Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I first read about "Assassination Markets" in this brilliant book, that delves into the old 90s cypherpunks mailing list (members which included Julian Assange and most likely the creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi):

http://www.amazon.com/Machine-Kills-Secrets-EmpowerWhistlebl...

I still haven't read this full article, mostly just a summary, so here are my rough thoughts:

It seems like something straight out of an idealistic anarcho-capitalist society, but it seems to be dangerously crossing the line out of "non-aggression" and from skimming the article, seems full of flaws. For example:

> Satisfying as it might be to declare war on asinine pop singers, Bell has a more civic-minded suggestion: Let's kill all the car thieves. He reasons that a very small number of career criminals are responsible for nearly all car thefts. If one million car owners in a given metropolitan area contributed just four dollars a year, it would create $10,000 a day in "prize money" for the "predictor" of any car thief's death.

Is preventing property theft really worth killing a bunch of petty criminals? I highly doubt it. This tough-love approach to preventing crime (especially to this extreme) has been a complete failure in the USA (see their full prison system or the war on drugs).

I'm all for preventative self-defense, but most of this enforcement bulldozes over root causes of issues (socio-economic, mental illness, etc). The goal should be compensating victims (ala https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice) and long-term solutions, not creating some esoteric possibility of safety/morality via threat of violence.

Not only that, and just google "wrongful convictions" or "wrongful convictions death penalty". Accuracy of information needs strong information systems and due process (maybe the article discusses this?) but just having target lists + bets is wildly insufficient.

There has also been a lot of literature against private law enforcement (counter to many anarcho ideologies) such as by Novick in his book "Anarchy, State, and Utopia":

http://www.amazon.com/Anarchy-State-Utopia-Robert-Nozick/dp/...

> TLDR: Protective agencies (judges/police) would be competing against each other. That competitive nature combined with their intended role of protecting us (and themselves) would lead to "an endless series of acts of retaliation and exactation of compensations". Also he demonstrates why the nature of both of the businesses would already create natural monopolies in each local jurisdiction.

So even though I personally lean towards libertarian/decentralized ideas, public courts/judges is likely still the best solution and anonymous assassination marketplaces sounds dangerously flawed.




The idea of the assassination marketplace as I see it is to provide some means to balance the power of politicians. There's a powerful asymmetry at work in politics. Prosecutors can knowingly wrongly convict people and face no consequences. The President can authorize a temporary (or perhaps not temporary) war possibly resulting in thousand of deaths and the worst outcome he faces for it is not getting a second term.

Given that voting people out of office is not a powerful enough disincentive to cause them to behave morally I welcome new thoughts on providing better incentives. I'm not saying that Assassination Markets are necessarily good but there's an interesting idea there: how to provide the mass of people recourse to politicians in a manner other than voting.


Why a marketplace, though? One can already organize resistance against a regime one considers harmful enough to merit violent resistance, via militant groups. They can be right-wing groups like the militia movement or Greece's Golden Dawn, or left-wing groups like the Black Panthers or Germany's Red Army Faction. They do at various times assassinate prosecutors or politicians.

An assassination market seems to change the barrier to entry: rather than personal commitment, it's money. Is that likely to produce better decisions, when it comes to extralegal assassinations? I don't see a strong a priori reason to believe that "people wanted dead by people who have money" is likely to be a good signal. That just seems like a formalization of the classic mob hit: if you've got enough cash, you can get anyone offed.


Yeah all valid points. That's one of the unintended consequences of the system: someone with enough money can short-circuit the "voting" process to get anyone killed.

Let me reiterate: There's a very interesting nugget in there. Namely one (possibly of many) ways for ordinary citizens to provide less asymmetric incentives to politicians and bureaucrats.

I'm really interested in alternative methods of achieving similar goals. Rather than death, could we perhaps institute a petition-based vote of no confidence that could be binding? I'm not sure how that would work but it would be a way to kick someone out of office or position sooner than a term limit and which would also be tremendously damaging to their reputation; something which seems rather important to politicians. Maybe you've got other ideas?

EDIT: To answer your question specifically the goal of a marketplace is similar to voting but one which isn't necessarily scheduled the way voting is. For example the guy after Obama could win by a 90% landslide, then immediately launch an all-out war against Iran, Syria and say Jordan. That might quickly turn the tide from 90% in favor to 80% against, but we'd have to wait at least 2 years to vote out a lot of people in the House, and four full years to vote the new President out, and a total of six years to get rid of people in the Senate.

Given that it's not terribly easy to make a living in the US and that many people have jobs, kids, elderly parents, etc. to prevent a sizable fraction of those opposed to various things from making a serious public statement like a march on Washington, lowering the barrier to entry MIGHT get us better outcomes.


> For example the guy after Obama could win by a 90% landslide, then immediately launch an all-out war against Iran, Syria and say Jordan

Or, to turn that around the other way, something happens just after the election which causes 80-90% of the electorate to support an attack on Iran, Syria, and Jordan. The president after Obama, after some consideration and discussion with people in her/his cabinet decides to not attack.

With the threat of death over his/her head, might the president decide to make a decision, not based on deliberation and careful consideration, but just as a way to pander to the public lest s/he get killed. Is that a desirable outcome?


Anyone who finds the concept potentially appealing really needs to read up on pre-WWII Japanese politics, where a culture of political assassination, plus a major flaw in their constitutions, couldn't form a government without the Army and Navy's assent/membership, pretty much made the following ugliness inevitable. You really, really don't want to let such a culture develop.

Paul Johnson's Modern Times devotes a chapter to this: http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Times-Revised-Edition-Perennial...


This was a very enlightening chapter in Modern Times. I truly enjoyed Johnson's work, despite his clear (if transparent) bias towards British colonialism.

In general, private armies, political assassinations, and other forms of political violence seldom lead to good outcomes: other examples would be Lebanon during and prior to the civil and (not to Godwin this) Weimar Germany with government-funded but ruthless and private and political Freikorps, as well as KPD/SPD/NSDAP/etc... paramilitary organizations. Finally, if a government enacts and enforces laws and decrees contrary to the constitution and human rights in general (i.e., it is no longer a constitutional state), introduction of political gives government forces both an excuse and the means to start acting fully extra-judicially.

I'll note that I'm saying this as a individual with classical liberal/libertarian political leanings and as a strong supporter of a right to bear arms. My view is shared with by David Friedman, an anarcho-capitalist (a view that I don't subscribe to, but respect): http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2013/07/in_case_of_revo....


An excellent point. I've always assumed that most people don't want to expend dollars and lives on wars but that doesn't necessarily hold true.

Personally I'm more interested in the nugget of insight than necessarily the exact methods he outlines.

For all the million little ways that the government involves itself in our daily lives there is huge asymmetry and thus plenty of opportunity for injustice.

For the really big things there is also huge asymmetry. If something is a really big deal and even 10% of the US population went to Washington to protest you'd probably see a swift reaction. That's a really good thing and it's one of the reasons that many systems of representative government do work.

The question in my mind is: What is the price for big freedoms in terms of little freedoms, and is this a good bargain? Personally I'd like to have my big freedoms AND my little ones too. So any kind of thought along those lines is interesting even if it's not ultimately good.

The thing I took away from the article most is that there probably are ways to give the people more freedom on the little things without necessarily compromising on the big ones. Not necessarily via Assassination Markets, but SOMEHOW.


Recall elections are one way that's sometimes used to handle the "electee turns around and goes nuts" problem: if enough people petition, an early election is held, so people get another chance to vote on whether they want to keep the representative. Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_gubernatorial_recall...

A downside of that is that it can intensify populism, since you are essentially always campaigning, never governing. One person wins, but instead of getting a few years to try their agenda, the opposite party is every day looking for openings to get them booted out of office early. An in-between idea is just the classic impeachment. It can remove someone from office early, but is supposed to be used only for serious breaches of trust or lawlessness, not mere political disagreement. If Obama totally went nuts, Congress could remove him from office, if they weren't also on board.

Overall I think I'm more worried about constant campaigning (and the amplification of political advertising and PACs that entails), so these various measures strike me as more worrying than the problems they try to solve.


Also an excellent point. I'm a libertarian and I'm thoroughly fed up with both parties; neither hold true to their supposed core ideology when faced with the choice to do the right thing or to accrete more power. As such I'm really interested in ways to scare the shit out of politicians in the hope that they'll think LONG and HARD about whether what's being proposed is RIGHT or EXPEDIENT. As such the whole notion has a certain appeal, it's a way to try and curb particularly egregious abuses of power.

For example you might see $50mm worth of bounties on a lot of higher-ups at the NSA for letting this spying-on-innocent-as-well-as-guilty Americans business go on for so long. Those programs might then get shut down, or at the very least those people might retire to very private places immediately.

Possibilities for abuse? Absolutely. Are those abuses worse than what the folks in power are currently doing to us? That all depends on your viewpoint. I'm honestly not sure where I stand on that one because it's really tough to figure out the exact magnitude of the unintended consequences of any change in policy.


>For example you might see $50mm worth of bounties on a lot of higher-ups at the NSA for letting this spying-on-innocent-as-well-as-guilty Americans business go on for so long. Those programs might then get shut down, or at the very least those people might retire to very private places immediately.

Or you'll get bounties put out on postal workers because the Post Office is secretly reading everyone's mail.

I would submit that out of the pool of people willing to participate in an assassination-for-hire marketplace, few are likely to be reasonable in what they would consider a killing offense.


The Post Office example isn't very good because most mail carriers don't serve more than a few thousand people (maybe a lot less in the 'burbs) so it would be very hard to get enough money together to make it worthwhile to kill any one individual. But the greater point, that people could act irrationally and cause entirely innocent people to be killed is still a possibility and tough to refute.


I really do find it difficult to believe that an assassination-for-hire marketplace would be mostly utilized by reasonable people anyway.


The point is deeper than this -- with such a system in place, one must never even attach their real name or address to controversial ideas.

This would allow thought to proceed on pure merit, rather than social proof.


But such a system only has the purpose of having people killed for money. There wouldn't be any other ideas discussed, except maybe haggling over whether to use a gun or a knife or maybe anthrax if the price is right.

An assassination program like this more or less defies the concept of 'ideas based on merit.'


Oh, but the effects would be wide-ranging: if an idea has enough of a likelihood of angering people past some threshold (either lots of people, or a few rich ones), then it will only be reasonable to air that idea under strong pseudonymity.

Participating in this marketplace would be somewhat like voting, except it would have a tangible effect.


If you're talking about a marketplace of ideas and collective action, fine. I'm all for communication without oppression.

But a marketplace for violence is just as bad or even worse than the implicit violence of the state in my opinion. While I believe that sometimes violence might be necessary to oppose tyranny, I don't know that I trust the 'justness' of a system which presumes anyone employed by the state should find themselves subject to that kind of threat. Eventually (inevitably) it would wind up being used as a tool for political and ethnic genocide. Or petty crime.


> One can already organize resistance against a regime one considers harmful enough to merit violent resistance, via militant groups.

Because successful states (i.e., not Greece) have vast amounts of institutional knowledge and training on how to infiltrate and destroy radical groups in the embryonic stage. There will never be anything remotely like the Red Army Faction in the USA or Europe as long as the FBI still has any amount of funding. Or even local police, for that matter. In the US, virtually every dissident group is guaranteed to be monitored by police, if not actively infiltrated. It's hard enough to organize unpermitted protests, let alone jailbreaks or breakfast programs.

Assassination markets work around this by reducing the need for organized groups.


Volunteer for their campaigns and provide them with detailed technical and experiential insight into legislation. The reason that lobbyists are so powerful is that they can offer politicians what they need to keep their jobs do their jobs: - Information on legislation that they don't have the time to gather because a person cannot be a lawyer, an engineer of many types, a scientist of many types, a businessman in many industries, and a military officer. - Money so that they can pay for people to knock on doors and build their website and do all the gruntwork of managing a staff.

And yes, the people writing legal code should be lawyers or at least highly knowledgable in the law.


The mechanism of impeachment was included in the US Constitution (at the insistence of Benjamin Franklin as I recall) to provide a specific alternative to assassination for removing politicians from office. It actually dates to 14th century England I learn just now checking Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment#History

Assassination is ... rather fraught. I'm growing increasingly concerned over the stalemate / obstructionist politics of the US and elsewhere, however.


What's frighting to me, is someone could attempt to build an "Assassination Market" with: tor, bitcoins, and a single website.

But I'm skeptical this would really work. Just look the 25 million dollar bounty on Osama bin laden, which no one tried claimed. (That's just reporting him) Maybe, it would work if you didn't go through a government to try to claim your reward, but I'm still skeptical.

Still, I think if a "bounty" was out for someone on a tor website, that would make for some huge headlines. Plus spook the person enough to get their attention.


Not for nothing Gary Brooks Faulkner supposedly "attempted" to assassinate Bin Ladin.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870400980457530...


It has already happened. Here's my website: http://assmkedzgorodn7o.onion/


I wouldn't mess around with this if I were you. It may have taken the FBI a while to bring down the Silk Road, but with this kind of thing, you'll have the CIA and NSA after you.


Now this is going to be a story to watch.

I look forward to seeing if that guy ever posts again lol.


Anyone foolish enough to try it deserves what they'll get.




Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: