The conversation we’ve been having makes it a natural next step to consider the more general issue of the range of formal or quasi-formal options short of the use of force that might be available in a stateless society to safeguard a range of morally significant interests. (As I suggest in my recent post on rights, I think many of these interests ought to be talked about as rights, but I don’t think anything directly related to my current argument turns on whether we do or not.)
- Public shaming has the potential to be an effective strategy. Identification in a newspaper, or on a website devoted to “the Employment Hall of Shame,” can certainly turn up the heat, especially in a smaller, more self-contained community.
- Certification systems are less flashy, but surely also useful. Perhaps only positive options would be available, and people would draw conclusions based on the absence of a positive certification of, say, someone’s employment practices. (I am not assuming anything here about the frequency of employment, as a kind of economic relationship, in a stateless society. I hope it will be rare, and I think Kevin Carson and others have offered good reason for thinking this might well be the case.) But I think there would be a market for negative information. And if large numbers of (again, in this case) employers bet that their own ratings would be positive, they might be willing to participate in a system that gave some people quite negative ratings.
- Individual boycotts of those who ignore these interests are always possible, of course. And perhaps in relatively small, self-contained communities, such boycotts might exert some meaningful influence, though it’s easy to be doubtful.
- What we might call encouraged multi-person boycotts could be more effective. I have in mind here a case in which a pressure group makes some kind of general announcement urging people to joing a boycott. The effectiveness of this strategy would obviously depend on the influence of the pressure group.
- Coordinated boycotts could be a good deal more effective. Here, membership organizations organize boycotts, plan for alternatives to trading with the person or entity being boycotted, and keep up pressure on identifiable members to participate in the boycotts. Even if reasonably small, boycotts like this could be reasonably effective, though it’s unclear how many people would be comfortable belonging to organizations likely to pressure them in the way I’m envisioning (especially if they feared that ignoring the boycott could subject them to boycotting).
- Contractual boycotts would also be an option. We might imagine a range of cases in which a group of people agreed among themselves that circumstances of some specifiable kind would trigger a boycott and that violating the boycott would subject the violator to damages. Among the more benign sorts of contractual boycott might be one in which a group of people agreed that, if a court’s decision could not (per their community’s libertarian norms) be enforced coercively, they would boycott someone who failed to respect the decision.
- As I suggested in my previous post, the availability of certain kinds of enforcement mechanisms isn’t what makes something (I think) a right. It’s also not what makes a given interest (call it a right or not) protectable by a court. It seems clear to me that a court in a stateless community could simply decline to enforce, say, a contract concluded unfairly (assume that this is given enough content to guide actors in advance) on the basis of unequal bargaining power. Suppose that the court and the members of the relevant community agree that this isn’t the sort of decision that can justly be enforced coercively. It’s still the case that the court’s decision can confer legitimacy on the person alleging that the contract is problematic. And, while, ex hypothesi, the loser (the person or partnership seeking enforcement of the contract) can turn to another court in search of relief (presuming there’s no prior contractual obligation to use the court in question), there may be costs associated with doing so, both tangible and intangible. Doing so may seem to cast doubt on the loser’s credibility; initiating a new case may impose financial burdens; others may be less likely to do business with the loser in the future, especially if the court is identified as a community court and and enjoys widespread support; etc.
- The problems confronted by the loser in this case point toward one final factor: norm maintenance. It’s easy to imagine either that avoiding certain kinds of employment practices is a norm maintained in a given community or that adhering to the decisions of a particular court even when coercive enforcement of those decisions isn’t an option is a norm maintained in the community. A wide range of subtle mechanisms for maintaining norms exist beyond the relatively blunt ones I’ve considered here. Even in an environment with competing alternative institutions, a community’s norms could clearly confer greater legitimacy on one or more of these institutions. And even in an environment in which it was agreed that, say, certain kinds of contracts couldn’t be enforced coercively, a community’s norms could subtly, gently remind someone that “we don’t do that sort of thing here.”