It seems no one has yet identified what I feel is the true answer.

Extortion ("secret-keeping") is a service which the government cannot provide (unlike a typical protection racket / police services). The government wants to extract as much tax revenue as possible from citizens, and is simply jealous that someone else is milking their cows. By banning extortion, and using a revenue-maximizing income tax scheme, the govt recaptures this money.

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If Mr. Hanson does not pay me $1 million, I will reveal to the world that his advocacy of legalizing blackmail is the stupidest idea I've read in a long time.

Blackmail is just one kind of extortion. Would he like to legalize the other kinds as well? If he does not agree, I plan to burn down his house.

Oh, by the way, back in the first paragraph? Make that $2 million. This whole liberalized blackmail thing is growing on me.

Just kidding! I would never threaten a person in such a way, even though sometimes I feel the urge to do evil of various kinds. Actions like that are too socially destructive. When we tear down the conventions of behaving decently toward each other, we tear down the whole basis of our ability to live safely side by side. I happen to like living safely.

If you won't agree that I'm completely right about this, I will dump 2 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

See how you like that!

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No wealth created? Celebs don't come out ahead by hiding damaging information? Or adoring fans benefit by not adoring celebs quite as much.

"Why promote whistleblowers but ban blackmail?" To tilt favor towards us interested third parties. It gives us a better chance to bid on the blackmailer's information.

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Ascertain s/b assertion -- sorry, long day.

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I think your ascertain that legalizing blackmail would be a net-positive my be incorrect, for the following reasons:

1) It would actually encourage less overall information to come out. Victims of blackmail would not be able to go to the police for help with the situation, therefore they would have an option of recourse removed -- raising the likelihood of them choosing other options: including payment of the ask.

2) It creates fear in members of the general society -- this is not a concern if we're talking about drug dealing or cheating, but there are many things not illegal/immoral that a productive participant in our society should be able to engage in with some expectation of privacy. A productive person spending more energy to hide the relatively mundance things they do not want made public for cultural/familial/etc. reasons (sexual fetishes, cigarette smoking, etc.) means less energy spent on creating value.

3) While none of the likely outcomes of legal blackmail you laid out are particularly concerning, there's also nothing on that list I find positive. Furthermore, I think it is an incomplete list.

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The difference is: Whistle blowing is a finite event. Blackmail can be a series of events. Blackmailer, "I want a mil or I'll talk" Mark, "Ok". Six months later, Blackmailer, "I want a mil or I'll talk"

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I spent some time trying to understand Walter Block’s ideas on blackmail. Quite frankly if blackmail is covered under the non aggression principle, it doesn’t feel right.

“In blackmail, however, what is being “threatened” is somethingthat the blackmailer does have a right to do!—whether it be exercisingthe right of free speech, or refusing to patronize certainstores, or persuading others to do likewise. What is being threatenedis not in itself illegitimate; it is, therefore, not possible tocall the “threat” an illegitimate threat.”

As others have pointed out, the trouble is that combining free speech with the right to voluntary exchange, two seeming inalienable rights don’t combine so well. It makes no sense to call blackmail voluntary exchange, even though the two have similar mechanics. All Block has done is poked a hole in the NAP. Now someone needs to repair the hole. Remember this the next time someone “Makes you an offer you can’t refuse.”

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I apologize if someone else already posted these two points, but (1) there is an economic benefit to society of anti-blackmailing laws: it raises the cost of extra-judicial claims relative to judicial claims. Because someone can be charged with blackmailing, they are better off taking (legitimate) claims to court.

Incidentally, (2) it is the "relative rich" who get blackmailed, not the rich. Since the latter is a larger class, a great many more are impacted than you might think.


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"If we did this, these would be the main consequences: Rich celebrities would lose money, do fewer illicit things, lie about them less, and trust their associates less. They’d be more often exposed for lying about doing illicit things..."

The strategic-bargaining counter-argument: illegality makes the blackmailer's promise to remain silent credible and therefore worth paying for.

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This is pretty flawed, because you believe blackmail only applies to famous celebrities and not the general public. Blackmail is still prevalent amongst non-celebrities.

Another flaw is that legalising blackmail encourages entrapment, and a society fearful of entrapment is not a very open society.

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"Threatening to hurt someone unless they giving you money" is wrong because hurting someone is wrong. Telling a truth is not wrong in anything like the same way -- if at all.

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(Different theme, so different post)

I think Steve Sailer gave the right answer - the "problem" is that it cuts the lawyers out.

That said, there is one consequence that AFAIK nobody has mentioned. If you legalize blackmail, but (of course) you keep extortion by threat of libel illegal, then someone has to judge whether questionable allegations are true or false (That's not the new part). Now the person who is primarily judging that fact is the blackmailer (That's the new part). That's bad news.

It would be hard to prove that the blackmailer maliciously misjudged an allegation as true (That's not new about libel law). The blackmailer could easily claim it was an innocent mistake. The blackmailer also might threaten in such a way that the victim perceives a threat of libel, but can only prove a threat of blackmail.

So legalizing blackmail makes it easy to pass off extortion as (the now legal) blackmail.

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I read Leo Katz's blackmail book a year or so ago - there's a review by me floating around. I found it to be frustrating because I don't buy his fundamental position, which he called something like "path dependence". Basically, his position is that the order or manner in which these semi-legal things are committed is of great importance. Eg, if Suzy mails the letter first, then calls, she's legal; if she does the same in the opposite order, she's a criminal. To him, there is no "black box" thinking in law. He's not just saying that our analyses sometimes have to peer inside the black box in extreme or impractical situations; he rejects it entirely.

I found this to be fundamentally wrong-headed. I also consider this principle a case of (what I call) "sterilizing assumption" - it makes it effectively impossible to compare two situations, so legal reasoning about them becomes non-falsifiable.

So Katz would raise these absolutely fascinating conundrums and then give answers or positions that I felt were just dumb. It was frustrating. I gave up when it became clear the entire book was based on this assumption of his.

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*unless they give you money

aaugh, stupid typos :(

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I just read much of the relevant section using the Amazon.com "Search Inside" feature."

Part of the argument seems to go something like this: Blackmail is basically a kind of robbery, in which one threatens someone with a significant harm unless they give you money. It doesn't matter that the harm itself is legal to inflict, and it also doesn't matter that the threatened harm might very well benefit third parties. It's still not much different than an armed bandit demanding "your money or your life". It's illegal because blackmail is threatening to hurt someone unless they giving you money, and that's wrong.

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We already do legalize one but not the other. That's what libel and slander laws do.

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