An open letter to Ron Paul fans on the limitations of radical political candidates

Dear Ron Paul Supporter,

Do you honestly believe that your candidate has a chance in hell of winning the primaries, much less the general elections?

I could cite results from every reputable polling organization that show Ron Paul with less than 3% of the vote, but I have a feeling that you will find some reason for their bias, and point to the online polls that Ron Paul forums enthusiastically and systematically flood as evidence of his imminent triumph.  Dr Paul himself has repeatedly stated that his campaign is about the message – a message that most news commentators cannot understand, much less inform the public about.  Online communities make for good news quips, but the “archaic” gold standard, or the question of whether Ron Paul is an isolationist is far beyond what news commentators can be expected to understand.

Despite this, it is undeniable that the success of Ron Paul’s campaign has been a surprise to just about everyone, and tapped into some hidden resource that few suspected of existing.  Perhaps it really is the power of the Internet, coupled with public discontent with the presidential administration and congressional incompetence.  Perhaps people are really uniting around a leader who offers radical new ideas rather than yet another personality cult.  Even if his current support base is just a fraction of what is to come, does it really amount to anything?

When the election is over a little less than a year from now, will any of it matter?  Ron Paul will probably face defeat in the first few primaries, and if he chooses to run on the Libertarian ticket, he will get the usual 1-3% of the vote.  What will all the millions he raised and all the hours his volunteers spent mean then?  Even if by some miracle, he were to win, it would be of little
practical consequence.  Like all politicians, presidents wield their power by cutting deals and compromising left and right.  Without willingness to compromise on all his principles, President Paul will be lucky if he is not impeached in the first week.

I am not saying that Ron Paul is the wrong candidate to support.  I am questioning the premise that radical political ideologies can or should be advocated through political campaigns.  This fact has been aptly demonstrated by the pathetic failure of the Libertarian Party over the last 30+ years.  The Left has been much better at recognizing the failure of explicitly Marxist political movements early in the 20th century, and successfully shifted the focus of American politics by establishing a firm foundation in academia and then infiltrating both major

Whatever your particular political philosophy, it is not even that likely that Ron Paul is a great match for it.  Whether it is his anti-immigration views, his promise of saving social security, his blame-America foreign policy, his borderline theocratic positions, or his support for the state as such, he is unlikely to be a perfect fit for anyone.  Much of his success is in fact due to moderating or hiding the most radical aspects of his libertarianism, such as masking his support for free trade by his opposition to free-trade agreements, or his scapegoating of “illegal aliens seeking the fruits of your labor” as part of his plan to save Social Security.

An educational movement does not need to hide its radical views.  Sure, you might not raise five or six million dollars in a day, but the resources you do have will be spent on spreading ideas, rather than a name and a number in the polls.  Even an extra million votes is not going to make a bit of difference in the general election, but a thousand more students motivated to spread rational ideas on liberty can change the world.

I am not telling you to remove that Ron Paul bumper sticker.  Just recognize the inherent limitations of radical political candidates in a two party democracy, and consider supporting educational organizations that will never have to compromise or hide their principles in order to spread their message.

[Follow up post.]

Voting is not a right

The next time you hear someone going on about the “right to
vote,” remind them than voting is not a right – it’s a coercive power wielded by
the voting minority over a society.  Rights
denote the extent of action men may take without initiating force against
others.  Voting is force, the power to compel others at the point of a gun.  Media campaigns that attempt to “rock the
vote,” are advocating putting guns in the hands of more people, usually those
least motivated to make informed decisions about whom their ballots target.  The ultimate purpose of the democratic process is to redistribute the moral responsibility of the group with the most guns to the entire electorate.

Voting is the worst kind of political apathy

Most economists agree that from a cost-benefit perspective,
the cost of voting far outweighs any material benefit. For example, in a
presidential election, your vote is one out of 120+ million. Your chance of
casting a tie-breaking vote is infinitesimally small, so small that you could
win million-dollar lottery jackpots
thousands of times before casting a
tie-breaker. This is especially true in states dominated by a single party,
such as Texas, New York, or California. Even in the 2000 Presidential election,
your Florida vote would only have changed Bush’s 537 vote margin to 536 or 538.   Politicians do care about their margin of
victory, but from the perspective of the individual deciding how to best invest
his limited resources, his impact is so infinitesimal that it does not have any
practical value.

Furthermore, even if your candidate does win, all you “win” is a bag of mixed promises
which are not always likely to be kept, and even less likely to be actually
achieved. In the 2006 general elections, the Democrats were sworn into power
due to public discontent with Bush’s policy in Iraq. Despite Democratic
promises and their congressional majority, they have not enacted any of their
promises. Whatever the reason, it is clear that electoral victory alone cannot
guarantee the achievement of campaign promises, and certainly not from their
power as individual politicians. Even the president has relatively limited
power in a democratic system.

Some might argue that if everyone else evaluated voting in this manner, things
might be different.  But the fact is that
people do continue to vote by the tens of millions.

None of this is to say that electoral victories are meaningless
or inconsequential, or that political activism is not important or practical.  Interventionist governments have a tremendous
impact on our lives, and thanks to technologies like the Internet, we have more
opportunities than ever to engage in intellectual and political activism.  However, of all the means we have to
influence the political process, voting is one of the least effective, second perhaps,
to swearing under your breath as you give away half your income to the state.

As a form of political activism, voting is not only ineffective,
but is in fact a form of apathy. The value of any single vote is so
infinitesimal that the sense of self-importance and influence in the political
process that people get from participating in the electoral process is entirely
illusory. Yet the illusion of participation excuses many people from taking
real steps to influence policy by arguing for their ideas, writing letters, or supporting
advocacy organizations.  The people who really
make a difference are those who take far more intellectually challenging and
uncertain measures than punching one of two buttons – they attempt to change
the intellectual and philosophical climate of their society.

If you vote because of the psychological benefit it
provides, such as a feeling of having met one’s patriotic duty, there is
nothing I can say to you.  But if you
actually want to influence the political state of the country (and given that
sad state, that is more crucial now than ever) it would be far more productive
of your time to donate the resources you would have spent researching
candidates, going to the polls, and even donating to candidates in more
efficient ways. 

Washington lobbyists are very expensive, yet they can be
more influential than the votes of millions of individuals, and they will argue
for your cause regardless of which candidate is victorious.  Ultimately however, the fate of any society
is shaped by the fundamental ideas of its intellectuals.  All the votes in the world are meaningless
next to the fundamental ideas about society that shape policymakers actions. 

If you are concerned with the threat of theocracy, your
enemy is not George W. Bush, but the aspiring theocrats teaching the next
generation of policymakers, cashing in on the void left by the destruction of
reason and science by modern philosophy. 
If you are concerned with the threat of the welfare state, your enemy is
not Ted Kennedy, but the intellectuals teaching the next generation of leaders
that they do not have a right to their own life. 

Politicians are rarely capable of coming up with original
ideas – they depend on the intellectual elite of a society for their
initiatives.  As intellectual elite changes,
so do the ideas they feed to politicians.

Real entrepreneurs don’t take bribes from the state

The Israeli government is trying to lure back some of the hundreds of thousands of Israeli expatriates with “tax breaks, employment and small business loans.”  The campaign is set to cost $36 million a year.  Israeli
politicians must realize on some level that their best and brightest
citizens are leaving in growing numbers because their grant experiment in utopian socialism has turned out to be a total failure.  What
they failed to consider however, is that to the extent that the
campaign is successful, it is will bring back the wrong kind of people:
those who value a short-term bribe over freedom and entrepreneurship
unhindered by the interventionist state.

The AARP’s "commitment to all generations" campaign is dishonest and hypocritical

Have you seen the AARP’s latest ad campaign?
It shows a series of children who urge us to take action on the “five
core needs” of AARP: “the need for health; the need for financial
security; the need to contribute or give back to society; the need for
community and to stay connected to family, friends and social networks;
and the need to play and enjoy life.” The children imply that the
policies advocated by the AARP will benefit future generations. The
reality is that the policies the AARP advocates are not just wrong, but
are viciously dishonest in harming the very people they claim to

The AARP started out as a program for selling insurance
to retirees. After the government investigated its non-profit status in
the 1990’s, it changed its focus to political advocacy. Rather than
sell insurance to seniors, it now advocates policies which force everyone else to
pay for their member’s expenses. Our government will not allow AARP to
sell products to members and still call itself non-profit, but it has
no problem with AARP’s advocacy of policies which provide “benefits”
directly to AARP’s members. These “benefits” can only come at the
expense of working people and claims on the future income of children –
the very groups the current ad campaign claims to champion.

Contrary to the claims of better ties between older people and the
community, the welfare policies the AARP advocates create division and
bitterness. Working young people hold no delusions about the “benefits”
that programs like Social Security and Medicare promise. Even if these ponzi schemes pay out, they return a pittance compared
to voluntary investments and waste a huge portion of the confiscated
funds on bureaucratic waste and unrelated projects.

The AARP’s lobbyists know that our welfare system will go bankrupt
as baby boomers retire – but they staunchly oppose efforts to reform
it. They want to milk as much as possible from working people for as
long as possible – regardless of the hostility and division it will
create when today’s children and young adults are forced to pay for the
living and healthcare expenses of a growing retired population.

The alienation experienced by many retired people is a real problem
– but its cause is the very policies that organizations like the AARP
advocate. Instead of fostering responsible investing, financial
independence, long-term planning, and mutual support of family members,
the welfare state replaces individual decision making with central
planning, family members with an intrusive nanny state, and individual
responsibility with faith in the omnipotent state to provide for all

The policies the AARP advocates to solve the “needs” of its members
are a claim of ownership over the lives of the very people its
commercials claim to champion. Contrast the socialist policies pushed by the AARP to the capitalist model in the ads of financial
companies: instead of stealing your future from working people, they offer to help you turn the fruit of your own productivity into wealth.

Who are the real monsters?

[Crossposted:] Watching a segment about the U.S. Coast Guard today, I heard an
agent describe the immigrant smugglers who bring people from Cube as
“ruthless” men who “care nothing for human life.” That may well be true. Yet
moments before saying those words, the agent intercepted a Cuban family
moments before their attempt to seek a life of freedom would have been
successful. They likely paid their life savings to the smuggler – and will probably be sent back to prison – or worse.

The smugglers risk their life to bring desperate people to a free society. The
border agents casually condemn people to a life of persecution and
oppression and force them to undergo a perilous and financially ruinous
journey. If it were not for their persecution, the trip from Cuba, Mexico, and China would certainly be far safer and cheaper for the immigrants. Yet the border agents are supposed to be celebrated as the moral heroes? The agents are well aware
of their atrocities: “They hear the stories. But they need work. They
need to eat. They’re desperate.” Why isn’t everyone else?

(By the way, as much as their are vilified, the smugglers have a
strong incentive to keep their cargo alive and out of jail – so much
that they provide free legal aid if they are caught. If they sometimes get too aggressive about making a profit, the migrants have only an uncaring and hostile immigration policy to blame.)

Protectionist rhetoric will only accelerate the dollar’s slide

Buchanan’s recent attempt to
diagnose the sinking dollar
demonstrates that ignorance of basic economics is
not limited to the left.  Buchanan
points out the plummeting value of the dollar relative to other currencies and
major commodities such as gold (up 24% this
) and oil (up over
50% in 12 months
).  He then declares
that “the prime suspect in the death of the dollar is the massive trade
deficits America
has run up” to “maintain her standard of living and to sustain the American
Imperium.”  This diagnosis offers a
tantalizing glimpse of the truth, yet shatters it with protectionist bromides.

First, let’s deflate the protectionist rhetoric.  What are trade deficits and surpluses?  

A trade deficit means that in sum, American dollars are going
abroad in exchange for foreign goods.  Consider what this means.  If foreigners never cashed in those dollars,
Americans would essentially be getting foreign goods free of charge.  Protectionists like Buchanan
condemn this as “borrowing” but this is actually a form of investment – both in
industry and in the U.S. dollars.  Foreigners
have been investing in the U.S.
for decades for two primary reasons: the superior returns due to the growth
potential of American capitalism, and the dominance and (relative) stability of
the U.S. dollar, which made them useful as a means of exchange apart from their
purchasing power of U.S.
goods.  Americans are not living “beyond
our means,” as Buchanan claims, – we are simply a
more profitable investment, with a more stable currency than the foreign
investor’s own countries.

A trade surplus on the other hand, means that in sum, U.S.
goods are being sent abroad in exchange for foreign currency.  A trade surplus is a form of investing in
other countries, since (fiat) foreign currency is only worth the foreign
capital it can purchase.  This happened
after World War II, when the U.S.
sent capital to shattered foreign economies and reaped returns as the value of
their economies – and thus their currencies grew.

So are trade deficits preferable to trade surpluses?  In a narrow sense, yes.  A nation that has strong economic prospects
will attract foreign investment and therefore experience trade deficits.  Conversely, when the domestic economy is
stifled by regulations and monetary manipulations, investors will send their
savings abroad and the country will run a trade surplus.   (This
explains why the U.S.
deficit has consistently fallen during recessions and grew during periods of
However, the broader lesson is that trade inequalities indicate the net flow of
foreign investment, and the benefit of the inequality is ultimately validated
by the profitability of those investments.  Profitable foreign investment results in GDP growth and positive currency valuations,
whereas unprofitable foreign investment erodes economic growth and devalues the
currency of the investment’s recipient. 
Could a sufficiently large and wasteful investment be responsible for
the current dollar crisis?

A large part of the U.S.
trade deficit comes from the bonds (treasury securities) the U.S. government
has been selling to foreigners to finance the growing federal budget
deficit.  The value of these bonds depends
on both the strength of the U.S economy, and the loss of value caused by
expansion of the money supply.  When the
U.S Treasury sells bonds to individuals, it diverts savings from private
investments, and thus is a form of taxation. 
When it sells bonds to the Federal Reserve, it exchanges bonds for
dollars and thus is a form of monetary expansion (inflation.)  Additionally, when the government sells debt to
foreigners, it creates a liability against the U.S. economy.  Foreigners buying deficit debt are in essence
betting on the ability of the government to provide a return on the investment
in the form of positive economic growth. 
What happens when the investment fails to turn a profit?

The primary reason for the $9 trillion federal deficit is
the so-called “War on Terror,” including the spending on Homeland Security, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Unless you believe these funds averted an
economic meltdown due to terrorism, these funds represent a near-total
loss.  Tanks, bombs, and bureaucratic
paper-pushers consume vast funds yet aside from military contractors, they
contribute nothing to the economy.  This
economic destruction is one of the biggest reasons for the declining
dollar.  (Perhaps the major reason is the
credit bubble created by the inflationary policy of the Fed since the early
2000’s, which is now collapsing and making the economy less attractive as an
investment target.)

The falling dollar will make it increasingly more expensive
for the U.S.
government to accumulate more debt. 
Eventually, it will be forced to either cut spending, explicitly shift
costs to U.S citizens by increasing taxes directly, or (most likely) to
increase taxes through higher inflation. 
Investors have already anticipated this and flocked to other currencies
and gold as a refuge.  The slide will
likely continue until some kind of budget reconciliation is evident.

The overwhelming response to the problems created by the
government’s financial irresponsibility has been to call for more protectionism,
as Mr. Buchanan is doing.  Because it creates barriers to trade and
investment, protectionism makes the U.S. dollar less valuable to both foreign
consumers and investors, thus accelerating the fall of the dollar.  Investors have certainly anticipated this as
well – but don’t blame them for betting on the gullibility of Americans to the
protectionist rhetoric of economic ignoramuses like Paul
Krugman and Pat Buchanan.

If we can avoid the protectionist trap and reconcile the
budget, the falling value of the dollar will eventually attract investors and stimulate
exports.  As the developing world becomes
richer and freer, the U.S. dollar is unlikely to enjoy the unchallenged superiority
it once had, but maturing foreign markets will attract products and services designed
in America,
and we will once again become a recipient of foreign investment.  Free markets and American ingenuity made the U.S. the greatest
economy in the world, and they are the only way we will keep it that way.

Ron Paul on immigration: What’s the worst that could happen?

One of the more disturbing things about Ron Paul’s popularity is his staunch opposition to legal and
illegal immigration. I pick on him not because his views on immigrants
are especially harsh, but because they stand in stark contrast to his
reputation as an advocate of free markets and Austrian economics. On his campaign issues page,
he warns that “current reform proposals would allow up to 60 million
more immigrants into our country” and that “this is insanity.” I am
surprised to see Ron Paul buying into this tired bit of socialist
rhetoric. The idea that simply allowing 60 million would actually
result in 60 million people rushing into the U.S. is absurd, but
suppose it were true. What’s the worst that could happen?

According to the Malthusian theory subscribed to by socialists and environmentalists, the amount
of resources and capital in a particular region is fixed, so the average income
of individuals can be calculated by dividing the total resource/capital base by
the number of people.  A fixed resource
base means a fixed number of jobs, so a large influx of immigrants means rising
unemployment and falling standards of living.

Fortunately, it is socialism, not open immigration that is
“insanity.”  The premise that
the resources available to meet human needs are fixed – that each new human
being requires a fixed amount of land, metal, and fossil fuels to live – is
absurd.  Each additional individual
creates not only new demand for the products of civilization, but also provides
new resources and insight for meeting those needs.  Every self-supporting worker produces more
than he consumes, adding to total productive output and raising the real wage
rate for everyone.  Historically, the
American standard of living rose fastest during peak immigration periods and
continues to rise today.  Our greatest
source of wealth is not natural resources or the capital base, but the
ingenuity and creativity of our entrepreneurs and workers.

By increasing the division of labor, immigrants free up
workers previously employed in maintaining the capital base to invest their
time in growing capital and efficiency. 
So for example, by lowering labor costs, new immigrant factory workers
free up engineers to invest in expanding production and improving the
efficiency of labor.  This improves
everyone’s living standards.  A free
society allows a growing capital and knowledge base to be multiplied by
entrepreneurs who find new methods to improve human life, proving an
exponential growth in prosperity. 

A further complaint of Dr Paul is
that “taxpayers should not pay for illegal immigrants who use hospitals,
clinics, schools, roads, and social services.”  I completely agree.  However, this is besides the point.  No one
has a right to live of other people, regardless of where he was born.  American welfare bums do not have any more
right to my property than Mexican bums.  It
is the welfare state that is immoral, not immigration.  Furthermore, the argument is misleading
because illegal immigrants and permanent residents are generally not eligible
for welfare, and already pay the property, fuel, and sales taxes that pay for
schools and roads.  Illegal immigrants don’t pay income taxes, which Dr. Paul believes we should eliminate anyway, but they often pay social security taxes via bogus social security cards – effectively subsidizing legal workers.  Do people who oppose
granting illegal immigrants driver’s licenses realize that they are for forcing
citizens to pay for the illegal immigrants’ share of road-maintenance

For more on the issue, read my case for open immigration.

No such thing as a right to happiness

A recent court ruling awarded a father $11 million due to the
“emotional distress” caused by Wesboro
Baptist Church
members who picketed his son’s funeral.  The
defendant’s attorney presented the case as an issue of free speech.  While the ruling is a violation of rights, supporters
of both sides demonstrate a misunderstanding of rights when they present the
issue as a case of privacy versus freedom of speech.  There is no such thing as a “right” to
privacy, speech, or a certain emotional state. 
Much of the confusion over rights today is due to lack of understanding
of property rights.

Most people understand that there is no absolute right to
“happiness.”  Such a claim would mean
that anyone could turn everyone around them into slaves by demanding their
labor or property in order to be “happy.”  Rights define the actions men make take in a
social context, but do not impose any obligation, except to respect the same
rights of others.  This is why the U.S.
Declaration of Independence declares the right to the pursuit of happiness, not
to happiness itself.

Despite this, democratic governments enforce a “right” to happiness
through the formation of a contradictory set of “fundamental” rights.  By “rights” they mean both freedom from coercion
(negative rights), and “rights” to various goods and services, which are paid
for by coercion (positive rights).  To
clarify: rights include the right to be free from coercion as well as the power
to coerce others.  Democracies hide this contradiction
by the pretence that allowing citizens to participate in elections qualifies as
consent to the coersion.  In fact,
elections only give individual voters a miniscule power to choose the people who
decide who gets to rob whom.  Democracies
are a civil war in which votes are weapons, “positive rights” the cause and public
property is often the battleground. 

All “public” property ultimately benefits individuals.  There is no such thing as a collective mind
or a collective stomach.  “Common
services” like welfare, schools, and parks are consumed by the unemployed, students,
and nature enthusiasts.  In democratic societies,
most of the debate over conflicting “rights” comes from attempts by groups
with conflicting values to use the same public property.  For example, the debate over prayer in schools
exists only because public schools are used by people with conflicting
religious beliefs.  No such issue exists
for private schools – parents simply send their children to schools whose
teachings they find acceptable.  The “right
to privacy” was invented primarily because states started monitoring and interfering
with the consensual behavior of adults.  Likewise,
the need to protect a right to speech is only necessary because people with
conflicting values demand to use the same public spaces to express their ideas.  Over time, the right to speech has come to
mean not just the freedom to express ideas on publicly-owned property, but the
power to regulate private property by forcing property owners to permit or
forbid certain content.  Controls on
speech on private property include “equal time” requirements, censorship of “immoral”
content by the FCC, campaign finance regulations, restrictions of commercial
speech, and laws against “hate speech”
and “hate crimes.”

The solution to the morass of contradictory “rights” is to
re-establish the principle of negative rights – that is, to define rights
solely in terms of property rights (including ownership of one’s own body.)  For example, in the Wesboro Baptist case, the
only relevant question should be –  did
the protester’s actions constitute trespass? 
If the protesters were on cemetery grounds against the owner’s wishes,
or were shouting from a neighboring property, the issue can be handled as a
case of simple trespass.  However to criminalize
merely putting someone in a state of “emotional distress”  criminalizes any speech or action that might
potentially offend someone.    This is nothing less than a right to happiness
– which means the right to use force against anyone to fulfill one’s whims.

An economically optimal level of tasing

The growing use of tasers by the
police and the invention of novel non-lethal weapons have led to calls to ban
or restrict their use. 

The two sides of the debate are
usually identified as the “civil libertarian” left/liberals versus the “law and
order” right/conservatives.  The liberals are concerned with “civil rights
and freedoms” while the conservatives worry about “safety and security.” 
Each side identifies with a victim group – the accused the left and the
“law-abiding citizens” on the right.  This presents a dilemma for the
public – should their primary concern be safety from criminals, or the
potential for police brutality?  The false dichotomy of these choices is
exposed with a little incentive analysis.

The introduction of non-lethal
weapons allows a finer degree of discrimination in the escalation of
force.  Whereas previously an officer might have had to decide between
verbal commands, direct physical force, and lethal force, tasers introduce a finer
distinction, cutting into the territory of all three possibilities.  Some
suspects who might have previously been shot will be tased, but suspects who
might have previously been wrestled to the ground, or ordered to comply might
be tased as well.  As Dan
D’Amico points out
, tasers are a
great substitute for muscle strength, allowing women to have a greater role in
police operations. 

By lowering the risk of personal
injury or unnecessary use of lethal force, tasers offer a powerful
risk-management tool for police officers.  For the targets of non-lethal
weapons, the effect is two-sided: suspects who might have previously been shot
benefit, but suspects who would otherwise be verbally instructed or physically
restrained generally suffer.

The debate over whether the police
should use non-lethal weapons is thus misguided.  The police have always
had a range of non-lethal options in their jobs, from words, to nightsticks, to
fists.  The real issue being debated is the extent to which police
officers should risk injury to detain suspects.  Should they only use
force when someone’s life is in danger, or to avoid the risk of injury when
attempting to tackle a suspect, or to avoid a sprain from having to run after
someone?  It is likely that further
debate will result in a consensus enforced by the legislative and judicial
branches of government.  But what
criteria should be used to determine the level of risk that police officers may
be exposed to before using force? 

Under our democratic/retributive justice
system, the established standards will likely be influenced by a variety of non-objective
factors such as the public’s fear of police brutality, their desire for safety,
the cost of lawsuits from police actions, and the political gain politicians find
from pushing more or less draconian policies. 
Notably, police officers are only held responsible for injuring others only
if found guilty of a miscarriage of justice, that is, willful malice or
negligent behavior in the performance of their job.  This provides an incentive for the judicial
branch to minimize liability by maximizing the leeway officers have in deciding
whether to use force.

Contrast the retributive system of the
criminal justice system with the strict liability restitution convention found in
civil law.  Under strict liability, it is
not necessary to find a party guilty of malice or negligence, only of fault.  Perpetrators of damages arising from inherently
dangerous activities are responsible for damages regardless of whether they
acted improperly.  Drivers at fault for
damaging another car or injuring a driver are held financially responsible
regardless of whether they acted maliciously or negligently.  Under a strict liability standard, a police
agency would be held responsible for personal injury and property damages if an
officer injures an innocent suspect, or unnecessarily injures a criminal — even
if the officer acted properly in the performance of his duty.  For example, an officer who fires at a guilty
suspect who poses a real threat would not be liable, but an officer who fires
at a suspect who does not pose a threat will be held liable for damages whether
the officer is guilty of a miscarriage of duty or simply made an error in
judgment.  Furthermore, such a system might
repay defendants who are exonerated at trial for their time and suffering.

One concern with a strict liability standard
is that it would greatly increase the financial risk faced by police
departments and courts.  But by placing
the burden of minimizing costs on the judicial agency, a strong incentive is
created to minimize mistakes – and therefore costs.  It is likely that police departments would
attempt to insure themselves against risk, and the insurance agents would in
turn establish guidelines which seek to minimize their exposure.  Such guidelines may ban tasers because of their
health risks – or they may require them in most situations where deadly weapons
were formerly employed.  Police agencies
may also prefer to hire men because they would find it easier to tackle suspects
or women because they are better at resolving conflicts peacefully.  Police agencies would be free to experiment
on the most economic way to perform their jobs, while the public they protect
would be insulated from their mistakes by a strict liability standard.

Another concern with strict
liability under the current legal system is that it would make police agencies
averse to enforcing laws which are prone to mistakes or unsuccessful prosecutions
– namely, those known as “victimless crimes.” 
Adultery,  gambling,  homosexuality,  and the trade of illicit substances and goods
are areas where the lack of a victim makes errors in suspect identification and
successful prosecutions especially likely. 
This is especially true of laws pushed by vocal voters on unwilling
recipients – for example, communities which favor drug or alcohol prohibition
on communities which tolerate drug and alcohol users. 

Yet this only illustrates the failure
of democratic processes to establish economically efficient laws.  If enforcement agencies are required to pay for
their mistakes, they will favor enforcing laws which can be objectively
enforced and violations of which result in victims pushing for enforcement.  A private legal system based on the principle
of restitution is much more likely to provide this incentive than our current system
of criminal retribution.