The Jim Bell System Revisited

Let me re-emphasize that I have neither the knowledge nor the will to implement this system. I certainly don’t like the State, but I would rather concentrate my energies on constructive rather than destructive solutions. That said, I still think governments everywhere are going to be staring down the barrel of an encrypted gun in the near future, and this article attempts to explain why, in response to numerous objections received since my last article.

**This following article is an opinion piece written in 2002 by the libertarian author Robert Vroman. Vroman is well known for his editorial work writing for ‘The Jim Bell System Revisited’ first published on on August 15, 2002, in response to “The Jim Bell System” debate. Check out Bob Murphy’s and Adam Young’s response to Vroman’s editorial. is not responsible for or liable for any opinions, content, accuracy or quality within the Op-ed article.**

I also want to point out some areas where I think Jim Bell is completely off base. First of all, his insistence that AP is somehow residing in a loophole of the American legal system that only he is aware of, is absurd, as rightly pointed out by many of his critics. I have no delusions that AP would somehow survive its “day in court” or that even if, due to some arcane technicality, AP is a legal enterprise that that would stop the State from pursuing it relentlessly. Furthermore, I am mystified by Bell’s fascination with confrontation and martyrdom (as exemplified by his personal life) and do not think AP will be started by the self-sacrificing, or that it’s even necessarily a good idea to have that mindset when designing the system. Bell also overestimates the enthusiasm that ordinary people will have for AP by a long shot. I still have reasons to believe there will sufficient customers, but they are not going to be primarily heartland regular Joes, who Bell envisions watching AP’s deadly progress with amusement. Bell also gives some slightly cockeyed responses to a number of objections to his invention. In fact really the main thing I take away from his writing is the system itself, not necessarily any of his justifications.

My friend and business partner, Bob Murphy presented some powerhouse arguments against my pet theory in our recent columnist debate over the infamous Assassination Politics concept. I contend that under closer examination, his insightful questions can be answered satisfactorily.

Additionally, Adam Young has presented a thoroughly researched historical analysis against AP, which I will address first.

Young has three main points. First, that assassination has been ineffectual in the past for destroying states. Second, assassinations will instead create a backlash against anarchism by government and citizens alike. Third, he does not like the moral implications of the very likely possibility of collateral damage from sloppy AP prize-hunters, given the relatively poor caliber of historical attempts.

The opinion piece ‘The Jim Bell System Revisited’ written by Robert Vroman first published on on August 15, 2002.

The first point, despite all its exhaustive research, is I’m afraid to say, totally erroneous because the mechanism by which AP kills its victims is fundamentally different then assassination campaigns of the past. I am not at all surprised to read that a handful of suicidal ideologues gunning down a few unlucky aristocrats failed to exorcise the nation state. Assume for the moment that AP’s basic functions materialize (I will get to Murphy’s objections later). The pool of assassins has instantaneously expanded from only insane political extremists, to every single violent opportunist in the world who can access a computer. AP represents a veritable full scale war against the State, fought by the scum of society and funded by every partisan malcontent across the political spectrum. A dozen assassinations per century is certainly not going to give any politicians second thoughts about their career choice, any more than the dozen or so plane hijackings in the past 50 years makes me nervous seeing a turban in business class. However, logically speaking there must be some tipping point at which the body count is the most pressing statistic a politician has in mind. AP will surpass this tipping point, where history’s basket case revolutionaries were doomed to fail. The State will, of course, respond in nasty ways, but inevitably these will prove ineffective in the face of an impenetrable network supporting a sustained and widespread offensive.

Secondly, Young fears that AP will re-enforce the stereotype of anarchists as the 19th-century mad bomber and 20th century Starbucks arsonist. This will then erase any chance of our winning hearts and minds via soul-stirring online essays, and worst of all, get the lot of us gulagged.

What he fails to realize is the absolute lack of a reason for there to be any connection between anarchists and AP. If AP were actually launched, I for one would certainly not be publicly cheering it on (I probably wouldnít even risk staying in the country, having written this article). The people who will be donating will not be doing so for anarchist reasons, they will not assume they are furthering anarchism, they will not make the connection. The targets also, will not probably be prioritized as an anarchist would. Ancaps are too small a group for our bets (if any) to be a major impact, thus if occasional bettors are caught, they are statistically unlikely to be one of us. The assassins will also not be Ancaps, unless any of you have a mercenary streak youíre not revealing. If all goes well the admins will either not exist or remain anonymous, and thus their political angle is irrelevant.

With no anarchists predominantly involved in any of the core functions of AP, or visibly supporting it, I don’t see why Young thinks that the State will blame anarchists for the rise of AP. In fact, if my predictions are correct, the assassins will primarily be the existing criminal class. If the State picks any scapegoats, it will be black militancy, or drug users, or the militia movement, etc, i.e. the people who are actually attacking them. The Government did not condemn anarchists for WTC, they blamed Islamic fundamentalists. Ancaps aren’t being rounded up in detention camps, Arabs are. Despite the fact that anarchists have often said things in the aftermath that amount to “they had it coming to them.” Which is more or less what Iím saying here. Anarchists will have just as much to do with AP as they did with WTC. The people who are going to suffer the brunt of the State’s reaction are the actual instigators of violence, and if I read my audience correctly, that will not be any of you. Do you particularly care (aside from general aversion to Statist crusades) if the State launches a crusade against crack heads and professional killers?

If the non-betting population experiences revulsion from AP at work, its outrage will be directed at a disparate collection of political interests and unrelated thugs. The State will undoubtedly ramp up its enforcement regime in response to AP, however, there is no reason that anarchists would be singled out, when there are more direct threats available.

If the State does pick Anarcho-Capitalists as the source of all evil, instead of some other arbitrary group like, say the Republic of Ganjastan, then I advise us all to leave or prepare to be martyrs. At some point, things are going to get uncomfortable for non-statists whether it’s Ashcroft Inc’s regularly scheduled programming, or an AP frenzy whipped totalitarian drive. I plan to be an ex-pat at that time in either case. We can always come back in the aftermath, and start the equivalent of Awdal Roads Company in the former US of A.

The third is the issue of collateral damage, which can be creatively ameliorated within the AP protocol. Its conceivable AP players might get in the habit of waiting for a number of high priced targets to get in the same building, and then truck bombing the whole structure to claim multiple big prizes, without concern for the dozens of non-targets cut down along the way. The moral failure here, I believe, lies solely with the assassin. However, my opinion is irrelevant, because if the bettors themselves feel they are responsible and they have a conscience, they will not bet for fear that the target they put money on will take a hundred un-targeted coworkers down with him. Thus AP needs to alleviate the moral obstacles bettors will face in order to have the maximum revenue flow possible. The answer is to allow for pools to be started with any number of stipulations. For example, the prize for politician Z might include the following rule:

“If any bystanders are killed in the death of the target, 90% of the prize money will be donated to a fund for their next of kin. The remaining 10% will be distributed evenly to correct guessers via the normal method.”

Or some such wording that would serve to greatly motivate the assassin to be careful in planning his attack.

By this scheme, there could be multiple prize pools for the same target, each with different disclaimers. For example, in addition to the 90% victim payout pool for Mr. Z, there might be a no questions asked pool for the same guy. Presumably, the fewer rules there are attached to the prize, the more likely an assassin will be to take a chance at winning it. Thus bettors have to balance their moral qualms about collateral damage versus their desire to see results. If they care more about bystanders, they should bet into the rules heavy pool, if they care more about eliminating the target, bet into the open ended pool.

Unless there is overwhelmingly more money in the “kill by any means” pool, the mere existence of the “kill carefully” pool, should convince the assassin to be as discrete as possible so as to win both prizes. So even if AP bettors are on the whole more bloodthirsty than socially conscious, the few with some scruples will be able to have a large impact on how AP players go about their operations. In fact if AP players really did tend toward wanton destruction in order to hit their marks, it might be in the best interest of people, who either exist in close proximity to a top target, or have a general compassion for bystanders, to bet into the constrained pool, even if they have no desire to see the target dead, but for no other reason than to be sure that when he does die, the assassin will hopefully be motivated by the money in the conditional pool and avoid civilian casualties.

Young denounces AP on the grounds that it uses a tactic of the State, i.e. “terror”, against the State itself, and this is a reprehensible flaw. Saying that AP is terror because it kills tyrants, is like saying shooting a mugger is terror. Well, yes. If you were unfortunate enough to live in a neighborhood inhabited by gangs, and got a reputation for shooting harassers without hesitation, this would effectively “terrorize” the gangsters into leaving you in peace, or so goes the “armed society is a polite society” school of thought.

However, AP does not even qualify as terror in the political sense.

The precise political science definition of terrorism is “a group that uses force against an intermediate target in order to bring about a desired decision from an ultimate target”. In other words, a terrorist is ill-equipped to directly attack the hated government, so instead he blows up a school bus, and issues a public ultimatum that unless the government meets some of his petty demands he will strike again. The logic being that the government is incapable of protecting every school bus all the time, and the terrorist has nothing else to do but plan his next bombing, so he can essentially strike at will. He hopes that eventually the State will tire of this harassment and acquiesce, usually because the population becomes exasperated at the governmentís ineffectual attempts to stop the attacks, and it is in danger of losing its power, not due to any compassion for the school kids.

AP does not follow this model, primarily because, unlike the terrorist, it can indeed strike the ultimate targets directly and does not need to play deadly games with intermediate symbols. If anything, AP should be described as guerrilla warfare.

Even if the effects of AP end up being terrorist in the popular sense, this is wholly different from say Al Quaeda plotting together in some dusty bunker. AP is a decentralized system unlike anything ever before. Without a central decision making body like a terrorist cell, the targets selected by the AP patronizing public will reflect its user’s ideologies. AP will only use explicitly terrorist tactics, if its users overwhelmingly have terrorist inclinations themselves, which given the superior abilities provided by AP, is an unproductive course of action and a waste of money.

I hope that is a decent response to Young’s excellent article. On to Mr. Murphy’s piece.

First Murphy doubts the feasibility of AP with the very legitimate concern that if the system were truly an impenetrable secret to all investigators, there is nothing stopping the AP operators from pocketing all the donations, yet claiming winners had been paid, resting on the impossibility of discovery, and the robbed winner’s desire to remain anonymous (since he’s probably got blood on his hands). A better scam might involve creating artificially high bounties, and then only paying out what’s actually in the pot. Since if there are multiple bets on the same day, the prize is split evenly between them, the assassin will not know if he has been cheated or if there are actually were enough other random guessers to dilute his prize down to the share he actually gets. The administrators could also skim off a healthy chunk too, and no one would be the wiser. This would probably be the best way to for the admins to dishonestly game the system, so that they enrich themselves; the assassins are disappointed but not given proof of treachery; and the bounties are higher than normal, thus enticing more gullible thugs.

So is this really a problem? Seems to me the system still works exactly as planned whether the admins are honest or not. The only problem is getting people to trust the system in the first place, which I’ll cover in a minute.

If we assume that the admins’ purpose in creating AP is to make as fat a profit as possible, then they will not want to blatantly rip off hitmen, for fear that word will inevitably get out among the criminal population that AP isnít on the level. However, even in an extreme case where the admins do embezzle every penny, it doesnít matter. Since very few people involved with AP will be actually killing anyone, only a tiny minority of users will feel they have been cheated, while the greater number will be convinced they got their money’s worth. Thus they will continue to use the system. Future assassins not in communication with their gypped colleagues will also be led to believe others have been paid. Thus everything still works, money goes in, prizes are accumulated, and targets are eliminated.

If the admins really are capable of hiding all evidence and expertly conning the system, then the system will indeed be conned, and so well conned, that it will continue to run despite being conned over and over. The only problem is if this possibility prevents people from ever starting to bet and becoming convinced they are being dealt with fairly.

There are two answers to this: the AP business can slowly build trust with less extreme versions of itself, and also the overlooked fact that people have a surprisingly high tolerance for potentially fraudulent online services.

To establish itself as an authentic operation, AP might be introduced not as a full fledged death machine but instead as a low key betting pool system whereby users could put money on sporting events or guess the day certain celebrities will get divorced, and other trivial wagers. The selling point is the hardcore anonymity feature for users in harsher nanny states. In this relatively low risk phase, winners could have the option of being publicly announced for ego’s sake, and this would prove the system operated as intended. Then gradually more and more sinister bets would be allowed until it becomes completely un-moderated and AP is born.

Such a system would not be nipped in the bud, as Murphy predicts, as there are countless underground betting organizations currently in operation, and proto-AP would arguably be even more secure from law enforcement, by benefit of its exclusive existence on the internet with solid encryption and no face to face contact among users. Even at the intermediate semi-morbid phases its possible proto-AP would not garner significant government attention. Look at this

Clearly harmless, but the fact it has garnered no legal complaints is a good indicator that real-AP would be able to go on the offensive for some time before the Feds figured out where the threat is coming from.

I also still think the best idea is to design an autonomous system with no publicly identified administrators even in the proto phase, whether this will become feasible with future developments in cryptography remains to be seen.

Even if AP did not go to the trouble of gradually building a customer base, it does not necessarily mean it will fail. Examine the case of online gambling. Here we have people putting their money on games where the “house” can completely manipulate the odds in its own favor simply by changing a few lines of code, and the user will never know unless he takes detailed notes on winning percentages. They do not even have a reputation at stake like a traditional Las Vegas casino, which could do the same with its electronic slot machines. If a Vegas outfit says its slots payout 99% or something, people who have no good reason to trust that, still play by the thousands. Many people are unaware that the Nevada Gaming Commission even exists, and virtually none have any idea how good a job they do at enforcing gambling regulations. And inexplicably they play online versions of these same dubious games too, where they have far less control, and nowhere near the trust of a “reputable” brick and mortar casino. Online gambling rakes in millions, despite obvious security holes and opportunities for abuse. An indicator that even if AP is not foolproof as far as protecting bettor’s money from the admins, people will still donate and predict. Maybe they’re just stupid, and maybe the online casinos are actually honest.

Murphy also points out that if politicians resort to holding Congress inside a NORAD bunker, then any information about deaths inside the mountain can be easily manipulated by the government, thus disrupting the rewarding of correct guessers. I doubt this will be an effective countermeasure against AP. If the outside world never knows that the Feds are lying about death dates, then potential assassins would not be aware their successful hits might be in vain. They would then still have the motivation to mount their attacks, and only afterward realize the government’s press corps has cheated them out of their prize. However, the people donating money have still gotten what they want: a dead politician, and thus will continue donating. Since the assassin will presumably either be dead, captured or in hiding, he will not be able to warn anyone that the government is using information warfare against AP. Thus the system continues as planned.

On the other hand, if it becomes common knowledge that the government is not a reliable source of information, then it will be up to the assassin to make the real death date known. Perhaps acquiring a tissue sample from the victim and anonymously forwarding to independent media, or videotaping the kill shot with some kind of provable date stamp. This means the assassin has to take extra risk in getting close enough to the body to grab some proof, or accidentally providing incriminating evidence on tape, and also risk further exposure in contacting the media. If the AP server is run autonomously, it will have to be programmed to take into account the relative trustworthiness of misinforming government sources versus potentially nutcase indy media, and then make a decision as to the actual date of death. If the information is too ambiguous, then it might extend prize percentages to predictions on neighboring days, based on the probability of being correct. In light of this possibility, the assassin would be smart to take out high interest loans and dump his entire net worth into bets on days all around the planned kill date.

This opinion article first published on on August 15, 2002.

In light of this development, the assassin will have to take more risks and thus insist on a higher prize before taking his chances. Thus this government strategy will only serve to increase the equilibrium price of assassinations, just like their moving into the bunker itself.

Matt Apple brought up a similar potential scam on the forum:

“Another problem is the targets could fake their deaths. Suppose I’m a powerful person you’ve targeted. I just buy a day and then fake my death on that day. I put out a phony death certificate, maybe I even provide some gruesome staged photos of me lying dead. The media reports me dead and the operator releases the dough to the “guesser” ie me. As soon as the anonymous transaction is completed I appear on camera at a live press conference and announce that the plans of the evil electronic terrorists have been foiled and that in an ironic twist I’m donating the bounty they had on my head to the FBI. If this happened just once then all the people pumping up those bounties will lose their faith in the system.”

If the media is so blatantly lied to, then more so than the AP bettors, the media itself will not believe future death reports. They will want to take pictures at the autopsy or do whatever it takes to have ironclad proof that this guy really is dead. If the media becomes an overt tool of the state, there will still be people who demand an objective news source, whether they are AP sympathizers or not. This demand will support the Matt Drudges of the world who will find a way around mainstream hegemony, and AP can be programmed to ignore statist media.

Murphy doubts that my army of gutter trash will be able to make a dent in the ruling class. Perhaps he’s right that the average street hoodlum will only be successful in killing mid level bureaucrats that the State can’t afford to lavish security on. However, if that were true, is it really such a crucial flaw? If AP bettors come to realize that the tiptop of the pyramid can find impenetrable missile silos to hide in, then it’s no longer cost-effective to chase them with ever higher donations. Like any institution, the State clearly needs support personnel, and even if they do choose to hide in Mt. Cheyenne, they still need people on the ground at the very least to crack heads and collect taxes to keep the lights on down in their hole. If AP bettors become frustrated that the juicy targets are out of range, the next level down is going to take the brunt of it in the face. It might be fun to be a stormtrooper, but if suddenly you, due to lack of options, become the priority target for the assassination market, maybe its time to turn in your badge and go back to a vocational school. Additionally if you are an ordinary citizen who has up to this time not been involved with AP at all, but suddenly you notice that the tax collectors who stay above ground are getting executed with alarming frequency, you might be more inclined to gamble on fudging your returns or not paying at all, and hoping that the constant harassment provided by AP will prevent the revenue harvesters from noticing you.

If the State is denuded of its agents and means of interaction, then it is just as harmless as if it had been chopped up directly.

However, it would naturally be more efficient to strike the root. AP would reach its end goal quickest, with the least collateral damage, if assassins were able to hit the politicians even in their super-bunkers. There’s an argument that there is some upper bound beyond which additional funds will no longer influence the odds of an assassination taking place. Meaning that if $500M is not enough to convince anyone to take a chance on the target, $5B probably won’t either. That may be the case for individuals, but not for groups of AP players. If a mercenary or terrorist group became interested in mounting a multi-person operation like the WTC attack, then the higher the bounty gets, the more equipment they can buy and more personnel they can recruit for the plan. If say, there were multi-million dollar bounties on Saddam Hussein (a safe example) and all his top generals and lieutenants, making their bunker a concentrated mega bounty, it could become worthwhile for some para-military unit to risk a raid. The highest paid professional mercenaries in the world are employed by Sandline International and, according to the UN (who wants to ban their line of work), they make no more than $300,000/yr. That’s not chump change, but for someone who rides shotgun in a chopper chasing down African guerrillas for a living, the extra risk driving into Baghdad might be worth the hazard pay offered by AP.

Taken to its logical conclusion, if there were enough extremely high bounties on a country’s leaders, who were all clustered into one spot, no matter how well defended, it could be cost-effective for army sized forces to be mobilized to seize the prize. So even if the top brass did hole up in the ultra bunkers, entire legions of militiamen or other adventurous chaps might come a-knocking to snag all those billions.

Murphy goes on to say that the average Americans will be horrified by the idea of AP. True, the 50% of the population who don’t bother to vote probably will not feel their time is well spent influencing the political system by AP or any other method. Of the other half, probably the majority has no deep interest in the issues or understands anything beyond doing one’s civic duty. Of that slim percentage that actually has strong to passionate views, whatever they may be, therein lies AP’s demographic. What Bob fails to realize is that AP bettors will not know what they are doing, long term. Very few people are going to consciously decide they want to get rid of government and put money on it. Instead, they will donate money against specific politicians in the hope it will help advance whatever pet cause they clutch so dearly. Think if AP were in place back in the 2000 election. Are you a greenie who can’t stand the thought of oilman GW raping poor Gaia? Give AP some of your weed money and see what happens. Are you a good ol’ boy who thinks eco-feminist Al Gore will send the beloved US of A the way of the Roman Empire? Put off buying that new truck and see what AP can do. Even the most authoritarian bastard who ever cast a ballot can list some Statists of a slightly different breed than rub him the wrong way. Do you doubt the gun culture would pass up on an opportunity to bury some liberals, or for the religious right hypocrites to take out some of the godless queers in Washington, or radical feminists putting their 79 cents on the dollar against Deep South carpetbaggers? And more importantly than private citizens, don’t forger corporate-statists, like Big Ass Subsidies Inc who’s pocket politician might lose to the candidate who’s platform calls to spend the loot on some other boondoggle. Surely they can afford a million dollar write off if their spot in line at the trough is at risk.

The point is that maybe Mrs. Soccer Mom has no strong opinions and would never think of placing a bet, but there are many, many people with strong political views, regardless of what they are. Surely the more diehard or less moral will see that they increase the chances of their guy winning, if the enemy is scared off by a rising AP tab.

And the boiling frog effect comes into play as AP makes its mark on the world. When the state predictably increases its enforcement measures, more people will see it in their best interest to bet against encroaching fascists.

If you doubt Americans will buy into this system in relevant numbers, I will repeat the point from my first article that Murphy did not address. I can concede that Americans will refuse to play, or that the Feds will manage to protect themselves (I don’t) but that does not mean AP cannot be effective. Ignore the NATO countries for a minute. Imagine AP taking root in some exotic locale like Nigeria for example. I bet a lot of those relatively well to do white farmers might take the opportunity to go online and put some money against Mugabe. I also think that one of his sadistic henchmen might be able to do the math to see that the AP prize is greater than his entire combined future earnings. The downside of the Third World is the lack of communications infrastructure, but in the coming years, ever cheaper electronics will make that less and less of an obstacle. The upside, of course, is that the leaders are rather absurdly unashamed of their predations, and very frequently there are large contingents of people who adamantly hate them. Furthermore add that these States have less sophisticated means of combating online activity it disproves of, and the fact that the population is used to politicians forcefully attempting to grab the throne. The conclusion is that many of the potential objections that apply to America and the “civilized” world are not to be found at all south of the equator. This could be an interesting testbed for the protocol. If it works, we get another blossoming Somalia. If it fails, well, the country was a hellhole before anyway.

Murphy says that if AP works well enough to destroy the state, it wonít stop there and will completely shred civilization.

He claims for example that just as disgruntled citizens can axe politicians at will, laid-off workers can axe their cost cutting former employers and that any defenses the private individuals can use, will be even easier for the state to use.

This is wrong on both counts. Not only is it harder for capitalists to be killed, they can defend themselves from AP easier.

First of all, there are vastly more high ranking business owners than there are high ranking bureaucrats. If the AP betting population suddenly gained an all consuming irrational desire to destroy capitalism, it would take a far greater monetary investment against businessmen than politicians, to reach that tipping point where targets are scared away from their positions.

Furthermore, each individual businessman has a much smaller pool of people affected by his decisions. Whereas everyone in the country has to deal with the onerous decrees of the gang in Washington, there are many orders of magnitude fewer people dependent on any given board of directors. Presumably, people who don’t work for that company will not be very inclined to donate money, just as not many Americans would bet against Italian party chiefs. Therefore if the boss does manage to royally piss off the workers, he has much fewer potential bettors against him. These are people who have just lost their source of income (with no welfare to look forward to), and have fewer co-conspirators; they will not be able to produce nearly as enticing bounties as those that public officials will accrue. Keep in mind that people who bet against politicians will be expecting their incomes to rise in the absence of taxes, and thus be more likely to bet higher.

More importantly, the boss knows who they are. If murder is being considered it’s likely due to them being whipped into a fury by some mafia goon union boss. The CEO has much more money at his disposal than an unemployed working class gang. If the union leader agitates his followers to wreak AP based revenge against the CEO, he canít expect to survive either. Anyone who attempts to rally workers to donate their already dwindling cash reserves into pointless vengeance will see his own name rising on the list faster than the CEO’s. The population of an entire state will be large enough that the number of independent people willing to put money against their powerful enemies will not require there be anyone egging them on. In order for smaller interest groups to get their petty revenge, a more coordinated effort is required. Harder still is that the potential victims have a much more conveniently sized body of suspects to watch, compared to politicians who are being targeted by anonymous bettors hiding among millions or billions.

And better still, if the CEO knows whom he fired and who is threatening him, then everyone else knows as well. Would you hire workers who had paid for the assassination of their last employer? If a group of people are fired and their ex-boss is subsequently the target of a fat AP prize, then the entire group will immediately be blacklisted by every other employer. This will provide a huge incentive for individual workers not to toe the union line. Their own reputation and future employability rests on breaking their professional relations civilly or at least without bloodshed.

This situation might instead just serve to impress upon corporations the need to be more careful in their hiring and firing. Only take on workers you really need, and only let them go after careful consideration, and in that event, possibly firing them in smaller batches, rather than mass layoffs. Nevertheless, this may indeed grant more power to workers. We must remember that not all corporations are nobly building wealth in spite of government machinations. Occasionally there really are scumbags who abuse employees, is it such a disaster if such people fear lethal retaliation for their misdeeds?

Another dystopian fear is that AP will support murders between non-famous people over petty frustrations. A scumbag husband wants to get out of a divorce without losing half his wealth, so if he thinks an AP bet worth a quarter of his wealth will get the job done, and does so. An unrelated party kills the wife, scumbag cuts his losses nicely, and the wife is horrendously aggressed against with no chance of justice for her family.

Yes, this is a problem that AP would exacerbate. Choosing your spouse carefully has always been good advice. However, if the wife’s lawyers checked the AP records and found there had been a substantial prize, despite her being a generally well liked individual, they would decide that the “unrelated” killer might not be such a random tragedy after all. And proceed to hire detectives to investigate the ex-husband’s financial records to find a similarly sized hole. Even if he expertly hid all his transactions with encryption and such, the sheer lack of other suspects may lead an arbitration committee to demand the husband prove his innocence. I assume hiring an assassin to initiate aggression will be a crime in Ancapland, but I will let others debate that.

Like the threatened businessman who knows who his potential threats are, in the case of an innocuous unknown being the victim of AP, it will be easy to discover the few or single person that has the motivation to invest the significant money involved. AP, in fact, hurts the chances of the anonymous petty murderer, because the record of one’s prize is public. Anyone who cares to investigate the death of an AP victim can see exactly how much it cost. If the victim had few enemies, it is a simple matter to make the connection between the specific sum and the likely suspects.

Compare this to the case of a low level bureaucrat that Murphy complains is just as vulnerable as the rest of us. He is right in saying that it doesn’t require one big bet, only lots of little bets. However, unless the bureaucrat has managed to piss off all those people placing the little bets, they won’t happen, and he is safe. If the bureaucrat has managed to do so then there’s probably a reason he deserves it. People in the phone book though, probably do not have multitudes of enemies, and thus are safe from all but an exceptionally wealthy psychopath, which I imagine are few and far between.

As for the extortion scheme that Jim Bell rather awkwardly argued against and Bob accurately deflated. The problem there is that the extortionist needs to have enough money of his own to actually place the bet that will attract assassins to his victim.

Fortunately, extortionists usually ply their trade because they don’t have any money. The thug could bluff, but if called on it, he has no bargaining chips in this case, like an old fashioned significant other duct-taped in the basement.

If he actually does have the money and the victim calls his bluff, if he goes through with his threat, he has just spent a shit load of money to kill someone for no reason, and with no return benefit to the extortionist. Not a very profitable scam.

If he does convince the target to play along, he still has to communicate his threat. Such exchanges usually involve some amount of negotiation, or complicated instructions that require communication. The extortionist has to sacrifice a lot of anonymity to pull his crime off. This weakness gives the presumably deep pocketed target plenty of opportunities to spend some of that ransom on private detectives to locate the extortionist. The criminal, in this case, has no human shields to prevent a raid.

The benefit of AP is to allow anonymous assassination contracts, in both the case of the vengeful labor leader, and the crafty extortionist, both lose that shield and leave themselves wide open to retaliation from the greater resources of their chosen enemies.

Another concern mentioned on the forum, is that the State, with its trillions of revenue will actually invest money into AP to off its political opponents. This is a pretty ridiculous proposal.

First of all, the enemies of your enemies are not necessarily your friends. If the State pays an AP assassin to shoot some, say, ultra-lefty criticizing them, are we really that much worse off? In fact, I’d be overjoyed to see politicians taking out AP bets against their opponents for the most part. Why should a democrat spend valuable campaign money on advertising when he could just pay to have his republican opponent drop out of the race permanently? Libertarians are rare enough that I doubt we present a serious enough threat to the State compared to their fellow parasites scrambling for the best suck spot, that theyíd spend money to attack Harry Browne instead of their opponent in the primary who has a real chance of ousting them.

Another problem with this supposed counter strategy is that it’s entirely unnecessary. If the State really wants to kill someone, they already have all the tools; they don’t need to spend money on AP. They could just give Lon Horiuchi his normal paycheck and have him snipe whoever they don’t like. It’s not as if they ever get in trouble for it, even when they aren’t exactly subtle. It doesn’t make sense for them to pay for secrecy they don’t need.

Finally, this plan would backfire, because if the admins are anarchists, and they take a commission, then the State, by playing AP, is directly enriching someone who will re-invest his profit against State targets. Also, the assassins donít care who they kill if the money’s right. The State is also enriching people who will be just as happy to come back and shoot Statists, now with more resources to plan hits too.

Bob concluded by essentially saying that the only way to anarchy is an enormous campaign of rational evangelism. He disapproves of the whirlwind anarchy in Somalia and similar power vacuums. I disagree. I see much more hope for building Ancapland out of the lawless ashes of a Somalia, than of gradually subliming the promised land out of the monolithic State in an America. If AP does prove the alarmists right, and crashes society into an apocalyptic period, (I do not think this is the case) still, such a turn of events will be in the long run an easier path to Ancapism than the intellectual erosion strategy. Murphy points out the example of the bloodless revolutions in Eastern Europe. To which I respond derisively, what revolution? They traded hard-line Russki-communism for soft line Euro-socialism. That’s even more of a joke than American style Republicrat lesser-evilism. Stasi agents all retired on embezzled millions, and now the Great Terror War is inviting domestic espionage back in force all across the Continent. The only revolution that arguably has ever made recognizable progress is the American experiment, which is notable for killing employees of the previous regime by the thousand. If Thomas Jefferson could have emailed digicash to pub brawlers in London, or scheming heirs in Buckingham palace, mad King George’s confused reign would have come to a deserved end before he could futilely attempt to reclaim his rebellious colonies. The point being, in order to get anarchism, I don’t think it’s a question of getting the balls to start sledge hammering the Berlin Wall and hope the Kalishnikov toting border guard respects the numbers presented by all your fellow civil disobeyers. If the only fall out is a different set of thugs being in charge tomorrow, there will, of course, be less State resistance than if the entire thug industry is being called into question. If you want real change as in no more thugs, ever, then the top thugs aren’t going to budge until they have no other choice. The ultimate conclusion then is that if anarchism takes a revolution of the non-bloodless variety, there’s no reason why the fighters shouldn’t be backed up by a means to get at the higher ups. Or better yet, replace the fighters entirely with anonymous assassins and strike exclusively at the heights of power. I know I don’t want to spend much time huddling in trenches.

It undoubtedly sounds arrogant, but I would say that less than 1% of the global population has any concept of how the world (i.e. economics) really works, and of those that do, most have got it horribly wrong. However, when they are forced to suddenly make do for themselves in the absence of authority, as is the case of Somalia, Ancapism spontaneously appears without the presence of wise graduate student mentors preaching Mises. It sure would be nice, naturally, if Bob could go over and warn them off from accepting UN overtures of providing “stable governance”, but the point is they were able to find profitable anarchism on their own, with little to no knowledge of economics and certainly no deep respect for pacifism. All it took was the total destruction of their state, the means notwithstanding. On the other hand, if Murphy expects to get some percentage of the population to side with him before picking up a hammer, he will definitely be taking the long uphill route.

Murphy says that a generation growing up surrounded by headlines full of dead famous people will be disastrous. I fail to see how this could be more damaging than the scores of generations stretching back into history that grew up with headlines of how great the State is. The Somalians lived through generations of war, where life was made quite cheap, yet now they are Africa’s best chance.

If AP worked perfectly and stripped the state away by force in a relatively short time frame, people will be thrust into unfamiliar territory. No doubt in their confusion they will attempt to recreate State functions. These will be torn down again and again. Like a child getting its hand slapped every time it reaches for the hot stove, AP will discipline the world that concentrations of power are bad. In the meantime, if Murphy is able to patiently explain to the bewildered why this is the case, so much the better, but either way, there will be no more State, and they will not have a choice in the matter. Murphy is essentially advocating a Taking Children Seriously approach to enlightening the collectively childlike population. I would rather just smack them until they stop and maybe explain briefly afterward why.

Lastly, it seems clear to me that AP is superior because it is a market process. People exchange value for perceived value. They invest their money for the benefit of removing aggressive people from society. On the other hand, Murphy is advocating an “educate the masses” routine that depends solely on him and his colleague’s dedication to the cause. Not to disparage his efforts, honestly, if anyone can do it, the current crop of anarchist intellectuals has got my fullest confidence. However, I really don’t think anyone is going to listen until they are already living in it. I see the economic wizard’s role as after the fact guides in the new wonderful world of anarchism wrought by AP and other market strategies. Once everyone is stuck in their regional equivalents of Somalia, and wondering what the hell just happened, Bob and co, will step in and say, “Hey, isn’t this great, look how much more we can get done now!”

And people, who have been forced to find alternatives to formerly government offered services, and no longer obey regulations or sacrifice taxable income, will sit up and finally notice Bob, and say, “What the fuck? Why haven’t we always done this? Thanks, Bob!”

Bob will then smile knowingly and go on a world wide lecture tour.

Then from time to time, a few clueless bastards will try to “get all the guns and take over”. AP will mercilessly smite them. Life goes on. In the meantime, I await the next round of objections.

**The article above is an opinion piece written in 2002 by the libertarian author Robert Vroman debating ‘The Jim Bell System’ with Adam Young and Bob Murphy. Vroman is well known for his editorial work writing for ‘The Jim Bell System Revisited’ first published on on August 15, 2002, in response to ‘The Jim Bell System’**

Op-ed Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. is not responsible for or liable for any opinions, content, accuracy or quality within the Op-ed article. is not responsible, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any information in this Op-ed article. This article is a reprint of an archived editorial that was originally published on August 15, 2002.

Image credits: Shutterstock, archive links, Pixabay, Fair Use, and Wiki Commons.

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