The Spiteful State

The essentially spiteful nature of the state was evidenced twice last week.

Firstly, our newly elected government in the UK decided that they were fed up with its citizens choosing to ingest certain drugs that made them feel happy. So frustrated, as they were, by their inability to stop us enjoying ourselves by means of existing legislation they decided to take no further chances and ban everything we might like (other than those drugs already so popular and mainstream that they can easily tax). In doing so, they overturn the fundamental principles of English Common Law and force the legitimate small businessman currently supplying drugs legally from his “head shop” into the gangster world created by the rest of their drug prohibition.

Secondly, the authorities in the US have jailed a man for the rest of his natural life for… a website. Yes, Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the Silk Road site on the dark web where citizens freely traded in an online marketplace has been jailed for life because some of the trades on his site involved illegal products. Presumably he narrowly escaped execution. Of course if the Americans enacted the UK legislation they could no longer sentence criminals to death by lethal injection as that would be “a substance intended for human consumption capable of producing a psychoactive effect”.

Seriously, libertarians don’t often talk about drugs publicly and apparently this is because we are concerned that our views make us seem wacky and out of step. The majority of our citizens are afraid of drugs and have been encouraged by a rabid media to view those who take them as a threat to civilisation. But the prohibition of narcotic substances is one of the most harmful and destructive cornerstones of the state’s strategy to exercise control over the population. The freedom for each individual to choose what to do with his own body and mind is a key libertarian principle and we must vociferously oppose the attempts of governments to compromise that freedom.




  1. What is the Constitutional basis of the “war on drugs”? I do not agree with Prohibition of booze – but I understand the Constitutional basis of it, an Amendment was passed (the 18th) to give the government the power to ban booze, that Amendment was later repealed. But I know of no Amendment giving the Federal government the power to ban drugs – “regulate interstate commerce” does not logically mean “ban interstate commerce in things the government does not like” (and what if the sale of a drug does not cross a State line?). The judges should have struck down this whole “War on Drugs” mess – but then the Federal judges are government appointed.

    “regulate interstate commerce” – has been stretched light years. And the purpose of the specific powers listed in Article One, Section Eight “the common defence and general welfare” has been turned into a catch-all “general welfare spending power” – if the government has such a catch-all spending power why list the specific spending powers? And what is the meaning of the Tenth Amendment? Many of the judgements of the government appointed judges are a revolt against reason.



  2. Why do you say that a man was jailed for life for hosting a website, the Silk Road, when the charge was in the nature of aiding and abetting illegal drug sales? He did at least face a charge known to law, if perhaps not the Constitution, although prohibition might be seen as an infinite excise tax.

    Is there a Federal capital offence in the drug laws? I am not aware of one. So I doubt that the man narrowly avoided execution or that there was any possibility of it.

    One might point out that the State handing out welfare gives it a pretext for controlling lives, on the basis that if drug abuse makes you unemployable, the State pays your welfare. The answer is no welfare for druggies, ever. A small hole in the State’s presumption.



    1. So if a drug deal is proven to have been conducted by mobile phone is it reasonable to jail the CEO of Vodaphone?

      What about a murder planned by G mail? Or by post? Is Facebook responsible for bullying and stalking?

      Furthermore the issue of welfare is unrelated to drugs. If the state is stupid enough to pay it, the recipient is entitled to spend the welfare payment in any way he judges adds the greatest value to his life. Your comments seem to indicate the kind of willingness to make moral judgement on others that lies behind the policy of state prohibition of drugs and which results in such universal harm.

      If you are in favour of such a policy you cannot, in my view, reasonably claim to be a libertarian.



      1. “The State” doesn’t pay for anything. The taxpayers pay for whatever the “State” doles out. And he who pays the piper is supposed to get to call the tune. That much at least is very libertarian.

        So the answer to your question is, theoretically at least, that the taxpayer has every right to set the terms on which his money will be relinquished to its recipient.

        In other words and to take a different example, it’s bad enough that They extort my money to support artists (via the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts). I ought to at least get to specify that NEA will NOT provide support to the likes of that fool woman who knit whatever it was she knit while holding the skein of yarn in her, um.

        Of course, because of the fact that “the taxpayer” is a member of a group of real individual persons, taxpayers all, we really can’t separate this taxpayer’s contribution from that one’s, so it’s impossible for each taxpayer to specify the terms on which his particular “contribution” to the tax pool will be spent. The closest we can come is to try at least to indicate, through our votes, what the majority of taxpayers will insist on and settle for.

        So if most people are against decriminalizing drugs (and I am very much in favor of it, by the way, on both philosophical and empirical or practical grounds), then since it’s their money they ought to get to specify that not a cent goes to support users or suppliers or anybody else in (say) the hard-drugs industries.

        . . .

        This, by the way, is the same reason why the taxpayers have every right to limit the length of time a welfare recipient receives welfare, and to insist that if he is capable of it then he must be legitimately trying to find work while on welfare, or else lose the welfare benefit.

        If it’s what “adds the greatest value to his life” that matters, then I think I’ll go on welfare and use the proceeds to fund my gold-plated Gulfstream and 300-year-old wine stash. See you in Tahiti!


      2. You really are not making a case sir, instead of answering my points, you make further lame but hyperbolic comparisons, and go down the road of argument by analogy. It really doesn’t do you any favours. You then go on to construct a straw man. You may convince yourself, you may convince some others, but you do nothing to make a reasonable point.

        The whole purpose of the site, the Silk Road, was to facilitate drug deals, hence the charge. By your analogy, putting in a Zebra Crossing on a road would be accessory to murder if a murderer used it to cross the road more easily. Perhaps things will come to that, or are headed that way, but at least point out the salient circumstances and make your complaints as to what Mr Ulbricht did accurate. Omission of salient facts does rather make me wonder what else you have either failed to understand, or wish to omit.

        Please, if you are going to make a case, address the question. I have called you out for sloppy arguments, and all I get back is more sloppiness.


      3. On this site, I usually expect dialogue to be conducted without those commenting resorting to gratuitous insults.

        The whole purpose of the site, the Silk Road, was to facilitate drug deals, hence the charge.

        Just not true, mate. Do your research- among the most popular items for sale were Tesco vouchers. The site was a medium for people to freely trade with each other and was used for many trades other than those involving drugs.

        I don’t accept the right of the state to make laws prohibiting what may be traded freely or to prosecute the proprietor of a site where that happens.Nor do I accept accept their right to dictate what an individual may or may not personally consume and that is the basis of my objection.

        It is a pretty fundamental libertarian stand point and, if you disagree, I think you may be in the wrong place.


      4. So you are naive as well as graceless. I am not in the wrong place, I am just pointing out to you matters that I see in your post that are either the result of poor research, ignorance, wilful or innocent misrepresentation.

        ‘the authorities in the US have jailed a man for the rest of his natural life for… a website.’.

        That’s not quite the truth is it? You knew that too, didn’t you? The ‘dark web’ for Tesco vouchers? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

        It’s quite simple sir, I work in the law and I would hope that when you are making a case, you work to the standards of accuracy and truth that I would expect of a competent advocate for the truth. You devalue this site by such, at best, amateurish arguments as you have made, and you have also failed to engage in any form of rebuttal of my arguments other than what I take to be a reproach with comments like this:

        “If you are in favour of such a policy you cannot, in my view, reasonably claim to be a libertarian.”

        The policy being one that you created in your own mind and attributed to me without a shred of evidence for it. It’s a very common tactic in legal disputes, and it often ends up looking ridiculous.

        All I would like is to see accurate arguments properly put, not straw men and impermissible inductions. It seems to me that Mr Ulbricbht knew exactly what he was doing, and the best that he could have hoped for in the USA was not to get a life sentence, but sadly he has had his old age taken from him. He has some very good arguments for prosecutorial abuse, if his support website is to be believed, but he is not the first and won’t be the last person to fall victim to prosecutorial malpractice in the United States. You have a good point about the wrongs and injustices of prohibition, but I fail to see why you mis-state the facts in pursuit of making a point.


      5. Ken: “Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the Silk Road site on the dark web where citizens freely traded in an online marketplace has been jailed for life because some of the trades on his site involved illegal products.”

        This full quote alludes to the drugs trades: it is clear enough for anyone paying even a little attention. It is even sourced.

        Your claim that the charges involved something other than just hosting an online marketplace is not consistent with Ken’s source, (“he was convicted of operating the site”) so if you want to make a 680 word fuss over it then you can at least provide a link describing the what other illegal acts Ross Ulbricht undertook germaine to the case. Woffling about what the users were selling and how that is against the law does not progress the argument. For this audience the law is transparent bollocks. You are pointing to things that this audience will see straight through and it will be invisible to their ethical analysis of the conviction.

        As for this:

        “I work in the law and I would hope that when you are making a case, you work to the standards of accuracy and truth that I would expect of a competent advocate for the truth. You devalue this site by such, at best, amateurish arguments””

        As the proprietor I do not expect every participant to argue as if they are lawyers. I have speakers at the events who are caretakers and security guards and although they usually have PhDs the point is clear: I want the amateur to be welcome, not the victim of 680 word rants, especially when, in fact, the deficiencies of their style have been overstated.


  3. Hi Julie

    Lets be clear.

    All state welfare provision is pernicious.
    State sponsorship of the arts is even more pernicious.
    Income tax is of course, by nature of the element of compulsion, pernicious.

    Determining public policy according to the will of the majority is utterly pernicious when such policy takes no account of individual rights. Satisfying the will of the majority is the only possible rationale for the devastating “war on drugs” that has blighted our world for the last 50 years.

    I become irritated with pick and mix “libertarians” who embrace the elements of fiscal conservatism within the movement that they like but are silent or hostile to some or all of the elements of social liberalism.

    It is not enough to defend the rights of individuals to do things things you happen to morally approve of or to claim to hate the state and its government but to profess to love the nation.



    1. Ken.

      “Let me be perfectly clear.” *ugh* In any political system that takes X’s stuff and gives it to Y, “individual rights” in the libertarian sense do not exist. Libertarianism and welfare-state-ism cannot co-exist.

      In other words, “individual rights” cannot coexist with welfare that is not privately, i.e. voluntarily, supplied.

      So there’s no point in even talking about the “individual rights” of the welfare recipient. Yes, it’s dreadful that he can’t use other people’s money to live the lifestyle he would prefer, but as long as he relies on others for his financial support, he’s at the mercy of those others, and that’s true whether this is State-supported welfare or private charity.

      Suppose I help out a man by giving him money for his own sustenance, not because I’m forced to but because to me it seems like a good thing to do. Then I have every right to tell him, say, that the money is not to be used for anything other than food (real food) or medical bills or shelter. (One would hope to be tactful saying this. Or to know that it doesn’t need saying.)

      If a person doesn’t like the conditions placed on money he accepts from someone else, then he’s free not to accept the money. Regardless of whether it’s supplied by “the State,” which in reality means the people whose earnings are taken from them by threat of force, or by a person or group acting entirely privately and entirely voluntarily.

      And that, in a nutshell, is why we live by the motto: Never be beholden. To be beholden is to lose your independence.



      1. Julie

        I don’t think our views diverge except….

        By accepting welfare, the recipient is only doing what is in his own financial interest. No blame attaches to this in my view- the blame lies with the system that provides it having taken it from someone else by force.

        The principle that the state is entitled to restrict the freedom of welfare recipients that is an extremely dangerous precedent. How long before it decides to limit my alcohol purchases for the good of my health and to prevent my failing liver burdening the NHS?

        As I say above, state welfare is pernicious but the state restricting or rationing the freedom of its citizens is much more dangerous.


  4. Ken,

    Using the more usual conception of “welfare” as specific state-enforced subsidising of needy individuals’ subsistence, the Welfare State itself is what makes the issue of welfare recipients’ “rights” impossible to address. They cannot coexist in the same universe.

    That’s why true libertarianism simply can’t be stretched to include “social safety nets,” let alone any form of welfare. It’s why there can be no such thing as a “libertarian left” with its dreams of everybody putting their stuff (at some form of gunpoint) into a common kitty and then being parceled out to “according to need.” Or of a “Basic Income Guarantee,” the economics of which is enough to put one in stitches before we even get to ethics.

    The fact that the money is taken from its owner by force or by the threat of it, means that the welfare recipient is, in principle, the receiver of stolen goods. At that point all talk of his “right” spend the money as he wishes is meaningless. Rights of all concerned vanished at the instant the money was stolen.

    However, in light of your second paragraph I think I see (part of, at least) what is bothering you, and it’s this: That in present Western socialistic systems, it is easy to stretch the concept of “welfare recipient” to cover practically everyone, including those who never used “state-” (i.e. taxpayer-) supplied “welfare” services in their lives, save only where it’s almost impossible for them to survive physically without using them. People such as some on this very board who are legally qualified to avail themselves of various sorts of subsidies, in housing, in food, perhaps in welfare checks, so forth; but who don’t, even at the cost of their own health, and who continue to pay taxes just the same. They go to jobs they hate, in order to avoid putting themselves in the position of moral as well as legal dependency, and also in order to avoid the immorality and the humiliation of accepting stolen money.

    These people, I agree, ought at the very least not have to hew to somebody’s idea of a “healthy lifestyle.” It’s unconscionable. And we see how such standards are beginning to be actually applied in taxpayer-paid state-enforced health care.

    And yet…why should X have to pay for Y’s double amputation due to accident X suffered as a result of riding a motorcycle, regardless of the fact Y has the most sterling character by any rational standard? That is the issue.

    The key to this conundrum is in the words “have to pay.”

    As long as that is the operative principle, liberty rights have gone out the door and are now floating around somewhere in the Horsehead Nebula.

    If there were no Welfare State, this particular conundrum wouldn’t even exist.



    1. Sigh. Correction, s/b:

      “And yet…why should X have to pay for Y’s double amputation due to the accident Y suffered as a result of riding a motorcycle, regardless of the fact that he, Y, has the most sterling character by any rational standard? That is the issue.” :>(



      1. Julie

        If we were having this discussion in a vacuum I would agree with all of the above however we are dealing with the world as it is.

        Assuming you agree that governments are not going to stop imposing re distributive taxation we have the practical choice of paying it or going to jail. If they send us a “tax credit” you are saying above that the moral thing to do is to send it back to them? That sounds like a terrible idea to me!!!

        One of the worst aspects of the welfare state is the way that governments use it to leverage other restrictions on freedom. “The NHS pays for your healthcare therefore we have a duty to badger you to stop smoking and impose Pigouvian taxes on sugar.”

        However as he sits in his cage I rather think Ross Ulbricht will have much more patience with our dialogue. He wrote on his Linkedin profile

        “I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and agression amongst mankind. Just as slavery has been abolished most everywhere, I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. The best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed, however. To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”

        Maybe a bit “left libertarian” for your taste, Julie, but heroic in my book and I’ll be using my tax credit here


      2. Ken,

        I have no disagreement with what you say in your comment.

        [I don’t see the “left-libertarianism” in an admittedly quick look at the link. Leftism, for me, is anti-individualism: It holds that there’s something more important in principle than the lives of real, individual persons, and that therefore it’s OK to take other people’s stuff, or their lives, without their “uncoerced” (whatever that means) say-so. And whether they admit it or not, lefties of all stripes believe that it is right, meet, just, and proper for some authority or other to dictate what a person will be allowed to do.]

        My point has basically been, all along, to disagree with your view that passing laws about how people must or mayn’t treat their bodies is in itself a worse threat to freedom than is the Welfare State; and I disagree because it’s only the existence of the Welfare State that makes such laws possible.

        That is not to say that people who are moved to private charity, even in Libertopia, would not attach strings to their charity.

        As to your “tax credit,” I have no idea of the circumstances involving it. I assume that it is perfectly reasonable to look at it as some form of return on money that never should have been taken from you in the first place. Personally, I do “collect” Social Security; most of the amount I receive each year gets returned to the IRS in the form of income tax payments. I also have Medicare, and considering all the money that’s gone into FICA (Social Security) taxes over the course of 40 years or so, I consider that I’ve paid for it.

        But you’re absolutely right that what one of my pals calls “pure-theory, blue-sky libertarianism” is not the current situation. In Reality, everything is tangled together.

        So one way to fight against the Welfare State is through the “political process,” and another is through promoting real (not fake, pseudo, “left”-) libertarianism; and certainly another is through challenging the laws by civil disobedience or by defense of those who, one believes, are the victims of bad law or bad application of the laws or wrong acts by law-enforcement officers.


  5. One of the errors that people will make about our time is that we live in a ‘golden era of Liberalism’.

    Read any book about the financial crash, and the author will assure you that the de regulation of the finance industry was the cause.

    Observe any political magazine article and it will reassure you the Britain is a functioning ‘Liberal Democracy’.

    Popular opinion polls suggest that the privatisation of once public institutions is rotting this country from the inside.

    News pundits applaud new security measures as protecting our freedom.

    It is a great mistake to assume that this is a great Liberal age. In all of these cases, we are a far-cry away from Liberalism.



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