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Civil disobedience on private property: You Make The Call

Rand Paul’s recent electoral success has brought new attention to the state’s role in remedying discrimination by punishing private actors that discriminate on the basis of race in the provision of public accommodations, employment and housing. In short, Paul (coyly) opposes these policies. And this prompts questions about what alternative policies he might support. What should be the libertarian position about civil disobedience on private property?

Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, for example, when a lunch counter refused to serve black people some people protested this practice by holding a sit-in at the counter and refused to leave. The owner called the police, who forcibly removed the protesters. This practice brought attention to the black people’s plight, some measure of public opprobrium on the owner of the lunch counter, and ultimately government prohibition on discrimination in businesses of public accommodation. What do you think of these events?

1. May the state sanction people who discriminate on the basis of race in the conduct of their private business? Does your answer change with respect to people engaged in businesses that do not require a prolonged interaction with any specific customer? (E.g., Once you sell your house, you typically will not have further interaction with the buyer.) Does your answer change with respect to people who hold themselves out as providers of public accommodations?

2. May Joe seek to influence the behavior of Bill by orchestrating negative (albeit accurate) publicity about Bill, thereby attracting public opprobrium? May Joe seek to influence Bill through threatening to orchestrate negative (but accurate) publicity?

3. May Joe temporarily intrude upon Bill’s autonomy as a means to achieving some other objective, provided Joe agree to bear whatever sanction results from Joe’s conduct? May Joe permanently intrude upon Bill’s autonomy as a means to achieving this objective?

4. May Bill ask the state to forcibly extract compensation from Joe for trespassing on Bill’s autonomy?

5. May Bill employ force to defend his autonomy? May Bill employ lethal force if non-lethal force proves inadequate to defend his autonomy (e.g., the protesters are really good at hanging onto lunch counter stools)? May Bill ask the state to employ force on his behalf? Does your answer to these questions change if Bill has access to after-the-fact compensation for the trespass?

(“May…” here means “Do you regard it as consistent with your understanding of libertarian beliefs that….”)


Apple vs Microsoft

Back in the late 1990s, a made-for-TV movie came out depicting the rise of tech industry titans from their early days into their successful years. It was called Pirates of Silicon Valley. For anyone with an interest in technology, the movie was interesting, and at times unintentionally hilarious, such as one scene in which young Steve Jobs and young Bill Gates are discussing their respective companies. One says to the other with a steely gaze, "You're weak in databases. We can give you databases." The other pauses, then replies, "I don't think so."

The conclusion reached by the movie is that Gates had "won". He had beaten Jobs. One scene depicted an Apple conference in which Bill Gates appeared on the big screen on the stage to give a short speech announcing some plans for the two companies to work together. "He had become Big Brother" said the narrator, alluding to the famous Apple Super Bowl ad from a decade earlier.

At the time the movie was made, Jobs had just come back to the company he had founded after being dismissed in the mid-80s. He would quickly lead its resurgence.

At today's market close, Apple's market capitalization exceeded that of Microsoft's. In this layman's eye, Apple makes innovative products that anyone can pick up and intuitively start using while Microsoft simply puts out new versions of bloated software, getting by on network effect inertia.

Granted, Gates has been gone from Microsoft for some time now. But I wonder what the fates of Microsoft and Apple would have been had Jobs not missed over a decade of the company's history.


Lagniappe

While watching episode 4 of David Simon's new series Treme, I learned a new word: lagniappe. The scene involved the character Davis driving to give someone a piano lesson. His trip was abruptly cut short when his car fell into a large pothole rendering it immobile. A man from a nearby house came outside and called his cousin to give Davis a ride to his intended destination for a fee. But Davis's "shit", i.e., keyboard, was still in the car and would be ripe for theft.

Man: I'll watch it for you.
Davis: How much?
Man: Nah, consider it lagniappe.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I knew I had heard the word before and knew the spelling, so I looked it up. Wikipedia quotes Mark Twain:

We picked up one excellent word — a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — "lagniappe." They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish — so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a "baker's dozen." It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — "Give me something for lagniappe." The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor — I don't know what he gives the governor; support, likely. When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say, "What, again? — no, I've had enough;" the other party says, "But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe." When the beau perceives that he is stacking his compliments a trifle too high, and sees by the young lady's countenance that the edifice would have been better with the top compliment left off, he puts his "I beg pardon — no harm intended," into the briefer form of "Oh, that's for lagniappe."

I've heard this phenomenon is common in parts of Asia. After much haggling, a customer and merchant will settle on a price for sale. After the money and goods have been exchanged, the customer will demand a small fee, say, tea. The merchant will then be obligated to serve the customer tea.

The awesome theme song to the opening credits is appropriately enough titled "Treme song" by John Boutte:


Strategic Default

One of my co-workers is contemplating a strategic default. He bought his house at the 2006 market peak at >$400,000 and it is currently worth $200,000. My guess at his household income is around $120,000. He says that they can pay the mortgage payments, but the question that comes to his mind is--why do it? They have lost >$200,000, a staggering amount even for someone with their income. Arizona has very lax rules on going after delinquents. So he's thinking about simply "walking away", i.e., stopping his mortgage payments, packing up, and moving his family into an apartment. He'll take the hit to his credit.


"Virtual Federalism"

Arnold Kling:

I want to take this out of the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and suggest that it is a great idea in general. I live in teachers-occupied territory. That is, the teachers' union governs Montgomery County, Maryland. I would like to have a different sovereign, but without having to move. Under virtual federalism (as proposed in the widely-unread Unchecked and Unbalanced), we would unbundle the services that the County provides. I could then contract with another provider for trash collection, snow removal, fire protection, or other services.

Land-use regulation could primarily be handled at a neighborhood level. Roads could be privately owned and maintained, with electronic toll collection. (Not every trip need involve a toll. I might be able to buy a monthly pass at a flat rate that covers any trip other than during congested times.)

Concerning Tyler's point about dispute resolution, I think there would have to be courts that would resolve jurisdictional issues. Thus, there would have to be a court or similar body to handle land-use issues that cut across neighborhoods. Taxes would only be used to support such courts. Otherwise, public goods and services would be supported by user fees, membership fees, and donations.

I remember when Arnold couldn't discuss market anarchism without using the word "warlord". Our little economist is all grown up!

Over the last year or so, Arnold has become my favorite econblogger.


Dr. Paul Wins!

Rand Paul wins the Republican primary in Kentucky. It doesn't look like it was close.

This might be the only time I get to use that post title.


Quote of the Day

I got out of the Right-wing not because I ceased believing in liberty, but because being a libertarian above all, I came to see that the Right-wing specialized in cloaking its authoritarian and neo-fascist policies in the honeyed words of libertarian rhetoric. They need you for their libertarian cover; stop providing it for them!

- Murray Rothbard

via Zac Gochenour


Purple Teardrops I Cry

Truism: Lady Gaga brings people together.


The Barbarous Relic

Last week, I finally bought some physical gold. I hate buying anything at all time highs, but I think there's a small chance that a mania in gold, much like the mania in internet stocks at the end of the 90s and the one in real estate in the mid-00s, is about begin, and I couldn't wait any longer. I went to a local dealer and bought some coins, paying about 5% over spot.

I'm actually hoping (and believe it's likely) that we're seeing both a blowoff top in the stock market developing, and a similar top in gold developing. I'd like to buy more at much cheaper prices. The mania will come eventually but the next cyclical bear in equities will take gold with it.

While holding in the palm of my hand five digits worth of dollars, I finally "got" it. I finally understood the skepticism about gold being a "barbarous relic". I wondered how something rather bland in its properties could hold so much value. Sure it's shiny, but so what? It's just little bits of metal. Surely the world is mad.

Of course, the counter arguments are easy to make:

1) If valuing shiny bits are metal is barbarism, then what should be make of valuing little pieces of paper deemed to have value by fools and knaves?

2) Gold stands up to the challenge of empiricism. It has been used as money for 4,000 years. The last 40 years are the exception, not the rule.


Individualism, Collectivism, and War

My working definition for individualism is

  1. The recognition that human action is based on the individual.
  2. A social order based on the independent action of the individual.

Because (1) implicitly assumes that individualism is a fact of nature, this leaves me with defining collectivism in opposition to (2):

A social order based on centralized social and economic control.

Because this social order must be constructed in opposition to human nature (insofar as human action really is independent), the "control" of this definition requires extortion, psychological programming, or elimination of individuals who do not comply with the central plan.

If collectivism runs against human nature, why is it so common? The idea is maintained not only by a ruling class of central organizers, but appears to be accepted by those who do not benefit from centralized control. I believe it is due to the way our minds work to form general concepts.

Individual experience is limited by location, time, and intellectual framework. Through human language, we can share experience with other individuals. But our minds are too limited to hold the totality of the objective world, so we try to extract essential rules by which we can understand our observations and predict future events.

Thus, we will say things like, "The French eat cheese and drink wine," even if we find counter examples of residents of France who do not consume either. We are taking mental and linguistic shortcuts to explain the prevalence of wine and cheese consumption by individuals in France. This is appropriate for casual language only and is not rigorous.

My working definition of crime is

An action intended to harm another individual.

I was given this definition by an Objectivist once in conversation and have stuck with it. If anyone can point me toward a better definition from libertarian literature I would appreciate it; I am not certain that intent plays such a simple role.

But intent is immaterial to the point I am making about crimes. By virtue of them being an action, crimes are committed by an individual. By virtue of being the object of harm, the victim of a crime is an individual.

War is

An armed conflict between collectives.

To stretch the talk of guilt or innocence or victimhood to cover collectives is as sloppy as talking about "the French drinking wine". We should not use such terms when discussing war, unless it is with the caveat that we are discussing, for example, historical wars in intentionally vague terms. If someone identifies a guilty collective who must be punished through war, they are either simply wrong or intentionally trying to manipulate you.

This leaves me with the conclusion that war is never legitimate. Defensive use of force is legitimate, and individuals may coordinate their defense or hire specialists to assist in defense against one or more aggressors. But individuals cannot escape responsibility for their actions simply because they belong to a collective. Likewise, individuals cannot justly be the targets of force simply because they belong to a collective. War is not a legitimate use of force because it is by definition collective.

It points out yet again how Statists can get things exactly backwards. Contrary to their slogans about service being a sign of responsibility, the Statist who supports war is actually claiming that soldiers can escape responsibility for their actions by belonging to a collective. They will maintain that the collective is supported by sufficient force of arms to protect those who serve it from any repercussions for their actions. But though they may provide some physical protection for those who serve, they cannot protect against the moral judgment of others or even the self-judgment of those who serve. Short of killing each individual who perceives reality differently than the sanctioned collective view, the Statist cannot provide escape from the fact that aggression has consequences.