My Stossel Clip

My five minute pro-blackmail segment appeared on the Stossel show Thursday:


I gave a simple version of my gossip-plus argument. Alas they cut the part where I made it personal, telling John Stossel that, with legal blackmail, be would personally have to be more careful. A moment of delicious silence followed.

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  • Aron

    If you aren’t doing anything wrong, what you got to worry about?

    In the end you are just another guy looking to be famous. It would help if you rode around on a unicycle.

    • richard silliker

      you forgot to include the juggling act with knifes. Might as well go the whole nine yards

  • rapscallion

    i) Private persons wouldn’t be bound by the legal restrictions on entrapment that police are, and even with the restrictions the police face they are still often soundly criticized for creating more crime than they prevent. This is the main reason I don’t think it’s fair to say that decriminalizing blackmail would lead to less unethical/socially disapproved/hypocritical behavior: it would affect both demand and supply.

    ii) To a large extent it’s all moot; even if decriminalized, blackmail would be rare because it’s almost never in the interest of the person being blackmailed to pay because the blackmailer can rarely credibly commit to keeping quiet.

  • Lennart Regebro

    Entrapment does not catch criminals, it creates them.

    • Anonymous


    • Solvent

      But that’s only because entrapment is currently a crime.

  • Aron

    I enjoyed the multiple references to being handled privately which was intended to induce mental orgasms in Stossel.

    You even apparently had the questions ahead of time (i.e. the Hamilton example), yet you still lost the audience. Get that unicycle and go for sad face.

  • The strangest thing to me was the youtube clip citing Conservapedia on fair use.

  • Michael Perry

    If blackmail were legal, people could be blackmailed even if they weren’t doing anything wrong. For example, I could blackmail a gay person in a homophobic community. Less crimes might be committed if blackmail were legal, but there would also be more instances of “bad” blackmail like this.

    Maybe blackmail is legal because people think that the increase in bad blackmail is worse than the possible reduction in crime.

    • Well, it may be that the one willing to “out” the gay person could be persuaded to avoid that course of action by a payoff. As it stands, they’d have nothing to lose (like $) by spreading the news.

  • I’d play up your similarity in looks and mannerisms to Jonathon Lithgow.

    • Aron

      Can we get EY to play Harry?

  • Wouldn’t people be encouraged to make false accusations? “I’ll say I slept with you Mr President, unless you pay me… etc.”

    Basically – without any penalty there would be virtually no cost – if you look at it from the point of view of a destitute person who didn’t care if they were found out to be a liar.

    The hit rate might be low – but it wouldn’t matter because you wouldn’t have anything to lose. Just keep threatening folks until you hit the statistical goldmine and someone caves.

  • Anonymous

    Some forms of blackmail are the equivalent of yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded room. Should blackmailers be punished for the deaths they cause?

    • Anonymous

      Can you give an example?

  • If gossip is OK, paying gossips is OK ->

    If having sex is OK, paying people to have sex is OK.

    It sounds like another controversial topic to me.

    • Anonymous

      Paying people to have sex is indeed ok. I have yet to come across a rational argument against it.

  • It seems to me that blackmail would amplify the enforcement efforts of both bad and good laws, as well as other bad and good social norms.

    If you find adultery distasteful, then you’ll celebrate the power of blackmail to reduce its incidence. If you see it sometimes as the only breath of fresh air people get in a marriage they feel trapped in, then you see blackmail as an additional source of oppression.

    The example of threatening to out a homosexual in a homophobic community (mentioned by Michael Perry above) is another example that illustrates the point.

    If I were confident that every social norm were good, I would go along with your argument. It’s my fear of buttressing the enforcement of bad social norms that makes me extremely uneasy about your proposal here.

  • Let me suggest a general template of cases where legalizing blackmail will pave the way for perverse behavior from blackmailers which we definitely don’t want.

    1. Suppose I am an atheist/closet homosexual/dating someone whom my parents wouldn’t approve of (let us say some of my other business/professional contacts wouldn’t either) etc., blackmailers would have incentive to needlessly try to pry and dig into personal details of my life and the blackmail would involve threatening to tell my parents and strain my relationship with them. If blackmail were illegal, it is still true that that the same blackmailers could spend time and money digging out information about me and leaking the information to my parents or business associates but there would really be no incentive for that kind of thing, unless the guys were my sworn enemies. This seems to be the large category of things where the person who is blackmailed is doing nothing wrong; it’s just that he doesn’t want the details of his private life splattered to the whole world.

    I can imagine very similar pieces of information that a person may want to keep private including if his marriage were to be in a state of turmoil or if he were in a state of great financial difficulty or if he were suffering from a terminal illness. Most normal people would agree that such people deserve to have their privacy and that creating incentives for people to dig out details of other’s personal lives and threatening to leak it is a bad idea.

  • Drewfus

    Those against blackmailing are forgetting the basics of supply and demand. If blackmail is legal, then it’s ‘supply’ will surely increase, just as surely as if a sales tax had been removed. The equilibrium price must then fall. But illegality had eliminated prices, so something else must decline to keep the cosmic books in balance, and that is the scandal or shock value of hitherto private and confidential information. This, ceteris paribus, would degrade the efficacy of non-state behavioral regulation, not improve it. However this would be offset by the greater potential costs of ‘bad’ behavior, on individuals. Overall not much change perhaps.

  • MPS

    I’m not sure blackmail reduces bad behavior.

    If blackmail is legal, then I can hope to keep my behavior secret simply by paying someone off. It would seem that with blackmail being illegal, it’s harder to keep secrets.

    For example, someone with damaging information about Letterman can sell it to a magazine, or blackmail Letterman. In the first place, the information goes public, in the second case, not. If blackmail is legal, then the second situation becomes more likely, so it’s easier to keep information secret.

  • Drewfus

    Gossip regulates behavior, so does blackmail. Gossip is amateur, blackmail is professional. So perhaps laws about blackmail are more about keeping behavioral norms regulation amateur in the private realm, and professional in the public realm – managed by governments and the law courts. It’s more related to demarcation of power and responsibilities than efficient processes.
    Implicitly, people who support anti-blackmailing laws must support this delineation of powers, but why?