The Bikecast Episode #10: Fundamental State Failures; the Law
This podcast is assembled from a couple passes at discussing the law as it relates to the state. During one of these recording episodes, the memory card ran out of space because I’m a dumb-ass. I’ve tried to patch the pieces together in a non-jarring fashion. I jump in at one point whilst not riding my bike to explain a transition. Still and all, I think it’s OK.
The most basic services that a statist will claim must be provided by the government are 1) defense and 2) arbitration of disputes. Leaving #1 for a future podcast, let’s imagine criteria by which we could judge the value of a legal framework.
I imagine that 1) I would want to be able to use the system to seek restitution for damages done to me in situations where I and the other party couldn’t come to a satisfactory agreement and 2) I would not want to be held accountable for damages I didn’t incur.
Because I, for no particular reason, lead with #2 in the podcast, I will also do so here. The very most basic understanding of what constitutes a “crime” is the concept of a “victim.” Crimes without victims are known as “crimes against the state,” and their existence–especially in abundance–are a marker of totalitarianism. The United States has more prisoners than the rest of the world combined. 1 in 4 people in prison on Earth are in a US prison (this number does not include the less-well-documented global US prison system). The majority of the people in prison have not committed a crime.
The memory card filled up just as I was getting warmed up, but I believe I make the case fairly plainly that the US legal system fails criteria 2 in an awfully spectacular way.
By criteria #1, the state fails no less completely. Robert Reich was lamenting the lack of regulations and the ways that corporations are taking advantage of the light penalties. He sited in particular the BP oil spill, the Massey Energy mining disaster and the Goldman Sachs financial collapse assist. As is often the case, I don’t really address the points he’s making, but get drawn off into a tangent. In this case the tangent is: why do we feel these corporations aren’t getting what’s coming to them? Why are there victims that aren’t receiving restitution?
The legal system should function very simply: damages are shown to have been incurred and the amount of the damage is paid for by the guilty party. This notion was abandoned with the rise of the corporation and the revenue they generated for politicians translated into favorable legislation. Now we are in a situation where the legal system rarely holds corporate entities accountable for the damages they incur. Rather, they create a whole suite of new victimless crimes that are supposedly intended to prevent corporations from committing the real crimes (with real victims), for which they aren’t held to account.
This serves to counter the claim that the law is unjust. Sure, victims aren’t compensated, but a whole raft of regulations are created or added to so that “this never happens again.” The tragedy is that these types of disasters would happen far less frequently if the corporations were required to compensate the victims of their accidents–simple greed would guarantee it.
I go on a bit of a tangent with respect to lawyers. Building a super-structure of paper that ensures no collection of power, wealth or privilege is held to account for its crimes while claiming that said structure is protecting people from corporate depredations requires lawyers. Lawyers are the priest class of the post-enlightenment, justifying with tomes of paper what was once justified by the voice of god.
This clear and demonstrable failure of the state to provide one of the two most basic services it claims monopoly power over should lead us to question the state’s ability and motivation (or the ability and motivation of any violent organization) to provide all wonderful things it promises.