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Exhibit One (and only): Slavery

What does Merriam-Webster have to say?

1: drudgery, toil

2: submission to a dominating influence

3a: the state of a person who is a chattel of another

  b: the practice of slaveholding

     A group of people, say 10 individuals, decide to pool their resources for the common good,  per Thomas Jefferson “ — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,_” and they build up a basic infrastructure of defense. Now that there is a gate to keep the barbarians (Greek word) out, they decide that it would benefit everyone if they also maintained the roads. Again all 10 agree. So far, so good. Now to get out of town they have to ford a river and 7 out of the 10 decide that it would be good to build a bridge. Everyone reaps the benefits of this bridge, but only 7 of 10 did the work. The other three had no problem before the bridge was built in fording the stream, but now it is built they too use the bridge as it is more convenient to not get their feet wet. Later the group decides that a well would be nice, but now the 7, remembering the bridge, decide if there are going to be civic improvements that benefits everyone, everyone should pay for it. Welcome to the Mutual Coercion solution to the Tragedy of the Commons.

The Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons is an economic problem in which every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource. As the demand for the resource overwhelms the supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms others who can no longer enjoy the benefits. Generally, the resource of interest is easily available to all individuals; the tragedy of the commons occurs when individuals neglect the well-being of society in the pursuit of personal gain.

    - Investopedia

The polis (Polis literally means “City” in Greek. It can also mean a body of citizens) decides that everyone will contribute to the common infrastructure, or they will be ostracized.

(Greek ostrakízein, equivalent to óstrak(on) potsherd, tile, ballot - akin to óstreion oyster, shell. In Greece the Polis voted someone out of town).  This becomes Taxes, enforced Taxes, and some would say the beginnings of slavery. But in a democratic polis is being out voted on policy decisions on common resources really slavery? It will be argued at this point, only if there is an enforcement mechanism. But followed to its “human” conclusion anytime a person has to bend his will to a polis through mutual coercion it is slavery. It certainly meets definition 2. It however does not meet definition 3.

Here we have the difference between rhetoric (Greek rhētorikē (tekhnē ) ‘(art) of rhetoric,’) and reality.  We can dream of utopia, from the Greek also by the way, ou-topos meaning “no place”, but Thomas More who first coined it was being clever for it is also a pun for eu-topos meaning “good place”. Libertarians, judging from their YouTube postings anyway, dream this way all the time. Succession and nullification, but all the time never taking the ideas to their conclusion. If a State can succeed from a Union, then a County can succeed from the State. If a County can succeed from the State than a City can succeed from the County. If a City can succeed from the County, then a Neighborhood can succeed from the City. If a Neighborhood can succeed from the City than a Household can succeed from the Neighborhood. The same chain is true for Nullification. Welcome to Anarchy.

Anarchy: a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority. Greek again: an-arkhos meaning “without ruler/chief”.

This is a buzz-word for Hanther, but it shouldn’t be. It is the ultimate utopia for individual rights, where just individuals deal with each other judiciously based on a mutual respect for property rights. It fits both definition and pun of a utopia, it is “no place” on historical Earth, but it would indeed be a “good place”. But historical Earth, for what was the Fall of Man but a plunge from utopia (Eden) into history, is all about the Polis and the subjugation of individual rights to the group. Historically Anarchy creates a power vacuum into which another Polis will always move. So what are rugged self-determinists to do? Well they need to form a union for mutual defense and build a gate to keep the barbarians out. And here we are right back at the beginning of this exhibit.

But what about Property Rights and the Tragedy of the Commons?
Jonathan H. Adler, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law believes that these dilemmas can be solved, or at least mitigated with property rights. (Excerpts from a larger piece in The Atlantic follow:)

“The way we think about environmental concerns was heavily influenced by Garrett Hardin's seminal 1968 essay on "The Tragedy of the Commons." In this essay, Hardin described the fate of a common pasture, unowned and available to all…As Hardin explained it, the pursuit of self-interest in an open-access commons leads to ruin. Without controls on access and use of the underlying resource, the tragedy of the commons is inevitable…

What many forget is Hardin actually offered two prescriptions for preventing the tragedy of the commons. "Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon" was one approach; but Hardin had another. In the alternative, Hardin suggested that greater reliance on property rights was a proven way to prevent the tragedy of the commons. As he explained, the tragedy of the commons "is averted by private property or something formally like it." Indeed, Hardin suggested this was one of the primary functions of property in land management.

As Hardin recognized, where property rights are well-defined and secure, the tragedy of the commons is less likely for each owner has ample incentive to act as a steward, caring for the underlying resource and preventing its overuse, both for themselves, and others who may value the underlying resource. In this way, the institution of property rights "deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth."

Indeed if there is mutual investment in property than a mutual solution can be accomplished. But this begs the reality of human society which produces for various but inevitable reasons “haves” and “have nots”, and it is with these variations that human societies grapple. The “Have Nots” do not have the investment in, and therefore the concern for the greater property rights. This inevitably leads to mutual coercion which granted is an unwieldly and heavy handed approach, and can indeed be said to create Definition 2 slavery. But where in historically operating societies are the other broad based solutions? Isolated “communes” can achieve satisfactory results, but so far these solutions have not been transferable to society at large. Mutual coercion is the historic basis for our larger societies, and even to this day we base our judgements of societies, how “free” they are, on how “mutual” the coercion really is. See the differences between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States of America for example.

So historically in our large multi-ethnic, multi-cultural societies Definition 2 Slavery is the norm. The Constitution we currently labor, or should we say slave under codifies that, yet we still bless the Founding Fathers. And this is because this is not a problem of Slavery, it is a problem of definition, and rhetoric. Definition 3 Slavery “the state of a person who is a chattel of another” is real slavery, and all the other definitions pale in comparison. Anthropology (more Greek) shows that mutual coercion is the modus operandi (Latin finally) of our species. Our wish for Utopia shows that we long for better.

At the Exit: The Music Man

As reported by Jessica Huseman and Blake Paterson, ProPublica, and Bryan Lowry and Hunter Woodall, The Kansas City Star

Kris Kobach likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Mo. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town’s hardline anti-immigration ordinance. He discussed his “victory” there at length on his old radio show. He still lists it on his resume.

But “victory” isn’t the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach’s work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them. But after two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to “knowingly” hire illegal immigrants there — something that was already illegal under federal law. The town’s attorney can’t recall a single case brought under the ordinance.


Kobach used his work in Valley Park to attract other clients, with sometimes disastrous effects on the municipalities. The towns — some with budgets in the single-digit-millions — ran up hefty legal costs after hiring him to defend similar ordinances. Farmers Branch, Texas, wound up owing $7 million in legal bills. Hazleton, Penn., took on debt to pay $1.4 million and eventually had to file for a state bailout. In Fremont, Neb., the city raised property taxes to pay for Kobach’s services. None of the towns are currently enforcing the laws he helped craft.

“This sounds a little bit to me like Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man,’ “ said Larry Dessem, a law professor at the University of Missouri who focuses on legal ethics. “Got a problem here in River City and we can solve it if you buy the band instruments from me. He is selling something that goes well beyond legal services.”


Caveat emptor (we end in Latin; ‘Let the buyer beware’)



Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from missguided souls who disagree.