Liberty Camp question: Are you a criminal?

29 June 2009 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in crime | 5 Comments »

Today I discussed crime and punishment in my groups, pointing out the difference between moral crimes and crimes in law, and then offering also the suggestion that a change from a punishment model of crime control to one based around restitution is possible, desirable and likely to emerge in a truly free market.

Right near the beginning of the discussion, I asked group members to indicate if they were criminals, by raising their hands, and led off by sticking mine up first.

Eventually, and rather quickly, every hand went up.

There is honor among thieves, though the “thievery” in play here is of the legal kind, not the moral kind (think: mp3). This represents and opportunity for building community among libertarians, which is largely ignored by the mainstream libertarian movement.

Camp attendees who are following my blog are encouraged to read “The penalty is always death” (which I presented in abbreviated form in several sessions anyway), and the linked “Clown suit defense” articles.

  1. 5 Responses to “Liberty Camp question: Are you a criminal?”

  2. By Fivemileshigh on 30 June 2009

    Hey, what’s this liberty camp you’re talking about? Sounds interesting. Thanks.

  3. By Zefram Cochrane on 1 July 2009

    I am enjoying your blog, but I must ask:

    Why is stealing mp3s only legal thievery?

    Because you aren’t facing the person from whom you are stealing?

    Does the issuer of a product have the right to define the terms under which you buy it from him? Because most recording artists (or their contracting agents) have stated that they intend purchased mp3s to be used by the purchaser only, not spread to millions of anonymous “friends”.

    I used to download music when I was a kid, but could never reconcile how it was any different than stealing CDs from a record store, except that in the former case, the only one to stop me was myself. And isn’t that the essence of morality: still doing right when no one is looking?

  4. By Sunni on 4 July 2009

    @Fivemileshigh: Liberty English Camps are held mostly in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Africa. The aim is to give freedom-loving young people exposure to a wide range of ideas in liberty, while helping them strengthen their English skills—both formally and informally. Teachers usually are volunteers—unpaid in the monetary sense but probably every bit as rewarded as the students for their participation.

  5. By Martin Fick on 7 July 2010


    By copying mp3s you are not depriving anyone of their “real” property, only their “legal” property. Every copy of bits is a separate copy, it does not matter that the bits in my pc match the bits you authored, they are still my bits. Just because some state decides that numbers can be owned by someone does not make it ethical to own numbers (abstract ideas).

    The only justification for the concept of property is scarcity. Without scarcity, property is meaningless. Information is an abstract concept, it is not of the physical world, and while any representation of the abstract in the physical world can be ethically bound by property rights, the abstract itself cannot.

    Therefor, if I break into your house to copy your mp3, I have violated your property rights, but if you voluntarily let me view your mp3 long enough to copy it, you do not own the copy I make (remember the copy is implemented on my physical hardware). If not, you are saying the you would suddenly magically own my harddrive.

    One way to view it is to think about secrets. What sort of natural restrictions could one put on secrets? Answering this question in a free market way is the answer to your question.

    In a free market, it would likely be impossible to sell a secret such as “Mary likes John” and blankly claim that the recipient cannot further pass on this information after the sale? The only free market approach that would likely resemble this arrangement is a contract. But a free market contract would only be able to specify restrictions on the secret via compensation costs for contract infractions. These costs would not be arbitrary, they would have to be voluntarily agreed upon by both parties up front.

    Although such a contract might on the surface appear to be the same thing as copyright, it would actually be quite different. One clear difference would be that this contract would need to be explicitly and voluntarily entered by the parties involved. You could not simply broadcast a secret to the world and claim it to be a secret that everyone is now bound by! Also, if someone overhears a secret during other parties’ contract negotiations, the overhearer would not be bound by the negotiators’ contract.

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