Recently a friend was engaged in a dispute before the Employment Relations Authority and during a discussion between the parties the Judge* claimed, and advised all parties, that my friend’s conduct may amount to blackmail. One of the parties involved in the discussion was the Crown and the punishment for blackmail is up to 14 years imprisonment so it was quite a serious proposition**. This got me thinking about blackmail and whether it should be illegal or not.
As far as I can tell blackmail, extortion and duress are much the same thing and are of the following form…
Do X or I’ll do Z.
One problem with blackmail is that many obviously just interactions are this same form*** e.g. “give me a pay rise or I’ll accept another job offer” or “give me back my money or I’ll have you prosecuted for fraud”.
The difference, I think, between just blackmail and unjust blackmail is what is being requested (X) and what is being threatened (Z).
Proposing “do X or I’ll do Z” is no worse than doing X and/or Z.
If X or Z are unjust then laws against X or Z should be sufficient to cover unjust blackmail.
If X or Z are not unjust then laws against this type of blackmail would be unjust.
Therefore, I say, blackmail itself is not unjust and blackmail laws may be unjust in some situations.
My challenge to you is to find examples where blackmail laws would be justified and, where laws against the request and threat wouldn’t be justified.
* ERA decision makers are not actually judges.
** Ironically similar to blackmail i.e. “don’t threaten us or we’ll prosecute you for blackmail”.
*** NZ law arbitrarily allows blackmail if the making of the threat is, in the circumstances, a reasonable and proper means for effecting his or her purpose.
7 thoughts on “Blackmail”
Couldn’t disagree more, Reed. Blackmail is an initiation of force, and thus must always be immoral. In an instance when the result of a blackmail is supposedly moral, that can only have been because the law in that concern is immoral, thus civic action should be about changing that. But the blackmail is still immoral. You have the rule of law, or you don’t.
The Crime of Blackmail: A Libertarian Critique by Walter Block is a must read.
Complaining to Mary: Should Christian Libertarians Defend Blackmail?
A Christian libertarian examination of blackmail
Libertarians and Blackmail
But you could think a little more, Mark. 🙂
What unites libertarians—whether Christian, Objectivist, or some other flavour—is the NIOF (non-initiation of force) principle, which has its canonical statement in Galt’s speech.
If I threaten to disclose details of your (hypothetical) marital indiscretions, I am not initiating, nor threatening to initiate, physical force. Nor am I violating any of your rights. In fact, I am threatening to exercise my own right to free speech.
It would seem, Mark, that you are happy to criminalise free speech to avoid personal embarrassment. How do you plead?
This is very interesting Reed.
I have never thought about this subject.
One ‘black mail’ that i would say is immoral would be in Nazi Germany, Extorting money from someone who had helped Jews, or in today’s NZ extorting money by threatening to dob in a potsmoking Jew to the Police.
In these cases unjust Laws are being used to threaten violence and loss of liberty against a peaceful person.
Should people be punished for spitefully publishing harmful information?
This is worse IMO than blackmail.