Force, Fraud and Question-Begging
Those of you who haven't been following Bryan Caplan and Will Wilkinson's exchange on Rothbard and the role of fraud in libertarian theory really ought to do yourselves a favor and go have a look. Here's Bryan's initial post, Will's response and Bryan's rejoinder.
I can't do the entire exchange justice here, but the gist of the disagreement is Will's objection that:
Even when I was a believer in Rand/Rothbard-style libertarianism, I found the ‘or’ in the “no force or fraud” formulation of the non-coercion principle a bit vexing and suspect. It seems too frank an admission that fraud isn’t force or agression [sic] at all. It’s another morally questionable way to get someone to do something they might not otherwise choose to do. But there are yet still other morally questionable ways to get people to do things. Why not add more ‘or’s?
Bryan finds Will's objection puzzling:
Frankly, I don't see the problem. If you accept the initial libertarian equation of "coercion" with non-consensual use of others' property, then the impermissibility of fraud follows. If you offer me a Mitsubishi 5500 projector in exchange for $2000, and hand me a box of straw instead, you are using my $2000 without my consent (which was contingent, of course, on you giving me the projector).
I'm with Will on this one. Indeed, I'm quite puzzled by Bryan's reply, as it looks like it pretty blatantly begs the question. Is it me, or doesn't this exchange really boil down to something like:
Will: It's strange to cash out "coercion" as meaning "no force or fraud."
Bryan: It's not strange at all, as long as you accept that coercion really just means force or fraud.
I mean, the question of whether to include "or fraud" as part of the definition of coercion is exactly the question at issue here. To then just define coercion as "non-consensual use of others' property" just is another way of saying "force or fraud." This isn't to say that Bryan's definition is wrong. But it's not a particularly good argument. Indeed, it's not really an argument at all. It's more an eloquent "Is too!"
As for the underlying question...I think that Will is right there, too. It's not clear to me that fraud is really coercion. But that requires a longer post. And maybe a bit more thought and reading first.