Monday Tuesday I’ll be taped again for a segment of the John Stossel Show, to air [added: on some coming yet to be determined] Thursday at 10p. This time I’ll be defending blackmail, a subject I’ve discussed
Why try to make the cost structure of blackmail more like that of gossip? What's the rationale?
Anyways, the same costs that exist with gossip actually exist with blackmail. The "victim" can simply denounce the blackmailer, which will impact the blackmailer's reputation. It is similar to using the law to prevent blackmail, you call out the blackmailer and expose his threat/offer to public opinion.
Then I am sure some bars and casinos would take extra steps to ensure client privacy. For example, offering private rooms or curtains, banning phones/cameras, blacklisting blackmailers. If some customers really care about privacy, then such services would make sense.
Again, if you really don't want people to know something you do, simply don't do it. You can try and prevent people from taking pictures, but you cannot prevent people from telling what they saw.
All I hear when I hear people arguing against blackmail is folk that don't like accountability. The old adage is and always should remain true: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time". If you don't want people do know your private business they make sure it remains private or just don't do stupid stuff. The motives of why somebody would want to expose you are irrelevant. I see blackmail laws as doing nothing but protecting immoral or antisoical behavior and that shouldn't be condoned.
Only one other mention of prostitution in this whole thread? I don't see anything while skimming the other linked threads' comments either. That seems like a glaring omission.
The blackmail paradox is: "Doing A is legal, accepting money is legal, accepting money in exchange for doing A is illegal." That describes blackmail (as previously distinguished from extortion where A is illegal), prostitution, bribery, and... not much else comes to mind! Those categories may not really be connected on some fundamental level (e.g. bribing a politician is solid evidence that he's betraying a duty to the electorate, which doesn't apply to the other two cases), but it's at least worth talking about.
In the cases of sex and gossip, it seems like many people consider the act of screwing someone (whether literally or metaphorically) to be inherently a bit icky, but too potentially noble in exceptional circumstances for an outright ban, so we just enforce a ban when there are other evidences of an "impure heart", like monetary incentives.
Or maybe I've got it exactly backwards. Maybe we value intimate relationships so much that we try to ban the "easy out" of access to sex with no emotional effort? And maybe we value gossip (well, let's call it whistleblowing now) so much that we try to ban a competing incentive for gossip-mongers (sorry, whistleblowers) to keep quiet?
The assumption that revealing information is socially beneficial is questionable. The most obvious counter-example is a spoiler, such as threatening to reveal a surprise birthday party you've planned to someone else.
It’s a false dilemma to think you have to choose between allowing all mechanisms to enforce word/deed alignment and allowing none of them. If some mechanisms are less costly than others, then some might be allowed and others prohibited. The gains to gossip aren’t so great that it’s worth it for people to try to trick you into cheating, doing drugs, making racist comments, etc. But the gains to blackmail could very well make it worth it and make life much more miserable for many people.
Again, I’m not pretending to certainty about the net effects when all the goods and bads are weighed against each other; I’m open to experimentation. But I don’t buy that it’s unreasonable to believe that decriminalizing blackmail could be bad while still being OK with gossip.
rapscallion, if we don't like a world where people have incentives to align their words and deeds, why allow gossip?
Alan, you seem to presume governments can better avoid anti-blackmail laws than ordinary folks.
sk, I don't follow - both gossip and blackmail have costs and benefits.
Gossip is public. If you gossip about someone, everyone knows that you just gossipped/revealed someone else's secrets etc., Blackmail is private/secret. You are not letting anyone know that you are willing to divulge some info about the accused except that person. Making yourself immune to the consequences while trying to get rewarded for that. I think everyone prefers private info to be private. Gossip has costs, blackmail doesn't, unless there's laws againt it. I'm not necessarily supporting that, but just saying it seems reasonable.
In politics dirty secrets are not used immediately they are discovered but are saved until the time is right. In the British Parliament the government of the day can give junior posts to some MPs, but it needs other methods to keep the awkward squad under control. The government might give a nudge and a wink that fiddling expenses is OK. Later government whips can use the threat of scandal as leverage.
From this perspective laws against blackmail are not about the elite protecting itself. Instead the issue is power struggles within the elite. Grubby oiks blackmailing lower ranked members of the elite are a problem because they are in competition with the higher members of the elite and their efforts to keep the lower members in line.
When a black mailer spills a secret, he is wasting a secret that some-one more important was using.
I would be very interested in the results of experiments in decriminalization. My guess is that it would be miserable to live in a world where everyone has an incentive to conduct sting operations on everyone, but who knows.
It's not the gossip, it's the threat.
RJB and Daniel, see my next post which shows that regulating gossip was practiced through most of the history of law. It is our era that is exceptional.
Peter, thanks for the pointer.
I remember mentioning the book "Guarding Life's Dark Secrets", whose author (Lawrence Friedman) explains many legal conventions (laws on libel/slander, blackmail, prostitution, bigamy, etc.) as manifestations of "elite bias." If you'd like to check it out... there's the citation. :P
I'm with Daniel. He raises the administrative issue with regulating gossip, which you ignore. This seems to be a pattern...you have written many posts saying "x law is not about stopping x" by pointing out that we don't have an difficult-to-administer law against something similar. I won't be convinced until you address those issues directly.
Blackmailing someone is to threaten to harm them for profit. Most things you could do like this without some really elaborate effort, would be illegal. Blackmail should be illegal because the idea of it pisses people off.
The only reason for protecting blackmail is if you have some kind of hard line formalist ideas about the right to free speech. This kind of legalism requires jettisoning common sense in favor of pedantry.
Meng, if making money from threatening gossip is bad because gossip is unproductive and socially harmful, why even allow such unproductive gossip?
Ron and rapscallion, we need to formalize blackmail to make it illegal, but if we left it legal we would not need to formalize it.
sk, do you think natural gossip produces exactly the right amount of gossip and efforts to find out things about which to gossip, so that any extra tax or encouragement would make things worse?
Tim, yes on the low-status angle.