A Conversation With David Friedman - part 3: Limitations of the NAP & Protecting the Unprotected

Conversation with Dr. David Friedman about some of the solutions and potential issues of anarcho-capitalism, as well as possible ways of advancing ideas of free society and turning them into reality.  Part 3: Limitations of the Non-aggression Principle (NAP) & Protecting the Unprotected.

Interview by Jadranko Brkic, Managing Director at Freedom and Prosperity TV: libertarian network of alternative media in Western Balkans.  Hong Kong, May 21st, 2014.

(see video at the bottom of transcript)

Transcript:

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

The non-agression principle is paramount to all anarcho-capitalists, whether the natural rights ones or the consequentialists ...

David Friedman:

I don't know. I think, an almost any really clearly strong stated principle is hard to defend. And that it's not clear how you defend aggression. That after all, if I trespass on your property with a giggawatt laser beam, I am clearly aggressing against you. Maybe burning you up. But what if I do it by turning on a flashlight? That how in principle do we draw a line between levels of interference with you or your property that count as aggression and once that don't, given that it's really continuous range, that you could say that if I could see the light in your house from my window, that proves that photons that you created have trespassed on my property so you are an aggressor. And nobody does do it that way. But that suggests I think why the non-aggression principle sounds better as rhetoric than as serious philosophy.

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

I was going to add onto this that it (NAP) does not hold water in every situation, such as life and death situation. Do you see this as perhaps a significant problem to the anarcho-capitalist theory?

David Friedman:

Well, but since that's not my, my political theory doesn't hold that it is central. But I would have said that it isn't really life and death that's the issue, I don't think. At least, to me. Suppose you say what if I could save my life by killing three other people? Suppose I need organ transplants, say. Many people would I think reasonably say, I would probably do it. But I would be wrong to do it.

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

But isn't that a life and death situation, in a way?

David Friedman:

It is a life and death situation. The point is that life and death situation is one where the stakes are so high that you will do something you think is wrong. But I think the harder problem is the case where you would do something that violated rights and not think it was wrong. Example I think that I gave in my book is: imagine that an asteroid was going to hit the Earth. And by some bizarre set of circumstances you could stop it. But only by stealing a nickel from somebody who was the rightful owner of the nickel. Or a device that will somehow stop the asteroid. That's an extreme case. I have other examples, but imagine a situation where a very small violation of rights will prevent a very large cost in human welfare. Another example I used is imagine that there is a mad man who's got a gun and is shooting a crowd, and the only way of stopping him was to grab a gun that belongs to somebody else and shoot him. And you happen to know that the person whom the gun belongs to would not give you permission. So you are violating his rights by taking his gun. But if you don't do that, the mad man will kill a bunch of people. Most of us would take the gun. So I think those are the hard cases. The hard cases for the non-aggression principle are the ones where you have the tradeoff between a very small violation of rights and a very large gain in other things that humans care about, such as saving human life. That is one of the reasons why I don't try to base my arguments on the non-aggression principle. And I would say in terms of my morality that violating rights is bad but it's not the only bad thing, that I'm not willing to violate your rights in order to get a moderate benefit for other people, but if a small violation of your rights gives a very large benefit in other terms I’d probably be willing to do it.

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

Moving onto a small problem with anarchy, for myself. I want to see whether you can persuade me to move to your side all the way. How will anarcho-capitalist society protect life, liberty, and property of those who are unable or are simply freeloading – refusing to pay for a protection in a free market?

David Friedman:

But I would have said that people who are simply refusing to pay will not get very well protected, just as people who refuse to pay for food don't eat. I think that in a reasonably attractive society, people who aren't paying because they have no money at all, if you imagine somebody who has, you know, some very serious physical handicap so he can't earn anything, are likely to receive charity from people who want to help them. But, I expect that if you do not hire a rights enforcement agency and you get into a dispute with somebody, his agency will probably try to offer you a court trial on the grounds that they want to maintain their reputation of sort of being respectable people who don't push other people around. But they don't have to, because you don't have any way of using force in your own defense. But that's a reason why sensible people will in fact buy protection, just as sensible people buy food and buy housing. After all, it's not as if the government gives you protection for free. Typically in the US, and I suspect in many other places, many poor people live in the places where crime rates are high, in the places where government does the poor job of protecting them. In addition to which, most people, even poor people, in a government system pay taxes. They may pay sales taxes, they may or may not pay income taxes, depending on their income, they may implicitly pay taxes and some of the things they buy are more expensive because their sellers are being taxed on those and so forth. So if you look at the budgets of real existing governments, the amount spent on protecting rights is very small. I'm not including a national defense, that's a different problem. Think about preventing ordinary crime. When I wrote 'Machinery of Freedom' I think I looked up the numbers for total expenditure on police and courts and prisons. I think it was something like a $100 dollars per capita per year. I don't remember, but it was that kind of small number. Most of what governments collect taxes for is other more expensive things. So, the almost everybody in anarcho-capitalist society who merely pay for protection would be paying much less than he is now paying in taxes.

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

Ok, but my question is really those few cases, and I agree that...

David Friedman:

Which cases? The person who can't afford or the person who chooses not to?

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

Both of them, for whatever reason.

David Friedman:

But then I would say, the problem is what does it mean to say that you have a right not to be murdered? And I think it could mean either of two different claims. One of them is to say if anybody murders you he is acting wrongly. The other is to say if other people don't protect you from murder they are acting wrongly. And I would say I only believe in the first. That if somebody murders you he is acting wrongly. It is appropriate for you or somebody to shoot him to stop him from murdering you. But I don't think that if somebody doesn't offer to protect you from murder that he is acting wrongly. I don't think you have the right to go to somebody and say unless you guard me I'll kill you. Which is in a sense the logic of saying you have a right not to be murdered in the second sense. So I would have said that in an anarcho-capitalist society if you choose not to pay for food, you might starve to death. And if you choose not to pay for having your rights protected, you might not get your rights protected.

Video: 

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