Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

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Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Letter to Paul Craig Roberts

It pains and irritates me greatly to see paleoconservatives either misinterpret or deliberately misrepresent libertarian beliefs in print. Paul Craig Roberts has done exactly that in his latest essay, reprinted on the web site today, titled "The American Criminal Injustice System." While I agree with 99 percent of Roberts' points in the article, he makes a statement about libertarianism and prison privatization that I simply could not allow to remain unchallenged. The full text of the email I sent today to Dr. Roberts is reprinted below.

Dr. Roberts:

Thank you for your latest contribution of another hard-hitting article on the continuing deterioration of the American Justice [sic] System (published as "The American Criminal Injustice System", reprinted on, Wednesday, March 11, 2009). While I agree with 99 percent of the article's content, you make the following statement about two-thirds of the way through to which I must take great exception:

"Libertarian free market types believe that the private sector can do everything better than the public sector. This ideology causes libertarians to be blind to the dangerous incentives created by the privatization of prisons."

While I would never presume to speak for ALL libertarians, I believe that I can say with a great degree of certainty that you misunderstand the commonly accepted libertarian consensus on imprisonment. Most libertarians are opposed the idea of imprisonment altogether, except for those who clearly and demonstrably pose an irremediable danger to society. The State, in judicial criminal prosecutions, habitually uses (or more accurately, abuses) imprisonment as a blanket form of punishment both for victimless acts that are not crimes against property or person, such as drug distribution and consumption, or prostitution, or for actual crimes against person or property for which restitution to the actual victim is the appropriate remedy. Worse still, and as you yourself have illustrated in a number of past editorials, the terms of imprisonment are often, if not usually grotesquely out of proportion to the actual offense.

To specifically address the issue of "privatized" prisons, if you look at a broad selection of libertarian writing on this subject (visit the archives for a cornucopia of such references), you will see that the prevailing libertarian view of "private" prisons is that these institutions, as currently constituted under the State's [in]justice system, are NOT "private" institutions at all according to the legitimate definition of that word. Rather, they merely represent the subcontracting of the penal system by the State to its preferred enablers in thestate-corporate sector (which, if you are familiar with libertarian economic philosophy, you will recognize as being not "free market" institutions at all, but "crony capitalist" entities that have co-opted the power of the State for their own monopolistic ends, at taxpayer expense). Under a libertarian market-oriented justice system, Persona A, the victim of crime (or their representatives) could not compel a disinterested third party, Person C, to pay restitution on behalf of or for the incarceration of Person B, the actual perpetrator. Under the current catastrophic tyranny imposed upon us today, the State merely transfers tax monies from the public treasury to one of its politically favored cronies, regardless of the fact that 1) the average taxpayer (Person C in the preceding example) has no personal stake or legal standing in the crime committed by Person B against Person A. This is the diametric opposite of "libertarianism" as you seem to envision it.

If you have not already done so in the recent past, I strongly recommend that you read the late Murray Rothbard's treatise "Punishment and Proportionality", an excerpt from his book "The Ethics of Liberty" (the treatise can be accessed here. This provides as coherent a summation of the libertarian view of justice, restitution, and punishment as anything of which I am aware. Note the clear implication in Rothbard's proposals that the idea of incarceration is a most unappetizing one to a genuinely freedom-respecting, market-oriented justice system that focuses on tangible restitution to actual victims of crime, as opposed to that undefinable abstraction called "the People", or "the State." Incarceration is prohibitively costly (remember, in a market system, there is no such thing as "tax dollars" or "socialized costs"), often counterproductive, seldom ever serves the cause of true justice or restitution, and is a punishment reserved only as a last resort, almost always for the crime of murder. By the way, and as Rothbard notes, it's no accident of history that governments in centuries past seldom ever resorted to imprisonment as punishment, preferring either to compel convicted criminals to make appropriate restitution to their victims, or to administer capital punishment for those convicted of murder.

Is the Rothbardian solution the ideal one? Probably not; is there any such thing as "ideal" in the real world? But in a world that respects liberty, one in which there is no State to play the role of omnipotent, coercive overlord, the "private prison" travesty which we now see playing out would cease to exist.

Thanks, and keep up the good work.