Friday, April 11, 2014

Euvoluntary Extortion?

The great nation of Mungertopia offers residents fertile plains, majestic mountains, rivers brimming with fish, and golden sands ready to invite frolicking maidens to dance under a generous sun. Beautiful though Mungertopia might be, those who dwell there tend to toil modestly, an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.

But one day, in a far-flung fiefdom, a largely-ignored and mostly-forgotten clan discovered a hidden magic. No ordinary magic this, it was a magic that grew more powerful the more people used it. And so they shared it. Most Mungertopians rejoiced as their lives grew richer under the spells woven by this magic. But all was not well. In the far-flung fiefdom, the largely-ignored and mostly-forgotten clan shared land with a crew of local toughs who were well-poised to inconvenience clan members in their daily routine. And the local gendarmerie were not particularly inclined to stop them, thanks in part to the twofold propensity for the largely-ignored and mostly-forgotten clan members to be a) a bit obnoxious and b) rich. And not just rich, but callow rich, nouveau riche, possessed of wealth but not of class, dripping with earnings, but barren of taste, restraint, or noblesse oblige.

And so one fine day, the local toughs girdled their loins, sauntered up to the largely-ignored and mostly-forgotten clan, and issued an ultimatum: "hand us a portion of your wealth and we'll leave you in peace. We will use it to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the indigent. Our vision of a more perfect Mungertopia is not all that different from yours, though our means be different. Trust us."

The subtext is, of course, a veiled threat. The local toughs could indeed harass, delay, inconvenience, bully, and spite the largely-ignored and mostly-forgotten clan with relative impunity. That is to say that the opportunity costs for the local toughs to indulge their taste for thuggery is considerably lower than the avoidance costs for the largely-ignored and mostly-forgotten clan members. And the clan really likes the fiefdom they've settled in: it's beautiful, the weather is clement, the food excellent, and the land aromatic. Could the toughs' attempt at extortion be considered somehow euvoluntary?

What if instead of Mungertopia, this occurred in the Bay Area? From KR, anarchists attempt to shake down Google. Thanks Kyle. Thyle.

Legally, this may not be precisely extortion, but come on. With ordinary citizens already getting all puffy about Google running buses out to the compound, it's easy to imagine an anti-gentrification groundswell leading to full-fledged riots, complete with arson and looting. Forking over $3B to buy civil rest (even if it's through more conventional channels) might well be worth the price tag. Right?

When a mugger holds a gun to my head and demands my money or my life, my BATNA is pretty darn unattractive. When a gang of anarchists holds a riot to the head of my multi-billion dollar tech enterprise, the same moral intuition may not apply so readily.

Agree? Disagree? Is this, or something like it, approaching euvoluntary? Why or why not?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You should write a novel. You have a David Wong Neal Stephenson quality about you.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?