Sunday, February 14, 2016

Dynamic jurisdictions

Laws usually are observed and enforced within a specific static geographical territory. For example, in the US, jurisdiction is usually determined by city limits, county lines, state borders and national borders.

Polycentric law allows different legal institutions to operate within the same territory. Within a particular territory, persons may change from one legal institution to another.

A dynamic jurisdiction would allow participants to adjust their status dynamically. Instead of operating as rivals within a single territory, the various competing legal regimes would each have territory that is determined dynamically by the decisions of land owners. So a particular bit of land could switch from one jurisdiction to another, create a new jurisdiction, or opt out completely.

This could restrain the abuse of certain sorts of government power, since the "losers" from a discriminatory policy could withdraw their participation and tax revenues from the offending organization.

This is more complicated than static jurisdiction and probably incompatible with some applications. For example, it would be difficult (perhaps pointless) for a city water delivery system to use a dynamic jurisdiction, since people living in the middle of the city probably would not have access to an alternative. 
Will this cause a "race to the bottom?"


Much  government violence would stop if they adopted a principle of proportionality. What limits would proportionality impose and how do we justify ignoring those limits?

What is the proportionate response to someone harming themselves? Nothing (at least, in terms of punishment, which currently is the only arrow in goverment's quiver). Why make matters worse by punishing? Errors cost enough, why add the extra harm of punishment? I may wish to persuade or teach someone a better way, a way to accomplish one's goals without causing self-harm. But they have no obligation to listen to me.

What proportionate response can we provide when someone harms another? If the harm results from voluntary interaction, such as a boxing match, again the answer is "nothing." When the harm results from an accident, we seek restitution. Intentional physical harm merits a proportionate physical response. Responses might include prevention, intervention, investigation, apprehension, trial and consequence (punishment or restitution). [When is prevention justified, and what sorts?]

What about intentional mental harm? Shunning and ostracism qualify as proportionate responses. In some cases, an offender may prefer restitution or physical punishment. [The proportionate remedy for bad speech is good speech.]

Do we prefer responding to violations or proactively preparing to prevent attack? [This could provide a topic for a blog post on its own, but I wish someone else would write it.]

Crimes with no victim at all merit no response at all. Voluntary interaction does not merit punishment. Civilized persons interact on the basis of consent only. I embrace this core idea.

Deception and manipulation can change the status of an interaction from voluntary to involuntary. Where do we draw the line between deception and misunderstanding? [Pretend there is a long section here discussing that question.]

One alternative to proportionality is incentive. Instead of letting the response fit the crime, make the punishment disincentivise the crime.  Perhaps people will behave better if they fear disproportionate punishment. A proportionate response may not discourage cheaters, especially when cheaters are hard to catch.

How can we justify disproportionate responses? Perhaps they work better. Use consequentialism to justify it. We can wave our hands at proportionality by thinking of a violation as consisting of the injury to another plus the disobedience of the rule. Note that this contradicts what I said about victimless crime above.

This raises issues regarding the appropriateness of punishment, restitution, rehabilitation and retribution. All provide ways to control persons. [Pretend there is a long section here discussing this.]

So, we can do what is fair to the participants (proportionality) or we can seek some social optimum (what best reduces violations). The fair (individual justice) and the practical (social justice?) seem to conflict with each other. Can we make an agreement that moves us voluntarily from the individual optimum to the social optimum? Would we agree to accept disproportionate responses in return for the mutual agreement of others? How do we establish this agreement? Assurance contracts? [Wouldn't it be nice if I had an answer?] Dynamic jurisdictions? 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A half-hearted defense of the idea of a minimal state

If you want to defend the minimal state, you must argue in favor of its strengths. What are they?
An ideal sort of minimalism would incorporate a learning mechanism similar to market competition, allowing people to learn the characteristics of different ways of holding rule enforcers accountable. It would govern by consent. Defenders of democracy pretend that the status quo should satisfy us in these regards. Feedback and consent take the form of voting, volunteering, donating, lobbying, public opinion, etc. Caplan claims this more or less works as a feedback mechanism, that new unpopular policies will fail to pass, and old policies will lose support and face repeal as they lose popularity. For him, common cognitive biases take the blame for government flaws. All this depends on centralized mechanisms for collective choice, rather than decentralized and bottom up.
Sophists often frame our alternatives as an unpleasant dichotomy between the status quo and imagined chaos. This approach harvests at least a grain of truth, in that no one has created a serious test case yet. Innovators face a catch-22, in that people hesitate to embrace untested ideas. No one dares to test something new because it is untested.
Rothbard, Huemer, Rose, and more challenge the justification of the state's right to command and the people's obligation to obey. But Hayek points out that our lives depend on practices and beliefs that we cannot justify with rigorous philosophy. Philosophy does not provide only good ideas, or we'd all be Marxists. The problem with the status quo is that even if innovators and early adopters were willing to try something new, because of the collectivized aspects of politics, others will try to prevent their experiments and explorations. How can we overcome this obstacle?
Good arguments can take us only so far. We need well tested, well understood alternatives that people can choose for themselves directly.
Molyneux says we have tried minarchism and it failed. We tried several variants of it, and they all failed to some degree, but not all in the same way. Minarchism with consent, what would that look like?

Individual nullification: I can challenge, nullify, or contract around any law that applies to me. Only other individuals can be my counterparties, the state is arbitrator and enforcer only, not litigant. So crimes have a victim. (No malum prohibitum.)
Dynamic jurisdiction: Consent is insured by allowing the governed to vote with their feet and take their land with them.
Subsidiarity: Issues are handled at the lowest feasible level.
Strict Federalism: Different jurisdictions can do things differently.
Taxes: Can they survive? Will the voluntary minimal state be financed with an indiegogo campaign?

I can imagine a minimal state or competing defense agencies, but where is the strict line of separation? Minimal state supporters speak of monopoly, but the state is not strictly a monopoly even now, and it is hardly minimal. Minimalists should recognize this, as separation of powers and federalism are their big things.

Politics/Economics versus Coercion/Cooperation

Equating economics with free exchange and politics with compulsion is not quite accurate, though it comes close. Economics is the business of the household or individual. Politics is the business of the city (polis) or the collective. Economic activity can include coercion, deception and unfair manipulation unless some mechanism constrains it. 
Perhaps we could create such constraints without entering the area of politics. Would politics cease to exist? If we eliminate all collectively owned property, what remains for politics to accomplish? Well, office politics will remain, politics within organizations. And perhaps we inevitably must own certain resources (the ocean, perhaps?) in common. Coordination problems, like driving on the right, qualify as political problems, though they may not need coercion. Large scale assurance contracts provide another example of non-coercive politics.
So I disagree with the implication that seeking economic power always creates a benefit and seeking political power always create harm (though perhaps this is a good short-hand). Legitimate power, whether economic or political, rests on the voluntary interaction among the participants within effective constraints that prohibit clear harm.
This is my reply to . 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

9 brief criticisms of UPB

Molyneux quotes are in italics.
1) Self-defense also cannot be required behaviour, since required behaviour (“don’t rape”) can be enforced through violence, which would mean that anyone failing to violently defend himself could be legitimately aggressed against. However, someone failing to defend himself is already being aggressed against, and so we end up in a circular situation where everyone can legitimately act violently against a person who is not defending himself, which is not only illogical, but morally abhorrent. (Page 87) But self-defense is violent, unavoidable from the standpoint of the aggressor being defended against. Therefore it falls in the category of ethics, and is either prohibited or required, according to the argument Molyneux gives in UPB. So if it is not required, it is prohibited. Or is it special somehow, related to enforcement? In effect, the entire UPB book is a justification of self-defense and rule enforcement. Molyneux should have made it clear how this works.

Enforcement requires justification, because it takes a different form in ordinary life than it does in debate. In debate, rules are enforced by pointing to infractions. Violations of the rules weaken a debater's case, sometimes demolish it. We don't put people in jail for making a mistake, we just don't believe them. People don't enforce debate rules by means of physical punishment. Debate is an ideal world of nonviolence. How does Molyneux base enforcement on the ideal of debate? He ignores the question.

2) Preference gives a ranking. Given a set of choices, a preference determines which alternative is chosen. UPB needs a set of prohibitions. Molyneux says almost nothing about what you ought to do, discussing instead what you should be punished for. Using the word "preference" as jargon introduces confusion and equivocation. UPB is really universally prohibited behaviour, maybe universally enforced behaviour.

3) Do I believe the coma test? Why shouldn't a man in a coma be treated as if he had reverted to infancy, or as an animal or rock would be treated, on a temporary basis? How can we draw conclusions about ordinary persons this way? An infant needs a guardian, and so does a man in a coma. If either an infant or a man in a coma were somehow able to injure another, the guardian would be responsible, not the infant, and not the man in the coma. Does Molyneux excuse the infant only, or both, or neither?

4) Any Positive obligation must be constantly being fulfilled at all times? I am able to cobble up an elaborate explanation of this idea of Molyneux's, but I am still tempted to count it as a reductio ad absurdum. That is, if I can reason to that conclusion, some of my assumptions must be wrong. The fact that the argument is so elaborate is a danger sign. At the very least, Molyneux needs to explain this better, because it is a very surprising result. He treats it almost as obvious. He bases the idea on universality. Why not think of a positive obligation in analogy to a gas tank, you have to fill it up before it gets empty?

5) Do I care about the 2 guys in a room? Molyneux's critics love to try to twist that scene, for instance, trying to show that it is not logically impossible for the 2 to be mutually obligated to kill each other. If we accept the success of the move against moral obligations based on the coma test, why is the 2 guys test even useful? There is nothing that I can consciously be doing at all times, because I have to sleep. So why would it matter if there were additional absurdities or logical impossibilities if there were two of us? If we have already established that there are no positive obligations, what does this test accomplish?

6) Can we derive a moral truth using UPB? It makes sense to reject a moral proposition that contains logical contradictions or physical impossibilities, and call that "false." But if a moral proposition passes the tests, does that prove it is true? Are we sure we have eliminated all the sources of falseness? He does not so much derive or prove rules as eliminate some. Actually, this would be a respectable accomplishment in itself (if successful), but he pushes it further than he can justify.

7) Molyneux talks about the hypothetical imperative as "if you want X you must do Y or use Y." But the way he uses it, the Y is always a negative, "not steal," "not murder," "not rape." He is clear about what you must not do, vague about what you must do. In fact, he denies that you must do anything. Stef's version of the hypothetical imperative should be, "if you want X, you should not do Y."

8) Molyneux begs the question with most of his example tests. Murder is defined as wrongful killing. There is no difficulty proving that wrongful killing is wrong. The difficulty arrives when we try to draw a clear line between wrongful killing and other sorts, such as legitimate self-defense, accident, etc. Molyneux does not draw this line.

9) Words based on the idea of validity (valid, validate, validity, etc.) are used almost 200 times in the text. Sometimes it can be interpreted as logical validity, others as validity according to the UPB system. In some other contexts it is used in a confusing way, to signify correctness in general or accuracy or something like that. How can a concept or idea be valid or invalid, without reference to a standard of validity? For example: If this “null zone” is valid, then no logical proposition can ever hold. (Page 14). If he means "true," why not say it? 

As you may have noticed, none of these criticisms is deadly to UPB. The fact that Molyneux has made mistakes doesn't disprove his idea. It just means Molyneux has failed to give us good reasons to think he is right.

Religion without god 2

I do not think that god exists. Assuming I am correct, what do I lose by not participating in religion?

Nowadays we separate religion from philosophy, science and practical skills. At some point religion became formalized, with static dogma frozen in holy texts that could not be expanded or corrected, full of received knowledge, separate from our human ability to learn. Science and philosophy took on the task of correcting and expanding knowledge about our world.But they also became more specialized, separate from the experience of ordinary persons. People still need to apply these insights in their lives to interpret their experiences. Religions help people integrate ideas into their lives, such as:

  • Spiritual experience (awe).
  • Morality.
  • Passion? Motivation.
  • DIY psychology. 
  • Dissemination of practical knowledge.
  • Community.
  • Charity.

This is a personal experience that we cannot delegate to someone else.

The church used to provide a counterbalance for the state. Fugitives and refugees could take sanctuary in the church. The military exempt conscientious objectors from service.
How is this different from government?
  • Government uses coercion. Religion (nowadays) must rely on persuasion.
  • Government tends to let the winners impose their solution on the losers. Religious dissidents may give their own answers and make their own mistakes.
How is this different from a union? How is this different from a club or charitable organization? These organizations tend to focus on a specific mission.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Religion without god

I don't believe in god. Does that mean I have escaped religion, or the need for religion, that it has no relevance to me, nothing to offer? By taking that position, have I eliminated superstition, irrationality, bias and counterfeit intellectual authority from my thinking? Does the institution of the church represent nothing for me beyond the dogmatic belief in false prophecy? 

What remains when religion loses god, divine authority, papal infallibility and dogma? Ritual practice, community, the search for truth and moral struggle remain. If these remain important to each of our lives, we need to replace religion or reform it.