Private Policing I Find Disturbing

Some residents of New Brighton, Christchurch are sick of the police failing to control crime and have taken to patrolling the streets. I would be all for that were these guys not a bunch of white supremacists.

A “white pride” group, Right Wing Resistance (RWR), claims to be patrolling New Brighton streets that “the police and the system has all but given up on”.

The group, linked to North Island-based white power activist Kyle Chapman, says Christchurch is the centre of a “white pride” revival.

Films of their initiation ceremonies were listed on an internet site for “white nationalists” called WNTube.

A message board used by the group,, said the group was performing “crimewatch patrols” aimed at “cutting down on homie [American rap-style] vandalism and muggings that have become common on the east side of CHCH”.

“The police and the system in general has all but given up on the poor areas and it is left to us to sort this out now,” it said. (…)

Locals were getting very upset with youths, particularly Polynesian youths, standing over people and vandalising.” (…)

If a European youth was found vandalising property: “We’d probably say `Hey, what are you doing? That’s not really the white way’.” (…)

New Brighton Residents Association member George Aorangi Stanley said “boot boys” had been spotted “hanging around looking menacing”.

“I don’t know if you’d consider it patrolling. I just consider them as contributing to the tension.”

The group had correctly tapped into local concern about crime and safety, she said. “It’s the main topic of conversation at the [Residents Association] meetings.”

Aorangi Stanley said the association had discussed doing their own patrols – a “reclaim the night” action – to increase safety.

This is the kind of thing Eric Crampton and I worry about in our paper on meddlesome preferences in anarchy, recently discussed here and here. (New Brighton, by the way, is Eric’s neck of the woods – I wonder if he has noticed anything?) Without government to provide public or quasi-public goods like policing, private clubs will step in to fill the gap. Of course, not all private clubs are created equal and those most able to overcome collective action problems will become more common in anarchy (or, as we see here, dysfunctional government). Further, small groups with intense preferences will have more power relative to large groups with weak preferences in anarchy compared to democracy.

The economics of religion pioneered by Larry Iannaccone, another of the amazingly interesting economists at GMU, suggests that clubs which require costly signals of commitment to the group – often including the internalization of wacky beliefs and efforts to make oneself stigmatized by the outside world –  will be more successful. Iannaccone is interested in sects, but his logic also applies to secular gangs like skinheads. Costly signalling means that we can’t rely on the standard incentive arguments against bigotry being expressed through markets. Beating up Polynesian kids is costly, but if it works to signal one’s commitment to the group, the costliness is a feature rather than a bug. On average, then, high-commitment clubs will instill preferences which favour the violation of others’ rights more than low-commitment clubs. Since these small groups with intense have more say in anarchy (where willingness to pay largely determines outcomes)  than democracy (where the raw numbers supporting some policy largely determines outcomes) , anarchy produces the situation it is least able to handle. So, by the way, does democracy.

Now, if the skinheads in New Brighton really are making the streets safer (which I doubt), the benefits will be enjoyed by residents regardless of whether they join or not. The fact that the group can get a bunch of guys to produce a public good (even if it’s intimidation of Polynesian kids) indicates that they’ll also be pretty good at producing a whole lot of club goods only enjoyed by members. If the role of government decreases, then, the skinheads will attract more members and we should expect more racist violence in New Brighton.

I still favour anarchy, but I do think this is something to worry about. Fortunately, it’s also something that reasonable people can work towards avoiding. The community association conducting its own patrols will reduce the leverage the skinheads can get in the community. More generally, efforts to create non-bigoted groups to voluntarily produce public goods will fill the void sects emerge to fill.

Louis CK on Helen Lovejoyism

Steven Horwitz points to an example of Helen Lovejoyism at Liberty & Power:

You’ve all seen them. Those ubiquitous TV ads where a simple little pill transforms a man suffering from erectile dysfunction, or ED, into a virile tiger who puts a smile on the face of his now beaming wife.

Well, Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) has seen them too, and you’d be hard pressed to see a smile on his face when he talks about the ads. “A number of people,” he says, “have come up, including colleagues, and said I’m fed up. I don’t want my three or four-year old grandkid asking me what erectile dysfunction is all about. And I don’t blame them.”

Comedian Louis CK (hat tip to Bryan Caplan for pointing to another Louis CK clip which prompted me to view others) sums up the Helen Lovejoyist argument against same-sex marriage. I’m not normally a fan of standup comedy (with some notable exceptions), but this is very funny.

Act has Jumped the Shark

In case there was previously any doubt, the ACT Party – New Zealand’s supposedly classical liberal party – is now thoroughly socially conservative. Three of the party’s five MPs have voted in favour of a bill which passed by the New Zealand Parliament yesterday to ban the wearing of ‘gang insignia’ in a specific region of the country.

Kudos to Act MPs Heather Roy and Roger Douglas for opposing the Bill. It would be a mighty shame if Sir Roger tarnished his great political legacy by supporting this sort of illiberal, populist crap. I wouldn’t expect anything different from David Garrett, who once said “we’ve got too hung up on people’s rights,” and John Boscowen has never struck me as principled liberal. I am saddened that ACT’s leader Rodney Hide would vote for the Bill, though. Until ACT got into government, Rodney has always seemed like a principled defender of freedom. Here’s what Rodney had to say about the Bill on its first reading in April 2008:

I said that the ACT party would vote for the bill to go to a select committee. We could never vote for its third reading, but I thought the debate would be useful. But now Labour, in a fit of “election-itis”, is voting for the bill. So I have been to see Mr Borrows, who has kindly said I can vote against it, which I feel so much better about. (…)

Let us cut to the principles, and I want the National Party to think about principles. National members stood up and huffed and puffed about free speech for MPs, and spoke about that being a fundamental right. Yet suddenly one cannot wear something on one’s T-shirt. (…)

Well, freedom is not what the majority says. Freedom is about the individual, and the measure of a free society is how we move to protect the minority from the majority. If the majority thinks that people wearing glasses should be locked up, that is not freedom or democracy; if the majority thinks that people of a certain colour should be treated differently because they are a minority, that is not freedom. Freedom is actually about protecting the rights of each and every one of us. The law should be about that.

The concern that we have about gangs is not about what they wear; it is about what they do. Our concern is when they intimidate us, threaten us, and beat us—and not just gangs or those wearing a patch do that. We have all manner of intimidation and threats to our property from all sorts of people. That is what we should be attending to in upholding our law.

His views have changed a fair bit since then:

ACT leader Rodney Hide told Parliament he was aware his vote was crucial. He remained a libertarian and believed in personal freedoms but that did not mean people could intimidate each other.

“The wearing of a patch on your jacket is intimidation of law-abiding citizens,” he decided.

“I am prepared to give the good people of Wanganui the opportunity to make a law  so that they can choose how they want to live, and the police can enforce it, and they can live free from the intimidation and fear that they have been suffering.

“They have my vote.”

I’d be fascinated to hear what could have prompted such a sharp turn in Rodney’s thinking. He has a blog. Let’s hope he uses it to explain himself.

Bernard Darnton, Liberty Scott, Lindsay Mitchell, and Blair Mulholland all have excellent comments.

Same-sex Marriage and the Neutral State

Jason Kuznicki has another excellent post on same-sex marriage at Positive Liberty:

Maggie Gallagher gets more dishonest and incoherent as her views on same-sex marriage lose support. Here’s the latest example:

Same-sex marriage is quite different from bans on interracial marriage in one powerful respect: It asks religious Americans to surrender a core belief — not only Leviticus (disapproval of gay sexual acts), but Genesis (the idea that God himself made man as male and female and commanded men and women to come together in a special way to image the fruitfulness of God).

The existence of same-sex marriage doesn’t do anything to stop those who believe in Genesis.

Extending a secular legal institution likewise has nothing do do with Genesis. You’re still free to go about your life as you see fit, unless you happen to be a state agent, in which case you have no business enforcing Genesis anyway.

I’m not quite sure Jason’s suggestion that homophobic Christians are not being forced to give up their deeply-held religious convictions is entirely right. Their objection is not simply they don’t want to have gay sex or be in a gay marriage, but that they disapprove of others doing these things. To many people, laws are not simply external, impersonal constraints, but a way of signalling those things of which we, as a community, approve and disapprove. To say that two men are legally allowed to marry, on this view, is to approve of such a thing. As long as there’s a state with an active role to play, it must make moral judgements. Moral judgements are never neutral, and those who disagree with government policy feel they are being forced to endorse something they find immoral. As long as the government continues to make policy, I just don’t see a way around this dilemma.

To be clear, given that the state is in fact involved in marriage, I think discrimination based on sexuality is horrific and I have no qualms siding with the marriage equality side of the debate. If the state has to make a moral judgement, I say it should make the most defensible and least bigoted one. I don’t want to be silently complicit in perpetuating injustice, but would prefer the state wasn’t put in the position of making such a judgement at all.

Massachusetts Considers Ban on Granny Porn

Eugene Volokh has the sad, bigoted news:

Yup, the law (in Massachusetts) would make it a very serious crime — tantamount to child pornography — to make, and distribute “with lascivious intent,” “any visual material that contains a representation or reproduction of any posture or exhibition in a state of nudity” involving anyone age 60 or over, or anyone who has “a permanent or long-term physical or mental impairment that prevents or restricts the individual’s ability to provide for his or her own care or protection.”

This is a horrendously clear example of the political system being used to coercively prevent activity many people simply find distasteful. There doesn’t seem to be any policy goal here other than banning something the public doesn’t like: I can’t imagine any negative externalities arising from the production or consumption of elder or disabled porn other than the moral externalities of Puritans knowing that such perverse material exists. I guess the justification might be that people over 60 or with disabilities are not capable of consenting. This is, of course, just plain wrong and profoundly offensive. 

A  commentator at The Volokh Conspiracy makes what I guess is a facetious remark:

The whole genre of “granny porn” will disappear. 

Can BBW porn be next?

I wouldn’t bet against some people supporting this. Naked pictures of fat people are distasteful to many, and could be seen as promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. 

And yes, I do support the legalization of bestiality.

Smoking Regulation is Aesthetic

Can outright smoking prohibition be far away when people support laws like this?

Lighted cigarettes meant lightened purses and wallets for smokers who were caught puffing in public last week, as the city began enforcement of a smoking ban that technically went into effect last summer.

The law, passed by the City Council last May, mandates a $50 fine for smoking on sidewalks, streets and other public places, including a 20-foot no smoking zone around outdoor patio areas of restaurants and bars, as well as parks, sports fields, playgrounds and municipal parking lots. That zone also applies to windows, doors and ventilation ducts. …

Smoking is unattractive,” [the assistant city manager] said. “Groups of people smoking can be intimidating to some people, and it may be preventing folks from shopping in Hayward.”

Unattractive? I give you exhibit A:

James Dean Smoking











In any case, there are some who find black people unattractive and intimidating, and may even choose not to shop in places with groups of black people. Why not keep them off the streets too?

Hat Tip: The Rest of the Story

More ‘Efficient’ Methods

An example of Skrabanek’s point that when providing information fails to convince, health  promotionists use moral pressure and manipulation:

The people in the ads are actors and musicians popular with the kids. Smokers in New Zealand are being forced to pay for advertising aimed at making smoking socially unacceptable.

I’m not quite sure I understand this analogy…

 He said sending smokers to work with indigenous people was like allowing convicted pedophiles to work with children.

More here, via The Rest of the Story.