Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Reducing Men Into Beasts

Often whilst discussing the topic of [government-] free-markets regulated by the market participants alone, the interlocutor will make the claim that only bedlam and chaos would arise from the lack of government oversight of all market transactions.

I believe that this Pavlov's-dogmatic assertion is conditioned into the layman two-fold; first by what passes for American History education in our schools, and second, by years of living within the framework of a regulating state.

It's the second point I would like to explore further.

I want to ask the reader to take a moment and imagine living on an remote island along with a small group of others, but with no communication to the outside world. Assuming that there is no elected leader, and everyone gets along, what percentage of any given sample of that population would you say are dishonest, or have no remorse over causing financial or bodily harm to others?

Now imagine that you lived on the island, and you found the lost property of another person, would you return it even if they would never be the wiser?

I know that I would. Call me naive, but I believe that most of the population are born naturally honest and overall good people. I'm willing though to admit that I can't speak for everyone, and that there exists a minute number of individuals who are born polar to natural law.

It was just a few years ago when I read Alan Greenspan's essay titled "The Assault on Integrity" featured in Ayn Rand's "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" which brought this humanistic insight to my attention, and which has been churning in the back of my mind ever since. (It's actually a very powerful piece, Greenspan's present day integrity not withstanding ;-) You may read this by clicking here: "The Assault on Integrity" and select the first link to page 118.)

In the essay, Greenspan explains:
"The hallmark of collectivists is their deep-rooted distrust of freedom and of the free-market processes; but it is their advocacy of so-called "consumer protection" that exposes the nature of their basic premises with particular clarity.

By preferring force and fear to incentive and reward as a means of human motivation, they confess their view of man as a mindless brute functioning on the range of the moment, whose actual self-interest lies in "flying-by-night" and making "quick-kills". They confess their ignorance of the role of intelligence in the production process, of the wide intellectual context and long-range vision required to maintain a modern industry. They confess their inability to grasp the crucial importance of the moral values which are the motive power of capitalism.

Capitalism is based on self-interest and self-esteem; it holds integrity and trustworthiness as cardinal virtues and makes them pay off in the marketplace, thus demanding that men survive by means of virtue, not of vices. It is this superlatively moral system that the welfare statists propose to improve upon by means of preventive law, snooping bureaucrats, and the chronic goad of fear."

The essay straightforwardly demonstrates that this pessimistic view of humanity (i.e. claims such that "chaos will prevail absent of government regulation") and its accompanying regulatory implementation only begets further discordant tendencies in the realm of human relationships, nicely summed up in the common expressions- "dog-eat-dog world" and "watch your back".

The most valuable asset to an individual or business is their integrity, or good will. This seemingly trifle point is a big deal when the market is unhampered by regulations. As a motivating agent, it is by far the greatest incentive for people and businesses to provide the highest level of service and product. Regulations and punitive damages when instituted by third-parties, are too poor a substitute for the purpose of keeping businesses honest.

In fact, it lowers the bar for all competitors who produce, say for example, breakfast cereals. If the regulation stipulates that the advertised weight can be off by 5%, every business no longer has to compete on selling you the advertised weight, since the regulation set the bar to some minimum standard, the different producers can now "collude" to not give a private guarantee staked on their reputation, that their product is exactly what they claimed it to be. In essence, regulations reverse the incentive model with punitive disincentives, and hence encourage businesses to get away with as much as they legally can.

All this is of course is not without the help of the beguiled consumers, who innocently believe that only further government scrutiny and fear of punishment will keep the companies straight, and so they no longer rely on the reputation and integrity that good will would have provided sans regulations.

The layman thus loses his or her innocence, and always seeks to get ahead, perhaps even unethically, since if he or she doesn't, other unscrupulous individuals (just like himself) will ride roughshod over them.

This is why I laugh when people conditionally regard anarchism as chaos; a better definition of chaos cannot be found than in the replacement of integrity with government regulation, and unfortunately this humantropy™ self-perpetuates us into a snarling pack of nervous dogs.

I lay stake to this pun
This one too.


Concerned Reader said...

Wrong, wrong and wrong. I could go on for some time on how completely off this entire train of thought is but just to pick on a side point. You've taken the liberty to assume that returning the lost object is the right thing to do, something you dub "natural law". Returning a lost object is a biblical law. Emphasis on law. The bible had to make it a law for it believed that people would not do it otherwise. The entire bible is only needed on the assumption that people are not natuarally good. It is for this reason it advocates setting up a government. It is also for this reason that all pre-biblical and non Christian-Judaeo ethic based societies (e.g. Sumeria, Roman Empire) do not follow the morality that you call "natural law". I recommend you get a hold of Jonathan Sack's The Dignity of Difference for a sensible perspective on globalism and the free market.

iceberg said...

If what you are saying is true, I suppose the bible had to write "thou shall not murder" because otherwise people would shed blood callously?

I'm not so sure thats true.

On your conclusion that the bible holds people to be naturally "not good"- how does one come about this leap of logic?

To the contrary, I can bring you several proofs that natural law is independent of God's commandments, and even sometimes that his commandments are viewed solely as opportunities for those who follow his will to be rewarded ("lifi'khach hirba la'hem torah ooh-mitzvot") and not to dictate morality.

First let us consider the Seven Noahide Laws (sheva mitzvot bene noah) which were instituted after the biblical deluge. These laws, which command the gentiles' obedience include prohibitions against theft and murder. The biblical law states that if a gentile transgresses these laws, he is liable for the death penalty. Putting aside the dire consequences, the Talmud discusses why a gentile would be held liable for commandments he never have heard of. The Talmud answers that the bible holds that the Noahide laws are logical, and that even if one was not directly prohibited, he was obligated to obey them since they are "objective" or "natural" laws which does not require the transgresser to be forewarned of their moral state.

Another example is of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs, whom though they did not yet recieve the written law at Mount Sinai, followed the mitzvot (literally "commandments"). They also were unique in that they were allowed to transgress sins, if they believed the outcome would result in a better status quo (biblical utilitarians!)

If according to you, the biblical law is what makes an action right or wrong, moral or immoral, how is it that in these two examples, I was able to show that morality and biblical law are not interdependent?

I would go as far as saying that it is not our role to determine the ethics that God wishes to impress on us through his commandments; what he wants is you to do his will. In fact it is sometimes wrong to second guess Gods intentions behind his commandments such as the heretics did when it came to the mitzvot of "Shilu'akh Heken".

The lesson of Parah Adumah (Red Heifer), Kelayim (hybrids) and other "Khukim" is just that- follow God's will without asking what is the logic behind the commandment, and not only those, but all of his commandments.

I also do not recall any biblical text which advocates setting up a government. You might want to recall that God punished the Jewish people for requesting a monarchy in Samuel, the book of prophets. If you are refering to "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" there are answers to that- google it.

If by government you meant a court system, then I have no qualms with your argument other then how does the call for a judiciary system equate to a distrust of the natural human condition? Is it not possible that good people having an honest dispute(when each honestly believes himself in the right) would seek the use of an independent, third-party to resolve their dispute?

But you did make one point I've been forced to think over; how do I know for certain that if I didn't nurture among the framework of society in which I have, that I would have chosen to return the lost object like I say I would have. I still think that natural law would require me to respect property rights of others, without any further goading needed.

Concerned Reader said...

How appropriate, you fight like a cow.