Question: Should parents be licensed? Given the cost to society of parents shirking their obligations to their children, to entrust children to just anyone able to bear that child seems negligent. The state does, after all, forbid chronic drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel again. On the other hand, to give discretionary power to the state over such a personal matter seems very dangerous. Is there any middle ground that would better protect kids from abusive or neglectful parents and protect society from the growing scourge of poor parenting?
Question: Are animals a special kind of property? On your blog NoodleFood, you claimed that "the law should recognize that beloved pets are not mere property, but rather a special kind of property. To wrongfully cause the death of a pet should carry a significantly higher penalty than merely compensating the owner for the replacement cost of that pet. Moreover, police officers and government officials who indulge in this kind of reckless killing without good cause should be disciplined severely, preferably fired." Can you explain this view – the theory and the practice – further? Would this standard be akin to that of hate crimes, on the theory that crime is wrong but a crime motivated by hate is more wrong? Would it apply to other property – like my car (because it adds so much value to my life) or family photographs (which have lots of sentimental values but not monetary value)?
Question: Is it wrong to buy a book containing sensitive military information? The Pentagon claims that the new book No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Bin Laden reveals some potentially sensitive details about the operation. I'd really like to read about the mission, but I'm worried that the Pentagon's concerns are valid, and I'd rather not contribute to a work that that puts our soldiers at risk. However, given that the book has already been released, does it matter whether I buy it or not?
Question: Should a woman give back her engagement ring if the relationship goes sour? A friend of mine asked his girlfriend to marry him, and she accepted. However, they broke off the engagement – and the relationship – a few months later. Is she morally or legally obliged to give back the ring? Is the answer different if they married, then split?
Question: Is running prisons a legitimate function of government or should they be privatized? Private prisons are a billion dollar industry here in the United States, but should they be left to private companies or should the government handle them instead?
Question: Should financial companies be permitted to offer financial products consistent with sharia law? Sharia Finance – meaning, investments that specifically conform with Islamic law – are growing in popularity and have been adopted by major financial companies like Citi. Should these private businesses be legally permitted to offer whatever their clients want to buy? Or should these investments be banned due to their connection with funding terror, oppressing women, and violating rights in other ways? Morally, should companies offer these investments? Should people protest or boycott companies offering them?
Question: Does freedom of speech apply to government officials? In August 2013, Rolling Stone caused a furor by putting accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover. In response, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wrote to the publisher of Rolling Stone, telling him that doing so "rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment" – treatment the magazine should have given to the survivors. Other government officials were similarly critical of Rolling Stone. My first reaction was that these government officials had no place saying anything about a publication. But then I wondered, doesn't the First Amendment still apply to them? In other words, do government officials have freedom of speech?
Question: Is it morally wrong to profit from someone else's distress? People often decry "taking advantage" of other people as cruel and wrong. For example, suppose that a person desperately needs water after a hurricane or other natural disaster. I charge him $1000 for a gallon jug, knowing that he can pay that much if he's really that desperate. Is such price gouging immoral? Is it fundamentally different from other kinds of trade – or just different in degree? Is it morally wrong to profit so handsomely by the distress and scanty options of other people in this way?
Question: What justifies punishing people for committing crimes? In your 2006 graduate paper, "The Scope Problem in Punishment," you criticize utilitarian theories of punishment that aim for deterrence of future crimes on the grounds that they don't punish all and only those who are guilty. Yet why is that a problem? Moreover, why should a criminal be punished if doing so won't have any future benefits, such as deterring future crimes? Doesn't self-interest require that actions have some future benefit – and if so, shouldn't all punishment have some positive future effect like deterrence?
Question: Should employers be required to warn employees of possible harms on the job? Discovery Channel's TV show Gold Rush depicted a South American gold miner using mercury in the mining process because mercury binds to gold and makes extraction from a "sluice." Mercury, being heavier, falls below the surface and is collected at the bottom of a "sluice box." The episode (titled "The Jungle") depicts workers using their bare hands in the sluice where I'm assuming they are in direct physical contact with the toxic mercury. In a free society, should employers be allowed to expose their employees to such dangers? Should employers be obliged to warn employees of those dangers or to take precautions? Or are workers responsible for the risks of their job?
Question: Are public shamings morally justifiable? I often read of judges handing down sentences designed to humiliate the offender, such as standing at a busy intersection wearing a sandwich board apologizing for their offense. Many people favor these kinds of punishments in lieu of jail time because they consume less resources of the penal system. They may be more effective too. Does that justify such shamings? Moreover, what's the morality of similar shamings by parents and businesses? A bodega in my neighborhood posts surveillance camera footage of shoplifters, usually with some snarky comment about their theft. I find this practice amusing, but is that moral? Is it akin to vigilantism?
Question: Would the government of a free society employ scientists? In a fully free society, would there be any scientists employed full-time by the government for police, legislative, or judicial services? If not, how would judges obtain the necessary scientific knowledge to make proper rulings in the court cases that would replace today's environmental and other regulations? Might scientists be hired by the government of a free society for the military or other purposes?
Question: Should free-market reforms be gradual or instantaneous? Many advocates of free markets concede that reforms toward capitalism should be gradual. For example, Yaron Brook said recently about abolishing Social Security, "There is no way to eliminate it tomorrow. There is no way to eliminate it... cold turkey." But why not? What's wrong with the "cold turkey" approach? Is the concern simply that the only way to get people to accept reforms is to make them slowly? Or would it be somehow unjust to cut off people's entitlements suddenly, given that they've come to depend on them?
Question: Are the Ten Commandments of value to an atheist? Are the Ten Commandments a useful guide to living a good life, even for people who are not Jewish or Christian? Should a rational person look to religious scriptures for ethical guidance?
Question: Do corporations have free speech rights? Many leftists (including left-libertarians) are vehemently opposed to the "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision, which recognized that corporations have the right to speak in elections. Do corporations have rights? What would it mean for corporations not to have rights? Should corporations be considered "persons" under the law?
Summary: Many states require licenses to practice certain professions – from medicine to styling hair. What are the practical effects of such licensing requirements? Do they protect the public from quacks, as their defenders claim? Or do they violate a person's right to earn a living, discourage entrepreneurs, promote poverty? How have the courts ruled on cases challenging licensing requirements?
Question: Are hate crime laws just? Hate crime laws impose additional penalties for crimes motivated by hatred for or bias against the victim for his group membership, such as religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or ethnic background. Do such laws protect or violate individual rights? Should such laws be maintained, modified, or repealed?
Summary: As the cause of gay marriage gains ever-more traction, many have wondered whether marriage really matters. Attorney Tom Varik argues that it does. In this interview, he discussed the legal status and importance of gay marriage, including the recent Supreme Court cases, as well as the history and limits of spousal privilege.
Summary: Is "big government" the fundamental problem of American politics? Historian Eric Daniels will explain why this common formulation is misleading, wrong, and even dangerous to liberty.
Question: Is a "social contract" the proper basis for government? The idea of a "social contract" is often used to justify all kinds of government interventions for the so-called "greater good." What does it mean to say that society is founded on a social contract? What are the practical implications of that approach to politics? Was John Locke a proponent of this view?
Summary: Financial markets are often vilified – and misunderstood. How do financial markets work? What impact do they have on the economy? Are they dangerous – or beneficial? What is the government's current versus proper role in financial markets?
Question: Is it morally wrong to 'root' or 'jailbreak' your own electronic devices? Maybe I'm just too stupid or lazy to read through all the legal-ese that comes with these devices, so I don't know whether technically a customer is contractually obligated not to do it. But I know that companies try to design their products so that people can't easily "root" or "jailbreak" them, and clever people find ways to do it. Is doing so a theft of intellectual property?
Question: How should the feminist movement be judged? Do today's feminist causes have any merit? Or is the feminist movement merely seeking special favors for women at the expense of men – perhaps even via violations of the rights of men? If the movement is mixed, how should it be judged, overall? Should better feminists eschew the movement due to its flaws – or attempt to change it from within? Can advocates of reason, egoism, and capitalism ally themselves with selected feminist causes without promoting the worse elements thereof?
Question: Should the military ban marital infidelity? On your June 2nd, 2013 radio show, you explained why marital infidelity should not be illegal. I agree with you, but I wonder about other contexts. Might some government groups legitimately ban and even criminalize infidelity for its members? According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, infidelity is against the law for military members. Might that be proper, particularly given that we have a volunteer army? More generally, might the military want to enforce strict rules of moral conduct on their members, even for seemingly private matters?
Question: Should Distributed Denial of Service (a.k.a. DDoS) attacks be illegal? DDoS computer attacks are illegal in the United Kingdom. Are such attacks analogous to convincing people to send many letters to an organization or to calling on the phone repeatedly, thereby crippling its infrastructure? Or are they more like trespassing on property? How should the law deal with them?
Summary: What do online marketing companies know about you? How do they gather data? Should you be alarmed by that? If so, what tools can help you protect your privacy online?
Question: Should marital infidelity be illegal? Many states, including Colorado, have laws against marital infidelity on the books. These laws are rarely if ever enforced. Politicians often attempt to repeal them, but those attempts are often unsuccessful. Many people think that the government ought to "take a moral stand" even if the law isn't enforced. Does that view have any merit? Should these laws be repealed? Why or why not?
Question: Can abortion rights be justified based on Judith Thomson's "violinist" argument? Even if we accept that an embryo is a person with a right to life, can't abortion rights be justified on the basis of Judith Thomson's famous "violinist" thought experiment – meaning, on the grounds that one person does not have the right to use another person for life support?
Question: Should alimony payments upon divorce be abolished? Traditionally, a man was obliged to financially support his ex-wife upon divorce. Recent reforms have decreased the amount and duration of alimony in some states, as well as made it gender neutral (in theory). But are such payments ever justifiable? If so, under what conditions?
Question: Do people have a right to emergency medical care? EMTALA (a.k.a. the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act) is a federal law that requires emergency rooms to stabilize any patient with an emergency medical condition, regardless of the patient's ability to pay. Is that proper? Is that the same as a right to medical care?
Question: Is killing a baby born after an abortion a form of murder? Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial for murder, due to accusations that he killed infants who were delivered in abortions at his clinic. If the facts are as reported, should he be convicted of murder? What should be done when a baby is born alive during an abortion? What are the likely cultural and political implications of this trial?
Question: When is it moral to resist police action? Last year, the governor of Indiana signed a bill into law granting protection to citizens that resist the unlawful actions of a public servant. If a police officer enters your home without your knowledge or consent – legally or illegally – and you have no way of knowing whether he is an unlawful intruder, are you morally justified in taking violent action against him? When is it moral to forcibly resist police actions?
Question: What should the state's role be in dealing with abused children? The state needs to remove children from homes where they're being abused--where their rights are being violated. But what should it then do with them? Should the state care for them until it can find a new home for them? How should it provide that care? If it cannot find a new home for a child, what happens to that child? Should the state raise the child to adulthood?
Question: Should minor girls be required by law to obtain parental consent for an abortion? Normally, parents are legally empowered to make medical decisions for their minor children, and minors cannot obtain medical procedures without parental consent. How should that apply in the case of pregnancy? Should pregnancy and abortion be treated differently from other medical conditions? Should parents be allowed by law to force a daughter under 18 to carry a pregnancy to term or to abort against her will?
Question: Is "gay marriage" a valid form of marriage? Many people oppose gay marriage on the grounds that marriage is essentially religious, that procreation is central to marriage, or "traditional marriage" should be respected. Should gay unions be considered a valid form of marriage, legally or socially? Might civil unions be an acceptable alternative?
Summary: Is China the next capitalist paradise? Or is it a dangerous military threat? Perhaps it's neither.
Summary: Could an amendment to the US Contitution provide an effective check on government power? Stephen Bailey, a Republican congressional candidate in 2010, has a proposal for a constitutional amendment that deserves consideration.
Summary: What does the right to self-defense mean – not just in theory but in practice too? What does that require of a person?
Question: If a person isn't doing anything wrong, should he care to protect his privacy? Defenders of intrusive government programs (and other forms of meddling) often assume that only guilty people would object to granting others access to their private information. What, after all, does an honest and decent person have to hide? Or these people assume that everyone is guilty, and that's what justifies monitoring everyone. What's wrong with these arguments? Should an honest and innocent person object to government inquiries into his private life?
Question: Is the welfare state a good reason to restrict immigration? Conservatives – and even some Objectivists – claim that immigrants are flocking to the United States for our welfare benefits. They claim that immigration must be restricted until the welfare state is curtailed. Doesn't this view amount to punishing would-be immigrants for our own welfare state?
Question: How would antibiotic resistance be handled in a free society? Bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics by exposure to low doses of antibiotics. Such low doses may come from misuse of antibiotics, for example when taken to combat a cold or flu (which are viral infection against which antibiotics do nothing) or by not completing the full course as prescribed by a doctor. Antibiotics are indeed awesome drugs which have saved millions of lives. But resistant bacteria pose a serious health problem, often causing serious and difficult-to-treat illness in third parties. What would be the proper way to address this problem in a free society?
Question: What is the value of marriage? How is it different from living with a romantic partner in a committed relationship? Is marriage only a legal matter? Or does it have some personal or social benefit?
Summary: The government heavily regulates food and drinks commonly regarded as dangerous or unhealthy. What motivates such regulations? Why are they so widespread? How can they be fought?
Question: What's wrong with anti-discrimination laws? Most people support anti-discrimination laws, even though such laws violate the freedom of association. Have such laws done genuine good by making racism, sexism, and homophobia unacceptable in the culture? Have such laws had negative side-effects? Should they be abolished – and if so, why?
Summary: What is the work of a prosecutor really like? In this interview, former Arizona prosecutor William E. Perry discussed the cases he prosecuted and various issues in criminal law – including the role of juries, standards of evidence, the drug war, confessions, and plea bargaining.
Question: Isn't mandated child support basically just welfare for needy children? What is the moral difference between compelling parents to support their children and compelling all people to support the needy in society? Many critics of the welfare state believe that parents should be compelled to support their children with basic levels of physical sustenance and education, such that failing to provide these constitutes violating children's rights. But how is that different from compelling people to support other needy or vulnerable people? Is the blood relationship what creates the obligation to support the child – and if so, how?
Question: Should government employees be permitted to unionize? In your 16 December 2012 discussion of "right to work" laws, you said that business owners should have the right to refuse to hire union members (or to fire them). How would that work for government employees? In a free society, could legislators (or departments) forbid government workers from being union members? Could they require union membership?
Question: Should the government intervene when widespread racism makes life impossible for some people? Given that the effect of strictly respecting the rights of private property owners in the South was that blacks could not find accommodations, health care, transportation, food, and other basic necessities of life, shouldn't the government have intervened? Didn't civil rights legislation help eliminate racism – and wasn't that a good thing – even if that meant violating the right to property of racists?
Summary: Many people support restrictions on spending in elections, particularly by corporations, in the name of "transparency" and "accountability." Institute for Justice attorney Paul Sherman takes a very different view. He argues persuasively that any restrictions on campaign spending are violations of freedom of speech. He has successfully argued that view in courts across the country.
Question: Was California right or wrong to ban "gay cure" therapy for minors? Recently, California banned "reparative" or "conversion" therapy – meaning, therapy that aims to make gay teenagers straight. Such therapy is widely regarded as dangerous pseudo-science by mental health professionals. The ban only applies to patients under 18. So adults can still choose such therapy for themselves, but parents cannot foist it on their minor children. Is such therapy a form of child abuse? Or should parents have the power to compel such therapy on their children, even if they're morally wrong to do so?
Question: Is it wrong to manipulate your finances to qualify for welfare? An acquaintance of mine – who is moderately wealthy – feels justified in manipulating her finances to get government aid whenever possible on the grounds that it is "getting back" some of what she has paid. For example, she had her elderly mother buy a new car for her own use, in order to have her mother deplete her savings faster and qualify for Medicaid. However, while she had paid much in tax, her mother collects more in social security every month than she ever paid in taxes. Is it rational to view this as "getting back" money that was taken inappropriately, or is it actually immoral and self-destructive?
Question: Do right-to-work laws violate or protect rights? Some states are attempting to pass "right to work" laws, despite massive union opposition. Under such laws, employers cannot require employees to be a member of a union – as often happens due to federal law. These laws aim to empower employees against unwelcome unions. Are these laws legitimate – perhaps as defense against unjust federal law or a step toward freedom of contract? Or are they indefensible because they violate the rights of employers to dictate the terms of employment?
Question: Is there a right to die and/or a right to be killed? Does a person have a right to die? If so, under what conditions? Moreover, does a person unable to kill himself (due to illness) have a right to be killed by a willing person?
Question: Should pensions to government employees be guaranteed? Many cities and states are running into fiscal trouble and are reneging on promises to pay pensions to retired government employees, such as policemen. Should those promised payments be guaranteed, even if that means raising taxes or cutting back elsewhere? After all, those payments are part of a contract made between the employer and the employee. Or if money is tight for the city/state government, should the retirees have to share the same risk of default as anyone else the government owes money to?
Summary: Many people struggle with difficult decisions about complex medical problems as they near the end of their lives. That time is wrenching for family too. How can people make good decisions about medical care? What mistakes should they try to avoid? How can people prepare for that future now?
Question: Are laws against sexual harassment proper? We already have laws against sexual assault and sexual battery, so do sexual harassment laws protect or violate rights? Also, what kind of sexual harassment policies should private companies have, if any? Should people be more skeptical of sexual harassment claims of the kind levelled against Herman Cain during the Republican primary?
Question: Should it be considered child abuse to feed a child a vegan diet? Most experts agree that children need some of the nutrients found in meat and dairy products to develop properly. I've read lots of stories about children whose development is impaired or stunted due to being fed a vegan diet. Should it be considered child abuse to feed a child a strict vegan diet? If so, at which point should the state intervene and take legal recourse against the parents?
Summary: What is tort law? What are its basic principles? What are some of the most interesting debates in tort law? Do some torts conflict with freedom of speech? What, if any, proposals for tort reform are worthy of support? In this interview, law professor Sasha Volokh discussed the nature, value, and limitations of tort law.
Question: In a free society, would people be obliged to support or obey the government? Ayn Rand defined government as "an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area." She said that a government has – and must have – "a monopoly on the legal use of physical force." Given that, must a person support the government – morally or financially – in order for his rights to be protected? Would a person have to swear loyalty, pay taxes, vote in elections, or serve in the military? What would be the status of an anarchist – meaning someone who regards all government as illegitimate – in such a society?
Question: What's wrong with anarcho-capitalism? Libertarian anarchists – such as Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs, and Stefan Molyneux – claim that anarcho-capitalism is the only political system compatible with the "non-aggression principle." Is that right? Must any government initiate force by excluding competing defense agencies, as anarchists claim? Should governments be abolished in favor of private markets in force?
Question: Is it proper for state or local government to enact laws that a federal government should not? A proper government is one that fulfills and is limited to the role of protecting citizens from initiations of force by other individuals or other nations. However, in a free and proper society, is it proper for local and state governments to enact laws that go beyond the proper functions of a federal government? For example, in a properly-governed United States, could states enact certain laws that regulate behavior beyond what the federal government could enact, perhaps based on the religious or other values held by most people in that community – on the assumption that any person who disagreed could leave the area?
Question: How would the government protect the safety of food and drugs in a free society? Would the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) exist in free society? If so, would food or drugs have to gain FDA approval to be sold? Would it have the power to remove food or drugs deemed unsafe from the market? If not, what would protect consumers from harm due to adulterated or otherwise unsafe food or drugs?
Question: Is it moral to use the law to force someone to stop doing something that shouldn't be illegal? Is it moral to make use of a law that shouldn't exist? For example, suppose you live in a condo and your next-door neighbor smokes marijuana. You're annoyed by the smell. On the one hand, it shouldn't be illegal for him to smoke up; on the other, the law's existence precludes your finding a condo association with a voluntary agreement not to use pot. Is it morally proper to call the cops or should you let him be?
Question: Should people with severe genetic diseases take active measures to prevent passing the disease to their children? Some people have severe hereditary diseases – such as Huntington's or Multiple Sclerosis – that might be passed on to their biological children. If that happens, the child will be burdened with the disease later in life, perhaps suffering for years and dying young. Is it wrong for such people to conceive and merely hope for the best – rather than screening for the disease (and aborting if necessary), using donor eggs or sperm, or adopting? Are the parents who just hope for the best harming their future child? Are they violating their child's rights by refusing to take advantage of available technology for preventing the disease?
Question: Do "blue laws" violate rights? Many communities have "blue laws" – such as prohibitions on selling liquor, or even cars or other goods, on Sundays. Are these laws violations of the separation of church and state?
Question: Do smoking bans violate rights? Cities are banning smoking in private businesses like bars and even smoke shops. Are these bans immoral – meaning, do they violate rights? Does second-hand smoke violate the rights of non-smoking patrons or employees? What should be the policy for government-owned property like parks, court houses, sidewalks, etc?
Summary: Many people on the political right regard America as steadily decaying since the founding era. Yet in fact, America has improved in many ways – not just in technology, but also in its culture, economy, and laws.
Question: It is wrong for athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs? Lance Armstrong was recently stripped of his record seven Tour De France titles after allegations that he used performance enhancing drugs – particularly EPO, human growth hormone, and steroids. These drugs act to enhance vitality and endurance by increasing red blood cell count, stimulating new cell growth, and helping to regulate metabolism and immune function, respectively. Although I don't have a medical background, I can't find a moral difference between a competitive athlete taking such medications for peak performance and a regular person taking vitamins, herbs, and supplements for increased performance. Professional athletes are encouraged and expected to adopt other modern technologies such as lighter bicycle frames, carbon nanotube rackets, aerodynamic helmets, and expertly designed running shoes. So isn't it proper to embrace advances in medicine as well, so long as athletes are aware of the risks? Should we vilify such athletes on the grounds that they create an unfair advantage – or applaud them for maximizing performance via technology? Should sports leagues regulate or ban performance-enhancing drugs?
Summary: Questions on any and all topics were welcome!
Question: It is wrong to inflict second-hand smoke on other people? Although smoking is detrimental to a person's health, whether or not someone smokes is (or should be) a matter of his personal choice. However, what is the proper moral and legal status of "second-hand smoke"? If second-hand smoke contributes to the development of respiratory diseases or if others simply find it noxious, shouldn't people refrain from smoking in public or smoking around people who haven't consented to it? In a free society, would and should most workplaces ban smoking? Could second-hand smoke be considered a tort, such that the state should forbid smoking around people who object to it?
Question: Should children be protected by child labor laws? Currently, federal and state governments restricts "child labor" in various ways. The US Department of Labor "restricts the hours that youth under 16 years of age can work and lists hazardous occupations too dangerous for young workers to perform." The goal is to "protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety." Is this a proper function of government? Does it violate the rights of parents, children, and/or employers? If so, what's the harm done?
Question: Is the United States a Christian nation? People often claim that the United States is "a Christian nation." What do people mean by that? Why does it matter? Is it true or not?
Question: Does respecting intellectual property require me to re-purchase my music collection lost due to hard drive failure? Over the years I have purchased quite a bit of digital music and have built quite a large library. Recently, due to a computer crash and lack of backup, a large segment of that library was erased. Since I paid for all of the music that was lost, I would like to restore it, whether by copying from my friends or by downloading illegal copies from the internet. But I am not entirely sure what I have the right to do based on my original purchases. What do you think?
Question: Should an employer have to explain and justify his firing of an employee? Should an employer be able to fire an employee for some alleged misconduct, even though the employer never bothered to verify the misconduct, nor asked the employee for his side of the story? For example, suppose that when the employee shows up for work he is simply told that he's been fired because someone made a complaint about him. The employee could easily prove the complaint to be false but the employer isn't concerned with proof or lack thereof. The employee's reputation in the eyes of possible future employers is damaged, even if the employer never discusses the firing with anyone else. In such a case, should the employee be able to sue for having been fired without proper cause?
Question: Do you have the right to privacy with respect to information that I can gather about you from observation of you while I'm on my own property? For instance, if I have technology that allows me to gather photons or sound waves that you emit from your property while I'm sitting on my property next door, can I post that information on YouTube or Facebook? For example, imagine that I have an infrared video of your activities emitted through your bedroom wall or the audio of your personal phone conversation that can be detected by sensitive microphones from 100 yards away. Have I violated your rights by gathering and publicizing information you've chosen to allow to be broadcast to anyone who can detect it with the right equipment?
Question: Is downloading music from YouTube a violation of intellectual property rights? Given that content creators can remove YouTube videos that violate their intellectual property rights, is it wrong to assume that they consent to the posting if they've not asked to remove it? It is wrong to watch or share clips that seem to be uploaded without permission? It is wrong to download music from YouTube for my own personal use, whether uploaded by the creator or someone else?
Question: Should "stealing valor" be a crime? Rencently, a man was arrested by the FBI in Houston and charged with "stolen valor." This is the charge made against someone who falsely poses as a decorated soldier. Is it proper to make this a crime? Why or why not?
Question: Where is the line between justice and vigilantism? When is it moral to take the law into your own hands – meaning pursuing, detaining, and/or punishing criminals as a private citizen? Suppose that you know – without a shadow of a doubt – that some person committed a serious crime against you or a loved one. If the justice system cannot punish the person due to some technicality, is it wrong for you to do so? If you're caught, should a judge or jury punish you, as if you'd committed a crime against an innocent person?
Question: When is it moral to break the law? Laws should be written to protect individual rights. Unfortunately, many laws today violate rights. When should I abide by a rights-violating law, and when is it proper to break it?
Question: Should the government institute a national id card? Periodically, politicians speak of instituting a national identification card in order to protect identify and track potential terrorists, prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants, stop welfare fraud, and more. Would such a national id card violate rights – or be unwise for other reasons? Are state-level identification cards sufficient? Are they proper?
Question: Should employers ask applicants for their Facebook logins and passwords? More employers are asking job applicants for their Facebook logins and passwords as part of a background check. Of course, applicants can decline, in which case they might not be considered for the job. Should employers be asking for this information? Is it proper to want to check on the online activities of potential employees? Is that an invasion of privacy? How should someone respond if asked by a potential employer?
Question: Are statutory rape laws proper? Statutory rape laws criminalize seemingly consensual sex when at least one party is below the age of consent, but sexually mature, e.g. when an 18 year old has sex with a 15 year old. Are such laws proper? Should the over-age person be convicted if he or she didn't know (or couldn't reasonably know) that the under-age person was under-age? What if the under-age person lied about his or her age? What, if anything, should happen legally when both parties are under-age, e.g. when two 15 year olds have sex?
Question: Why can't a person sell himself into slavery? People often decry indentured servitude, whereby people paid for their travel to America with several years of service. But this seems like a perfectly sound trade given certain assumptions about the terms of that service, e.g. you can't starve or abuse the servant. Is that right? If so, why can't a person sell himself into slavery? For instance, suppose that my family is poor, so I arrange with someone to give my family money in exchange for me becoming their slave, i.e. literally becoming their property. Is that possible? Should the law forbid that?
Question: What should you do for a person that you injured in a car accident that was your fault? Does a person have moral obligations – over and above any legal obligations – to the victim, since the accident was due to your own carelessness or mistake?
Question: What constitutes consent in sex? Can a person give tacit consent by his or her actions? Is explicit consent required for some sex acts? Once consent has been given, when and how can a person withdraw that consent? Does the legal perspective on these questions differ from the moral perspective?
Question: Is the death penalty moral? I understand why people are opposed to the death penalty when there might be genuine doubt as to whether the accused person really committed the crime. Certainly, we've seen cases where DNA evidence has exonerated someone who was convicted several years ago for a crime they didn't actually commit. But if someone confesses to first degree murder and if there's incontrovertible physical evidence to confirm their guilt, is the death penalty then appropriate?
Question: Why is punishing an innocent man worse than failing to punish a guilty man? English jurist William Blackstone said that "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." What does this mean, and is it true? Is some higher ratio of wrongly-punished to wrongly-released acceptable?
Question: Should SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) be supported or opposed? SOPA was recently introduced to the US House of Representatives, then shelved temporarily, and many people are urging businesses and their representatives to oppose it. Would the bill promote prosperity and creativity by protecting copyright? Or does it justify internet censorship and cripple free access of information through online media?
Question: Should it be legal for civilians to own fully automatic weapons? At present, civilians can only own full-auto firearms by special permission of the US Treasury. In a free society, would such weapons be banned or regulated, such that only members of the police and military could access them? As a law-abiding civilian, am I somehow violating someone else's rights by owning an M-16 fully automatic rifle – as opposed to the virtually identical (and currently legal) semi-automatic AR-15 rifle?
Question: What should it mean for a person to be a citizen of country? Suppose that America were a free country, with open borders. What would be the difference between a long-term resident and a citizen? How would that affect a person's relationship to the government? How would a person (including someone born in the US) become a citizen? Could a person be a citizen of two countries?
Question: Should prisons be run by the state or private companies? After reading this Huffington Post article, I wonder whether prisons should be run by private companies or the state. I tend to think private is almost always better than anything state-run, but the current system of private prisons seems to be corrupt at best. More generally, what would a prison system look like in a free society?
Question: What is the proper purpose of bankruptcy laws? When should a person renegotiate his debt with lenders, if ever? Should a person be able to wipe his debt clean by going into bankruptcy? In your 10 July 2011 webcast discussion of strategic default on mortgages, you suggested that a person shouldn't be able to do that, but shouldn't lenders be responsible for who they lend money to?
Question: Is it moral to marry someone just to obtain a green card? Given the difficulties of immigrating to the United States, is it immoral to circumvent those bad laws by marrying someone solely to obtain a green card? Would it matter if the person were a good friend?
Question: Should the state be involved in marriage contracts? Many people say that gay marriage shouldn't be a political issue, because the state shouldn't be involved in defining marriage at all. Is that right? Why or why not?
Question: When is a person (or group) justified in taking up arms against the government? In other words, how despotic must a government be for violent revolution to be morally justified? Before that point, is a person just engaged in "terrorism"?
Question: Should the "Do Not Call" Registry exist? The National Do Not Call Registry was established in 2003, and it's run by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Is this legitimate? Does a person have a right not to be called by solicitors and other unwanted persons? Given that there was no real attempt to come up with a private, market-based solution for the issue of unwanted solicitations, was this a legitimate case of "market failure"? Should advocates of free markets put themselves on the "Do Not Call" list and/or report violators thereof? Why shouldn't a person just hang up?
Question: Do restrictions on nudity and sex visible to others violate rights? While having a zestful online debate, someone claimed that Ayn Rand contradicts herself in claiming that public nudity should be censored. (See "Thought Control" in The Ayn Rand Letter.) Since sex is a beautiful act, why should people be protected from it? Could a ban on visible pornography or sex be a slippery slope to other intrusions by government?
Question: Is it moral to photocopy an essay for a class or discussion group? My friend and I are starting a reading group at our university focused on philosophy, and the group will meet each week to discuss an essay or article related to philosophy. I want to use one of Ayn Rand's essays from The Virtue of Selfishness. I have purchased and own a copy the book. Is it moral for me to make photocopies of the essay for the purpose of the reading group – or would that violate copyright?
Question: Is it moral to torture criminals and/or terrorists? We supposedly were able to track down Osama Bin Laden with information obtained by torturing captured Al Qaeda prisoners. Is it moral to torture criminals, terrorists or other evildoers to gain useful information to fight crime or help win a war? If so, should there be any limits on when and how torture should be used by the government?
Question: Is "extreme couponing" moral? Earlier this year, the Boston Globe wrote about people who engage in "extreme couponing." Basically, they find ways to redeem store coupons in a fashion that still abides by the rules, but they get free stuff out of the deal. Are these people moral, or are they parasites because they don't actually live by trading value for value? Are they violating rights?
Question: How should a person deal with filial responsibility laws? In your April 10th webcast, you discussed the morality of taking care of elderly parents. Some states have filial responsibility laws, which would force people to take care of indigent elderly parents. How should a person would cope with such laws in practice?
Question: Why should a free country have open borders? In your July 24th webcast, you agreed with the questioner that the current laws restricting immigration are wrong. Why? Shouldn't Americans be able to restrict immigration, if they so choose? What, if any, limits should be set on immigration?
Question: Should the police lie to suspects in the course of an investigation? Police routinely do this, usually in order to trick people into admitting something or revealing information they would normally not reveal. Note that the people they lie to may not have been convicted of any crime, and are merely "persons of interest" or suspects. Is this routine constant lying moral? What do you think it does to the policeman's character after many years?
Question: Is it immoral to reverse-engineer a product? Is it wrong to take apart a product, improve it, and then sell this new product to others (or use it for yourself)? Is this considered theft or just productive work?
Question: Why would an ordinary person wish to carry a gun? In your July 3rd webcast, you mentioned that you have a concealed carry permit. Why? Even if a person should be allowed to carry a firearm, shouldn't we rely on the experts – namely the police – to protect us from criminals?
Question: Is it immoral to hire illegal immigrants? While laws restricting immigration seem terribly irrational – both in terms of intent and effects – they are still technically the law. Illegal immigrants often make themselves available for day-to-day work, and hiring them for a day has an almost zero chance of legal punishment for myself for having hired them. Is it moral to disobey an irrational law if I'm unlikely to be punished for it?
Question: Is it moral to strategically default on your mortgage? Suppose that you could continue to pay your mortgage, but you're underwater: you owe more than the house is worth. You realize that you'd save tens of thousands of dollars by defaulting. Would it be morally wrong to default, assuming that you don't engage in any fraud or other dishonesty in doing so? Would it make a difference if you do that in today's highly regulated market versus in a fully free market?
Question: Is it moral to not defend yourself if you will get into legal trouble for doing so? As I understand laws on self-defense, you must be "in immediate danger of death or grievously bodily harm" in order to use lethal force. How is this reconciled with the morality of "shooting before he shoots you" or "hitting before you get hit"? In other words, preemptive attack may be seen as assault, but there might also be a threat of force. Is it moral to not defend yourself to avoid assault charges? In the case of using a gun to defend yourself, this could mean the difference between you dying at the hands of your attacker or living, but going to jail for murder. What should you do?
Question: Should a man unwilling to be a father have to pay child support? Suppose that a man and a woman have sex, and the woman becomes pregnant – even though the couple used contraception based on a shared and expressed desire not to have children. If the woman decides to raise the baby, should she be able to collect child support from the man? What if they'd never discussed the possibility of pregnancy? What if they didn't use any form of birth control?
Question: Should it be legal in a free society to buy votes? It doesn't seem that the practice would violate anyone's rights, so shouldn't it be legal for a person who wants to hold office to pay willing voters to cast their vote for him?
Question: What rights do severely mentally disabled people have? If someone is mentally disabled to the extent that he or she will never be able to be rational and/or live independently, does that person have rights? Who should be financially responsible for the care of such people?
Question: Is it moral to lend a book to a friend? Given the intellectual property issues regarding downloading music, movies etc. would lending a book, say Atlas Shrugged, to a friend or relative be considered a violation of the rights of the intellectual property holder?
Question: Why are subpoenas justified but not compulsory juries? In your 15 May 2011 webcast, you contrasted your position on jury duty with that of Dr. Peikoff's, saying that compulsory jury duty constituted the initiation of force. My understanding is that Ayn Rand's position was that subpoenas and the jury selection process are entirely consistent with justice, as Peikoff mentions in this podcast. Juries are selected using subpoenas. How would you reconcile being for subpoenas but against compulsory jury duty? And, does this also mean that you disagree with Ayn Rand's view of justice?
Question: Are compulsory juries moral? Is it necessary and/or proper to compel citizens to serve on a jury? If not, what is the best way to ensure the right to a trial by a jury of your peers, rather than trial by government agents? Should a free society have professional volunteer juries like the military?
Question: Are building codes ethical? In light of the building earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a lot of people are crediting the strict building codes and urban planning for reducing the damage. Is it proper to support building codes, which limit property rights, if the goal is to prevent damage and destruction in the event of an inevitable natural disaster, such as an earthquake?
Question: Objectivism regards harming yourself or allowing others to harm you is immoral, but how does that apply to sex, particularly sadism and masochism? Should S&M acts be illegal?
Question: Why is receiving the counsel of an attorney a right while receiving health care is not? In both cases, you would receive something that you need for free from the state. So what's the difference, if any? Why should a repeat offender have access to free legal counsel at taxpayer expense while an innocent, law-abiding sick person shouldn't receive life-saving medication or treatment at taxpayer expense? In the former case, the criminal might lose his liberty, but in the latter case the sick person might die. So what I am missing?
Question: Should spousal consent be required for sterilization procedures? A fairly well-known mommy blogger recently revealed that she was required to sign a consent form for her husband's vasectomy. Reading through some of the remarks on her blog, many of her commenters seem to support such a practice, believing that a person has a right to be involved in the reproductive decisions of his/her spouse. I think it's a violation of individual rights, and having had a sterilization procedure myself, I'd have been BEYOND upset if my spouse had been required to give his consent. He was in agreement with my decision, but I can't help but wonder what happens in situations where a person does not want his/her spouse to have a vasectomy, tubal ligation, etc. Any thoughts?
Question: How should I deal with the idea of man-made global warming? What is the proper approach to the whole idea? I can't decide on my own whether it's true or false without educating myself in climatology. And how should I treat others who believe in it just because many university professors do?
Question: What does it mean to treat an animal humanely? The term "humanely" when applied to animals is confusing to me. More generally, what is the proper moral treatment of animals?
Question: Do animals have rights? If not, why not? Given that we don't need to eat animals to survive, shouldn't we be vegetarians or vegans? Also, if animals don't have rights, are people then entitled to do whatever they please with animals that they own?
Question: Are regulations necessarily different from laws? Regulations do not violate the presumption of innocence – they are jurisprudential signals. A law against murder does not violate the presumption of innocence; rather, it is a signal that denotes a consequence that will be levied upon the violator of the law. This is the same standard that regulations follow. A law is a "regulation" on behavior in the way that legislative regulations are, in fact, "regulations" on business behavior. Is this a correct assessment of laws and regulations?
Question: Should private citizens be legally obliged to keep government secrets? Should it be a crime for private citizens to divulge "top secret" information? That is, if I have no specific security agreement or contract with the government to keep information confidential if I come to possess it through no fault of my own? What if lives are at stake?
Question: Is it immoral to cheat on your taxes? It's essentially a lie to protect the products of your labor. So is it wrong just because it's illegal?
Question: What constitutes abandonment of property? Can you forfeit your property by not using it for a certain period of time? Suppose your father cultivated a certain stretch of land and left it to you after his death. After some time, you stop cultivating it and move away. Many years pass. Would someone else be justified to claim the land as his if he starts cultivating it again? Would you have abandoned and forfeited your property rights to it? If so, would it make a difference if you did not move away but continued living in the vicinity, but without using the property at all, not even for a walk?
Question: I have an object in my possession that I stole almost 20 years ago. Finding the rightful owner and returning it is impossible. What should I do? I once lived in a large, very old apartment building, with a bike room in the basement, where residents were supposed to keep their bicycles. The room was virtually unused, as residents tended to keep theirs in their apartments. There were many dusty old unused bikes in there. I cut the lock off one, got new tires for it (the old ones were flat and brittle) and used it frequently while I lived there. I rationalized that a) it was probably abandoned (although I didn't know that, really) and b) the owner was always free to call security, have my lock cut off, and reclaim his bike. When I moved away, a couple years later, I kept the bike. Clearly I shouldn't have done so, and I would never do such a thing today. Should I just donate the bike to charity and move on? This is really bothering me.
Question: Is pirating music immoral? Why or why not? In one way I think it must be immoral because it involves gaining the unearned, but there have been (granted I know little of the music industry) many claims that illegal file sharing has actually been good for the music industry in a number of ways. There have also been arguments that it is not technically theft because it involves copying information instead of physically taking it from the owner i.e. the original owner (and creator) has not lost the music even after you have copied it, but this argument seems shoddy by its concrete bound concept of theft and ownership. Simply put, to me, it feels immoral, but I have trouble conceptualizing exactly why.
Question: Would it be wrong to steal from a thief? If an individual were placed in a position where they could steal from a con-man or a common burglar, and they did, would their decision to steal from a thief be moral or immoral and why?
Question: In the essay "Racism" in The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand mentions that public institutions and government agencies should not discriminate against or on behalf of individuals. In her talk of private property, however, she says that government should not attempt to prevent private racism in private establishments and that a man's rights are not violated by a private individual's refusal to deal with him. My question is: How are his rights not violated if the owner discriminates against him?
Question: Is there a proper policy on keeping lost property? If one were to find property that had been lost, is there a proper policy which would allow the finder to keep it? The most common example is finding an envelope full of money. Is one even morally obligated to report that he has found it? (Suppose that the owner cannot be immediately located, even with a decent amount of effort.)
Question: What should the US government do about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange? In particular, can and should the US government go after him, given that he is not an American citizen and he apparently committed his bad acts outside of US territory?
Question: Should government officials be punished for rights violations committed via their office? Should the constitution of a rational government in a capitalist society mandate punishment of those in positions of governance who use the power of government to violate individual rights? For instance, McCain-Feingold represents a massive individual rights' violation; that of free speech and association. McCain and Feingold violated their oath to defend the Constitution as did all those who voted for it; George W. Bush explicitly abdicated his oath in his signing statement. Should such people be punished for legalizing such an encroachment? Currently, only Treason is specifically mentioned in the Constitution as a criminal act requiring punishment
Summary: I answer two questions – one on the morality of accepting an inheritance and another on a moral conflict about doing agreed-upon work when that promotes Islam on the anniversary of 9/11.