Morning Links

Thursday, December 18th, 2008
  • Anne Applebaum says the Madoff bust may cripple American capitalism.
  • Libertarian purity test: If preventing people from committing force or fraud against others is a legitimate function of government, how do you feel about the government shutting down fortune tellers? Legitimate fraud prevention, or infringement on free speech?
  • Ted Galen Carpenter throws cold water on DEA claims that our Latin American intervention efforts are “working.”
  • More Madoff fallout: Looks like the criminal justice advocacy foundation JEHT will fold. They’re also one of the big sponsors of the Innocence Project. That’s bad news.
  • Utah man sprays raiding SWAT team with bear repellent. Probably a pretty good indicator that the guy didn’t know they were cops. They also charged him with possession, which means they didn’t find enough drugs to merit a distribution charge.
  • The Wall Street Journal on Obama’s sudden fondness for pre-Bolshevik Russian nobility. Nothing like the head of a democracy showing he’s serious about a problem by bestowing on a political appointee a title that implies authoritarian power.
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  • 42 Responses to “Morning Links”

    1. #1 |  Nando | 

      On the Fortune Teller vs. Free Speech issue, here is where I stand:

      If there is a law that hasn’t been challenged (or has and it has been upheld) in court concerning infringement on Free Speech, then that law is still valid and should be respected, regardless of if you consider it unjust or not. If this fortune teller wishes to set up shop in that county, then he should challenge the Constitutionality of the law in court or set up his business in another county that doesn’t prohibit “telling the future for money.”

      Now, on whether such a law should even exist, which is what I believe you were getting at, I do not believe that it is the government’s business to regulate fortune telling. Even if I consider it a fraud, which I do, I have no proof that what they do is indeed fraud (they might get it right and people believe in them). It is not the same as willfully misleading people to take their money, like Madoff did. Since I see a very big distinction in both these cases of “fraud” (one can be proven to be fraud, the other one can’t), then I don’t believe the law should exist at all.

    2. #2 |  billy-jay | 

      Some of us don’t believe that government has any legitimate functions.

    3. #3 |  Benjamin | 

      I always love the morning/lunch links. Today though takes the cake. I think it is interesting in that you posted the libertarian purity test (which I can’t wait to read the discussion on).

      However, juxtapose that question against the Applebaum piece and you have something very interesting. I won’t even begin to tackle the purity test quite yet, as my coffee is still working on waking up the brain. I found it interesting though as the question lingered in the back of my mind while reading about the role that “trust” plays in a capitalist system.

      Therefore, I would like to ask all the fellow readers, what is/should be the role of government in creating a level of trust with regards to financial transactions. How is that different than the fortune teller? In a libertarian utopia, should the government provide some guidelines to create a baseline level of trust amongst parties in financial transactions…or should it be left up to the parties to determine their own trust level.

      It seems to me that Madoff was just a classier looking fortune teller. “Give me your money, and I’ll tell you what you want to hear. I’ll speak in general platitudes and give you a smile to make you believe in me.”

      I hope this is making some sense.

    4. #4 |  Chuchundra | 

      Obama aides say that Browner will not be called a “czar,” a term they dislike. They say she will simply focus like a laser beam on energy-reform issues, which the president-elect has named as a top priority and one of the linchpins of his economic recovery plan.

      http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1208/16444.html

    5. #5 |  Mattocracy | 

      The sad thing is that Applebaum is right. And for some reason, fraud in the public sector doesn’t make most people less faithful in government. Madoff is like the GWB of the financial sector when it comes to betraying the confidence of American Institutions.

      Also, if fortune tellers are committing fraud and should be shut down…so should every religious institution, gambling establishment, and government bureaucracy in America. They might as well outlaw imagination to protect people from false reality.

    6. #6 |  billy-jay | 

      @4: I’m sure he won’t. Obama would’ve been on the other side of that revolution.

    7. #7 |  Jozef | 

      Obligatory: If the fortune tellers were any good, they’d know they’d be shut down by the government and either concealed that they could predict the future or advertised only in a very targeted fashion to people who truly needed their help.

    8. #8 |  paul | 

      Fortune telling would be fine if the fortune tellers made it clear to their clients that they were just making stuff up. But they don’t do that. They select the gullible, the lonely the bereaved and the vulnerable and then milk them for all they can get. That’s fraudulent and exploitative.

    9. #9 |  dougie | 

      Free speech infringement. If they shut down fortune tellers for fraud, they’d have to shut down religion too, since they are equal parts BS.

    10. #10 |  Jefferson | 

      I pay people to lie to me. Every April.

    11. #11 |  ClubMedSux | 

      If preventing people from committing force or fraud against others is a legitimate function of government, how do you feel about the government shutting down fortune tellers? Legitimate fraud prevention, or infringement on free speech?

      This libertarian would argue that the best course of action is to leave the fraud issue to the courts. If somebody feels they’ve been wronged by their fortune teller, they can take it up before a judge. But for those who are happy with the services provided by their psychic friend, who are we to stop a service where all parties are satisfied?

    12. #12 |  thomasblair | 

      Re: Libertarian Purity Test.

      This is a nice example of why even minarchism is internally inconsistent. Government simply cannot exist to protect against force and fraud because it itself is forceful, violent, and fraudulent.

    13. #13 |  billy-jay | 

      The Catholic Church would be fine if they made it clear to their clients that they were just making stuff up. But they don’t do that. They select the gullible, the lonely the bereaved and the vulnerable and then milk them for all they can get. That’s fraudulent and exploitative.

    14. #14 |  Benjamin | 

      Don’t the dial-a-fortune-teller commercials on TV say “For entertainment purposes only.” Isn’t this the same as saying, “we make this shit up?”

      Should the government force this kind of language, or should the market flesh out this type of self-policing behavior?

    15. #15 |  Cynical in CA | 

      “Libertarian purity test: If preventing people from committing force or fraud against others is a legitimate function of government, how do you feel about the government shutting down fortune tellers? Legitimate fraud prevention, or infringement on free speech?”

      Is it not obvious yet that “libertarianism” is purely subjective?

      I mean, there’s my strand of libertarianism that recoils from the very words “preventing people from committing force or fraud,” which sounds a heckuvalot like prior restraint. I’ve made my POV abundantly clear — either a system is organized on violence or voluntarism. All or nothing. Someone commits force or fraud, society deals with it in non-violent ways such as ostracism, else it’s open season for unlimited government (read: the state).

      There’s the strand to which many adhere that preaches reform, and I suppose in certain cases, abolition of various government functions, but which leaves the basic framework of government intact. I know where that leads. Nowhere.

      So here’s a vote for the radical position. Fortunetellers rock! Rock on, fortunetellers! Sell your visions to the gullible!

      After all, fortunetellers are no different than a Sunday preacher. Hehe. Or to be fair, a Friday night or Saturday preacher too.

      Why single out fortunetellers when the State protects organized religion, Radley? Is the state not making a distinction without a difference?

      Oh, that’s right, that’s what the State does. It favors big business because there’s more money in it for them. The proud history of the Progressive movement — big business running to the State for protection from the little threatening upstarts.

    16. #16 |  max | 

      No role for the government in preventing possible fraud, and questionable if there is any role of preventing force. Punishing yes, but preventing? Haven’t given it much thought, because I’ve never heard of “preventing” future wrongdoing as being a core part of Libertarianism, but I suspect that you’ll find most philosophically harmonious the idea that the government has no authority to deal directly with speculative events which might happen (or prevention) and can only provide prevention so by a halo effect which results when a crime actually happens and is swiftly and strongly punished.

      As for the instantaneous case, I am puzzled why the gentleman did not merely ask for a license to tell fortunes “for entertainment purposes only”.

    17. #17 |  ktc2 | 

      Fortune tellers are no different from preachers. In either case you really just can’t save people form their own stupidity, desperation, etc. Is there a difference between those and frauds like Madoff? No, not really, just the level of public support.

    18. #18 |  Ben (the other one) | 

      Applebaum phones it in once again. Must every column she write come from her own personal, anecdotal experience, leavened just a bit by something she’s recently read? She’s like a stay-at-home Tom Friedman. It must be nice to be paid for so little effort.

      On the merits of her piece, is she joking?? Does she seriously think that Madoff’s losses, substantial as they are, is what really imperils capitalism, and not, say, the trillions of dollars involved in the CDO and CDS fiascos? Which says more about “trust” in the capitalist system: the fact that Steven Spielberg got some bad advice and invested his personal savings with Bernie Madoff, or the fact that every one of the key rating agencies gave their 150-year old gold-plated imprimaturs to hundreds of billions of dollars of securities that they didn’t even begin to understand?

      We’ve had an unprecedented financial meltdown since this summer, and it’s just now that Anne Applebaum says we’ve lost trust in the system?

      Jeez. She needs to get up off the damn couch, put down Francis Fukuyama (really? Fukuyama? the guy who said in 1992 that history was at an end?), and get out in the real damn world.

    19. #19 |  Ganja Blue | 

      The fortune teller issue is not a free speech issue, it’s not a force and fraud issue. Government should not involve itself in personal contracts unless someone brings a criminal or civil complaint against the other party claiming fraud or breach of contract. A fortune teller’s contract should state that the information is for entertainment and should not be used alone for financial, relationships, or other important decisions. I have a problem with government preemptively protecting us against any harm, in this case by denying licenses and/or permits. They cannot “protect” us without stifling liberty.

    20. #20 |  Eric | 

      The problem with restrictions on fortune tellers is that large numbers of fortune teller customers know it’s a con but do it for fun. That’s why you often see fortune tellers among hipster bars or on tourist boardwalks. It’s worth the $20 to see what the clairvoyant can come up with. Even for people who want to believe, often they know it’s a con but it gives them comfort to think that they are talking to their dead kitten or their great grandfather who was a war hero or whatever. So if you shut down fortune tellers as purveyors of fraud you remove their services from a large pool of fully-informed and willing participants.

    21. #21 |  Cynical in CA | 

      “A fortune teller’s contract should state that the information is for entertainment and should not be used alone for financial, relationships, or other important decisions.”

      Why does organized religion get a pass? Why is there no contract with between a parishioner and the church?

      The bottom of this must be gotten to.

    22. #22 |  angulimala | 

      Libertarianism means what I say it means.

      Purity test over.

    23. #23 |  Sydney Carton | 

      It’s early in the day, and already 2 separate comments saying that religion is a fraud get high marks.

    24. #24 |  Nick | 

      RE Fortune Teller and purity test. I believe the proper libertarian position is to say that if fraud is committed, then that is a cause of action for a civil suit between the fortune teller and the client, where an implied contract existed between consenting adults. ;-)

    25. #25 |  Zeb | 

      While I do think that religions are no more reality based than fortune telling, there is an important difference between most mainstream religions and fortune telling. That is, you do not generally have to pay to go to church or talk to a priest/minister/rabbi/etc.

    26. #26 |  Ganja Blue | 

      Cynical in CA: Perhaps ministers should be personally liable for claims they make. That would certainly keep them honest. But denying churches or fortune tellers licenses or permits to preemptively prevent a weak mind from being duped is just another prohibition.

    27. #27 |  Daniel Lurker | 

      Well, that depends. Are fortune tellers “financial institutions” under the recent subsidy legislation?

    28. #28 |  Parker | 

      Zeb – Actually we ALL pay for organized religion as most (if not all) churches are organized as non-profits and are thus tax exempt.

    29. #29 |  Stephen | 

      I think anyone who has ever listened to channel 19 on the CB radio probably got a chuckle out of the “BEAR” repellent. :)

    30. #30 |  billy-jay | 

      @23:

      If you’re referring to my rewording of paul’s comment, I suggest you not take it so literally. Maybe I was too subtle.

    31. #31 |  billy-jay | 

      @28:

      Incorrect, sir. The fact that they manage to avoid being robbed doesn’t mean that the rest of us are paying for them.

    32. #32 |  Cynical in CA | 

      “you do not generally have to pay to go to church or talk to a priest/minister/rabbi/etc.”

      This is an interesting phenomenon, Zeb. Essentially, organized churches are such successful fortune-telling operations that they no longer have to explicitly charge a fee for their services — the client pays money voluntarily. I guess that’s when you know you’ve hit the big time. [Then again there is that implicit "fork over the dough or roast in Hell for eternity gambit, so I dunno.]

      “… denying churches or fortune tellers licenses or permits to preemptively prevent a weak mind from being duped is just another prohibition.”

      Ganja, licenses and permits are means of the State — a priori pre-emption and prohibition. Frankly, I don’t believe ministers of organized religion or fortunetellers should be liable for their claims. Individuals need to be free to make “wrong” choices — the only freedom that matters.

    33. #33 |  paul | 

      I’m not sure religion should get a pass. I suppose they get away with it because they don’t charge for it – Scientology should definitely not be getting a pass.

    34. #34 |  Nick T | 

      The role of government in preventing fraud that is important enough to trump the right to free speech only exists when the government is punishing (or preventing, usually one leads naturally to the other) misleading or false statements with regard to the quality of a service or product.

      An obvious exmaple would be when it comes to medicine or something like that. The public benefit of trusting that a company is putting reasonable care into making sure the claims in their ads are true, could be convincingly argued to outweight the counterveiling limits on fraudulent speech.

      In this case speech IS the product itself. The average consumer’s reasonable udnerstanding of what a product is or does is also a factor here. Thus, Milk commercials can show a boy grow to be 9 feet tall or soemthing without being accused of fraud becuase the average consumer KNOWS this is an exxaggeration.

      In other words, the government is simply NOT PREVENTING FRAUD at all when they outlaw a service where the accuracy or credibility of the words spoken is the service itself.

      (That’s not to say that the government can’t outlaw some services for other reasons, but none of those reasons are enough to trump free speech.)

    35. #35 |  chance | 

      “Why does organized religion get a pass? Why is there no contract with between a parishioner and the church?”

      Fortune-tellers make testable predictions that studies have shown are no better than educated guess, at best. Most religions do not make testable predictions, since their promises usually involve an afterlife.

    36. #36 |  Cynical in CA | 

      My experience is, testable or not, religions stand by their beliefs as fact. Try arguing with a true believer about untestable hypotheses.

      The words “fact” and “faith” are the same.

    37. #37 |  fw | 

      I’m going to take the position that it’s more than fraud, and more than a game. There are people who believe the conversation with a reader/advisor can be as revealing, and a lot more to the point, than more “conventional” psychology. Any sufficiently advanced ability to cold read is indistinguishable from magic.

      I know of someone who got through a whole bunch more stages of grief in one session with an escort than in months of talking with a LICSW. The sex was a lot better too.

      I suppose McDonald’s is committing fraud too, by pretending that they serve “food”, but I do like eating what they make, and I’m not hungry afterwards.

    38. #38 |  Fortune telling — free speech or fraud? « Muse Free | 

      [...] (Hat Tip: The Agitator) [...]

    39. #39 |  bob | 

      Here’s an update on the State of Pennsylvania raid on Manna Storehouse that Radley wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

    40. #40 |  amcguinn | 

      I think if some people believe it, and you can’t prove that the lying bastards who are pushing it don’t believe it, you have to let them get on with it.

      Doesn’t mean anything goes – if they falsely claim a track record or whatever, that’s fraud. Just as, an investment manager who thought Madoff was legit isn’t a fraud – but if he said he’d checked, then he might be.

    41. #41 |  parse | 

      This is an interesting phenomenon, Zeb. Essentially, organized churches are such successful fortune-telling operations that they no longer have to explicitly charge a fee for their services — the client pays money voluntarily.

      Or not. When I regularly attended church services in my youth, there were always people in attendance who didn’t make a contribution when the collection plate came around.

      Churches and fortune tellers seem to have business models that differ in significant ways. I don’t support outlawing fortune tellers, but I don’t think it’s correct to say “What the churches do is no different.”

    42. #42 |  Marta Rose | 

      What would you all recommend as a classic libertarian text, laying out the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism? I’ve been reading The Agitator long enough to see that there is not one definition of libertarianism, but there must be some seminal books and/or essays that most of you would agree lay out the basic arguments? I’m especially interested in understanding whether libertarianism accepts that a fundamental role of government is to provide security to its citizens, and that in order to do so, citizens must cede a monopoly on force (albeit not an unchecked monopoly) to the government? I’m also interested in understanding where, in libertarian philosophy, does private ownership of property come from? Is it a right? If so, where does the right come from? If it’s not a right, why should government protect it? Or shouldn’t government protect it?

      I know these questions have little to do with the morning links, but Radley’s libertarian “purity test” and the ensuing discussion has renewed my desire to understand libertarianism better. Disclaimer: I’m extremely unlikely to be converted, but also extremely open-minded and genuinely eager to understand.

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