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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11739/a-society-of-criminals/

A Society of Criminals

February 26, 2010 by

In fact, the vast majority of members of the public feel perfectly entitled to the property of others. They demand that the property of others be taken away through the tax system and other “public policies,” or forcibly interfered with through “regulation” as a matter of routine. FULL ARTICLE by Ben O’Neill


Joe February 28, 2010 at 1:18 pm

In response to Brian Drake’s comment, “Economically, please explain how consumers can be satisfied better(or not at all) by a monopoly compared to a competitive market.”
First of all you can have a monopoly within a competitive market. The type of monoply I am speaking of is a “Natural Monopoly.” In fact you don’t have to go very far back in US history to find such a monopoly. The name of the company was Alcoa. They had a very unique position in the aluminum industry. No competitor could touch their quality or their price. Their competitors ran to government because they couldn’t compete. You can read the rest of the story about Alcoa and see how it all turned out.
To assume that there cannot be a monopoly without government assistance is false. If you can supply a product that is superior and costs less to produce than you competitor that you have a winner. The competitors will try to make a better product at a lower cost and this is called free enterprise and that is why Capitalism is great for every country that embraces it. When the government becomes involved then we become a stagnating economy with Socialism in our future.
Consumers always benefit when they can get a better product at a lower price.

Ben O'Neill February 28, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Hi again all,

I will try to answer a few more questions.

George Mason: Still not bold enough, eh? Damn, you are a tough critic!

Richard Miller: Thanks for the question. This is an argument that comes up often (it is a variant on the notion of the “social contract”). The easiest way to consider this question is simply to state the nature of exactly what is occurring and then to see if your actions in voting constitute consent to being ruled. So let’s see. The voting process works like this:

A group of people constituting the government decide that they are entitled to monkey with you and your property to their heart’s content, whether you like it or not. They can steal your property and call this “taxation”; they can enslave you and call this “the draft” or (even worse) “volunteerism”; they can prevent you from using your property as you see fit and call this “regulation”; and so on. In short, they have free reign to commit crime against you, so long as they follow some time-honoured parliamentary procedure to do so.

You have never consented to this arrangement. All that has occurred is that you have been informed that you are entitled to a vote to choose “your representative,” from among the list of various tyrants and would-be tyrants who will pretend that they are entitled to speak on your behalf. It is possible, but highly unlikely that there is anyone on the list who thinks they should leave you alone.

Most importantly, your vote does not allow you to choose not to have any political master. It does not allow you to choose not to let these any of these guys commit crimes against you. Heavens no! That would be like… well… an actual choice! Instead, your vote merely allows you to have a tiny amount of influence over who, exactly, your “representative” will be —i.e., who will be committing crimes against you.

So you have a look around to figure out whether you should use this vote that has been offered to you. You observed from the political system that some political masters are awful, while others are even-more-awful, and so you decide that, of the two choices available, you would prefer to be a slave to awful rulers than to be a slave to even-more-awful rulers. You decide to use the tiny amount of influence given to you through your vote to try to avoid the more-awful candidates, and instead select the slightly-less-awful candidate.

So you go to the polls and you cast your vote for the slightly-less-awful candidate. If you decide instead to write on your ballot form “I don’t consent to being ruled,” or something similar, then you are still ruled anyway, but at least the guys at the electoral office get to roar with laughter when they see your ballot. (I have supervised a vote count during an election, as a citizen observer, so I have seen first-hand the electoral staff having a good laugh at the “kooks” who try not to consent on their ballot forms.)

So you tell me: Did you just voluntarily consent to something?

Richard Miller: With regard to your second question regarding natural law and legal positivism, I would describe the difference as follows:

Legal positivism: The view that the existence and content of law depends only on social facts, and not on the merits of the law or any issues of ethics. It is the view that “law” is merely a social construction.

Natural law: The view that the existence and content of law is determined objectively by ethics (specifically, by the sub-branch of ethics dealing with the use of force). It is the view that “law” is determined objectively by the nature of man.

The difficulty here is not so much that people can’t comprehend the difference between these two views —in fact, they clearly contradict one another. It is that most people don’t see how natural law could exist.

In a nutshell, I would approach the discussion this way (there are some other issues also):
1. Do any ethical principles exist? Are these ethical principles objective? (If not, then this leads to moral relativism.)
2. If yes, then are there any objective ethical principles pertaining to the use of force? (If not, why not? Why would ethics not include principles pertaining to force?)
3. If yes, you have accepted the existence of objective principles governing the use of force —i.e., you have accepted the existence of natural law.

It is important to note that the thesis that natural law exists does not imply that there cannot be arguments and disagreements over the content of natural law. It simply means that there is some objective natural law to be discovered, not created, by man.

When Spooner likens natural law to the law of gravity he means that it is objectively determined – we can argue over the law of gravity and have disagreements about it, but in the end, we are either right or wrong about our arguments, and whether we are right or wrong is determined by reference to nature, not to ourselves (i.e., it is objective).

Thanks again everyone for your comments.


Ben Ranson February 28, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I agree with those who praise this essay. It is very well written.

Kenneth Hall February 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Excellent article, with which I need to spend more time.

@Roland, no thinking person claims that no abuses of natural rights have ever been committed by ostensibly non-government bodies, possibly including those you named. To the extent that your accusations against the industries in question are accurate (and one must acknowledge that the extent is greater than zero…alas, Babylon!), they are a product of successful rent-seeking, a set of practices that would have little utility in the condition of liberty.

Anthony February 28, 2010 at 10:32 pm

“In fact, the only rules of conduct that can properly be called “laws” are the rules of natural law”

Why? Where do these “laws” come form? As far as I know, they aren’t in my physics textbook. And from that, I can derive that you basically just made these laws up because they sound good to you. That may be good enough for you, but not for me. Every starving child is a failure of the market, and society has a responsibility to correct that failure by any means necessary.

To quote Jeremy Bentham, natural rights are “nonsense on stilts”. There is no natural right to anything. Pretending your system of economics is justified by some made up natural right in the universe is just a fancy form of special pleading.

Anthony February 28, 2010 at 10:55 pm

“Not only is this wickedness openly displayed, but they are insolently proud that they have “supported the schools” by stealing my money. And of course they are all free to donate any amount they wish to the local school. The point is they want other people’s money.”

Charity is not a game-theory efficient method of funding a public school system.

Brian Drake March 1, 2010 at 12:35 am


I use the word monopoly in the Austrian-sense, obstruction to free-entry, which is only accomplished through aggression (primarily the State).

I’m aware that the other economic schools (that I’m know of) use “monopoly” to reference only one firm, or rather, a number of firms less than that required to obtain perfect competition. As you demonstrated in your Alcoa example, this type of “monopoly” is not necessarily harmful to consumers or requires State intervention.

But the Austrian usage of “monopoly” doesn’t reference the number of firms, only the question of whether free-entry exists or not.

Guard March 1, 2010 at 5:36 am

I think Brad really is getting to something here. Mysticism provides a covering for the mind, a sort of prophylaxis, to protect the mind from the reality of sin. Modern culture has some great myths for this, but the ultimate is belief in a god who not only forgives your deepest sins, but conveniently, actually positively endorses them. This is, I maintain, the impetus of the Christian right. Torture, murder, war, all not merely forgiven but turned into a crusade with God on your side.

Just imagine how wonderful it would be to have a god command you to carry out your deepest sinful desires. Not only would you have a sociopath’s lack of guilt, but you would be able to be proud to serve your god by carrying out sin.

(To my Christian brothers: The Bible is replete with accounts of how belief in God has been turned to evil, a risk that unfortunately can’t be avoided.)

J. Murray March 1, 2010 at 7:22 am

When discussing the banking industry as an excuse for state intervention, we must first remember that everything that the banks did to cause the problem was enabled and made legal by the very same entity people irrationally run to to fix the problem.

Banks cannot maintain their theft for decades without the help of a government to legitimize the theft. Even with the new regulatory “fixes”, it doesn’t alter the fact that banks will still be permitted to steal your property with the blessings of the great organized crime entity in America, government.

frank March 1, 2010 at 7:28 am

This is indeed a great article. I have one possible quibble though with what Ben said in his last comment above:

“So you tell me: Did you just voluntarily consent to something?”

The fees for my degree (I’m in the UK) were paid for by the government. I agree with every word Ben has written – but the question is, to what extent am I compromised by my previous action ie. my acceptance of other people’s money to further my education? What about a child, going to school at 5? Is he forever tainted by his acceptance of other people’s money?

Ok, say we wait until you’re 18 before you’re culpable. You decide then you are not having it any more – you then want to inform your local MP you’re not being his slave any more. How do you get to his office? You can’t use the roads. Or can you?

Should we hold all children in captivity on non-government property until they’ve read Man, Economy and State and can then decide what to do with themselves? And who decides what they should read first? I’d rather live in Nazi Germany than read any more Hegel.

J. Murray March 1, 2010 at 9:41 am

frank -

I wouldn’t call you culpable for accepting the fees, nor the child or even the parents of the child for knowingly sending their child to a public school. The system is devious in this manner. By charging everyone for the service, whether they use it or not, creates a dependence. You may be aware of taking part of the theft by accepting that Downing Street pays your tuition, but you also recognized that the system that creates this public “good” also makes it impossible for you to seek those same services without resorting to the theft.

One major motive for theft is necessity. Your only two choices in the UK are to either accept the stolen resources for the education or simply do without becuase you lack the resources to not only pay for your own education, but also shoulder the burden of someone else accepting the resources.

In the US, I’m lucky to have significantly more latitude on the matter, especially in the state I’m living in. I never accepted a penny of subsidized education, but because our education system is far less subsidized, I didn’t have to shoulder as much of someone else’s college degree.

That’s one of the big differences between the UK and US. The degree of institutionalized theft in the UK is far greater than it is in the US, at least for the time being. The greater the degree of institutionalized theft, the greater the necessity it brings about to utilize that system.

I can’t fault you for accepting the publicly funded tuition. I can only fault you if you chose to accept public funding when it’s more than reasonable for you to obtain those resources from your own efforts. In the UK, that’s particularly difficult due to the degree of taxation and regulation present. Accepting public resources beyond using it as a measure of getting back your stolen goods, a grossly imperfect method compared to having it not stolen in the first place, but a method none the less, is where I find fault. Further, even if you are forced out of necessity or from the purposes of reclaiming stolen resources, you should be on a constant crusade to shut the system down entirely so future generations won’t have to suffer under institutionalized theft.

Art March 1, 2010 at 10:37 am

Anthony, you said: “Every starving child is a failure of the market, and society has a responsibility to correct that failure by any means necessary.”

I don’t find that in my book of ethics. What I do find is that old cliché: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”; though your intention to use any means necessary sounds rather evil to me.

mpolzkill March 1, 2010 at 10:47 am

“Guard”: “Mysticism provides a covering for the mind…Modern culture has some great myths for this, but the ultimate is belief in a god…This is, I maintain, the impetus of the Christian right…crusade with God on your side.”

I’m regretful in following your threadjacking and I’m not even a Christian, but this bugs the hell out of me. By what reckoning do you arrive at this? How is that the ultimate? The ultimate destructive, insanely stupid crusades that I know of had Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot at the respective epicenters; not Jesus or any other major religious figure. I maintain that your post is pure axe grinding.

- – - – - – - – -

“George Mason: Still not bold enough, eh? Damn, you are a tough critic”

Yeah he is, and he can be insightful: walked out of the Constitutional Convention, he did.

billwald March 1, 2010 at 11:59 am

The phrase, “All men are created equal,” has always baffled me. I have concluded that it must mean that we are all born having 24 hours in a day.

What do we do with our 24 hours? In the bad old days, I could have “gone west,” appropriated some farm land from the Indian People, and lived without intentionally contacting other (white) humans. That has been a part of the human cycle of existence for 100,000 years.

The problem arises when the more technically advanced invading tribe runs out of good land to steal. Eventually most people must hire themselves out to other people if they want a continued existence for themselves.

At first, the prime stealers, the ones who now own the real assets, set the trade price between themselves and those needing employment in order to exist. Sooner or later, the serfs realize that they greatly outnumber the lords. Some serfs conclude that they could join with other serfs for their mutual benefit and negotiate with their lords for better compensation and working conditions. Historically the result is craft guilds and then labor unions or first comes a bloody revolution.

Boggles my mind why many Libertarians seem to prefer revolution to labor unions and why the Republicans support management over labor. I suspect that the tendency is for Libertarians and Republicans to over estimate their innate abilities.

I propose that some Libertarian sponsor an income analysis of libertarians vs. Republicans and Democrats. This would demonstrate which of the economic creeds is the most efficient in fulfilling its objective.

Nick March 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm


That phrase was meant to do nothing more a simple and direct refutation of the “divine right of kings”

They were simply saying that all men are the same and no one man has the god-given authority to rule over others.

That society has since bastardized and embellished the phrase to include all manner of idiocy is not their fault.

Anthony March 1, 2010 at 8:27 pm

“I don’t find that in my book of ethics. What I do find is that old cliché: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”; though your intention to use any means necessary sounds rather evil to me.”

Hyperbolic nonsense.

There really is no objective book of ethics. Our nature leans us towards one ethical objective or another, but these are not grounded in the laws of the universe. They are internal to human nature alone. And don’t you find it odd that so many humans have rejected your ethics?

This is the old Randite fallacy. “Objectivism” means, basically, that you arrive at something using “reason”, and once its been arrived at, there is no questioning it at all and it’s set in stone forever. While I do believe there is probably an objective reality, I do not believe that we’re ever going to figure it out completely. And the field of ethics is a necessarily shaky thing where you can come to many different conclusions. Ethics IS subjective, by definition. There are no objective natural rights.

The other Anthony March 1, 2010 at 11:11 pm


“Every starving child is a failure of the market, and society has a responsibility to correct that failure by any means necessary.”

That sounds like a very attractive bit of reasoning, but you neglected to consider just how many more starving children there were before “the market” exponentially raised the standard of living for almost everyone (in “developed” nations where semi-free markets existed, at least).

If you are opposed to poverty you should be in favor of the market, since capitalism has done more to end poverty then anything else in human history. The fact that starving children are the exception rather than the norm is a testament to the progress that is possible in a capitalist system.

Guard March 2, 2010 at 9:54 am

Western civilization is generally based on a Judeo-Christian heritage. Christianity by its nature tends toward gnosticism which allows for a compartmentalization of thinking. This is due to the strain of maintaining a tension between this world and a promised world to come. That very compartmentalization of thought can and is co-opted and used by the powers that be. Martin Luther for example, taught that Christians must obey the government without question. This led directly to the Nazi phenomenon. The “I was just following orders” murder defense was in many cases an honest defense, they were adhering to Lutheran teaching.
Today most people make no mental connection between, for example stealing my money and voting to have the police steal it. Or withholding wages from employees, a practice explicitly forbidden by the Bible. Or becoming a judge, again explicitly forbidden in the scriptures.
What I should say is that certain powerful truths of Christianity have been hijacked by the state toward evil ends. And you are quite right, Jesus has very little to do with it.

mpolzkill March 2, 2010 at 11:13 am


“complete perversion in the treatment of Scripture”


Raimondas March 2, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Dear Ben,

I like society with no taxes.

Could I ask you who will watch natural law, private property and freedom then like centurions in Rome or troops in Chile now?

CMB March 22, 2010 at 11:33 am

Where do libertarians stand on sales tax? Do you consider that theft as well?

Speak2Truth November 29, 2011 at 8:11 pm

“But there is also another tendency that is common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. … This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man — in that primitive, universal and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.” – The Law

What type of pain? Well, the pain associated with actual work, for instance.

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