I have the RSS feed for Cato-Unbound on my homepage, and I occasionally read it, but the authors are often too long-winded for me to bear singularly – putting 3 or 4 reaction essays together makes it a chore. That said, there’s been a discussion there this week about the concept of coercion, as introduced by Daniel Klein. I’m reading Ed Glaeser’s response, Coercive Regulation and the Balance of Freedom. At first glance, it didn’t seem all that bad, just a little unsettling. Then I read it again. There are several instances in the first two or three paragraphs where he demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept, which I think Klein introduced well-enough.
Take the following examples, three:
I am also in favor of limits on contracts that encourage highly anti-social activities, like murder. Support for the freedom to contract is a good maxim, but it cannot be an axiom.
The “contract” to murder someone is an equivocation – it simply is not a contract. For starters, a hit always involves an unknowing third party, which cannot be bound by law or reason to adhere to the terms of said contract. Furthermore, the reason the State doesn’t enforce this sort of “contract” is not because it’s anti-social, but because such a contract necessarily requires an initiation of force and the violation of another’s rights. It is not a contract, because it does not have a legal objective, and as such it is prima facie void.
Stating that all coercion isn’t necessarily bad, Glaeser maintains that “The ability of creditors to collect depends on the power of the state to coerce borrowers.” But here again he is mistaken. All this argument says is that you want the State to help you enforce contracts when you’re not physically capable of doing so on your own. Anyone who has defaulted on credit (i.e., theft) or otherwise failed to perform an obligation (i.e., fraud, &c) has initiated force by violating his contract – anything which the contract empowers the creditor to do in this event is a reaction. It is emphatically not coercive to resist coercion.
Last, but not unimportantly: “If we think that state-sponsored redistribution is desirable, then we are willing to accept more coercion to help the less fortunate.” This “we” is rubbish; there is no collective, unanimous “we” – and it’s the plight of the naysayers that concerns me. All that can be shown by “acceptance” is that some people are willing to use the state to take things they didn’t earn. Other people may or may not be OK with that. If you don’t have a choice, then it clearly is coercion because it doesn’t matter whether you accept it or not. Such is all state-sponsored redistribution.
I see no point in continuing to re-read this essay – Glaeser is clearly out of his element.