08 Dec 2014

I’m Surrounded by Pacifists!

Police 64 Comments

I think it started with David R. Henderson, but I’ve seen plenty of people on “my side” favorably cite Stephen Carter’s take on the Eric Garner case, in which he argues that you shouldn’t favor any laws that you aren’t willing to see police kill people over. (That’s a horrible sentence, I know. Don’t kill me.)

The thing is, I don’t think these guys can really mean what they’re saying. They’re not complete anarcho-capitalists, and yet would they be OK with the police killing someone for failing to pay a $10 tax bill? They’re not anarcho-communists, and yet would they be OK with the police killing a 10-year-old kid for shoplifting a candy bar?

People on “my side” predictably flipped out when Jon Stewart swore at Rand Paul, but I totally understand what Stewart’s problem was. There are plenty of people who are killed by police who weren’t engaged in black market activities. Just as white people get upset when “Jesse Jackson always makes this about race!” so too was Jon Stewart upset at Rand Paul making this about cigarette taxes.

64 Responses to “I’m Surrounded by Pacifists!”

  1. Andrew_FL says:

    It was about cigarette taxes though.

    Like I could understand if he tried to make every incident about cigarette taxes.

    OH that’s the difference.

    (I knew that of course I was just being cute)

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Andrew_FL wrote:

      It *was* about cigarette taxes though.

      How do you know? Al Sharpton can say “It *was* about race though.” Peter King can say it was about a guy being obese and resisting arrest. Tolstoy can say it’s about rich people violently enforcing property claims. A European can say it’s about vicious violent Americans.

      • Andrew_FL says:

        Easy Bob, I’m right, they’re wrong, and Tolstoy is very, very confused. 😉

      • Grane Peer says:

        Dr. Murphy, Eric was not arrested for violating a race law. The police were not arresting Eric for resisting arrest. Tolsty was an idiot, someone is always enforcing a property claim. I wonder why all those kids in Paris were protesting police brutality this year? Nothing to see here violence is uniquely American.

  2. Ivan says:

    “Just as white people get upset when “Jesse Jackson always makes this about race!” so too was Jon Stewart upset at Rand Paul making this about cigarette taxes.”

    Does this mean that Jon Stewart is not white? Or that “white” means conservative/libertarian?

    I think the rest of your comment caricatures grossly the position of your opponents. It’s not about police “killing” anyone, but about police “arresting” anyone. Eric Garner died because he resisted arrest. When police is arresting people, incidents could happen. If it had not been for the tax laws, the police would not have tried to arrest him. The incident would not have happened.That’s what your opponents mean and what you should be refuting, not the straw man about police ‘killing people’.

    • skylien says:


      It doesn’t make sense what you do here. You are arbitrarily singling out one escalation level… Arresting someone is just one escalation level of many. Before you have fining someone, increasing the fines, sometimes taking away certain state give permissions like the driving license and threating with a trial. After arresting someone comes overwhelming someone physically and finally killing that person if not possible. (Of course depending on the law that was allegedly broken, certain escalation levels may be skipped).

      So it is a straw man from you (too?) to concentrate on one escalation level saying it is only about arresting anyone. It at least is also about killing anyone.

    • Andrew says:

      Okay. So you have a little problem in those first two paragraphs. Maybe English is not your first language? Do you recognize the difference between “white people” and “all white people?” Would it have been clearer for you if Bob had said “some white people” or even “some people” instead of “white people?”

      Then in your last paragraph it gets even more confusing. Who are Bob’s opponents based on your reading of this article? Did you read Stephen Carter’s article? That article explicitly dealt with police killing people. Stephen says, “I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce.” But then you say, “It’s not about police ‘killing’ anyone.” Who would you have me believe?

  3. Yancey Ward says:

    If one is going support arrest for an infraction, then yes- you do have to be prepared to exempt deaths like Garner’s which is a tragic accident by every account of the event I have seen. A ten year old who steals a candy bar can die in a lot ways during apprehension that aren’t either murder or manslaughter. In my opinion, the only real option the police had in the case of Garner was to not arrest him for selling the cigarettes. People like Stewart are basically advocating that some laws are not serious enough to be enforced via arrest and prosecution, so why not just put that into law- for example, make the selling of un-taxed cigarettes completely legal? I would note, it is not enough to simply say he should have been given a ticket since you then have to deal with the high likelihood that he would not pay the fine, would not appear in court, and would still be subject to arrest.

    I thought David’s was the best of the essays, and I was extremely disappointed at the comments in that blog entry for the most part since they seemed to be missing the point entirely because the critics didn’t want to concede that the tax itself was part of the reason Garner ended up dead.

    • Andrew says:

      People like Stewart are basically advocating that some laws are not serious enough to be enforced via arrest and prosecution . . .

      I haven’t heard anyone say this. I’ve heard people say that he shouldn’t have been killed. I’ve heard people say that his killers should have stood trial. I haven’t heard anyone say, “Cigarettes should be taxed, but don’t bother enforcing it.”

      . . . the critics didn’t want to concede that the tax itself was part of the reason Garner ended up dead.

      The tax itself was the excuse used this time. It won’t be the excuse used next time the police kill someone. This is why bringing up the cigarette tax now misses the more important point.

      • Yancey Ward says:

        No, people have explicitly said that the offense for which the police attempted to arrest Garner didn’t merit it, but the law said differently. It is stupid to say “he shouldn’t have been killed” because that was the point behind Henderson’s essay- if you are going to enforce the law, you will sometimes kill people by doing so, like Garner.

        You think it an excuse, but arresting people carries dangers to both the police and those arrested. If you are really interested in reducing the rates of deaths during arrests, you need to actually reduce the instances of arrests themselves. You are just making another excuse for yourself here, like Stewart and others.

        • Andrew says:

          . . . people have explicitly said that the offense for which the police attempted to arrest Garner didn’t merit it . . .

          Like I said, I haven’t seen this from proponents of the cigarette tax.

          As far as the rest of it goes, I don’t get why you think the police should have killed Mr. Garner. I don’t get why it is “stupid” to think otherwise. I don’t get why you think they should not be held responsible for killing Mr. Garner after they killed him. You are against the cigarette tax, but somehow you don’t think of it as an excuse used by the police to harass and kill this man. I don’t get that either.

          Do you think repealing cigarette taxes is a magic cure-all for police brutality? That the police officers have no choice but to escalate an arrest to murder, not only in this case but in every case? That the police should not be held responsible for killing people while in uniform?

          • integral says:

            “Do you think repealing cigarette taxes is a magic cure-all for police brutality? That the police officers have no choice but to escalate an arrest to murder, not only in this case but in every case? That the police should not be held responsible for killing people while in uniform?”

            Are you saying these police officers would have attempted to arrest Garner even if there wasn’t a cigarette tax law?

  4. Joseph Fetz says:

    Bob, you’re mixing economic and moral arguments here.

    Don’t expect a statist to do anything more than to side with the state in ultimatum. And if they seemingly don’t, then rest assured that their conclusions and corrections (i.e. their policies) will ultimately necessitate a state in order to see them through.

    Stewart’s problem is that he was seeing an economic argument, and instead was going for the moral argument. Much the same as you’re seeing some moral pacifist sentiment, while being surrounded by the exact opposite.

    I have yet to have seen a position on this whole thing that was actually pacifist at all.

    • Andrew says:

      I disagree. “[Don’t] support a law [you] are not willing to kill to enforce” sounds pretty pacifist to me. And Stewart’s problem was that Rand Paul missed the point. The police killed a man and didn’t even have to stand trial for it. That problem doesn’t go away if we drop the cigarette tax.

      • Harold says:

        But it does go away if we drop the police entirely.

        • Andrew says:

          Someone needs to enforce the law. Someone needs to hold bad law enforcers accountable for their crimes. This problem could still exist in a stateless society.

          • Major.Freedom says:

            Yeah but it would be generally accepted that you would not be obligated, ethically, to pay those “protectors” if you don’t want to. Of course, the employer of said thugs would likely be tied up with arbitration and not just enforcement, which likely means you won’t be trading with that institution’s customers.

            When thinking about private law society, we have to not only consider possible acts of aggression, but also, and just as importantly, how to solve the problems of aggression. It is the “how can we solve this problem?” question that the efficiency and moral justice of private law has the most to say.

            • Andrew says:

              While this problem would be easier to solve in a private law society, it is more important to solve it in reality.

              • Ben B says:

                MF gave you the solution to the problem of not having “someone to hold bad law enforcers accountable for their crimes”.

                The problem cant be *easier* to solve in a private law society if the problem can’t be solved at all in a monopolist legal system. It’s not an *easier* solution; it is the solution.

                If the current reality is unable to solve the problem, then it’s more important to solve it in one that can.

      • Yancey Ward says:

        Without the cigarette tax, no one would have been arresting Garner that day. The odds are good that he would be alive right now.

        • Andrew says:

          Got a time machine? We can fix all this right now.

          • integral says:

            “Got a time machine? We can fix all this right now.”

            That’s a nice non-answer. If you think the problem is police brutality, then I’m sure you have a time-machine standing ready so you can go fix it right now, as well.

  5. Tel says:

    If police officers don’t obey the law strictly and to the letter, there’s really no reason why anyone else should.

    If police offers find it too difficult to obey the law, because that’s too complex or too arbitrary, or anyway no one even knows if this chokehold is banned or not, then we all have a problem and we should stop and take a good look at that before someone gets hurt.

    That said, overall we do live in one of the safest eras of all history. Hopefully it stays that way.

  6. skylien says:

    As a side note: In my view, the police officer who did the chokehold to death should definitely be tried for negligent homicide (it can’t be any more obvious than that can it?) and in any way be fired from the police. He obviously is not able to use the power given to him in a suitable manner. No matter what happened before.

  7. Brent says:

    Pretty clear that he was guilty of illegally selling loosies and tax evasion… and probably loitering, operating without a business license, and on and on.

    Stupid laws mean stupid arrests and stupid stuff will happen either at the arrest point or in the government’s cages.

  8. Ben B says:

    It seems like Jon Stewart was upset with Rand Paul because instead of Rand saying “men should stop raping women”, Rand said, “women should learn self-defense”.

    I think Rand Paul understands that “men shouldn’t rape women”, but since women can’t directly control the actions of men, then they should focus on eliminating the opportunities for men to rape them.

    And here is the problem: Jon Stewart doesn’t realize that the nature of the state tends to attract rapists. So unless you are going to eliminate the state, then you need to find ways to eliminate interactions with cops, such as eliminating cigarette taxes.

    • Andrew says:

      When a cop kills someone and it isn’t obviously necessary, there should be a trial. This point is more important than “don’t tax cigarettes,” which is why Stewart was upset at Paul.

      • Ben B says:

        It’s more important to punish a cop for murder than it is to prevent that cop from commiting murder in the first place?

        • Andrew says:

          They go hand in hand. Fear of punishment is an important restraint for committing murder. Dropping the cigarette tax won’t stop cop murder.

          • Dan says:

            Yeah, I get the argument against the cigarette tax, but it’s not like there are a lot of cops murdering people because of it. The murders committed by cops have been for a myriad of different circumstances.

          • Ben B says:

            Dropping the cigarette tax would have stopped murder in the case of Eric Garner.

            If selling untaxed cigarettes was legal, then a cop killing Eric Garner would probably be much more likely to go to trial. Even cops can’t kill people for the fun of it.

            It seems obvious to me that the less laws there are, then the less frequent cops will murder people. There are less interactions between cops and citizens.

            • Andrew says:

              If you could go back in time and eliminate the cigarette tax, you would both save Eric Garner’s life and cost him his job. But, you can’t. And eliminating the tax now isn’t likely to save any lives going forward.

              I’m not against eliminating taxes. It’s just that bringing up the cigarette tax now distracts from a more important issue. I’d rather stop cops from killing poor people with impunity than eliminate an excuse that cops used once.

              • Ben B says:

                Eliminating the tax now may save lives in the future if it shrinks the police budget.

                I get it though, that wasn’t Rand Paul’s point. Although, I doubt Rand Paul believes we should only eliminate cigarette taxes.

              • integral says:

                “If you could go back in time and eliminate the cigarette tax, you would both save Eric Garner’s life and cost him his job. But, you can’t.”

                Then there’s no point in addressing police brutality now, either, since Garner would still be dead.

                “And eliminating the tax now isn’t likely to save any lives going forward”

                Are you saying that going forward noone is going to be arrested for that law, ever, and therefore there is no chance of anyone resisting arrest in those non-cases in the future?
                Because as long as the law will be continued to be enforced in the future eliminating the tax now will certainly lower the probability of someone being arrested for it, and therefore lower the probability of someone being killed due to resisting arrest.

                “I’d rather stop cops from killing poor people with impunity than eliminate an excuse that cops used once.”

                Are cops killing poor people with impunity? Looks like you’re trying to solve a non-problem, and attacking people looking to solve actual problems with facile arguments.

  9. Andrew says:

    The problem here is that the enforcers are not adequately susceptible to punishment for their actions. People saying that “Cigarettes shouldn’t be taxed anyway” or “Police are going to accidentally kill people in the process of arrest sometimes” are missing the debate entirely.

    Both of those arguments have some merit, but the most important issue here is that a man was killed and there wasn’t even an indictment against the men who killed him. If law enforcers are going to be given the power to arrest people, then they need to be held accountable when they do it wrong and someone gets injured. The weakest link in this chain was not the cigarette tax or the police themselves. It was the public prosecutor and the grand jury system. Maybe the police would have been found not guilty anyway, but the idea that there wasn’t even enough evidence for this to go to trial seems unbelievable.

  10. Delphin says:

    How about anarcho-capitlaists, so-called, who favor using private police? If you are not willing to let private police kill over a 10 cent contract, you shouldn’t have such contracts. (That many of you are willing to kill someone for wandering across an empty field suggests a lack of good faith here.)

    A better argument is that cops, private or public, should not resort to the kind of violence used against Garner for laws like the one he broke. There are alternatives. And the cops need not apprehend him this very moment either. There are alternatives. The Dutch want to enforce parking laws, and do so aggressively. They clamp your wheel, not throw you to the ground in a choke-hold.

    • Ben B says:

      I’m not willing to let private police kill someone over a 10 cent contract.

      Private cops are also not entitled to a portion of my income; perhaps they will consider that before making the decision to kill someone over a 10 cent contract. Perhaps the legal system will consider that before they refuse to prosecute a cop for killing someone over a 10 cent contract. Perhaps the “anarcho-capitalist” will consider that before he approves a cop to kill someone over a 10 cent contract.

      I’d be curious to know at what frequency private security companies kill people now over 10 cent contracts.

      Do you think Eric Garner would have been so hostile towards individuals who were trying to get Garner to cease and desist in an activity that he actually contractually agreed not to do in the first place? Probably not. It’s easy to see why people react hostile towards police when they are being hurassed by police for an activity that is clearly none of their business.

      • Grane Peer says:

        Ben B, I’m not willing to hire police to enforce a ten cent contract.
        I am also not willing to hire police to provide the illusion of my perpetual safety.

    • Dan says:

      “(That many of you are willing to kill someone for wandering across an empty field suggests a lack of good faith here.)”

      Are you familiar with the libertarian theory of proportionality?

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Dan, I get what you’re saying to Delphi here, but I think Delphi’s point is that people happily using Stephen Carters’ / Rand Paul’s rhetoric on the Garner case are being hypocritical. He is amplifying (though perhaps more provocatively) what my point was about anarcho-communists in the OP.

        If a private defense firm killed a little kid for wandering onto Old Man Smith’s lawn, then the community would flip out and demand punishment / restitution from the agent of the company.

        Then suppose an anarcho-communist said, “See, this is why private property in large landed estates is immoral. Don’t will private property in land if you’re not willing to see little kids get gunned down over it.”

        Presumably the fans of Rothbard would say, “No, we can still have private property law enforcement, but we need to have a system in place to punish agents when they overstep, like this.”

        So…. why can’t Jon Stewart et al. say the same thing about cigarette taxes and Garner dying?

        • skylien says:

          He can right? I mean the only real difference is that private police is subject to market pressure, while the current police isn’t and hence won’t punish this police man at all or as hard as in the former case.

          However he could ask for punishment just as any anarcho capitalist.

        • Delphin says:

          Yes, more or less.

        • Dan says:

          Yeah, I agree with your position. I simply took exception to his characterization that many of us are willing to kill someone wandering across a field. That suggests Delphi is unfamiliar with libertarian proportionality theory.

          • Delphin says:

            No, it suggests many anarcho-capitalists agree with Walter Block.

            • Dan says:

              Walter Block agrees with proportionality.

    • Grane Peer says:

      Garner didn’t have a wheel, they clamped his head. If they wait for a better time to arrest what changes, their attitude or his?

      • Andrew says:

        Ideally, the police are trained to deescalate the situation and are able to take him in willingly once he’s calmed down. Unfortunately, as our police become more and more militarized, they begin to see the citizenry as enemy combatants. That’s not the ideal mindset for deescalation.

        • skylien says:

          I do think that the American police to a very large degree has the wild wild west mindset. Which is asking for emmidiate and complete surrender (BTW just like American foreign policy…), which has absolutely nothing to do with deescalation but is the very opposite. I know no country in the western world where the police are faster or as fast with pointing their gun at you than America. Does anyone else?

        • Grane Peer says:

          Andrew, that doesn’t seem right. If the issue is Eric’s consent then the laws are of voluntary compliance and law only serves to punish the law abiding. I don’t mean to downplay the complete and utter lack of judgment on the part of the police in how they handle any situation but this all seems to go to the laws themselves. The laws are such that the police are not held accountable (in large part) for their actions. There are so many laws that the citizenry are, in fact, enemy combatants. A reduction of laws would serve to limit our interactions with an inherently violent institution. Laws limited to real crime would attract people of a different mindset to law enforcement.

        • Delphin says:

          Exactly. Or, if they know who he is, arrange to deal with him some other way or time. I have never been arrested for speeding, but I got a ticket once.
          And this will be an issue with private cops too.

          • Grane Peer says:

            Delphin, if you don’t pay your ticket they issue a warrant for your arrest. Pushing non-compliance off into the future doesn’t change anything. How does not harming anyone justify harming someone?

            • Delphin says:

              Non compliance is a separate infraction, which might require separate treatment. Separating these issues in space and tome in my example might, I fondly hoped, make this distinction clearer.
              It is in any case easier to arrange less dangerous confrontations if they are defined and coordinated in advance.
              True even with private police.

              • Grane Peer says:

                Delphin, compliance or non-compliance is at every stage here. First you didn’t comply, hence the cop attempted to pull you over. Then you did comply, you pulled over. Then you complied some more until he issued you a ticket and left. Then you continued to comply by paying the ticket. If at any stage you continued non-compliance the possibility of a dangerous confrontation becomes more likely. It is the confrontation itself that introduces the aspect of danger. It is not that I disagree with you in principle I just don’t see how this can be ultimately avoided.

    • Tel says:

      We have private security in most banks right now. So when did you last hear of bank security killing someone who stole 10c from the bank?

      • Delphin says:

        I’ve heard of them killing someone who stole nothing. I’ll spot you the dime.

        • Tel says:

          So a bank guard just gunned down a person who was standing around doing nothing… and was there a trial? Have you got a link for that?

          • Delphin says:

            Nice ploy. We are talking private security forces, not just ones in (ever growing list of exclusions Tel specifies). Private security has killed people. Walmart guards killed a woman they suspected of shoplifting not too long ago. That was in the parking lot, not the store. Maybe that shouldn’t count, huh?

            • Dan says:

              You mean the story of the cop that shot at a woman in a car with two children, hitting her in the neck and killing her, as she drove off? Walmart, along with virtually every department store, has their security stop going after people once they are out of the store. This guy was following his departments policy and not walmarts.

            • Delphin says:

              Or this, with 30 seconds and a search engine. http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/24581663/man-dies-after-being-pepper-sprayed-restrained-by-security-guards-at-northland-mall
              Sounds just about like what real cops say when stuff like this happens.

              • Dan says:

                It does sound like what cops do. Especially, when you consider the State allowed them to get away with killing him without any charges whatsoever.

              • Tel says:

                That wasn’t over nothing as you tried to pretend above, nor was it anything to do with bank security which is what I originally pointed out.

                If you do the reading McKenzie Cochran threatened to kill a jewelry store employee, so we have come a long way from your original strawman “willing to let private police kill over a 10 cent contract”.

                Your credibility is falling fast.

  11. Major.Freedom says:

    “The thing is, I don’t think these guys can really mean what they’re saying. They’re not complete anarcho-capitalists, and yet would they be OK with the police killing someone for failing to pay a $10 tax bill? They’re not anarcho-communists, and yet would they be OK with the police killing a 10-year-old kid for shoplifting a candy bar?”

    My take on this is that we have to keep in mind that an individual’s response to law enforcement is also itself in the range of the abstract question of whether someone acts peacefully or not.

    For the state, yes, death is the ultimate punishment for anyone who disobeys any coercive, aggression based state law, and then refuses any demands to obey, and also defends his person from any and all increasingly intense aggression from the enforcement side of things. This is what “statists” have to deal with, because state law is absolute, meaning the state’s laws are absolutely binding, meaning you are absolutely prohibited in using force to defend yourself from enforcement aggression from the cops. We are only “allowed” to obey, go to prison, and then hope that others “voting” (since you would not be allowed to vote as a convicted “criminal”) for a new mayor, or new congressman, will somehow “give” you your (partial) freedom back.

    We anarcho-capitalists do not have to support such insanity. We can say that any private enforcement the enforcers of which overstep the bounds of ancap ethics, the effective law they would be trying to enforce is NOT absolute. In ancap law, the only absolute is zero tolerance for aggression against person and property.

    Here’s how, ethically speaking, unjust enforcement is dealt with according to ancap principles. Suppose you reneged on a contract worth $50 a month. Say a phone bill. Suppose after again asking you to pay, and you refusing, the phone company then asks their enforcement wing to come collect. Now, if at this point you pay, then no aggression has been made, because the contract would of course include such responses and you signed the contract.

    But what if you still refused to pay? Remember, you owe $50. If you don’t pay, then you will have caused damages against the phone company owners in the amount of $50 (perhaps plus a late penalty). So if you don’t pay, then the MOST force the company enforcers can weild is force that does no more damage to your wealth than $50. Perhaps they might repo what you have put up as collateral for the contract. If no collateral, then they would have the right to at least attempt to retrieve $50 from you against your will.

    But let us suppose further that you fight back against this repossession. If you do THIS, then your actions are not only doing damage in the amount of $50, but you are also introducing new damages, because with your unjust use of force against their right force, they are incurring more costs. So if you use force against their right use of force, then you have become a criminal. They would then have the right to use defensive force against your aggressive force. So now the question becomes what right to use force do the phone company law enforcers have against you? In ancap ethics, it is as clear as day. If you use force to not pay what you owe via contract, then the enforcers, who are also individuals, have a right to protect themselves. The more you increase your force, the more justified they are in increasing their force against you. If you keep going until you pull out your gun, then effectively what you have done is rob the company owners at gunpoint. If they shoot you dead, because they had credible reason to think you would shoot them, then you are dead because you tried to take a life and $50.

    This is how ancap ethics works. You can only ethically use force to defend yourself, and the other party has the obligation to stand down, but whoever increases the aggression beyond protection of person or property, that party becomes an aggressor themselves, and the other party then has the right to use force to defend themselves.

    Contrary to state law, ancap law contains the ethic where every individual is entitled to use defensive force against any other individual. There are no special privileged classes of people who are ethically entitled to use force against others, but have a law shielding them from defensive force of others. State enforcement allows law enforcers to “overstep their bounds”, and to make illegal the use of defensive force from the “civilian” classes. Even if on paper the state law says civilians can use defensive force against cops, the problem is that the judge of such cases is the state itself, because the state is by nature an institution that forbids any protection competition. For that would progress society towards ancapism.

    What statists can’t handle is the thought that individuals in capitalism are too stupid and corrupt to be able to design and implement private law solutions to the problem of protection. That we need a special class of…um…individuals….to enforce a monopoly over protection. Many have conflated protection violence with arbitrary, irrational violence, as if there is no difference between a rape or theft victim’s use of force, and the rapist or thief’s use of force. That private law must be total chaos because individuals are stupid to come to an understanding of the right use of force. Randianism suffers from this contradiction. Individual reason is sufficient to establish effective law (when the advocacy is for a state), and individual reason is not sufficient to establish effective law (when the advocacy is against private law).

  12. Josiah says:

    I suppose by the same logic there should only be property rights for things you are willing to kill people over.

Leave a Reply