Answers for Free-Market Moralists
by Ethan Glover, Sat, Nov 02, 2013 - (Edited) Sun, Nov 03, 2013
Normally when I respond to a particular article I go through a fairly careful process. First I read the article completely to get the gist of the argument. Then I go back through and create a mind map of topics and the direction of logic that the author follows. If you watched the video that coincided with my last post, “Government – thief, liar, destroyer” and then immediately read the article you may have noted that responses were a little out of order and only somewhat categorized. This is because I do minimal organization of what is being said while trying to stay on the same train of thought as the author or speaker. From that mind map, I create individual articles with something like Scrivener to match each subject while trying to keep it all tied together. After that, it is a process of connecting it all and then on to edit one, grammarly edit, edit two, edit three, formatting/advertising, and sharing. So, why bring all of this up? Because as I was going through this recent article, “Questions for Free-Market Moralists”, I found myself making notes like, “address whole paragraph” and “continued from above”. When reading some if it out loud to try and make some sense out of it, I found myself laughing my way into tears. This was certainly the funniest article I've come across, but unfortunately, it was not meant to be that way. It is simply the most misinformed pile of “opinion” I've ever seen. This is my Answers for Free-Market Moralists.
If you read the article and kind of sped through the introduction and the history lessons to get straight to the content, I invite you to give it a more careful look. It was because of this stuff that I decided to keep this article a little more informal and just write things up as I go, taking things line by line, just like in the good old days of responding to StormCloudsGathering. The first big claim by Amia Srinivasan is that the western economy has been slowly becoming more “Nozickian” and more free market. She says that there has been creeping changes such as, ”the erosion of the welfare state, the privatization of the public sphere and increased protections for corporations”, she then claims that these things, ”go along with the moral worldview according to which the free market is the embodiment of justice.” (emphasis added) Where do you start? It's like choosing a brick on a ten foot wall to slam your head against. I feel like I have to cover so much just to address these two lines. Looking at Amia's bio we find that she is another grad student blinded by academia much like Megan Arnold. Megan showed that she never understood the libertarian philosophy and used her misunderstandings and her college to find her way into Marxism. This seems to be the case for Amia. Her overexposure to state funded schools has put her into a state of worship. Her thinking is deluded, and she makes no effort to understand what she is talking about. So long as she is criticizing something, anything, she thinks she is doing what's right.
To get back to her opening statements. First, the erosion of the welfare state. As I've mentioned before, I hate to depend on statistics, but I think the situation calls for a few numbers. Amia mentions the 1970's so let's start there. In 1970, the amount of Americans that didn't pay tax, according to the IRS, was around 12%. In 2009, it was 49.5%. That's nearly 100% decrease in taxpayers every 10 years. In 1970, according to the Office of Management and Budget, the amount of federal spending towards dependence programs was about 30%, in 2010, it was 70.5%. For those of you keeping track, that's a 135% increase in welfare in 40 years. Housing assistance has grown from $2b to $60b per year from 1970 to 2010. A 3,000% increase. Medicare and Medicaid? $10b to $408b. 4,000% increase. Welfare and low-income health care assistance. $100b to $1.27t. 1000% increase. College education dependence. $8b to $18.5b. 131% increase. Farming subsidies. $35b to $45.5b. 30% increase. The overall dependency index created by the Heritage Foundation has increased from 50 to 294 in that time span for a 488% increase. If you want even more recent statistics, you can just read the news. 49% of Americans are depending on government welfare. The erosion of the welfare state? In what delusional universe do you think this could ever be true? It doesn't matter what your political beliefs are. That's like saying 2+2=57,862,991... what?! To think, I've only responded to five words from the article and haven't even gotten to Amia's arguments yet.
Next, the evil privatization of the public sphere. Amia acts as if this is a bad thing while ignoring entirely that private jobs means less theft from the taxpayer. The government does not create money. It creates debt. It lives and feeds on capitalism and free trade. ie. The taxes it produces. The private sector has grown more. This is undeniably a good thing. Government jobs are negative jobs. They take from companies who actually produce something from raw materials for customers who actually want the product. The government is a consumer, a purchaser of private goods, not a producer. For the most blinded of statists I have noticed this is an almost impossible logic to get around. They don't understand that when the government steals money to contract out jobs money is only being redistributed, not created through mutual transactions. Imagine if I stole $10,000 from you and invested it in gold mining. The mine uses that $10,000 and luckily gets $12,000 of value. With that money, I mail you a $50 refund as a thank you. This is exactly how government works. As I just explained in my last article, people are forced to invest half their incomes for shitty consolation prizes like piss poor monopolized police forces that do more harm than good. Much more good could be done if people were simply able to act in their best interests.
Finally, Amia mentions increased protections of corporations. Let me make that clear. As an argument against Nozick, against capitalism, against the free market, Amia Srinivasan cites increased protections of corporations. Is this the kind of stupid that gets pumped out of public universities? When you say things like this and publish it to the public, all civility goes out the window. That is an incredible statement to make. Let's review our legal definition for a corporation shall we? “A body corporate legally authorized to act as a single individual; an artificial person created by royal charter, prescription, or act of the legislature, and having authority to preserve certain rights in perpetual succession.” To put that in layman’s terms, a corporation is created when a government declares that a company, a non-real entity, has all the rights of a human being. This is a way of passing the responsibility of illegal actions from an owner to a company bank account. Something that can never truly be punished or made to pay for crimes. This is in no way representative or even OK in a capitalist system. Corporations are not capitalistic. Let me repeat that. Corporations are not capitalistic. They are immoral and illegal institutions with special privileges, just like the government. If Amia had any inkling of what she was talking about, she'd be embarrassed of her own writings... which I haven't even really addressed yet. I'm still on this first damn sentence! This is why it was impossible to address this article in any structured way.
These three items, Amia claims, go along with the moral worldview according to which the free market is the embodiment of justice. The free market... oh my god. The free market does not exist physically as an actor, just like with corporations. It is an idea, a word to explain a natural phenomenon. Excuse my getting off topic, but this is like when communists say that they invented anarchy. Yeah and I invented air, and I think I'm due for some reparations! The only thing the free market is an embodiment of is a general overview of how people act and think. What they value and what they avoid. It's just an abstract idea to help us understand the world around us. Justice is the same thing but entirely separate. As an evolved species with free will and one that depends almost entirely on logic and reason, we must decide for ourselves what justice is. Of course, that doesn't mean certain people or a certain group can enforce their ideas on an entire society. Instead, the only thing we can truly do is respect other human beings as separate human beings. As a species with full theory of mind, we are capable of empathy but often reject its use. This is a story for another time. The point here is that Amia's arguments are completely lost and confused. She isn't just misrepresenting facts. She's making them up in an attempt to prove a point, and it comes off as pure stupid. “Here's a couple of things I made up, this is what leads to rich people having money! Boooo Nozick!” That's the foundation of the article. She cites a “Defending the One Percent" article and seems surprised that Nozick wasn't referenced. Guess what? He's not the only free market supporter in the world. He's not some sort of originator. I understand that Amia has little to no experience with the real world or anything for that matter, but I'm no expert myself, and I can still recognize these things without even Googling them. Amazing right?
Is freedom freedom?
OK, deep breaths, remain calm, let's just get through these questions and be done with it.
“Is any exchange between two people in the absence of direct physical compulsion by one party against the other (or the threat thereof) necessarily free?”
Yes, that's pretty much the definition of free. Except, because I've answered yes this means that I think that people can never be coerced into action by external forces. I suppose I am coerced by my instincts to be afraid when somebody runs at me, and I think I'm going to get hurt? Even when it turns out to be a hug from someone I haven't seen in a long time and don't recognize? This nitpicking of particular words and phrases is generally how most criticisms against libertarianism, capitalism and freedom usually go. Like the communists who say that hiring somebody is a crime or the OWS people who say that loaning money is a crime and that all debts should be removed. It's such a waste, and it shows that most people who put thought into politics and ethics have no understanding of the real world and think that their thoughts are immune to the real actions and causes/effects that happen everyday right in front of their eyes.
Anyways, we're given the situation of a mother prostituting herself and selling her organs in order to feed her family. First and foremost, we should return to the original question. It is asking what “free” is. Is this woman’s decisions free choice? Is my need to breathe, eat, sleep, exercise and defecate free choice? I'm not trying to take away from the idiot question. I'll certainly address it, but what is the question really asking and how does this situation relate to it? Maybe we can all bow down to Peter Joseph's feet and get him to enslave some scientists to work for us all to build HAL Mommy 9000. In his world things like scarcity, mediums of exchange, economic calculation, subjectivity and human action don't exist. We can just build some magical Star Trek machines that will feed us all while we all laze around for our entire lives. The fact that we must act to survive is enslavement, right? Like, can we ever really be free man?
As for thinking about this situation, separate from the question, which is where it seems to have been proposed anyways. Why is prostitution and organ selling the only option? Why does this woman still have possession of children? She can't get a job? Find a charity? Find any kind of support? The only options were given by Amia are some kind of wacko isolated universe bullshit situations. Unemployment? Overtaxing and regulating businesses. Lack of welfare? It's all tied up in bureaucracy and corruption and doesn't go to the right people. Crazy prostitute organ seller who sees no other options to feed her kids? Get the kids the hell out of there. 'Nuff said.
“Is any free (not physically compelled) exchange morally permissible?”
Morally according to whom? Who's giving permission and why do they have the right to decide what is and isn't right for others? If I were to say yes, I am told, this means that I think free exchange can't be exploitative and thus immoral. Where does this stuff come from? Not from Nozick, of that I'm sure. I feel like if Amia was in front of me, asking these questions directly, she'd be wagging her finger and swaying her head with a whole lot of attitude. “I bet you think all free exchange is perfect, and moral don't you? You know what? Suicide is technically free exchange! Yeah! Got you there don't I? I bet you think suicide is perfectly OK. I bet you think everyone should commit suicide don't you? Yeah you do. You know what?! Why don't you commit suicide?!” At this point, my head would be tilting so far over that it'd look like I had already done just that. In fact, I'd probably entertain the notion. None of what is being said in this article has any real point or purpose. It's an immature dramafest and what's really pathetic is that the average person will read through this, not giving it any thought and just continue on their statist paths thinking some point has actually been raised.
The situation we are stuck with is thus. Some rich guy hires some poor guy for $1 per year to raise $50,000 worth of crop. That's it. Again, what does this have to do with the question at hand? It's asking if the poor person who decides to work for $1 a year is morally permissible. And if someone paying another person is morally permissible. I've already established that this idea of “morally permissible” doesn't mean a whole lot, but we'll entertain the idea anyways. First is someone deciding how much they want to work for moral? As in, when I apply for a job that pays minimum wage am I being immoral? Would it be more moral to look beyond my worth (a student with only a little real world experience) and try to find a management job for $50k a year? Why is morality being considered at all? The concept doesn't even apply and is impossible to answer. “Of course it's not immoral, why would you ask? Are you applying to be a hitman? I don't understand.” However, the bulk of this question leans on the other side, the evil employer (as usual). Is it moral for somebody to hire me for minimum wage? What if it is economically possible to pay me more? Shouldn't we all just be paid the same amount of money regardless of skill, experience, production, supply and demand? If I can only produce $10/hr worth of product every hour should I be paid $15/hr? Wouldn't that be more moral? Again, where's the morality? How does it apply? It is a matter of economics and worth. Unless you plan on killing people for a living the question doesn't make sense in the context of the manufactured situation.
Let's address the actual situation anyways. Why is this person working for $1/yr? Why are we told this is his only option? Amia is restricting the real world to prove a point. When she ignores reality it is impossible to take her seriously. It is only in the free market that things like competition exists. This amazing crop farmer who can produce $50,000/yr is obviously going to be in high demand. Employers will fight for him. Really, it seems he could be working for himself. If not at the moment, he can certainly work his way to buying his own land. These situations are like throwing a frog in a well and saying, “See? Now what will that frog do to survive?” What? Why did you do that? What is wrong with you that would make you cause that situation? Unless Amia plans on actively trying to keep people from making their own decisions and living in their own interests, her little stories aren't going to come true. There may be somebody out there that gets the short end of the stick, maybe it will be me, maybe it will be her or just some stranger we don't care about. Must everyone have a mansion, Ferrari and robot slave? Not at all, instead, everyone must decide for themselves what they want and how much they are willing to do to get it. When you start deciding for others what is and isn't good for them, that is when you get true oppression as we are seeing now.
Do people deserve to be people?
“Do people deserve all they are able, and only what they are able, to get through free exchange?”
So my answer to the question, do people only deserve what they are able to get through free exchange? People as in who? Are we really going to collectivize the whole world and assume everybody is the same? Are we going to turn opinions into economics? I think I “deserve” more than I have, but someone else probably disagrees. I don't think Piers Morgan deserves all he has but someone probably disagrees. These poorly worded questions never really get to anything. Instead of spending all her time in academia I think Amia should probably write political speeches. She'd make a killing with these misleading questions and rah rahs for “morality” and “deserving”. “Do you not deserve more for your hard work? Do the rich CEO's who don't know a bit about what you, the working class, and what you do to make their lives possible deserve those massive paychecks? Elect me and I'll take your money and theirs and give some to you!”
The person who says yes to this question thinks that what people deserve is due mostly to luck. You see, only those who inherit wealth from their parents will ever be happy. Amia tries to suggest that inheriting money is bad, it gives a minority special privileges. The misdirection towards pure equality and socialism is tiring. Every dumb grad student wants to make the world a better place by taking 7 billion people and forcing them to be the same. These brats can't stop and think for themselves thanks to their piss poor public education and they can't see the beautifully chaotic world we live in for what it is. People are different. They have different goals, needs, wants, thoughts, beliefs, etc. You can't just say, “This is what people need and want, this is what we must work towards. We must use bureaucracy and government to take our money and redistribute that to shove everyone into a particular cubby hole of living. Equality! Yay!” Amia says that the market worth of a person labor is totally up to genetics and environment. She thinks it's impossible for people to work their ways out of poverty if they so choose. She mentions a lot of famous people who apparently died broke and tries to say “Nozickians” say they got what they deserved. From what I can tell of her examples these are of artists who either died clinically insane or perfectly happy. What an odd way to prove a point. Maybe Amia is pushing her own financial situation onto the world and blaming it for her bad choices. With that, I'd say get a job and meet the real world. It's probably not as scary as you think.
There is no answer to this question. It wasn't asked to seek an answer it was asked to lead people into a stupid way of thinking. Do people get what they deserve? Seriously, answer that question with a yes or no. Do it right now. There no possible logical answers. People are all different and often find themselves in different situations. Does Mitt Romney deserve what he has? No, he's accumulated his wealth through crime and backroom corporate deals. He belongs on the streets. Mitt Romney and Van Gogh are hardly representatives of the entire human race and their unique situations. Do some people get screwed? Yes. Do some people get more than they deserve? Yes. You can't stop this. You can't solve everyone's problems. What you can do is allow them the freedom to find ways to solve their own problems, or allow other people the freedom to seek out the people they want to, and can, help.
You are responsible for me.
“Are people under no obligation to do anything they don't freely want to do or freely commit themselves to doing?”
If you say yes... boy am I tired of hearing that. If you say yes to this question, according to Amia Srinivaljadf, then you think the only moral obligations you have are the ones you put onto yourself. What's that? You disagree? You can't. You said yes. I'm sorry. It's over, you're obviously an immoral sociopath for suggesting that people shouldn't be held responsible for others misfortunes. Some woman is prostituting herself and selling her organs, and you didn't do anything about it? Off to prison with you! Here's our situation that we must play with. A man is walking to a library (maybe Amia needs to spend some time walking away from the library) and he sees a guy drowning in a nearby river. He does nothing. This, according to Amia, should be illegal. Or just obligatory? Wait... is Amia saying this guy belongs in jail or that he is simply immoral? Because, I think it's already immoral. I think even the evil sadist Nozick would agree. What is the question really asking?
Let's ignore the stupidity of even raising such a question, as I have eventually done with all of this crap and simply think about the event itself. Because you know, it's super fun to play the ethics game and come up with crazy situations to think about what you might do. Maybe that game should be invented. Have cards with insane lifeboat situations in which you ask people what they'd do. Of course, what about point systems. Um... how about everyone gets a point anytime someone answers a question? Equality! So, let's first imagine this is a high traffic area.. wait what is the guy doing in the river? No, shake it off, we must deal with the question asked, that's the rules of the game. If this is a high traffic area, it is almost a 100% certainty that somebody or a group of people will help. In which case, why are you concentrating on the guy walking to the library? There's surely someone else you can look at and say, “Hey! He didn't do anything either! Everybody who isn't wet right now goes to jail!” Alternatively, this is a low traffic area, and there are only two people around. Do both pass the guy and do nothing? Or does one help? What happens in the case of the former? Why did this happen, is the guy drowning somebody bad? Does no one care about him for a reason? And if both people walk off, how do you know the situation ever happened? If a tree falls in the woods and nobody's around does it make a sound? In this low traffic/no traffic situation, you have a guy that disappeared and later turned up on a shore somewhere. Hmm... another mystery for the books I guess. But wait! What if one of those guys turns themselves in? Ooooh. Do you put him in jail? Hmm.. hang on, I'll pull up the statistics on how many people drown due to people ignoring them and that person later turning themselves in. Oh wait... there are none.
Is it over yet?
Amia doesn't fail to continue with her mindless rants against all her imaginary situations in which the whole world is either evil or stupid. She says that Nozick found it difficult to answer the question about what people deserve. As David Gordon points out in his (also rightfully harsh) response, Amia gets this from an embarrassing misunderstanding of Nozick's book, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”. Yes, the crazy person who sells her organs or body does so freely. Those are not, in any world, the only options, especially in a free one. When someone profits off the other unfairly, they won't be able to hang on to that laborer very long, or any good laborer for that matter and must stick to poor quality work. People don't “deserve” to get rich because they were born, you don't get to decide what peaceful people deserve. It's all subjective opinion and purely meaningless. Yes, there is something wrong with walking by a drowning man. No one said it isn't. And as I said in the beginning the free market and justice are not the same thing. They can be compliments when used properly. A justice system within the free market is certainly better than a monopolized one, but even these are systems, not direct ideas. “Free market”, “morality”, and “justice” are phenomenons, not buildings, not actions, just occurrences. You can't control them. You can't create them, you can only allow them to be. It's like trying to regulate everyone's heart beats because somebody's rate is too slow or too fast. It can't be done, and any attempt to do so will result in terrible things.
Amia says that some may object that these are extreme cases. You think? Then she says that those same people would say the free market needs some tweaking. It does not, you can't tweak the free market. You can only hinder it. Only people who don't understand capitalism say these sorts of things. People like socialists, communists, protectionists, Keynesians, whatever name you want to give them. She says:
“But to concede that there is more to freedom than consent, that there is such a thing as nonviolent exploitation, that people shouldn’t be rewarded and punished for accidents of birth that we have moral obligations that extend beyond those we contractually incur — this is to concede that the entire Nozickian edifice is structurally unsound. The proponent of free market morality has lost his foundations.”
There is more to freedom than to consent, there can be nonviolent exploitation, people shouldn't be rewarded or punished by birth. There are moral obligations beyond contracts. That doesn't mean the free market doesn't work, and we should all now ask Krugman what to do next. Amia truly seems to believe that she has Nozick and free trade in a corner when in truth she has failed to recognize what any of it is. I spend a good deal of time looking for arguments against anarcho-capitalism. Every single argument I come across doesn't address it at all. This doesn't address the real world and the real free market. Am I crazy? Are there no good arguments against these things? Or are all statists just this retarded? Maybe they're onto something and their too stupid to explain it...
I won't even respond to the rest of this article. This is all too pathetic, even for me. So far I've stomached everything I've come across and recognized legitimacy and misunderstanding where they've lied. I couldn't stand to give this article a serious enough look to put more than a day into writing this. I believe Amia only very recently learned about two names, Rawls and Nozick. Their ideas are all she knows, so they are the only things she can apply to the world around her. Despite being a graduate, she still a dumb puppy and not ready for real criticism.
I already linked David Gordon's response, which get's into the specifics of how Amia embarrasses herself in the realm of understanding Nozick. But if you missed it you can read it here; The New York Times Got Libertarianism Wrong, Yet Again.
Below you can find Stefan Molyneux's response, which concentrates specifically on the stupidity of the situations Amia brings up.