it.

To understand the underlying issue of whether voting may imply consent, we must first reference the 14th Amendment, which states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States.” For some, this is a blessing; so many individuals have crossed over the border between Mexico and the United States illegally in the past few decades with the intention of having a child on U.S. soil so their child can become a U.S. citizen and be entitled to all the perceived blessings that come with it. For those radical libertarian, anti-government, and anarchist individuals born in the U.S. who consider U.S. citizenship more of a burden than a benefit, this presents a problem. Whether they like it or not, from the moment they are born on U.S. soil they are subject to the coercive power of the US government even though they never originally consented to it. The 14th Amendment, de jure, at the moment one is born, implements an initial condition of coercion upon any individual born within United States borders. Even should they totally abstain from participation in any government services throughout their life, they will be subject to U.S. laws by virtue of the barrel of a gun pointed at them by a federal agent should they not obey government dictates like taxation. The government’s claim on you may be illegitimate, but that won’t save your from being unjustly victimized at the hands of a despot. Certainly, an individual who abstained from government obligations would be morally justified in doing so and the government would be acting as a coercive criminal if they did not recognize it as such. The government threats of jail or death for such a refusal can readily be classified as circumstances in which any contract created between government and (unwilling) subject was created under duress, and is void. The initial and ongoing compulsion executed by the American government is the compelling evidence leading to a rejection of the sentiment voting implies consent to the government.

With the 14th Amendment, the government has presented the choice of either refusing to participate in the system and be punished, or participate in a system in which one has a minute chance of rectifying one’s abject condition (prior to this they would have claimed dominion over the individual anyway, albeit with a fuzzier justification, mostly through property taxes). And with the 16th Amendment granting the government the unwarranted ability to tax one’s income, the ruthless circle of plunder was completed. This is the true nature of the so-called “voluntary” decision of whether to vote or not. As Lysander Spooner said in No Treason, voting, in these circumstances, is a defensive measure adopted in the hope of rectifying the wrongs perpetrated by an illicit government. As an analogy, imagine you were kidnapped and held in prison against your will. Let’s say your captors decide to give you the choice of playing a game of dice with them; if you roll five 6’s in a row, they will release you. They say you can either participate in this game of dice or you can persist in this state of involuntary bondage. However, they stipulate that your participation in the dice game constitutes consent to further imprisonment should you not roll the five magic 6’s that grant you your freedom. Would anyone say this is a valid contract? Would anyone assert since you were given the choice of whether or not to participate in this dice game it was a voluntary action expressing consent? I think we may see, after some reflection, the absurdity of claiming that voting, or any other participation in the government, may constitute consent to the government. We could make a similar analogy with a slave being born into slavery and coerced to operate within the system. Pretending they had a choice by giving them the chance to choose a white slave master, in the hope of their being treated less harshly by a more benign master, no more validates their slavery because they voted on it than does the above situation legitimize their imprisonment because they agreed to play the dice game. The voting paper could explicitly state “voting is a contract and participating is a declaration of consent” but this contract isn’t valid because they are actively threatening the individual with compulsion.

I would recommend reviewing what Lysander Spooner wrote on why “Voting Does Not Imply Consent”. This is a succinct portion of his longer treatise, No Treason, addressing the issue directly. Here he touches on a slightly different analysis of voting, but still reaches the same conclusion that voting does not imply consent. “To take a man’s property without his consent, and then to infer his consent because he attempts, by voting, to prevent that property from being used to his injury, is a very insufficient proof of his consent to support the Constitution.” If it were the case that anyone born within the United States was not automatically a U.S. citizen and therefore not automatically subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government, and that the government did not attempt to expropriate the property of individuals with or without any actual consent, only then could we say that an individual, by voting, may be expressing consent. Only then would their choice truly be voluntary because they could live free of the laws and jurisdiction of the State by refusing consent and because they were not actively being expropriated by the government.

The idealist thing to do may be to refuse to vote or in any way participate in the government, knowing that you are vindicated when the government tyrannizes you and exercises its illegitimate dominion over you. For all intents and purposes, though, it is a rather foolish endeavor, especially in light of the above proof voting is not consent (at least not in the current and historical state of affairs in the United States).

Vladimir Putin Op-Ed: Habitual U.S. Military Interventions Alarming

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin contributed an Op-Ed to the New York Times in order to speak directly to the American people regarding the potential U.S. intervention in the Syrian conflict. While I don’t share his support of the UN, we should all reflect on this: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States…Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us”…No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect…It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Why is this coming from Putin and not Obama?

The Essence of Obama on Syria

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whitehouse.gov

I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets…We would not put boots on the ground…our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive…I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress…I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.

In essence, Obama is ready to strike Syrian targets at any time, promises that we won’t be committing troops to Syria, and will seek authorization from Congress for the use of force, but claims he doesn’t really need this authorization.His claims that he doesn’t need Congressional authorization is exceedingly ridiculous and what’s more, he bases this claim, in part, on his own precedent in Libya in 2011! Another thing that stands out from his press release is that he mentions that the mission would not be time-sensitive, ie. Obama admits Syria poses no imminent threat to us (which should be exceedingly obvious).

Let’s remember this statement when we commit thousands of troops to Syria because the situation “is more complicated than we expected,” specifically because of our needless foreign intervention in the first place. Let us remember this like we remember presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s statement from December 20th, 2007 when he said:

the President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

When a politician get’s caught in outright lies like Barack Obama has, they must be put to task for it.

Paul Krugman: Singapore is the new Chile

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Image courtesy of noppasinw / freedigitalphotos.net

Paul Krugman’s blog post today talked about how Singapore’s relatively privatized health-care system was being reformed to look more like Obamacare. With great pride he points out how George W. Bush and other Republicans consistently pointed to Chile as a ideal model of a working privatized Social Security system, but in 2008 drastically reformed the system to turn control over it to the government and turn it into another Social Security. And now, with Singapore’s formerly decentralized health-care system going over to the dark side and resembling Obamacare, Republicans no longer will have Singapore as the poster-child of working privatized health care.

Notice in the piece he makes no attempt to show the systems weren’t working; the only thing he did is bring up that they are being “reformed” and let’s us assume that they are being reformed because they aren’t working. It’s an easy way for him to be dishonest about the issue of privatization versus government handling of these issues while being able to wag his finger at capitalism and jump for joy more systems are on their way to becoming failures like Social Security and the soon-to-be colossal failure of Obamacare. Frankly, I’m not very familiar with either of these cases, but I could venture to guess that any reforming on these issues has little to do with failure on the hands of private businesses or private decisions-makers, and more to do with self-interested politicians doing their part to appeal to the Democratic masses and promise them an ever greater supply of free goods out of the taxpayer’s dole (while at the same time being responsible for any failure occurring in the system).