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Mental Levers are mini-articles. They answer key questions and present important libertarian and voluntaryist ideas in bite-size chunks that are easy to share. They are grouped in the following Collections:

Is fraud initiated force?

It would be easy to assume that initiated force is the only wrong libertarians care about. But what about fraud? Is fraud wrong? Of course it is, but mainly when it’s used with the same aim as initiated force. After all…
Little white lies are a form of fraud, but no one thinks anyone should be imprisoned for telling them.
Fraud matters in a legal sense when it results in physical harm or property loss. If you tell lies to take property from someone then that’s similar to robbing them at the point of a gun. In other words…
The crime of fraud is initiated force by other means.
Legitimate government can prosecute any fraud that has the same effect as initiated force. And, if a jury renders a guilty verdict, the person who committed the fraud should be required to compensate the person he or she defrauded. This fits the defensive function of legitimate government.

Jim Babka

About the Author

Jim Babka

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Jim Babka is co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and President of DownsizeDC.org, Inc. He’s an author and former talk show host.
Previously, he was the President of RealCampaignReform.org, Inc., defending free press rights all the way to the Supreme Court. He and Susie are the proud, home-schooling parents of three teenagers. He enjoys theology, UFC, target practice, and Tai Chi.

Perry Willis

About the Author

Perry Willis

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Perry Willis is the co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and Downsize DC. He was the National Director of the Libertarian National Committee on two occasions, and ran two Libertarian Party presidential campaigns. He has an extensive background in marketing and fundraising, and has ghost written direct mail appeals for numerous luminaries, including Karl Hess, Ron Paul, Charlton Heston and Harry Browne.

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Show Comments 12

 

  1. It certainly can be, but it can also be a deception to fool us into acceptance of the government’s wrongdoing. are you familiar with the writings of Anna von Reitz?… very powerful & eye opening account of illegitimate government fraud that runs deeper than you may imagine. (http://annavonreitz.com/)

  2. Exactly so.
    President Andrew Jackson told voters that he was giving them free land that he obtained by abducting the Cherokee and Seminole people at gunpoint and sending them on a forced march to Oklahoma, during which abduction, many died. Chief Justice John Marshall of the US Supreme Court, called this an illegal use of force. (The Cherokee and Seminole were not at war with the US. They simply were living in their homes on land they used to own. President Jackson wanted to give the land away to buy votes, so he took it by force.). President Jackson simply refused to obey the law. Chief Justice Marshall issued a writ of habeas corpus, demanding that the President release the kidnapped people and allow them their day in court. Jackson refused to obey the court’s lawful orders.
    The entire ugly genocidal history of US relations with Native Americans, follows from this single act of lawlessness by a sitting US president. We ended up at war with people who did not want one.
    Much of the arguing over “American exceptionalism”, arises from the fraud perpetrated by Andrew Jackson and his backers. They invented arguments that didn’t make any sense, as to why the people whose votes they were buying with the stolen land, should not feel shame or guilt over the fact that innocent blood was spilled to steal the land for them. The vast majority of settlers who settled on the stolen land, were members of Christian churches. Their religious beliefs held that killing people and stealing their land were sins, and doing so, risked Divine punishment. Basically, Andrew Jackson had to make up a lie, to trick these people into accepting the stolen land. He did that.

  3. I generally love these “mental levers,” but this one is a bust. Rewording it reveals the problem: “The crime of fraud is initiated force by means other than initiated force.” It is equivocation at best, and with it we still lack a non-aggression justification for using force to prevent or prosecute such “other means.”
    Even worse, the statement “Legitimate government can prosecute any fraud that has the same effect as initiated force” legitimizes government force by its consequences. If some voluntary acts have “the same effect as” acts of initiated force, then this principle leaves unanswered why a legitimate government could not prosecute those voluntary acts as well. The statement is a fatally-flawed position for a libertarian.
    Libertarianism has a long-standing problem with justifying the prevention and prosecution of fraud by force of government. It is a problem to be solved, and cannot be skirted by trying to equivocate fraud and force. (One approach, for example, is to give up trying to justify punishing fraud by force, and leave the punishment of fraud to the reputation market.) I’d recommend removing this mental lever.

    1. Hi Fred. Thanks for your comment. I’ve read it several times to make sure I understand what you’re objection is. I’m still not sure what your argument is, but it seems to hinge on your use of the word voluntary in your second paragraph. Here’s how it seems to me…
      When person “A” delivers a good to person “B” in return for compensation, but that compensation does not arrive, or is not as advertised, then the exchange can no longer be described as voluntary. Evidence of this can be brought to a jury for evaluation and judgement. Person “B” did not volunteer to surrender the good for compensation other than that which was agreed to.

      1. “Legitimate government can prosecute any fraud that has the same effect as initiated force.”
        Perhaps if you expanded on the concept of “same effect as initiated force,” some of Fred’s concerns could be allayed. For one thing, intent is also at issue, as it is for any crime of initiated force (e.g., if you accidentally hit someone with your car, you can’t be prosecuted for first degree murder). So you could amend the sentence to say that legitimate government can prosecute any fraud that has the same intention and effect as initiated force.
        Secondly, to expand on the idea of “same effect,” the intent of fraud (just like initiated or threatened force) is to make someone do something they would not normally do voluntarily, without coercion or duress or false information. (This goes back to your concept of voluntaryism.) So if you are induced to pay for a piece of property based on a forged deed, then a legitimate government may prosecute the perpetrator of the forgery, based on his intent to make you do something you would not otherwise have done voluntarily.
        This is off the cuff and probably needs a lot of work, but that’s the basic concept.

        1. Thanks for the comment Martin. I think the effect ends up being the key thing in terms of legal action. As you say, manslaughter can be prosecuted, even though there is no intent to harm. Intent mainly impacts the severity of the punishment or judgement.

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            Perry, thanks for your reply.
            Actually, intent impacts the crime itself, not just the severity of the punishment. The common law looks at both the “actus reus” (the action itself) and the “mens rea” (the state of mind). You can do the exact same thing under the exact same circumstances and either be charged with nothing or be charged with first degree murder. If a paint bucket slips out of your hand and it lands on someone’s head and kills him, then it’s either murder or just a non-criminal accident. It’s the mens rea–the state of mind or the intent–that makes the difference. The effect is only the beginning of the inquiry.
            In the context of fraud, the consequence (or as you put it, the “effect”) is completely irrelevant to guilt or innocence…intent is everything. If you forge a document and present it to someone else with the intent of inducing him to pay you for a piece of property that you don’t actually own, then you are guilty of fraud regardless of the outcome.
            When a person purposefully creates an involuntary change in physical or financial well-being, he has committed a crime against you. Such an involuntary change can be induced by either force or fraud.

  4. I’m quite late to this party but my question is this: the NAP prevents the initiation of force, but if force is used it can be returned on an individual basis. Someone punches you, you may punch back. Now if fraud is, in effect, force then can someone then use physical force against it?

    1. Jim Babka Post
      Author

      Yes, conceivably they could. But this brings up an issue. I’m not entirely satisfied with the standard description of the problem — that “initiated force” is the actual issue. Can someone use greater force than is necessary to deal with a matter? Actually, the law says no. I’ve begun to think that “excessive force” might be the actual problem. That is, only the level of force necessary to restore peace or achieve justice can be morally/legally justified.

      What is “excessive force?” What is “necessary?” Would it be safe to assume that anything which escalates violence fits that category? So, in the instance you bring, it’s not really the first punch (fraud) that gets in the way of societal peace. It’s using more force than is necessary. So, if fraud is found… Do you care enough to make an issue of it? How far are you willing to go to resolve it? Is the other party willing to settle? Generally, the best response to fraud is to stop doing business with that person/business. Reputation matters, so you could also spread the truth about that person/business.

    1. Jim Babka Post
      Author

      Kent. I get the term. I like neologisms. However, we find that every time we invent or apply one (several experiments), there’s resistance — even from people who agree. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post on voluntarist vs voluntaryist, for example.

      1. My thing is, I have to explain “aggression” or “initiated force” every single time anyway, and then answer the objections about all the other things (theft, trespassing, fraud, etc.) not being “aggression” exactly, so I might as well be explaining a term that covers everything no one has a right to do.

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