Rights Are Reciprocal In Nature

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The conclusion that can be drawn from Lysander Spooner’s expositions on slavery and the injustice of the Civil War is that the rights are reciprocal.  Compulsory associate in the form of statehood is nothing more than slavery supported through the force of the U.S. Military. Kidnapping, false imprisonment, slavery, and other forms of coerced association violate the same underlying principle. All these forms of forced association restrict autonomous individuals. Who possess the implied right of unrestricted mobility. Suggesting they can travel or reside where they please as long they are not transgressing against the property rights of others. The right to self-ownership. Some may claim that this right inalienable and cannot be voluntarily transferred to another individual.  However, ownership implies that the owner can dispose of, consume, preserve, or transfer whatever they own. Even if that were to be the title to their own life. This could be feasibly transferred to another person via voluntary contracts.  The same can be said for individual rights being sold off or transferred even for temporary durations of time. When at work we are expected to abstain from making off-color or politically incorrect jokes while on the clock. In exchange for briefly and voluntarily suspending our right to free speech, we receive a conditional paycheck and continued employment.

Compulsory statehood not only violates the right to self-ownership by having the federal government assume control over the dissent citizens. It also transgresses a natural corollary of self-ownership, the right to free association.  If an individual owns themselves, they can choose who they associate with. Some may argue that you don’t choose your neighbors. Directly this observation is true. Indirectly it is false. Through purchasing a home in a specific neighborhood to consent to live near the people in the adjacent and parallel domiciles. This is quite qualitatively different then be forced to reside in a specific neighborhood by law or threat of military force. If the individuals residing in a certain geographic area all share similar sentiments and opt to become an autonomous region that is their prerogative. Yes, the Confederate South was guilty of the sin of slavery. Even considering this moral misstep, why should their right to free association be viewed as any less valid. Giving credence to the colloquialism “Two wrongs don’t make a right”. If were to examine the example of Catalonia, many Americans would be much more sympathetic to their separatist cause. In 2017, the Catalonian successionist movement presents a similar scenario.  A group of individuals self-identifying as Catalonian wanting to separate from Spain. Paralleling the Confederacy’s sense of southern identity driving them to want to become a sovereign governing body. Catalonia’s movement is easier to empathize with because it hasn’t been sullied and stained by any association with atrocities of the same magnitude as slavery.

The are other instances of the right of the free association being obscure by another issue. One of the most salient enemies of free association is political correctness. It is a lens that serves to only distort the general principle of having the right to choose whom you keep company with. Often, if you defend the right of state succession or the right not to associate with minority groups, you will be accused of bigotry. People believing that an unwavering defense of free association being tantamount to tacitly being racist demonstrates a lack of nuanced understanding. Not to mention this is nothing more than a superficial inference. It is possible to disagree with Jim Crow laws but also oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Both sets of laws infer our right to free association. Jim Crow laws are an example of forced exclusion. The state restricting who you can dine with, socialize with, and trade with through compulsory law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 operates as a form of forced integration.  This phrase generally is utilized in the context of immigration it also applies within the context of the Civil Rights Act. Business owners are being forced by statutory law to ignore certain characteristics of job applicants in the hiring process. Even though the proprietor of the business does have legal title and liability for the enterprise he established and manages. There is even some debate as to whether private business owners have a right to discriminate against customers for nonessential goods and services. The Masterpiece Cakeshop LTD V. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case did appear to be a victory in the arena of free association. Many have erroneously labeled this situation as gay rights case.  This is incorrect. The larger principle behind this case is not whether a business is inclusive and accepts the transactions from everyone. Rather does the proprietor have the right to decline? The fact that the case involves a gay couple is unfortunate because it muddies the waters. Instead of commentators being focused on the principle of private property and individual liberty, they are all too fixated on the sexuality of the patrons who were denied service. If this had been a Neo-Nazi that had been denied service, who there has been any controversy? No. Making it reasonable to surmise that the social justice stance on discrimination is not only antithetical to our natural rights but is also hypocritical.  If we are truly committed to the principle of equality, then shouldn’t all businesses be forced to transact with every customer? Regardless if they are intoxicated and belligerent or white supremacy?  This frequently ignored question could lead someone to believe that the equality principle is one-sided.

It is utterly perplexing that most people fail to see the equivalence between various rights. For example, the right to gun ownership implies that an individual can abstain from owning a gun. The Second Amendment of the Constitution is predicated on the natural law principle of the right to defend one’s self and property.  The reciprocal nature of this right is somewhat self-evident.  This concept could easily be extrapolated to and to any of our other natural rights.  The ability to discriminate is at the very core of the principle of free association. Anytime we choose to patronize one restaurant over another we are actively engaging in a form of discrimination. The gay couple who were denied service by the Masterpiece Cakeshop could have easily utilized this principle to convey their dissatisfaction with the owners. Word of mouth can be the death knell for a small business, the couple could have easily told all their friends, family, co-workers, etc. about the incident. Urging of their close acquaintances to avoid this shop like the plague. Opting to discriminate against the shop. Is this an invalid form of protest? Not. It is equally as valid as a private company choosing to not do business with the couple.

This principle of voluntary discrimination makes state succession valid and any attempts to thwart these actions aggression. The south actively chose to discriminate between tolerating the overreach of the federal government or form their voluntary block of associated states. Through self-ownership and mutual consent among the citizens residing south of the Mason-Dixon line, this movement was valid. President Lincoln’s nationalistic initiative to force the south back into the Union was conspicuously transgressive.  


 

Spooner: Slavery and The Civil War= Morally Equal

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The concept of state secession has been viewed as being connected to support for slavery since the American Civil War. It seemed even in the modern era that if you advocate for the right of state secession you tacitly support slavery. Opportunistic pundits will not shay away from inferring that among many other contrived racists or Neo-Confederate proclivities. If we oppose slavery due to it being forced into involuntary servitude. A natural rights argument against slavery was first posited by John Locke in his work Second Treatise of Government. Suggesting that by a human being owning themselves due to their unalienable god-given rights slavery is illegitimate. Even though voluntary relinquishment, a man cannot transfer his title to self-ownership to another.

The extent to which this right to self-ownership is inalienable has come under question over the centuries. If we truly own ourselves, shouldn’t we be able to sell our freedom to pay a debt effectively transferring our title to self-ownership? In the past contractual arrangements have been made in the form of indentured servitude. Where the contracted party consents to work for no monetary compensation in exchange for other terms of payment. Operating as a form of barter. Generally, the terms of indentured servitude were temporary distinguishing it from slavery. Some economists even assert that voluntary slave arrangements are valid on the grounds of contractual consent. If compulsory slavery is invalid on grounds of self-ownership would not compulsory statehood also be illegitimate? The association of the original colonies was composed of an aggregate collective of individuals tired of being under the thumb of a distant mother country. In other words, this revolutionary coalition was formed under the conditions of voluntary association. If rights are reciprocal, for example, freedom of religion implies the right to abstain from religious observance, then various states have the right to withdraw consent and leave the union. Making Lincoln’s use of military force to thwart attempts of the south to secede be an abuse of power.

One unlikely defender of the right to state secession was the abolitionist and anarcho-political theorist Lysander Spooner. Spooner departed from his peers in the abolitionist movement by arguing that preventing the southern states from leaving the union was on par with the institution of slavery. Spooner in his essay No Treason #1 thoroughly expresses the illegitimate manner the Constitution was utilized to defend slavery:

“On the part of the North, the war was carried on, not to liberate the slaves, but by a government that had always perverted and violated the Constitution, to keep the slaves in bondage; and was still willing to do so, if the slaveholders could be thereby induced to stay in the Union.” (P.3).

Needless to say, Spooner was not a supporter of slavery. However, does this justify the aggressive actions on the part of the United States government? After all, is it not our duty to eradicate any form of injustice such as the vile institution of slavery by any means necessary? Even if that requires bloodshed? Even if it forces a large minority of people into a central government they do not desire to be a part of? Beyond the arguments of coercive force being used against the south, Lincoln’s motives were suspect. Per Thomas DiLorenzo’s book, The Real Lincoln, it is mentioned that Lincoln showed open disdain for the abolition movement. That he was even personally prejudiced against African-Americans. Lincoln enthusiastically advocating for sending all blacks out of the country to form a colony in Liberia.  As much as this development sounds like a conspiracy theory or the fabrication of a bored pulp fiction writer, it has been validated by several sources. Leading the inquisitive observe to wonder if the Civil War was more about consolidating power than anything else.

Spooner is quick to point out how it is perplexing that men who simply wish to no longer associate with the federal government soon become traitors:

“That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.”

This brings into question how does not desire to be a part of the constitute treason? Spooner reasons that if the Constitution was founded on the principle of freedom, then statehood would be rested solely on consent. Invalidating any attempts to use military might to keep the loose confederation of states together. The implications of preserving the union for the sake of freedom exposes deeper hypocrisy than merely a disingenuous effort to free all those subjected to involuntary servitude in the tobacco plantations of the south.

“…. power of the government, is (as she thinks) forever expunged from the minds of the people. In short, the North exults beyond measure in the proof she has given, that a government, professedly resting on consent, will expend more life and treasure in crushing dissent, than any government, openly founded on force, has ever done. And she claims that she has done all this on behalf of liberty! On behalf of the free government! On behalf of the principle that government should rest on consent!..” (P.5-6).

Essentially the northeastern establishment undermined the principles of the founding to keep the south under the egis of the federal government. If the country was founded on the principle of voluntary association, such efforts directly violate this principle. The rhetoric of fighting the south to preserve a unified and free America is a falsehood. Nothing more than the empty and halfhearted lips service that we have grown to expect in modern politics. It does not matter if the actions of the state reflect an honest reverence towards the right of volunteer association. Some scholars surmise that this right is implicit in the First Amendment, others argue that this interpretation is a little murky. From a purely natural rights standpoint, it is a clear violation to force people to join clubs and other varieties of political and social affiliation.  To blithely not only violate this right but to claim that it was done so to preserve liberty is a grotesque fallacy. Parallels the empty sentiment behind the modern phenomenon of national building. The falsehoods behind and bloviating are used to justify a nearly two-decade war(s?) in the Middle East. The United States has become the exalted missionary of liberal democracy. Nearly two centuries prior the United States adorned the false mask of the exalted liberator of slaves. Even though most of the Europeans had already abolished slavery peacefully. Like our contrived moral imperatives for engaging in our middle eastern campaigns, the Civil War was commerce under similar fallacies. To suggest the Civil War was executed the preserving the freedom of the average citizen is a slap in the face. One only needs to look at his overextension of power during the conflict to truly understand his mentality. For example, his suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpusalone demonstrates he was a far cry from a civil libertarian.

Spooner also presents several arguments that the majority ruling over the minority was outside of the original context of the constitution.  Forcing the southern states to remain part of the United States fully exemplifies the concept of the tyranny of the majority. The Constitution stating “… we the people..” does not only include the majority, but also the minority (p.7). He also claims that if the founders intended for the majority to rule over the minority Americans would have never become an independent nation (p.8). The American revolutionaries were the minority during the revolution. When compared to the size and scope of the British Empire. Spooner also mentions that the intentions of majorities are no better or worse than those of minority groups. Both having similar wants, needs, and being predisposed to the same faults as humans make demonizing the opposition illogical (p.8). Certainly, this wisdom of not demonizing the opposition has been lost in the contemporary political climate. The majority opinion in society isn’t necessarily wise. Conventional wisdom is rife with ignorance, superstitions, and prejudice  (p. 8). It is irrational to claim a policy position, or another idea is valid due to it being popular. Such a justification can be reduced to nothing more than an example of the  Argumentum ad populum fallacy. Popularity does not automatically make an idea or an action correct.

Spooner goes on to mention how the tyranny of the majority creates a cost struggle between slave and master. Who the slave is and who the slave is varied depending upon which party is in power. Generating a competition for usurping control away from the opposing party.

The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves; a contest, that-however bloody – can, as things, never be finally closed, so long as man refuses to be a slave …” (p.9).

The Civil War perfectly encapsulates the power struggle between various political factions. Echoing the concerns voiced by James Madison around the time of America’s founding. Vying political factions striving to achieve their objectives. The north’s desire to keep centralize and expand the power of the federal government. Leading to the use of military force. Preventing the south from separating from the United States. Effectively forcing the south to remain part of the country for political reasons. Parallels slavery. Slavery, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and forced association all violate our natural rights. The fact that the commonalities between forcing the south to remain part of the Union and slavery are awe-inspiring.

Spooner- Argument #25 Against The U.S. Post Office

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In his seminal pamphlet, The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, prohibiting Private Mails, Lysander Spooner provides twenty-seven brief arguments countering the veracity of the government-held monopoly on mail services. More specifically arguing from the perspective of Constitutional law. Utilizing the precepts of the U.S. Constitution, Spooner derives numerous thought-provoking arguments that challenged the government prohibition on private mail carriers. One of Spooner’s more novel arguments is presented in argument # 25 (p.12) of his pamphlet.

Spooner writes:

“25. If the exclusive right of carrying letters, has been granted to Congress, then it is unconstitutional for a person even to carry a single letter for a friend. And Congress is bound to punish such an act as an offense against the constitution.”

At first glance, this argument may seem thin or even frivolous. However, the implications of this refutation are much deeper than loose extrapolation. If we were to replace “letter” with any other legal commodity, such sanctions would be absurd. For example, the United States government has the exclusive right to sell, produce, and distribute bread. Making the production, sale, or transfer of bread by any private company Constitutionally barred. Any commentator with a market-oriented position on economic would be quick to decry this as “socialism”. The government attempting to monopolize and control the market for bread. If such a notion of government control of bread production seems inordinate, couldn’t the same be said of letter carrier services? The transaction costs of private companies delivering letters domestically are low. The government’s fixation with keeping private carriers out of the market back in the 1840s was puzzling.

Spooner carries the argument to its logical conclusion by extending it to the potential of congressional restrictions on gifts.  He states that “… then it is unconstitutional for a person even to carry a single letter for a friend. And Congress is bound to punish such an act as an offense against the constitution. “Hand delivering a letter to a friend is only a step away from giving a gift to a friend. The only difference is the intent. Hand delivering a message is intended to disseminate information. Giving a tangible item to a friend with no expectation of direct reciprocity is a gift. As soon as you are trading tangible goods it becomes a form of barter. Does transporting a letter somehow become crass or require the need for state intervention upon exchanging money for this service? Even if we are paying someone to deliver a letter to someone else, this is a form of volunteer exchange. Just as much as giving someone a gift or opting to cut the middleman out and hand-deliver a letter to a friend. If I am not stealing the envelope, ink, and paper to compose a letter.  No laws are being violated while transporting the letter, there shouldn’t be an issue. If a private company (subject to taxation) wants to provide the service of transporting that same letter for a fair price, congress should not obscure this free exchange. Especially if the company is being taxed. However, the legitimacy of taxation is a whole other stand-alone argument. If an organization pays to play and the transaction costs of such a business are low. Any functional counterargument is at best flimsy.

Outside of the Constitutional concerns of congress veering into unjustly regulating trade. Something that happens frequently in modern society as the Commerce Clause has been stretched beyond its original intent. Generating several perverse interpretations of this clause.  There is a strong natural rights perspective implied in Spooner’s twenty-fifth argument. If a person composes a letter, it is their letter. As in the own the physical paper it was written on and the envelope it is sealed in. While the letter is in their possession they can do as they like with the letter. They could burn it in their fireplace. The author of the letter could elect to frame the letter. They could throw it into the recycling bin. Even better yet they could choose to give it to another person. To convey a message to the letter’s intended recipient. Instead of wasting time, energy, and resource on driving across the country to deliver the letter, they can decide to transfer this duty to a third-party. In effect, temporarily consigning possessing of the letter to the third-party carrier. In any developed market system, it would be fair to say that the consumer shouldn’t be restricted to using one carrier. By owning the letter, the consumer should not be restricted by legal barriers when choosing a vendor. It would be one thing if there was a natural monopoly (if such a thing exists) then the only other choice the customer has is to transport the letter by their efforts. When the government skews the interpretation of the Constitution to carrier barriers to entry into the market.  Spooner highlights this point in his earlier arguments.  For instance, argument #1:

“1. The Constitution of the United States (Art. 1. Sec. 8.) declares that II the Congress shall have the power to establish post-offices and post roads.” These words contain the whole grant, and therefore express the extent of the authority granted to Congress. They define the power, and the power is limited by the definition, the power of Congress, then, is simply” to establish post-offices and post roads,” of their own not to interfere with those established by others.” (p.5).

Spooner fully asserts that has written, Congress has the power to establish a postal service along with the parallel infrastructure to support mail delivery. Nothing more. The power is not extended to ensure that no other entrants pursue the same line of work. Nor does it explicitly state that congress is required to distribute sanctions for market entry. Not only does congress acting against private mail carriers inhibit natural property rights, but it is an overextension of the intended duty of creating a postal service. Meaning that any action taken against Spooner’s business The American Letter Mail Company was illegitimate.  Did nothing more than preserve the jobs of bureaucrats and place artificial barriers on the natural cadence of market processes. The antithesis of preserving our natural rights and liberties.   

Privatizing Mail: Lysander Spooner V. U.S. Postal Service

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What was that power? It was, as has been shown, merely a power concurrent with that of the states and people, .. to establish post offices and post roads.” Only a concurrent power, then, having been delegated, and a like power not having been prohibited to the states or people, it necessarily follows, from the terms of the amendment itself, that a concurrent power to establish them is .. reserved” to the states respectively, or to the people-or to both.

Lysander Spooner (P.21 The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, prohibiting Private Mails. 1844)

Before the founding of private parcel carriers, such as UPS or FedEx, the United States Postal Service had a monopoly on the delivery of small packages. Until one man, Lysander Spooner decided to openly challenge the government’s industry dominance. Ultimately, the U.S. government won the battle. Spooner arguably won the war. His victory immortalized in the fact that he forced the hand of the U.S. Mail service to lower the costs of stamps through his valiant entrepreneurial efforts. Effectively driving the cost of stamps down to actual market rates. Earning the bold political philosopher the moniker “Father of the Three Cent Stamp”. Spooner observing the illegitimate manner in which the government monopolized this service, braving the risk of legal action, decided to create his private mail service. Servicing parcel and letter delivery from Boston through the mid-Atlantic. All the while undercutting the grossly inflated shipping rates set by the government.

Lysander Spooner was born on a rural farmhouse in Athol, Massachusetts on January 19th, 1809. He was one of nine children. It was speculated that Spooner’s fervently religious upbring influenced his later turn towards deism. Along with a commitment to religion, his family also were staunch supporters of the abolition movement. At the age of sixteen, he entered an agreement with his father to work on the farm until he was twenty-five. In exchange, Spooner was provided with food, room and board, and “educational advantages”. After fulfilling his obligation to his father, Spooner worked as a clerk for the Register of Deeds in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1833, studied law under John Davis while working in his office. Spooner eventually went on to start his legal practice. Acting in defiance of the Massachusetts mandate that lawyers either have a college degree or study five years under a practicing lawyer. Spooner perceived this law as being discriminatory towards the “well-educated poor”. Drawing parallels to the artificial barriers to entry created through state occupational licensing requirements. Spooner even petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to challenge the veracity of this requirement in 1835.

In 1844, Spooner founded the American Letter Mail company. Audaciously announcing the incorporation of his enterprise to the U.S. Postmaster General. Reacting to the skyrocketing costs of postage in the 1840s. The cost of sending a letter from Maryland to Massachusetts was 18.75 cents. Approximately twenty-five percent of workers’ daily wages at the time. Two weeks after his grand announcement Spooner was delivering letters between Boston, New York, and Baltimore. Offering patrons this service for a mere 5 cents per stamp rate. A drastically more economical option than the exorbitantly priced stamps required to be delivered by the USPS. Doing something the Postal Service of the nineteenth century could not accomplish. Deliver mail quickly, efficiently, and all at a fair price. All benefits could not be achieved by the U.S. Mail due to the organization be rife with corruption and bureaucratic red tape. The U.S. Postal Service possessing a monopoly position in the market afforded the organization the ability to set prices.

Naturally, Spooner soon came under fire from the U.S. Post Office. Less than a week of being in business “… Congress introduced a resolution to investigate the establishment of private post offices..”. After only being in business for several months Spooner and a few of his employees were detained for transporting letters by train to Baltimore. After being incarcerated for nearly three months and grappling with other legal troubles Spooner was released from prison. The American public became accustomed to lower postage rates, meaning the U.S. post office had to lower the cost of their stamps. This resulted in many of the customers using private carriers returning to using USPS. This combined with the legal fees incurred through Spooner’s legal battles with the U.S. Government contributed to the bankruptcy of his business. After the failure of his business venture, Spooner went on to be an influential figure in the abolitionist movement.

Spooner was able to give the inefficient appendage of the federal government dedicated to delivering mail a run for its money. Through this market distribution despite the failure of Spooner’s business, he succeeded in lowering the price of postage in the United States. He did so through market forces. Directing the U.S Post Office to follow suit with providing comparable pricing to the public. This was achieved in the absence of legislation or other typical forms of political action. Truly living up to his reputation as an anarchist. Regulation suffers from the lethargy of political processes. Changes made to adjust to market conditions are much more instantaneous. Demonstrated how quickly postage rates dropped after Spooner started delivering letters.

In the spirit of Spooner and his contributions to anarchist political theory, it is interesting how there is a discrepancy between when the government engages in questionable conduct and when a private citizen does. Few questioned the government monopoly on mail delivery, but when a private citizen attempts to bring competition into the market he is ligated out of business. However, when private companies start to dominate specific industries at the end of the 19th century, there was then a moral imperative to break up this concentration of market power. The christening of this crusade was punctuated by the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. It would be fair to respond to this charge of hypocrisy, by stating that when Spooner waged war on the monopoly in letter carrier services there wasn’t any precedence for antitrust law in American jurisprudence at the time. Good point, but even in the light of the fully developed and sophisticated antitrust law we have today there are still state-dominated monopolies on the production of goods and services. The most salient example being defense. Some cling to the Samuelsonian public goods argument for keeping the government monopoly on defense. Keen scholars of political economy may even invoke Coase’s Theorem to justify state provision of defense services. For those who are skeptical of the legitimacy of state intervention, there still appears to be a double standard.

Lysander Spooner Week

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I officially declare the week of January 19th Lysander Spooner week. To commemorate the birthday of this legendary contributor to anarcho-political theory. I am proud to say I happen to share a birthday with this renowned theorist. Not to mention one that was heavily influential on the development of anarcho-capitalism (although arguably Spooner had some socialistic tendencies).  Next week, I will attempt to dedicate two essays to the life and work of Spooner. I will not allow this influential figure in Libertarian political theory to become a minuscule footnote!

Arjuna’s Dilemma

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Arjuna the protagonist of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, encounters a significant moral quandary during the story. During a civil insurrection, Arjuna the prince of Pandavas was valiantly leading his army to victory when he is faced with a tough decision. In the middle of battle, he recognizes some of the faces of the soldiers in the opposing army. Former teachers, friends, and even family members. Naturally, Arjuna was conflicted about having to fight his loved ones and friends in battle. How could anyone of us turn the sword on one of a member of our own family? Choosing between defending one’s honor and family is an impossible decision to make. The tug-of-war is an existential struggle between duty and the desire for his family to be safe. Does duty weigh heavier on the obligations of an aspiring young ruler than blood? This scenario of conflicting interests leaving Arjuna in an ethical stalemate has become known as Arjuna’s Dilemma.  

How does our hero break out of his moral conundrum? The young prince receives sage advice from an unlikely source. Little does Arjuna know that his charioteer is the Hindu deity Krishna and had been observing his struggling with having to kill his friends in family in combat. The wise god explains to the prince that duty supersedes everything else even familial ties. Arjuna’s duty is to his subjects. To passively allow a violent civil-war to transpire without properly defending his people, his title to rule; would be an abandonment of duty. It is important to note, that we should not be consumed by duty. The moment duty crosses the line to desire we are drifting away from wisdom and enlightenment. It could easily be surmised that duty isn’t converted into desire until duty is combined with ambition. At that point, our “pursuit” of duty is more of self-serving objective than fulfilling a moral obligation. Whether we are being motivated by material gain, vanity, or another self-centered purpose. The excessive drive to fulfill duty generally indicates our endeavor is beyond the scope of our societal obligations.

Aspects of this allegory may not apply to every time in history or every culture, it still conveys a universal message that applies to humanity. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be consumed by work. Yes, we have a duty to ourselves and our families to be self-supporting. However, when we allow our work-life balance to become skewed towards work, we are starting to allow ourselves to be consumed by duty.  It may be the prestige of being an employee of the quarter or the dangling carrot that is the empty promise of promotion. Often these goals are beyond the reach of our immediate duty. Typically, these aspirations are outside of the realm of moral duty. Sure, we all want nice things. To own a nice house, the white picket fence, the American Dream.

There is nothing wrong with desiring to have a comfortable life from a material standpoint. However, what everyone needs to assess is what are we sacrificing to make this happen? In a circuitous manner, this what Krishna articulated to Arjuna. Adhering to your duty is a natural safeguard that prevents you from being commandeered by your desires. A normative limitation that keeps us in check. Focusing on duty, rather than wealth or esteem, keeps us grounded. Like all things in life, there is a balance. If you are working so many hours that you barely see your family. You are potentially abdicating your duty to your family. While you do need to provide financial support to them, they also require your intangible support as well. Including emotional support. Having a worldview that considers duty keeps us grounded and focused on what is important versus being led astray by distractions. When our ambitions become our focal point, we end up levitating towards the end of the duty fulfillment bell curve. Just as much as having a lack of motivation and succumbing to sloth is a failure to fulfill our duty. It is a vice that happens to be on the opposite of the distribution as excessive ambition. Nevertheless, two sides of the same coin.

A Free-Market Approach to Wolf Restoration

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Environmentalism and free-market economics have long been viewed as being adversarial. The very notion of combining these two ideas seem like nothing more than an oxymoron. This popularly perpetuated stereotype is echoed in the rhetoric of the Green New Deal. Why should conservation efforts not be guided by the signals of profit and loss mechanisms? Better yet, why should conservation efforts be insensitive to incentives and rely solely on legislative fiat and sanctions to enforce such initiatives? It is about time that environmentalism sheds its crunchy -granola image in exchange for more of a pragmatic approach. After all, conservation does entail conserving resources. Any economically conscious actor would consider the limitations on nonrenewable resources. Meaning that economic agents would strive for the more efficient use of resources of limited quantities. Efficient uses of resources tend to be rewarded in free-market economics. Ironically demonstrating how environmental conservation and free-market economics dovetails perfectly to one another.

One of the most notable leaders in market-based environmentalism has been PERC.  Founded in Bozeman, Montana back in 1980 and has been committed to devising economically sound solutions to environmental issues. All the while, respecting private property rights. This research institute flips the conventional notion of environmentalism on its head. Seeking to pursue private solutions to environmental versus automatically resorting to legislation and regulation. One of Terry Anderson’s, a senior fellow at PERC, favorite examples of this was the story of Hank Fisher. A leader in the wolf restoration effort in the 1980s.

Fisher came to an epiphany in 1984, after meeting with a group of local ranchers in a schoolhouse in St, Anthony, Idaho. Fisher assembled the ranchers to hear their concerns regarding wolf reintroduction at the Yellowstone national park.  The consensus was that the majority of the ranchers were concerned about the cost of losing livestock as a result of an increase in the wolf population. It was the response of one of the ranchers that solidified the foundation for Fisher’s market-based solution. One of the ranchers told Fisher: “It’s easy to be a wolf lover. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s the people who own livestock who end up paying for wolves.” Fisher then remembered a livestock compensation plan that was implemented previously in Minnesota. However, the ranchers were incredulous at the fact that they ever would be compensated for their losses.

In the summer of 1987, Fisher was able to test out the concept of a livestock compensation program in Montana. As wolves returned to northwestern Montana, local ranchers lost thousands of dollars’ worth of livestock. Killed by the wolves migrating back to their natural habitat. The indignation of the ranchers was reflected in the flurry of headlines in the local papers. Fisher quickly sent out a fundraising newsletter out to” ..Defenders of Wildlife members in Montana…”. He was able to raise the necessary funds to compensate the ranchers for their losses within 48 hours.  After seeing the success of his first initiative, Fisher decided to continue to implement and maintain rancher compensation programs.  He collaborated with local artist Monte Dolack creating posters depicting what Yellowstone would look like with a restored wolf population. Selling posters to the public for $30.00 apiece.  Since 1987 (reference article was published in 2001), the program has raised $175,000.00 in rancher compensation. The scope of the program has been extended to ranchers in Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico. Defenders of Wildlife also implemented a program in 1997, compensating for grizzly bear damages. Raising $60,000.00 by 2001.

The story of the environmental efforts of Hank Fisher is an illuminating one. Challenging the conventional wisdom that we need to dispense with free-market economics when pursuing environmental restoration efforts. Both are perfectly compatible with one another. With a little bit of ingenuity and understanding of market incentives, other aspiring pioneers could follow in his footsteps. By doing so create a win-win scenario versus the zero-sum policies that are favored in government-sanctioned penalties and inflexible regulations.   

The Storming of the Capitol

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the past forty-eight hours, you probably have heard about a mob of protestors storming the Capitol in Washington D.C. Since this incident transpired a multitude of commentators has expressed their thoughts on this event. Universally, the actions of the violent protestors (similar to the BLM protests not all the demonstrators were violent) have been condemned. Most pundits have been fixated with how objectionable this display of political discord was but ignoring the irony of the situation. The breach of the Capitol on Wednesday mirrors the events on inauguration day nearly four years ago. Sure we could argue that the magnitude of the violent demonstrations was larger on Wednesday than the riots of ANTIFA four years prior. It should also be noted that ANTIFA primarily targeted private businesses whereas QAnon has primarily gone after government institutions. Both occurrences mirror each other, almost in an oddly formed reciprocal loop.

The arc of this political drama being Donald Trump losing reelection. On inauguration day in 2017, the extreme socialists opposing his presidency resorted to destroying private property to express their indignation. A presidential term later, Trump’s most extreme supports ended up using similar violent tactics to express their angst regarding the purported mishandling of the 2020 election. This shift in vicissitudes for Trump supporters is dripping with irony. Trump supporters are making all the same accusations about the 2020 election that the Democrats did back in 2016 when Trump was elected. Nothing is more fitting than seeing the right-wing equivalent of ANTIFA have a meltdown, a tantrum, over the election results. All of Trump’s most extreme supporters are equally triggered as all the socialists were when he assumed office. It is perplexing that no one else seems to be assumed by this irony. An irony that anyone with a dog in the fight is too obtuse to recognize. Due to the fact they either have an invested interest in backing or tearing down Trump.

From a superficial standpoint, this appears to give some credence to the notion of the Horseshoe Theory of Politics. Succinctly it can be described as the far-right and the far-left qualitatively have more in commonalities than differences. For example, both have a proclivity toward authoritarianism. This theory provides some insights into why Trump assuming office and leaving office has elicited such reactionary responses. Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises implies the veracity of the Horseshoe Theory through his conception of Polylogism. Polylogism is essentially the assumption that people from different categorical groups reason differently (p.75). Left-wing socialists tend to base their assumption of all people of the same social class possessing the same mentality. Making it easier to condemn the rich as immoral. Right-wing social (Fascism) similarly divides people. Except by ethnicity instead of socio-economic status. It would be sloppy to suggest that QAnon is overtly a fascist organization. It does seem like it is merely the inverted version of ANTIFA with a right-wing ethos. Surprise, surprise… if this group is nothing more than the conservative version of ANTIFA why would we expect them to be peaceful (not that the violence was justified, it is only permissible in self-defense)?

This is truly irksome that these parallels are lost on the general public. Most people are too fixated on either the atrocity of the protest gone awry or attempting to distance themselves from being associated with the violent protestors. ANIFTA and QAnon are two sides of the same coin.

Corporations Should Stay Out of the Politics of Vaccines

Today I received the above e-mail at work from the main corporate office. I am generally a proponent of vaccines. However, I do not favor compulsory vaccination mandates. Especially mandates for vaccines that have undergone minimal testing and research. Granted, this message is offering a friendly suggestion more so than a mandate. Even if it was a mandate, it is well with the right of a company operating in the private sector to require their employees to get vaccinated. I do not care for the overall tone of this message. It bad enough, this company shoves all the faux-diversity nonsense down our throats daily. It isn’t a sincere effort to foster more tolerance, but rather a calculated CYA move to divert any accusations of generating a hostile work environment.

I no longer view this suggestion from corporate as being within the prerogative of a private company. They have already dipped their toe into the muddy pool of politics. Operate as a mouthpiece for the virtues of unscrupulous advocacy of wanton political correctness. So yes, I am certainly questioning the motives of this “friendly” suggestion. Unfortunately, everything has become politicized. Even the fields of science and medicine.

Bryan Caplan on Time Preference

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In a 2005 blog entry from economist and George Mason professor, Bryan Caplan disputes the veracity of time preference proving why interest rates tend to be positive. Time preference asserts that people prefer present consumption over future consumption. Providing some insight into why people would be willing to receive money now and later pay it back with interest. From the standpoint of an individual’s assessment of value, $1000.00 today is worth more than $1000.00 three months from now. Dr. Caplan launches a two-pronged attack against the assumption that time preference explains why interest rates are positive. Caplan suggests that dimmishing marginal utlity, not time preference demonstrates the proclivity of interest rates being positive.

Professor Caplan’s first point regarding the failure of time preference to adequately explain positive interest rates relates to the allocation of nonmonetary resources. He details a scenario where an individual is marooned on a desert island with only two bananas. Per a loose application of time preference, in theory, the person stuck on the island would eat both bananas today. Since we prefer present consumption to future consumption. A “perfectly patient” person would be willing to eat only one banana a day to more effectively curb their hunger. This is because we disvalue hunger today equally as much as we do tomorrow. Making dividing consumption between the two days a more effective use of resources.

Caplan goes further elucidates this point by demonstrating the fact that often in barter interest rates are negative. Per the blog entry:

“Suppose we knew the price of food would double next year. Then a pound of food now trades for half a pound of food one year from now. Translation: a negative 50% interest rate!

If this seems crazy to you, suppose the food was the only commodity, and you expect a famine next year. Wouldn’t you happily trade 2 pounds of current food in exchange for a promissory note good for 1 pound of food next year?”

This example explicates depending on the context we may forgo present consumption for future consumption. Even when we are expected to take a loss on the value of that commodity. This foils the main tenants of time preference. If we were to delay current consumption for future consumption we tend to do so for future gain. To quote the Austrian economist Roger Garrison “ We save up for something”. We hang on to stocks, gold, annuities, bonds, or cash holdings with the anticipation they will increase in value. It is important to note that inflation does take its toll on cash holdings. In the mind of the average person, it is more about amassing large quantities of money than an expected increase in value. Per time preference, if we did anticipate no gain from delaying consumption, we would be more apt to consume now than take the loss. However, in the situation presented by Dr. Caplan, it may be reasonable that a logical person may do the opposite. The rationale why loans for money tend to be positive is the fact that money does not spoil and is of little cost to store.

The second prong of Professor Caplan’s argument is the most compelling. In modern society, people have the ex-ante perception that they will be richer in the future. Anticipating being wealthier at a later date will drive a person’s demand for consumption up for the present. As the individual exhausts their desire to consume, the hope is that they have more money to pay back the sum that was loaned with interest.  That is certainly a point that the Austrian perspective on interest rates ignores. Is it possible that if we excepted to get a raise in our compensation next year, we are more apt to spend more now and around the time we start to experience the disutility of consumption we experience a bump in pay?   This is a very likely scenario.  Presents arguably the biggest blind spot in the theory of time preference.

However, there is one looming question that Dr. Caplan does sidestep in his arguments. Few sane economists would ever argue that the law of diminishing marginal utility doesn’t apply to consumer behavior. But are we truly measuring the utility of the same commodities if we delay present consumption?  Our Christmas decorations three weeks before December 25th the same commodity as these same decorations on the clearance rack the first week of January?  It could be reasonable to argue no. While diminishing marginal utility could explain this decrease in demand, but it fails to consider the full scope of the customer’s subjective evaluation of the goods. The marginal utility can only explain the assessment of the value of a commodity. It cannot explain if the customer perceives the good as being categorically different. The variable of time could very well influence whether Christmas decorations now or a month ago are truly the same product. Applying this reasoning to interest rates, this point becomes quite clear. Is $1000.00 today plus avoiding a late payment on a credit card the same as $1,000.00 next week? Especially when we consider late fees, damage to our credit score, etc. On top of it, you still owe the credit card company $1,000.00.  It is difficult to quantify the intrinsic value of having a clear credit score. $1,000.00 plus interest may be worth more to the individual than taking a hit on their credit score.

Sometimes It Is Easier to Be Ignorant

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Arguably one of the most famous quotes attributed to Socrates is “The unexamined life is not worth living”. It is the type of quote we have grown to expect from such as deep and contemplative thinker. Is this truly the best advice for the average person? Not that I would ever veer into the territory of philistinism, but is every aspect of life worth examining? Better yet, are such intellectual endeavors even productive for the average person?  I would argue no. Not because I seek to celebrate ignorance, nor do I lack faith in the intellectual capacity of my friends and neighbors. Sometimes knowledge is more trouble than it is worth. Everyone is familiar with the colloquialism “curiosity killed the cat”. As simplistic and folksy as that old saying might be. It does contain a grain of truth. In the pursuit of knowledge, we risk becoming jaded and overwhelmed by some of the more unpleasant aspects of reality.

Do you remember the disappointment you felt we discovered Santa Clause wasn’t real? Even worse, your parents’ marriage was nothing more than a sham? These examples may seem trivial but applied to grander questions they can make someone very skeptical. Skeptical to such an extent it brings them to the brink of an existential crisis. If you have devoted your life to political activism and you come across a few Public Choice articles regarding voting, you will grapple with your sense of identity. Being told that your vote carrying any weight is nothing more than an illusion is difficult to pill to swallow. Especially much of your sense of self and principles are derived from believing you have sway over political issues. Therefore, it isn’t necessarily prudent to want to dissect all of the mysteries of the universe. Even if it is a lie, sometimes that one lie is what helps people cope with the difficulties of life.

Looking too deeply into an issue is generally counterproductive at most jobs. The ability to extrapolated basic logic is generally rewarded. To overthink an issue, will cost your employer and customer time and money. Utilizing reason to more efficiently perform a task is conducive to being a “good employee”. Pondering the large philosophical questions at work eats into productivity. Also, getting so philosophical that you question the entire veracity of the enterprise of your employer’s goals or metrics will not win you any friends. Overtly questioning your superior’s decisions in Socratic prose will award you with some unfortunate adversaries. Speaking of friends, you will not be making very many. Most of your co-workers will think you are weird for not accepting the prima facie assumptions of our world. In most cases, avoid you like the plague. For all the philosophy majors currently working retail, at call centers, offices, etc. I feel for you. Your love of wisdom and truth can effectively alienates you from your peers.

Outside of the pursuit of knowledge destroying your coveted illusions and making you something of a misfit, is another issue, you can never put the genie back in the bottle. Once you have seen the truth, it might be enlightening, but you never look at the world the same way again. I do not personally subscribe to the new-age movement, but many who do talking about opening their third-eye. In most instances, these individuals will tell you don’t open your third-eye if you like your life the way it is. Why?  Once you have become enlightened, it is a point of no return. You can’t unlearn the secrets of the universe. You will never enjoy the pleasures of binge-watching reality television after a bad day at work if you have learned it is nothing more than a farce. Speaking of your job, the stable nine to five, you might want to quit your job because you figure out it is pointless. Decided to take on the risk of becoming an entrepreneur in an attempt to find a meaningful vocation. This is a lot of disruption for one person, especially if they are more than content with keeping the status quo intact.

I have never attempted to open my third-eye. However, I love to study philosophy and political economy. Once you have opened Pandora’s box of uncommon knowledge you will begin to crave it. Much like tapping into a deeper sense of consciousness, you can never see the world the same way again. Leading to some conflicts. I find it more and more difficult to care about my day job. I am a proponent of capitalism and all, however, I know there are better ways to make a living. I will never have the same work ethic I had before my independent study of the large questions. It was much easier to keep my nose down and get my job done back when I was ignorant. Demonstrating that it can be maladaptive for some people to reflect upon vast questions such as the quiddity of existence.

The process of seeking wisdom is never easy. Whether the actual pursuit is what makes a man weary or it’s the consequence of not being able to cherry-pick the pleasant truths from the unpleasant ones. This is why it can sometimes be a lonely path. For those who are inclined to take up the challenge, it is the only path. Despite the downsides of pursuing truth, knowledge, and wisdom in an imprudent world, for some, this is their only true calling. They are the ones who seek daylight when everyone else opts to remain in the cave. It is important to remember that pursuing truth does have its pitfall beyond misconstruing it. One excerpt from Plato’s Republic that encapsulates this point beautifully. It was about Socrates’ telling of the Allegory of the Cave in the book:  

            Therefore, even if a person should compel him to look to the light

            Itself, would he not have the pain in his eyes and shun it, and then,

            turning what he really could behold, reckon these as really more clear

            than what had been previously pointed out? (p.235).

That is it. The truth can be inconvenient. The truth could even unravel the very fabric of our being. Especially if it is predicated upon a false sense of identity or a flimsy house of cards built upon numerous lies. Much like almost all of the other cave dwellers in Socratic allegory chose to ignore the truth. Most of society elects to do the same. Similar to the discomfort experienced when our eyes adjust to direct sunlight, it can also be uncomfortable to be confronted with the unadulterated truth.

The 2020 Coin Shortage Explained

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One of the biggest mysteries of 2020 was the change shortage. Why were so many retailers requesting that patrons either use a card or have exact change? Many of us were puzzled by these signs that have become a common fixture of many checkout lines across the nation. What is the explanation for such a monetary phenomenon?  Within my nearly thirty-two years on this planet, I have never been requested by a brick-and-mortar vendor to have exact change. However, in the era of COVID-19, there are many strange things are happening. Never mind the change shortage, a few months back the United States was grappling with a toilet paper shortage. One commodity nearly everyone has taken for granted.

As one could predict, the national coin shortage is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This calamity of a coin shortage can be linked back to the precautions taken to limit the spread of the virus. The shelter-in-place orders resulted in the shutdown of many stores and restaurants. Resulting in an overall lull in economic activity.  In other words, the cash registers of many retail outlets were not be replenished by circulating cash (include metal coins). Some may surmise that due to the uncertainty of pandemic many people may opt to hold cash balances. Coins generally are circulated throughout the economy through bank deposits and are recirculated back to banking customers through the change provided by retail stores and restaurants. Per the U.S. mint, 83 % of the coin supply is recirculated through stores and third-party coin processors.

The downturn in economic activity during the shutdown left only meager coin reserves in the cash registers of American stores. Meaning that once stores reopened, they would quickly exhaust their coin supplies. This was only compounded by the fact that the banks could not fulfill the retail demand for coins due to fewer customers depositing them. The mint falling behind on coin production left retailers had no other option but to request that customers either pay by a card or exact change.

Romeo and Juliet – A Story About Wanting What We Can’t Have

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After watching the documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth V. Michelle Carter I came to a fairly superficial conclusion. I initially chose to watch this HBO mini-series for potential legal analysis. I plan to address those concerns in a later blog entry. Oddly, from a legal standpoint, this case is quite interesting. There wasn’t any previous case precedence in Massachusetts state history. Making this case one that explores uncharted waters.  However, my observations are not about the legal facts of the case.

Conrad Roy III and Michelle Carter were two Massachusetts teens who had a highly toxic and co-dependent relationship. Both suffering from various forms of mental illness. Carter lived in a quasi-fantasyland. Blurring the line between romantic comedies and dramas with her relationship with Roy. Drawing parallels between their relationship and the ebbs-and-flows of numerous works of fiction. Even drifting down the perverse road of suicidal ideation. Hence, here aggressive attempts to coax Roy into killing himself. Carter almost took glee in the concept of the attention she would receive in the climatic event that Roy or Roy and herself had committed suicide. Her vision of being showered in attention was almost like a linear plot twist in play. The act of Roy killing himself was the divine Deus ex Machina to free him from the deepest depth of depression. Having the potential to satisfy the psychological pathology of both teens.

In one text message string, Carter details the romanticized depiction of the climatic end of Shakespeare’s Rome and Juliet. As we all, know both of the star-crossed teens end up dying in the end. Lying dead, right next to one another in the ultimate display of catharsis. Demonstrating to the quarreling families how petty their disputes truly were. It would be quite likely Carter saw some highly embellished similarities between the protagonists of the play and her relationship. Upon the documentary reviewing this string of text messages, my mind began to wander. I started to realize that the story of Romeo and Juliet if we strip all the emotional entrapment of romance is nothing more than an extended narrative detailing the Forbidden Fruit Effect. This phenomenon is also known as the Paradox of Temptation. Essentially, we desire what we cannot have.

This has economized instances of prohibited commodities. This principle is not confined merely to the illicit drug trade. During the cigar boom of the late-1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. demand for Cuban cigars skyrocket. To the extent that there was a major slump in quality. The one centralized tobacco producer for Cuba had to resort to using green tobacco and inferior quality control procedures to keep up with demand. It should be noted that the United States has had a trade embargo with Cuban since 1962. It’s hard to believe that much of the mystique of Cuban cigars to Americans isn’t influenced by them is a restricted product. We have seen a similar phenomenon with the legalization of recreational marijuana. What has been referred to as the “Green Rush”. A surge of sales for a product that has been legal and demonized in America for decades, that is now finally legal. To the naïve Cannabis user, the mystery behind its pharmacologic effects is enough of a draw to purchase Marijuana-related products. Would this romanticized image exist to the same capacity if Marijuana use was as ubiquitous as drinking beer? Most likely not. Most of the buzz and hype is levitating around pot because we have treated it as an unholy and deplorable vice for so long. Has only recently become fashionable (in the mainstream sense).

The story of Romeo and Juliet is if reduced to its most base level, a story about wanting what you can’t have. Due to the fact we steeped the narrative in a cloak of riveting romanticism, we forget that this isn’t purely a love store. Would Juliet be as appealing to Romeo if she was a member of a rival family? Couldn’t the same be said for Romeo? Granted, most of these pointed questions are a mix of a priori reasoning and loose conjecture. However, considering the flaws of human nature and the unfortunate fact we are attracted to what we can’t have. Analogous to a moth witlessly fly towards a flame. This seems to be an enduring characteristic of the human condition. Doesn’t matter whether it is two lustful teenagers in the Shakespearean-era or a 1920s Flapper enjoying an illicit gin-and-tonic. We want what we can’t have. Getting beyond the compelling drama of the vibrant and rebellious love affair between two teens, what are we left with? An engaging allegory fixated on desire. The drawbacks of pursuing everything we desire to possess.

The Paradox of Coupons

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Do coupons help us save money? This very question may seem counterintuitive, but it is one worth entertaining. Coupons certainly help us save money if they are for purchases that were planned expenses. Such as regularly purchased necessities, for example, a coupon for broccoli at the local grocery store. A nutritious food item that is frequently purchased by Mr. Jones. In this instance, it would be awfully difficult to argue against the fact that Mr. Jones is saving money through using a coupon. The same could also be applicable for luxury items that are planned expenses. Let’s say Mr. Jones takes his wife out to dinner every third Thursday of the month. Mr. Jones and his wife dine regularly at the same chain-restaurant every month. Mr. Jones finds a coupon in the local paper for 25% off his next meal for this very same eatery. Even though dining in a restaurant is not a necessity Jones is still saving money because this luxury was a planned expense. He is not going out of his way to obtain a product or service he hasn’t budgeted for.

So when does use a coupon or taking advantage of a sale not result in the patron saving money? It should be stated that there is a lot of subtlety and nuance in addressing this question. From a prima facie standpoint, using a coupon always results in savings. Why? Because the customer is receiving a discounted price on the specified product or service. This superficial assumption only analyzes one single transaction. If we are assessing Mr. Jones’s total finances on the hyper-microlevel, then yes, he has saved money by using a coupon. However,  the thin line distinguishing between a budgeted purchase and an impulsive one is where the difference truly lies. The discount provided by a coupon saves money on a single purchase. If the customer goes out of their way to purchase an impulse item that was not planned for they are not genuinely saving any money. Perhaps they are on a single transaction. The allure of saving money with no consideration given to whether they want or need the product or service is not conducive to the overall conservation of money. The individual who is a spendthrift is still spending money recklessly even if they are saving a few dollars on a single transaction. The real metric that measures true savings is the comparison of typical spending to average income. If an individual can retain more of their income and curtail their previous consumption habits, they are truly saving money. The intentions behind clipping coupons are thwarted if it leads to an increase in overall consumption.

How we are seduced by the opportunity to save money even on frivolous purchases has deeper psychological implications than being the victim of an illusion or flawed logic. For some people, they get a dopamine hit when they are hunting down a deal. Mirroring the same neurochemical reaction that a gambler experience when they allow their ex-ante perceptions to override their better judgment. As they dispense with probability as they continue to feed quarters into the slot machine. Making these deal hunters as much of a slave to the reward centers of the human brain as a junkie or gambling addict.

There is another explanation providing some insights into why we are often overvaluing the benefit of coupons. That would be the theory of Time Preference. Per the Austrian School of Economics,  Time Preference is the immutable fact that people value present consumption over future consumption. The  Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk applied this concept of valuing present consumption over future consumption to interest rates. Bohm-Barwerk postulated that people are willing to pay interest to obtain access to present goods for two reasons. For one, they anticipate having more income in the future.  Also, the perceived value of a good tends to diminish over time. Through considering these two variables Bohm-Barwerk added a temporal element to the economic theory of interest.  When time plays a factor in how people assess the value of goods and services it is fair to assume if you need to pay your mortgage tomorrow and happen to be $500.00 short you would be willing to pay more than the sum borrowed to have the money today. Meaning receiving that $500.00 today is worth more than the total sum loaned. It could be speculated that this is due to two factors. The fact that the individual receives the value of the money loaned plus the value of receiving itexpediently. The other factor isthat the individual receiving the loan enjoys the value of the $500.00 and the benefit of avoiding the penalties for making a late mortgage payment.

If the theory of time preference provides us with the precepts for understanding interest rates, how does this pertain to coupons? Time preference relates to coupons in the sense that sales, discounts, promotional codes, and coupons all influence our evaluation of goods. A coupon operates as a purported signal of a price reduction to the customer. If the customer perceives the value of the good or service to be higher than the discounted price, they will purchase it. Lowering the price of a commodity below market value makes the prospect of purchasing it more appealing to the customer. It could be argued that coupons can subjectively serve as a means of increasing an individual’s time preference. In other words, making them less apt to delay consumption and purchase the item that is on sale. Through lowering the price of a good it realigns the incentives of purchasing the item by providing a quantified value below the customer’s perception of expected value. Signaling to the customer that maybe that 12-pack of Guinness is worth pick-up from the grocery store. While $7.99 is an absolute steal. It is still $7.99 more than you had originally intended to spend. 

Privatization of Defense- Central Government. The Transaction Costs Reducer.

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Hat Tip to the Marginal Revolution Blog and the Prior Probability blog for referring me to the referenced article.

The privatization of defense services could hypothetically reduce the occurrence of military conflicts. This is achieved by realigning the incentives to engage in warfare by making the costs more evident to the taxpayer. The direct costs of war are generally obscured due to a lack of clarity of how tax dollars are allocated. Operating as a form of indirect fiscal illusion. Either by design or by the context of the broad and imprecise nature of public expenditures. If a would-be taxpayer could not transfer or distribute the costs of war to the collective contributions of the tax base, frivolous objectives such as “spreading” democracy would be off the table. Military action would shift from being offensive or even preemptive to being purely defensive. Whether defense services should be provided by the local neighborhood watch or a private corporation is another matter.

There is some historical evidence suggesting that eliminating a mechanism for distributing the costs of violent conflicts makes them less apt to transpire. Per a recent paper written by Rosolino  Candela, and Vincent Geloso the French settlers of the  Bay of Fundy had virtually no violent conflicts with the Mi’kmaq tribe. Why?  The European settlers of the 18th century known as, Acaridans, had to directly bare the costs of violent conflicts. Since they received little institutional or financial support from the mother country. Having adopted informal decision-making procedures, living along aside the Mi’kmaq, they lived in a state of near-anarchy (Candelaa & Geloso, 2020, p.3-4). Providing some credence to the inference that a strong central government operates as a mechanism for reducing the transaction costs of armed conflicts. Skewing the incentives of constituents to be more lackadaisical towards the costs of unnecessary military campaigns. Often reducing transaction costs is viewed as being a positive economic development in this case it is not. The evolution of the robust warfare state in the U.S. has amounted to profligate spending, a treacherously hazardous foreign policy, the growth of government, and ample opportunities for rent-seeking.

The Acadians received virtually no support from the homeland. Outside of a “symbolic” tax that was only sporadically collected by officials, they were primarily left to their own devices (Candelaa & Geloso, 2020, p.3). Leaving the settlers able to only rely on local militias to provide the defense of the colony. Leaving the “…costs of using violence would be concentrated on the beneficiaries themselves and could not be passed on to wider groups..” (Candelaa & Geloso, 2020, p.10). Through the colonists and the natives having to fully bare the costs of violent conflict, this was one of several factors that prevented the development of interest groups (Candelaa & Geloso, 2020, p.16). Stifling the potential for wartime profiteering by removing the incentives to fabricate needless conflicts for the sake of drumming up business.

While there may be contextual characteristics that do not apply to modern times. It should be noted that a highly centralized government does have an impact on the frequency of war. Through disbursing the costs across a large number of taxpayers, the true costs of military intervention are obscured. Hence why for the Acadians, the lack of financial and military support from the motherland shifted incentives away from violent forms of conflict resolution. Making it plausible to surmise that having a centralized government is what makes war so easy to initiate. It acts as the middle-man connecting constituents with service providers (the military). Alone, a centralized government reduces the costs of coordinating complex military campaigns.  Never mind the fact that it collectively distributes the costs of the capital required for military conflicts. To truly demonstrate this point, consider the highly extravagant cost of a private citizen purchasing a tank or a submarine. Individually most people could not afford to purchase the instruments of sophisticated warfare. Combing the fact that a central government obscures the direct costs of war and provides the institutions that make the coordination efforts of armed conflict more efficient, it shouldn’t be a mystery why the size and scope of military conflicts have now become global. Providing some firm insights as to why the Acadians preferred the bargaining table to the sword in resolving conflicts with the Mi’kmaq.

Native Americans Did Believe in Property Rights- Part III: Recognition of Property Rights

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Part I

Part II

It is well established at this point that the notion of Native American tribes not observing property rights is a misconception on the part of European settlers. Various tribes throughout continental North America have recognized individual property rights in several diverse ways. Historically, American Tribes have acknowledged an informal version of Tort Law. Signifying that native tribal societies held property in high regard. If a culture did not value personal property, there would not be any (whether centralized or decentralized) institutions requiring restitution for damaged property or bodily harm. That alone dispels the conventional wisdom that all tribes rejected the prospect of material ownership. Reducing this enduring fallacy to nothing more than an erroneous interpretation of Native American History.

Depending on the tribal nation, some subsets of natives had surprisingly sophisticated laws protecting individual property rights. Ranging from mutually acknowledged hunting rights to even intellectual property. None of these protected rights would exist in societies that subscribed to the norms of all ownership being communal. Reinforcing the fact that the common perception that rights such as individual landownership being European invention is nothing more than a myth. A one-dimensional caricature of the true reality of the history and culture of the ingenious tribes of the United States.

Intellectual Property

Some of the tribes residing in the Pacific Northwest and California possessed ownership of intellectual property. This was generally observed among shamans practicing within the northwestern region of the United States. Intangible commodities such as “… songs, dances, stories, legends, and curing ritual…” were owned by individual shamans. Unless these trademarked forms of verbal communication were passed down to an apprentice they typically were no longer used once the shaman had passed away (Bobroff, 2001, P.1590)[9]. The preservation of a right to exclusive use of songs, stories, and performances minors of modern-day entertainers Not to trivialize the religious rites of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest, but the copyright laws protecting songwriters and authors are probably the closets modern analog. One only needs to look back a few decades to the whole Napster controversy to see the parallels [10]. There have also been more recent intellectual property disputes, few as ubiquitous in the mind of the lay public than as the peer-to-peer file sharing fiasco of the late-1990s. Demonstrating precisely how advanced the nature of ownership in the tribes of the pacific northwest. These were societies that not only valued protecting the right to own physical property but also the right to own intangible property.

The intellectual property extended beyond communication-related to religious rights. Individual families possessed ownership of “… carvings, paintings, and crests..” related to their lineage (Bobroff, 2001, P.1590)[9]. Transgressing against these acknowledged property rights resulted in server consequences. Violating the “copyright” ownership of a family symbol was perceived as being equal to engaging in a violent act (Bobroff, 2001, P.1590)[9]. Making it unquestionably evident that preserving intellectual property was of high priority.

Hunting Rights/ Land Tenure

Another form of informal property rights that have been historically acknowledged by native tribes have been hunting rights. In some instances, private hunting grounds. Similar rules were formulated regarding fishing rights. The aim of these “customary rules” was oriented towards preventing resource depletion (Yandle, 1998, p.44) [11]. Decentralized arrangements to manage CPRs are compatible with traditions of strong property rights. However, instances of customs that support exclusive use of hunting grounds provide more substantial evidence of a robust system of property rights. Informal resource management can still be done under a quasi-communalistic basis.

Private hunting rights were best exemplified by the practices of the northern Algonquian tribe. These rights were held for individual families and were generally delineated by salient geographic landmarks. Such as specific thickets of woodlands or bodies of water (Bobroff, 2001, p.1575) [9]. The exclusivity of these territories was transferred by inheritance. Rules were promulgated to enforce punishment for trespassing or collection of furs by “non-owners” water (Bobroff, 2001, p.1575) [9]. Per anthropological research, tribal members would even transfer ownership of land as a gift (Bobroff, 2001, p.1576) [9]. For the coast Algonquian tribe members, their systems of land ownership only became more solidified after contact with European settlers. Due to the circumstances of the flourishing fur trade (Bobroff, 2001, p.1577) [9]. The existence of private hunting grounds gives us a perspective on the Algonquian tribe’s perspective on land tenure. The land is passed down through familial ties isn’t a foreign concept in European law. Paralleling the commonly held tradition in Europe of inheritance serving as a mechanism for transferring property.  

Adjudication of Property Rights

The Yurok tribe of California held property rights in high esteem. Even associated property ownership with social prestige (Benson, 1991, p.50) [7]. It can only be expected that the centers for decision-making within the tribe would strive to protect the property right of its tribal members. The tribe had a system of compensation for damaged property. Paralleling the English Common Law tradition of Tort law. For instance, if an individual used another person’s canoe and damaged it they would be held liable for compensating the owner for the damages (Benson, 1991, p.50) [7]. If a service provider fails to provide a promised service to a patron they were required to pay the customer restitution(Benson, 1991, p.50) [7]. The Yurok people did not settle property disputes with a centralized government but rather with a set of “sweathouses”. Groups of tribal members were tasked with settling disputes. Proceeding against the offender was arranged by the sweathouse and the victim. (Benson, 1991, p.52) [7].The victim did not have the right to seek extrajudicial forms of restitution outside of the group’s judgment. (Benson, 1991, p.52) [7]. The defendant would have the ability to obtain representation against the accuser in the cross-judgment (Benson, 199, p.52) [7].

If damages were due to the plaintiff the defendant was expected to pay back the sum indicated verdict of the proceedings. If the accused could not, they became the “wage-slave” of the accuser (Benson, 199, p.53) [7]. Per the economist Bruce L. Benson the Yurok  “model” for private-law held the below six characteristics:

“… These features are: (1) rules of conduct which emphasized a predominant concern for individual rights and private property; (2) the responsibility of law enforcement falling to the victim backed by reciprocal arrangements for protection and support when evolved to the level described above, but this homogeneity had to develop in conjunction with an evolving process of interaction and reciprocity facilitated by customary law. 15~egalsystems all over the world have, at one time or another, been characterizable in the same way that the Indian systems discussed above were characterized. Some anthropologists and legal scholars distinguish between “stages” of legal development, for instance, and would put such customary systems in one or more of the stages occurring before centralization of political power and formal institutions of government arise (e.g., Malinowski 1926; Diamond 1950). Also see note 14 above in this regard, as well as Benson (1988; 1989a). 56 The Review of Austrian Economics, Vol. 5, No. 1 a dispute arose; (3) standard adjudicative procedures established to avoid violent forms of dispute resolution; (4) offenses treated as torts punishable by economic payments in restitution; (5)strong incentives to yield to prescribed punishment when guilty of an offense due to the reciprocally established threat of social ostracism which led to physical retribution; and (6) legal change arising through an evolutionary process of developing customs and norms…”( Benson, 1991, p.54-55) [7].

Citations

  1. GALBRAITH, CRAIG S., RODRIGUEZ, CARLOS L., STILES, CURT H. EDITED BY ANDERSON, TERRY L., BENSON, BRUCE L.,  FLANAGAN, THOMAS G. Self-Determination THE OTHER PATH FOR NATIVE AMERICANS (2006). STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. Page 19.
  2. CARPENTER, KRISTEN A. & RILEY, ANGELA R.  Privatizing the Reservation? (2019). The UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO. Pages 13-16, 21.
  3. https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/mystery-capitalRetrieved November 17th, 2020.
  4. CANBY JR., WILLIAM C. American Indian Law: In a Nutshell 2nd edition. (1989). WEST GROUP PUBLISHING. Pages 19-21.
  5. FERNANDES, EDESIO. The Influence of de Soto’s The Mystery of Capital. (2002). LINCOLN INSTITUTE OF LAND POLICY. Page 6.

6.  Anderson, Terry L. Conservation—Native American Style. PERC Policy Series Issue Number PS-6. (1996). PERC. P. 1-2.

7. Benson, Bruce L. An Evolutionary Contractarian View of Primitive Law: The Institutions and Incentives Arising Under Customary Indian Law. The Review of Austrian Economics. Vol. 5. No.1. (1991). Ludwig Von Mises Institute.

8. http://fee.org/article/our-first-thanksgiving/  retrieved 11/23/2020.

9. Bobroff, Kenneth H. Retelling Allotment: Indian Property Rights and the Myth of Common Ownership. Vanderbilt Law Review.         Vol 54. Issue 4. (2001).

10. https://www.wired.com/2009/12/1207riaa-sues-napster/. Retrieved 12/21/2020.

11. Yandle, Bruce. Antitrust and the Commons Cooperation or Collusion? The Independent Review. Independent Institute. (1998).

Workplace Subsidies

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One form of rent-seeking that is prevalent in the political sphere is interest groups lobbying for subsidies. A subsidy is a sum of money or a  tax-deduction provided to a specific industry as a form of financial support. The agricultural sector is well known for having subsidies to incentive the production of specific varieties of produce. One common example is subsidies to corn producers.

One form of rent-seeking that everyone has witnessed is workplace rent-seeking. This is where an employee attempts to avoid work or embellish their value to the company. On a team meeting yesterday, it dawned on me the subsidy phenomenon happens at work as well.  I overheard a co-work with ten-years’ worth of experience complaining about their workload. This individual effectively reduced their workload through this publicly kvetching about how they were overwhelmed.

It came to me as clear as day, the Workplace Subsidy, the newest edition to the theory of workplace rent-seeking. It can be best defined as an employee seeking unjustified bonuses or unjustified relief from their workload.

Sarti V.. Salt Creek- The Death of the Minder Standard- Food Poisoning

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The legal precedence of Franke’s, Inc V. Bennett has not been completely resolute over the years.  Minder v. Cielito Lindo reinforced the standard of dismissing inferential evidence in food poisoning cases.  One case in California reviewed in the Late-2000’s Sarti V.. Salt Creek challenges this standard. In most instances, the burden of proof has been on the plaintiff. Evidence-based upon inferences and circumstantial evidence has generally failed to find foodservice providers liable for damages. We cannot attribute culpability for foodborne illness without causation. This is not to diminish the physical, psychological, and monetary costs that food-related infections impose on victims. Rather, nullifying evidence based on inferences makes the delivery of justice more balanced. Many could point to such jurisprudence and claim that it skewed towards shielding businesses. This is not the case. If the law is tilted towards victims there is no incentive to start a restaurant. Even based upon scant evidence you may be responsible for thousands, if not millions of dollars’ worth of damages. Most detrimental of all is the blighted reputation within the community. For a family-owned eatery is the kiss-of-death.

It is important to remember that most restaurants in America are small businesses. They cannot whether bad publicity or multi-million-dollar lawsuits. If an eatery was responsible for causing illness, it fair that they endure these costs. If not, it simply a miscarriage of justice. Especially when the illness could have been attributed to another source. Slanting the Scales-of-Justice is simply the opposite of a system that is biased towards business interest. Unfortunately, due to a significant amount of anti-market sentiment, many people would prefer a legal system that is stacked in favor of the victim. Justice requires balance. Molding the application of the law to the prejudices of the people is nothing more than judicial mob rule. Making the notion of justice something of a misnomer. Paralleling the flawed reasoning behind reverse-discrimination. It is still discrimination that is skewed towards the favor of a minority group.  Interpreting law in a manner that favors the victim over the business owner is injustice. Despite conventional wisdom.

The Sarti Case dates back to April 2005.  Alexis Sarti and a friend dined at the Salt Creek Grill. They split an appetizer that contained raw ahi tuna. Sarti developed nausea and chills the next day. Then for the next ten days suffered persistent chills, fever, and diarrhea. Twelve days later she could not move her legs and was taken into the intensive care unit. Where she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. After being tested it was confirmed that she was suffering from a Campylobacter infection. Campylobacter is a pathogen that is not associated with consuming raw tuna, making it likely that the appetizer Sarti ate was cross-contaminated with raw chicken. Sarti had a long recovery. Using a walker for eight-months after the incident. Only regaining forty percent of her previous stamina.

Sarti was awarded  $725,000 in economic damages and $2.5 million for her suffering by the jury’s verdict.  Less than a month after Sarti’s meal the Orange County Department of Health identified several practices by the eatery that could lead to cross-contamination. Despite the evidence implicating the restaurant, there was plenty of exculpatory factors that shed doubt upon Sarti’s illness originating from Salt Creek.

“…substantial evidence on which the jury could have found the restaurant not liable:  Sarti’s friend who split the appetizer did not get sick. The Salt Creek Grille takes great pains to separate its raw tuna from its raw chicken, including defrosting it in a different place in the walk-in freezer than where the chicken is stored, having the chef use a newly cleaned cutting board for the tuna, and preparing the tuna at the opposite end of the cook’s line from where the chicken is cooked.   Chicken is prepared in its separate room.   Different colored cutting boards are used for tuna and chicken, and the same chef does not prepare both items.   And Sarti herself worked as a supermarket checker the day she became ill, and could, at least in theory, have picked up campylobacter from a leaking bag of raw chicken she might have scanned.”

The judge found that there was enough evidence to avoid a JNOV. Meaning the judge found all of the evidence substantial enough to award damages. It’s important to note that this goes against past precedence. There is enough compelling evidence to doubt that source of the foodborne infection was not Salt Creek, but another possible source. Based upon the Minder ruling much of Satri’s case would be inadmissible. Yes, it is fair to award damages due to the severity of Satri’s illness. However, did the court direct liability to the correct party? If the depart of health did find Campylobacter bacterium on any of the surfaces of the Salt Creek kitchen, there wouldn’t be as much doubt. It’s the shadow of doubt cast on this case that makes it difficult to fully condone the court’s decision. It would be fair to argue that this a salient failure in Tort jurisprudence. The Minder/ Franke’s standard at least has a bulwark against the misapplication of liability. Stray from this variant of adjudication incentivizes the dishonest to engage in litigation for the intend of rent-extraction. For the honest, to attribute blame to the wrong culprit. This has the power to ruin lives. Something rarely considered in today’s litigious landscape.

Privatizing Defense- Reconnecting the Link Between War and War Time Spending

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The costs and externalities of engaging in military intervention are high. These costs are not limited to merely monetary expenditures. The price is also borne in the loss of life, productivity, civil liberties, economic freedoms, and so on. Historically, countries have long justified war efforts through comprehensive political campaigns. Demonizing the opposing regime and stressing the moral imperative of defeating the adversary. Propaganda campaigns can work wonders, persuading the masses that the armed conflict is a “just” war, but it is not the only variable at play. If the costs of going to war were more direct and salient to the public, constituents would be less apt to approve of military intervention abroad. In the decades since World War II, most of these campaigns have been more about nation-building than actually defending the United States and its allies. If the connection between the cost of war was more linear it would be reasonable to surmise American citizens would be screaming with indignation about the prospect of their tax dollars being used to “spread” democracy.

The question is how do we make the connection between the cost of war and military efforts more conspicuous to the taxpayer? A radical suggestion would be to privatize defense. To some extent, there is a lot of merit to this argument. There are also a lot of well-formulated objections. Any conventional application of Coase’s Theorem would like to view defense as a public service that cannot be provided by private firms. Due to ambiguity regarding property rights and the high transaction costs of providing defense services. The issue of unclear property rights is by far one of the strongest arguments against privatizing the production of defense services. Even as economist Chris Coyne points out in a recent paper, those free-rider problems are inevitable. In Coyne’s example, if missile defense services are provided to a city, one house that has opted out cannot be excluded from protection (Coyne & Goodman, 2019, p. 6). It was maybe inordinate to organize defense efforts on a national scale versus a regional threat. Example being when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. This threat was confined to a specific region of Ukraine versus Russia posing threat to the whole country (Coyne & Goodman, 2019, p.2).

Another flaw in the free-rider argument is even when defense is provided by the government there are still people who receive service without contributing. American citizens who evade taxes still receive the benefits of state-provided defense. The homeless and unemployed who also do not contribute to the tax pool also enjoy the benefits of defense provided by the United States. The problem becomes that free-riders exist regardless if defense is provided by the government or private firm.

All the counterarguments aside, if people could see on a monthly or quarterly basis how much they were spending on foreign wars, they would be less apt to be ambivalent about these military campaigns. This is a fact that is displayed in the ubiquitous Public Choice maxim of dispersed costs and concentrated benefits. No service provided by the government is “free”. This merely an illusion created by the distribution of the cost of government programs and services across many taxpayers. Typically, there is quite a bit of mystery surrounding how tax dollars are allocated. Unlike a private-sector invoice that is itemized, how much, and how it will be specifically used.  Epitomizing the phenomenon of fiscal illusion. Severing the link between government spending and taxation creates confusion. By keeping the taxpayers’ ignorant, various government departments have more fungibility with how tax dollars can be used. Side-stepping any potential for accountability. This applies to all government spending, even defense and military expenditures. By reestablishing this link between war and taxation, every-day citizens would be more apt to question the efficacy of sending the military to a third-world dictatorship to reinvent them as a liberal democracy.

Government officials cannot be trusted to help facilitate the process of reconnecting direct costs of war with the corresponding military campaign. Few congressmen would go along with this policy. On the off-chance, taxpayers did start receiving itemized expenditure reports, who is to say that they will not be falsified. The only viable option would be allowing private firms to provide military-grade defense services to civilians. Effectively allowing for private competition in the provision of defense services. That could include private defense clubs, neighborhood militias, HOA funded auxiliary defense agents, or even larger corporate firms providing similar services. Whether you are picking up a rifle to participate in the neighborhood militia or you are paying a monthly bill for a corporate defense firm, you have skin in the game. Either you are paying with your safety and time or you are paying monetarily. Both contingencies align incentives towards avoiding frivolous conflicts. No one wants to pay exorbitant rates to receive defense services that do not even directly benefit their safety. Nor does anyone want to risk their life over minor conflicts. Objectives such as nation-building or ideological indoctrination would be off the table. Due to the high costs of such endeavors, most people would be much more cautious about engaging in such conflict. Confining most uses of military force for self-defense rather than offensive objectives.