Gavin R. Putland,  BE PhD

Sunday, June 03, 2007 (Comment)

Corporate solution to rape

A global alliance of corporate think-tanks has come up with an ingenious market-based system for limiting the incidence of rape. It's called “rape-rights trading” or, more informally, “cap and trade”. Here's how it works.

First, the government puts a limit on the total number of rapes permitted per year. The limit may be constant, or may slowly increase or decrease over time, depending on what the government considers achievable; but the point is that there is a limit.

Second, this limit is divided among the self-confessed rapists in proportion to the frequency with which they have committed rapes in the recent past. The result is that each rapist receives an annual allocation of rape-credits, each credit conferring the right to commit one rape.

Third, rape-credits are traded on the open market, like stocks or bonds. The trading in rape-credits leads naturally to trading in derivatives and futures, and hence in annual allocations (constructed as sequences of futures).

The efficiencies of this arrangement are self-evident. Those rapists who can most easily reduce their rapes will be most willing to sell credits, while those who have the greatest urge to increase their rapes will be most willing to buy credits. The equalization of supply and demand will determine the price of credits and, like an invisible hand, maximize the sum of satisfactions by transferring credits to those who get more satisfaction from raping, from those who get less. Meanwhile, all the rapists will naturally strive to meet their respective quotas in the most economical manner.

In spite of these manifest advantages, certain incorrigible Leftists complain that the initial allocation of rape-credits would reward rapists for past rapes. Accordingly they have proposed an alternative scheme, tendentiously called “rapist pays”, whereby the government would simply fine, tax, or otherwise penalize the rapists. As the corporate think-tanks explain, such a scheme would be a most cruel violation of property rights. Established rapists, by investing considerable skill and capital in their activities, have justly acquired ownership of the right to continue those activities and receive the satisfactions derived therefrom. Any fine or tax on the activities would amount to partial or complete confiscation of the satisfactions, while any other penalty would amount to some other form of interference with the property owners' enjoyment of their property.

This attack on property rights is not merely implicit, but open and shameless. Some Leftists, for example, argue that property rights acquired by mere custom, i.e. without explicit agreement, are justifiable only in so far as they do not interfere with the equal rights of other parties. In answer to this, the think-tanks point out that if the same principle were applied to property in land, it would lead to the conclusion that customary possession of a piece of land confers a right of ownership of that land only while there is land enough, and as good, left over for others. But, with insignificant exceptions such as John Locke, from whom the words “enough, and as good” are quoted, such a proviso has not been entertained by the philosophers of freedom.

Indeed, if the Lockean proviso were accepted, it would mean that owners of land must compensate non-owners of land as soon as there is not “enough, and as good” left over. And what could the compensation be but the rental value of the land over which ownership is asserted? As David Ricardo inconsiderately pointed out, land acquires a rental value precisely when there is not “enough, and as good” that can be had for nothing. Thus we would reach the absurd conclusion that the rent of land belongs to the community, to be used for public revenue in lieu of taxation. This is none other than the “Single Tax” doctrine championed by such teachers of unrighteousness as the Most Rev. Dr. Thomas Nulty and Mr. Henry George — the latter of whom had the chutzpah to call himself a free-marketeer, just because he wanted every market except the land market to be free from tax while the one tax that he wanted to impose would have been assessed by the market.

Certain Left-Liberal apologists further contend that even if the customary exercise or formal purchase of a rape-credit conferred ownership of that credit, it would not confer ownership of any subsequent increase in the market value of that credit. The think-tanks respond that if this contention is likewise applied to land, it implies that the owner or purchaser of land has a right of property in the present rental value of the land but not in any subsequent increase in that value, in which case the increase could be taken for public revenue without injustice to the land owner. But, again with insignificant exceptions (such as John Stuart Mill), this conclusion is not entertained by reputable writers on liberty. If, as is generally acknowledged, the owner or purchaser of land automatically acquires ownership of any subsequent increase in the value of that land, then, by the same logic, the owner or purchaser of rape-credits automatically acquires ownership of any subsequent increase in the value of those credits.

While the think-tanks welcome rape-rights trading between private entities, they warn against any sort of treaty or “protocol” that would provide for rape-rights trading between States, because the participating States, in their efforts to comply with their respective quotas, might be tempted to fine or tax rapists within their borders rather than establish their own internal rape-rights trading regimes. For exactly the same reason, the various Greenies and other Leftists who criticize rape-rights trading between private entities are quite willing to tolerate such trading between States.

Citing the precautionary principle, the corporate researchers warn that the imposition of a simple “rape tax” might be irreversible because it would presumably be accompanied by cuts in other taxes, in which case the subsequent abolition of the “rape tax” would require either the reinstatement of the old taxes or the imposition of new ones — either option being politically difficult. Rape-rights trading would avoid this problem because any profits due to appreciation of rape-credits would accrue not to the government, but to private entities, leaving no opportunity for tax cuts.

While opposing the fining or taxing of rapists as a stand-alone policy, the researchers acknowledge that any rape-rights trading scheme would need enforcement mechanisms, including a heavy fine for any rapist who commits a rape without having or purchasing a valid credit. The severity of the proposed fine is solely for the purpose of strong enforcement and has nothing to do with the expectation that, as the option of paying a fine would compete with the option of buying a credit, a low fine would impose a low ceiling on the values of the rape-credits held by established rapists. Indeed the ceiling would be higher than the fine, because the purchase of a credit would be tax-deductible while the fine would not. [Editor's note: The tax-deductibility of rape-credits makes us wonder exactly what sort of “rape” the corporations have in mind. But we don't ask questions. We just print the press release.]

As for the Leftists' objection that the initial allocation of rape-credits would reward past rapes, the researchers, citing the famous Coase theorem, explain that economic efficiency depends only on internalizing the marginal costs and benefits of future decisions. The initial allocation of costs and benefits is a matter of equity, not efficiency; and equity consists solely in respecting property rights, including those conferred by past behavior.

“In short,” the researchers conclude, “as the market has a solution to every other problem, it has a solution to rape. There is no need for socialist ‘rape taxes’ that punish enterprise and impose personal safety on all of us whether we want it or not.”

[First published at Relocated June 26, 2009. Reinstated and purged of broken links, June 26, 2012.]


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