Civil Noncompliance

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As a piano technician I come across many unusual requests, but none so bizarre as one I received some time ago from a man whom I’ll call Mr. Green. Could I, he asked, strip the ivory from the keys of a Steinway grand piano?

I was appalled. Applying ivory to piano keys is a fine art. The ivory on each key is two separate pieces that have been color matched, cut, and glued together so carefully that there is no visible seam, then clamped exactly over a special wafer of cloth impregnated with white pigment that gives the translucent ivory a white, lustrous hue. To ask me to undo this fine craftsmanship was preposterous. It would be like asking me to slash the Mona Lisa or blow up Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. I asked Mr. Green why he wanted me to perform this sacrilege.

His answer was the law demanded it. After searching all over North America, Green had found precisely the right piano for his concert pianist wife. It was located in Canada’s province of British Columbia. As he made arrangements to have it shipped to his home in Connecticut, he learned that the piano would not be allowed into the United States because the ivory of its keys is prohibited by a law that bans the importation of ivory. Hence the need to remove the ivory from the keys.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “The piano was made in 1970, twenty years before the ban came into effect. Surely there is an exception for things made before the ban was adopted?”

“I can’t find out about that, it’s really crazy,” he sputtered. “I’ve called and called. I’m going out of my mind, I’m not getting any sleep. It’s a nightmare.”

Unable to get any straight or useful answer from U.S. Customs, he had retained a customs broker, who wasn’t able to find a way around the problem, either. The seller of the piano had, for his part, contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which supposedly administers the ban, and had received only a vague and equivocal response. If there was a way of applying for an exception, it was buried so deep in the bowels of bureaucracy as to be inaccessible to human beings. At his wit’s end, Green decided to have the ivory stripped off the keys, ship the piano to Connecticut, and then have the keys recovered with plastic.

The Death of Common Sense

The problem Mr. Green faced is familiar. The accumulated weight of regulation today is so great that we bump into its inane and counterproductive demands all the time. Author Phillip Howard focused on this problem in his 1995 book, The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America. “Modern law,” he says, “has not protected us from stupidity and caprice, but has made stupidity and caprice dominant features of our society.” His book surveys the mountain of regulations that “crushes our goals and deadens our spirits.”

To ask me to undo this fine craftsmanship was preposterous, like asking someone to slash the Mona Lisa or blow up Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.

Social scientists have also noticed the issue. Their research into the many ways that laws go awry has prompted them to formulate the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” This generalization, first popularized by sociologist Robert Merton in 1936, ranks along with death and taxes as one of the few certainties of social life. It holds that every government effort to improve life has unexpected and harmful side effects. In many cases, these harmful effects are so severe as to defeat the original purpose of the law.

The ban on ivory is a good illustration of this dysfunctional pattern. From a distance, the problem seemed simple. Poachers kill elephants for their tusks, thus reducing the numbers of elephants — and, in certain areas, possibly driving them to extinction. The theory was that a law against the importation of ivory would deprive poachers of their market, and the killing of elephants would stop.

Alas, the world is always more complicated than it seems to those who make laws. Now, poaching and overhunting of elephants still takes place, but thanks to scarcity the practice is more lucrative than ever. Before the ban, ivory was selling for $200 a kilo; now the black market price is over $2,000.

But this is only part of the problem. Some African countries have too many elephants. These beasts overgraze and destroy the habitat in wildlife preserves, threatening plant and animal species with extinction. In these cases, wildlife experts recommend culling elephants to reduce their numbers. In other places where elephant population is too high, these animals destroy crops of poor farmers. This problem is managed by cooperative arrangements that cull some elephants, and reimburse farmers for crop losses with money gained from selling tusks of the culled animals. A ban on ivory undercuts these arrangements and thus encourages farmers to kill them secretly.

Before the ban, ivory was selling for $200 a kilo; now the black market price is over $2,000.

Another point that the ban does not take into account is that ivory has positive, non-substitutable human uses. Piano and organ keys are a case in point. Plastic piano key tops do not give the same feel as ivory. When dry, they are too “sticky,” not allowing the fingertips to slide from note to note. When wet with perspiration, plastic key tops become too slippery. A total ban on ivory, then, means that musical performances at the highest level are compromised.

These are just a few of the complexities that the law against the importation of ivory overlooks. Distant publics and shallow-minded legislators suppose that such a law is like a meat axe, and that one swing will fix, simply and finally, the problem they have in mind. But in its actual operation, it is more like a grenade, doing damage in many different directions that no one could predict when it is first put into effect. That the ivory ban would require the sacrilege of stripping ivory from the keys of a Steinway grand piano illustrates the kind of unanticipated, harmful side effects that come with every law.

Democratic Dead End

How do we fix this problem of laws that make a mockery of common sense? One answer might be to use the democratic process. That’s what the civics books recommend: if you don’t like a law, then you write a letter to the editor, or to your congressman. This advice might have made sense in an age of small government and few laws, but it is painfully unrealistic today. The mass of regulations now in place represents the accumulation of many decades of lobbying, coalition-building, administrative interpretation, and judicial precedent. The idea that an individual could even be noticed in this quagmire, let alone clear it up, is fanciful.

Furthermore, the democratic process gave us these laws. Politicians promised them as the solutions to problems. Sure, they ignored the harmful side effects, but this is the way the system works. The modern politician’s goal is not to make things better. It is to display good intentions, to gather kudos from a shallow media and curry favor with single-minded pressure groups. Politics has become theatre, where the politician-actor struts upon the stage playing the hero, and the audience applauds his performance.

The modern politician’s goal is not to make things better. It is to display good intentions, and to curry favor with single-minded pressure groups.

Thus, within democratic politics, there is no way of stemming the tide of shortsighted laws. If you go to the legislators and point out that a certain law has backfired, they are not going to repeal it. Lawmakers passed the ban on ivory in order to look good. They are hardly going to agree to offend the environmental pressure groups by reversing themselves (Headline: “Senator Endorses Slaying of Elephants”). If the politicians do anything, they will pass additional laws to try to fix the problems they caused with the first law — giving rise, of course, to more unintended consequences.

In the Tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, and King

Is there nothing that we can do to counteract foolish and destructive laws?

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau elaborated the principle of civil disobedience, the idea that it is right for an individual to disobey an unjust law. Though a familiar concept for abolitionists and others who objected to government power on religious grounds, Thoreau's work proved revolutionary in separating civil disobedience from specific religious traditions, allowing men to appeal not to any higher power, but to the reason of his fellow man. Following in Thoreau’s footsteps, Mohandas Gandhi developed civil disobedience into a method of political reform. With his mass protests in South Africa and India, Gandhi showed the world that law need not be treated as a god. When laws contradict our sense of morality and decency, it is right to disobey them. Later, Martin Luther King, another of Thoreau’s disciples, grounded the American civil rights movement on the same principle.

Civil disobedience points the way to a tactics of reform, but it will not itself address the problem of overregulation. Civil disobedience is a tactic of mass protest. It assumes a single, objectionable law so prominent that large numbers of people can be marshaled to demonstrate in the streets against it.

The problem we face with law in the modern state is that there are tens of thousands of silly regulations, and no single one merits a high-profile campaign. To take Mr. Green’s case, imagine the difficulties we would have in trying to attract crowds, and the media, to a “piano-importing protest” at a U.S. customs check point on the Canadian border. To resist and counter the regulatory regime, we need a small-scale, convenient strategy that can be applied in thousands, even millions, of instances. I call it “civil noncompliance.” Its aim is to counter a destructive law by finding a quiet way to evade it. This was what I used to counter the unjust effect of the law on ivory importation affecting Mr. Green.

To resist and counter the regulatory regime, we need a small-scale, convenient strategy that can be applied in thousands, even millions, of instances.

My sister and I drove to Canada for a round of golf. While she played, I visited the home of the seller, took the piano apart, removed the keys and put them in a cardboard box which I put in the back of my station wagon. Then I put the piano back together, ready to be shipped to Mr. Green in the ordinary way, sans ivory. I picked up my sister at the golf course, and drove to the border.

The U.S. customs agent was friendly. What was the purpose of our visit to Canada?

“We played golf.”

“How did you do?”

I said, “Don’t ask!”

He laughed and waved us through. The next day I shipped the keys to Mr. Green, to be put back in the piano when it arrived. Travesty avoided!

The Polite Reform

By calling the tactic “civil” noncompliance, I mean to emphasize the element of social responsibility. I do not advocate disobeying laws just because one can get away with it. One must have a helpful, socially constructive purpose in mind. For example, you shouldn’t run red lights as a general practice. Even if there were no policemen to notice it, that behavior would be both rude and dangerous; that is, uncivil. But if you were driving an injured child to the emergency room late at night when no other cars were about, driving through the red light would be an act of civil noncompliance.

By using the term “noncompliance,” I mean to emphasize that this is a polite disobedience. It is not confrontational, and certainly never violent. Civil noncompliance does not presume a battle with government officials enforcing the law. The idea is to be unnoticed by them, or to receive their tacit support in avoiding a regulation’s requirements. The idea that officials may be willing to “look the other way” is an unusual point, for we are accustomed to portray bureaucrats as rigid, power-mad enforcers who enjoy making life difficult for ordinary people. There are undoubtedly some in this category, but most government employees are ordinary human beings who want to be friendly and helpful.

Government officials often see that regulations are irrational and harmful. Out of sympathy, or embarrassment, they can become allies.

I’m sure readers can cite cases of officials who helped them evade some destructive regulation. My favorite episode took place years ago in Peru when, as a student, I was applying for a residency visa. After filling out the form, I went to the cashier, who said the charge would be $1,800! Of course I couldn’t pay this astronomical fee (which had been set with oil company executives in mind). I was directed to the head of the agency. After hearing my plight, he looked at my form.

“Since you’re not 21 years old, you only have to pay the fee for a minor of age, which is $25.”

“Oh, but I’m afraid I’m over 21,” I replied. “My birthday was—”

“You don’t understand,” he said firmly. “Look here,” he tapped his finger on the form. “See, you’re not 21.”

I finally got it through my thick skull that he was trying to help me. “Oh, yes. I see. Right! Thank you!”

He called over to the cashier and told her, “Es menor de edad.”

She nodded and told me the charge was $25.

Government officials often see that regulations are irrational and harmful. Out of sympathy, or embarrassment, they can become allies in the tactics of civil noncompliance. In fact, sometimes they can be the leaders. Take the case of wolves in Idaho. The state’s environmentalists, hunters, and ranchers had worked out a modus vivendi for dealing with wolves, a system that involved compensation for ranchers who lose stock to wolves, and some hunting to cull the wolf population. This system ran afoul of the federal courts and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which in 2010 banned wolf hunting in Idaho. That decision no doubt made urban treehuggers happy, but it thoroughly disgusted Idahoans. In response, Idaho governor Butch Otter practiced civil non-compliance: he ordered state officials to stop investigating wolf kills.

A Quiet Revolution

Civil noncompliance is more than a strategy for getting by in an age of over-regulation. It affords an avenue for remaking social governance along new lines.

The political approach to addressing problems and managing social life is running out of steam. Generations ago, idealists believed that politics held the key to building a new society. Candidates, parties, and revolutionary movements — from communists to progressives, fascists to democratic socialists — were energized by the conviction that control of government would give them the power to set the country on the path to their dreamed-of Utopia.

No informed person now looks at politics in this way. Government today is more like an ineffectual goo, a spreading blob of noise and hypocrisy that can be neither directed nor reformed. Journalist Jonathan Rauch made this point in his 1994 book Demosclerosis (revised and expanded in1999 as Government’s End; Why Washington Stopped Working): “Government has become what it is and will remain: a large, incoherent, often incomprehensible mass that is solicitous of its clients, but impervious to any broad, coherent program of reform.”

It is also clear that the system cannot be overthrown. At bottom, the public wants big government. Yes, most people are aware that government fails miserably time after time, and they realize that most of the politicians who make the laws are shortsighted and hypocritical (when not downright corrupt). Nevertheless, the public clings to government as an object of worship. Government fills the human longing to believe in a higher power that cares for us, a God-like force that can answer our prayers in troubled times. Government also fills the need for heroes to worship, for famous figures the public can ooh and aah over. Finally, politics provides the excitement of competition for a nation of bored, media-hungry couch potatoes. To get an idea how difficult it would be to do away with big government, imagine trying to abolish God, Santa Claus, and the Super Bowl all at once.

We will have the show of politics, then. We will have candidates promising, lawmakers denouncing, and pressure groups nagging. But as civil noncompliance is increasingly practiced, this posturing will have less effect on the real world. The end point — Utopia, if you will — would be a society where politicians provide entertainment with their posturing, passing laws that promise this and prohibit that. Meanwhile citizens quietly ignore these laws in their daily lives and do what is right and helpful.

Such sensible times may yet be far off. But as I drove away from the customs checkpoint with those ivory piano keys rattling in the back of my car, I thought, I have seen the future, and it works!




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Comments

Dave H

One way to limit things is to require all laws to have an expiry date on them and the requirement for a debate before voting to renew the law for another term. That way, if a law needs to be kept, there's a cost of time for legislators. Laws that are no longer useful can simply and quietly be allowed to expire with no fanfare. Eventually the legislators will be so busy debating and renewing old laws that they will have no time to introduce new ones, or will have to lose something in order to introduce a new one.

Of course, this will have a few unintended consequences too.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Enjoyed the Feature and would agree that the applauded practice of civil non-compliance would be useful in carving out a tiny piece of liberty from the "oppressive democracy". However, I think that taking the recommendation too seriously would amount to another version of the belief that (somehow) freedom can be achieved or maintained without the proper philosophical understanding by a sufficient number of people. In a way the concept of "civil non-compliance" is the mirror image of "anarchy", while both (taken too seriously) share the mentioned flaw.

Proper government with rational laws is a REQUIREMENT of freedom. They are inseparable concepts. Under oppressive government I think opportunities for successful acts of civil non-compliance would be relatively small, few and fleeting.

Liberator1968

I agree about the blight of overregulation. I think there's a kind of collective action problem about regulation: every law adds a little bit to the general cost of overregulation, but this always seems to be "outweighed" by the benefits of *this particular* law for some group or purpose.

I think, however, we might disagree on which laws are instances of overregulation. To me, it is absurd to ban squatting in abandoned or unused buildings, dumpster diving, panhandling, street drinking, and other acts which don't do any direct harm; and it's absurd to ban things (like loud parties, graffiti, skateboarding) which cause only minor nuisance (i.e. the harm of the law outweighs the harm of the act it counters). I sense from the tone of your article that you'd be quite happy with the regulation of "politeness" and of "property rights". If so (and I'm guessing), then you're indirectly contributing to the climate of overregulation.

In terms of ivory - there is a simple and effective way to stop African farmers killing elephants, or American farmers killing wolves - which is basically to pay them - to compensate for wolf kills, to pay them for upkeep of elephants, etc. In Africa this has been done quite effectively through something called Community-Based Natural Resource Management, which entails taxing ecotourism, safari hunting, etc to provide revenues to local communities. This has led to big reductions in poaching. This would be even more effective if the payments were simply provided directly, from general taxes. But this again would run counter to libertarian philosophy. I would suggest that it would lead to an overall reduction in the burden of regulation, at the expense of fairly small redistributions which simply contribute for bad luck and pay for a great good (conservation). I suppose I'm for small government, but a different kind of government than you. If there's going to be a government, its role should mostly be distributive justice, not regulation - Somali xeer law might be a good model to use.

More generally, I think there's some simple principles which would make overregulation and especially absurd uses like the piano case much harder to occur:

1. Every law (and maybe also every rule in a social context as well) must have a declared reason, and there must be a general legal principle that the use of a law outside its intended reason, in a way which does not benefit or runs against it, shall be struck down. (Of course the declared reason must also itself be both constitutional and sufficient, and the measures proportionate).

This would mean no more antique piano bans, no more arrests for filtering bathwater during a hosepipe ban, no more classification of children's treehouses or snowmen as "unauthorised developments" or Papuan performers' musical instruments as "animal materials", etc etc.

2. Every law must undergo periodic review, and new laws come under instant review. The review will use criteria which are as scientific as possible, and which include such things as whether the "offence" is detectable, whether the passage of the law has reduced its occurrence, and whether the law has caused greater suffering than it has alleviated. Any law which proves unenforceable, counterproductive or which remains on the statute books without being used, shall be struck down after a set period (say, 5 years after passage or at its 10-yearly review).

This would quickly see off most of the moral-panic laws such as the UK Dangerous Dogs Act, a lot of the petty lifestyle laws, and dangerous archaisms like the Espionage Act, which remain active indefinitely.

3. A constitutional structure which makes it harder to pass laws than to repeal them. For instance, a consociational system making any new laws pass through multiple assemblies of different constituencies with vetoes. Repeal should be considerably easier - perhaps each law should come up for renewal every so often, and have to be re-pass the entire process to remain law.

The aim here would be to make the number of laws smaller, the degree of consensus needed for them higher, and to make it difficult to pass laws based on elite capture of the executive and/or based on conflicts between social groups. It would also require greater negotiation on whichever laws *are* passed, which should in turn make them "better".

4. A constitutional requirement that an *act in itself* must be harmful to be illegal (not simply contribute to a harmful trend in general).

This would lead to a lot of the more petty laws, the stuff police regularly harass people over, things like licensing and zoning systems, "quality of life laws" and drug laws, into dead letters.

Jim Williams

All too often, the "unintended consequences" of laws are foreseeable. As Bastiat said, look beyond what is seen to what is unseen.

Foreseeable consequences cannot be called "unintended". I believe that the blob of crazy results (e.g. to ivory piano keys) is exactly what the political class wants. Keeping individuals tightly snared in an incomprehensible mass of "crimes" increases the power of the State.

Jon Harrison

I would put it somewhat differently. Most politicians are lawyers, and they write laws because it increases their power and feeling of self-importance. Additionally, however, they sometimes write laws simply to benefit society -- and occasionally they succeed. It's undeniable that some of the laws on the books are beneficial.

Since the rise of civilization societies have been ruled by one of the following three: priests, soldiers, or lawyers. I don't particularly like lawyers, but I prefer lawyer-rule to the rough hand of the soldier or the fanatical parasitism of the priest. The only other alternative is anarchy. And the first to be destroyed in a reign of anarchy would be the intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals who pontificate about the virtues of anarchy from their campus offices and urban studio apartments.

"Forseeable consequences cannot be called 'unintended'". Gee, really? The point is that human actions often have unintended, unforseen consequences. History is replete with examples. And sometimes (not always, by any means) we are better off living with the unintended consequences of otherwise sound laws. To aver that a concious conspiracy exists to keep individuals "tightly snared" in an "incomprehensible mass of 'crimes'" is, at least in an American context, a last refuge of the paranoiac.

AtlasAikido

Some context on Jon Harrison's last para comment regarding Unintended Consequences: "To aver that a concious [sic] conspiracy exists to keep individuals "tightly snared" in an "incomprehensible mass of 'crimes'" is, at least in an American context, a last refuge of the paranoiac".

Dear Reader, the Consequences Of Govt ARE Intended (and Foreseeable) AND Not An "Unintended Consequence"!

Gen. McChrystal has discovered what so many others before him learned — from Socrates to Thomas More to Gen. Smedley Butler to Sophie Scholl to Daniel Ellsberg to Seymour Hersh to untold governmental "whistleblowers" — even, more recently to Helen Thomas — that it is dangerous to speak truth not to power, but to ordinary people.

The owners of the political establishment know the truth; they are fully aware of the lies they have fabricated; the deceptions they — along with their obliging media and academic supporters — have carefully manipulated into a perception of "truth."

The owners don't want you to know what they know. Those who would dare to so inform you get labeled as "paranoid conspiracy theorists," "disgruntled former employees," "racists," or "anti-Semitic." When I am asked if I believe in "conspiracy theories" of history, I respond — in the words of the late Chris Tame — "I am not interested in conspiracy theories, but in the facts of conspiracies."

Excerpt from Butler Shaffer
"Making It McChrystal Clear"
http://www.lewrockwell.com/shaffer/shaffer218.html

Regarding JH's comment: "Since the rise of civilization societies have been ruled by one of the following three: priests, soldiers, or lawyers. I don't particularly like lawyers, but I prefer lawyer-rule to the rough hand of the soldier or the fanatical parasitism of the priest. The only other alternative is anarchy. And the first to be destroyed in a reign of anarchy would be the intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals who pontificate about the virtues of anarchy from their campus offices and urban studio apartments".

“There is no alternative” (TINA) IS clearly yet another BIG LIE forced upon the majority of the world’s population by the oligarchic elites. But TINA t'aint so. It t'aint so.

To compound the chaos of the State, some people call themselves "anarchists" but openly destroy the property of, and call for controls over, the peaceful behavior of those they hate - so proving that they really favor government. So we have to recall the definition: a genuine anarchist doesn't want to rule anyone, except himself. We love freedom - and not just for ourselves. We're happy for everyone else to enjoy it too. Anarchy the actual word does not mean no rules. It does mean self rule and it is not synonymous with chaos.

Now back to the actual cause of chaos and the actual bomb throwers of history. Right now, the world is on fire (to cite just two examples) aggressive war and aggressive fiat currency inflation — the former being nothing other than Mass Murder, the latter being Massive Theft through official fraud. Need I point out that this is Govt at work?

People ignorant of such are what led to Hitler, the government loses control and they demand a strong leader, cowards build up some tyrant (NOT anarchists) who then go around Mass Murdering the: "intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals [jews, gypsies, anarchists etc] who pontificate about the virtues of anarchy [self-rule/not no rules] from their campus offices and urban studio apartments" [but certainly not 24x7 via a statist obliging media and academic support].

It is certainly not those who practice self-rule that are the cause.

Re JH's: "Most politicians are lawyers, and they write laws because it increases their power and feeling of self-importance. Additionally, however, they sometimes write laws simply to benefit society -- and occasionally they succeed. It's undeniable that some of the laws on the books are beneficial".

Nope again. There are the 300 Federal laws that are passed every day! Can anyone imagine how any of these Federal Laws (made by Lawyers) could possibly have anything to do with the Non-Aggression Principle? They don't even have time to read them. I would like to thank Simon Black yesterday on LewRockwell.com for that information.

Let us now completely dispense with Jon Harrison's "lawyers [in govt] sometimes write laws simply to benefit society --and occasionally they succeed. It's [not] undeniable that some of the laws on the books are beneficial". Any customary laws made into statute law cannot be good!

Briefly the tacit assumption that natural laws do not apply to human relationships led men to believe they must have a central system of Statutory Laws to fill the gap and maintain social order. The principle behind a Statutory Law written a priori cannot be made to fit all circumstances. Its application is UNOBJECTIVE and misses value structure objectivity of profit and loss calculations. This market price *breakthru came from Mises's 1920 paper refuting Socialism.

Paraphrased from The Market for Liberty
Morris and Linda Tannehill

http://mises.org/resources/6058

On another front, Julian Assange continues to expose significant fraud and crimes committed by the State. Indeed it is the State That Fears Information (and so-far the linked site) and clearly conspires and propagates propaganda AND fear. After all without followers the State cannot buy enough bullets nor recruit enough thugs to fire the bullets.

Let us proceed from where we are today: A Top-Down-Minority that dictates down to us. If you think about it, it necessarily requires the equivalent of Kings men (lawyers etc) using fraud, force and propaganda on a population to make it follow its Political Agendas. No one in their right mind would volunteer to get plundered otherwise.

By contrast the Customary Laws of family, municipality and merchant law do not rely on force and fraud. These laws have a natural following and have ALREADY been tested, improved and accepted/or discarded from the Bottom-Up by populations over long periods of time; and across continents; and with actual experts in the particular field in dispute. And are necessarily UNForced as people would walkaway otherwise.

Finally, the following link addresses how and why it IS customary law that actually keeps order and NOT Govt; It also shatters the myth that government must define and enforce "the rules of the game".

I recommend: "Enterprise of Customary Law" Mises Daily: Friday, June 29, 2007 by Bruce L. Benson
http://archive.mises.org/6795/the-enterprise-of-customary-law/

References.
Imperial Conditioning and the American State by Bill Buppert
http://zerogov.com/?p=2780

The Anarchist Alternative
http://theanarchistalternative.info/

Book review--Freedom Naturally
http://alpha.mises.org/daily/5305/Freedom-Natural

Correction with apologies: "On another front, Julian Assange continues to expose significant fraud and crimes committed by the State. Indeed it is the State That Fears Information [NOT the Tannehill's Market For Liberty, nor this site] and those that conspire and propagate propaganda AND fear. After all without followers the State cannot buy enough bullets nor recruit enough thugs to fire the bullets".

Visitor

For another music-related example do a search on the Gibson Guitar company's problems with importing wood and the mess they are in.

Non-compliance will be a natural result of choking regulations and corruption. What follows will likely be third-world style dysfunction and a good dose of draconian attempts at enforcement. I don't see that as much of an improvement.

But your analysis of what modern government really amounts to seems to ring a bell.

Jon Harrison

"Civil noncompliance" happens every day, and it's a tool that most property-owning and otherwise law-abiding citizens need to use from time to time.

With respect to the ivory issue specifically, the piano in question could have been imported into the US legally, I'm virtually certain. But I can imagine the difficulties in getting permission to do so.

As regards the efforts to ban ivory imports, in fact the laws on the books have had positive results. Poachers will hunt elephants whether the price of ivory is $1 a pound or $2,000. The rise in price is attributable to the successes anti-poaching efforts have achieved. The African elephant population has fallen by about 50% in the last 50 years. Some of this decline is necessary, given human encroachment on elephant habitat. But without anti-poaching efforts, the African elephant would be extinct, or nearly so, today. This noble beast deserves protection. We often make the mistake of wanting to throw out the baby with the bath water: because laws don't work perfectly, we want to just get rid of them. Sometimes we should do that, but sometimes we need to live with the unintended consequences of the laws we make. Laws designed to protect the elephant have worked -- not perfectly, by any means, but they have prevented or at least delayed the disappearance of this highly intelligent and interesting animal.

The one legitimate use for ivory is, as the author mentions, in the manufacture of piano keys. Perhaps one day science will come up with a substitute, but until then ivory obtained from necessary culling could be used for the purpose.

B.Stone

"But without anti-poaching efforts, the African elephant would be extinct, or nearly so, today."

I beg to differ.
http://mises.org/daily/5983/To-Protect-and-Conserve

Jon Harrison

Read the article you recommended at the Mises site first thing this morning before I read the papers. It makes valid points but, like all ideologically-driven work, skews the facts when needed. For example, it implies that Zimbabwe (which allows elephant hunting) does not conduct anti-poaching operations. In fact it does. The article also admits that conservation efforts have brought the bald eagle back from the brink of extinction, yet goes on to say that the eagle would be even better off if it were a food item for humans. There's no evidence for that, but because the author has an ideological argument to maintain, he goes ahead and says it anyway. It's unfortunate that the author, like many other libertarians, can't rise above the intellectual herd. Holding onto the faith becomes all-important, and that which contradicts the faith must be ignored, suppressed, or beaten (not literally) into submission. It's a weakness many libertarians share with religious believers, socialists, and touchy-feely animal lovers.

A better article on the subject is at:

http://www.americanhunter.org/articles/hunting-saving-african-wildlife/

I eat meat and live in the heart of a hunting culture. I have no problem with controlled hunting of elephants and other animals. We have controlled hunting of deer, turkey, etc. here because hunting with controls is what maintains a proper balance between man and animals. I lived in a suburban community that was (and is) being overrun by deer because no hunting whatsoever is allowed there, and the coyotes are too few to keep the deer population down. Every few years the town pays a few professionals to come in and cull the three herds that live there. In the meantime the deer eat through people's gardens and create other headaches (on the roads, etc.). There is enough open space in the town to allow hunting with guns as well as bows, but the townspeople prefer to ban hunting. It's as absurd as thinking that Austrian economics holds the key to wildlife management.

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