Senator Rand Paul should be commended for sparking the conversation that has erupted over his statement , famously ridiculed by Jon Stewart , that cigarette taxes bear some responsibility for the NYPD killing of Eric Garner over a “crime” so trivial as selling loosies . That the discussion has quickly morphed from a concern about one revenue generating “law” that provided the impetus for Mr Garner’s death to the 300,000 some odd laws and regulations that have resulted in the “overcriminalization” of 70% of the populace .
This is a discussion that , while occupying billions of pixels in the libertarian world , has until now been one that has been arrogantly swept under the rug by the Statist supporters in the main stream media . This debate is long overdue and as the following articles make plain , offer much common ground between the Left and the Right and that common ground leads one inevitably to the libertarian view .
Thank you Senator Paul and also to you Mr Stewart , however unintentional your help may have been .
” On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.
I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it’s useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law.
The obvious racial dynamics of the case — the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, is white; Garner was black — have sparked understandable outrage. But, at least among libertarians, so has the law that was being enforced. Wrote Nick Gillespie in the Daily Beast, “Clearly something has gone horribly wrong when a man lies dead after being confronted for selling cigarettes to willing buyers.” Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, appearing on MSNBC, also blamed the statute: “Some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so they’ve driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive.”
The problem is actually broader. It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand.
The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book “ Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law,” points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is — a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice.
In addition to these statutes, he writes, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency. Nobody knows the number for sure.
Husak cites estimates that more than 70 percent of American adults have committed a crime that could lead to imprisonment. He quotes the legal scholar William Stuntz to the effect that we are moving toward “a world in which the law on the books makes everyone a felon.” Does this seem too dramatic? Husak points to studies suggesting that more than half of young people download music illegally from the Internet. That’s been a federal crime for almost 20 years. These kids, in theory, could all go to prison.”
This Bloomberg View article by professor Stephen Carter of Yale must be read by all who have come to rue the evolution of the most liberty-minded system of government ever devised by the minds of man into the overwhelming Leviathan State that we , as Americans , face today .
This piece is notable not only for the wisdom imparted by it’s own content , but for the discussion it has sparked in the likes of the Washington Post , Reason , EconomicLiberty and The Daily Beast , all three of which should also be read in their entirety .
As the illustrious Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy writes in the Post:
” Carter correctly points out that the massive growth of criminal and regulatory law means that almost anyone can potentially end up in the same situation as Eric Garner.”
Professor Somin is joined in his agreement with professor Carter regarding the corrosive affect of “overcriminalization” and the danger that it imposes on the citizenry as a whole at Reason , where Robby Soave writes:
” You know what’s also a cause? Overcriminalization. And that one is on you, supporters of the regulatory super state. When a million things are highly regulated or outright illegal—from cigarettes to sodas of a certain size, unlicensed lemonade stands, raw milk, alcohol (for teens), marijuana, food trucks, taxicab alternatives, and even fishing supplies (in schools)—the unrestrained, often racist police force has a million reasons to pick on people. Punitive cigarette taxes, which disproportionately fall on the backs of the poorest of the poor, contribute to police brutality in the exact same way that the war on drugs does. Liberals readily admit the latter; why is the former any different? “
And finally we come to the piece written by David Henderson of The Library Of Economics & Liberty who rightfully takes issue with Jon Stewart’s ridicule (see above video) of Rand Paul’s assertion that the cigarette tax played a role in Mr Garner’s death:
” In an otherwise excellent segment on the tragic Eric Garner case, in which some New York cops choked to death a man selling loose cigarettes, Jon Stewart, generally a smart man, either misunderstands or plays to his audience’s ignorance. Either way, it’s worthwhile correcting him because there is a very large point to be made about this case, a point beyond the already large point about police gone wild.
The specific issue is a claim made by Senator Rand Paul. Here’s what the clip has Senator Paul saying:
I think there’s something bigger than just the individual circumstances. . . . Some politicians put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes. So they’ve driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police to say “Hey, we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.”
Stewart’s response? “What the f**k are you talking about?”
Paul already said what he was talking about. Jon Stewart simply didn’t want to acknowledge the point. Stewart says correctly that the government can enforce laws without going to such extremes. Sure. It can. But one thing we have to be aware of whenever we advocate a law is that government agents who enforce it will sometimes go to extremes.”
As our title says … When everything is against the law , everyone is an outlaw.