Saturday, September 16, 2006

Crime and Coercion

Tibor R. Machan

Crime, the violent type which involves murdering, assaulting, robbing, kidnapping and otherwise violating the rights of fellow individuals in one’s society, is said to be on the rise again. After a few years of decline, the figures for 2004 are up about 5 %. And, of course, people across the country are up in arms about this. Yet they have no explanation. The economy is doing reasonably well, they note, so why the rise in crime?

It is not my line of work to pour over the statistics concerning this topic, so I am being trusting here of the mainstream media where this news has been making the rounds. However, I would like to suggest one possible cause for why crime is on the increase. Couldn’t it be how widespread official coercion has become?

Our governments, whatever level you wish to include, are more and more intrusive in people’s lives. And this is so with the sanction of the highest of courts in this country—in the summer of 2005 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that cities may rob people of their property if the city officials believe they can make better use of it than those who own it. Right here we can see clearly how the principle of criminal behavior as regards private property has gained official sanction: for surely the policy of those who engage in robbery is to regard their purposes for the use of what they take from others as of greater importance than respecting the right of the owners to make use of their property as they see fit. The criminal steals someone’s car or bicycle or money out of a bank with the belief that his needs supersede the rights of the owners. Indeed, the criminal, like the U. S. Supreme Court, probably doesn’t think the owners really are the owners—the owners are we all. And we decide to what use the stuff is to be put.

Generally, once the policy of officialdom in a society is in part to seriously, systematically undermine individual rights, is it a great surprise that ordinary citizens turn to conduct that echoes what these officials proclaim: if someone’s property is used in ways one believes is not quite fruitful, not quite advantageous, well, let’s take it from the person. We can do with it as we deem more worthwhile.

Even the more violent crimes, like murder and assault, receive encouragement from the official attitude. Since property rights are tossed out the window, why not toss other rights as well? Why bother respect the rights to life and liberty? After all, the criminal may well have a strong conviction that what he wants to do with another person’s life—someone who may stand in the way of the criminal's goals somehow—can be ignored. If a majority of the people has the authority to violate individual rights, or if the representatives of that majority do, then what principle is to stop anyone from doing just like the majority does? The “people” have decided to override individual rights, well, the criminal is one of the people, so what’s wrong with him or her doing likewise?

Criminals are joined in this attitude by some major corporations where management has decided that one way to get ahead is to bar other people from competing. The way to do that is to go to the Department of Justice and sic them on others, claiming they are in violation of anti-trust laws, some of the most coercive economic policies a government can pursue. But it is official policy, so why not take advantage of it. Or to gain subsidies from government which entails robbing Peter to help Paul. So when some owner of a small business sees another getting ahead due to business savvy, the thing to do is to stop the competitor, and since it is too complicated for small businesses to seek help from the Department of Justice, perhaps it is OK to, say, just burn down the competitor's establishment? Why not? Government is doing what amounts to pretty much the same thing by targeting companies—that are guilty of no more than being more successful than others—with the violence of anti-trust charges.

Crime is certainly not something from which governments abstain—not crimes of corruption and similar malpractice but officially sanctioned violent crimes similar to those of the Third Reich, the Soviet Union or South Africa, to name just some obvious cases. When our governments ban medical marijuana, that is a crime! When they forbid the conduct of business at certain times of the day or week, that is a crime. When they use the police with which to enforce these policies, the governments perpetrate violent crimes since, in fact, these are all peaceful activities.

The challenge is for us to figure out how to teach our children and show our fellow citizens that what governments exemplify is quite often improper, indeed criminal, practices no one ought to emulate. Then may violent crime will begin to subside.

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