If Mike Huben Didn't Exist, Would Libertarians Have to Invent Him?

In response to the very sensible observation that the problem with criminal forensics is that it is embedded within a throughly monopolistic system, Bob Murphy writes

I loved the article, but I think Koppl doesn't push it far enough when he says the problem is monopoly, and therefore we need the government to require multiple tests, etc. That's like saying the problem with oil prices is OPEC, and that's why we need to ask Saudi Arabia to pump more.

Case in point: Koppl discusses a guy who was wrongly convicted of rape and held for four years. His compensation? $118,000. If those are the penalties the government faces for mistakes, no wonder they are so sloppy. In a voluntary system where people could patronize different legal frameworks (and yes we can argue about how/whether that would work), I think the fines might be such that the agencies that survived the competition fixed the leaky roofs over their crime labs.

In response, Mike Huben writes,

Even if libertarian fantasy competing privatized crime labs existed and were 100% correct, why would you think that would make a significant difference?

You would have to presume that conviction is an accurate process: but there's no good measure of it, and lots of reasons why we know it is frequently inaccurate.

But it makes a nice story for libertarians to bash government with, even if it is stupid.

*facepalm*

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I don't know if there's a name for that argument, but there...

...should be.

It's essentially a background assumption that the state is God.

I've long suspected Huben is

I've long suspected Huben is just another Lott sockpuppet, intent on trying to make non-libertarians look whiny.

You nimrods act as if I was

You nimrods act as if I was responding to Bob Murphy, when patently I was responding to the original article.

In any event, I've added another response that clarifies where I'm coming from and addresses BM's comments.

I'd also point out that we DO have private crime labs, and that they are used to present evidence in trials and challenge government lab results.

That's the Skepticism of the State We've Been Waiting to See

Who you were responding to doesn't seem to matter much to your argument, but if you want to harp on it, go for it.

Even if libertarian fantasy competing privatized crime labs existed and were 100% correct, why would you think that would make a significant difference?

You would have to presume that conviction is an accurate process: but there's no good measure of it, and lots of reasons why we know it is frequently inaccurate.

But it makes a nice story for libertarians to bash government with, even if it is stupid.

One might guess from the epithets that Mike's angry, but such pejoratives are actually common to all his writings. Either he's always angry, or always rude.

At any rate, the stupidity he refers to is the naive belief that more accurate data produce more accurate convictions. Now I tend to be pretty skeptical of government processes, but I admit, even I find this a plausible belief--at the very least a non-stupid one.

But even if we deign that assumption "stupid," Huben's argument that it doesn't matter how accurate the evidence is, as there's no way to accurately measure the accuracy of convictions, raises lots of interesting questions, not the least of which is: why do we even bother having trials? Why do we respect verdicts?

Moreover, if we have no means of measuring the accuracy of the conviction rate, how can we tell that it's "frequently inaccurate?"

Okay, Mike, giving you the

Okay, Mike, giving you the benefit of the doubt that you hadn't read Bob's comment before you responded, then what we have here is a perfect example of why you shouldn't call libertarians stupid before reading what an actual libertarian has to say about the policy at issue.

Roger Koppl, the person you claim to have been responding to in that thread, wasn't advocating a "libertarian fantasy [of] competing privatized crime labs". As Bob correctly pointed out, Koppl was advocating the still statist fantasy of competing crime labs all run by the same monopoly government. Of course, if the government is still ultimately the one footing the bill and making the rules, the crime labs--though competing--will still tend to be biased in favor of their employer. Which is exactly why Bob suggested that the problem is that the government faces little to no penalties for prosecutorial mistakes. The objection you have to Koppl's proposed solution is not that it is a libertarian solution; it is that it isn't libertarian enough.

I'd also point out that we DO have private crime labs, and that they are used to present evidence in trials and challenge government lab results.

By the people who can afford to hire them; people poor enough to use public defenders don't generally have access to private labs to compete with the state's hired guns. And access differs widely by location; rural towns tend to be more of a one-man show. Radley Balko has been writing about the widespread failures of statist forensics for Reason for a while now. For someone keeping track of critiques of libertarianism, you might want to keep up to date with your subject matter.

Is it nice to know, though, that when libertarians side with the little guy against the state, Mike Huben's knee-jerk reaction is inevitably to side with the government, like a good law & order Republican. Way to be a liberal, Mike!

I don't get it.

I don't understand your response, perhaps because I don't understand what argument Huben is trying to make. It sounds like he's saying that even if private crime labs were perfect, it wouldn't matter because government would still screw up the trial. While perhaps a valid point, this doesn't strike me as a compelling argument against libertarianism. Or was that your point?

My response or Micha's?

My response or Micha's?

Micha's.

Micha's.

My point is that the

My point is that the government shouldn't be running the trials in the first place. And actually, that wasn't my point. That was Bob's point. Of course, if the problem is a monopoly government-run trial system hiring monopoly government-run crime labs, having the government hire multiple crime labs isn't going to solve (all of) the problems associated with monopoly. It might solve some of the problems, but the only way to eliminate the pernicious effects of a monopoly is with actual (not pseudo) competition.