In Defense of Blackmail

From a New Yorker piece on David Letterman's blackmailer, this question: Why is blackmail illegal, anyway? We allow individuals and corporations to cut deals all the time where they agree not to talk about something they know in exchange for some kind of advantage or consideration (non-disclosure agreements, to name one.):

Walter Block, the libertarian economist... believes that blackmail, like smoking, is “yucky” but should be legal. “He only threatened to be a gossip—maybe a screenwriter,” he said of [CBS producer and would-be blackmailer Robert Joel] Halderman. “Screenwriting and gossiping are legal. If it’s legal to do it, it should be legal to threaten to do it.”

This idea crops up in the strangest places—the notion that people can do whatever they want until money changes hands, and then *poof* it's all illegal. Last year I spoke with Charlottesville farmer Joel Salatin about his troubles with this mindset. The sale of homemade jam had just been legalized in Virginia, and—sadly—he was pretty excited about that. Still, belief in the alchemical properties of cash, which transmutes the legal into the illegal, continues to plague his farmstand:

“My position is that if meat [slaughtered outside the normal factory processes] is OK for people to eat, give away, or feed their children—which indicates that it is not an inherently hazardous product—we should have freedom to also sell it. The restrictions are on the commerce of it. The attitude is: The only thing that is safe to eat is something with a government stamp on it, unless you get it free. Exchange money, and it’s somehow not safe.”

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  • ||

    That picture is racist. And disturbing. I don't want to think that's where my milk comes from.

  • @||

    Win.

  • ||

    It's racist because modern society, through its vast instrumentation and layers of influences and control, forced her to wear that costume that day that she was disorderly. And again on sentencing day.

  • Evil Cow Troll Person ||

    Wrong. That be my "jump suit."

  • ||

    It's a "speed" suit!

  • @||

    Got chocolate milk?

  • Fluffy||

    I thought about this question a great deal in connection with the John Travolta case.

    Basically, the guys in that case said, "We're taking bids on a story that says that you were to blame for what happened to your son. We're happy to let you bid, too, if you like."

    To consider that a crime you basically have to hold that it's legal for me to sell damaging information about someone to the media or some other third party - but if the guy the information is about can try to outbid the media, it's extortion.

    And I have to admit that I don't totally "get" that.

  • ||

    Hmmm.... What if Halderman had written up a proposal for a screenplay based on a randy late-night TV host who cheated on his wife with his employees, and given it to Letterman with an innocent-sounding cover letter offering all rights to Letterman's production company for $2 million? If Halderman had done everything to make it look like a legit business offer (except for the sum involved) and avoided anything that sounded like a threat, could he have gotten away with it?

  • ||

    We don't know for sure that ge did anything illegal. He has not been convicted of anything yet.

  • Attorney||

    Interesting. The argument against criminalization of blackmail has some appeal.

    OTOH, just thinking out loud ... Do we want to incentivize people to be nosy by allowing them to make money from unsavory facts they dig up about their neighbors? Also, wouldn't turn the news business into the news-hiding business?

  • ||

    Yeah, you can go both ways on that. There's all sorts of reasons people want to keep their privacy, and our recognition of that is a recognition of the injustice of what can happen socially to someone who doesn't obey conventional norms.

    On the other hand, perhaps the cause of tolerance is served by encouraging people to be more "out" about their unconventional habits. We'd all benefit by undermining puritain morality.

  • ||

    Re: Attorney,

    ... Do we want to incentivize people to be nosy by allowing them to make money from unsavory facts they dig up about their neighbors?

    What's with this "We" business, Kimosabe? "We" don't want anything - the question is if YOU don't want your neighbors spying on you.

    I don't care what my neighbors are doing, really - I have better things to do than nosing around their lives. The value of any information I coudl gather has to compete with my opportunity costs, and in my case and since I do not live next to rockstars or other celebrities, I would not care for it.

  • ||

    Do we want to incentivize people to be nosy by allowing them to make money from unsavory facts they dig up about their neighbors?

    I think people are already about as nosy as possible, within the constraints of the laws of physics.

    Also, wouldn't turn the news business into the news-hiding business?

    Too late.

  • ||

    """We allow individuals and corporations to cut deals all the time where they agree not to talk about something they know in exchange for some kind of advantage or consideration (non-disclosure agreements, to name one."""

    So when the feds tell states to raise the drinking age to 21 or you lose you highway funds, both parties were cutting a deal?

    Blackmail is not cutting a deal.

  • ||

    If it's not criminal, I bet the increased number of blackmail attempts would correlate nicely with an increased number in mysterious deaths.

  • robc||

    I just reread The Moon is a Harsh Mistress this week. Airlocks would solve a lot of problems.

  • Warty||

    That's a black female, Katharine, you ignorant slut.

  • ||

    I think it depends on whether the act you are being blackmailed for is an illegal one.

    If you know about an illegal act, and offer to keep it secret in exchange for money, it makes you an accomplice after the fact.

    One the other hand, being gay, or having affairs, or sleeping with prostitutes isn't illegal, and you can sue for libel if it's a false story. So I see not reason why that ought to be illegal.

    However, there's the small matter of things which are illegal but shouldn't be. Say, someone blackmails a gay man in Saudi Arabia who may be punished with death for being gay.

    In a wierd kind of way, blackmail laws protect individuals from societies own injustices. It represents a wierd kind of self-consciousness by the state of the reality that not all punishments imposted by the state may be just.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...sleeping with prostitutes isn't illegal...

    Do you live in rural Nevada, Rhode Island, or Amsterdam?

  • ||

    Sleeping with prostitutes is only illegal if you pay them cash for that.

    It's not if you're their boyfriend or pimp and don't pay them; or pay them with non-monetary gifts like diamonds or furs or, if they're bad negotiators, a dinner and a movie.

    Or, give them an offer of marriage in exchange for sex. That's legal too, even if the effect of that is an exchange of cash.

  • ||

    It's also completely legal if you film it.

  • ||

    What if I pay ACORN workers to have sex with me and I film it without their knowledge?

  • JB||

    You show me a woman, and I'll show you a whore.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I don't want to start seeing Balko articles about SWAT busting into homes with no-knock warrants and shooting dogs while residents are frantically flushing drugs, screenplays and gossip down their toilets.

  • Cal Lipigian||

    So a bunch of lawyers sat down and decided that if you hire a lawyer, you can couch blackmail in a way that makes it legal. But if you try to cut out the lawyers, it is illegal? What's their motivation?

  • Rick||

    I read Block's article and agree with the ideas, but his comparison to non-disclosure agreements falls flat on it's face.

    A non-disclosure is not comparable to blackmail. A person does receive something of value in exchange for an agreement not to disclose. It may be in the form of compensation, including severance deals, or maybe just the opportunity to tour a facility or see a product in advance.

  • ||

    A blackmailer receives something of value (cash) in exchange for an agreement not to disclose. What's the diff?

  • ||

    Blackmail should be legal, but so should hiring Guido to go break the blackmailer's kneecaps.

  • GILMORE||

    What if the info the blackmailers threaten to disclose is largely specious, but damage would be done whether true or false? If I spread damaging information about someone to no benefit of my own (indeed, possibly taking the risk of lawsuit), then there is no incentive for me to do such a thing. However, if I can extort money out of someone - what is to stop me if there is no risk?

    Im not sure I buy this whole thing.

    Also, please make the evil cow troll person go away. Im going to have nightmares.

  • Evil Cow Troll Person ||

    Gots my 2 mil now, punk?

  • *||

    Got milk, bitch?

  • J.||

    I'm undecided on all this, but Walter Block has argued numerous times that defamation shouldn't be illegal either. The gist of his reasoning is that others' opinions of you, whatever they are based on, are not your property in the first place, so you have no claim as to what other people say about you.

    In fact, I recall Block saying that someone had slandered him, and Block declined to press charges because he thought, while wrong, it shouldn't be illegal.

  • BakedPenguin||

    A year or so ago, some photographer who had nekkid pics of Cameron Diaz was charged blackmail because he offered her the first chance to buy them for $2.5 million.

    I thought at the time a good defense would have been to solicit bids from Penthouse and Hustler, and see how they stacked up. If they were even close to $2.5 million, he'd have a pretty good argument he was just giving her a chance to get them out of the public view.

  • ¢||

    HEY REASON I GOT ALL THEM WEIGEL SCREENSHOTS YOU DON'T WANT NOBODY TO KNOW ABOUT

    LEAVE ALL DAT KOCH MONEY ON THE ORANGE LINE SO YO MAMA AIN'T GOT TO SEE THEM AT 24AHEADOTCOM

  • Michael||

    My position is that if meat [slaughtered outside the normal factory processes] is OK for people to eat, give away, or feed their children—which indicates that it is not an inherently hazardous product—we should have freedom to also sell it.

    The logic behind such an assumption has always struck me as being completely backward. Just about every time I come across something being given away, the first question that comes to mind is, "What's wrong with it?"

  • Cool Cal||

    I suspect that the money issue boils down to one of, more broadly, state liability. When someone decides to engage in commerce, legally, he consents to certain state conditions: namely a tax on the goods, the transaction, or both. Once this contract has been established, the state is partially responsible for any possible inherent liabilities incurred by said commerce. I.E. If the state were to agree to tax, and thereby sanction a heroin dealer, it would be implicitly assuring a reasonable margin of risk comparable to say, a Big Mac. This, it seems is the nature of the relationship people expect between themselves and a paternalist government. I am convinced, for instance, that had cigarettes been invented yesterday, they would remain an illegal, boutique product.

  • ||

    Once this contract has been established, the state is partially responsible for any possible inherent liabilities incurred by said commerce.

    Wait, what?

  • Brian||

    Because if blackmail were legal, the people who would have to worry about it most would be people with lots of money, secrets and influence. I'll let you do the math.

  • ||

    Why is blackmail illegal, anyway?

    Hmmmm.

    It's a damned good question. Because blackmailers are fucking assholes isn't a good answer. I'll think about it awhile before I weigh (wade?) in on the subject.

  • Rich||

    Because congress hasn't figured out how to tax it.

  • Paul||

    Income is income. They already know how to tax it.

  • Vines & Cattle||

    I'll be at Salatin's Polyface Farm in exactly one week. FTmfW!!!

  • mtexan||

    Why is blackmail illegal? My theory:

    Politicians don't like being blackmailed.
    Politicians make laws.
    Hence, politicians make laws against blackmail.

  • Paul||

    You kidz at Reason sure picked a doosey this time.

    Thought provoking and sure to get you referenced by other blogs which undoubtedly will start with the text: Get this... over at Reason they're suggesting...

    I think the problem is about privacy. There are things that are personal to you. You don't want people to know them. Someone "acquires" knowledge about you, and plans make it public for a price.

    One could argue that legality may revolve on how the information was acquired. It could also revolve around how much damage public knowledge of the information would hurt you, your ability to earn a living, relationships you have with other parties.

    While I get the theory here, I'm not sure this is necessarily an issue of liberty, or even anti-libertarian to suggest that blackmail (extortion) remain illegal.

    And for the record, I think comparing it to the selling of homemade jam is dubious.

  • anonymous||

    "I think the problem is about privacy. There are things that are personal to you. You don't want people to know them. Someone "acquires" knowledge about you, and plans make it public for a price. "

    But it still doesn't address the question of why the invasion of privacy is only illegal if they give you a chance to pay them before they release the information.

    Certainly, a credible threat to perform an illegal act unless paid should be punishable (isn't that what happens if someone puts a gun in your back and demands your wallet?). But if the actual acquisition or public release of the information is not itself illegal, then that doesn't apply here.

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    A year or so ago, some photographer who had nekkid pics of Cameron Diaz was charged blackmail because he offered her the first chance to buy them for $2.5 million.
    It was in 2005 and the extortion charges were dropped before trial. He was convicted of charges surround the model release form and if it was forged or not.

  • GILMORE||

    Let me propose a scenario:

    A small start-up company is about to go public; employees will all benefit in different degrees from the share options disbursed prior to the float. At a party, a mid-level exec ends up blowing lines in the toilet with the CEO, who talks about his recent affair with the head of marketing.

    Does mid level employee then go, "OK - either you give me an extra 10,000 shares, or I drop a dime to the underwriters on your drug habits and intra-office shenanigans? Or to the press if you fire me?"

    Is that, or should that be "legal"?

    I mean it would be fine if he dropped a dime on his own steam, right? Out of concern for shareholder interests, corporate governance, or something like that? We call those 'whistleblowers' right?

    But if the guy extorts money to stay quiet, has he not just committed a crime both against his boss - who admittedly isnt the brightest bulb - AND the shareholders?

    Maybe this is in a different sphere because it involves wider interests than just 2 parties, but I assume MOST cases of blackmail involve angles beyond the 1-1 relationship between the blackmailor-blackmailee. Why else would blackmail matter?

    I just dont see the clear case for why it isnt a crime to benefit from just threatening to disclose damaging information.

    Then again, I also really like pulp detective fiction, which without blackmail would be a pretty meaningless genre.

  • GILMORE||

    God, what IS the origin of that photo?

  • MNG||

    It's illegal because for most people the universe of "immoral things government should deter/punish" is not limited to someone bonking someone over the head. Most people realize that real harm can come to people from non-state actors and from things that may not involve explicit force. Every time a kid tries to get out of being grounded by saying "can't you just spank me and get it over with" he is acknowledging this simple, but for libertarians oh-so-elusive, truth...

  • Fluffy||

    As usual, MNG doesn't understand the argument and wants to talk about something completely different.

    If I was walking down the street taking pictures of the autumn leaves falling, and I happened upon Pat Robertson giving a guy a blowjob behind a bush and photographed it and then went home -

    1) Do I own the photograph or not?

    2) Can I sell the photograph to the National Enquirer, or not?

    If your answer to these two questions is "Yes", then what I need from you is some explanation of why it's OK for me to get money from the Enquirer people for the photograph, but not from Pat Robertson. What is the essential difference between those two economic exchanges? The fact that the photo is worth more to Robertson than it is to anyone else? By definition, every sale involves selling an item to the person willing to pay a higher price than anyone else. How is this different?

    And if your answers to either of the two questions is "No", then you just declared your opposition to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, artistic freedom, and freedom of conscience.

    So which is it?

  • MNG||

    You're leaving out a little bit fluffy, in blackmail the guy says "IF you don't buy it from me I will give/sell it to x." That's makes it less similar to the scenario you present where the guy is simply offering this to the highest bidder and giving the victim a sort of right of first refusal and makes it more like classic extortion which is where someone says "pay me x or I will cause y harm here." That the harm is to reputation than to the body strikes me as in many circumstances irrelevant.

  • Fluffy||

    But in every scenario where I'm selling something, if you fail to buy it someone else will.

    So that's still not really a difference.

    I think that the instinctive sense of "wrongness" we all feel in connection with these scenarios - and I feel it too, believe me, I'm just not surrendering to the feeling and am trying to analyze it critically - dates from childhood experiences, where we all do things that are wrong and then try to conceal them. And we become indignant when someone reveals what we have done. To ethically half-formed children, the person who exposes our wrongdoing is themselves doing something wrong. If we manage to conceal what we've done, we think we "deserve" to get away with it, and if someone comes along and blows our cover we feel that we have been wronged. And so we grow up and feel that we have a "right" to false reputations - because after all, if revelation of the truth would damage our good reputation, then the good reputation we possess is a lie that we don't actually deserve. And that leads us to think that people who might damage our false reputations - or who would force us to choose between our false reputation and some other benefit - is wronging us and taking something from us.

  • MNG||

    What's also interesting is that often libertarians are all for having the state bonk people over the head. For example if I happen to draw and use a logo that looks too much like one you use, then many (of course not all though) libertarians think the state should bonk me over the head to make me stop. And if you say this piece of land is "yours" and have a piece of paper from (of all people) the government that says so, then the state should bonk me over the head if I enter it without your permission...So it's more like "bonking is wrong, except when it's absolutely right!"

  • Paul||

    I'm with you on your first example, MNG, but I think you left me on the second. Yes, I bonk you over the head when you're in my refrigerator, drinking my beer and eating my snacks when I didn't invite you in.

    That's not limiting your freedom in any way. You're limiting mine.

    And specifically, I would love to be the one bonking you over your head when I catch your ass sticking out of my refrigerator, but in reality, the progressive state would rather it be the one to bonk you over the head. So the whole thing is a non-starter.

  • MNG||

    My point is that it is not bonking (use of force) per say that defines the universe of things immoral or things government should address, there are many things that coerce action which do not necessarily involve the immediate threat of force...Blackmailing is one of these things in many cases.

  • ||

    if you say this piece of land is "yours" and have a piece of paper from (of all people) the government that says so, then the state should bonk me over the head if I enter it without your permission..

    Sorry, I'm not following your train of thought here. Why would I want the state to bonk you over the head? Would that somehow help you to recover from the buckshot in your ass?

    -jcr

  • MNG||

    So you think it's wrong to compel people to support police forces which can use force to enforce property rights?

  • ||

    Yes. An initiation of force is an initiation of force. Paying for police protection should be a voluntary activity, with individuals having the right to decline that option offered by the government and contract with a private party for the same protective services.

  • MNG||

    And people who can't pay for either get none, eh? Rape and pillage those people at will, criminals...

  • prolefeed||

    MNG -- as a good liberal who believes in allowing the government to confiscate half or more of people's income, I'm sure if the government quit stealing like that you and all the other liberals who make up around half the population would then have plenty of money to voluntarily help the handful of people who were destitute.

    Right?

    Or are you saying that liberals would not lift a finger to help their fellow man, that the only way they will help them is if they are compelled to do so by government?

    By your logic, we should have government-run food stores, too, because otherwise how would poor people get fed?

    And if government needs to run something as basic and vital as grocery stores, what portion of the economy would you have the government NOT run?

    And how many people are so poor that, given a complete absence of any liberals willing to help them with their police protection premiums -- stipulating to your implied premise that liberals are so hard-hearted and uncompassionate that they would not lift a finger to help the most indigent -- that they couldn't afford their own personal police protection in the form of a handgun?

    Actually, I think the NRA members might spring for a handgun or two for the non-criminal indigent. They're not cold-hearted bastards like the liberals MNG believes in who talk about compassion but won't lift a finger to help their fellow man unless coerced by the government.

  • MNG||

    "By your logic, we should have government-run food stores, too, because otherwise how would poor people get fed?"

    Or direct aid they can use to buy food, which I would support and most liberals do support. So yes, I support paying for food and police for those who could not afford it. And I want to pay for it with my and your money :).

    And having a handgun would not mean you never need the police. Say you face several other people who also have handguns. Or you have someone in your house having a heartattack, or you need to get your wacked out kid under control (and don't want to, er, shoot him). The police provide a lot more than a gun...

  • J.||

    ...or you have a lovable family pet that needs to be shot.

  • ||

    So, MNG, you're saying that theft is not an initiation of force? Because both of those scenarios are theft, and thus an initiation of force.

    Or do you not draw any distinction between the initiation of force, and the response to said initiation, saying they are morally equivalent?

    And are you further saying that since the government currently claims a monopoly on the punishment of initiation of force, and punishes anyone who takes matters into their own hands, and if a libertarian tries to propose improvements that work within the framework of that monopoly of force, that said libertarian APPROVES of the government monopoly?

    I'll repeat what one of my computer science teachers said in college: "Typing is no substitute for thinking." Try the latter, for fuck's sake.

  • MNG||

    Walking onto "someone elses" property is not in any common sense way an "initiation of force," nor is copying someone's logo...Only in Crazytown.

    And I don't see much to your "initiation/response to initiation" distinction. For example, there is clearly some line where force in response to intitiation of force would also be morally incorrect (you can't morally beat a tresspassor to death for the mere tresspass, even though that would be technically a "response to an initiation of force." So in reality you're reduced to "initiation of force for morally wrong reasons is wrong, for morally right reasons it is right." Of course EVERYONE believes that [it's simply a tautology]).

  • prolefeed||

    MNG -- Intruding on someone else's private property without their consent is an initiation of force (it's currently called "criminal trespass" or "breaking and entering", depending on the circumstances).

    Stealing someone else's intellectual property and using it without their consent as if you were the one who created it is an initiation of force.

    I will, however, stipulate that you are unclear on the concept of how the NIOF principle works, and have used a strawman argument to try to defend your POV.

    If someone walks onto my private property without my consent, and I ask them to leave, and they refuse, they have committed an initiation of force.

    In response to that IOF, I am entitled to take steps to end your aggression and get compensation for the injury you have caused.

    This does not mean that I have the right to gun you down if you take a single unauthoried, and possibly inadvertant, step onto my property, because then I would be the one breaking the NIOF principle.

    You know, the way Radley Balko keeps harping on about the police violations of the NIOF principle, shooting dogs and people and whatnot over minor or nonexistent infractions?

    The NIOF principle does NOT hold that any perceived infraction, however minor, allows any level of force in response, up to and including deadly force. It means that the person being aggressed upon has the moral right to stop the aggression, using an appropriate level of response, and a measured escalation of response if the aggressor refuses to acknowledge their offense and continues to aggress.

    An inappropriate level of force in response to an aggression is itself an initiation of force.

  • MNG||

    "Intruding on someone else's private property without their consent is an initiation of force (it's currently called "criminal trespass" or "breaking and entering", depending on the circumstances).

    Stealing someone else's intellectual property and using it without their consent as if you were the one who created it is an initiation of force."

    Again, that is just Crazytown. Me sitting down and drawing a logo that looks like yours is an initiation of force? You've got a crazy, insane conception of force bro.

    "It means that the person being aggressed upon has the moral right to stop the aggression, using an appropriate level of response, and a measured escalation of response if the aggressor refuses to acknowledge their offense and continues to aggress."

    That "using an APPROPRIATE level of response line shows your arguments weakness, as "appropriate" is just another word for "right." Hence the tautology that you're stuck in.

    Saying that a morally right amount of force is morally right is a tautology. At least if you said "force in response to an initiation of force" is morally right, period you'd be saying something. Saying something absurd, yes, but something. So you've got either your tautological line to discern when force verges into wrongness or an absurd actual position...

  • J.||

    Well, first of all, libertarian thought is divided on intellectual property. But you are approaching the issue like all libertarians are absolutists. I think most reasonable people agree that, as a general rule, it is wrong to initiate force on a party that has not aggressed against anyone themselves.

    You wrote:

    Saying that a morally right amount of force is morally right is a tautology. At least if you said "force in response to an initiation of force" is morally right, period you'd be saying something. Saying something absurd, yes, but something. So you've got either your tautological line to discern when force verges into wrongness or an absurd actual position...

    You are the only one I see arguing tautologies. It is completely rational to say that a proportional amount of force be used in response to an initiation of force. The IOF of trespassing is clearly not an equivalent amount of force as shooting the trespasser in the head.

  • ||

    Actually, the first argument does not represent the view of most libertarians. or many at least. Many oppose intellectual property. The second one is just lame. You either believe in property right or you don't. If you don't, then, hey, I'm going to need a new place to live soon.

  • GILMORE||

    Ahh, let me guess...

    this?

    "MIDDLETOWN -- A Middletown woman is accused of being disorderly in public -- while wearing a cow suit.

    A police report filed about the incident said Michelle Allen allegedly chased children in her neighborhood while wearing the suit on Monday evening.

    Allen also urinated on a neighbor's front porch, the report said, and was warned by officers to go home and stay there"

    http://www.wlwt.com/news/17589970/detail.html

  • MNG||

    Dear God, that's a female? I thought that was a bull for sure...

  • ||

    Exchange money, and it’s somehow not safe.”

    It's not about safety, it's about excluding competition for the larger meat-processing vendors who spend far more money on buying legislators than we do.

    -jcr

  • hmm||

    I always looked at the consideration part of any crime the willingness or full commitment in some form to commit the crime.

    I can say I'm going to kick your ass. Then hit you with a nerf bat. No crime. If I smoke you with a baseball bat obvious crime.

    I can say I'll pay you to off my wife and hand you a quarter. Do I really think you will kill my wife for a quarter? How about if I had you $5000?

    The consideration and it's level shows the full intent to violate.

    This of course would applies to laws that make sense and regulations and laws that are complete and utter bullshit. That's how I've always viewed it. I'm sure some lawyerly type can give the legal doctrine for this, there's bound to be one.

  • qwerty||

    I totally agree that this should be legal. Walter Williams put it best: We don't own our own reputations. Our reputations are the sum total of what other people think of us. If I have an affair, and someone decides to tell other people about it, my rights haven't been violated. Nothing that was my property was taken.

    If someone violates my privacy (by taking pictures of me taking a shower and putting them on the net), that should be illegal as a privacy violation, but whether or not money changed hands is completely irrelevant.

  • Abdul||

    The funny thing is that blackmail is already legal.

    Provided that you are a lawyer, and you call the payoff a "settlement."

  • LoneSnark||

    About the privacy idea:

    Would not making blackmail legal improve your privacy? As it is, if blackmail is illegal then the only thing someone with private information can do with it to turn a profit is sell it to a reporter. However, if blackmail was legal, he could instead sell it to the individual in question. Yes, it might increase the incentive to eaves drop, but I suspect the vast majority of privacy failures are accidental.

  • Hacha Cha||

    for a second I thought it said she received COMPLIMENTS for wearing the cow suit

  • ||

    While my gut reaction is one of disgust at someone being able to use the threat of turning private information into public information to extract cash from someone, on further reflection I think this reaction is part of the unexamined statist indoctrination baggage I still carry around.

    The biggest problem with keeping blackmail illegal is that the illegality of it increases the damage a blackmailer can do.

    The blackmailer says gimme this much money, or I reveal your dirty little secret. The victim caves in and pays. And then the blackmailer comes back for another bite at the apple -- and another -- and another. You're on the hook for life.

    But, if blackmail were legal, then the target of the blackmail offer could legally demand that the terms and conditions of the offer be put in writing, with severe legal punishments if the blackmailer tried to get another bite of the apple, or sold the information to someone else after getting paid.

    Legality would limit the damage.

    So, upon consideration, I think legalizing it would be both libertarian and an improvement.

  • ||

    the target of the blackmail offer could legally demand that the terms and conditions of the offer be put in writing, with severe legal punishments if the blackmailer tried to get another bite of the apple, or sold the information to someone else after getting paid.

    But if the target is capitulating to blackmail, then why would the blackmailer agree to the limitations you suggest, and what leverage would the target have?

    The way I see it, the only practical ways to respond to blackmail are to 1) scare the crap out of the blackmailer so that he doesn't dare reveal the secret, or 2) go ahead and tell the secret to the people concerned, and also publish the fact that the blackmailer is a blackmailer.

    -jcr

  • prolefeed||

    If the blackmailer refused to agree to the limitations you suggested, you would have the recourse of saying, "Fuck you, go ahead and disclose this damaging information about me, I'm not going to be on the hook for life to you. You get nothing, pal, if you don't agree to these conditions."

    You're right that currently the two options you've suggested are the only available ones. But, if blackmail were legal, the target of the blackmail attempt would then have a third option, a legally binding written agreement to permanently end the blackmail in exchange for a single payment.

    Whereas if blackmail is illegal, you can't write such a legally enforceable agreement. The victim is thus deprived of a possibly better option than the two current ones.

  • ||

    if blackmail were legal, the target of the blackmail attempt would then have a third option, a legally binding written agreement to permanently end the blackmail in exchange for a single payment.

    My point is that if someone is capitulating, why would they be able to obtain these conditions you suggest? The blackmailer has the upper hand.

    -jcr

  • MNG||

    "further reflection I think this reaction is part of the unexamined statist indoctrination baggage I still carry around"

    If by "unexamined statist indoctrination baggage" you mean "good common sense" then I agree.

  • prolefeed||

    And if by "good common sense" you mean a "hideous belief in the efficacy and morality of unlimited governmental intrusion into one's life", then I can see why you would agree.

    And why I wouldn't.

  • MNG||

    By "good common sense" I would accept the view given below by Mr. Love and reflected by the common law, that blackmail is something that would cause serious breaches of the peace. And of course there is the common sense that some non-coercive things are still so harmful and immoral that it's OK for government to coerce people into not doing them. It's unnatural to try to boil down everything into the non-agression principle, your "unexamined statist baggage" is just your common sense about morality, it's the hyper-libertarianism that is unnatural and suspect...

  • Shannon Love||

    (1) I think that blackmail is illegal for the simple reason that historically people would kill to protect certain secrets and would seek bloody revenge against those who destroyed their reputations. In the modern world, we shrug off reputations because most of us live in vast anonymous masses. In the past, that was not true and arguably an individuals reputation was their wealth. The only thing in the modern world that comes close would be our credit scores or professional accreditation. Common law is rather ruthlessly pragmatic. Blackmail destroyed the peace of the community so common law punished it.

    From my time in the corporate world dealing with intellectual property and NDA's, I would guess that making blackmail legal would lead to a society in which you had to sign a NDA in order to do almost anything. For example, checking into a hotel. If the employees of the hotel could legally shake you down later, everyone checking in would want an NDA to prevent that. I fear the practice would spread to almost every facet of life.

    On the other hand, regardless of any state action technology will soon immerse all of us in continual surveillance and tracking so privacy as we currently think of it will so be a moot point.

    (2) Laws allow for people to do things for free which they cannot do for profit because: (A) Profit creates a positive feedback loop that lets people keep doing whatever earned the profit. Giving away things for free has a built in negative feedback look because every time you give something away you have less of an ability to do it again. If there is a problem with the thing given, the scope of possible harm is limited by the givers prior resources. If a billionaire tried to give away millions of butchered cows, there would be concern. (B) Profit creates an incentive for people to shave corners on safety in the name of efficiency. It creates a circumstance where people have an incentive to ignore risk and rationalize deviancy from standard.

    Traditionally, such loopholes existed so that people could give to families and friends. This was judged safe enough because the small scale and because personal relationships would prevent the giver from doing anything too risky. It like the way we let farm kids work under family supervision with dangerous machines and animals. We wouldn't think of letting them do the same work for strangers or a large impersonal organization.

  • Neu Mejican||

    thread winner.

  • ||

    The NDAs in your hotel scenario would be a condition of the employees' employment, and posted so that all visitors would know that no employee of that hotel could comment in any way on your stay there.

  • ||

    Or I could go to the cheap hotel and not worry about hotel employees telling the world that i kick out the tucked in sheets of the bed and used the hotel's shampoo yet not the conditioner.

  • ||

    Aside from the fact that you probably cheat on your wife....why should my tax dollars be used to protect you from exposure of your indiscretions?

  • Morris||

    Walter Block, the libertarian economist...

    This is like saying Bruce Shlupstick, Chrsitian nutritional advisor.

    I mean, economics is economics. It's not an exact science, but it's a broad field. How can you reduce it to some sort of moonbat libertarianism? Maybe Walter Block should get a life.

  • ||

    The reason it's necessary to describe Block as a libertarian economist is to distinguish him from the shysters like Krugman or Keynes, who pose as economists.

    If people understood that most people who claim the title of "economist" are nothing but propagandists for power-seekers, then the distinction wouldn't be necessary.

    -jcr

  • ||

    I wonder if he asked for gold or for Yen would it then be legal.

  • ||

    If we're going to be libertarianly picky about these sorts of laws, that rabbit hole goes down quite a bit further.

    What's the libertarian justification for peeping tom laws, anyway? Supposedly you guys only believe force or fraud should be illegal, so I'm wondering how an act that does not affect the victim, and the victim will never know about happening, can be considered force or fraud.

  • ||

    A peeping tom infringes on privacy rights of the individual. Before you rule out force and fraud, you need a groundwork of underlying rights in order to define what force and fraud actually are, and certain privacy rights can be considered part of that groundwork. In contrast, blackmail seems to be a genuine paradox, in that neither the publishing of negative information nor offering someone a deal are illegal individually, but combined, they are blackmail and illegal. Shannon Love probably has the best take on it above.

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