Binswanger’s Faulty Argument

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Binswanger’s argument makes no sense whatever to me. He builds his argument on this statement: “Force is destruction.” This is false. Two common definitions of force are as follows. First, “strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement.” In order to produce almost every good, we use energy to push or pull objects. Force is productive in more instances than anyone can count. Hence, his next statement “Force properly employed is used only in retaliation, but even when retaliatory, force merely eliminates a negative, it cannot create value,” is false in these instances of applying force to produce goods. Notice that in order to produce a good, we typically need force in order to reshape materials, matter and energy. They require our transformation.

A second definition for force is this: “coercion or compulsion, esp. with the use or threat of violence.” In this case, we might apply force to prevent an unlawful act (an invasion of property rights) that is interfering with retention of a good or production of a good or a value. We might also apply force to commit a crime or unlawful act. The former case uses force productively. Prevention of something destructive is certainly not unproductive. It is, in fact, a good. We build shelter to prevent out bodies from being harmed by the elements. We wash with soap. We paint houses. Indeed, a broad range of goods being produced are geared to prevention of destruction. Human beings can destroy, and so we protect against their destruction too. This is rationally productive when the benefits exceed the costs, which is often. Hence, Binswanger is wrong to think that such a use of force doesn’t or cannot create value.

Binswanger quotes Atlas Shrugged to bolster his argument. That quote can be stipulated to be correct, but it still completely misses an important point and in doing so fails to support Binswanger’s argument. As I have argued, we use force productively when we use it to ward off or stop invasions of our property and bodies. The expenditure and efforts we make are in anticipation that the benefits exceed the costs. Thus, if a man is threatening to kill me, at that instant, my choices are to let him or stop him. Suppose that letting him kill me is a big loss to me on my value scale, while stopping him forcefully costs only pulling a trigger on a gun. Clearly, it pays me to pull the trigger, as I gain my life. Rand concludes correctly that one does not grow richer by stopping a holdup man or murderer. But this conclusion is true only as compared with living without the threats having been made upon one’s property or life. However, once a threat has been made or can be made, which are the relevant cases, one does rationally end up in a richer condition (better off) by using force against it. And before any threat is made but a threat is possible, one rationally is better off by using resources to prevent it or prepare for it by having defenses. Rand’s quote here is not deep enough to handle these pertinent cases.

Binswanger goes on to say that force and its use are outside the realm of economics. Well, this is false. I’ve just shown that we can make rational economic decisions of benefit versus cost precisely where force is involved, by either definition of it.

At that point, Binswanger’s argument is already senseless. However, he now makes a leap to a conclusion that does not follow, even from his flawed analysis. He suddenly says “Governments are necessary–because we need to be secure from force initiated by criminals, terrorists, and foreign invaders.” He has by no means proven necessity. If it’s rational to use force against property invasions, which is what he’s admitting here, apparently contradicting his earlier statements, then by what means shall we accomplish this? That is an open question. He has not proven the necessity of any particular means, such as government.

He attempted to prove necessity by characterizing the use of force as making people obey commands and then equating that to a war of all against all. However, that definition is not the same as the one he alludes to in saying we need force to be secure from criminals. What he has done here is switch from a case of no law, no civilization, no property rights, nothing “proper”, and the “freedom” to plunder and kill, all of which use uncivilized or unlawful force, to a case where there is something proper and civilized, which is to secure against unlawful force that invades property rights. I’ve analyzed this kind of improper argumentation at great length here.

He’s equating competition in government with “everything goes”, nothing is unlawful, there are no property rights, and there is a war of all against all. He’s equating the presence of government with law, order, property rights and the sovereign that quiets the battle and produces civilization. Neither of these equations accurately characterizes the situations faced by groups of human beings living together.

This black/white thinking begs all the important questions. Where does law come from? Who makes laws? Where do property rights come from? What shall they be? Where does sovereignty come from? What are the appropriate matters for law and what are not? How is a people and/or society formed that decides upon laws?

It may be said that there is now and has been competition in governments ever since mankind came into being. All sorts of governments have been tried over time and at any given time, there exists a range of different kinds of governments. It is not at all clear that this variety is or has been a destructive competition, as Binswanger thinks. The existence of 50 different state governments and thousands of local governments in America is another example of this competition. There have been numerous historical conditions of governments that allow various peoples within a country to have their own courts and systems of justice.

6:23 am on January 27, 2014