Monday, April 8, 2013

The Free Market Sans NAP?

This is a continuation of this post.

DB: Thank you as well for participating; you will perhaps reply further either here or in your own forum. If so, we will read your commentary with interest.

BM: I can only justify my position based on a moral argument, relying on the non-aggression principle.  I will suggest that DB’s desired libertarian social structure (your “bright line” of free markets, also a moral position) cannot survive absent acceptance of this same non-aggression principle.  Therefore DB cannot draw its bright line where it wishes to draw it without acceptance of the NAP by the vast majority of this free-market oriented society – a moral necessity, I suggest.

There are no truly free markets absent acceptance (and defense) of the NAP by the vast majority of the community: the use of aggression only against those specific individuals who have initiated aggression.  Weapons of mass-destruction (the bulk of what is produced by the modern military-industrial complex) inherently violate this moral principle when used, and every time these are used.  These weapons cannot be used in any manner other than in violation of NAP.  Therefore, I suggest (and agree with Rothbard) that these must be considered in a manner different than weapons such as firearms. 

Unlike many weapons (such as a firearm), it is illogical to suggest that the outcome of a deployed nuclear bomb (to use one of dozens of such weapons of mass destruction produced by this industry) is solely dependent on the choice made by the user – as if good aim and good intent will solve the problem.  The only acceptable libertarian use of aggression (defense against an aggressor) is violated every time the weapon is used.  There is no possible use of the weapon that does not violate NAP.

(The question of development for deterrence is also a moral one, and beyond my scope here – although I will soon read through a book entitled “Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism” to help gain an understanding of this issue.)

DB: But to advance an investment argument based on morality is to set up a kind of slippery slope - and that is what we've been trying to explain….Our bright line begins and ends with free markets …

BM: Drawing the line at free markets is also a moral position, is it not?  It is difficult to consider that this free-market line is brighter than the line that separates alternative views regarding the murder of innocents.  What might this suggest about the investment in goods that, when used as designed, will inherently kill innocents?  A bright line of free markets absent a bright line regarding NAP will not hold, I suggest.  Try maintaining a free-market community that does not accept NAP.

Can you accept NAP yet invest in tools that by their very use violate NAP?  Not a question of how they are used, but every time they are used?  Certainly, it is a moral choice – but what does it say of the one who advocates that this is possible?  “The initiation of force is not legitimate, but investing in weapons that can only be used in such a manner (deadly initiation of force) is acceptable.”  This is illogical and would be laughable if the results weren’t so deadly.

We all draw bright lines regarding our positions today, and our hopes for tomorrow.  Libertarian / anarchists argue ad infinitum about the proper location of this line, especially while living in today’s world of state-coercion. 

Personally, I am sympathetic to the view that an action is acceptable in today’s world if a) the same action would occur in a libertarian society, and b) to a large extent, the action has been co-opted by the state.  So, for example, regarding your comment of Rothbard teaching in a public university: a) certainly in a libertarian society the profession of university economics professor would be acceptable, and b) in our society today, where else is a university educator to teach when virtually every university is either state funded or heavily reliant on state aid?

I will suggest that your bright line of free markets is not possible without acceptance of the non-aggression principle.  I could demonstrate this, but I believe this is well understood by DB.  There is not a worse, and more permanent, violation of NAP than the non-defensive taking of a life.  It makes all other violations pale in comparison.  I might be on a slippery slope by insisting on the NAP – yet ignore the NAP and you are falling off of a cliff.

I suggest that investing in weapons of mass destruction makes impossible the achievement of your bright line. In other words, maintaining your bright line is highly unlikely if you accept the moral position that such an investment is acceptable.  Would it be allowed in a free society?  Certainly, although I cannot imagine a small, libertarian community pooling funds for ICBMs.  But would it remain a free society?  Most definitely not.

DB: Within that context, we are content to suggest what works best for civil society. Morality does not directly apply except as it flows out of the kinds of (libertarian) social structures we have recommended. And to some degree that is in the "eye of the beholder." ...

BM: this is just the point.  The morality that flows out of a libertarian social structure inherently revolves around the NAP, and NAP is violated by such weaponry – by design, every time these are used.  While one is free to invest in such weaponry, the weaponry most certainly does not advance a “(libertarian) social structure” that you have recommended. 

I will suggest that you cannot maintain your libertarian social structure without some moral code undergirding it.  Will the ideal DB society moral code accept or reject NAP?  As I see only one possible answer to this question (if I want to maintain a libertarian social structure), I conclude there can be only one answer to the morality of investing in the producers of such weaponry.

The answer?  Don’t – not if you advocate for a libertarian social structure, based on free markets.  Not if you hope to achieve one.  And certainly not if you hope to keep one.

Now what of Maybury’s reasoning in justification of his position:

In my home I have weapons, and these are used only for self-defense and target shooting. The police and sheriff in your home town have self-defense weapons, and I am sure most readers of this newsletter do, too.

These are not the weapons in question – to compare a firearm to an ICBM or virtually every other weapon produced by the major military contractors is not honest.

Some people use weapons for evil, others use them for good.

Weapons of mass destruction can only be used for “evil,” in Maybury’s terms – against non-aggressors in my terms.

The Afghans could not have beaten the Soviets without Stinger missiles sold by Raytheon.

First, I doubt this is true – Afghans today are whipping a global military power without a constant stream of Stingers or any other major weapon.  However, this raises an interesting point: where did the Afghans receive the money to purchase the Stinger missiles?

The ethics, or lack of them, are not in the weapons, they are in the minds of the people who pull the triggers. Weapons are neutral.

Some weapons, by their very design, are not neutral.  Every time these are used, non-aggressors are killed. Every time.

This is not to say the corporations who make weapons are squeaky clean, but in a country with a huge, powerful, horrifically crooked government, a list of companies that have not been corrupted would be short indeed.

It is dishonest to compare the violation of property rights (in life) caused by the use of these weapons to the violations of property rights caused by the use of almost any other product produced by any other company tainted with government stench.

I wish there were totally uncorrupt investments, but I do not know of any. I think the weapons companies do about as much good as they do harm. It would be hard to make this claim for, say, Treasury Bills or even for the fiat paper dollars in your wallet. We do the best we can with the choices we have.

A Treasury bill funds the entire government – these aren’t “war bonds.”  While all of government is theft and coercion, not all of government is death.  I don’t like the food stamp program, but at least the immorality ends with the theft of taxes (or the financing via bonds).

I am often asked, is it ethical to invest in General Dynamics or other companies that make war goods?  No. But it is one of the less unethical investments we can make. The whole financial system is grossly corrupt.

The products of such companies can only be used in a manner that violates the NAP.  The source of funds for these companies comes virtually completely through violation of the NAP.  There are no industries (not even banking), that violate the NAP in every way more significantly than this industry.

One of the most evil things I can do is put my money in a bank, mutual fund, pension or insurance. All such organizations buy US Treasury bonds. This means they loan my money to the government.

Again, not 100% of these Treasury bonds are going toward products that violate NAP merely by their use.

As I have mentioned previously, Maybury’s position on this issue taints my view of him despite the good work he has done.  As it remains defended, it is an inexcusable stain.


  1. I came across Maybury's interview with Daily Bell a bit belatedly but nevertheless from someone who remembers you from the old Daily Bell before they shut down comments and required registration afterwards, I was (as I was before) hungry for your posts.

    There is nothing that you wrote upon this subject either at the DB or herein, that I disagree whatsoever except for:

    "I don't like the food stamp program, but at least the immorality ends with the theft of taxation..."

    But it doesn't end there, BM. It continues and grows into other areas, and has done so until most Americans today still accept the governments killing fields (wherever the military might be) without so much as a backwards glance.

    If a majority is willing to accept the immortality of stealing from some to give to others, how much of a step is it really going to be for them when confronted with an end to the theft they profit from themselves...from the lesser immorality of their theft to killing to defend it and keep it?

    Maybe I'm not making sense, but I believe when a people has not only accepted, but expects, one facet of immorality to continue in order to benefit themselves, they are also likely to consider to transgress into a more deadly one to defend it.

    I think if Rothbard were alive today and reading the thread pertaining to Maybury's interview, he would himself view DB's response to your comments with some guarded skepticism. I know I did though and it hasn't been the first time.

    and each time it bothers me, wondering if the Mises Institute is gradually being co-opted into one of the many gray areas DB refers to, and the teachings of Mises and Rothbard along with it?

    I miss your comments at DB and look for them. They are far more infrequent than they use to be and IMHO, your feedback is crucial in keeping any Pied Pipers of Hamlin at bay. I wish you could respond there more often. You see an speak what I think but am unable to articulate as well.

    From a Rothbardian who likewise thinks it's immoral to invest in weapons of mass destruction and their manufacturers for profit, my best to you and your family.

    1. Thank you for the very kind comments. For a while I had completely stopped at DB, but I now post a bit more judiciously.

      “But it doesn't end there, BM. It continues and grows into other areas…”

      I think you are technically correct; perhaps I drew too solid a line on it. However, I maintain the same view. I will try to explain.

      The same can be said for every government program – once the camel’s nose is under the tent, all manners of theft and immorality is possible. So in this way, every government program is equal.

      But, I don’t see each one as equal – killing innocents who have done no damage nor posed any risk is the worst of it. It is the most absolute violation of rights – more than central banking, food stamps, a freeway building. The others are theft – yes, they can lead to more – but these aren’t the “more.” There is no greater “more” when it comes to rights than life.

      “…wondering if the Mises Institute is gradually being co-opted into one of the many gray areas DB refers to…”

      I do not understand the connection – to my knowledge neither Maybury nor Wile have a formal tie to the Institute. Perhaps you could explain?

    2. Hi, BM:

      "I do not understand the connection"...

      I wish I could explain. It's more like I sense something is not quite right on occasion in some of DB's replies. To my knowledge DB has no formal ties to them either but then I wasn't (and hoped I haven't) implied that. I feel that at times their replies (sometimes) with certain issues seem to undermine some of Mises and Rothbard. Their replies to you regarding this most recent post were but one of them. Lila was another feedbacker at one time, whom I also admired and respected, in which the DB's replies often left me with the hair on the back of my neck standing up. It is something that seems to happen on occasion with those who don't easily compromise on their positions and do so with great intellectual skill. You do not see yourself as their equal in ability, I do. I saw that in Lila as well. And something is amiss somewhere when the DB takes issue over anyone not willing to "gray" their moral perspective. And worse, it seems to me that those who are obviously of a Rothbardian perspective...and are quite intellectually equipped to present their arguments, are the ones that get smacked down.

      I'm sorry but they were trying to compare apples to oranges when they indicated "well, Rothbard taught at U of Nevada and paid taxes" buying stocks in weapons of mass destruction"...something is WRONG. Rothbard's teaching at Nevada and paying taxes wasn't KILLING PEOPLE, was it? Rothbard HAD to pay taxes or be jailed or worse. Does the DB and Maybury HAVE to buy stocks in weapons of mass of destruction on penalty of either if they don't. They do undermine Rothbard, and by extension the Mises Institute. This isn't what the institute's about. I'm sorry. This is the best I can do other than to say things are not always as they seem.

      I'm not sure if I'm making any sense, if not I apologize. I truly lack your skill at putting my thoughts to paper but , nevertheless, I thank you for taking the time to read and understand them anyway.

    3. “I feel that at times their replies (sometimes) with certain issues seem to undermine some of Mises and Rothbard.”

      I accept a couple of things about DB: 1) the writers do not walk a strict Mises Institute / Rothbardian line; 2) there is more than one writer – both of articles and of replies to feedback.

      On 1) above, I have no problem with this, other than the confusion sometimes caused by 2) above – as the articles and replies aren’t from the same person, they sometimes come from different perspectives. This becomes confusing because, other than the Saturday articles by Wile, none of the daily articles and none of the feedback replies come with attribution. The attribution doesn’t have to be with the true names – but something that allows recognition of who the writer is and where he is coming from.

      Some articles and feedback are almost pure Rothbard. Others, not so much.

      “I'm sorry but they were trying to compare apples to oranges when they indicated "well, Rothbard taught at U of Nevada and paid taxes" buying stocks in weapons of mass destruction"...something is WRONG.”

      This is one example to which I speak by my comment above– there are other occasions when I am somewhat surprised by such a comment in reply from DB.

      I try not to be surprised. I have gleaned that there are personal relationships between various DB backers and others that must be taken into account when reading something at the site. The first time this struck me – and it really struck me like a club to the head – was in a Sunday interview with Mark Skousen. Almost every position Skousen took was opposite to DB’s editorial positions on the subject. Normally, in the afterthoughts, DB would respectfully point this out. Not with Skousen.

      See my comments here:

      Come to find out, a couple of years later, that Ron Holland’s wife organizes Skousen’s so-called freedom fest.

      “…wondering if the Mises Institute is gradually being co-opted into one of the many gray areas DB refers to…”

      So, I think I understand your statement to mean that DB sometimes throws the Institute (or Rothbard) under the bus. On this, I do not disagree. But it is OK for me that DB takes whatever editorial stance it likes. I disagree with Rothbard, for example, on a couple of things.

      I just wish it was easier to follow at DB, as the positions taken by the various indistinguishable DB writers are often counter to other positions. The inconsistency would be more acceptable if it could be understood by the fact that the writers of the various views were not the same writer. If the articles and replies to feedback came with attribution (even pseudonyms, consistently applied) this would help.