David R. Henderson  

Ethel Rosenberg: Born Bad?

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In a number of posts, co-blogger Bryan Caplan has argued that many socialists are "born bad." I can't find the references quickly: I'm on a friend's computer and it just isn't working the way mine does. Of course, I don't think Bryan means literally "born bad." Rather, his point is that many (most?) dedicated socialists don't go into it with naive conceptions about how peaceful and non-coercive socialism will be but, instead, are fairly realistic that it will be pretty violent--and that is alright with them.

I thought of that while reading a passage on Ethel Rosenberg in Louis Nizer's The Implosion Conspiracy, written in 1973. It's about the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage--giving away nuclear secrets to the Soviets. In discussing Ethel's early life, Nizer writes:

Ethel was now nineteen years old. She led a strike of 150 women workers which shut down New York National Shipping Company. Andrew W. Loebel, president of the company, recruited workers from the welfare rolls of New Jersey and opened the plant the very next day. Ethel and the girls she led caused such a disturbance at the office doors that newspapermen and policemen appeared on the scene to record and quell the disorder.

Though it was hot, Ethel and her army donned raincoats and, linked arm in arm, paraded up and down 36th Street barring and frightening away most of the substitute workers.

When a delivery truck arrived, the driver was dragged from his perch by the girls, who acted like a swarm of bees overcoming a bull. They tore his clothes off and holding him face downward wrote "I am a scab" on his back with lipstick. He was then permitted to drive off, accompanied by a chorus of humiliating laughter by the girls.


Of course we don't know that Ethel coutenanced this violent behavior against an innocent driver, but I think we can guess. And what we do know is that she and her gang were perfectly willing to physically bar the substitute workers from getting into the business. Didn't these workers have lives? Didn't their preferences and their values count? No. What mattered to her and her gang was their wages and their working conditions. And they were quite willing to use violence against others who wanted to work.

The old Communist justification for brutality and murder was "If you're going to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs." Put aside the inhumane comparing of killing people to simply breaking eggs. Even with the egg metaphor, a more accurate way of putting it would be, "If I'm going to have my omelette, I'm going to break your eggs."


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COMMENTS (84 to date)
Greg G writes:

"Of course we don't know that Ethel coutenanced this violent behavior against an innocent driver, but I think we can guess."

It is so convenient to be able to guess when we don't know.

Kevin writes:

David,

I think Bryan's claim was somewhat different. He didn't say socialists were born bad - he said that socialism, the movement itself, was born bad. Put another way, the problem with socialism wasn't, as some claim, that a good ideal was corrupted by bad people. The problem was that good people were corrupted by a bad ideal. The difference is subtle but important, I think.

Here's a previous post of his on the subject http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/04/explaining_soci.html

Dave Churvis writes:

In the rush to condemn the strikers' violence, I think you're overlooking the fact that their employer, faced with their unwillingness to be exploited, found a group who were willing to be exploited. An argument could be made that, by refusing to accept the exploitation, the strikers were attempting to improve working conditions for all. Saying that they were taking money away from those who were willing to be exploited overlooks the fact that, by being willing to be exploited, the substitute workers were in some sense taking money away from themselves.

RPLong writes:

Dave Churvis -

Prof. Henderson anticipates your point when he writes:

And what we do know is that she and her gang were perfectly willing to physically bar the substitute workers from getting into the business. Didn't these workers have lives? Didn't their preferences and their values count? No.
You can make the argument that the strikers were attempting to improve working conditions for all, but in order to make that argument, you must accept the premise that Rosenberg's gang knew best for all, and any other worker who preferred other arrangements simply didn't know what was good for them.

arne.b writes:

@Dave: And who gave the strikers the moral authority to determine the difference "exploitation" and "work for money" for all?

I see how the strikers may have made the point you are trying to make, but this means overlooking the fact that the substitute workers need not be bound by their definition of "exploitation".

David R. Henderson writes:

@RPLong,
Good point.
@Dave Churvis,
The basic monopoly model applies here. Rosenberg et al were trying to monopolize the supply of labor. To do so, they intimidated competitors.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
It's not just that guessing is more convenient: it's that that's all we can do. I doubt we could go back and check the record and see if she intervened to stop them from attacking the driver. Do you ever make guesses, Greg G? I bet the answer is yes. If so, what would your guess be: that she intervened to stop them or that she didn't because she was afraid for her own safety but had a talk to them later or that she countenanced it?

collin writes:

Isn't the communist/socialism tendency towards violence was 'to combat' the capitalist colonial empires of Europe. Isn't that how Lenin sold communism in the Soviet Union that the most capitalist country England was also the largest colonial empire. He argued that capitalism needed colonial empires to sell goods and continue to exploit labor. Capitalism needed the East India Company to ensure its status. In most ways the United Kingdom did not follow the basics of Baptiste writings.

I know David to be a true libertarian but how do long term forsee Chinese government capitalism.
CR

allen writes:

Greg G wrote:

"It is so convenient to be able to guess when we don't know."

And so credible with the vast history of leftist violence to advance their causes as support.

With regard to the original post, that "born bad" explanation is no explanation at all. Does it mean that people who aren't "born bad" are "born good"? Are conservatives "born good"? It's a facile formula explanatory of nothing and having no appeal but to conceit.

After all, there are a *lot* of lefties so an explanation for their behavior ought to put their behavior somewhere along a spectrum of normal behavior. Otherwise the implication is that left wing ideology is a behavioral pathology and that's a conclusion that's just too convenient.

Too convenient and the charge that lefties throw at conservatives. The resemblance to the back and forth of arguing children being a bit too close to be considered a hard-nosed look at the characteristics in question.

Greg G writes:

@ David

Yes I do sometimes make guesses. But when all I have to go on is a guess, I don't post on the internet an opinion that a specific person had an evil intent that I know I am guessing about.

The form of your argument in this post is the same as the form used by those who argue that Tea Party members have racist motivations: We don't know that they are racist but we can guess. What we do know is that they are perfectly willing to support policies that hurt minorities.

Just because guessing is all you can do doesn't make it a good idea. I expect that those who supported the strikers had a wide variety of opinions about what were legitimate tactics.

Tom West writes:

While the line between violence and non-violence is strong, it's not nearly as bright a line for most people.

For them, the difference between economic coercion (do as I say or you starve) and physical coercion (do as I say or I kill you) is material only for those who aren't actually facing the threat of the former.

The young women were almost certainly like young men in war. They fought a successfully fought a threat and were not particularly kind about it.

And of course, at the most extreme (and especially among the young), one could claim those who aren't prepared to use force to challenge truly mind-boggling injustices (like slavery or taxes, depending on your position) don't really believe anything at all. Words are easy - action harder - and action that puts your life and liberty at risk, well that's the true proof of the strength of your belief.

Of course, I've never believed in anything strongly enough to risk liberty, and barely even been pushed to real, true action (I don't count donations :-)), but the idea of strength of belief means action is seductive, especially for the young.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
I think your analogy with the Tea Party is a good one. If I heard about a Tea Party event where a bunch of white people roughed up a black person, a good guess would be that many of them were racists.

Jeremy N writes:

I just started reading Whittaker Chambers's book Witness. It's a book about how he, a devoted communist, had an ideological defection.

In the introduction, a letter to his children, he writes that to be a true communist, one must know and except that violent means are necessary to achieve the desired ends.

I'm only about 40 pages in, but so far it's riveting.

Greg G writes:

@ David

Yes in your example it would be a good guess that "many" of them were racists but it wouldn't tell us much about the motivations of a specific Tea Party member who hadn't participated in the assault, would it?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
True. But it would still be a reasonable guess that the leader was.
@Jeremy N,
I agree that it's riveting. Early in the book, when he talks about fleeing with his family, it's among the most suspenseful non-fiction I've ever read.

Ken B writes:

@Greg G, DRH: In my experience leftists are proud of their part in such protests. Ethel was certainly lionized for her part in them. Had she been ashamed of the violence she could have withdrawn or disavowed. Emma Goldman, another young activist leftist woman, did. Evidence I think for David's guess. Silence speaks.

Gene writes:

I recall reading a couple of Bryan's posts in which he said that "socialism" was born bad, i.e., that the ideology is inherently oriented toward tyranny, but has he actually talked about socialist "people" as born bad?

I guess you could argue that some people are born bad, if it can be shown that certain tendencies like sociopathy are genetic (I don't know either way w.r.t. that), but even in that case you'd have to hook up those people with a political/social system that gives them the power to work their (nefarious) will.

Can anyone clarify?

Dave Churvis writes:

I disagree that the strikers were attempting to monopolize the labor supply, though. I know that's a convenient economic shorthand, and ultimately the result they achieved. But what they were essentially doing was trying to improve working conditions for all. By lamenting the inability of the worst off in society to accept horrible conditions for a pittance, what we're effectively doing is providing a smokescreen for an employer who has no interest in his employee's well-being. As economists, I know we are supposed to look at this in a value-free manner, but I can't just turn a blind eye to awful working conditions in the name of higher profits.

Arthur_500 writes:

David, really, "Exploitation?"

I work a job for less money than many of my peers. I do this because of the location of my work, the lack of communte into the larger city, and a satisfaction I get from my job. Am I exploited?

A comedian tells of being called for jury duty. He suggests giving homeless people a job picking up trash alongside the highway. The attorney asks if that would be demeaning. Demeaning? The guy is homeless!

Exploitation is in the eye of the beholder. Extortion is only a step away from a strike. You don't want to work for my wages and conditions then don't I have the right to find others who will?

We used to call this Supply and Demand but now it should be called "exploitation?"

fel writes:

@Gene I thought it was the other way around, namely that a combination of ideology and power structure can cause normal people to do terrible things. The Stanford prison experiments were designed to test whether prisoner abuse was the result of the guards' personality traits, and they very famously found that even normal, psychologically healthy people can abuse others they believe to be beneath them.

Dave Churvis writes:

Yes, exploitation. Remember the historical context. My favorite example is the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1903. Many women died because their employer locked them in the factory to prevent desertion; when a fire broke out, they burned to death. Conditions today are much better than they used to be, but it is in large part because of strikes like the one we are now so keen to label as "extortion".

Exploitation is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I'm sure there are some people in this country right now who would accept being locked into a factory, with the risk of death, for the promise of a job and money to feed their family. And I would say that anyone who would look at that situation and says it's not exploitation has a warped view of what the word means.

Gene writes:

fel, here's one of Bryan's posts where he mentions the theory that "the movement" was born bad:

I guess as it's described there the "born bad" could arguably be applied to either the ideology or the people promoting the ideology. Ultimately this could be a meaningless semantic problem I'm pointing out. I just thought the beginning of Henderson's post stated the point in an odd way ... seeming to say something about the inborn character of certain people, as opposed to how they behave as adults in thrall to a certain ideology.

David P writes:

David,

Is it socialists that take this point of view, or is it people who think that a larger end justifies the means of violence? You could very well make this same argument about American Conservatives and their foreign policies. Conservatives are willing to sacrifice Muslim lives in order to protect perceived threats at home, which is inconsistent with the concept of "thou shalt not kill."

I do suppose though, that you could also make an argument that there are also people who are sociopaths and don't care about ideology as much as they care about their own power. These people gravitate towards the ideal that has the most potential to maximize their own power. However, without some sort of study to back it up it's just conjecture.

Ken B writes:

Dave Churvis:

Yes, exploitation. ... My favorite example is ..Many women died because their employer locked them in the factory to prevent desertion

Wait. Your are likening a situation where replacement workers are EAGER to do the job, and are attcked to keep them out, to a situation where workers had to be CAGED to get them to do the job? Really?

Dave Churvis writes:

Most of the women who worked for the Triangle Shirtwaist company were eager to have their jobs. There were a few who quit, prompting the employer to lock everyone in. It's still exploitative behavior, and my comparison stands.

Consider also the far more recent example of China's Foxconn allegedly installing nets on their buildings to catch the increasing number of workers who would jump to their deaths rather than continue working in their factory. I would classify conditions that lead more than one worker to attempt suicide as exploitative, regardless of how many others might be strong enough to handle it.

Greg G writes:

@ David

It seems just as likely to me that this could have been a mob action that the strike leaders realized would do more to undermine popular support than advance it. It seems just as likely to me that she might have avoided publicly criticizing those responsible to avoid a schism in the movement. Either of our guesses could be correct which is why this might not be the best situation for guessing.

There were many inexcusable acts of violence by both sides during this period of labor strife. If I was to guess, I would guess that we will only see the acts of violence by one side emphasized on this blog.

Jeff writes:

Damn, if this "exploiting the workers" nonsense is popping up even on a site like EconLog, we are doomed.

ThomasL writes:
There were a few who quit, prompting the employer to lock everyone in.

Please provide proof that was the reason.

It was not uncommon back then to lock some of the doors during work hours to help prevent theft, break-ins, workers taking unscheduled breaks, etc.

You do realize the workers left and went home at night?

Anyway, even in your own example, not all the doors were locked. The problem was the fire cut many people off from some of the unlocked doors, and all of the doors were hard to open and use quickly in an emergency with lots of rushing people because they opened inward rather than outward.

In retrospect, doors opening outward is an important thing, but even so I do not think you are intending to claim that the use of doors that opened inward was done with the intent of maximizing the death toll in the off chance of an emergency?

guthrie writes:

@ fel & Greg, I agree Greg, that it would seem that Bryan’s post posited that the Socialist Movement, and not people in particular, was what was ‘born bad’. The idea being that those who developed Socialism did so with the intent of becoming Lords over other people, and only paid lip-service to ‘lifting up the downtrodden’ or what have you (this is probably way oversimplified... Bryan said it much better). Dr. Henderson’s title struck me as odd as well.

Ultimately, if one must resort to violence in order to get your way, however righteous the intentions, you are probably wrong.

Anyone familiar with a free-market advocate who also openly advocates violence in some way?

guthrie writes:

*Gene. My apologies.

Dave Churvis writes:

@Jeff: I fail to see how someone providing a perspective you are apparently loathe to consider means that "we're doomed". I may be incorrect, and I certainly do not have Prof. Henderson's breadth of knowledge and experience, but I see a gap in the dialogue that could benefit from additional discussion. We do ourselves no favors by excluding lines of reasoning that happen to fall outside our worldview simply because they fall outside our worldview.

@ThomasL: mea culpa. I made a statement for narrative reasons that is not backed up by fact. My point still stands, however: the employers sacrificed the safety of their workers in an attempt to prevent them from stealing or taking unauthorized breaks. Unauthorized breaks, incidentally, during a time when even a bathroom break was considered a luxury.

My point is this. I want to give a complete hypothetical, divorced from all reality. Let's say that there were a job that required you to be locked in a room for sixteen hours a day. Bathroom breaks are not allowed. You are constantly subjected to a barrage of loud noises, far above the level considered safe. You would make $2.00 an hour, or possibly less if you fail to perform according to your employer's whim.

Nobody reading this would probably take this job. I certainly would not. However, I am sure that there is at least one person out there who has been out of work for long enough, with few enough skills, that they would jump at the chance to take that job. And it is my contention that the employer that hires that person is exploiting that person due to their lack of options. If you fail to find that situation an example of exploitative behavior, I don't think we have much further common ground for a discussion.

And no, I was not making the argument that the employer was acting to maximize employee deaths. I may be a lefty, but i'm not actually deranged :)

Kevin Driscoll writes:

@Dave Churvis

I agree that your last example is exploitation. I agree that it is morally wrong and that no employer should offer such a job. As such, I would never take such a job, I would encourage other not to take such jobs, and I would avoid buying products from that employer.

Here's the catch though: it isn't up to you or me to decide when others are being exploited; that is up to them. We agree that what the employer is doing is morally wrong, but that worker may find it morally justifiable. I recognize, as a libertarian, that each individual has the fundamental right of self-determination, and that extends to the situation of possible exploitation.

You might argue that since the actions of the employer are morally wrong and potentially harmful, that we should stop his behavior through legislation. My response is an analogy; that is exactly how conservatives justify banning abortion clinics. In our pluralistic society, we don't all agree on what is morally justifiable. If we legislate based on our own morality, we by definition limit the freedom of others to have a different moral opinion. Isn't forcing a person to pay taxes to enforce a moral viewpoint that they don't agree with ALSO exploitation?

UnlearningEcon writes:

Communists do not suppose that revolutions should necessarily be violent, but think that the capitalist class will resist with violence and hence retaliation will be needed.

They also argues that large amounts of the starvation and violence in the world are products of global capitalism (yes, libertarians, this requires you to unseparate the state from capitalism in your heads), and that a revolution would be no more horrendous than what is experienced every day under capitalism, but hidden from privileged westerners like us.

Dave Churvis writes:

Kevin, I absolutely understand your point about the libertarian principle of preserving choice and putting as few constraints on people as possible. In general, I find it to be a noble approach to most problems. However, there is a degree of relativism to your response that I find difficult to accept. Let me switch gears completely to illustrate why.

I am a gay man. I live in a state where my employer could fire me specifically because I am gay, and that would be an absolutely legal action. Now, here's my question: is my employer's right to fire me for being gay more important than my right to continue being employed? The libertarian approach seems to be that imposing a law forbidding my employer from firing me for being gay imposes an undue burden on my employer; after all, if he does not like gay people, why should he be required to keep me around? But without such a law, I will always be at the mercy of someone else's moral choices, forced to seek out those few employers who specifically commit to not firing people like me.

So I dispose with the libertarian argument entirely and come down on the side of a law that preserves the dignity of people like me. The right of my employer to fire me takes a backseat to my right to keep my job regardless of his prejudice. It is for this same reason that I am in favor of employee protection laws of many different kinds.

You are arguing from a place of purity and logic, and I absolutely respect you for it. I am not arguing from the same place, and I frankly think that my argument is more conducive to a better world for all, powerful and powerless alike. The libertarian perspective is perhaps more consistent and more logically sound, but it doesn't always work very well for those who are already disadvantaged.

Born bad, I don't know, but raised badly, definitely;

TUCKED away in the woods of southern Massachusetts, Camp Kinderland has all the trappings of a summer camp: bunks, a lake, a sports field. But the bunks have names like Joe Hill and Pablo Neruda, and the murals in the dining hall depict great moments in labor history.

Kinderland was founded in 1923 by secular Jews active in the New York City trade union movement, most of them Communists or socialists. As their numbers dwindled, Kinderland fell on hard times.

In 1977, when I was 8 and my brother was 7, my father, Michael Meeropol, traded folk singing for our first summer's camp fee. The buildings were dilapidated, the tone was strident and the camp was struggling to survive. Our small but scrappy group played kickball and sang civil rights songs. We didn't know that the 80's were just a sharp right around the corner as we shouted ''Solidarity Forever'' and waved a Cuban flag in the Peace Olympics.

Returning to camp, in Tolland, Mass., after 18 years, I was afraid to find Kinderland a dated relic, with only the reluctant children of disillusioned leftists to fill its bunks. But Kinderland is booming. There are new bunks and a new dining hall, and the Paul Robeson Playhouse has doubled in size as campers arrive in greater numbers each year. Two hundred attended this summer, and there was a waiting list.

For those who don't know, the woman who wrote this paean is Ethel Rosenberg's granddaughter.

Brandon Berg writes:

Dave Churvis:
There were a few who quit, prompting the employer to lock everyone in.

Uh...no. The employees weren't being held against their will. The doors were locked because some employees had a tendency to use fire escapes for malingering or to smuggle out merchandise.

In retrospect, this was a bad idea with tragic consequences, but the owners were in fact trying to solve a legitimate problem, and not just being jerks. It's also worth noting that the fire appeared to have been caused by an employee's unauthorized smoking.

Much of what leftists characterize as exploitation of low-wage workers, including the low wages themselves, is actually the employer's response to the fact that many of them are pretty lousy workers, who steal, slack off, and in general do only as good a job as is absolutely necessary to avoid getting fired. If they were better workers, they'd be able to get better jobs.

The Foxconn thing was hugely overhyped. Foxconn has nearly half a million employees in Shenzhen, so even in 2010, when there were 14 suicides, that's about three per 100,000, far below the national average of 20-30 per 100,000. In other years, the suicide rate for Foxconn employees at Shenzhen has been consistently below 1 per 100,000.

It's possible that the cluster of suicides was caused by publicization of Foxconn's practice of giving payments to families of the deceased, which may have pushed some borderline cases over the edge.

Dave Churvis writes:

You're painting with a very broad brush there, Brandon. I know quite a few low-wage workers, none of whom fit your blithe and insulting profile. The low-wage workers I know are generally where they are due to happenstance, bad luck, and perhaps some bad personal decisions, not because they are bad workers. Your comment regarding low-wage workers being able to get better jobs if they were better workers also betrays an almost comical lack of understanding about how the world works.

Also, I have already pointed out that I was incorrect re: my original assertion as to why the doors were locked.

Chris Koresko writes:

GregG: The form of your argument in this post is the same as the form used by those who argue that Tea Party members have racist motivations: We don't know that they are racist but we can guess. What we do know is that they are perfectly willing to support policies that hurt minorities.

President Obama and many other left-wingers support policies that tend to hurt minorities. Those policies include minimum wages laws, gun control laws, and Great Society type programs, for a few big examples. Shall we conclude ("guess") that they are also acting on racist motivations?

Bryan Caplan writes:

My actual claim is the socialist *movement* was "born bad," not any particular socialists. I think David gets this, but I want to prevent any misunderstanding. Details:

http://mises.org/daily/4504

R. Pointer writes:

Brandon, seriously, not in retrospect. Locking employees in a high-rise building is a prospectively bad idea. Maybe if they payed decent wages the workers wouldn't have stolen goods, although that sure sounds pretty illogical if you sit and think about it.

If they are bad employees there is a line of new ones to try out, fire them. Second, because some in the past were caught stealing you preemptively lock all current employees in who have not been proven to have stolen anything. Kinda like making everyone go through a scanner because you just never know who might be a terrorist. It is a bad system - I wonder how you would feel if your family member had burned or jumped to their death because the employer couldn't be bothered to deal with a problem well.

guthrie writes:

@UnlearningEcon, upon what did or do Communists rest their assumption? Was there ever a stated doctrine of violent resistance specific to the Communists that they were responding to?

Upon what do they base their arguments concerning starvation and violence? Are they more convincing than the libertarian arguments that maintain that the State has as much more to do with such societal ills than any version of free exchange? (BTW, you’re speaking past most libertarians with your chide of ‘the unseparation of state from capitalism’… the term is ‘crony capitalism’ and libertarians - as far as I can tell - have adopted the concepts of ‘regulatory capture’ and ‘public choice’ to describe and combat it. However, without a State powerful enough to pick winners in the market, market players won’t attempt to seek undue influence in the State.)

@Dave, you said, ‘…is my employer's right to fire me for being gay more important than my right to continue being employed?’ My question to you would be, would you repeal the 1st amendment which guarantees freedom of assembly? People have the right to their own stupidity, bigotry, and hatred. They also have the right to suffer for any loss as the result. If you are good at your job, the value of your work to the employer ought to trump any personal issues he may have with your homosexuality. If not, then by letting you go, he suffers in a very real sense in terms of your value to his company. ‘Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door’. Your labor is capitol. If your labor isn’t valued by someone for less than economic reasons, another employer will surely pay you for the time you put in creating value for them. This is, in part (and in my personal estimation), the libertarian argument.

That being said, if the State’s law explicitly forbids a company from hiring you, or keeping you employed because of your sexuality, this is clearly a violation of human rights (yours and any potential employers’), and libertarians would stand on the front lines calling for its abolition.

Greg G writes:

@ Chris Koresko

I think you misunderstood my point. I was trying to show that this form of argument is defective. I was not trying to show that it should be applied to more situations.

Dave Churvis writes:

Guthrie, yes it's true that if someone fires me for being gay, then they have lost access to my human capital. However, I am also out of a source of income. The latter is far more damaging to me than the former is to the employer, especially if the talent isn't so irreplaceable.

I guess I would prefer to live in a society where I am protected from that kind of discrimination than one that blindly adheres to a principle that sounds great in theory but actively harms people in actual practice.

yet another david writes:

David, great post. You and Bryan are on fire these days. Ultimately, it's all about the ethics.

Chris Koresko writes:

Greg G: I think you misunderstood my point. I was trying to show that this form of argument is defective. I was not trying to show that it should be applied to more situations.

Sorry about that. I'm just a little touchy on the topic of the Tea Party, I suppose, given how routinely they're slandered by the Big Media and certain politicians. I'll make a point of re-reading more carefully before posting next time.

Tracy W writes:

Dave Churis:

And it is my contention that the employer that hires that person is exploiting that person due to their lack of options.

And yet that person is still better off being offered the job than not being offered the job.
This is my problem with the word "exploitation", it leads leftists to focus on the person who is actually doing something to help someone who is in trouble. If people are in poverty, and you offer them a crappy job, according to a leftist you're exploiting them. But how often do you see a leftist criticising a capitalist for not employing people in poverty?

Now, take your situation of being gay, and at risk of being fired for it. Say the legal system means you have a right not to be fired for being gay. Your employer then fires you for the stated reason of being crap at your job, or perhaps makes you redundant as not needed (a legitimate reason I think we all agree). However, it is possible that your employer was lying, and was actually firing you for being gay. To enforce this right, the legal system needs to investigate the circumstances. And the people in the legal system don't have mind-reading skills. So they can only look at the evidence that's presented, and they will somehow come to a view on whether you were fired for being gay or fired for being crap at your job, or just redundant. If your right is to be sensible, the burden of proof will need to be on the employer. So if the employer wants to fire you for being crap at your job or redunant, they need to have proper documentation systems in place. If they make a mistake, then they lose in court. This raises the cost of employing anyone.

Now if you raise the price of something, at the margin, people buy less of it. Yes, the cost of documenting isn't that much, but some employers, particularly small ones, really hate paperwork, and some employees aren't that valuable to the firm. And as you yourself point out, it's typically easier for an employer to get along without employing someone, than a worker to get along without a job, so unemployment makes workers worse off than employers. So protecting you against being fired for being gay makes life worse off for workers and would-be workers in general. And not just workers in general, if you ever want to move jobs, say to be near your parents as they're getting older, or because you made the mistake of getting into a long-distance relationship with someone you really love, you would find it harder to find a new job.

You say you don't want to live in a society that blindly adheres to a principle that sounds great in theory but actively harms people in actual practice, and then you propose a liability rule that does just that.

Ken B writes:

Dave Churis:

And it is my contention that the employer that hires that person is exploiting that person due to their lack of options
.

I feel exactly the same about all the women I slept with. I exploited their lack of better options. But now I just feel cheap and used, knowing that they in turn exploited me.

Tom West writes:

Tracy W, two points:

One, any employment rule whatsoever has costs that in theory reduce maximum employment. Why do we have them? Because we consider the cost in lowered employment worth the benefits of, for example, employers having to provide safe working conditions.

So really, the only question is whether *this* benefit is worth the cost. Pointing out that there *is* a cost is not really the point. (Agreed, a lot of people think you can get that benefit for free, but I don't think you'll find that level of ignorance among the readers of this blog.)

In a larger sense, however, I'm not certain that you are correct about removing impediments to business always improving the economy. First, societies can lock themselves into unproductive modes (think racism and sexism), which are often (gradually) broken by government practices which on the surface impede business.

Secondly, citizens who feel secure are often more wiling to spend, avoiding situations like China where the citizenry, having no labor or health security, save everything, massively holding back on consumer spending and making the economy (and the jobs) much smaller than necessary.

I won't pretend that anyone can figure out exactly what provides optimal employment. But I will say that ignoring any second-order effects of labor legislation probably does not give accurate long-term answers. That it's hard to measure doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Dave Churvis writes:

Tracy,

There is not a shred of evidence to support the notion that anti-discrimination laws suppress hiring. Prove me wrong and I will eat my words.

Dave Churvis writes:

It also occurs to me, Tracy, that you're making a common, and rather mistaken, assumption that the employer is offering a wage magnanimously and that he could not possibly offer it for more. However, the employer is attempting to maximize profit, not well-being. My argument is for a healthier mix of both, so I fear that we may be talking past one another.

Ken B writes:

It also occurs to me, Dave Churvis, that you're making a common, and rather mistaken, assumption that the employee is accepting a wage magnanimously and that he could not possibly accept less.

Dave Churvis writes:

Ken B, I am making no such statement. I am referring to the employer who offers the job and explicitly stating that there will always be someone hard up enough to accept it. Pretty much the exact opposite of what you're saying that I'm saying. you might want to try harder before attempting to make me look foolish. I may be incorrect, and can be convinced of such, but I assure you that it won't happen by playing intermediate logic games with my words.

UnlearningEcon writes:

@guthrie

Was there ever a stated doctrine of violent resistance specific to the Communists that they were responding to?

Virtually every instance of a socialist or communist coming into power - often democratically, sometimes through revolution - has been met with outright violence from mostly the US & UK. This is all well documented - Guatemala and Chile stand out. There are also examples of mass propaganda campaigns from the CIA, such as Italy. This is all well documented stuff.

Closer to home, look at any time there is a protest - the police are often violent without due cause. To a marxist, the police simply exist to protect the capitalist state.

Yes, libertarians like to use the term 'crony capitalism' to define bad things that happen under capitalism as outside capitalism, but it's not convincing. The history of capitalism has always involved capitalists in bed the the state - with their wealth and connections, they would simply not allow it to go any other way. In the UK it simply evolved from old feudal aristocracies, but even in the US with a fairly clean slate & strong constitution, things have become similar.

Ken B writes:

@Dave Churvis: No it is not the opposite of what you are saying, it is so to speak the reverse. That is, it is the mirror image. You say the employer benefits as he gets a worker for $3 when he'd still make a profit paying $4. True! I am saying the worker is also better off because he's getting $3 for a job he'd do for $2.

That's how trade works.

My syntactic play with your argument highlights the symmetry you overlook.

Dave Churvis writes:

I see the point you're making, but you're ignoring the asymmetry in the relationship. In conditions other than full employment, employers have more power to set wages than employees. The potential employee who would take $2 for a job but is offered $3 for the job will of course take the higher wage. There is nothing "magnanimous" about a worker taking lower than the wage he would prefer when all employers are maximizing profit. The libertarian argument, however, seems to be that because the employer is offering any wage at all, he is doing something beneficial to a worker. I am operating from the position, however, that paying less than a living wage is harmful to the worker. You look at it as "well, the worker is getting *something*, so that's good." I look at it as "this worker is trading his time for money but not making enough to make ends meet, thus wasting valuable time."

you seem to be operating under the assumption that i have not thought of both sides of the argument. I assure you that i have, and have merely come to different conclusions than you have.

guthrie writes:

@Tracy W, it does not appear that Dave Churvis acknowledges the costs. This is but my impression from his posts. I’m willing to be wrong, but he seems to be one reader here who appears to deny the costs involved with intervention, or damn the consequences in favor of the unmitigated good of the chosen regulation. I think that most would agree with you that removing impediments to business won’t *always* result in an improved economy, nor would removing *all* such impediments create completely positive outcomes. I assume that you would agree that not *all* regulation accomplishes its intended purpose as well. It would seem that what Tracy W was attempting to do was to impress upon Dave the importance of thinking through the objections he has to libertarian rationale in general, although I am willing to be wrong about that too.

@Dave Churvis, you said: “I guess I would prefer to live in a society where I am protected from that kind of discrimination than one that blindly adheres to a principle that sounds great in theory but actively harms people in actual practice.”

But you didn’t answer my question. Would you repeal the 1st amendment to satisfy your preference for such a society? Would you sacrifice the freedom of many (including the freedom to be ignorant and bigoted) for your own ‘protection’? The Law, it is said, is blind. It is thus, so that we as people are ‘equal under the law’. Is this ‘blind adherence to principle’ something you’re uncomfortable with? Would you remove the blindfold of law to actually institute discrimination?

Do you deny that the work businesses are necessarily forced to engage in (when they are under the employment mandates you suggest) *might* lead a business owner to consider hiring less? Is there no way this can be possible? And if businesses are choosing to hire less, is this not also *possibly* hurting workers they *might have* hired if said business wasn’t forced to consider this extra expense of time and resources? Is that not a reasonable, real world, line of thinking? If not, why not? If so, why isn’t it a reasonable conclusion to reach to say that such laws actually harm the people they are instituted to assist?

What right do you have to dictate to an enterprise, that you have no direct connection with, what wage they offer for a particular job? How do you justify your authority to do so? How do you know what they can or cannot afford for anything they must pay for, much their labor cost? Do different businesses have different measures for establishing wages? How do you know? Are you not yourself ‘blindly adhering’ to a particular principal by forcing each enterprise to pay ‘wage A’ or to ‘don’t discriminate or else’ regardless of circumstance?

Bottom line, you said ‘The right of my employer to fire me takes a backseat to my right to keep my job regardless of his prejudice'. My response… my right to be prejudicial trumps your right to keep your job. I would prefer to live in a society where we have freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. One where such prejudices, should they exist, are openly expressed. That way I can associate with whom I wish and avoid whomever I choose. If a business is openly hostile to me for whatever reason, I don’t have to work there, and I don’t have to patronize them. In short I would rather live in a society which celebrates freedom and allows ‘exit’, rather than one which one which celebrates diversity and forces conformity.

@UnlearningEcon, you didn’t answer my question. There isn’t evidence, so far as I can tell from the documentation you cite, of a stated doctrine of capitalism which calls for Socialist blood in order to establish itself. I am not convinced that the instances of atrocities cited can be fully laid at the feet of the free market, nor do those atrocities justify the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent non-combatants mitigated by nearly every major Communist regime which has come to power. I still await the name of a free-market advocate who equally advocates violence in order to establish the Free Market.

Mass propaganda campaigns in Italy by the CIA? You’re speaking past me again… I can agree to the elimination of the CIA altogether… how’s that? Let’s do away with all covert operations, in fact! I’m happy to limit US military engagements to stopping outright invasions of our country and preventing ICBM’s from falling on my town… return the land we use for foreign military bases, and return our soldiers home… what say you? Do we have an agreement? :)

When the police get violent at a protest, the Marxist says, ‘… the police simply exist to protect the capitalist state’. Does that make the Marxist right?

And wave your hand all you want… when ‘business is in bed with the State’, it means the State has too much power, not the other way around. Your argument isn’t with Capitalism. It’s the State’s bed after all.

you seem to be operating under the assumption that i have not thought of both sides of the argument.

Well, the employee gets paid FIRST, before the employer can take his product to the marketplace and attempt to recover the employee's costs to him. He's the one taking the risk of loss, not the employee (assuming no profit sharing).

So, if the employer finds he has miscalculated, that he's paid the employee more than the market will bear, has the employee exploited the employer?

Dave Churvis writes:

Patrick, we're talking about low-wage workers here. Typically the employer offers a job at a wage, and the employee takes what he's offered. At no point have I been talking about the kind of highly-skilled labor that allows for bilateral negotiation. Additionally, lack of recoupment on a risk that was taken is not the same as offering a pittance to do a dangerous job because you know some poor desperate soul would be willing to take it.

Joe Cushing writes:

collin,

The interesting thing is that studies ( I can't remember their names) have shown that the colonies are a drain on the mother country and not an economic benefit.

Joel writes:

Dave,

I understand your argument and while I don't agree it is one that gives me a great deal of pause for thought. However:

I look at it as "this worker is trading his time for money but not making enough to make ends meet, thus wasting valuable time."

In the above you say the low skilled worker's valuable time is being wasted. Clearly however, the 'value' of the worker's time doing something else is less than the wage he/she is being paid, at least to that worker. If this wasn't the case, then the worker would not sacrifice this other endeavour that he could have pursued with his "valuable time" in order to work.

Patrick, we're talking about low-wage workers here.

It is irrelevant what the comparative wage status is. You've either completely missed my point or chose to change the subject.

An employer only takes on employees (of any kind) in order to use their labor to make a product or service than can be sold to customers. The employer can only afford to pay his employees what his customers are willing to pay for the products and services the employees produce.

The employer is a mere middleman. Where do you think he gets the money to pay wages if not from his customers?

Tracy W writes:

Dave Churis:

There is not a shred of evidence to support the notion that anti-discrimination laws suppress hiring. Prove me wrong and I will eat my words.

See "Consequences of Employment Protection? The Case of the Americans with Disabilities Act", by Daron Acemoglu and Joshua D. Angrist, at http://economics.mit.edu/files/17

Tracy, that you're making a common, and rather mistaken, assumption that the employer is offering a wage magnanimously and that he could not possibly offer it for more.

Dave, I have re-read my comment, and I have no idea what I wrote that could possibly have given you such an impression. Can you please do me the kindness of pointing out what it is, so I can avoid thus creating such a false impression in the future?

(Note, I have had this interaction before in the past, of people asserting I hold a position which I can't see any trace of, I've responded by asking them to state what gave them such an impression, and so far no one has ever responded. I hope you break the pattern.)

Tracy W writes:

Tom West:

In a larger sense, however, I'm not certain that you are correct about removing impediments to business always improving the economy.

Two points with this:

First, I don't recall making this point and I can't find it by searching. I don't even know what you mean by it. What counts to you as "improving the economy"? What do you mean by "impediments to business"? I favour private property rights in many resources, such as fish stocks, does that count as an "impediment to business" by your definition? I'm certainly not going to agree with a point when I don't even know what it means. Please define your terms first.

Second, who cares about the economy in and of itself? It's people that matter. Even if slavery "improved the economy", it was still wrong becuase it harms actual people. The examples I gave were of Dave Churis's proposed law preventing actual people from achieving things they might well want from life, such as moving jobs because they've fallen in love. I think it's important to improve people's lives. Of course, you could define economy so broadly as to include every aspect of human life (such as love, or time spent cloud-watching), but I would prefer a term which is not so subject to misreading.

You have always struck me as a sensible and honest commentator, I'm surprised that you are suddenly telling me that "I'm not certain that you are correct" about a statement that I never made, containing terms I don't understand, and other terms that are not fit for purpose (IMO). What's going on here?

Ken B writes:

Dave Churvis:

The libertarian argument, however, seems to be that because the employer is offering any wage at all, he is doing something beneficial to a worker. I am operating from the position, however, that paying less than a living wage is harmful to the worker.

Actually that's not the libertarian position, that's logic. An offer is not compulsion. That is why your analogy with locked doors is so absurd.

Dave Churvis:

you seem to be operating under the assumption that i have not thought of both sides of the argument.

Not so, I accept you thought of both sides. But I am in possession of proof you did not understand both sides.

Tom West writes:

Actually that's not the libertarian position, that's logic. An offer is not compulsion.

Except that in human terms, there's no bright line, only degrees of compulsion.

"do this or I kill you"
"do this or I don't stop them from killing you"
"do this or I you don't get in the lifeboat"
"do this or you starve"
"do this or you risk starvation"
"do this or you risk ill-health and possible violence"
"do this or you don't have as nice a life"
"do this... please?"

The insistence on bright lines where human moral intuition sees a continuum is where I think Libertarianism is most out of step with human common sense, and why Libertarianism, while valuable, is unlikely to ever be the basis for any larger scale human society.

Dave Churvis writes:

@guthrie: I think you're being unnecessarily apocalyptic here. Of course I'm not in favor of repealing the First Amendment. I also happen to take a slightly more nuanced view of the law than you do. A fundamental right to self-expression and self-organization, in my view, does not extend to the right to destroy someone's well-being because you don't like who they are.

@Joel: "Clearly however, the 'value' of the worker's time doing something else is less than the wage he/she is being paid, at least to that worker." Let's take an example of an unskilled single mother. She has a child to take care of. If she finds a job, she must now pay for child care, transportation, etc., and must also now take time away from that child and devote it to work. If she does not find a wage sufficient to counteract the additional drain on her time from the job she has taken, she is wasting her time. It is for this reason that her time might be more valuable doing something other than wage-gaining work when wages are that low.

@Patrick: Yes, in terms of the entire business cycle, the employer is the middleman. However, in the terms of how hiring decisions are actually made, that employer simply has a specific budget and is going to try to get the labor he's looking for for the lowest price possible. The full business cycle has no relevance here. Additionally, you have missed my point. You were talking about bilateral wage negotiation, and I'm telling you that doesn't happen for the lowest-level jobs.

@Tracy: Thank you for the paper. It gives me a great deal of food for thought, and I'll make a blog post about it once I've had a chance to read it. As for the "magnanimous" bit, it's contained in this quote:

And yet that person is still better off being offered the job than not being offered the job. This is my problem with the word "exploitation", it leads leftists to focus on the person who is actually doing something to help someone who is in trouble. If people are in poverty, and you offer them a crappy job, according to a leftist you're exploiting them. But how often do you see a leftist criticising a capitalist for not employing people in poverty?

In my view, the employer is not helping the employed when he offers too low of a wage. By framing this as the employer "helping someone in trouble", I think you're leaving the impression that employer is doing it out of the good of his heart. At least that's how I read it.

@Ken B: "I am in possession of proof you did not understand both sides." Right back at you, man.

@Tom West: thank you for articulating that point better than I ever have.

guthrie writes:

@Tracy W, Tom West... I was attempting to address Tom West in my initial paragraph concerning Tracy W’s statements, my apologies for any confusion. I hope, Tracy W, that I was more or less accurate in explaining the motivations behind your statements to Mr. West, and I hope it wasn't terribly presumptuous. Apologies if this is so.

@Tom West, I can see where your statements below can come from an objective source:

'Do this or I'll kill you'
'Do this or I won't stop them from killing you'
'Do this or you won't get in the lifeboat' (presumably being prevented by the speaker)

It is not clear to me, however, how the below statements are clearly objective or if they can also be impressions gathered by the subject:

"do this or you starve"
"do this or you risk starvation"
"do this or you risk ill-health and possible violence"
"do this or you don't have as nice a life"

It is my opinion that the Libertarian perspective is to seek to eliminate objective compulsions. If people to feel subjective compulsions, based upon their observations of their world and situation, needs and desires (or what have you), so much the better… let us clear the way for them to satisfy those compulsions, so long as they don’t do damage to other persons or their property. I see room to discuss what constitutes ‘clear the way’ as well as ‘damage to others…’. But if there is a line to be drawn, isn’t it reasonable to draw it between those things which can be objectively observed, and those which are more internally engendered? How is this counter to moral intuition?

More broadly, can you help me understand how the Libertarian focus of the elimination of objective compulsion is ‘out of step with human common sense’ or ‘moral intuition’? From my perspective the world has been trending gradually toward the principals of freedom from compulsion that are delineated by Libertarianism. We will eventually have a larger societal structure which uses these principals as its basis, IMO (with or without a codified Libertarian philosophy!). How is this not common sense? How is this not naturally moral? Please let me know if I’m missing your point.

@Dave Churvis, please define for me the phrase ‘destroy someone's well-being’.

However, in the terms of how hiring decisions are actually made....

Why do I have the impression that you have, never in your life, hired anyone?

Assuming that you are misusing the term 'business cycle' to mean something like 'product cycle', the reason the employer is looking to 'get the labor he's looking for for the lowest price possible', is that if he doesn't he won't be competitive in pricing his products for consumers. Other business will undercut him on price, and he'll go out of business.

In which case, I ask again, is that a case of the employees (overpaid in hindsight) 'exploiting' their employer?

UnlearningEcon writes:

guthrie,

My argument is with capitalism, including the state it relies on. A state is required to protect private property (and was historically required to separate people from self sufficiency so they would have to work for those who owned that private property). The accumulation of profit resulting from this private property will mean that some have more influence over the state - no matter the nature of that state and how many services it provides.

I don't know what you're getting at re: military intervention. The US has always expressed hostility towards communists and intervened. I think that qualifies my point that capitalism can be violent quite effectively.

Dave Churvis writes:

@Patrick: why do I have the impression that you have never, ever actually run a business and have only simulated them under perfect competition? Hiring someone and paying them more than your competitors do might actually increase one's profits, especially when the higher income leads to increased productivity. I know firsthand that a more motivated employee can accomplish tasks quicker than a less motivated one.

@Guthrie: firing them for being gay.

Dave Churvis writes:

Tracy W,

I have had a chance to read the paper you linked. I concede that the paper shows that ADA enforcement lowered employment among disabled people. However, the paper also mentions that there is a possibility that this is due to the high cost of ADA compliance rather than fear and cost of lawsuits. I doubt that a non-discrimination law focused on GLBT minorities would face the same problems; rather, I would assume that it would more likely follow the example of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I do not know of any studies like the ADA paper that study the effect of the CRA, but I can only assume that in that case, employment levels among targeted groups rose.

In light of the paper, I do concede your point that anti-discrimination laws can suppress employment among targeted groups. I believe the circumstances under which this happens are probably rather narrow, but it appears that it has happened at least once. Thank you for enlightening me :)

Tom West writes:

Tracy W,

Sorry, my post was less than clear, and I was assuming a generalization that you never made.

This was the paragraph that I was addressing:

Now if you raise the price of something, at the margin, people buy less of it. Yes, the cost of documenting isn't that much, but some employers, particularly small ones, really hate paperwork, and some employees aren't that valuable to the firm. And as you yourself point out, it's typically easier for an employer to get along without employing someone, than a worker to get along without a job, so unemployment makes workers worse off than employers. So protecting you against being fired for being gay makes life worse off for workers and would-be workers in general. And not just workers in general, if you ever want to move jobs, say to be near your parents as they're getting older, or because you made the mistake of getting into a long-distance relationship with someone you really love, you would find it harder to find a new job.

I was trying to point out the general case that while in the first order, an impediment to business (such as not allowing employment-at-will) would reduce jobs, it might have the opposite effect in the long term. (I carelessly used "improvement to the economy" when I meant generally more jobs, and greater wealth.)

My apologies for assuming a generalization of the sentiment in the quotes that you didn't actually make. My mistake.

Tom

Tom West writes:

Isn’t it reasonable to draw it between those things which can be objectively observed, and those which are more internally engendered?

I understand full well that this makes a nice air-tight philosophical/logical approach. However, this produces results that I think are counter-intuitive to the majority of human beings.

For example, a rational employer may take full advantage of the desperation of a worker to offer less than they would a non-desperate person. Under the non-compulsion principle this is fair. But for most humans, the idea of offering less than you would have offered if the employee wasn't desperate is unfair.

The point is not whether this situation would occur or not. It is that moral intuition differs from what binary compulsion/non-compulsion would suggest.

Isn’t it reasonable to draw it between those things which can be objectively observed, and those which are more internally engendered?

So, reasonable - yes. Actually workable for humans - only as a general guide, not as an explicit rule.

Tracy W writes:

@Dave, thank you for explaining it. I did not realise that anyone could think that such a statement of mine could be read as the employer doing it out of the goodness of their heart, I will make sure in the future to add an aside pointing out the selfish motives.

It still remains that you are focusing on those who are (out of their own self-interested motives) doing something that makes the poor person better off by their lights, rather than those people who aren't doing that. (For example, capitalists who don't employ desperately poor people. Yes some people give to charity, but clearly charitable impulses are not enough to bring millions beyond living on

I know that in your view, an employer is not helping when they offer too low of a wage. But imagine you are a desperately poor person, trying to feed your family, on $2 a day because you can't find a way of making more money. If someone offers you a job paying $4 a day (with all other conditions being equal), wouldn't you prefer to have that job offer? Even though, in your view (I suspect as a Westerner making above $20 a day), such a job offer isn't helping? How would you feel if some rich guy persuaded that potential employer to withdraw their job offer, because it was "exploiting" you?
In other words, can you lay aside your view, and consider this from the view of the desperately poor?

Tracy W writes:

@Tom West:
Thank you for explaining. Now we've cleared that away, I'll address myself to your substantive points.

First, societies can lock themselves into unproductive modes (think racism and sexism), which are often (gradually) broken by government practices which on the surface impede business.

I don't believe this statement. At least not for countries which are governed by people from the country itself. That's because a deeply racist or sexist society is going to have racist and sexist government practices if it possibly can. In every case I can think of, the start of breaking of racism and sexism came *before* government practices. Mary Wollenstonecraft (and other women writers) came before any English law changes, such as reform of married women's property rights. The Civil Rights Movement in the USA was started by blacks, not by government.

Indeed, I'm pretty doubtful as to the extent that even an outside government can break racist and sexist modes by deliberate choice (eg how well is the USA doing in Afghanistan at raising the status of women?) Perhaps there's some convincing evidence on this, but I'm doubtful.

Secondly, citizens who feel secure are often more wiling to spend,

And there are two ways to feel secure. One is to be fairly confident that you won't lose your job. Another is to be fairly confident that if you lose your job, you can find another one.
Security from the ability to find a new job is more valuable than security in your current job (as it allows you to change jobs for personal reasons, or if your employer goes bankrupt or what-not).

As for China, I'm not an expert in it, but according to this article, Chinese consumption is booming.

But I will say that ignoring any second-order effects of labor legislation probably does not give accurate long-term answers.

I am glad that you agree with me on this, rather than taking Dave's approach of only looking at the immediate situation.

while in the first order, an impediment to business (such as not allowing employment-at-will) would reduce jobs, it might have the opposite effect in the long term.

It may indeed. Or it may have even worse effects in the long-term. If we infringe people's freedom, in ways that are likely to have short-term bad effects, we'd need some pretty good evidence of longer-term gains to justify doing so. After all, if we use your principle of "it might have the opposite effect" to justify legislating, what freedom could possibly be protected? For example isn't this the same argument that bigots use to argue against same-sex marriage, that it may have negative effect in the long-term?
Indeed, wouldn't this principle have supported criminalising positive speech about homosexuality, back when the majority of people thought that homosexuality was wrong and disgusting?

Tracy W writes:

Note, on the point of governments changing social practices - centuries of discrimination by European governments against Jews did not lead to Jews all converting to Christianity. Centuries of discrimination by the English government against Catholics did not lead to Catholics all converting to Protestantism.
While laws mandating discrimination against are different in many ways from laws mandating merely an absence of discrimination, these experiences do really make me doubt the ability of government practices to change a society that isn't already open to change.

Dave Churvis writes:

Tracy,

I definitely can see that for a desperately poor person, some money is better than no money at all. In the absence of a social safety net, it would be advantageous to let the market dictate wages so that the desperately poor can get at least *something*. However, I would much rather institute safety net programs than let the market dictate wages at the very low end. I suspect this is a fundamental difference in our philosophies.

Tracy W writes:

Note: The US south may have been one case where anti-discrimination laws had a big impact on employment rates, but even there social change started with blacks fighting discriminatory practices.
And the US north had also historically been very racist, it was changes in social attitudes there (and amongst south American blacks and a few south American whites such as LBJ) that changed the federal government's laws.

Ken B writes:

@Tom West:
There is a difference between offering to trade you X for Y and threatening to do something to you if you don't.

"Do this [or] you starve". I assume you are referring to eating? Because the situation you are discussing, with poor workers being offered jobs by a new factory say, is actually "Do this and I will give you something that might make your life better." It is simply wrong to suggest as you do that I am taking an action to starve you. By that logic you are starving children in Africa as we speak.

Ken B writes:

@Dave Chruvis: re your comment about the safety net.

That's why a lot of libertarians advocate a social safety net. Usually though we prefer something like a guaranteed income, a negative income tax, rather than govt administered programs. The most prominent advocate of that was Milton Friedman, and I am an advocate of it too.

guthrie writes:

I will conclude. Thank you for a fascinating discussion, gentlemen.

@Dave Churvis, you said to Patrick, ‘You were talking about bilateral wage negotiation, and I'm telling you that doesn't happen for the lowest-level jobs.’

That is your assertion. Based upon what, I’m not sure. My assertion, based on my understanding of economics (a limited understanding, granted), is that comparative advantage gives every person the power to negotiate.

I finish by deferring to Tracy W's statement, 'Security from the ability to find a new job is more valuable than security in your current job'. This is the core point of departure between our positions, IMO. It leads me to conclude that State action, on the whole, has more of a negative than a positive impact in achieving what appears to be our common goal... that being (among other things I suppose) ‘secure employment’.

@Tom West, I can see your point, thank you. As far as how 'workable' it can be with humans, I think there might be a continuum there as well... perhaps it's a matter of explanation/approach?

@unlearningecon, I defer to Bryan to sing the glories of collectivization: http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/museum/comfaq.htm

Eric Falkenstein writes:

My mom's best friend's father was a lawyer for the Rosenbergs. They where typical American Jewish Liberals. Even though they lost the trial, their status was enhanced where it mattered.

In 'intentionville' they are saints in their own minds, and actual socialist states are just capitalistic subversions of their vision.

UnlearningEcon writes:

@guthrie

I appreciate it's hard to debate 4 people at once but just deferring me to a mammoth entry by Bryan doesn't really deal with many of the issues I raised.

Dave Churvis writes:

It's days later, but I just came across (and blogged about) a sentence that might give more food for thought:

'As Chinese workers have begun to fight for their rights and wages have risen for skilled labor in the coastal provinces – and there we are back in Marx’s Chapter 10, reading about "the struggle for the normal working-day" – jobs have begun to flow out of China to lower-wage economies like Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.'

http://www.extraordinaryinsignificance.com/very-good-sentences/

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