Archives for category: Criminology

The newly sworn-in President of the United States has been saying quite a few idiotic things, and doing some interesting things, as well. I wish to look at only one of the things he has said: “Torture absolutely works.”

“Does torture work? . . . Absolutely I feel it works.”

In his favor, he had asked “people at the highest level of intelligence” whether torture works, and that was their answer, “Yes.”

And Sen. Rand Paul responded with a resounding “No,” citing more specific studies.

Now, to me the question is irrelevant. Whether torture gives us good information or misinformation or even poisoned disinformation, torture is an abridgment of human rights. Furthermore, it has a long history of harming innocents; as Rand Paul noted, recent torture procedures in rendition zones turned out to have harmed quite a number of innocent — misidentified or set up — suspects. Our whole system of jurisprudence developed around the idea of protecting innocents from incorrect punishment and outrageous moral horrors. And the method of torture is not just using pain and damage and fear to gain information, the method is also one of secret proceedings apart from normal judicial processes.

When we say torture abridges human rights, we are not merely expressing a preference, or establishing some arbitrary cultural norms. There is a reason for our rights-imputation to counter torture. For we find that not only does torture harm innocents, it abuses the guilty and — more obviously than anything else — it empowers government personnel to take license rather than uphold justice. Torture corrupts.

And one of the grounds of universal human rights is to prevent the corruption of that most dangerous of institutions, the State. To give government functionaries the lattitude to torture foreigners or citizens gives them way too much power, power that we know very well cannot be handled by frail humanity.

So, when POTUS Trump — or even Rand Paul — pretends that “does torture work?” is a relevant question, we should be very concerned. Torture should be opposed even if it does give government functionaries “reliable information.”

Further, the language of Trump is, obviously and characteristically, sloppy in the extreme. Who cares if he “feels” torture works? On important matters we must demand higher epistemic standards than “feels.”

And there is no way that this contentious issue can be responded to with an “Absolutely.” There have to be some points of contention here. Nothing I have read in the literature surrounding torture gives me enough confidence to use the word “absolute,” in adverbial form or otherwise.

Thankfully, Sen. Rand Paul expresses a reasonable desire to extend more oversight over the federal government’s intelligence community. If “people at the highest level” of this community have a hankering to torture — as their confident answer seems to suggest — we must indeed keep a close watch on them .

twv

Taxation is a form of expropriation. Libertarians like to say it is theft.

I have been pretty iffy about that statement. Taxation is an odd form of theft, if it be theft indeed, in that it is not mere confiscation, not ad hoc or makeshift, and is almost always announced in advance. Taxation is expropriation by the state according to some rate or rule. And the fact that it is widely considered just or necessary seems to have some bearing on the advisability (or accuracy) of the “theft” charge.

My “iffiness” was perhaps most forcefully expressed on my old blog:

Taxation is the expropriation of private property according to an established rate, as put into law by an established state.

Robbery and other forms of theft are illegal kinds of expropriation, and piecemeal at that. Taxation is a legal kind of expropriation.

To many libertarians, this distinction is not much of a distinction at all. They have pretty much thrown out the distinctions between legal and illegal, and are in a continual revolutionary mode of thinking, ready at a moment’s notice to throw out whole chunks of the rule of law and state practice.

So of course they equate all kinds of expropriation.

Well, not all, since libertarians do support some forms of expropriation. They have no trouble expropriating the loot of thieves from thieves, after court adjudication. And they have no trouble expropriating from a person found liable, in court, to a tort claim.

They just don’t support taxation.

My Contention: The main reason radical libertarians will not get anywhere is their complete lack of understanding of the normal mindset, which is not constantly in revolutionary mode. Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as “taxation is theft” do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.

Indeed, because of this revolutionary stance — and I’m not talking about physical, bloody revolution so much as a particular stance regarding ideas and consent — these libertarians cannot deal with normal folk.

They offend normal folk; libertarians often (and with good reason) strike normal citizens as lunatics, perhaps dangerous lunatics.

This is one reason why I choose my words more carefully — or at least differently — than radical libertarians. I wish to address normal folk in normal language. I believe it is incumbent upon me to make every step towards a revolutionary mindset clear. I wish to pull no wool over any eye. I believe we have to approach greater liberty with complete honesty. No rhetorical trickery.

And I regard slogans such as “taxation is theft” as something close to rhetorical trickery.

Whatever else we may say of it, however, taxation cannot be univocally defined as a good thing. Every tax taken diminishes the wealth and wherewith of the mark, er, taxpayer.

So, two things are obvious:

1. we have, other things being equal, good reasons to wish to diminish taxation as much as possible; and

2. we should inquire deeply into the proposals of those who suggest, or insist, that we reconstruct society to provide the necessities of civilization without the inconvenience and horrendous burden (not to mention moral horror) of taxation.

But we see a lot of pushback against the idea of low-tax or no-tax society.

Unfortunately, most of this online discussion is witless. I argue against one typical instance here:

NOTE: In this video, I mistakenly refer to Peter T. Leeson as “Peter Levin”; sorry, Professor Leeson.

I greatly enjoyed Leeson’s book on pirates. Getting his name wrong is unfortunate. (Leeson is Professor of Economics and BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at George Mason University.) His book, in the image at top, is required reading on the subject of a tax-free society that still can sport an industrial, market order.

 Related to the issue at hand, but on a more subtle level, is the Hume essay I wrote a foreword to, for Laissez Faire Books. It can be found on Amazon as a Kindle book, or on iBooks, or on LFB.org. From the same publisher, I also recommend the fascinating Instead of a Book. A great book, despite the name. And, unlike my video, but like most of the books shown at top (all recommended), that book does not eschew the “A word,” anarchy.

More on that, anon.

In a show of solidarity, President Barack Obama says he will put 5 percent of his paycheck back into the Treasury. Times are tough. He wants to show that he can take cuts, too. So he’ll whack $20K from his annual take. In effect, “give it back.”

Now, it’s often said that our leaders should take cuts along with the rest of us. They should be first, so to speak. “Feel our pain” by taking similar pains. And since, by law, neither the president nor Congress can actually cut their own salaries — requiring this gesture to be a personal matter, a “gift,” so to speak — the president’s move is right on the money.

And why not give the Prez a nod? Well done.

However. (You knew there’d be a “however,” didn’t you?) Look at those with whom he’s linked his arms.

It’s not the American people, who’ve lost jobs enough to make the real unemployment rate to soar way, way higher than a mere 5 percent. (Taking into account workers who’ve given up on the job search, actual unemployment is over 20 percent.) Many Americans have taken wage cuts, or de facto rate cuts, say by working fewer hours. Profits in small businesses are not exactly booming, either, so the middle class has taken huge hits, too.

No, it’s not for We, the People, that Obama shakes out his loose change.

It’s to federal government employees, especially those hit by the automatic “sequester” cuts that he, himself, helped put in place last year.

Interesting. In classical liberal analysis — as developed by James Mill, Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer — real class warfare takes place between peaceful, productive, co-operative citizens, on the one hand, and the taker class, on the other . . . which breaks down into two distinct groups: criminals and government employees, both relying on expropriation to survive.

At least Obama isn’t siding with the criminals.

skulk

We civilized folks have as many varieties of murder as the Inuit do of snow.

Lawyers and legislators have Murder One, Murder Two, Manslaughter, etc.

Before those niceties, there were “crimes of passion” distinguished from “cold-blooded murder.”

We regularly make distinctions worthy of a Benthamic criminologist, carefully separating spree murderers from serial killers from mass murderers.

And then there are the synthetic constructions, worthy of Polonius. My favorite is “serial mass murderer.”

That applies to U.S. presidents, especially the current one.