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Who is 'the society,' anyway?
Posted By Robert Ringer On 02/08/2012 @ 7:55 pm In Commentary,Opinion | No Comments
When a longtime reader sends me a well-meaning but anti-liberty email, it makes me question my own writing skills because his words make it clear that he doesn’t really understand what I’m saying.
Such was the case with an email I recently received from a long-time reader that read, in part:
I read today your editorial about freedom and capitalism in my local paper, the Florida Times Union, in Jacksonville. I have been in business for over 30 years and would like to add to your definition of the purpose of business, which you said was to make money.
I think business also has a responsibility to provide a quality product or service to its customers, to provide appropriate wages and working conditions for its employees, and be a benefit to the society that allows it to operate and provides it with educated employees and customers who can afford to buy from it.
Let’s take his points one at a time.
Business has a responsibility to provide a quality product or service to its customers.
Who has the moral authority to decree that the owner of a business has a responsibility to do anything, including providing a quality product or service to his customers? To highlight just how absurd this notion is, let us assume that 100 percent of the populace agrees that every company “has a responsibility to provide a quality product to its customers.”
Even if we were to accept this silly premise, we are immediately confronted with another question: Who has the moral authority to decide what constitutes a “quality product”? A product that I believe to be of high quality, you may judge to be inferior. Neither of us is right or wrong. These are merely our personal opinions.
Even if we assume that there is a universal standard for “quality,” I have no God-given right to force you to make the quality of your products conform to that standard. And the Constitution certainly does not give the government the right to pass judgment on the quality of your products. It is the government’s job to protect your property (i.e., business), not dictate how you should operate it.
Business has a responsibility to provide appropriate wages and working conditions for its employees.
Again, for the sake of argument, let us assume that companies really do have a responsibility “to provide appropriate wages and working conditions for their employees.” Same problem as above: Who has the moral authority to decide what constitutes “appropriate wages and working conditions”? The answer is that each prospective employee is the only one who has the moral authority to make such a decision – for himself.
If you like the wages and working conditions at a company and you wish to work there, it doesn’t matter what I think. Likewise, if Peter Progressive believes that the wages and working conditions at that company are not “fair,” he is free not to work there.
Now, you may be thinking, “But what if he likes the wages but doesn’t like the working conditions? Or likes the working conditions but doesn’t like the wages?” Either way, he’s still in full control. He is free to weigh any and all aspects of a job that he – repeat he – deems to be negative against any and all aspects of that job that he deems to be positive, then make his own decision as to whether he wants the job.
But what if the employer does not want him? Doesn’t that override his wishes? Of course! The prospective employee’s desire for a job does not give him the right to violate the business owner’s property rights any more than the employer has the right to force the prospective employee to work for him. The trouble begins when someone tries to inject his interpretation of what is fair and unfair into someone else’s business.
Business has a responsibility to be a benefit to the society that allows it to operate and provides it with educated employees and customers who can afford to buy from it.
This statement is nothing short of breathtaking. Who, or what, is this “society” he refers to? Is it everyone who lives within a given geographical area?
If so, does that mean that every individual in that area must feel that he benefits from a company for its existence to be justified? If you own a company that produces a product that I have no use for, does that mean that you have no right to sell your product to others who find the product to be beneficial?
“Benefitting society” is a nice, progressive sound bite, but it has about as much meaning as “social justice.” What benefits me may not benefit you, and what benefits you may not benefit me. Not really all that complicated.
But let us assume, for the moment, that society is a group of individuals who agree on everything. Should they have the right to decide whether or not to allow a business to operate?
Sorry, but the enumerated powers spelled out in the Constitution do not give the government, or any group of citizens, the right to decide whether someone can or cannot operate a business. A society that has the power to allow or prevent a business from operating is a society based on mob rule.
Similarly, does society really “provide a business with educated employees”? Again, what does this even mean? Progressive nonsense aside, “society” does not provide a business with its employees. A business is responsible for finding and hiring its own employees. “Society” has nothing do with the matter.
Funny, but I don’t mind an occasional hate-filled diatribe from a misguided Marxist or progressive. However, when a professed libertarian or conservative, with the best of intentions, completely misses the mark, it can be quite frustrating.
That said, I will refrain from throwing a Nutty Newt-like tantrum. After all, being a writer is a whole lot better than bagging groceries.
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