Friday, September 3, 2010

The Factory Analogy: Can Government Produce Individual Freedom?

Issue 2 of The Voluntaryist contains the second part of George H. Smith’s THE ETHICS OF VOTING. I wrote a bit about part one here.

This section begins with an institutional analysis of the State which if you recall, is the anarchist insight, recognizing the institution itself as invasive.

Once again, Smith goes into meticulous detail in making his points and I am certainly not going to be able to do it justice here. You can read it for yourself.

What I did find most interesting about Part 2 is that he uses the analogy of a factory and individual workers when making various points. He explains how an individual factory worker’s specific goals and intentions in taking a job really don’t matter as far as the end product of the factory is concerned. No matter what the intentions, the individual worker still plays his role in producing what comes out at the end of the line.

He uses the specific example of a welder in an automobile factory. The welder may say he’s building a boat, his serious intention may be to build a boat, he may even claim to absolutely hate cars, but if he’s in an automobile factory, a boat is not going to be the end product.

I think you can see what he’s setting up here for the political anarchist. Even if a political anarchist says his intentions are to work for freedom by getting elected to office, that’s not what’s being produced in the institution we call the State.

The elected official’s specific reasons or intentions really don’t matter at all in regards to the actual design of the institution. Just like the role of the welder in the car factory, an elected official plays a role in the State “factory.”

Smith also uses this analogy to discuss the question of moral responsibility and the difficulties of determining direct individual responsibility for any result that happens as part of the design of an organization. Who do we say builds a car? No single person actually builds it.

We can, however, figure out who is a member of the organization and who isn’t. The welder is a member of the car building organization and the beautician down the road is not.

He then talks about the fact that there are many shades of gray as to membership in the State. As one example, he mentions people who work in a private business, such as a munitions plant, that sells only to the government. Are they members of the State organization?

He doesn’t really go deeper into this idea but says he will address it at a later time. It does make me wonder about all the new shades of gray we may have added since this was written, particularly considering the recent economic bailouts.

Hey, look, I ended up right back to factories and cars. Or maybe boats. Who knows what they are doing as a result of the bailout. Chevy Waterado, anyone?

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