Monday, May 21, 2007

Morality and the Market Economy

For all of you out there who still think that I (along with all other Libertarians) am a soulless, ethically challenged corporate shill because I support a truly free market, I present the hereto linked article: Plunder or Enterprise: The World's Choice, by Thomas E Woods

It clearly illustrates the exact reasons for which I support the market economy...not because I think businesses are all great and wonderful, but because the free market is a framework that encourages morality and ethical behavior while punishing the opposite. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but there are a few passages that I think are particularly poignant:

One of the market's virtues, and the reason it enables so much peaceful interaction and cooperation among such a great variety of peoples, is that it demands of its participants only that they observe a relatively few basic principles, among them honesty, the sanctity of contracts, and respect for private property.

By observing (and enforcing) these few simple rules, a very strong ethical and moral system is that fosters peaceful exchange and concern for the well-being of others:
The market all but compels people to be other-regarding, but not by means of intimidation, threats, and propaganda, as in socialist and statist systems. It employs the perfectly normal, morally acceptable desire to improve one's material conditions and station in life, both of which can grow under capitalism only by directing one's efforts to the production of a good or service that improves the well-being of his fellow man.
The author also addresses various objections to the market by its critics. For instance,
It takes little imagination to surmise how critics of the market would respond to such a claim [that the market itself encourages moral behavior.] Doesn't the market encourage greed, rivalry, and discord? Does it not urge people to think only of themselves, accumulating wealth with no thought to any other concern?
And responds...
That human beings seek their own well-being and that of those close to them is not an especially provocative discovery. What is important is that this universal aspect of human nature persists no matter what economic system is in place; it merely expresses itself in different forms. For all their saccharine rhetoric, for example, communist apparatchiks were not known for their disinterested commitment to the common good. They, too, sought to improve their own well-being — except they lived in a system in which all such improvements came at the expense of their fellow human beings, rather than, as in a market economy, as a reward for serving them.
The author goes on to challenge several criticisms of the market economy, each time responding with what I feel is an excellent illustration of some of the best reasons to support the free market.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Please Help Me Understand

I need some help. I'm having a difficult time understanding something, and I'd like your input on the subject...

In general, there is a great deal more distrust of the market than of government. Many people put a lot more faith in government to solve problems and provide for us than in the free market.

Why is this? If you are one who has little or no faith in the market and instead trust the government to protect and provide for us, please tell me why.

I'm not baiting anyone for the purpose of blasting them, I just really want to get a handle on that side of this argument. That said, here are some lead-in questions and observations:

  1. Corporations are made up of people. Government is also made up of people. Both are subject to the same human shortcomings, desires, vices, etc. What makes one more or less trustworthy than the other?

  2. If your answer to the first question was something like, "Corporations are motivated by profits, and profits are evil." Then my question is, "What, then, motivates government?" Are the individuals in government somehow motivated by some higher or more legitimate cause? Are they somehow less corruptible than the individuals who make up a corporation?

    My bet is that this is not likely. Politicians have to be motivated by something, and I'd stake my left nut on the bet that they're motivated by power. Now, it could be that they only desire power so they can "do good things", but it's power nonetheless, and being human means that they are corruptible...just as much so as the individuals who run corporations. In fact, they may be more susceptible than corporate shills simply because they stand to suffer little or no loss for their mistakes or outright corruption. At best, they receive a slap on the wrist for their wrongdoings. In a free market setting, however, there are numerous mechanisms to ensure that the costs of corporate corruption are born by those who are corrupt...until government interferes to shift those costs to taxpayers, of course.

  3. Finally, if we don't trust the individuals in government any more than the individuals in corporations why do we keep putting government in charge of more and more of our money, freedom, and personal affairs?

Let the enlightenment begin!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

TV - "Educator" of the Masses

I get irritated with television a lot. Of course, I'm not the only one. With all the different programming on television anymore, probably every viewer gets irritated with it at some point. My beef, though, isn't with the boring programming, inane "reality" shows, or sex and violence (in fact, I'm all for those latter two). What I specifically object to is the "message" that most television programming seems to tend toward, particularly with regard to economics, history, or government.

Now, as a free market advocate, I realize that it is not my place to determine what others watch or don't watch. I'm not advocating that any particular programming be taken off the air or censored for any reason (even if it just plain sucks). So, this post is basically just me bitching about something that irks me. (Enough of a disclaimer for you, Kathy? ;)

My wife and I watch Law and Order: SVU a lot. We like the drama of the show, the cases are usually interesting, and Mariska Hargitay is totally hot, so there are lots of good reasons to like it. Too often, though, the point the writers seem to be trying to make about politics, society, or whatever, bugs the crap outta me.

One recent episode in particular set me off on a tirade...

A convicted pedophile was being charged with the rape and murder of a young girl, to which he confessed. He claimed, though, that he had been successful in resisting his urges until he started receiving emails from a porn site featuring photos of 18-year-old women doctored to appear many years younger. The web site's owner was then indicted as a responsible party in the crime by virtue of his marketing to known pedophiles via email. The pedophile claimed to have attempted to unsubscribe from the site's mailing list to no avail, and the repeated emails wore him down to the point where he could no longer resist the urge to take advantage of young girls. The site's owner was found guilty as an accessory to the rape and murder of the pedophile's victim.

Now, I agree that the practice of marketing child pornography (or virtual pornography in this case, since the photos were of legal-age women) to known pedophiles may be deplorable, but I don't believe it constitutes a crime. At worst, the site's owner was guilty of fraud because the pedophile's email address was not removed from their mailing list when requested. Even so, there were plenty of other measures the pedophile himself could have taken to make the emails stop. There is a lot of spam-blocking software out there, and most ISPs and email programs allow the user to create a list of blocked addresses. Failing that, he could have just as easily changed his email address altogether. Had he wanted to resist, the tools were available for him to do so.

The owner of the website may indeed be among the world's biggest assholes, but again, being an asshole isn't a crime. Noone's rights were violated by his marketing tactics, so the commission of the crime against the young girl was the responsibility of the pedophile, regardless of any outside influence.

Yes, I know we're talking about fiction here. It's just television. It's not real. Still, people believe a lot of what they see on TV, and I doubt that many people took a minute to think about how the outcome of the case on Law and Order fit into their own system of beliefs. More than likely their response was purely emotional...agreeing that the filthy evil porn-monger should go to jail for feeding on the weakness of his fellow man...feeling that the real victim was the pedophile, who just couldn't help himself.

Again, I'm in no way advocating censorship. The First Amendment protects the porn-monger equally to the Law and Order writers and all our various news media outlets. It falls to each of us to question how what we see on TV fits into our own system of beliefs, rather than allowing ourselves to be swayed by an emotional response presented as entertainment.

Copy Wars

So somebody has finally cracked the code needed to remove copy protection from all high-definition (HD) DVDs, and in a move that's been described by some as "liberating" they've posted it all over the 'net. Download junkies can now freely copy and redistribute any HD-DVD they like, and no one would be the wiser. Hardly surprising is that the HD-DVD Consortium has declared this a criminal act, and more than one website has removed the code from message boards and blog posts., however, has chosen to allow the code to remain on its website in a dubious effort to fight a "way for big business to gouge individuals." ABCNews calls the decision "irresponsible" and even "craven", saying that Digg's founder should have stood up to his customers and protect the Consortium's trade secrets. I believe, though, that they've missed the point entirely.

The ABCNews article talks about patents, the First Amendment, and the value of information, but I think it's all really a lot simpler than that. When you, as a consumer, purchase a CD, DVD, book, magazine, newspaper, or any other type of media, you enter into a voluntary contract with the media's publisher which states that by purchasing the item you agree not to copy its contents for redistribution. If you then copy and redistribute the contents in a manner that violates the contract you've committed a crime...a breach of contract. That's it...period.

On another note, I have no opinion on what Kevin Rose should have done about the content that was posted on his website, but trotting out the First Amendment as an attempt to protect oneself from retribution for wrongdoing is crap. The First Amendment doesn't allow you to say whatever you want to say with impunity. Words can constitute a crime just as easily as actions can, and the person(s) who broke the copy protection code committed a breach of contract by doing so. The fact that they then turned around and shouted it to the world doesn't absolve them from the crime or bestow upon them some magical protection from recourse by those from whom they have stolen.