Libertarianism, Fraud, and Under-Regulation

Libertarians, with the exception of the most loony “anarcho-capitalists,” recognize that the government should prevent theft and fraud. “Your right to swing your fist,” they say, “ends where my nose begins.” But they ignore how often this type of situation happens, and how necessary some “regulation” is to stop it.

Whereas “theft” has a straightforward definition “fraud” does not. There’s a lot of grey area in terms of when deception should become a crime. Deception is a major part of business, few businessmen will claim to be totally honest, telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth all the time.

I know a case of an old farmer who was a high school dropout(not uncommon in his day). He made a business deal with an individual who was representing a company and the individual told him, essentially, “you’re getting a good deal.” It was not a good deal, and when the farmer found out he sued the company successfully. It was fraud when the individual told the farmer he was “getting a good deal.”

Now consider that if the farmer had instead sought to buy a car, and the car salesman told him he was “getting a good deal” when he in fact was not, he would have no recourse. The farmer had the good fortune to be involved in an industry where there was tight regulation which protected people like him from that type of fraud.

Libertarians who think it would be a good idea if the economy were dramatically less regulated should look to that sector of the economy where there is the least regulation: the tech sector. They like to trumpet it for it’s impressive levels of growth, but it is also a sector plagued by theft, fraud and defective products.(i.e. technology that is easily hackable) The crypto-currency bitcoin has next to no regulation, and look what keeps happening: theft and fraud. Or take the recent Ashley Madison hack. There is credible evidence that the whole thing is a giant hoax, with almost none of the 5.5 million women who used the site being real people.* Putting aside the question of whether a healthy society should allow such enterprises(Singapore does not), the episode ought to lead even the most die-hard libertarian to wonder if this is an example of under-regulation.(In 2014 alone Avid Life Media, which owns Ashley Madison, made 115.5 million dollars in revenue)

*And it wasn’t just the immoral, horny men on the site who were fooled. There were many in the mainstream media who treated the site as if it were legitimate, someone even cited it to make conclusions about regional variability in adulterous behavior.

References

Annalee Newitz, Almost None of the Women in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site, Gizmodo, August 26 2015 http://gizmodo.com/almost-none-of-the-women-in-the-ashley-madison-database-1725558944

Perry Stein, Rich D.C. residents like to cheat on their spouses, according to dating Web site for cheating spouses, Washington Post, May 20 2015 http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/05/20/rich-d-c-residents-like-to-cheat-on-their-spouses-according-to-dating-web-site-for-cheating-spouses/

Singapore bans adultery website Ashley Madison, USA Today, November 9 2013 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/11/09/singapore-adultery-website-ashley-madison/3483083/

Paul R La Monica, Who is Ashley Madison?, CNN, July 20 2015 http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/20/technology/ashley-madison-hack-avid-life-media/

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