On Jury Nullification

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I have jury duty tomorrow morning, so I thought I would share some thoughts on the moral and contractual obligations of a juror:

A trial is, or ought to be, a fact-finding process, conducted in order to determine whether pre-existing legal principles are applicable to a specific case.  It should not be a religious, philosophical, or political discourse – that is, the rules by which guilt or responsibility is determined must be known beforehand.  It is not up to the judge or jury to determine what the law ought to be, only to apply it to the established facts.  If the law was determined rather than applied at trial, it would be impossible for anyone to obey it.  Furthermore, a just legal system should be uniform – people must have assurance that outcomes will not depend on the particular judge and juror they stand before.

However, while it is not the job of the juror to determine whether the law is just, it is his moral responsibility to treat other men justly.  Someone who is hired to be a repo agent may not have a contractual obligation to determine whether the collateral he collects is for debts which are legitimately are in default, but he has a moral obligation to refuse his assignments if he suspects that he’s seizing legitimate property.  If he refuses assignments based on tenuous grounds, he may justly be fired, but if he has some certainty that he’s seizing legitimate property, he becomes as much a thief as his employer.  Likewise with the juror.

One criticism of jury nullification is that a jury is not neither qualified to judge the law nor does it have any legitimacy in doing so.  And this is certainly true as a matter of law.  A juror who disagrees with the practical implementation of the moral principles behind a law ought to defer to the established process.  He can always exercise his disagreement and try to effect change in his role as a private citizen.

But, the situation is different when a juror disagrees with the moral principles behind a law.  A law based on incorrect moral principles is inherently unjust, regardless of the facts of the case.  The conviction of anyone based on such as law is necessarily an act of aggression.  Any participation in the process, even solely in the function of determining the facts, is an immoral act.  No judge can honestly ask a juror to breach his integrity, or blame him for refusing to do so.    Everyone, regardless of his role, has a personal moral obligation to treat others justly and refrain from willingly participating in injustice.

What is a moral juror to do then?  He should refuse to serve if he believes that the principles of a law are inherently unjust.  By doing so, he does not undermine the legal process, since another juror can be substituted, nor does he violate his own integrity.  For example, a juror exceeds his role if he refuses to convict because he thinks that the punishment for an action is too harsh, but he acts properly if he refuses to serve because he does not believe the act being prosecuted to constitute an act of coercion at all.

In the special case that the judge is unable to find enough jurors who accept the morality of the law, has two choices:  he may either require the charges to be dropped, or he may offer the dissenting jurors to serve anyway.  If they do so, they cannot be blamed for acquitting the defendant based on their judgment of the law, in addition to their judgment of the facts.  However, the possibility of them changing their minds after hearing the evidence remains.  Presumably, as long as the law is consistent with the basic moral principles of citizens qualified to serve on the jury, it should not be difficulty to find sufficient jurors.

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Do fat people deserve medical treatment?


Faced with an “obesity epidemic“, that has dramatic consequences for medical costs, pundits have proposed different solutions, ranging from excluding obesity from health insurance, government-run prevention campaigns, higher taxes on junk food, or higher premiums for fat people.

The possibility of greater government involvement in medicine with the passing of ObamaCare puts this debate in a new light. If the government decides who gets money for medical treatment, the question of whether fat people deserve medical treatment will become a political issue.

The question of who “deserves” treatment is only conceivable in a welfare state. In a free, capitalist society, people are able to allocate their wealth according to their judgment of the merit of their own and other’s health, including the degree to which they are culpable for their condition. However, there is no rational way to allocate property taken by force.

Does Jake, who became paralyzed because he liked extreme sports, or Kate, who has lung cancer because she is a smoker, or Mary, who has problems because has a tendency towards obesity which she does not try to control with diet or exercise, or Sue, who is dying from old age, and whose life might be slightly extended at tremendous cost deserve my money?

Once the idea that theft is justified because others need something is accepted, there is no objective way to decide which group is more “deserving” or which values are most “needed.” There is no way to make moral evaluations when “need” trumps justice and morality.

Justice and merit are moral concepts. To “deserve” someone’s property, is to have a moral claim to it. We create a claim to someone’s property when we engage in voluntary transactions – such as labor for wages, or goods for services, child care by choosing to bear children, or paying for injury if it is due to our neglect. But to claim that someone “deserves” our wealth merely by the fact of them being alive implies that some human beings have a moral claim on the life and values of others. That is a form of slavery. A modern, democratic and egalitarian form of slavery, but still slavery.

For someone to receive medical treatment, someone else must first create the wealth to pay for it. In a free society, people produce values voluntarily, and exchange them to mutual benefit. But the premise that someone has “a right to healthcare” means “a right to” seize values by force from those who produce them and give them to those who didn’t earn them. In such a slave society, people exist and produce values by permission, to the degree that those in power find them useful. Whether their values are seized directly, such as in socialism, or nominally theirs, but controlled by the state, such as in the fascist state our healthcare system is in, is irrelevant.

Some “moderates” argue that sick people “deserve” medical care when their misfortune is not their fault. But why should it matter whether they are responsible for their condition? People desire all kinds of values, whether cars, iPhones, shoes, friends, plastic surgery, or a long life. Sometimes they succeed in gaining those values, and sometimes they fail – whether it is due to a character flaw, ignorance, or just bad luck. But whatever the reason for their trouble, why does their misfortune give them a right to steal those values from an innocent third party?

If it is impossible to allocate socialized medicine objectively, how is it allocated? It’s simple – the group that ends up getting the loot is the one which has the most guns. In a democracy, where ballots are the bullets, the biggest, most corrupt, and politically-connected group wins. The implied message of their “awareness” campaigns is “my gang has more guns than yours.” The monstrosity of the welfare state is that the more virtuous and productive a person is, the more of his life and values he is forced to sacrifice, and the more unproductive and needy he is, the more he is rewarded for it. Like all forms of statism, medical socialism punishes virtue and rewards vice.

Consumerism will not save us


The conventional view of economic growth now being discussed in the news prescribes higher consumer spending as the solution to the current economic recession.  The idea is that if people buy more big screen TV’s for Christmas, manufacturers will increase production, hire more workers, raise wages, and we’ll all live happily ever after.  As practiced in government policies, this mistaken belief is highly dangerous, and will lead to the exact opposite of its intended effects.  To explain why, I will apply my earlier principle that “same principles that apply to your personal finances… apply equally to the world at large, at all levels of economy activity” and that “political success requires advocating policies which violate these basic economic principles – and then evading the consequences of their own policies.”

First, we have to question the premise that maximizing economic growth is inherently good.  Consider the nature of a young person saving money for his future.   If all he cares only about is his income and net worth, he must spend every waking hour of his life working, advancing his career and investing everything but the bare essentials of survival.  Such a strategy will maximize present and future income at the cost of sacrificing the actual purpose of that income – to enjoy the values that his labor makes possible, including both consumer goods and time to relax and enjoy life with friends and loved ones.  If everyone employed such a strategy, our society would experience rapid economic growth – until we all dropped dead from exhaustion or depression.  In fact, social and economic progress requires that we devote some resources to long-term investments such as hobbies, art, and philosophy to develop our careers, values, and other opportunities to improve our lives.

Second, the lack of a consumer culture is not an impediment to economic growth, as resources that are not consumed are invested into new markets and improving the capital resources needed to expand future production.  If our workaholic forfeits a new car now to buy a better car at some point in the future, his savings are not lost.  Instead of being directed into present consumption, his savings become the investment capital for new factories and R&D into cheaper and better cars.  Thus is why such high economic growth is possible in “Asian tigers” such as Japan and China – high rates of savings support rapid technological progress and investment into industry at the cost of a much more frugal lifestyle than in the West.  In fact, there is a tradeoff between current consumption and the savings available to invest in future production and increased economic growth.  There is no single right answer to this tradeoff – every individual must choose for himself how to balance present spending with investing in his future.  In a free market, the sum of individual savings rates becomes the real interest rate.

Third, the consequences of artificially manipulating interest rates are disastrous.    By expanding the money supply through manipulation of interest rates or (as is happening now) sending money directly from the printing presses to banks and other corporations, the government is devaluing savings and redirecting them into increased consumer spending.  This improves the economic statistics in the short run at the cost of wiping out the resources set aside for long-term capital improvements.  For the last few decades, America’s spending binge has been funded by foreign investment and rapid technological innovation, but ultimately, unless we drastically cut our consumption, and direct our income into savings and repaying our debts, we will find our money increasingly worthless both here and internationally.  If you are wondering how bad hyperinflation could get, just look at Zimbawbe, were life expectancy has declined from 60 to 37/34, unemployment is at 80%, and as much as half the surviving population has left the country.


On Freedom and Toleration


This post is inspired by the State of Texas’ recent abduction of 416 kids from a polygamist compound.

One way to measure the degree of freedom in a society is by looking at the kinds of associations made by its members. A free people can choose to enter into any association they wish, and are not forced into any associations against their will. By associations, I include both social associations, such as friendships, meeting, publications, and marriages, as well as material associations, such as gifts, trade, business agreements, and common property. Voluntary associations are those entered into by mutual consent to mutual benefit.  Non-voluntary associations (the status of minors aside) include taxes, crime, restrictions on trade and commerce, and any other regulation of consensual behavior that is imposed on individuals against their own judgment.

A free society requires a certain kind of tolerance for other people’s beliefs and associations.  Because the term is unclear, it is necessary to distinguish two kinds of toleration. Political toleration is equal treatment under the law – the presumption that every human being has the same rights as everyone else. A violation of this kind of toleration is only possible in interactions that involve the threat or use of force.  Political discrimination includes preferential or detrimental treatment of any group or individual based on any criteria other than an individual’s respect for the rights of others.  Examples of political intolerance include laws that favor the rich or poor (such any government tax or fee that is not fixed), racial quotas, or limitations on contracts based on sexual orientation or the market share of one’s business.

In contrast to political toleration, social toleration is non-judgmentalism.  As applied to cultural distinctions, it is known as multiculturalism.   A total commitment to social toleration requires the presumption that no particular culture, way of life, or value system is superior to any other. Practically everyone engages in various kinds of social intolerance when they issue moral praise and condemnation, or choose to associate or dissociate with various people or groups based on their beliefs or identities.  There are many levels of intolerance — we might buy our groceries from someone we would not necessarily want as a business partner or spouse.

I believe that a free people must be politically tolerant, but socially intolerant. Political tolerance is necessary because the freedom of association requires that individuals be able to establish any voluntary association they choose, including those that the majority disapproves of, such as polygamous relationships.  A society that does not respect this right will eventually succumb to pressure group warfare followed by dictatorship, as conflicting moral views battle in the political arena until one seizes power by force.  Social intolerance on the other hand, is necessary because in a society that does not use political means to prohibit destructive (but voluntary) behavior and ideas, people must rely on their own judgment for moral guidance.  In order to live successfully in a politically pluralistic society, individuals need to use their own judgment to decide which associations are harmful or beneficial within the context of voluntary associations.  (In this context, a presumption of innocence is equally important in social as well as political tolerance.)

Politically, freedom means the freedom to disagree – to be free to make choices regardless of the approval of others. A free people must be free to create and join religious cults, no matter how absurd their beliefs or how self-destructive their practices are. Socially, freedom requires an ethic of self-reliance and independent moral judgment. To survive and thrive in a free society, we must decide which people and groups to join and which ones to condemn and avoid.

Recessions are created by greedy politicians, not businessmen


Sen. John McCain this morning said “greedy” Wall Street investors are partly to blame for what he said is probably an economic recession the nation is now suffering.

“There has to be a modification of the greedy behavior of some of these people,” he said, using the word “greedy” repeatedly in remarks to the Associated Press annual meeting at the Washington Convention Center today.

By “modification” McCain means that he wants to replace the greed of investors, whose rational self-interest motivates them to maximize wealth, with the greed of politicians and government bureaucrats, whose greed motivates them to create as much economic destruction as possible, in the attempt to maximize their political prestige and power. Such economic destruction, in the form of the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of interest rates and Congress’ hampering of markets is precisely what is responsible for the economic recession McCain would like to see happen. Honest businessmen thrive in a booming market – it takes an economic crisis (real or invented) for political crooks like McCain to justify the expansion of political power.

Ignorant creationists accidentally vote for evolution


The creationist ignoramuses on the Florida Board of Education officially upheld evolution yesterday when they voted to approve “the scientific theory of evolution” as the “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology.”  Presumably, they thought that the inclusion of the word “theory” is a slight to science – demonstrating an utter ignorance of the scientific process.  In the battle against theocracy, this episode reinforces the lesson that a proper epistemology is more desperately needed than knowledge of any particular theory.  Hopefully, students will now learn the meaning of “scientific theory” in addition to evolution.

Ron Paul on open 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 costs?

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

Where do rich Candian leftists go for Health Care when it matters?


Hint: it’s not a “free” Canadian hospital.

Traffic Jams and Bread Lines


On my daily drive to work, I am greeted by a crawling, sprawling traffic jam on the other side of the freeway. I can’t imagine what it must be like to spend an hour or more of one’s life every day in the ridiculous drudgery of a traffic jam – I would go insane if I had to get up at 5 am for the commute, like some of my coworkers. (Luckily, I was able to find an apartment that allows me to be at work in six minutes.)

The sight of thousands of victims inching forward in mind-numbing drudgery reminded me of a similar scene from my childhood in Soviet Ukraine. A few times a month, I would go visit my grandmother in the city, and we would spend a day buying groceries.

A day was necessary, because much of it was spent in line for bread, fish, or the rare “exotic” foods like plums or oranges. Once, we waited four hours for some dried figs, only to find that they had all been sold to the revered yet much-reviled war veterans. I remember someone yelling at the store vendors and accusing them of keeping some figs for themselves and of their apathy towards our fig-less plight. The vendors shouted curses back with the same enthusiasm. Their apathy was indeed obvious, though I would not realize why until many years later.

Why should have Soviet bureaucrats care about how long we had to wait for non-existent figs? Why should the bureaucrats in charge of the Dallas roads care about the lives squandered away in the daily commute?

I know who did care about our plight: the bazaar merchants who sold us chickens and potatoes. They were tough bargainers, but they were very interested in meeting the wants of their customers. The American supermarket is a bazaar on a grand scale, where I can not only find dried figs 24/7, but a dozen other fruits I have never heard of.

We trust entrepreneurs with our bread, so why don’t we trust them with our roads? To a politician, each traffic-plagued driver is a liability, to be appeased by a some highly visible but most likely useless project. How might an entrepreneur look at a traffic jam, if the State did not monopolize transportation?

To an entrepreneur, each tired and miserable driver is a goldmine, an income opportunity waiting to be exploited. The misery of the driver is an unmet need, a value waiting for the right mind to come along and provide it. The idea of a traffic jam would be obscene in a free market: millions of unsatisfied consumers are an irresistible magnet for the right investor.

Are our roads really as bad as Soviet bread lines? They certainly get far more funding (from money taken from more productive enterprises), but the incompetence can be staggering.

I tried to go the bike shop across town today, and ended up stuck in traffic. The lane on the right of me was a HOV lane. It was created by city politicians with good intentions, I’m sure, but since the vast majority of drivers ride alone, it only ends up constricting the lanes available for traffic. Once the volume of cars per lane reaches a critical mass, the traffic slows to a crawl. Do you think political pressure or a calculation by a traffic expert made that decision? Federal funding regulations require new city highways to dedicate an HOV lane, despite studies (from the very highway I was driving) that indicate “a 41-56 percent increase in injury accidents.” Does anyone care?

On the right side of the highway, several lanes on the left were closed for an accident earlier in the day. It had taken most of the day to clean up, and the roads were still closed several hours after the accident. A hundred thousand drivers were stuck in traffic, but who cares? Certainly the police in the cars blocking the road didn’t, and neither did the road workers. Why should they – they are stuck at work, so why should commuters get home any sooner? Maybe they were waiting for someone in dispatch to wake up, or perhaps they preferred to wait till traffic died down to drive home themselves.

By the time I made it to the bike shop, it had closed, so I stopped by to meet some friends at a sandwich place. It was getting late, and the waitress looked busy and tired from long day, but when I walked in, she walked over, smiled, and asked, “How can I help you?” Sure beats waiting in line for figs.

(Read more on how private roads could work.)


Have the WMD’s finally been found? Let’s hope Bush has the guts to follow up…
(Thanks, RE)

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