Posts tagged intrusion

Column on Protection vs. Coercion

Protection versus Coercion

Tibor R. Machan

In matters of human conduct it is vital to distinguish between actions that coerce others to do something they must be in charge of choosing either to do or not do, versus resisting their attempts to coerce someone. If I try to make you eat your vegetables and you aren’t my child for whose health I am responsible, I am being coercive. I am lording it over you. If, however, you come after me with a knife to cut me up and I successfully resist your attack, this isn’t my being coercive but acting in self-defense, protecting myself.

The criminal law recognizes this pretty clearly–assault versus self-defense! But it seems like many people don’t. They insist that when other people are acting badly, even if peacefully, they may interfere. So the city of New York may force people to refrain from eating foods cooked in trans-fats. Or California and many other states may force people to abstain from gambling or using dope. These, however, are not actions that amount to attacks on anyone. If you ruin yourself by gambling, that may be lamentable, even morally repugnant, but it is just the sort of issue that must be up to you as a free human being. Otherwise you are being treated like a child, not as an adult. If you are an adult, other adults may not coerce you unless you permit them. You may permit a fellow boxer to beat you up and down in the boxing rink or a dentist to drill your teeth; so they then may do what otherwise would amount to assaulting you.

All that talk in the American political tradition about the consent of the governed has to do with this. Only what a citizen has consented to may be imposed on his or her by another citizen. It is impermissible, not just morally but criminally wrong to coerce another adult to obey one’s will. That is what slavery involves, or involuntary servitude.

Of course, there are some borderline cases but those couldn’t even be identified if there were no clear-cut ones as well. If you are bumped on the sidewalk, does that amount to coercing you? Probably not unless there is intent to assaulting you in evidence. Otherwise it is a minor mishap. And there are some serious problems with such matters as, say, date rape. Might some kind of consent be given implicitly rather then explicitly?

The important point is that when someone else is doing something wrong–being lazy, swearing too much, gambling, living in hazardous ways–if it is peaceful, doesn’t involve an intrusion on others, no one may stop it. One may advocate against it, of course, which is what editorial writers and columnists do a lot. But what vice squad officers do is really something quite impermissible. If a prostitute and her John want to engage in debasing sexual unions, so be it. One can try to persuade them not to but to intrude is to treat the parties as if they had no will of their own, did not possess sovereignty. But free men and women do possess sovereignty.

Now the fact that one can know that someone else is doing something wrong doesn’t change any of this. Even if one knows well and good that other people are acting badly, if it is peaceful no one may intrude. Much of what people do wrong upsets others, of course, even if these aren’t out and out invasive things, even if they do not involve dumping one’s malpractice on other people. But you can tell that some of the conduct targeted by those advocating coercion is, even if offensive, quite peaceful since when challenged, those who want to control it tend to invent some theory of how some people’s misconduct makes others misbehave as well. So If George here smokes pot or sells his body or is a lazy bum, this is often portrayed as leading to other people doing likewise. And at times that may be the case but the responsibility for picking up someone’s bad behavior lies with the one who’s doing the picking up, not the one who carried on badly but peacefully. Influencing others isn’t coercing them!

So the bottom line is that only when others act violently, coercively may their conduct be thwarted. If they act peacefully though badly, all that’s available among free men and women is persuasion. If this idea were widely adhered to, we would be living in a significantly different world. It would be a more civilized world, that’s for sure.

Revisiting and Expanding the Laffer Curve

Revisiting and Expanding the Laffer Curve
Tibor R. Machan
The Laffer curve is about how much imposition or other types of trouble people are willing to tolerate from their fellows. Arthur Laffer, a professor at the University of Southern California, is supposed to have drawn a bell shaped graph on a napkin once to show that up to the peak point of it people are likely to put up with the burden of taxation. The peak isn’t the same for everyone, but everyone does have such a peak.
In particular, then, the Laffer Curve concerns taxation, a form of extortion, which government uses to obtain funds to operate its undertakings. Reminiscent of how organized crime groups, such as the Mafia, operate, the government threatens heavy fines and jail so those being threatened hand over funds. Since, however, many governments, unlike the Mafia, can be voted out of office, the severity of the extortion has to be gauged with the possibility of eventual electoral resistance in mind. This is no easy task and can often go awry. Yet in most countries tax revolts are relatively rare since few people wish to risk losing their forms of life just so as to retaliate against the powerful forces of the state. This, again, is similar to Mafia type extortions in which the victim is given some benefits in order to be placated—e.g., protection from vandalism (the bulk of it initiated by the gangsters themselves).
Now the Laffer Curve is extendable into much more than the sphere of taxation-extortion. Any sort of government intrusion is subject to its insight. Censorship comes to mind—a certain amount of it will not be widely resisted. Government regulation, all of it a violation of the prohibition of prior restraint—is also subject to it since it is taken to be more trouble at times to resist than to comply with it. Indeed, statism as such is subject to the Laffer Curve analysis—in most societies it is not significantly enough resisted for it to subside, let alone disappear. People subjected to statist measures of any sort simply will not mount effective resistance because to do so may involve greater losses than gains and they are, after all, often able to circumvent it reasonably successfully by using their own intelligence or hiring expert help in the form of specialist in various branches of intrusive law.
Finally, the Laffer Curve is useful, also, to explain why there is not enough political resistance to statism and why only a small percentage of the population bothers to mount any, especially in advanced, developed countries where people live quite well, and where mounting resistance is quite costly, relatively speaking—that is, the possibility of success is small while the cost of the revolt is considerable. In undeveloped countries the situation is different, which helps explain why so often it is in such countries that we see rebellion and revolt against prevailing authorities and why there is frequent regime change in many of them. Put bluntly, the bulk of the population has little to lose from rising up against the state. That is not so in most developed countries.
The small percentage of citizens who will insist on making an issue out of nearly any measure of statism in developed countries will not manage to achieve regime change, of course, but it will keep the idea of it alive. Yet this itself can contribute to the ineffectuality of such marginal efforts, since the rest of the population may perceive the small resistance as sufficient and proceed without given it any aid or even much attention.
Is there a remedy or is this normal? In a sense it is normal—most people will put up with some trouble from others. They will accept a certain amount of intrusive noise from neighbors, being bumped on the sidewalk as they hurry to some destination, even some fender bender type auto accidents, let alone insults and humiliation. Minor thefts or assaults are rarely reported to the authorities.
However, what is not normal is becoming habituated to such tolerance for invasiveness from others. Most of us fear the consequences of such habituation—just as we fear being habituated to anything that harms us in the long run.
If it becomes evident enough, via education or the example from other regions of the world, that statism even in small increments has bad overall consequences, that things could turn out measurably better without it, the peak of the Laffer Curve may become more easily reached for the bulk of the people and the level of tolerance of statism could diminish considerably.