Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Government Benefits From Prison Slavery

Issue 8 of The Voluntaryist has a note apologizing for the newsletter being delayed, so this issue consists entirely of one item, a scholarly article Carl wrote about prison slavery. The main thrust of this article is to share the history of prison slavery from a Voluntaryist perspective.

Before becoming a libertarian, it never really bothered me that prisoners had to work while in prison. I always thought of it as a common sense way to help pay for their incarceration.

But after being exposed to libertarian ideas, I realized this system was doing nothing for the victim and I began thinking more about restitution. I thought it was strange that we didn’t have a good system of restitution and this article helped explain why that may be so.

The state benefits much more if criminals work for them instead of working to repay those they have actually harmed.

Carl writes:

“… the prospect of increasing State revenues through the administration of criminal justice at the expense of the criminal and his victim was one of the principal incentives in the transformation of private justice from a mere arbitration between parties to a significant part of the "public" criminal law.”

Carl goes on to explain how the 13th amendment ended private slavery but included the exception of force prison labor and makes the interesting point that, as usual, the government exempted itself from the laws everyone else had to follow.

Carl maintains that it wasn’t about having the prisoners do work to support their expenses of being imprisoned; it was about forcing labor for the profit of the state.

Carl mentions a fellow named Cesare Beccaria who in 1764 wrote a book called Of Crimes and Punishments. This book apparently did much to change views on the penal system and Thomas Jefferson followed his ideas closely. Carl says Beccaria’s ideas led directly to UNICOR, which is the name for the federal prison industry.

I did some research on UNICOR on its website and found out this program began during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. Why does that not surprise me?

The organization makes a big deal of saying they don’t want to compete with private business and labor. Throughout its history those private groups have criticized the program and one result was that UNICOR only sells to the federal government. Interestingly criticism continues because private groups would also like to sell to the government.

The most disturbing aspect I discovered while reading their history is that they played a big part in providing products for U.S. war efforts. So this program uses prison labor to make it easier to engage in war. Not a good idea.

The one piece of information I found that was even remotely positive was that apparently some of the inmate’s earnings go toward restitution. But what are they earning? In a set of minutes from 2005, it said the inmate wage scale had not increased since 1989 so we can be pretty sure they’re not being paid much, certainly not minimum wage which of course gives us yet another instance where government ignores its own laws.

All of this is a direct result of the consequences of government interference in arbitration and restitution. We put people in prison where they are idle. This causes lots of problems. So the government solution is to create a prison slavery program that causes more controversy and problems. But it benefits the state so it continues.

Finally, perhaps worst of all, if this system were not in effect, victimless crimes would be much more glaring and obvious to all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hanging Around In Political Bars

The final item in issue 7 of The Voluntaryist is a letter written to Carl by a fellow named Timothy Dove. Mr. Dove is another person who experienced first-hand what the government is all about (he got into trouble with the IRS) but in this letter he spends much of his time discussing his experience with the Libertarian Party in Alaska.

Mr. Dove, at least at the time of writing this letter, tells Carl that he’s not quite as anti-party as Carl. He believes that he owes a lot to the LP because it did introduce him to libertarianism.

I’ve noticed that people who say this often refer to various discussions they had with other individuals they met through the party. It appears that the benefit of finding the LP, from those who end up leaving it, is not about participating in the political process itself; it’s about finding people who helped them further develop their understanding of the philosophy.

Maybe the Libertarian Party is kind of like a bar where people can go to meet libertarians. But it’s dangerous because in a bar, you have to be careful about who you meet. You might meet someone who only wants to use you.

Just like a bar might not be the best place to find people if you are interested in long-term fulfilling relationships more than the excitement of short-term sex, the LP might not be the place to find people if you are interested in long-term societal change, rather than the excitement of short-term political gains.

Mr. Dove says he enjoyed participating when the goal was education and when the purpose was to “utilize the political forum to spread libertarian ideas.” but was disappointed as the party moved towards thinking the purpose is “to elect people to office.”

I wish I could have a dollar (no wait, make that a piece of gold) for every time someone said or wrote that to me whenever I questioned an action in the LP. This has become the standard line to any criticism and I guess it’s true. But it also shuts down any real discussion of libertarian thought and how, or if, it can apply in the political realm.

In his letter, Dove admits that based on that new purpose, the Alaska LP did have success by electing a fellow named Dick Randolph to the State House. But then he goes on to explain a few things Randolph did that, according to Dove, were in no way libertarian.

Here’s what Mr. Dove says in his letter after detailing some history of what Randolph did:

“Gone are the long philosophical discussions of a society without the state. Gone from the Party are all the radicals who created it. All that's left is a bunch of chamber of commerce types, empty rhetoric, and expensively purchased advertising hoopla.”

I looked up Randolph and discovered something that bothered me because I see a pattern whenever a state proclaims a big libertarian electoral success: he had already held office as a Republican. To me, this is not someone who is elected as a Libertarian. It’s just someone who uses the libertarian party to continue in politics.

It appears the state is still battling this sort of thing. I saw lots of news hits around a Republican Senator who lost in the primary and might possibly be running on the Libertarian ticket. A state Libertarian committee voted this idea down, but once again it shows how people want to use the LP doesn’t it?

Bob Barr is another example. Politicians gain their notoriety by using the Republican Party and then move to Libertarian Party when it suits their purposes. When they get mad, the LP provides them a place to go.

It’s even happened in Indiana with a city councilman. He was a Republican who just changed parties because the Republicans aren’t doing what he thinks Republicans should be doing.

This has nothing to do with consistent libertarian thought and I don’t consider these people to be elected libertarians. Just political hacks doing whatever they can to have some power.

I’ve decided I don’t want to be used anymore and am no longer hanging around the political bars. I now understand that I’ll have more success finding people who match my goals if I start looking in places where people are not constantly drunk and addicted to political power.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Playing The Political Expansionist Game

In Issue 7, Robert Lefevre has an article titled, "Cutting Government Growth." In this piece Mr. Lefevre discusses participation in the political process and how it helps government grow. In particular, he points out that elections cannot happen without thousands of people working as unpaid volunteers. (They might do it for some hoped-for benefits but they are not getting paid.)

He writes:
"Government consists of two types of workers: those who are paid for what they do; those who volunteer their services free of charge. Both groups work for the state. Every individual who begins working within the political system in an effort to accomplish anything enlarges the system by his own presence. When a group is organized and begins to seek reduction as a concentrated unit of pressure, a significant growth of the numbers working for government occurs in the process. This is always true even when the purpose of the activists is reduction in size and scope. The state invariably arranges its structure in such a way that its magnitude depends on the numbers of persons involved, rather than on the political direction taken."

Lefevre tells us that the first mistake made by anyone who finally gets fed up and wants to decrease government is to become a political activist. Going door-to-door, endorsing candidates, registering voters, petitioning, picketing and protesting for a cause that requires government action, etc. are all ways political activists end up working for the government. Even when the goal is less government. The Tea Party movement is the latest example.

Lefevre has a fine way of hammering down the point:

"Those entirely sincere individuals who labor endlessly for the reduction of governmental power are, without intending it, playing the political expansionist game."

Talk about unintended consequences!

Lefevre also discusses voting groups and vote percentages as they relate to legitimacy. In regards to voting categories, I had never really thought of adding to the voter base from the government’s side as a whole. But I realize now that the addition of new voters, (removing land ownership requirements, black males, women, lowering voting age to 18) merely strengthened the legitimacy of the system at large because just the fact that you CAN vote adds legitimacy.

This isn’t good enough though because we know there’s an uncomfortable sensitivity to voter participation totals. Everyone seems to understand that there’s a line where the vote just wouldn’t be accepted as legitimate. We may not know exactly where that line is, but it’s there nonetheless.

As a result we now have groups whose only purpose is to get people to vote. They don’t care who you vote for, just that you vote. Many individuals blindly repeat this message too. People are even rewarded for acting on their civic duty by getting a sticker to put on their shirt that says “I voted.”

(A sticker for good behavior. I guess our education system does a good job of training for this to be effective, doesn’t it?)

Lefevre gives us an example of how voter turnout can affect government action. In 1963, a special election was held in Colorado Springs and the weather affected the turnout which led to controversy (you can read the details yourself). In the end, Lefevre says the politicians were extremely careful about any action, so they mostly just "sat on their hands" because the case was effectively made that they did not have the sanction of the people.

Lefevre admits this is one small example but the main point is that politicians are extremely sensitive about legitimacy so not voting is a good idea even strategically. Who knows if others will follow but, on an individual level at least, as a non-voter I know I’m one person who is no longer playing the expansionist game.

He seems to imply that we will eventually hit that sweet spot where legitimacy is in question but I wonder if this is the case. Non-voters are the majority already and it appears to me that the government promoters have put the spin on their side by saying those people are willing to accept the results of the voters.

They have no evidence of this of course, it’s just their premise. But if they keep repeating it, people will just assume it to be true. Therefore, perhaps there needs to be a concerted effort to change the message.

A truthful message would be one that says we cannot know where those individuals stand. This could create unease about what the large group of non-voters, the real majority, actually think.

Would that do anything to persuade more people to not vote thereby hitting that sweet spot, wherever it may be, which makes the politicians “sit on their hands?"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Using Government To Demonstrate Voluntary Action

In Issue 7 The Voluntaryist continues to interview Carl about his ongoing experiment with the truth. You can read my post about the first interview here. This issue’s interview is titled “From the Bowels of the Beast,” and before I even made it through his answer to the very first question posed, I was already into ideas and philosophy that directly correlated with experiences I had this past week.

Last week in my newspaper column I decided to use the local mayors to make a positive point about voluntary actions.

Soon after posting a link on Facebook, I received a letter from an online Voluntaryist friend of mine. He took me to task on several points. You can read the column as well as excerpts of what he wrote in response to it here.

I was reminded of this when reading Carl’s interview. He wanted to differentiate his view of taxation from those who object only to specific ways some taxes are spent, for example someone who objects to taxation being spent on war. Carl’s objection goes deeper and to contrast his view, Carl says this:
“Government employees are the only group of people in society that regularly and consistently use physical force or its threat to collect funds to sustain themselves. It makes absolutely no difference to me how this group of people spends the money it coercively collects; my conscientious objection is opposed to their initiation of coercion or its threat.”

This is of course the argument my friend made and why he objected so strongly to my attempt to use government employee’s actions to demonstrate voluntary efforts.

I completely understand this point. Really I do. But the vast, vast majority of people out there simply do not get it. Or maybe more to the truth, they refuse to admit they get it. So, the question is, will it help people understand, or admit they understand, if someone makes correlations as I attempted to do in this column?

Don’t we need to just take people where they are and hope that by drawing such comparisons, perhaps some will start to think about things differently and perhaps gain an insight? Are we better off downgrading voluntary actions by government employees or should we say, "hey that’s a good start?"

We must begin the conversation somewhere. So is it valid to find an angle to a story that moves the conversation towards voluntary actions, even if there are issues with it?

Plus, in this instance, we are talking about the actions of individuals and these individuals are acting in a voluntary manner when they donate money, so is that a good start? Is that a difference worth using the pound the point of voluntary action?

Yesterday I would have finished this post here and said yes. But last night I read an essay in Creative Nonfiction magazine that sent my mind down a whole other road. The essay was written by a woman who was badly abused throughout her childhood by her father. At one point in the essay she goes into detail about how he beat her and then took care of her wounds afterward.

As I read this, I did not feel better about his actions. I felt even angrier at him, at the idea that he not only damaged her physically and psychologically with the beating, but he created even more psychological damage because he connected the two disparate actions in her developing mind.

I didn’t think anything he did after the beating, no matter how kind it looks made any difference at all.

So I had to wonder - Could I ignore the beatings and use his kind actions to point out how wonderful it is to take care of someone who is hurt?

I have to say, when I think of it that way, it makes me cringe.

So the next time I think it might be possible to put a positive spin on something someone does within government, I think I'll stop and consider the Voluntaryist insight that the end does not justify the means.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Facebook Paper Doll Experiment

NOTE: The Voluntaryist has a typo on Mr. Ken Knudson's name. The correct spelling is with an 'o.'

The final article in Issue 6 was written by Ken Knudson and is titled “Revolution: The Road to Freedom?”

This article continues exploring the idea of using violent means to achieve a peaceful end and the futility of such an effort. The article contains good commentary on the historical effects of violence as well as discussing the tendency of communistic anarchists to use violence and why he thinks this is the case and much more.

The only thing I really want to point out specifically in this article is a quote I found particularly juicy:

"Paper constitutions might work alright in a society of paper dolls, but they can only bring smiles to those who have observed their results in the real world."

Isn’t that great? I just love quotes that use good imagery to make the point. I like it so much that I thought it would be fun to do an experiment of sorts.

I hardly ever post quotes on facebook but once in a while I see one like this that is short and makes great use of imagery to help hammer down the point. Some quotes just strike me as facebook (and/or twitter) quotes and this is one of them.

So I’m going to do an experiment of sorts and put it on my facebook page and see if anything interesting happens.

If you like the quote and you also have a facebook and/or twitter page, then please do the same and let us know if anything particularly interesting happens.

Photo courtesy wikimedia commons