A Common Libertarian Confusion?

By the way, I often think that libertarians may tend to get confused (of course not all libertarians, and of course not all the time) between defending the general concept of property rights and defending such rights as they are currently defined. Now, I think it's fine to have a default position of "Don't tamper with current rights on a lark," but there are times I think it would be a very good idea to tamper with them. For instance, I would have no problem criminalizing what these "Wow Gold" folks have been doing to this blog. I've got to be spending a half an hour per week deleting their comments and the e-mails they generate. I consider what they are doing no different them coming over to my house with megaphones and shouting about "Wow gold" at a cocktail party I'm throwing.


  1. What would it mean to criminalize this though?

    Given your analogy, I guess you could push them off of your property if they showed up at your cocktail party. Can't you do the same thing here?

  2. Sidney4:54 PM

    "What would it mean to criminalize this though? "

    Why delete them, of course.

  3. Maybe I'm hung up on the word "criminalize" which seems much too strong to me if all Gene had in mind is deleting their posts or setting up some filter to block them from posting in the first place. It seems similar to me throwing out junk mail without opening it. I wouldn't call that criminalizing junk mail.

    I guess when I hear of a libertarian talking about criminalizing something, I think of them expecting to coercively extract restitution from the criminal. That's why I was requesting clarification from Gene.

  4. hi gene.
    mind writing a post about current israel airstrike to innocent people of palestine?

  5. "Given your analogy, I guess you could push them off of your property if they showed up at your cocktail party. Can't you do the same thing here?"

    No, I can't. I can delete each post after it's made -- but that's exactly what takes so much of my time and is so annoying. What I can't do, now, is get them to leave, which I could at my cocktail party.

    What I think might be appropriate here is that, if I could track these idjits down, I could get time + damages for every post they made -- and if I could, soon no one would do this.

  6. Oh, and Jacob, thanks for illustrating my point.

  7. Ok, so coercive extraction of restitution was what you had in mind.

    I would oppose this but not because I favor enforcement of some set of property rights. I oppose it because I oppose any coercive extraction of restitution (I tend more toward pacifism than libertarianism).

    Sending thugs over to take stuff from the idjits because you can't figure out how to automate filtering their posts seems particularly egregious.

  8. Right, Jacob, and it's my fault if someone steals from my house because "I couldn't figure out how to lock them out."

    If you don't care to enforce property rights then, as a factual matter, you care about them at all.

  9. Gene, I understand your reaction, but: (1) you actually already have recourse, should you choose to use it, by suing for trespass (uninvited access to your property)(though costly and of little likely success), (2) as a practical matter, criminalizing spam is almost completely ineffective, and leaves us with bigger government, and (3) in response, markets are developing ways to block spam.

    With technological change, the effective meaning of property rights is in constant flux, with a struggle underway between those who wish to make free use of assets of others (treat them as a commons) and those who want their use to be exclusive. As this struggle will never cease, are you sure that you think the best approach is to pressure governments to criminalize a broad swath of behavior?

  10. Well, Tom, as you note, suing for trespass is hardly any recourse at all. Furthermore, I'm hardly "pressuring governments" to do anything here -- really just griping that "There oughta be a law."

  11. And, what's more, a post like this is a fun way to solicit childish comments from people like Jacob, who think if we're just nice and don't employ "thugs" then criminals will realize all they really wanted was a hug.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. This thread has actually sparked a sort of epiphany for me, which is that I've outgrown libertarianism.

    I'm tired of libertarians drawing lines in the sand and saying "beyond here coercive force is justified". Of course, each libertarian draws a different imaginary line, so if any two actually had the opportunity to see their theories put into practice it would logically result in escalation of physical conflict until whoever is most powerful wins. I disagree with this line-drawing approach and don't think it can improve our world in any substantial way.

    I thank Gene for his wonderful writings on economics, science, and religion. I have found these to be enlightening, interesting, and I've always agreed with most of his thoughts on those topics.

    But when even the best libertarian there is (Gene, of course) agitates for retaliatory force against people who do something as trivial as spam his blog’s comments, I am saddened and realize that it's time to distance myself from libertarianism.

  14. Jacob, perhaps we might think of it this way:

    Libertarian conceptions of rights are founded on the idea that others ought to be respected. When individuals don't want to be pestered, and they make that clear, then continuing to pester them is disrespectful of their individuality. We call that harrassment, and we generally think that people are justified in taking some coercive measures to act in opposition to harrassment.

    If we adopt that standard, then it seems to me like we would also want to adopt another standard: people shouldn't perform actions that they can reasonably foresee pestering someone, even if the person haven't asked them to stop. Doing so would seem to fall short of treating people with respect, just like harrassing them does.

    I think it's pretty reasonable to suppose that the people spamming Gene's blog are well aware that their actions are likely to pester him. If that's true, then they would indeed be failing to respect Gene by continuing to post their spam. And if libertarian conceptions of rights are built around the idea of due respect, then it wouldn't be unreasonable to suppose that Gene has some claim against having obviously irritating spam posted on his blog. If, then, we apply the same standard to obnoxious spamming as we do to harrassment, we could not unreasonably come to the conclusion that some degree of coercion might be justifiable in response to the incursion.

    Now, exactly what kind of response (if any) we would advocate is an open question. But I don't think that it's so unreasonable to think that people who are knowingly seeking out and irritating other people should be stopped or reprimanded somehow. My solution: publish their names and addresses in the newspaper.

  15. [I`m] really just griping that "There oughta be a law."

    I noticed; it`s an understandable and endearing American trait. But is it libertarian?

    I am very sympathetic to the problem and your reaction. I have a similar problem, and, for Pete`s sake, a man ought to be able to gripe in peace on his own blog!

    Further to Danny`s thoughts here, allow me to note that one factor that I suppose is very irritating to you is that the intrusion is a quite personal one, yet there is no identifiable person to seek recourse against or to discourage - no one to growl at, and no nose to punch, as it were (other than your faithful interlocutors).

    Rather, the spammers, many apparently not even in the US, work anonymously and often by hijacking the computers of everyday users, who unknowingly become mass generators of spam.

    I expect that enterprising souls are working at solutions, but meanwhile we can regret the loss of some aspects of community even as the internet makes wider sorts of communities possible.


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