Monday, May 25, 2015

A Few Passing Thoughts

I was working on an essay on a topic loosely related to inconsistent beliefs. In the process, I was struck by a number of strange positions adopted by our society, or at least portions of it. They are probably not important enough to merit an essay of their own, but I thought I might mention them in passing:
1. One position that has always amused me was that of various health nazis, whether banning smoking even in the privacy of my own home* or telling me I cannot eat various foodstuff as they are bad for me, these same people are often the ones who tell us that teaching abstinence is futile, as teens will :do it anyway", and the best we can do is offer them safety instructions. So, if I get this right, there is no point in making any effort to stop underage pregnancies, syphilis, AIDS, herpes, and other STDs, not to mention increased risk of date rape, sexual violence and a host of other issues that become more frequent when involving teens in sexual matters, that is not worth fighting, as "they'll do it anyway", but we should impose the full force of law to ensure against the dire consequences of a quarter pounder with cheese? Is it just me, or does this sound a bit bizarre? Informing teens of very real dangers is pointless, but we should utilitze police powers to ensure adults don't get hold of french fries and corn chips? 
2. Another of my favorites is the "do not call list". Admittedly, since everyone is annoyed by marketing calls, this one is largely supported across political lines, but there certainly was, initially at least, a push from the, mostly left-leaning, "privacy" lobby and some anti-commerce types. Which, in general, are the same people who also tell me there is no way to legally prevent homeless men from panhandling in most downtown districts. So, again, let us look at this sensibly. You can sue a company and win damages if they make a polite phone call doing nothing more than soliciting business. On the other hand, a malodorous, filthy man who stands far too close, makes vaguely threatening gestures, speaks incomprehensibly, and will not take no for an answer, against him there is nothing I can do? One is exercising a "fundamental right to speech", while somehow the other speech is not protected, mostly because it is involved in business. Again, does anyone follow this logic? 
3. As I mentioned smoking earlier, it is another question that puzzles me. I understand the arguments against smoking in public, I would prefer if it were left to the owners of the venues, with each store, bar, restaurant, etc deciding on their own, with the market making the final call, but I understand the logic, if I disagree with the practice. However, having recently flown, I am puzzled by the rules against smoking "e-cigarettes" in public. An "e-cigarette" is not a cigarette, there is no smoke. At most, you exhale a little steam, some flavoring and maybe a minute hint of nicotine, and the cigarette itself, if anything leaks, emits nothing but the same mixed with a bit more steam. Why, someone wearing perfume or cologne emits more fumes than an e-cigarette! So, why the ban? I mean, I know why, it is because the anti-smoking campaign is all about bullying others into doing what's right in your eyes, and not about protecting us from "second hand smoke". But, somehow no one seems to care. Having successfully made smokers into the despised reprobates of our culture, no law is too harsh, no inconvenience severe enough, and so, whether the law makes sense or not, anything nominally anti-smoking is permissible**.

As I said, just a few random thoughts, which didn't seem to fit elsewhere, but I thought I would share them. Doubtless some will object to one or another (that phone solicitations "involve the phone", as if that somehow removed one's rights, or made it more intrusive than a bully vagrant), but I wanted to put them somewhere, so I offer them as is, and await your replies.

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* I grant, few have yet pushed for total prohibition, but one Maryland township did try to enact a law prohibiting smoking in conjoined homes, on the theory it might somehow leap through the shared walls. So the right to smoke at home is not as safe as some believe.

** The smoking policy at my workplace, in order to prohibit e-cigarettes, bans "inhaling any substance", which a coworker pointed out means that breathing is impermissible for employees.

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POSTSCRIPT

I realize I am far behind on my promised essays. Unfortunately another bout of ill health combined with a busy week at work has kept me form even coming close to what I promised. I will try to catch up this week, if at all possible. Please accept my apology.

26 comments:

  1. People just assume that Liberals and leftists are acting on the same motives as the rest of us, which is why the Left's behavior never makes any logical sense. In reality they ave vastly different motives in life

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  2. My question is, how can a group claiming to represent the logical and scientific side of the argument, the people who present themselves as the champions of scientific methods and rational thought, how can they hold forth such contradictory and illogical positions? It would seem, if anything, they should be the ones most careful to present a consistent position. But, oddly enough, they seem to be even more self-contradictory than the right. And that is an accomplishment, as many conservatives have quite inconsistent beliefs. (As I have complained any number of times.)

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    1. The answer to your question is that the Left’s claims of respect for logic and science are false. It’s that simple. We know this to be fact because the Left readily dismisses any science that doesn’t support their own agenda (as in the science proving that Oswald killed JFK or the science that proves the twin towers were brought down by planes under the control of hijackers). They are inherently dishonest, and to the extent science can be used to advance their agenda because of OUR respect for it, they will use it. To the extent that science doesn’t serve their causes, they will abuse it.

      The second reason we know for a fact that the Left’s claims of representing logic and science are false is their refusal to engage in open and honest debate. That’s not the behavior of someone who believes logic and science are on his side. Think of it – Obama repeatedly informs us that the debate about climate change is “over.” When did this supposed debate ever take place? When did the climate change alarmists EVER make themselves available for public questioning by the skeptics? Obama’s insistence that the “debate is over” is simply his way saying the Left is going to force its agenda on us regardless of what we want.

      As for your contention that “many conservatives have quite inconsistent beliefs,” I don’t know what you mean. I’ll wait and see if you elaborate before commenting further.

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  3. Conservative inconsistency varies from person to person. For example, I have met a number of conservatives who have some odd fondness for unions. (They seem to be less numerous as unions become more and more overtly political, but in the past those who complained of "too much government" didn't see the contradiction in supporting collective bargaining mandated by the state.) Or there are conservatives who think business regulation is evil, except for the SEC or the Federal Reserve or whatever their pet government agency is. They think the state MUST step in to curb evil bankers or stock brokers, not recognizing they are using the same logic the elft uses to curb evil businessmen, just on a smaller scale. There are more examples in a similar vein, but you get the picture. It is hardly unique, there are those on the left who sometimes break with their belief in big government and support individual initiative or freedom. And there are those on the right who mix support for freedom with belief that this or that regulation is a good thing. (You and I have spoken about this often enough that you know I am inflexible in arguing that, if you concede that regulation is god for one bit fo business, you open the door to eventually regulate it all... once you concede the logic, how can you argue against it? Just as Griswold grew to Roe, so too the relatively minor intended scope fo the interstate commerce clause grew to rail rate regulation to fixing prices for grain storage to the Mann Act to the Violence Against Women Act [justified to the Supreme Court -- fortunately unsuccesfully for once -- by the interstate commerce clause].)

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    1. Everyone seems to have a different definition of what belief system makes one a “conservative,” including you and me. That makes it tough to defend against the criticism of being “inconsistent.” I don’t know any conservatives who are in favor of unions, especially not collective bargaining mandated by the state. In the absence of further info I would question their claims to being “conservative.”

      You asked: “if you concede that regulation is good for one bit of business, you open the door to eventually regulate it all... once you concede the logic, how can you argue against it?”

      So should we not have any laws at all, since laws open the door to the gov’t potentially regulating every single thing we do? It’s a bit like saying you should never let anyone into your house because once they’re inside they can kill you and take all your property. Yes, it’s a possibility, but the inability to allow anyone into your home is its own form of tyranny. You can’t entertain friends. You can’t have anything repaired. So you let people into your home but you take certain precautions, such as knowing who they are and checking their business credentials. If opening your door is a sure path to death and robbery despite your precautions, then all hope is lost anyway, because if your refusal to open the door is the only thing standing in the way of a determined band of thieves, they’ll just break the door down or find another way in. That doesn’t mean you should be stupid and just leave all the doors and windows unlocked, but you find a balance between being able to live life as you want to and protecting yourself, always knowing that there are risks involved. Isn’t that precisely how you live, even though you suggest that as a nation we must never open the door regardless of the sacrifice?

      Conservatives are not anarchists or libertarians. I believe in the rule of law and limited government that protects the rights of the individual and performs a small number of functions for the common good. IMO some regulations are consistent with that and others are not. Yes, it would be ideal to simply never regulate business, but experience has taught us that people are able to seriously harm others under the cover of business and it can be very tricky to discourage that by the usual means of holding individuals accountable. Once again the worldwide practice of regulating business to some degree demonstrates universal acceptance of the peoples’ right to protect themselves from certain harms, regardless of whether those harms are perpetrated by individuals or under the guise of business.

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  4. You oversimplify as well.

    No, the problem is not that law itself is wrong, it is that the prevention of voluntary exchange between individuals by an uninvolved third party is improper. When I say 'regulation" I mean the intervention of government into private agreements which violate no one's rights.

    But perhaps you are right, I suppose I am a "libertarian". If you want to reserve conservative for a system which is a hybrid of libertarianism and liberalism or authoritarianism or whatnot, then you're right, I do not fall within that term. I differ from libertarians in several ways, such as believing that government is not inherently evil, simply being a tool. (Oddly, you are more like a libertarian in that regard than I am.) I also believe that society has an interest in controlling behaviors -- which libertarians generally seem to abhor on principle -- I simply believe the means for such control is through non-coercive means, that is, elements outside of formal government. Beyond that, I believe the ideal government is one which interests itself solely in protecting rights, by which (since people define "rights" in strange ways) I mean protection against the use of force, theft or fraud.

    Then again, all of that is the ideal. In practice, I believe the best way to achieve that is for government to be distributed, for power to be localized as much as possible, as it should, over time lead to a reduction of government power. I am certain it will still be a bumpy ride, as people can persist in mistakes and misunderstand cause and effect for quite a while, but eventually the truth wins out.

    I would also contend that your final statement is incorrect. Almost every case I can name of "business" doing something dangerous comes about because business is either exploiting some idiotic government measure (eg the subprime crisis, the enron accounting scandal), or else, in a few cases, because businesses were doing something that would be illegal under a system without intrusive regulation (eg outright fraud).

    But, rather than try to show examples, why not tell me what is a good business regulation, and why, and I will argue the opposite. It will be much quicker than me trying to guess what you mean by necessary regulation.

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    1. >>”…the ideal government is one which interests itself solely in protecting rights, by which … I mean protection against the use of force, theft or fraud.”

      >>”….power [should] be localized as much as possible…”

      Well now I’m confused because I agree with both of those statements. In your original reply to me you said, “…there are those on the right who mix support for freedom with belief that this or that regulation is a good thing.” If you agree that gov’t has a legitimate role in protecting people from theft or fraud, why would you be against ‘this or that’ regulation that genuinely prevents theft or fraud by businesses?

      As far as an example of a good business regulation, IMO one example would be laws that give people 3 days Right of Rescission on mortgage loans. As a younger person I had strong feelings about the obligation of consumers to look out for themselves – let the buyer beware, right? But experience has shown me the reality that many people are simply too young and inexperienced, too old or too mentally challenged to employ a level of consumer sophistication that sufficiently protects them against hasty or ill-advised financial decisions that could be devastating. Maybe you’ll change my mind, but I don’t see it as a major infringement on businesses and I would guess that it helps free up time in our clogged courts as well.

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    2. Well, I can think of one problem, and it is a problem with all such regulations, they sound really good until you need something different. What if two, mature, aware adults want a contract to execute immediately and irrevocably? I am selling and I need the money to invest immediately elsewhere. I do not have sufficient cash to invest without the sale, and, say, a bank will not trust me with a loan unless I have secured cash to put up. So I need to be certain the sale is final. And you, also a mature adult, are willing to do so. However, the law says we have no right to waive it? Yes, it may be unusual, but then again so are the cases where people actually use the right of rescission (honestly, I did mortgage refinance for a living a while ago, and in a year or so had 0 cases where it was exercised, so no more common than my example). So, while it sounds nice, by cutting off the right to choose our own contracts, it may at times be as harmful as it is helpful. Also, it is part of the do gooder mentality which starts the chain of "but what is someone is not smart enough..." laws, which end up creating endless hand holding. After all, if I am not smart enough to contract for myself, then why should I not be forced to invest for my retirement? Or told what to eat? Once you postulate the law should be written to the lowest common denominator and to protect the stupid, you end up with the government designed a a nanny or the state as an asylum. I much prefer a law which assumes adults are competent to make their own decisions, even if, at times, idiots and the inexperienced suffer for it. Quite honestly, no matter what laws you make, the stupid and inexperienced will suffer. It is how you become smart and experienced, bad choices. No laws will stop that. And if the law coddles, it ends up removing choices for those who are smart or experienced enough to make them, which is both dangerous and harmful.

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    3. And as far as "regulation" preventing theft or fraud, what is the point? If something is theft or fraud, it is a crime, and the risk of criminal prosecution is what deters that. Trying to prevent crime through regulation ends up removing our rights and not really stopping anything. We do not allow preventative detention in criminal law, arresting those we think might commit crimes, so why punish businesses because we think they may commit fraud? The law punishes AFTER you commit a crime and prove yourself a criminal, I am opposed to laws which try to deter crime (say gun control) for that reason. Until you prove yourself a criminal, your rights are unlimited, it is only once you commit a crime you lose those rights. It may sound unfair or dangerous, but I think it far more dangerous to allow the state to remove our rights to try to prevent crime.

      I suppose I should say "the state exists to punish those who commit fraud, theft or use force", but I do believe it also has the right to prevent when they witness the act, or, I suppose, when the act is being planned with certainty, as in conspiracy charges or crimes of attempted murder and the like. But that sort of prevention is very different than regulatory measures to "prevent" stock fraud, which simply amount to burdensome reporting requirements which we have seen actually favor certain types of fraud while doing little to prevent any misbehavior, but do impose very heavy burdens on legitimate and honest businesses, and with no gain...

      Ah, but I am writing a book here, so I will stop for the moment. More to follow either in a new post, or more lengthy comments.

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    4. Allow me to offer some examples of "protective" laws doing harm.

      1. Minimum wage - based on the idea people are too inexperienced or stupid to know what is a fair wage, prices many young and inexperienced out of the market, forces a lot of entry level workers to take unpaid internships (which are legal) rather than low paid jobs now made illegal. (Also favors hiring of illegals, and other violations of law, also reduces tax income through jobs paid under the table. All around horrible law.)

      2. Liability Laws - Because the courts have decided people are too inexperienced or stupid to waive their right to sue, all sellers must assume, despite waivers, they will face liability suits. This imposes a massive surcharge on many products, and makes other unavailable. Doctors, especially, are hit hard by this, with many services being in very limited supply to unavailable in some areas known to be very plaintiff friendly.

      3. Social Security - Because the government thinks we are too inexperienced or too stupid to plan for retirement, it confiscates a percentage of our income and pays what it thinks is a good return. We do not own it as we would a retirement plan, we get way below market returns, and we may see nothing since it is nearly bankrupt. Yet we cannot opt out as we do not know enough to do so.

      I think you see the pattern here. Once the principle is enshrined the purpose of the law is to protect the weakest of the herd, the result is the loss of choice for everyone and an incredible expansion of government.

      As I argue in the series starting here - http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2010/09/liberalism-its-origins-and-consequences.html - the basic foundation of liberalism is the idea you know better and everyone else is stupid, so once oyu base laws upon that, you have agreed to the underpinnings of liberalism and have no real reason to dispute any expansion of government intended to protect people from themselves. Even something as simple as a rescission period establishes this principle, and concedes the basis for most, of not all, modern intrvention.

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    5. Sorry if any of the above sounded rather combative. I was writing quickly while working and had too many thoughts to get out. I usually try to phrase things properly, but in this case I am afraid the rush may have left me sounding less polite than usual.

      I will re-read and try to put together a better phrased and more thorough response tonight or tomorrow.

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    6. No need to apologize for anything, Andrew – you’re fine.

      You make good points. Although Right of Rescission laws are reasonable IMO they are probably not the best example for the type of laws that I had in mind which prevent people from stealing from or defrauding customers under cover of business. I can’t name the specific laws offhand but they would prevent businesses from false advertising or, in the case of stocks for instance, they would prevent people/businesses from artificially manipulating stock prices for their own gain at others’ expense. Ultimately there’s no difference between snatching someone’s wallet out of a man’s pocket, which everyone agrees is criminal behavior, and stealing from someone by intentionally misrepresenting what’s being sold to them except that in the latter case the thief is likely to get away with a lot more loot.

      Why businesses and not individuals? To the extent it’s possible, both should be addressed; however, it’s easy to see that lower level employees in a business might not see or understand how they’re actions as employees are contributing to the perpetration of fraud. This makes it hard for authorities to know where to draw the line on which individuals are culpable and which are not. By defining what practices won’t be allowed and giving consumers and authorities legal recourse against businesses you address this dilemma. That’s why it’s universally done.

      All of this really comes back to the old argument we have about common sense in legislation. I totally understand why you bristle at that suggestion but it’s the only option we have for reasonable gov’t. Anarchy and libertarianism, wherein there are no laws or essentially ‘non-aggression’ laws only, won’t be tolerated by societies as evidenced by the fact that they don’t exist anywhere. “Let the buyer beware” may sound perfectly reasonable to some, but buyers have a lot of clout and they’ve decided they won’t tolerate being scammed.

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    7. Iwrote an essay ( http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2013/07/youve-come-long-way-baby.html ) that explains why caveat emptor was adopted. It has nothing to do with favoring sellers or liking business, there is a very simple logic.

      You see, if a contract only contains what is written in it, it is predictable, and permanent. What it says now is what it always says. On the other hand, if there is an "implicit warranty of safety" or an "implicit warranty of usability" or anything like that, what those terms mean change from day to day and year to year, or even court to court. When I make an exchange, a good may be considered perfectly usable and safe. Ten years later it may be considered unsafe and suddenly my contract is void. In some cases, that may not matter, but there was a time when contracts and leases were written for 99 years precisely because things were predictable because contracts contained only what was written. Once you start adding to contracts, and worse, adding to contracts terms that have shifting meanings, the law is no longer reliable and constant and I may do something perfectly permissible today and find I am liable, or even a criminal, in the future. To me that is a bad thing.

      Worse still, because contracts are inconstant and unreliable, businesses must assume the worst, that contracts will pick up all sorts of implicit warranties or possibly be voided, and thus they must charge against those potential outcomes, or write contracts heavily loaded in their favor to try to offset potential risks. In short, a lot of the supposed evils of business are actually reactions to the uncertain environment government intervention creates. (That one I can cite: http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2014/03/perverting-self-interest.html )
      You might also like:

      http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2013/08/contracts-and-freedom.html
      http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2013/11/in-praise-of-contracts.html
      http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2013/11/oven-mitts-and-safety-regulation.html
      http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2014/05/consumer-protection-cartels-and-failure.html
      http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2013/02/consumer-protection.html

      All of which have something to do with this discussion

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    8. Sorry to take so long to reply, Andrew. I’ve been very busy lately.

      Again, your comments demonstrate why it is essential for SOME common sense in law and gov’t. It’s true that the interpretation of implied warranties can lead to a certain amount of risk in commerce; but certainly that risk is no greater than the risk to consumers from placing no legal expectations on sellers or buyers whatsoever. You may as well tell anyone who is trusting or unsophisticated that they should plan to be screwed, because they will be. For that matter even the cynical and sophisticated would need to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to stay ahead of the thieves. Sorry but that’s not something that society will tolerate, our private little debate notwithstanding. So if the reality is that people aren’t willing to spend their lives being victimized by scammers and the other extreme is that simple commerce becomes too complicated and expensive as a result of imprecise laws, the answer lies somewhere in between. We need certain laws, and we need reasonable people (i.e. not liberals) to interpret and enforce those laws.

      Libertarians get angry with conservatives for taking this position and for imposing what they believe are hindrances to their freedom. My answer is that they are blaming the wrong people. Laws are necessary because of the people who, without laws and the consequences, would have no qualms whatsoever with abusing their fellow citizens. They are the ones who deserve the ire of the libertarians, not those of us who are simply trying to protect our rights and our property.

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    9. However, you are painting a relatively rosy picture of regulations. Is defining "ham in water" is any ham having 19% protein and then prosecuting those who call ham with 18% protein "ham in water" defending us against scammers? Or is it make work for regulatory agencies? Are you really victimized if I call something "franks and beans" which has fewer than x franks per ounce? Most regulation does not exist to stop fraud, but to layer endlessly complex and nonsensical regulation upon regulation. Does it save the world to require endless environmental impact studies before anything can be built? To require endless reports which accountants and even most regulators agree are meaningless and useless for investors, yet are still required by law? How do these serve any societal interest? And yet most of the regulation you are defending falls into this category, not any sort of effort to defend the public. it may be justified as such, but it is not.

      And that is also the problem with attempting to preempt any misbehavior. If you allow laws based upon the idea "some people are weak or stupid or ignorant or whatever and need to be protected, so we must prevent you from doing something that may harm them." Well, at what level of stupidity or weakness do we stop? How far do we regulate? Do we fine people for not warning us aftershave is flammable, leading some moron to pour it on a candle to make his room smell good? (A real case.)

      You see, once you start down that road, there is no end point. My argument is simply this: A law which treats us as competent adults is eternal. It does not drift. If I explicitly punish those who use force or commit explicit fraud (a relatively narrow field) or theft, and assume in the rest of their lives, people generally can fend for themselves, the law will remain the same. On the other hand, if you say "we must protect the weak and incompetent and foolish and naive and inexperienced" there is no end point. There is always someone yet more incompetent who might need protection, and, in the end, you end up with the law creating a prison for us, mandating all our behaviors in the name of protecting the weakest of us. You may pretend you can draw lines or use common sense or only take it so far, but the experience of our regulatory agencies, our liability laws, college speech codes, a whole host of things in the society around us, show that once you make the law about protecting us from ourselves, or saving us from our own weaknesses, there is no endpoint and government power just grows and grows.

      I know you will argue against this, will claim we can stop it, or limit it, but if so, then explain to me why so far that has never happened in reality. Why our liability law, premised upon the idea that people need extra protection because of their weakness, has become such a total chaotic and overextended mess. Why our regulatory agencies have continued to expand, and will do so for the rest of the foreseeable future. Reality seems to argue quite strongly against the position you have adopted. This is not some extremist libertarian position, some nutty excess of principle, I hold this position because looking at the world around me, I see countless examples that prove clearly once you concede a principle it WILL run to its logical conclusion, and the logical conclusion of trying to prevent future crimes, of protecting the weakest against their own weakness, or protecting us against ourselves, any of the above, is a government of ever increasing scope, power and confusion.

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    10. I’m not sure how, in fully conceding that regulations expose us to abuse by the micro-management crowd, I am painting a “rosy” picture of them. Do your examples involving “ham in water” or franks and beans fall under the definition of common sense in your book? I understand it happens. I am suggesting we don’t take it that far, which is no more unrealistic than your suggestion that we convince the public to stop regulating business altogether. “Endless environmental impact studies” and “endless meaningless reports” don’t constitute common sense to me. You’re right – no one is significantly harmed by ending up with more water or less franks than what they expected. Such scams, if you want to call them that, can be self-corrected in the market by consumers choosing to spend their dollars on products that best live up to their promises. However, if you’re selling “ham in water,” I see nothing wrong with requiring that there is actually ham in the can rather than, say, muskrat. That’s a simple matter of truth in advertising. If some truths are less clear (i.e. ham in water that contains only 10% ham), let the consumer be the judge, so long as no one’s life or health is placed in jeopardy.

      Once again I don’t understand this notion that as a citizenry we must tolerate every ridiculous rule that a handful of people want to impose upon us just because we choose to protect ourselves from more serious harms. What, besides our own selves, is preventing us from insisting upon some common sense? Using your aftershave example, I think it’s reasonable to require manufacturers to place warnings on products that are flammable because adding “Warning: Contents are Flammable” is not a significant burden to them and many people are likely to not know that certain ingredients listed in tiny print somewhere could seriously harm them if they make a mistake in handling it. But common sense should tell us that while many people may not know what substances are flammable, the average person over the age of 12 understands what “flammable” means and adults should be expected to take reasonable precautions (such as not pouring a flammable product over a candle). We don’t have to cater to ignorance unless we choose to do so.

      You said: “I know you will argue against this, will claim we can stop it, or limit it, but if so, then explain to me why so far that has never happened in reality.”

      But your suggestion that we somehow prevent people from regulating business to protect themselves has also never happened in reality, at least not in the modern world in which we live. How do you stop people from doing what they perceive as necessary or desirable to ensure their safety? Reality seems to be arguing quite strongly against your position as well.

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    11. Sorry it took me so long to reply, been rather swamped with work and other matters (plus some medical things, which I will complain about later), so just noticed this post.

      I will reply more fully later, when time allows. Right now, when I am replying before going to sleep, let me point out something: Under my non-regulatory minimal government, if I sold you muskrat as ham, that is called fraud, and would be a crime. You need no regulators to stop that. It has been a crime since the dawn of the idea of fraud. Selling something as other than what it is, or failing to perform to the letter of a contract is at least a civil wrong, and perhaps criminal, if knowingly undertaken to defraud someone. No need for regulation to prevent that.

      So, basically, what you say should be illegal, is illegal without any regulation. Which is why I argue we don't need government jumping into private agreements and telling people what they can and cannot trade with one another.

      I doubt you will agree, but that is still my position, and as yet I have no reason to change it.

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    12. I think what’s happened here is we are defining “regulation” differently. To me, regulations are laws, so when you say there should be no regulations with respect to say, business, I take that to mean you believe there should be no laws on businesses. Yet when you note that fraud is already illegal, it seems you are making a distinction between laws and regulations. I would wholeheartedly agree that agencies shouldn’t be given the power to create regulations; the making of laws should be strictly the role of the congress. But I can see the practical reasons for having certain agencies oversee the enforcement of laws/regulations that are specific to certain sectors (agriculture, for instance).

      If I understand you, you are saying let’s just have a law against fraud – period. But needless to say, what rises to the level of fraud is sometimes highly subjective, and the variety of interpretations that are possible has the potential to expose citizens to what could amount to very arbitrary system of justice. A certain amount of specificity in necessary within the law so that people understand clearly exactly what actions can get them into trouble.

      So I dunno, maybe we are more in agreement than it seems.

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    13. Yes, i am drawing a distinction between regulatory agencies (which essentially intrude into agreements between two individuals to assert they must or must not make specific terms) and laws (which protect individuals against violations of rights -- rights being understood to mean ONLY life, liberty and property, that is laws prevent violence, theft and fraud [properly defined, as fraud has been absurdly expanded]). Basically, laws protect you against an unwanted violation of your rights by some other individual, regulations prevent individuals from doing things that in no way violate rights.

      For example, I know you will disagree, but I have every right to lie. I can even lie in advertisements. Now, if I sell something and incorporate that lie into the agreement, THEN I may be in trouble, either a civil violation, or maybe even criminal fraud -- depending upon the specifics. But advertising is not a contract, and thus can incorporate anything I want. (And for those who claim this will lead to problems, there is lots of evidence people did not believe the hyperbole of the snake oil salesmen, the reason they bought was because, when professional doctors -- promoting limits on the practice -- were selling mercury purgatives, or else "heroic nihilism" -- that is doing nothing -- the snake oil salesmen were the best alternative. People did not believe the over the top ads, they just had no other choice. And, had we limited medicine to the professionals at that time we would have had a lot more mercury poisoning, so regulation seems kind of absurd in that case.)

      Likewise, you and I have every right to agree to anything we want. you and I agree you work for $1/hour, there is no reason for the state to intervene.

      I could go on, but just got back from vacation, so need to do some things. I may write a post about this shortly, especially in terms of medicine and the past, as the myths about "snake oil" (ignoring the pathetic state of "professional medicine" at the time) lie at the heart of many of our advertising regulations and arguments for licensing professions.

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    14. You’re going to pay me $1/hour? I don’t think so, Andrew!

      Webster’s defines a law as “A rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority.” It doesn’t say anything about laws being limited to the protection of rights. Webster’s defines regulation as “an official rule or law that says how something should be done,” or “a rule or order issued by an executive authority or regulatory agency of a government and having the force of law.” Going back to the starting point of this debate, you said, “there are those on the right who mix support for freedom with belief that this or that regulation is a good thing.” Well to the extent that a regulation is a law or a regulation makes it possible to enforce a legitimately passed law, I don’t see how that’s entirely inconsistent with freedom. Freedom is not when everyone in a given society can do whatever he wants as long as he doesn’t steal, kill or imprison someone. That is only freedom for the grossly inconsiderate who don’t care if someone’s else’s enjoyment of their life, liberty or property is destroyed by their loud music, obscene language, offensive public displays, etc., etc., etc. Otherwise freedom loses much of its value.

      As for the right to lie, that depends upon what you mean by “right.” You can be tossed in jail for telling certain lies, which sort of belies that claim. People claim to have all sorts of rights, but rights are meaningless if the reality is that you can’t assert them. The world began without rules against lying, but as societies grew and interaction and commerce expanded, people began to recognize the need for laws against lying in the course of transacting business. Without such rules there would be no such thing as commerce as we know it and the courts would have no means of resolving disputes. I.e., chaos would reign.

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    15. Well, we are going to differ on one thing, as I do not think loud music, obscene language or the rest ARE the proper realm of government. Society can control them, but through persuasion, social disapproval, shunning, whatever. But one should not lose property, lose freedom or otherwise suffer legal repercussions simply because of behavior others don't like. I know you disagree, but I firmly believe the purpose of criminal law is to protect rights, that's it, period. If you don't violate a right, you can't lose a right, or property, or anything else. It is the purpose of social structures to encourage or discourage behaviors, not the government.

      As far as the dictionary definition, I find those dangerous starting place. I suppose in a way my definition is idiosyncratic, but it has a fairly simple origin. In legal parlance, regulation is what regulatory agencies do, rules they craft apart from formal legislation, while laws are those things imposed by a legislature. Since this usually boils down to regulation being independent of formal criminal law, I reserve the term "law" for criminal law, and since I believe only violations of rights are the province of criminal law, I place all the other sorts of controls, all the rules regarding situations where rights are not violated, as regulation. It is not a perfect division, and not one I intend to uphold as useful for serious arguments, but as an informal division, it seems to work well enough.

      Finally, (for now) I disagree completely with your final statement. I allow that contracts establish agreements between individuals, and thus are enforceable in court. How would disregarding lies make this stop working? As I said, lies are irrelevant, unless you put them in contracts. So, your ads can lie, but not the sales agreement. How does that create chaos?

      Allow me to offer an example, the supposed evil practice of "bait and switch". Supposedly, it is a horrible crime to offer a product for a sale price, then not have it in stock. Well, how? If I am a buyer and go to a store and see they don't have the sale item I wanted, I don't buy something. Problem solved. How is this criminal? Because foolish people might be led to do foolish things? Well, even without bait and switch foolish people do foolish things, the law will never stop that, it is what makes them foolish. So, we criminalize a behavior that may, at times, be perfectly innocent (eg. you sold out before your ad stopped running, which has been prosecuted in some cases), in order to futilely protect foolish people from their own foolishness? That seems pretty evil to me, more so than the supposed evil sales practice. Removing freedom from everyone to protect the stupid from themselves is to me a much greater evil.

      I know some disagree, but I cannot help but think I would rather suffer from an occasional misleading ad than lose my freedom of speech. (And think about it, these advertising rules were the first step which led to such great things as the campaign finance laws. As I always argue, once you take one step, it runs to its logical conclusion, you can't give up "a little freedom".)

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    16. >>”But one should not lose property, lose freedom or otherwise suffer legal repercussions simply because of behavior others don't like.”

      What about behaviors such as murder, rape, assault or robbery? What gives us the right to restrict peoples’ freedom to do these things we don’t like, but not other things? Where is it written that only these behaviors rise to that level, and what all-powerful being made such a decree? Unless you can tell me by what logic you can be punished because you slapped someone but you can deprive your neighbors of peace or sleep by blaring loud music (a frequent form of torture against P.O.W.’s, btw) to your heart’s content, then your line that distinguishes between these behaviors seems to be very arbitrary to me.

      >>” I firmly believe the purpose of criminal law is to protect rights…”

      Who do you think defines what our rights are? The people who decided that they have the right to live, the right to be protected from physical harm and the right to keep their own property are the very same people who also proclaim the right to a certain level of peace and quiet, the right to enjoy the outdoors without seeing people urinating or the right not to be stolen from by way of fraud. There is no such thing as the ‘Ultimate Guide to the Rights of People’ that gives a set list of what qualifies as a right and what doesn’t.

      >>” I allow that contracts establish agreements between individuals, and thus are enforceable in court. How would disregarding lies make this stop working?.... your ads can lie, but not the sales agreement….”

      How does someone disregard a lie if they don’t know that what they are being told is a lie? I’m no lawyer, but if you make a promise to do or sell something for a price and you accept money, as far as I’m concerned that’s a contract. That means if a guy on TV offers to sell you a widget if you send him $100, then he has committed fraud if you send the money but he doesn’t send you the widget. You have evidence of his promise because of the TV ad and evidence that you upheld your end because he cashed your check. And yet, according to your standard, he hasn’t committed any crime. He didn’t steal your money, you sent it voluntarily based upon his false promise (i.e., his lie). So now you have honest people with legitimate products to sell who could benefit greatly from mass marketing mixed in with dishonest people whose intent is to scam as many buyers as they can, and no way to discourage the latter. That’s what I mean by chaos, and you know who pays the price? The answer is that the honest businesses do, because they suffer the repercussions from dishonest businesses being allowed to compete in the same marketplace with impunity.

      >>” How is this criminal? Because foolish people might be led to do foolish things?”

      I take issue with your characterization of people who assume that businesses are honest in their advertisements as “foolish.” We are a society that runs on trade, so it’s kind of ridiculous to suggest that there should be no expectation of standards for honesty.

      >>“I would rather suffer from an occasional misleading ad than lose my freedom of speech.”

      You’re not losing your freedom of speech, you’re losing your freedom to commit fraud. Let me ask this – do you believe witnesses should have to tell the truth in court? If you answer “yes,” then please tell me why that isn’t an infringement on their rights to free speech.

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  5. I wrote already what I believe to be the minimum steps to achieve this ideal (though the steps I defined would take a while to bring about any sort of improvement, but we are an impatient lot, change --for the better-- takes time, we seem to forget that). See -- for a short description of the minimal changes needed t improve our lot and see if I am a crazy libertarian extremist. (You may think so, I can never tell how my proposals will be taken... I said the same thing as James Madison-- the feds should not build roads -- and people call me nuts. So who knows?) But, beyond that, I would also ask, fairly minimal I think, that any regulation of trade be done on a state, or local, level and not federally. Is that too much to ask? That there be 50+ environments for business, rather than one where a single mistake can effect us all? Maybe that would show just how harmful regulation can be, and how well things can function without the "necessary regulations". Or, in the alternative, maybe it would show regulation is just peachy. And then all the other states could adopt those regulations. But is it not better to have some choices rather than a "one size fits all" nation? Where a single regulator or politician can set the rules for the entire nation? At least let it be 50 regulators or politicians, which may allow some variation.

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  6. OOps. Forgot to add the url for my proposed reforms: http://ghostsquirrels.blogspot.com/2014/02/minimal-reforms.html

    It is pretty short, so worth reading. In any case, it does demonstrate my practical solution is not so extreme. (At least I like to think so, maybe you will think it a radically anarchist proposal. Who knows? I always think what I propose sounds quite sensible, so I am a bad judge.)

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    1. I'm a bit short on time at the moment but will take a look at this later today or tonight.

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    2. No hurry. I would recommend, if you want to see my argument against eliminating caveat emptor, the "You've Come a Long Way Baby" essay I cited in the list above. It also, in a way, embodies a longer version of the argument I just made above, about the way certain types of laws lead to endless extension of government scope and power.

      Read it when you can, if you wish. But that is the one I would suggest in context of this most recent set of posts.

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