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I haven't seen any commentary on this site concerning the massive oil spill in the gulf that is currently hitting the Louisiana coast. Considering the massive amount of property damage that is about to occur, not to mention the catastrophic effects on the ecology of the region, how should we be thinking about this disaster in terms of off shore drilling and any possible regulatory oversight? Is it fair to say that some risky actions such as off shore drilling have the potential for widespread and long term damage to other parties and should be curtailed?

I for one am perplexed by the implications of it, because even if claims for damage are processed, which will certainly take decades to be paid in full (using Exxon Valdez event as a benchmark) the people effected by this, such as the fishing industry, can't really be made whole again.

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In the case of Baker v. Exxon, an Anchorage jury awarded $287 million for actual damages and $5 billion for punitive damages. (wikipedia)

I'm assuming there will be lawsuits, and a similarly unfair and disproportionate punishment will be handed out to BP.

As for regulatory actions, those are still immoral and pointless. An accident won't change that, especially one that happened in an already heavily regulated industry, with the government involvement clearly failing to prevent or contain the leak.

Considering the massive amount of property damage that is about to occur, not to mention the catastrophic effects on the ecology of the region

How much in property damages? And catastrophic on the environment how?Has the environment become uninhabitable for decades to come? That woul be catastrophic. A few dead birds isn't, except for the people obsessed with birds.

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Considering the massive amount of property damage that is about to occur, not to mention the catastrophic effects on the ecology of the region, how should we be thinking about this disaster in terms of off shore drilling and any possible regulatory oversight?
We should be thinking in terms of property questions. What right does a man have w.r.t. his property; what responsibility does he have w.r.t. other people's property? It has been long established that you cannot throw your trash on my lawn. If you are doing something on / to your property and you damage my property, you must compensate me for the damage that you inflicted on me.

It is fair to say that the current problem was manufactured through the abandonment of basic concepts of property, motivated by collectivist concern over "the public interest".

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If BP is deemed responsible for this tragedy, then BP is responsible for making restitution to those affected by this tragedy.

There were not one but TWO safety shutoff devices on this rig, and they haven't worked. We don't know why - but it illustrates that sometimes, no matter HOW HARD we try, unforeseen events occur with tragic results.

No amount of regulation is going to change that - so why suggest punishing everyone who produces oil? This was either 1) an accident, or 2) the product of negligence, for which BP should be punished, or 3) the result of deliberate sabotage, for which the saboteur is responsible, not BP. You think punishing Texaco and Exxon if BP messed up is a good response?

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It's clear everyone agrees that if BP is liable for the accident they should pay the damages. What might be problematic is that it could take 10 years or maybe 20 to be awarded any damages, and huge up-front payouts to attorneys. That's a good portion of one's lifetime down the tubes waiting. I don't think disasters like this are covered by insurance. So in the case of a fishing company, it's pretty much game over. From Wikipedia:

According to several studies funded by the state of Alaska, the spill had both short- and long-term economic effects. These included the loss of recreational sports, fisheries, reduced tourism, and an estimate of what economists call "existence value," which is the value to the public of a pristine Prince William Sound.

The larger concern here is the consequences of risks undertaken by individuals resulting in damages to unrelated third parties. This oil spill is not an isolated event, only the biggest incident of such an event. Off shore oil drilling is inherently risky in a way that oil drilling on land isn't, for precisely this reason. Doesn't the community have an interest in limiting individuals/companies from undertaking risk that can potentially cause such massive and lasting damage to others, or at least in overseeing operators undertaking such risk to help prevent such consequences in the future?

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It's clear everyone agrees that if BP is liable for the accident they should pay the damages. What might be problematic is that it could take 10 years or maybe 20 to be awarded any damages, and huge up-front payouts to attorneys. That's a good portion of one's lifetime down the tubes waiting. I

Well, after the Exxon Valdez accident, Exxon paid out $500 mill. to those affected, almost immediately. However, even though that amount was nearly double the damages actually caused, the victims were not satisfied, and sued for more. It took a Supreme Court decision, many years later, to overturn the result of that jury trial, and rule that the $500 mill. was enough.

I'm sure BP would love to pay as well, as quickly as possible, if the victims agree to a similar settlement. However, this time, in light of what happened after Exxon paid up (they almost got screwed in Court), I'm sure BP will only pay those victims which agree to end all litigation. They'd be stupid to pay, and fund the litigation against themselves.

Off shore oil drilling is inherently risky.

All human activity is inherently risky. This accident only caused material damages, which can be repaid. In general, off shore drilling causes minimal loss of life, and I'm not aware of anyone who didn't sign up for it, who was killed by a rig. So I disagree that off shore drilling is more risky than most human activities. Driving a cab is far riskier, because the many people killed by cabs every year cannot be reimbursed for their loss.

Doesn't the community have an interest in limiting individuals/companies from undertaking risk that can potentially cause such massive and lasting damage to others, or at least in overseeing operators undertaking such risk to help prevent such consequences in the future?

I don't know what you mean by community. If you mean the political establishment, then probably. The purpose of that establishment is to increase its power, so yes, any extra regulation achieves that. But if you mean the individual Americans who don't seek power over their fellow men, then no: having their government initiate force against any person is definitely not in their best interest, since once it happens to BP, it will happen to them too. A it does, all the time, precisely because they conceded that power to the government a long time ago.

(edited for spelling - stupid keyboard)

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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Exxon paid out $500 mill. to those affected, almost immediately.

I couldn't find anything to verify Exxon paid out $500 million to victims right away. My understanding is that amount was the actual damages they were sued for, and wasn't arrived at until a jury made a determination in 1994. That's five years, not "almost immediately." And you figure the lawyers take a third of that. The payments averaged out to about $15,000 per plaintiff. I don't know about you but that hardly sounds like adequate compensation for the loss of even a year's pay, much less the loss of one's livelihood through no fault of your own. One in six plaintiffs died before they got any money.

All human activity is inherently risky. This accident only caused material damages, which can be repaid. In general, off shore drilling causes minimal loss of life, and I'm not aware of anyone who didn't sign up for it, who was killed by a rig. So I disagree that off shore drilling is more risky than most human activities. Driving a cab is far riskier, because the many people killed by cabs every year cannot be reimbursed for their loss.

You are wrong in that it is not about simply throwing money at people and making it all go away. The fishing industry was devastated and still hasn't fully recovered. The tourism industry took a hit and the continues to because the pristine area people came to visit, especially wildlife, hasn't fully recovered. There are still 26,000 gallons of oil on the beaches that was never cleaned up. The impact goes on and on into the future.

Driving a cab may be more risky to one's person, but that is beside the point. I can't wreck my cab and cause billions of dollars in damages to others. Even if I could, try and collect it from my meager assets.

Again, aren't there some limits as to the risks one should be allowed to take in society, risks that could endanger others or cause damage to others' property, e.g should I be able to erect a shoddily built apartment building at the top of a hill that may possibly crumble and destroy all the buildings below it? Does government have a compelling interest to moderate excessive risk by employing some oversight over certain activities, in order to protect the community from harm or property damage?

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I couldn't find anything to verify Exxon paid out $500 million to victims right away. My understanding is that amount was the actual damages they were sued for, and wasn't arrived at until a jury made a determination in 1994. That's five years, not "almost immediately."

Look at the wiki page of the Exxon Valdez spill, and that of the EXXON SHIPPING CO. et al. v. BAKER et al..

And you figure the lawyers take a third of that.

Do you have a source for that?

If yes, I wouldn't pay that much money to my lawyer. But what are you getting at? Should the government stop them from hiring lawyers who charge that much?

The payments averaged out to about $15,000 per plaintiff. I don't know about you but that hardly sounds like adequate compensation for the loss of even a year's pay, much less the loss of one's livelihood through no fault of your own. One in six plaintiffs died before they got any money.

Based on what? Here's the Supreme Court ruling in the largest lawsuit against Exxon, decided in 2008:

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getc...mp;invol=07-219

That is the current, and final ruling of the US Justice System on the matter. Please read it, and point out the specific outcomes in it, that you find unfair. Please provide evidence of the Court's error and/or malice.

You are wrong in that it is not about simply throwing money at people and making it all go away. The fishing industry was devastated and still hasn't fully recovered. The tourism industry took a hit and the continues to because the pristine area people came to visit, especially wildlife, hasn't fully recovered. There are still 26,000 gallons of oil on the beaches that was never cleaned up. The impact goes on and on into the future.

Let's say you back out of your driveway, and hit someone's car, because you weren't paying attention. What do you owe that person, and based on which principle? The same exact principle applies to this case.

A court of law, aided by experts, estimated the damages in the Exxon vs. Baker case at $287 million. That ruling is I'm sure also available some place. You're welcome to find it and correct it. But until than I'll take their word over your guesses.

Driving a cab may be more risky to one's person, but that is beside the point. I can't wreck my cab and cause billions of dollars in damages to others. Even if I could, try and collect it from my meager assets.

There are millions of cabs in the world, that easily kill far more people than drilling for oil ever could.

Again, aren't there some limits as to the risks one should be allowed to take in society, risks that could endanger others or cause damage to others' property,

The answer to that is no, but only with a modification: You may not act in a way that does endanger others. "Could" endanger others, on the other hand, does not mean it does endanger others. The government may not prevent future, potential crimes, only actual crimes. The reason: a future, potential crime cannot be known, those who claim to know it are in contradiction with human nature. The government must act on proof, and you cannot prove future human actions, because men have free will.

For instance the fact that I buy a gun does not mean I'll kill my neighbor, so the government may not prevent the "risk" to my neighbor. There in fact is no risk, the claim that there is fundamentally illogical. The government must prove that I actually am a criminal, before they may use force against me.

The government may not prevent an oil company from drilling in the open ocean, to prevent them from neglecting the rig and spilling oil on the shore. They need proof of wrongdoing to use force against them. If the government is alerted to an actual rig, which is actually in a neglected state, and they have actual proof that this rig constitutes an actual threat to the shore, then they may act. But the level of threat must be objectively enforced, meaning that if you are willing to let the government act against an oil company based on the state of that rig that poses a threat to the shore, you must be prepared for them to act against you, when you pose a threat to a single person's property.

e.g should I be able to erect a shoddily built apartment building at the top of a hill that may possibly crumble and destroy all the buildings below it?

This time, I'll just say yes. The government needs evidence that the building is an actual threat, before they act. If you show up in Court and say "My neighbor's house may possibly crumble on mine", you should be thrown out. May possibly crumble is an entirely meaningless phrase, you might as well be smacking two pots together for the judge, hoping to get a favorable ruling. Anything may possibly crumble.

When you decide that the building is objectively a threat to your property, and you have proof, you may ask the government to act against the guy who owns it.

Does government have a compelling interest to moderate excessive risk by employing some oversight over certain activities, in order to protect the community from harm or property damage?

Same answer as before. Define your terms. What do you mean by community? What is being protected?

As far as I am concerned, the government is tasked solely with protecting individual rights. I certainly won't concede that it has the right to do whatever it takes to protect the interests of an undefined entity, whatever you decide to call it.

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Do we yet know the cause of the initial explosion, which killed 11 men? It seems to be drowned in the calls for "regulation, regulation, more regulation!" and "Omg! Oil in the water!" and "Pass cap and trade now!"

Here is now reports of a second Gulf Oil rig accident. This time the rig "overturned" (I don't know how that works) but so far no oil spill.

http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=12500...ctionid=3510203

Edited by 2046
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"Oh, the fools! Why didn't they build it with six thousand and one hulls? When will they learn?" -Fry in Futurama (about a "dark matter" spill in which a 6000 hull spaceship was breached)

"Oh, the fools! Why didn't they build it with six thousand and one emergency safety valves? When will they learn?" -Michael McGuire, first post, above

Just because there are terrible accidents does not mean that whatever activity that you happened to be doing should never be done again. Would one more additional government regulation have prevented this? Why is it that whenever anything bad happens the answer is "government?" Why is it that whenever something good happens and somebody is successful that the answer is "government?" Perhaps it would not be so hard to drill if oil companies were allowed to drill closer than, what, 60 miles from shore?

Edit:

Perhaps we could invent a environmental disaster minority report-like system of precog's that would know in advance what disasters will happen, when. That would solve the problem! There would be no point though, because they would tell us to just destroy all industry.

Edited by th3ranger
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This would be a good place to post links to factual accounts of what happened. This soon after the incident, reliable facts are still scarce.

Somebody reposted an article from Outstanding Investments at saltycajun.com.

A man working on the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion called into the Mark Levin radio show. The interview is available over the internet here.

The ongoing nature of the oil spill is caused by the failure of something called a blowout preventer or BOP. Whether the blowout preventer was faulty, not installed correctly, or damaged by the initial pressure impulse that came out of the well is not known.

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I lived most of my life on the Gulf coast and always go back to Fl once a year. While this accident could turn into even more of an unfortunate and sad situation, the need for energy, for the most part, trumps all concerns for the type of damage that is about to occur. Just as in the Alaskan spill, the oil company will be held accountable. Of course, given that the Gulf coast isn't Alaska, this spill will probably cost more to clean up even if less oil is leaked.

To me a more interesting question presents itself: should oil companies be allowed to drill if unable to cover the cost of a major accident or catastrophe? While I don't think that this event will turn into a catastrophe and BP will be able to stop the leak, what if they couldn't cover to cost of the damages to property? A company that isn't able to come close to covering those costs shouldn't be able to drill in the Gulf. That leaves only major oil companies, like BP, to be given the possibility--which maybe the case, I don't know. Additionally, I would say that lifting the "moratorium" on drilling in the Gulf is essential in getting accidents cleaned up with minimal government involvement (money). If the oil companies aren't making any money, they won't have money for cleanup.

What ever happens in this case, one thing is clear: the ability for oil companies to mitigate the damage of spills in the Gulf must reviewed. While there is no catastrophe yet, the response by BP was extremely underwhelming. Skimmers and fires will not cut it. Some sort of mitigation infrastructure must be established and enforced. If I were an oil executive or entrepreneur, I would set up a co-op with others in the industry to create this clean-up organization.

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To me a more interesting question presents itself: should oil companies be allowed to drill if unable to cover the cost of a major accident or catastrophe?
The even more interesting question transcends drilling and oil. It is whether any person or company should be allowed to engage in an activity, if they are unable to cover their liability in case of accident. For example, should you be allowed to drive a car if you cannot cover your liability in case you plow into a bus? Should you be allowed to burn sticks in an outdoor fire pit if you cannot cover the cost of your neighbor's house in case you set it on fire? Should you be allowed to sell radish sprouts if you cannot cover your liability when the sprouts turn out to be infected with bacteria that kills a dozen people? In addition, the question must be asked in terms of whether the liability absolutely cannot be covered because the damages exceed the total assets, or whether the liability cannot conveniently be covered because paying damages would seriously hurt the financial position of the person or business (e.g. would force the business to sell 50% of its assets; would force the individual to liquidate 50% of their assets including their retirement plan or house).

A starting point for analyzing the question is the simple fact that you do not have a right to trespass on another man's property and cause them harm. Therefore, even though you have a right to burn sticks in your fire pit, you do not have the right to cause embers to land on your neighbor's property and cause fire damage. If you do so, that is initiation of force, and the law will rightly require you to compensate your harmed neighbor. There is no right to avoid responsibility for your actions.

The problem is that the fact of driving a car, trimming a tree, having a fire or drilling for oil is not initiation of force per se in the way that an actual threat is. It is proper for the government to prohibit threats (period, without any qualifications), and not proper for the government to prohibit dangerous acts. To what extent should the government prohibit a person's performance of dangerous acts without them having the ability to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions?

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To what extent should the government prohibit a person's performance of dangerous acts without them having the ability to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions?

If an act is known to be dangerous, then how is it different from an act that is threatening? Furthermore, is not an inability to take responsibility, though involving a derivative question of compensation, ultimately entailed by the concept of 'threat', i.e. the threat that, once wronged, you won't be compensated for the wrong done against you? I am suggesting that a dangerous act and inability to take responsibility for foreseeable harm is a kind of threat, hence properly within the ambit of government prohibition. An example would be the requirement to carry auto insurance to compensate victims hurt in a possible collision.

But what the question then really turns on is foreseeability, as well as a legally enforceable requirement to mitigate risk. For example, if it was known that BP's wells could start spewing enough oil to cause harm to their neighbors, then it would be proper to require that they not drill recklessly and have the tools on hand that are needed to cap possible leaks.

At this point it is hard to separate fact from hysteria, but if the danger is as bad as some people are saying then we will simply have to live with the consequences. Who is John Galt?

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If an act is known to be dangerous, then how is it different from an act that is threatening? Furthermore, is not an inability to take responsibility, though involving a derivative question of compensation, ultimately entailed by the concept of 'threat', i.e. the threat that, once wronged, you won't be compensated for the wrong done against you? I am suggesting that a dangerous act and inability to take responsibility for foreseeable harm is a kind of threat, hence properly within the ambit of government prohibition. An example would be the requirement to carry auto insurance to compensate victims hurt in a possible collision.

But what the question then really turns on is foreseeability, as well as a legally enforceable requirement to mitigate risk. For example, if it was known that BP's wells could start spewing enough oil to cause harm to their neighbors, then it would be proper to require that they not drill recklessly and have the tools on hand that are needed to cap possible leaks.

Foreseeably, lighting a candle in your house could set the whole neighbourhood ablaze, but I don't think that's grounds for the government to implement fire-safety building codes dictating how a property owner can and cannot build on his property. Risky behaviour is not threatening behaviour, and this accident does not call for increased regulation regarding the oil industry (or any other industry).

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Foreseeably, lighting a candle in your house could set the whole neighbourhood ablaze, but I don't think that's grounds for the government to implement fire-safety building codes dictating how a property owner can and cannot build on his property. Risky behaviour is not threatening behaviour, and this accident does not call for increased regulation regarding the oil industry (or any other industry).

Maybe not grounds for building codes in particular, but maybe a requirement to exercise proper care with your candle or to not light it at all if you're a butterfingers. Going with your hypothetical, there is a known possibility ("could") that it will damage your neighbors property if proper care isn't exercised. Risky behavior is threatening behavior if undertaken with conscious, hence deliberate, recklessness.

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The problem is that the fact of driving a car, trimming a tree, having a fire or drilling for oil is not initiation of force per se in the way that an actual threat is. It is proper for the government to prohibit threats (period, without any qualifications), and not proper for the government to prohibit dangerous acts. To what extent should the government prohibit a person's performance of dangerous acts without them having the ability to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions?

I've not even come close to making my mind up about this issue, but as of right now I lean towards having the safety of oil drilling in the Gulf increased and reviewed on a regular basis. To an extent, I think the government already does this with the energy sector, specifically nuclear energy. Additionally, while the drilling for oil in the Gulf is not an initiation of force, I consider the potential for oil spill to be a real threat to the property owners that line the coast; and really I should change my terminology because I don't consider an accident to be an initiation of force, although it can turn in to one.

Maybe this issue is more about scale than anything, like a rational position on pollution. For example, while a factory is indeed releasing a certain level of pollutant into the air or water way, and tainting property in some manner, there is no claim that should be allowed unless the scale of the pollution becomes significantly higher. Likewise, threat involved with someone burning brush, a few times a year for lawn care, cannot be equated to the hypothetical threat of some business that burned the brush, at the same spot, on a regular basis. In one case, the individual will still be held responsible, but there is significantly less threat; however, the business or regular burning has an very high threat and is more like to lead to the neighborhood being burnt to the ground. Of course, sometimes, the burning of brush is illegal due to local burn bans. That recently occurred here last week when there had been no rain, the dew point was below 25, and the wind was blowing 20+ mph.

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Maybe not grounds for building codes in particular, but maybe a requirement to exercise proper care with your candle or to not light it at all if you're a butterfingers. Going with your hypothetical, there is a known possibility ("could") that it will damage your neighbors property if proper care isn't exercised. Risky behavior is threatening behavior if undertaken with conscious, hence deliberate, recklessness.

At this point I am for more oversight, but I won't go as far as saying BP behavior, though conscious and deliberate, was reckless--if that is even what you are saying. BP did have supposed methods of preventing the spills, and I don't think there is really a case for negligence here. However, on the other hand, large oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, through off shore rig accidents, is not unheard of. The Ixtoc I rig explosion, that I just recently read about, a rig with similar fail-safes, caused the biggest oil spill in the history of the world, and it happened in the Gulf. It seems like some sort of mitigation system would be in place to deal with such a thing, 31 years after the incident; something other than small oil booms that seem more geared towards lakes, instead of oceans with waves, should have been at the ready. I don't think there's any doubt, however, that there will be more preparedness for the next event.

Edited by RussK
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If an act is known to be dangerous, then how is it different from an act that is threatening?
I guess I consider it self-evident that the two are different. Although perhaps you are distinguishing "threats that are perfectly proper" versus "threats that are to be prohibited and prosecuted". Examples of dangerous acts which should not be prohibited by law are: driving a car, driving a big-rig, demolishing a building, making a fire, manufacturing chairs, manufacturing paint, selling gasoline.
Furthermore, is not an inability to take responsibility, though involving a derivative question of compensation, ultimately entailed by the concept of 'threat', i.e. the threat that, once wronged, you won't be compensated for the wrong done against you?
No: if you threaten to destroy a person's property, that fact does not entail that you will be unable to take responsibility for the act (whether or not you make good on the threat). A threat is directly saying, or implying by word or deed, that you will initiate force against another person. There is no connection between threatening a person and you being able to compensate a person.
I am suggesting that a dangerous act and inability to take responsibility for foreseeable harm is a kind of threat, hence properly within the ambit of government prohibition. An example would be the requirement to carry auto insurance to compensate victims hurt in a possible collision.
An inability to compensate victims is not a threat. The problem, I think, is that "threat" is used by people in two ways. One is with respect to any risk, so that a rock might threaten a bird (if it falls on the bird) and clouds might threaten a party. The other sense, specifically applicable to discussions of law, is the initiation of force by a person, without the actualization of force. So when we say that it is proper for the government to prohibit "threats", that specifically means only the initiation of force, and it does not mean that it's proper for the government to outlaw all risks. The only excuse for ever saying that the government should respond to threats is to specifically identify the initiation of force where the force has not been actualized.
But what the question then really turns on is foreseeability, as well as a legally enforceable requirement to mitigate risk.
To the extent that that's true, it's because the law should have nothing to say about unforseeable outcomes, be it w.r.t. prevention or even civil penalties. Thus I think it goes without saying that if the consequences really are unforseeable, then that is basically too bad for the folks that suffer the loss.

What exactly is this legally enforceable requirement to mitigate risk? If it is "legally enforceable", then it would mean that a person / business has an obligation to prevent a specific level of risk, by some kind of prophylactic action. Example: "no explosive device capable of producing more that 100 newtons of force may be kept or brought within 100 meters of any person or property of another person".

The point is that it is not the function of government to make life nice for everybody. The function of government is to use force in an objectively specified manner to prevent the initiation of force. Engaging in a dangerous activity is not the initiation of force, therefore it is not proper for the government to prohibit all dangerous acts.

Relying on the word "threat" will confuse the discussion, and I do regret having said that it is proper for the government to prohibit threats. It is only proper for the government to prohibit the initiation of force -- "threats" in a very restricted sense.

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A threat is directly saying, or implying by word or deed, that you will initiate force against another person.

Agreed; I misunderstood your statement. The question should be whether force is initiated. However, my question then is this: can force be initiated by conscious and deliberate recklessness? Driving a car should not be prohibited, but what about driving a car recklessly on a crowded highway in a manner that puts others' safety at risk? Does that count as initiation of force?

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It's my understanding that with the current ownership and rules of the road, it does count as initiation of force, which is why the police can step in. If the road was actual private property, it would depend on the property owner's rules. Is driving like that putting someone "at risk"? Yes, but it's not an initiation of force until property damage happens (a crash), or if the reckless driver is breaking the rules of a privately owned road. If someone is running fast on a sidewalk and waving their arms around crazily, they are putting others at risk of getting a punch in the face, but it's not a threat nor is it an initiation of force, until someone is hit. What if someone is driving extremely slowly on a fast moving highway? I'd say that's putting others' safety at risk too, but until a crash happens, then there hasn't been an initiation of force. What about cell phone use? Putting on make-up? Chatting in the car? All of these are "reckless" behaviours while driving, but it's the same argument that if something is "risky" then government should put a stop to it (at least it has with cell phone use).

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