How do Libertarians Feel About Telemarketing, Spam, Junk-fax, etc?

Kinda curious. I put it in GD because let’s face reality - libertarianism is pretty controversial.

I’m not a lib exactly, but spam/telemarketers wastes MY time and bandwidth. It’s a form of theft, no question, though a fairly minor form.

I know someone who labels himself a lib, & he does not like spam, etc.

How do Libertarians Feel About Telemarketing, Spam, Junk-fax, etc?

Which “libertarians” would that be?

What I call classical libertarians — typified by the Libertarian Party in the USA — generally equate minimum government intervention with maximum liberty… it’s virtually an axiom. So I’d assume they figure it’s up to ISPs to work out ways to fight spam if that’s more cost-effective than accepting it, and up to end-users to help make it cost-effective by “voting with their pocketbooks” and choosing service providers who deal with spam in ways they consider appropriate. Similarly with junk mail, faxes, etc. and the communications and equipment providers necessary for those activities.

The more “left-wing” libertarians (such as the libertarian socialists) cannot resort to such a simple analysis, since we figure oppression of liberty is no better if it comes from the private sector than from government. (In fact, it’s often worse: because governments are generally somewhat more beholden to democratic process than are private institutions within the same society.)

Personally, I’m really more worried about anti-spam measures than spam itself. Telemarketing, junk-fax, spam and the like can be dealt with — given a little technological help — so that they’re more on the level of an annoyance than a real problem for individuals. Spam, though, undoubtedly increases costs for e-mail service providers (as well as creating bad PR for those who don’t “fight” it). I fear that “fighting spam” could easily become a “cover” for fighting various forms of anonymous and/or unpopular speech; or even if they weren’t targeted, they could get lost in the shuffle with no real concern in the light of the “horrible UCE menace.” That would be a much bigger loss than the few moments it takes to delete yet another “enlarge your body_part_of_your_choice” message.

So… whatever happened to

I think you’re right, and it seems to me that this rather mundane example shows a tremendous weakness in the libertarian position.

See, whenever I’ve had discussions with libertarians, they’ve generally described some intricate free-market solution to problems I’ve posed.

However, the free market has arguably had a decent chance to deal with spam, telemarketing, and junk-fax, all to no avail.

The reality is that right now, certain problems can be solved only by government intervention.

Why would you imagine that libertarians would feel differently about these things than anyone else? The simple, glib answer is that I feel I have the right to make all decisions with respect to my property. My phone, my fax number, and my e-mail account are all my property; ergo, anyone sending anything to them without my permission is usurping my right to make those decisions.

Anyway, you’re wrong about the free market. It recently has developed several innovations to defeat telemarketing callers. One is the TeleZapper which you can buy at pretty much any consumer electronics store. Another is Call Intercept (or other similar local phone company offerings), which requires callers to identify themselves to the system before your phone will even ring. I signed up for it six months ago, and I cannot remember the last time I got a telemarketing call.

So, rather than deal with telling telemarketers one-by-one to put you on their “Do Not Call” lists, then trying to keep track of who you’ve told and whether they’ve called you again; or deal with FCC and FTC complaints and rules about who can call you when, and how you get out of their databases, you can simply pay a one-time charge for a device or a low monthly telco fee, and not get the calls in the first place.

Looks to me like the market has succeeded where the government, in fact, failed.


So you have purchased your property, namely, your telephone number and your email address.

Then you must purchase a device or a service to rid your telephone line of irritating telemarketers.

Ownership of this property entitles you to the right to make certain decisions.

Telemarketers usurp this right.

So not only do you have to pay once to earn this right, namely, by purchasing a telephone number, but you have to pay twice, by purchasing some additional service.

Is my understanding of your analysis correct?

If so, I wonder how you could possibly deem this a market success.

I don’t know if I count, since I’m not a registered Libertarian (I’m actually the founding member of the "leave me the fk alone"** party) BUT:

I’d rather not have the gov’t pass any more laws than are strictly necessary (I don’t really think they’re the right agency to deal with most issues, anyway).

I’d be more than happy to use the TeleZapper, or to tell the telemarketer to “just hang on a sec”, and go back to my dinner. I’m pretty capable of deleting Spam, as well.

That being said, I have signed up for the “No-call list”. Hell, if the law is there anyway, might as well take advantage of it…

My $0.02

Well, it’s real simple:

A. The problem– Telemarketers making telephone calls that people don’t want to receive.

B. The solution– A way to keep telemarketers from being able to call your house.

I pay taxes, involuntarily, to a government which has refused to implement an effective method for getting from A to B. I can choose to pay money to a non-government party which will instantly get from A to B.

Which party was able to meet my need, and under what sort of context is it operating? If you guessed “the second one” and “a market context,” you win a kewpie doll.

The government, because of common carrier laws and First Amendment concerns, will never be able to stop telemarketing. Ever. The market can, and has, by making it impossible for the telemarketers to connect with you. Sounds like success to me, unless you have some other definition.

A success would be only paying once for rights that conferred by the use of the good itself.

What if, for example, you found out that an important marketing company whose major source of revenue were from telemarketing owned a large share of the telezapper, or perhaps funded much of its r&d and now makes a fortune by licensing its product.

Would that make you feel any differently?

I am not sure that a telephone number is “property” in the usual sense. It is more like a license or some such. I don’t think I can sell my phone number, or destroy my phone number, or erase my phone number. And, I have to pay indefinitely for the continuing right to use my phone number or it reverts back to the phone company. When I move I loose my phone number, and the telephone company doesn’t pay me for it. If a phone number is not a piece of property I don’t think you can say that a telemarketer calling my phone number has denied me the fair use of that property.

As has been pointed out the market has provided devices to deter telemarketers, and I am sure if telemarketers were a bigger problem even more people would be offering devices to counter them. The fact is that many people would rather deal with the occasional TM than lay out $15 for a device to stop them alltogether. If TMs started calling every 30 seconds, you bet more people would buy the device. It seems to be simple supply and demand economics to me, I don’t see a market failure here.

Maeglin, I think maybe I didn’t adequately explain the scope of my answer. The key words in my first post were “I feel.” If we lived in a perfectly libertarian context, my feelings would be reflective of reality. As it stands, in the context we live in, they’re more a reflection of how I would prefer things to be. The government we do live under has granted rights to other parties, however, that involve the use of my phone, fax and e-mail.

Thus, the only solution that has arisen which achieves the desired result – stopping all telemarketing calls – has come from the market and not the government. And in the context under which we live, that’s the only possible solution.

Not even a little bit.

I don’t believe that holding a phone number entitles you to take action against people who call that number, unless they have specifically know that you don’t want to hear from them. The free-market solution sounds great to me.

Personally, I wish telemarketers would call more often, they give me a chance to amuse friends and family by pitching back at them.


There is a free market effort to kill spam. Read all about it here

It is called blackholing. If a network is either a) allowing users of that network to spam or b) has the sendmail setup in an insecure fashion that allows spammers to use the networks servers for relay spam then that network is cut off. It is pretty damned effective. IIRC, Hotmail, AOL and some other big comapines hit the blackhole list and rectified the situation really quickly.


I can’t speak for all Libertarians, but I generally feel rather annoyed by these things.

That is a pretty strong empirical claim based on what appears to be anecdotal evidence. I have gotten rid of telemarketers quite easily by employing government solutions, which took no time at all and required no outlay of cash. A statement like, that’s the only possible solution appears to be grounded more in dogma than in fact.

I appreciate your consistency. Our differences seem to be more ideological than factual in this matter.

Well, you don’t have to answer the phone, and you can just hang up on them, so it seems a little loose to say they are stealing your time.

First and foremost: Government shouldn’t be in the business of restricting / regulating the rights of individuals to place phone calls, whatever their purpose.

Secondly: The receiver of the phone call has every right to take only the calls they wish to.

Thirdly: I consider any and all phone calls an intrusion on an individual’s “personal sovereignty” (for lack of a better term).

That being said: I assume the libertarian solution would be to lift ALL Caller ID firewalls that today are in place to protect celebrities, politicians and perverts who don’t want to be identified on current caller ID devices.

If every nationally placed phone call {I have no idea what would happen if all the telemarketers routed the calls via international lines} were identifiable, the ability to screen out unwanted calls would no longer be an issue.

So, is your thought that the Libertarians would seek government restrictions on Caller ID firewalls? I can see supporting a company that came up with a technology to “see through” Caller ID blocks, but not passing more legislation.

Very simply put, the Libertarian view (in my understanding of it) is that the government in general, and laws in particular, have a very limited place in our lives. In many, many cases, government interference in a problem, or legislation on an issue, simply makes things worse.

How do Libertarians feel about telemarketing, spam, junk faxes? How do Democrats feel about a stranger coming up and thunking them on the nose? How does the American Communist Party (or the Republicans, or Ralph Nader’s Green Party) feel about the neighbor’s dog crapping on their yard? They don’t like it. It’s annoying as Hell. The question is what they feel should be done about it.