Sunday, May 11, 2014

When Swimming in Mud

I recently received an email in which a couple of interesting questions / comments were raised.  I thought it worthwhile to offer a post from my response.  I paraphrase the comments from the email.

What of businesses who make a significant portion of their income from the state, or thrive due to state regulation?  These are not libertarian.  Yet there is pro Walmart and pro Apple stuff at LRC – Ron Paul even praises Google.

Every company is in some way cooperating with the state to some degree (even a black-market, cash-only business is presumably using FRNs, or delivering product over public roads).  The question is where to draw the line?  Always there is gray.  Your question even pre-supposes that gray: objectively define “significant portion.”

In the case raised, several concepts are applicable, I believe:

1)      Is the company petitioning the government for advantage (whether funds, favorable market-limiting legislation, whatever)?  This certainly would be a violation.  This, it seems to me, is different that being a relatively third-party recipient of government funds – for example, Wal-Mart sells to customers who pay using the modern version of food stamps.  As long as Wal-Mart isn’t lobbying congress for an expansion of the program, this practice seems acceptable.
2)      It seems to me appropriate for a company to petition the government for a reduction in government intervention – a form of self-defense, in my view.
3)      What of cases where the government says “cooperate with us, or else”?  This gets interesting.  Few if any choose to shut down (I recall one email provider recently).  Most have co-operated.  While some blame might be placed upon those willing to co-operate, it is important to keep in mind which party is initiating the aggression.  Also, keep in mind that in certain cases it is a criminal offense to make anyone aware that the government even asked for “cooperation” (in a real stretch of that term).
4)      Finally, why the good words from LRC / Ron Paul for the Googles, Apples, and Wal-Marts of the world, when they sometimes / often violate libertarian principles?  I cannot speak for LRC or Ron Paul; however, it seems to me that on balance, each of these companies have, on net, greatly increased the possibilities for liberty (certainly in different ways). 
I stress the term “on net” and the term “possibilities.”  Lowering costs increases the possibilities for liberty; providing choice increases the possibilities for liberty; making the world of information available to me at my desk or on the road increases the possibilities for liberty.  These firms have certainly done this, as opposed to firms (for example) who a) live at the government trough, and b) produce products of destruction (financial or physical).

The next topic raised:

Employers should respect the individual liberty of their employees…

I believe the employer, as the property owner, has the right to set terms.  The (potential) employee has the right to accept the terms, or not.  If the employer still gets plenty of qualified applicants, so be it.  If the employer does not, perhaps he will change his practice.

I do not see a means, consistent with the NAP, to intervene in this.

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