Friday, February 18, 2011

Should You Give a Damn About Your Reputation?

The last article in Issue 14 of The Voluntaryist is titled “Business Keeps Business Honest,” written by William Vandersteel, who at the time was an associate of the Institute for Humane Studies.

Mr. Vandersteel makes a very good case that our justice system interferes with one of the best ways we have of evaluating potential trade partners: reputation. He writes:

“Not only does our justice system serve little purpose in trade and commerce but its very presence is often counter productive, as is shown by the many businesses and industries that thrive as though our justice system did not exist.”

He shares examples in his article, one of which is the wholesale diamond industry and says mutual trust is often not really based on any real moral sense but on our own self-interest - people will be honest and desire a good reputation because it increases the chances of success.

Also, our justice system can keep people from being as vigilant as we should be in choosing business partners:

The fact is, business would thrive in the absence of our coercive justice system, but an enormous premium would be attached to the integrity of all participants. Before entering into any contract all parties would take great pains to ascertain the integrity of each participant, knowing full well that the performance of the contract rests solely on their reputation for honesty.

By the same token, individuals would strive always to act properly and with the highest integrity, knowing equally well that any blemish on their reputations would virtually bar them from participating in any future business ventures. All this leads to the inevitable conclusion that the very presence of a government
justice system, along with the coercive enforcement measures, invites fraud and crime and tempts individuals to substitute force for integrity.

So yeah we all want a good reputation. Well except for:

Wasn’t that fun? I was waiting for a post where I could listen to some Joan Jett! I love her attitude and style. Now, don’t think Joan doesn’t care about her reputation, I’m sure she’s really no different than the rest of us.

Heck, in rock and roll a “bad reputation” can actually be a good thing because that’s the way the marketing model is set up. But in the end it’s really all about selling music. If I didn’t like to bang my head and listen to the way she screams “ow,” I wouldn’t buy any of her stuff.

I also like how my husband plays out this reputation idea. He’s a self-employed computer consultant and sometimes businesses ask about contracts. He always tells them he doesn’t need one. “My contract is I’ll do the job and if you pay me, I’ll come back. If you don’t want me to come back, then don’t pay me. I’m willing to take responsibility for our first interaction and save all the hassles that go along with contracts.”

It’s all very informal and it works. (EDIT: I had a comment from Carl on this because he said it came across as if my husband didn't expect to get paid, unless the client wanted him to come back. Carl said he presumes my husband expects to get paid for his work - contract or not - but if there is disagreement or hassle, he simply concedes, doesn't worry about his loss, and moves on to the next client. To which my husband says, "exactly." Hope that clears up any confusion or misinterpretation.)

I really need to go now because I want to bang my head some more with Joan so let's end this post with Mr. Vandersteel's ending paragraph, which was great:

The United States Supreme Court once ruled in a sex-related case that behavior between consenting adults was none of the government's business. This ruling is correct in principle and should apply across the board. Trade is one form of behavior between consenting adults and, therefore, should also be none of the government's business.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Really Stepping Into It Now: Abortion

The subject of this post is abortion so go put on your protective gear. Just kidding. Really, no matter where you stand, I think you will agree that, as usual, Wendy McElroy has written an excellent piece, full of well reasoned arguments.

This article also made me wonder about something that I haven’t really thought much about before which you can read about at the end of this post. But first here’s an overview of her article, published in Issue 14, “What Does It Mean To Be An Individual?”

One of the first points Wendy hopes to make clear is the difference between “morality and rights, between the moral and the legal”:

Peaceful activities may be moral or immoral, but they never violate rights. Taking drugs, gambling, or lying to a friend may or may not be immoral, but they are not a violation of rights. In libertarianism, the purpose of law is to protect rights, not to enforce virtue as such; the law does not concern itself with the morality of an action but asks only if it is invasive.

Many people oppose abortion on moral grounds without considering it to be a violation of rights which should be addressed by law. I have no argument with this particular antiabortion position. My argument is with anti-abortionists who attempt to translate their personal moral convictions into laws restricting what I may do with my body. . . those who advocate mandatory motherhood.

Wendy takes the abortion issue down to the root of all rights issues, the concept of self-ownership. When do we actually become individuals? She points out that there are really only two objective possibilities: conception and birth.

She gives credit to the Libertarians for Life in that they don’t draw on the idea of a “potential” human being, but that an actual human being with individual rights occurs at conception.

However, Wendy draws her line at the other end and bases this on biological factors:

An essential characteristic — indeed, a prerequisite — of considering something to be an individual is that it be a discrete entity, a thing in and of itself. Until the point of birth, however, the fetus is not a separate entity; it is a biological aspect of the pregnant woman which possesses the capacity to become discreet. At birth, the fetus is biologically autonomous and is a self-owner with full individual rights. Although it cannot survive
without assistance, this does not affect its biological independence; it is simply the dependence that any helpless individual experiences.

Let's rephrase this argument; having a DNA encoding, which is all that is provably present at the point of conception when rights are assigned, is not sufficient grounds to claim individual rights.

What is missing? The missing piece is individuality...autonomy . . . a biologically discreet person. As long as the fetus is physically within the woman's body, nourished by the food she eats, sustained by the air she breathes, dependent upon her circulatory system, it cannot claim individual rights because it is not an individual. It is part of the woman's body and subject to her discretion.

Birth is the point at which the fetus becomes an actual human being. There is no point, other than conception, at which such a clear, objective change occurs in the status of the fetus. All other changes are a matter of degree rather than of kind and, thus are, inadequate for legal theory which demands a definable point of enforcement.

The enforcement aspect of any law against abortion, is another point she spends a lot of time on and you can read more about this for yourself. What I’d like to discuss now revolves around a trail my mind took when I read her phrase “mandatory motherhood.”

This made me think about the concept of “mandatory fatherhood” and how that does or does not play into the abortion debate. Nothing about fatherhood is addressed in this article. Should it be?

If the father wants an abortion and the woman refuses to have one, does the father have any responsibility once the baby is born? If so, then doesn’t that mean he is subject to “mandatory fatherhood” in such instances?

What about the reverse? If the father wants the baby but the woman wants an abortion, I guess he has no say at all since pregnancy requires the mother’s body, right? If I base this on the concept of self-ownership, I’d have to concede this because that would conflict with the self-ownership rights of the mother to her own body.

But I still can’t help but wonder whether the concept of parenthood is completely separate from the abortion issue. If Wendy uses “mandatory motherhood” in her piece, doesn’t that mean the concept of “mandatory fatherhood” also has to exist? And if so, doesn’t this affect the self-ownership of the man in instances where he wants the abortion but the woman doesn’t?

This article just made me think more about the distinct differences in the ability to become a father, a man must have the use of another person's body in order to become a father but to become a mother only requires a single sperm, not another individual's body.

I’m trying to figure out whether this is relevant and how it plays into the abortion discussion. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An Intellectual Foundation for Liberty

Carl writes an article in Issue 14 about The Freedom School, an educational project started by Robert Lefevre. This article is a nice history of the struggles and successes Lefevre experienced during the 10 years the school was in existence in Colorado. Carl decided to write about the school because he thought it was time for a Freedom School II:

Now why does the author of this article believe that, 15 years after the demise of the Freedom School, it is time for Freedom School II? The answer to that question is largely premised on the view that education is the most moral and effective way to promote libertarian ideas. Politically speaking the last decade has been disastrous for libertarians because people were led to believe that electoral politics could change things around. No intellectual foundation was ever laid. Had the money spent on trying to win elections been spent on a Freedom School, the educational efforts would have resulted in many thousands of people becoming well informed and self-disciplined individualists. The political process will never accomplish this: nor will violent revolutionary attempts to alter the structure of government or society succeed, because attitudes and ideas have to be changed first. When the Freedom School was operating it contributed enormously to the comprehension that thousands of people had for the meaning, significance and implications of human liberty. "More persons were taught personal self-discipline, self-control, personal responsibility, and independence than at any other time in this century."

Well, we’re 10 years into a new century now and guess what? There is a Freedom School II. An online version anyway.

A fellow who goes by the name of Anthony Freeman is continuing Lefevre’s idea and offering a way to study online. (Anthony also has another site where you can learn more about his beliefs.)

In this computer age, there are many sites to visit for those who want to learn about the ideas of liberty, most notably which has loads of Lefevre-specific resources. But this Freedom School site, established in January, 2010 specifically claims a desire to continue Lefevre’s work with The Freedom School.

This Freedom School offers an organized curriculum, complete with study assignments, which is nice for those who want structure. No specified tuition is required, only donations, which means this learning project accessible to almost anyone who may be interested.

I hope people take advantage of this, because as Carl’s says in the article:

The existence and creation of an all-voluntary society depends on there being sufficient numbers of informed, thinking people who accept personal responsibility for their own existence and who refuse to resort to violence in any form. The person who convinces himself that voluntaryism is humane, moral and practical remains convinced forever. As LeFevre has written, "From this procedure there can be no backlash. More and more persons, self-motivated and self-controlled, simply stop engaging in the existing social devises which impose on others. They break their ties with the existing political structures; not by violence, not by trying to obtain majorities or using force, but by understanding and then thinking differently about the whole area of human relationship."