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Speaking of David Letterman, Blackmail Should be Legal

From a New Yorkerpiece on David Letterman's blackmailer, this question: Why is blackmail illegal, anyway? We allow individuals and corporations to cut deals all the time where they agree not to talk about something they know in exchange for some kind of advantage or consideration (non-disclosure agreements, to name one.):

Walter Block, the libertarian economist... believes that blackmail, like smoking, is “yucky” but should be legal. “He only threatened to be a gossip—maybe a screenwriter,” he said of [CBS producer and would-be blackmailer Robert Joel] Halderman. “Screenwriting and gossiping are legal. If it’s legal to do it, it should be legal to threaten to do it.”

This idea crops up in the strangest places—the notion that people can do whatever they want until money changes hands, and then *poof* it's all illegal. Last year I spoke with Charlottesville farmer Joel Salatin about his troubles with this mindset. The sale of homemade jam had just been legalized in Virginia, and—sadly—he was pretty excited about that. Still, belief in the alchemical properties of cash, which transmutes the legal into the illegal, continues to plague his farmstand:

“My position is that if meat [slaughtered outside the normal factory processes] is OK for people to eat, give away, or feed their children—which indicates that it is not an inherently hazardous product—we should have freedom to also sell it. The restrictions are on the commerce of it. The attitude is: The only thing that is safe to eat is something with a government stamp on it, unless you get it free. Exchange money, and it’s somehow not safe.”


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