Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hobby Lobby and the use of force

The recent Hobby Lobby case and the comments and remarks that followed from people of all political types got me thinking about the use of force in society.

Let's take spanking for example. An ABC poll asked parents whether they spanked their children. The results varied by region and educational attainment of the parents. From the article:

"One other difference in spanking is among education groups. Among parents with college degrees, just 38 percent spank their kids; among less-educated parents, it's 55 percent."

So only 38% of parents with a college degree think that it is appropriate to use force on a child in order to get that child to act a certain way. That means that 62%, a strong majority, think that using force on a child to influence that child's behavior is wrong. If that many people truly think that force should not be used to influence the behavior of children why do we have so many laws that use force to influence the behavior of adults?

I can think of two reasons. The first is that the people who do not spank their kids are ignorant of the fact that laws require the threat and ultimately the use of force if they are to be obeyed. People do not break laws because if they do they know that the government can take away their freedom by force. Maybe some people do not understand how the government ensures that laws are obeyed and so they mistakenly favor force when the do not really mean to.

The other possible reason is that people are hypocrites. They are not against the use of force in principle, rather they are only against it when it doesn't serve their interests. Not spanking kids is the "enlightened" thing to do; parents who spank children are 20th century monsters. Similarly, forcing people to buy contraceptives that they do not want to, or to wear seat-belts, or to forbid them from owning guns or doing drugs, are all "enlightened" things to do and so in those cases using force is justified. The ends can justify the means.

I hope that the reason we have so many laws is due to ignorance rather than hypocrisy. People can be taught to see that using force to get what they want is primitive behavior. Dealing with hypocrites who want to justify force when it suits their needs and denounce it when it doesn't is a much trickier task. Unfortunately I think we have more hypocrites in this world than ignorant people. 


  1. How are views on spanking children synonymous with views on seat belts, gun control, etc.? Spanking is a form of corporal punishment...none of the things you mention carry a corporal penalty when the laws dealing with that subject are violated. The two topics have nothing to do with each other.

    1. Laws require the use of force to ensure compliance. If I do not wear my seat-belt I am fined but why do I pay the fine? Because if I don't pay the fine I am subject to more onerous punishments up to imprisonment. If I refuse to go to prison I can be forcibly detained against my will. I can be tased beaten, or both.

      To say that a violation of a law does not carry a corporal penalty is nonsense. The reason any law is obeyed is precisely because of the threat of corporal punishment. Otherwise a speeding ticket, seat-belt violation, or any other crime involving a fine would simply be ignored. They have everything to do with each other.

      Here is an example of what can happen if you let fines go unpaid.

  2. In what world do you live in? No one says to themselves 'I need to pay this ticket or I'm going to catch a beating from the cops'. Yes the consequences may increase, and given certain crimes those consequences might include incarceration, but incarceration and being physically beaten by the cops are not the same thing.

  3. I pay speeding tickets because if I don't I know that the city can issue a bench warrant for my arrest, arrest me, and lock me up. And if I try to resist being locked up they can physically restrain me. If none of that was the case I, and many others, would speed whenever I found it convenient to do so and just ignore any fine that came my way. Why do you pay them.

    I am saying that the threat of force induces compliance with laws that people would otherwise ignore. If you don't think that is true, I encourage you to keep on driving the next time an officer tries to pull you over and let me know how it turns out.

    Max Weber called the state an entity that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force.

    And if you don't think that violence can result from things like unpaid speeding tickets here is a clip of a woman being beaten for walking on the side of a highway:

    And here is a beating for jaywalking:

    Here is a video of a teen being beaten during a stop and frisk in the Bronx.

    And here is a video of police beating a homeless man to death for no obvious reason. None of the officers were found guilty of any wrongdoing. If you did that it would be manslaughter at best and potentially second degree murder.

    I could go on. If you upset or disobey cops they are legally allowed to physically restrain you and if you fight back you are the one committing a crime. If this was not the case there are many laws that people would simply not comply with. Laws absolutely require the credible threat of force to have any effect.

    Just like parents spanking children, the enforcement arm of society relies on the credible threat and the occasional use of violence to affect behavior.

    If you think that only an actual beating matters talk to people who have been physically abused on a regular basis and you will learn that a credible threat of violence is also traumatic.

  4. "I pay speeding tickets because if I don't I know that the city can issue a bench warrant for my arrest, arrest me, and lock me up. And if I try to resist being locked up they can physically restrain me."

    Yeah, and you're getting beaten because you resisted arrest, which is a different crime than failing to pay your parking tickets. Like I just said above, being incarcerated and getting beaten by the cops are not the same thing. I don't know why you think they are.

    There are plenty of examples where cops beat citizens and ended up in jail as well. It's illegal for cops to use excessive force. Whether they get away with it or not is up to a jury (one of your examples above, the cops were fired and were sent to trial). With a jury system, sometimes guilty people go free. If you have a better system in mind, I'd love to hear it.

    The law gives cops the right to use force when their lives are in danger or when someone is resisting arrest. Parents don't spank their kids because they are being attacked by their children (and if they were being attacked by their kid, I don't think many people would argue the parent has the right to defend him/herself). Your analogy makes no sense.

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  5. I'm saying that being forcibly detained for breaking the law, for whatever reason, is not the same thing as corporal punishment. Getting caned in Singapore because you vandalized a car is corporal punishment.

    Maybe you get hurt when you're being forcibly detained, but you are not being purposefully hurt as a punishment for your crime, at least not in the eyes of the law as they are written.

    Hence why your analogy with spanking makes no sense. If you were to say "parents who are against sending kids to their room are hypocritical if they are also against jailing people," then that would make sense. But not what you said, and no one ever really has a problem with kids getting sent to their room.

    1. I am not sure we are going to come to an agreement through this forum. To describe the state as a monopoly on legitimate force goes back to the founding fathers. Here is an excerpt from Federalist 15 by Alexander Hamilton:

      "Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience. If there be no penalty annexed to disobedience, the resolutions or commands which pretend to be laws will, in fact, amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation. This penalty, whatever it may be, can only be inflicted in two ways: by the agency of the courts and ministers of justice, or by military force; by the COERCION of the magistracy, or by the COERCION of arms. The first kind can evidently apply only to men; the last kind must of necessity, be employed against bodies politic, or communities, or States. It is evident that there is no process of a court by which the observance of the laws can, in the last resort, be enforced. Sentences may be denounced against them for violations of their duty; but these sentences can only be carried into execution by the sword. In an association where the general authority is confined to the collective bodies of the communities, that compose it, every breach of the laws must involve a state of war; and military execution must become the only instrument of civil obedience. Such a state of things can certainly not deserve the name of government, nor would any prudent man choose to commit his happiness to it." Here is the whole thing:

      The capitalized coercions were in the text already. Here is the definition of coercion:

      "the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats."

      Milton Friedman makes a similar argument in this video talking about capitalism vs. socialism.

      All government laws, no matter how mundane, rely on the use or credible threat of force. I am only willing to be detained because of a credible threat of something worse. Otherwise if a cop tried to arrest me I would just leave.

      If you don't want to follow the punishment structure of any law to its logical conclusion of force you are free to do that, but you are mistaken.

  6. I'm not arguing with anything you just said above...but I don't think you understand what corporal punishment is, which is what spanking would fall under. You're talking about incarceration. Not the same thing

  7. I understand what corporal punishment is, but what I am concerned with is not the punishment in time period 1.

    A parent spanks their child in time period 1 not only to punish them for the bad behavior in that time period but also, and more importantly, as a deterrent to future bad behavior. The hope is that the use of physical force e.g. spanking in time period 1 will prevent the same behavior from occurring in future periods.

    Similarly, force as a deterrent is not agreeing with a police officer about the crime you are being accused of, resisting arrest, and then being tased. Yes, being tased is not the listed punishment for the crime, jail time is, but it is the use of force that deters someone from resisting in the future and quietly going to jail. The punishment of jail is only a deterrent in so far as it is backed up by a credible threat of force.

    To argue that we should only be looking at the listed punishments misses the larger point about what the use of force is meant to do; namely to deter acts that the voting majority finds inappropriate. Parents who spank their children view spanking as the same thing.

    Incarceration may be the punishment, but it is the use of force that ensures that the punishment can be carried out. Similarly, the credible threat of spanking ensures that the child will go to their room. Of course children are much smaller than adults so adults can simply carry them to their room, something that usually cannot be done with other adults. Until they are tased or beaten senseless of course. And it is precisely because of that threat that most go along quietly.

    I find it interesting that many adults are unwilling to use spanking to deter future bad behavior in children, but are much more willing to use force to deter lawbreaking among adults.

  8. I think we're just going in circles here, so maybe we should just agree to disagree on this one.

    My question for you is this: are you entirely against government use of force to incarcerate individuals? That's what it sounds like, which I think would be kind of strange, seeing as how protection from harming each other's person and property is one of the classical libertarian's acceptable uses of government intervention.

    1. I am not entirely against the use of force in so far as it is in self defense. I am against the use of force for many things that it is currently used for such as: to prevent people from using drugs, make people wear seat-belts, ban on selling organs, banning prostitution, minimum wage laws, labor laws in general, preventing certain drugs from being bought over the counter, smoking laws, e cigarette laws, zoning laws and many more.

      People have a right to protect themselves from harm and defend themselves. Groups can get together and do the same thing, transferring the means of protection to that body.

      But I not understand why some people are OK with representatives of a group e.g. police being allowed to do things that no individual is allowed to do. I don't think many people would find it acceptable for me to burst into a home unannounced looking for marijuana, yet these same people are OK with outsourcing that very act to a group of people aka police.

      If any one person finds something deplorable we don't give them free reign to stop it from occurring, but if enough people do such that it becomes a law then all of a sudden force can be used to stop the behavior. This essentially goes back to Bastiat's idea that it is strange that we allow a group to do what any one individual cannot. I don't think that something is right or wrong simply because a majority of voters say it is.

      For example, in my class today we talked about selling kidneys. It doesn't make any sense that women can get an abortion based on the premise that they own their body but people cannot sell their kidney. Either people own their bodies or they don't. Or do women own their uterus's but the government has first claim on their kidney? I can drink alcohol, but I can't smoke marijuana. A 14 year old can be an actor/singer but legally can't work at McDonalds. It doesn't make sense. If these blatant contradictions were eliminated that would be a nice first step.

      I think that there are many such blatant contradictions in the way people think and many come down to the fundamental point of when is force allowed to influence behavior and when isn't it allowed. There are a lot of things people do that I don't like or wouldn't do myself, but I don't think that I have the right to stop their behavior through the use of state sanctioned force.

  9. I don't disagree on many hypocrisies of the law regarding drugs child labor laws, etc. However, I don't see how society could function without a police force that isn't given powers above the typical citizen. If they weren't, no one would pay any attention to them, as you've mentioned above.

    Similarly, I don't know of any other system that would work in the modern world. Say there was no collection of local, state and federal police forces as we have them today, and each citizen had to pay some "security firm" to protect them. What's preventing the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world from raising their own private armies and taking over the countryside? I think we would just devolve back to a Dark Ages style feudal system, which would be very disruptive to the economy as a whole.

    1. I share some of your concerns. I certainly like the federalist system and I think 50 states each largely doing their own thing would make me fairly happy. We could still have a national defense system and it would still probably do some things I wouldn't agree with, but letting individual states control much of the governance of their citizens would be great. No common core, no national min. wage, no FEMA, etc.

      Anarcho-capitalists try to convince me their system could work but that is a hard thought experiment. Our current system has so much low hanging fruit to pick though that I would rather just focus on that for the time being than spend time worrying about super federalism e.g. at the county or city level or anarcho capitalism.