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Current Issue

There Oughta Be a Law

by Adam Allouba

You may not hear that precise expression every day, but you recognize the sentiment. It’s one that you probably feel yourself now and then: The government should do something to fix some problem or another. It may be something gravely serious or nothing more than a minor nuisance; it may be something that oughta be mandatory or oughta be illegal. But whatever it is, it needs to change and using the law is the way to change it.

“There oughta be a law” is not something you’re likely to hear coming out of the mouth of a libertarian, however, except as sarcasm. Most libertarians believe that government legislation leads to bad outcomes for all kinds of reasons, from warped incentives to unintended consequences. More fundamentally, libertarians are against government legislation because we believe that it is inherently wrong to initiate coercion against other human beings. Now, that is a decidedly minority view; most people believe the state should adopt rules that govern our conduct in order to (presumably) make the world a better place. So why the disagreement on such a basic question?

In my view, the reason that non-libertarians are so comfortable with government action is that they have not thought through what exactly it means to say, “There oughta be a law.” Of course, they know that it means that something should be mandatory or illegal—but they haven’t taken a step back to think about what exactly that means in practice. 

So what does it mean to assert that government should do something? Let’s start at the beginning. The textbook definition of the state is an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force (within its borders). It’s vital to understand that this is not some eccentric libertarian viewpoint—any introductory political science textbook will tell you the same thing. In practice, that means that if you violate the state’s rules, you get punished through force. Drive too fast? Get fined. Flunk a health inspection? Get shut down. Sell drugs? Get arrested.

Wait a minute, you might say. I see how being thrown in jail for selling drugs is using force, but shutting down a restaurant? That doesn’t seem like force. And a speeding ticket? Getting pulled over is inconvenient and no one likes paying up, but where’s the force there? In fact, having your property seized or your business shut down is a use of force. This can be made clear by thinking about what happens to people who don’t comply.

Imagine a simple scenario: You’re a business owner who buys and sells second-hand goods. One day someone enters your store with an old baby walker that’s been sitting in their basement for the past decade. Figuring someone might be interested, you take it off their hands. Unbeknownst to either of you, however, that walker has been banned since last it was used. And because it’s your unlucky day, later that afternoon, in walks an employee of Health Canada’s product safety division. “That’s illegal!” he says, pointing to the offending device. Thinking he should mind his own business, you ignore him and, when he insists, politely ask him to leave. Unfortunately for you, our hypothetical do-gooder is fully seized of his mission to protect the public. The next day, he informs his supervisor of your contraband. When the inspector comes through the door, you tell him that your mother used a walker with you, you used one with your kids, that he’s out of his mind and that he has until the count of 10 to get out before you get him out. Undeterred, our friend returns—this time, with police backup. At this point, your choice becomes clear: Either let the man onto your property to carry out his task, or risk finding yourself staring down the barrel of a gun. Kicking out a man with a clipboard is one thing, but trying to kick out a police officer is liable to get you shot dead.

“To say that there oughta be a law is to say, People should be compelled under threat of violence. It is to say that whatever the rule is, it should be applied not by persuasion but by compulsion.”

The point is this: Every rule and regulation adopted by the state is ultimately backed up by the threat of physical force—if necessary, deadly force. That’s not to say that public workers are aspiring Robocops. The vast majority of them are ordinary people who do a job like anyone else—except that theirs grants them the right to force other people to comply with their instructions. And while it may be unheard of for, say, a workplace safety inspector to call in a SWAT team so she can check a factory floor, that’s precisely because the threat of violence hovers over her as she goes about her day. After all, if the mob showed up at your door “asking” for their cut of the day’s profits, the interaction would probably unfold very cordially, since you know what would happen if you were to refuse. The same is true of anything the state does: As people know that there are serious consequences for refusing to comply, they do so cheerfully.

To say that “there oughta be a law” is to say, “People should be compelled under threat of violence.” It is to say that whatever the rule is, it should be applied not by persuasion but by compulsion. Anyone who fails to comply should be required to yield or else to face physical force and—if it comes to that—potentially lethal consequences. Walk through the scenario with any government edict and the penalty for stubbornly refusing to obey is ultimately the same. Whether it’s extracting fossil fuels from rocks, exchanging money for healthcare or broadcasting the wrong kind of music, a persistent, stubborn refusal to follow the rules will not just get you in trouble but will ultimately result in physical damage to your person, should you refuse to cooperate.

I don’t doubt that many people would still support all kinds of laws even if they fully understood that uniformed men brandishing firearms will be called in to enforce them if necessary. Some things are arguably worse than the threat of violence, and if you think that a rule is necessary to prevent starvation or disease or societal collapse, it’s entirely reasonable to insist that it should be enforced at the barrel of a gun. But how many laws and regulations even purport to have so critical a purpose? How many are supported merely on the grounds that there is some nuisance or inconvenience that should be done away with? Put in these terms, is it right that the state mandate the colour of one’s home? Should it prevent you from accessing a Wi-Fi network? What about fixing the price of books, the hue of margarine, the layout of your keyboard, the type of bulb in your socket or how you open your bathroom door?

It’s doubtful that people would support anywhere near as large a government as they do now if they fully appreciated the implications of every law that the government adopts. And instead of casually calling for legislation to fix almost every difficulty in existence, they would be much more likely to see it as a last resort—one to be used only when there seems to be no other way to solve a major problem that simply cannot be allowed to continue. It is a very grave thing indeed to say that people should be compelled under threat of physical force to behave in a certain manner, and there should be an extremely demanding burden of proof on those who argue for such a thing, every time they argue for it.

So the next time you find yourself tempted to say, “There oughta be a law,” ask yourself whether you really mean it. Is this something that really merits the use of force? Should someone who doesn’t behave in the manner you like really be coerced into doing as you say? Or it is best to address the problem through education, persuasion, or plain and simple tolerance of one another? I’m not a pacifist through and through, but I prefer to live in a world with as little violence—actual or threatened—as humanly possible. And I suspect that, when they think about it, that’s a sentiment that most people can agree with.

To read the entire opinion, go to http://www.quebecoislibre.org/14/140115-10.html


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Feature Article

Previous Issue

The Ludwig von Mises Institute

A Special Message from Lew Rockwell

April 15th is a horrible day, because it sums up all the wealth destruction called taxation that we are subjected to all year long.

As Murray Rothbard pointed out, taxation is the worst method of looting us. Inflation is destructive, of course, and it might make a loaf of bread cost $10. But at least you get a loaf of bread. With taxation, you get nothing—except theft and other violations of our civil liberties.

Society, as Mises noted, is divided into two competing classes by interventionist government: the taxpayers and the tax consumers. If you are a payer, you are automatically demonized as greedy. On the other hand, those who want the fruits of your labor involuntarily transferred to themselves and their favored pressure groups are the compassionate.

At the Mises Institute, we have a different view. You have a right to what you earn, and those who use the threat and reality of government violence to take it from you are muggers in expensive suits. As Murray said, the State is just a Gang of Thieves writ large.

The politicians blab about spending cuts, but it is all lying propaganda. They plan to increase spending, but use the specter of alleged spending cuts as another excuse to pick your pocket with more taxes. (Spending cuts? Please throw us in that briar patch, Br’er Government.)

Then there are the attacks on tax “loopholes,” when you are allowed to keep some of your own money. As Mises said, it is through these loopholes that capitalism breathes.

But centuries of pro-tax indoctrination has had its effect. Eighty percent of people, according to a Pew study, think it’s immoral to “underreport” one’s income. It’s as if the politicians own us, but generously let us keep some of our own earnings.

That Pew survey does provide one ray of hope: more and more young people dissent from the morality of coercive taxation. We saw the anti-tax passion of the Ron Paul movement, and we see it at the Mises Institute.

It’s true, more and more young people reject the notion of taxation. They want lower taxes. Most of all, they want no taxes. They think they should be able to keep their own earnings.

With our publications, classes, website, and conferences, we are reaching these young people about taxes and the rest of government.

The young don’t want to be sheared. And they are looking for the freedom answers, for example that private property should be inviolate, for moral and economic reasons. They understand, as did 16th-century economist Juan de Mariana, that the only free country is one where no one is afraid of the tax collector.

The Mises Institute is rallying the young to our ideas on taxes and everything else. Please help us, in the shadow of April 15th, continue to do so, and to step it up.

PS: Needless to say, the Mises Institute does not accept one zinc penny of government funding. We depend on generous supporters like you to make our ideas widely available. Won’t you help?


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Feature Article

Past Issue

It’s a good day for BABIES

Or so says Rep Bette Grande, who introduced the bills.

North Dakota has all but enacted what would be two of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. .

Even those in North Dakota who normally balk at government spending don't seem concerned about spending money on a fight over the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"We have a lot of important things to spend money on," said Sen. Dwight Cook, a Republican from Mandan who chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee and calls himself a fiscal conservative. "But I didn't give any consideration to the cost (of abortion litigation)."

Lawmakers on Friday sent Gov. Jack Dalrymple two anti-abortion bills, one banning the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and another prohibiting women from having the procedure based on the fetus' gender or because it has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome. Abortion-rights activists have vowed to fight the measures in court. The battle is likely to be closely-watched by abortion foes and supporters of legal abortion across the U.S. 

Dalrymple hasn't offered any hints as to where he stands on the abortion bills. . . "I think plenty of people in the party would love to push this to the Supreme Court and they would love to be the state that overturns Roe v. Wade," said Mark Jendrysik, a University of North Dakota political science professor who expects Dalrymple to sign the abortion measures into law. . .

Cook, who has served in the Legislature for 17 years, said he expects Dalrymple to sign the legislation.

"He's as pro-life as I am, and to what degree he looks at cost, I don't know," Cook said. "If I had to bet, I'd bet he signs them."

North Dakota is one of several states with Republican-controlled Legislatures and GOP governors that is looking at abortion restrictions. Arkansas passed a 12-week ban earlier this month that prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. . .

A fetal heartbeat can generally be detected earlier in a pregnancy using a vaginal ultrasound, but Arkansas lawmakers balked at requiring women seeking abortions to have the more invasive imaging technique. North Dakota's measure doesn't specify how a fetal heartbeat would be detected.

North Dakota is uniquely positioned to undertake an expensive legal fight. Fueled by the unprecedented oil bonanza in the western part of the state, North Dakota now leads the nation in population growth, boasts a nearly $2 billion budget surplus and has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. . .

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/news/politics/article/ND-governor-faces-choice-on-abortion-restrictions-4359538.php#ixzz2NklgbJCl

Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another person, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide (such as manslaughter). As the loss of a human being inflicts enormous grief upon the individuals close to the victim, and the commission of a murder is highly detrimental to the good order within society, most societies both present and in antiquity have considered it a most serious crime worthy of the harshest of punishment. In most countries, a person convicted of murder is typically given a long prison sentence, possibly a life sentence where permitted, and in some countries, the death penalty may be imposed for such an act – though this practice is becoming less common.[1] In most countries, there is no statute of limitations for murder (no time limit for prosecuting someone for murder). A person who commits murder is called a murderer.[2]

States have adopted several different schemes for classifying murders by degree. The most common separates murder into two degrees, and treats voluntary and involuntary manslaughter as separate crimes that do not constitute murder.

·         First degree murder is any murder that is willful and premeditated. Felony murder is typically first degree.[5][6]

·         Second degree murder is a murder that is not premeditated or planned in advance.[7]

·         Third degree murder is a catch all for all other murders in some states.

·         Voluntary manslaughter (often referred to as Third degree murder) sometimes called a "Heat of Passion" murder, is any intentional killing that involved no prior intent to kill, and which was committed under such circumstances that would "cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed." Both this and second degree murder are committed on the spot, but the two differ in the magnitude of the circumstances surrounding the crime. For example, a bar fight that results in death would ordinarily constitute second degree murder. If that same bar fight stemmed from a discovery of infidelity, however, it may be mitigated to voluntary manslaughter.[8]

·         Involuntary manslaughter stems from a lack of intention to cause death but involving an intentional, or negligent, act leading to death. A drunk driving-related death is typically involuntary manslaughter. Note that the "unintentional" element here refers to the lack of intent to bring about the death. All three crimes above feature an intent to kill, whereas involuntary manslaughter is "unintentional," because the killer did not intend for a death to result from their intentional actions. If there is a presence of intention it relates only to the intent to cause a violent act which brings about the death, but not an intention to bring about the death itself. [9]

·         The Model Penal Code classifies homicides differently, without degrees. Under it, murder is any killing committed purposefully and knowingly, manslaughter is any killing committed as a result of recklessness, and negligent homicide is any killing resulting from negligence.[10]

·         Fetal Homicide in the United States

Under the common law, an assault on a pregnant woman resulting in a stillbirth was not considered murder; the child had to have breathed at least once to be a human being.[citation needed] Remedies were limited to criminal penalties for the assault on the mother and tort action for loss of the anticipated economic services of the lost child and/or for emotional pain and suffering. With the widespread adoption of laws against abortion, the assailant could be charged with that offense, but the penalty was often only a fine and a few days in jail.

·         When the Supreme Court greatly reduced laws prohibiting abortions in Roe v. Wade (1973) those sanctions became harder to use. This meant that an assault which ensured that the baby never breathed would result in a lesser charge. Various states passed "fetal homicide" laws, making killing of an unborn child murder; the laws differ about the stage of development at which the child is protected.

·         After several well-publicized cases, Congress passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which specifically criminalizes harming a fetus, with the same penalties as for a similar attack upon a person, when the attack would be a federal offense. Most such attacks fall under state laws; for instance, Scott Peterson was convicted of killing his unborn son as well as his wife under California's pre-existing fetal homicide law.

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Feature Article

Past Issue

Practice Fusion, #1 in EMR With 25M Electronic Medical Records, Debuts IPad App

With great power comes great responsibility, and in few places is that more true than the healthtech industry. Practice Fusion is the leading provider of electronic medical records, now helping 130,000 doctors to track records for 25 million patients, CEO Ryan Howard told me today. That’s over 3x the EMRs hosted by Kaiser Permanente or the VA. Practice Fusion is free for doctors and patients. It monetizes through a marketplace for labs, pharmacies, and drug companies who pay for preferred placement in front of doctors who direct a staggering $40 billion in spend a year through the platform. Its new iPad app, debuted today at Practice Fusion’s annual conference, will let these doctors access records while out of the office.

In addition to saving lives, the average doctor in California directs about $2.3 million a year in spend. Just imagine how much decision and recommendation power doctors have: “take this pill not that one”, “pick it up from this pharmacy”, “your test is being analyzed by this lab”. By next year, Howard tells me that figure will have grown well past the $60 billion a year spent through eBay. These medical service providers buy expensive banner ads in the Practice Fusion platform to ensure doctors choose them, and it’s making the company a lot of money.

Practice Fusion’s doctor and record uptake rate is growing exponentially. It counted 70,000 clients in April when it raised a $23 million series B, and by September when it took $6 million more in funding it had 100,000 health care providers on board. Now Practice Fusion is at 130,000, and with each new doctor comes roughly 2,000 new patients who can access their own medical records from anywhere. Doctors can begin using the product in minutes, and can pay to have all their existing paper records scanned in over a few days. Practice Fusion’s competitors can take 6 months or longer to get doctors set up.

Howard tells me “We’re effectively the Salesforce for doctors, and the Facebook for health.” He explains that through its APIs, Practice Fusion will become the hub for personal medical data from consumer devices and services such as FitBit and wireless weight scales. This includes 100Plus, the personalized health prediction platform Howard co-founded with funding from Peter Thiel and Founders Fund to let people see how healthy decisions can expand their lifespan. That hub could become another lucrative medical advertising magnet. More altruistically, Practice Fusion is working with Palantir and the CDC to power disease outbreak detection with its data.

At its core, though, Practice Fusion’s goal is to make medical record access instant and efficient. That’s why it debuted an iPad app for doctors on the go, designed by Cooper, the firm headed by Alan Cooper, the father of Visual Basic. It securely provides access to records so if a doctor gets an after-hours call about a patient, they have all their necessary medical data at hand so they can make informed decisions.

Prioritizing usability, doctors can see their day’s appointments and instantly dive into each patient’s chief complaint, allergies, problems, medications, family history, hospitalizations, and more. Doctors can record patient dictations of their symptoms, and combine their own assessment and treatment plan with pre-defined treatment plans for common ailments to minimize typing. They can also view lists of tasks, and receive push notifications of updates from their office . . .

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