The Eviction Moratorium Has Been Overturned

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The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has radiated throughout the global economy. The damage extends beyond the ex-ante pessimism of market speculators on Wall Street. Many measures implemented to prevent the spread of the virus has resulted in compounding the economic trauma. Some economically detrimental policies that have little utility in containing the virus are being touted as a crucial initiative for maintaining public health. It would be imprudent for someone without a medical background to argue against the veracity of such claims. However, many of these tradeoffs are merely band-aid measures that will have severe downstream consequences. One prominent example of this was the eviction moratorium.

The debate over this policy position has recently been featured in the headlines as U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich motions to end this law. She forms a compelling legal argument for how the continuation of this policy would constitute an overextension of the CDC’s authority. Detailed in her order is the legislative history of the eviction moratorium spurred by the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Timeline:

  • March 13th, 2020- Former President Donald Trump declares a national emergency due to COVID-19.
  • Two weeks later the CARES Act is signed into law. Part of this relief bill was a 120-day restriction on evictions for rental properties that “participate in federal assistance programs or were subject to federally-back loans”. This feature of the act was set to expire in July.
  • August 8th, 2020- the then-president “… issued an executive order…” instructing the director of the CDC and Secretary of HHS to evaluate if continuing the ban on evictions due to nonpayment was a reasonable measure to stifle the spread of the virus.
  • September 4th, 2020- The CDC issues an order (42 C.F.R. § 70.2. 85 Fed. Reg. 55,292) temporary hold on evictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The agency invoked a section of the Public Health and Service Act § 361. Reasoning that is measure is necessary for enabling individuals to self-isolate and social distance.

361. (a) The Surgeon General, with the approval of the Secretary, is authorized to make and enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession. For purposes of carrying out and enforcing such regulations, the Surgeon General may provide for such inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, contaminated as to be sources of dangerous infection to human beings, and other measures, as in his judgment may be necessary. (b) Regulations prescribed under this section shall not provide for the apprehension, detention, or conditional release of individuals except to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of such communicable diseases as may be specified from time to time in Executive orders of the President upon the recommendation of the Secretary, in consultation with the Surgeon General.

( Health and Service Act, Sect 361, P.377-378).

  • December 31, 2020- Originally set to expire, however, the CDC order was extended as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by congress. This extension was slated to expire on March 31st,2021.
  • March 31st,2021- CDC extended the federal moratorium on evictions to June 30th,2021 to prevent further spread of the virus. This new extension was predicated upon “…updated its findings to account for new evidence of how conditions had worsened since the original order was issued, as well as “[p]reliminary modeling projections and observational data” from states that lifted eviction moratoria “indicat[ing] that evictions substantially contribute to COVID-19 transmission.” Id. at 8022…”

Friedrich expounds upon the legal facts that indicate that the proposed extension through June is a jurisdictional overreach on the part of the CDC. One of the biggest questions in assessing the veracity of the agency’s capacity to impose restrictions on evictions is whether this power was conferred to the CDC by congress. Since the “… CDC Order was intended to have the force of law…” (p.9) meaning the two-prong test established in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Nat’l Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842 (1984) must be applied. What is also known as the test for  Chevron Deference or administrative deference. Depending on the action taken by the agency “…judicial deference is appropriate where the agency’s answer was not unreasonable, so long as the Congress had not spoken directly to the precise issue at question…”. Friedrich points out that the court needs to review if the congress has discussed the matter, if so then no further consideration is required (p.9-10). If the action and interpretation of a government bureau or agency do not fulfill the first test, the court needs to ascertain if the agency interpretation is valid and if so “defer to it” (p.10).

The imposition of the moratorium on evictions fails the criterion of the Chevron test through stepping outside of the boundary congressionally approved actions. Pursuant under section 264 of the Public Health Service Act the CDC does have the authority to implement measures to prevent the interstate and international spread of the virus (p.10). The enumerated list of possible measures that are allotted to the agency is not boundless. Per the precise language in section 264, the authority for agency action is centered upon “specific targets” that operate as a vehicle for transmitting the virus (p.11). Friedrich notes that placing nationwide bans on evictions does not meet this first test of congressionally allocated authority. She also conveys that including eviction bans as being a valid use of the CDC’s authority would be a distortion of the language present in Section 264 (p.12). Extending the CDC the power to intervene in the transactions between landlords and tenants presents a constitutional issue of overreach on the part of the agency (p.14). Per Friedrich’s interpretation of the law, the CDC doing so exceeded the limits of the Commerce Clause and going above and beyond the powers congress intended for the agency to possess. (p.14).

The latest purposed extension coming directly from the CDC has not been blessed by Congress. Placing the veracity of this order in question. Congressional approval has been granted to extend the eviction moratoriums twice over the past year. This approval manifesting in the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act (p.15). Since congress withheld any support for extending the eviction freeze beyond January 31st, 2021; any action taken by the CDC can only rest on the content “…Public Health Service Act alone…”(p.18). As previously demonstrated the eviction measures are not defendable within the context of the law. Making any further extension from February 1st an exertion of extralegal authority without the back of congress or any corresponding statutes.

The Biggest Blind Spot of Eliminating Qualified Immunity

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The recent wave of states placing restrictions on the Qualified Immunity defense is a great triumph for civil liberties. Providing the average citizen with the ability to sue public “servants” is one measure that holds them accountable. It achieves this end by realigning the government employee’s incentives to avoid actions that violate the civil rights of ordinary citizens through the cost of personal financial loss. Placing stringent restrictions on and outright abolishing this legal doctrine is an effective tool in curtailing state power.

However, one consideration that few commentators have explored regarding ending qualified immunity is the source of funding for compensation. While various forms of indemnification may be effective in reforming government institutions (through decreasing the frequency of rights violations) the source of funding is still a point of concern. Why? Even if the sum paid out to the victim in damages is directly taken from the offending party’s salary (99.98% of the time it is paid through the general tax pool) is this truly compensation?  This question is certainly an abstract one, however, It becomes quite necessary in terms of evaluating the restorative properties of indemnification. After all, even if damages are deducted from a public servant’s salary their income is funded by tax dollars. Depending on the extent of the damages the victim is merely receiving back the tax dollars they contributed to the tax pool. From a prima facie standpoint, most would perceive any compensation provided as having an equalizing effect. In a sense, all that is achieved is the victim is receiving the money they have paid to the government back, providing the cost of compensation is less than the individual’s net contributions in taxes. Since we need to consider other state-provided services utilized by the individual.

If the cost of the damages paid out to the victim were less than that of their overall contribution in taxes it could be viewed as being analogous to a refund. The product or service provided did not meet our expectations (because the public servant violated our rights), thus we are receiving a portion of our tax contributions back. Rebates, refunds, free products, and future discounts are all tactics utilized in the private sector to compensate for subpar customer service. However, many of the transgressions that bureaucrats, teachers, social workers, firemen, and police officers have perpetrated go far beyond poor customer service. Offenses have resulted in the loss of life, property, and freedom in some instances. Paralleling indemnification to a refund is rational, but morally inappropriate. Through making this comparison we are trivializing all of the deaths resulting from the misconduct and negligence of government employees.  

It would be a mistake to ignore circumstances under which the victim receives compensation that far exceeds their contributions in taxes.  Under such conditions, the refund argument for indemnification is completely invalid. In the scenario of a multi-million dollar settlement, clearly few citizens contribute such high amounts annually in taxes. In such a case, the victim’s compensation is subsidized by other taxpayers. Causing a lawsuit settlement directed towards a public sector employee to impose costs on innocent taxpayers. Whether the employee, the state, or local government pays the settlement it is still a burden to the taxpayer because they effectively fund all the mentioned sources of funding. Meaning that the compensation for the negligence of e.g.) a police officer, exerts external costs on innocent citizens. Effectively penalizing those with no responsibility for any of the abuses perpetrated by the offending police officer. Ultimately, the compensation is not equal to what the victim has contributed in taxes and the officer’s income is financed through tax dollars. A million-dollar lawsuit ends up not only be detrimental to the offending office and the police department, but also to the rest of the taxpayers within the community. These spillover effects are often dismissed due to the distributed nature of tax funding and various features of illusory fiscal policy.

Despite these issues, overall eliminating the defense of qualified immunity is a step in the right direction. Lacking this privilege may make employees of the public sector less cavalier in their conduct. Resulting in a lower frequency of actions that would constitute misconduct or negligence. However, depending on the magnitude of the damages experienced by the victim, the equalizing effect of indemnification is merely symbolic. It only nominally acts as a form of restitution, but it more accurately operates like a raincheck or refund provided by a restaurant manager than restorative justice. In the case of larger settlements, the refund analogy dissolves, but another problem creeps in. Now, innocent taxpayers are flipping the bill on the compensation, even though they are in no way responsible for inflicting damages on their fellow members of the community. Because of this spillover effect, no one can confidently say that even with qualified immunity off the table this will still result in optimal outcomes.  One radical proposal to circumvent the pitfalls of publicly funded law enforcement services would be to privatize all policing, security, and contract enforcement services. In the event of a lawsuit, only the company and the offending agent are penalized. If other customers are disappointed because the lawsuit made their preferred service provider go bankrupt, there is always another option right around the corner.  

Bootleggers & Baptists: XXII- Opposition to Joe Biden’s Mentholated Cigarette Ban

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Prohibition Never Works, Even for Cigarettes:

Prohibition has always been a fool’s errand that attempts to subvert the very faults of human nature.  Everyone is well aware of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s-1930’s being a complete and abject failure. The shortcomings of our decades long crusade against schedule I drugs are starting to become more apparent to the general public. Considering the colossal failures of alcohol and drug prohibition, why would the Biden administration be purposing a ban on mentholated cigarettes?  Any prudent observer of history can plainly see that odds are against you in terms of successfully enforcing such a restriction. Yet, despite the facts of history the Biden administration is proceeding full speed towards this potentially disastrous policy.

Last year Massachusetts imposed a state-wide ban on mentholated cigarettes, despite the “Baptist” intentions of this legal restriction has not come without consequences. Even the tired platitude of “saving the kids” from the dangers of flavored cigarettes cannot account for the unintended downstream effects of prohibiting them. Ultimately if consumers want a product they will find away to obtain it regardless of it’s legal status. All that happens is that sales shift from the legal market to the black-market, where incentives are low to provide a commodity of any repute or quality. The ironic history of Marijuana should serve as guide to why a mentholated cigarette ban would go up in smoke. As local, state, and now the federal government starts to tighten-up restrictions on tobacco, simultaneously states and municipalities are easing up on recreational Cannabis. The state of Massachusetts is a perfect example of this policy trend. Exemplified by the state legalizing recreational Marijuana in 2016 and banning mentholated cigarettes four-years later.

However, the Bay State’s hostility towards tobacco has not necessarily resulted in ideal outcomes. As previously mentioned any tobacco ban would have a high probability of creating a black-market.  This draws obvious parallels to drug and alcohol prohibition, but tobacco is no stranger to illicit secondary markets. One prominent example was the illicit Cuban cigar trade resulting from the decades long U.S. trade embargo with Cuba. Even when specific tobacco products can be legally sold, a black-market can emerge if taxation is too onerous. For example, there a thriving black-market for cigarettes in New York, which has some of the highest cigarette taxes in the country (p.21). If policy makers are not cautious when regulating tobacco it can certain backfire on them. Only months after Massachusetts banning mentholated cigarettes there was already ample evidence of  an illegal market for these unlawful cigarettes. Per the anecdotal account of one Boston convenience store owner people were still procuring mentholated cigarettes through illegal means. Typically being sold as “loosies”, selling individual cigarettes versus entire packs is crime in most U.S. jurisdictions (if not all).

Beyond the perils of the development of a black-market the state has taken a tremendous hit in tax revenue. The ban was in enacted in June of 2020. By August of that same year cigarette sales fell by 24 percent. Unsurprisingly, neighboring states such as Rhode Island and New Hampshire saw a surge in sales of mentholated cigarettes. Resulting in a loss of $32 million of tobacco excise taxes collected by the state. If extrapolated to annual loss in tax revenue would amount to the state forfeiting $128 million dollars in taxes within the first year of enactment.

The question becomes why would centrist politician such as President Biden advocate for such a drastic policy? Few moderates would consider the enforcement of a mentholated cigarette ban to be a good use of resources. Biden has quite a bit to gain  in political currency in seeing this policy through. Why? During the presidential campaign of 2020 it was quite conspicuous that he was far from the progressive starlet the extreme-wing of the DNC desired.  It appears that he is shifting  further left on his policies potentially to appease more progressive voters within the party. So far this strategy appears to be working in Biden’s favor. The rhetoric behind this the mentholated cigarette ban, is only partly an appeal to public health and safety. The emphasis on the fact that mentholated brands are disproportionately favored by African Americans has add a more progressive tone to the policy. Making it transcend beyond a mere public health policy, but also an implicit social justice campaign. Joe Biden is certainly a “Bootlegger” in this scenario. Due to the political currency he seeks to gain through imposing this ban.

The Bootleggers and Baptists of The Opposition:

Oddly enough, not every individual left-of-center is on board with Joe’s new policy. Why?  Isn’t the elimination of the nasty and vile cigarette a necessary crusade and a crucial stride towards human progress? Couldn’t a ban on mentholated brands such as Kools, Newports, Salems, etc. greatly improve the health of the African American community? Generally, the interaction of policy and the real world is never that linear. It is a relief to see some pundits on the left fully recognizing the reality of this issue. In banning a specific product the state is criminalizing a category of economic activity. The fact that this variety of cigarettes are favored by African Americans, who is likely to be involved in the sales and distribution of these illegal cigarettes? African Americans. Making this unjust law disproportionately harmful to African Americans. While many Caucasians may see this as victory for various African American communities across the country, many with closer ties to these communities understand the reality. Civil rights activists such as Rev. Al Sharpton have expressed in the past that criminalizing the sale of mentholated cigarettes would only serve to put more African Americans in jail. Making it perplexing that white progressives would be so tone-deaf and obtuse about the issue.

Opposition to the Menthol Ban:

Coalition A:

Baptists: Civil Rights Activists with ties to the African American Community (most notably, Rev. Al Sharpton). These individuals provide the moral justification for opposing a ban on mentholated cigarettes. The moral argument rests on preventing the needless incarceration of more African Americans. Even prior to such a ban African American males are imprisoned higher rates than other ethnic groups. Cigarettes are trivial thing to loose your freedom and future opportunities over.

Bootleggers: The tobacco companies.  How they benefit from keeping mentholated cigarettes in the shelf should be self-evident.

Bootleggers & Baptists- XXI: Qualified Immunity, New Mexico, Cherry Garcia, and an Oil Barron

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A Step in the Right Direction:

Last month New Mexico joined Connecticut, Colorado, and New York in being the first wave of states to tackle qualified immunity. There is some debate as to whether or not the bill passed by the New Mexican state legislature entails a full relinquishment of the legal doctrine (due to the fact it is a federally recognized doctrine). However, it is still a noble attempt to places limits on an abusive legal privilege. HB 4 passed by New Mexican lawmakers overtly prohibits invoking qualified immunity as a defense in court. Providing the complaint against the offending public official is within the statute of limitations (three years).

DEFENSE OF QUALIFIED IMMUNITY.–In any claim for damages or relief under the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, no public body or person acting on behalf of, under color of or within the course and scope of the authority of a public body shall enjoy the defense of qualified immunity for causing the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the constitution of New Mexico. (HB 4, P.3, Sect 4)

 Regardless of whether this new law functions as an outright nullification of the immunity privilege or operates as an effective restriction, this is still a monumental reform. For any pundit advocating for civil liberties, this is unquestionable a step in the right direction and a model for other states to follow. Such reforms provide the constituency with the assurance that all public officials (not just police officers) will be held accountable. 

The Hippies and The Business Man:

Despite this positive change in state policy, the question remains did any outside interest groups support the bill? The answer is yes, outside interest groups did express support for the new law placing limits on qualified immunity. One of the interest groups even urged voters to engage in political action, by encouraging them to write to their lawmakers requesting they pass HB 4. Two of the more high-profile HB 4 advocates form one of the most ironic “odd-couple” coalitions that anyone could imagine. On the left side of the aisle, there was the Vermont-based ice cream producer Ben and Jerry’s. The founders of the ice cream boutique have long publicly and unapologetically embraced a progressive ethos. The right-wing portion of this unusual coalition is the organization Americans For Prosperity a conservative/libertarian group extensively funded by the Koch brothers. This political union can be best described as crunchy granola meets big oil.

Who Is The Bootlegger And Who is The Baptist?

In his seminal 1983 paper, Bruce Yandle explains oddball political alliances through the lens of a “Bootleggers and Baptists” coalition dynamic. At times, the dynamic can be more of an implicit union, where the Bootleggers ride the coattails of the Baptists through quietly supporting the initiative. In other instances, there is an actual coordinated effort towards collective action between the seemingly opposing political actors. Clearly, the bond formed between AFP and Ben & Jerry’s would be an example of the latter coalition dynamic. It is difficult to ascertain who is providing the moral argument for ending qualified immunity and which group benefits from the legal doctrine being prohibited. Leading to the speculation that this activistic relationship between the two groups could be a less common variant of the B&B coalition. Could both groups concurrently assume the role of Baptists despite their divergent interests? Could they both be Bootleggers? Is it even possible that they are both simultaneously Dual-Role Actors?

There are some salient ways in which both groups stand to benefit from advocating for ending qualified immunity. Since the death of George Floyd, public confidence in policing has hit a twenty-seven-year low. Making it popular to support policies that advocate for policing reforms. Both political actors have distinct reasons for vocally endorsing a bill that ends qualified immunity. For Ben & Jerry’s they appease their progressive peers by fulfilling the ideological obligation of fighting for social justice and racial equality. On the other hand, AFP gains social currency from promoting abolishing qualified immunity, through being consistent with their conservative/libertarian philosophy by justifying a constraint on state power. Outside of building credibility with their ideological peers, they also gain the respect of neutral parties who are currently dissatisfied with current policing practices. Fostering a positive public image can result in more business for Ben & Jerry’s and more donations and support for AFP. 

These inferences regarding the potential benefits of supporting HB 4 derived from a priori reasoning are not irrefutable. However, they are probable incentives either group would possess for their public activism. Both B&J’s and AFP also provide some thought-provoking moral justifications for ending this legal privilege. It would be a fallacy to attempt to paraphrase either group’s moral arguments. Below are direct quotes from both organizations’ websites detailing the moral concerns around qualified immunity.

Ben & Jerry’s Moral Argument:

“….Since George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers in May, tens of millions of Americans have taken to the streets all across the country to protest police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy—and it’s having a huge impact. Statues of enslavers and racists have come down. Black Lives Matter murals have gone up. Calls for defunding the police have run out. And many people—from everyday Americans to activists, athletes, experts, and lawmakers—are demanding the end of qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity? Here’s the deal: Qualified immunity allows police officers, while in the line of duty, to do pretty much anything to anybody, without fear of punishment.

Anyone who’s seen the videos of police violence during these protests is probably thinking exactly what we’re thinking, so let’s all say it out loud: Qualified immunity has got to go.” (Per the 

Ben & Jerry’s website.)

The moral argument for ending qualified immunity depicted on B&J’s website exemplifies the need for racial justice. Reasoning that due to institutional racism there is a dire need to nullify this legal privilege, due to the fact that it does a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities. Providing a textbook example of social justice argument for abolishing QI. Nevertheless, a moral justification.

American’s for Prosperity’s Moral Argument:

Americans for Prosperity Senior Policy Analyst Jordan Richardson had this to say:

“Qualified immunity may have originated as a doctrine to protect good police officers working in difficult conditions, but now, four decades later, it has morphed into a doctrine that regularly protects egregious violations of constitutional rights. By damaging the trust and confidence that communities have in law enforcement, qualified immunity is harming the very police officers it was designed to protect. We are proud to sign this brief in support of defending fundamental rights and in support of restoring healthy police-community relationships.” (Per the AFP Website).

The argument presented by AFP rests on the standard base constitutionality and state power. Both points have been constant fixtures of right-wing political discourse (at least prior to Trump), making these focal points congenial to a conservative justification for ending QI. All because AFP presents an argument from the standpoint of individual liberty and B&J’s from the perspective of racial justice does not undermine the morality of either paradigm. Morality is not relative, however, it can be pluralistic. A policy can be just or unjust for multiple reasons. Therefore, AFP and B&J’s are concurrently championing moral arguments. It wouldn’t be shrewd to assign dynamic roles to either party, either could be seen as the Bootlegger or Baptist depending upon one’s political proclivities. In doing so we run the risk of veering into the territory of playing the “Red Team- Blue Team” game.

Bootleggers & Baptists: XX- The Death Penalty

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Introduction:

The practice of capital punishment (colloquially known as the death penalty) brings to light a number of ethical and economic questions. Is it moral to confer the power of executing prisoners to the state? Is society better off without certain categories of violent criminals that have little hope of ever being rehabilitated? Aside from the typical normative questions encompassing the death penalty debate, there are still questions that few pundits fail to consider. Who benefits from the death penalty? Who would benefit from the abolition of the practice? Such inquires may seem peculiar to conventional sensibilities; however, these are necessary questions. Why? Because when specific actions fall under the jurisdiction of state authority any criticism or defense of the practice becomes a form of political discourse. The political process typically generates winners and losers, because generally, some form of exchange transpires in political action. While the mutually consenting parties achieve positive-sum gains from the exchange, often the dissenting group of interests tends to take on the external costs of the policy. The exchange process is exemplified in the lobbying, protests, and other policy initiatives undertaken by various organizations. Some salient examples include the ACLU’s campaign to abolish the death penalty and police unions posing stiff opposition to such efforts.

Needless to say, the death penalty debate creates fertile ground for Bootlegger and Baptist-style coalition building. Enabling the opportunity for a litany of odd couple coalitions possessing different rationales for their advocacy, but sharing a common goal. The groups devoted to ending the death penalty run the gambit. This broad tent includes (but is not limited to) religious organizations (conservative), organizations dedicated to social justice (liberal), and/or civil liberties(liberal or libertarian). It would require a comprehensive book treatment to fully exhaust each and every single potential pair of oddball coalitions in this debate. However, it may be interesting to explore several of these political partnerships, they exist at just about every graduation of the political scale (individual level- federal government). 

The Odd Bedfellows of the Pro-Death penalty Camp:

Coalition A:

Baptist: Families of murder victims, because their anguish could almost sway even the most principled pro-life advocates. Their tears and sobbing cries for retribution for the loss of their loved one bring a raw and emotional moral dimension to the debate. The only conceivable way of delivering justice for their slain family member would be to settle the score.

Bootlegger: Fiscally conservative taxpayers. While the costs of operating the U.S. justice system (corrections included) are barely noticed by the majority of constituents. Substantiating the concept of dispersed costs and concentrated benefits that is prevalently noted in Public Choice Theory. Despite the actual burden of paying for the living expenses of inmates being obscured by the size of and indirect nature of the tax pool, this subset of voters still finds it unseemly to be allocating resources to supporting rapists, murders, and pedophiles. Doubling down on an appeal for fiscal responsibility, especially considering the category of people who are benefiting from their hard-earned tax dollars.

 Coalition B:

Baptist:  The District Attorney’s office in jurisdictions where the death penalty is permitted. The general incentive of the DA’s office is to charge an offender with the most severe penalty possible. There are two general reasons for this approach: 1.) To scare the defendant into pleading out for reduced changes. 2.) Operating as a deterrent for other prospective offenders from committing the same crime. To establish a firm case for capital punishment you have to paint the picture that the defendant is a complete monster. To successfully accomplish this the state’s attorney needs to lean heavily on psychologically gratifying moral arguments to sway the jury. While this individual may operate in the interest of the state, they often are the greatest allies of distrust families seeking justice for their loved ones. 

Bootlegger:  Police Officers. Harsh penalties may serve as an effective deterrent for persuading people from avoiding committing serious crimes. Although broken window policies have shown to have mixed results on crime, typically these initiatives are used against the enforcement of petty crimes. The theatrically hope being there would be trickledown effect towards serious crimes. It is difficult to argue that penalty of death isn’t a persuasive deterrent. Fewer murders = lighter caseloads for the local police department. 

Coalition C:

Baptist: Criminologists that stress the recidivism of violent criminals. These researchers possess the moral high ground by arguing from the standpoint of empirical data and sincere concern of the impact of violent crime on society.

Bootlegger: Pharmaceutical Companies. The most common form of state-sanctioned execution in the United States is lethal injection. One common constituent of lethal injection solution is the barbiturate thiopental. A similar argument for the companies in the business of chemical production (another common ingredient electrolyte potassium chloride). More executions mean more sales which translate into more profits.

The Odd Bedfellows of the Anti-Death penalty Camp:

Coalition A:

Baptist: ACLU. A nonprofit legal organization that since its inception in 1920, has been dedicated to defending civil liberties in the United States. This organization has a substantial campaign to abolish capital punishment, as such a practice can be seen as a civil liberties violation. Through presenting a robust normative argument against state executions they are a solid example of Baptist. 

Bootlegger: Prison Psychologists. Why? Much like any other government employee, their livelihood is contingent on earmarked funding. Fewer clients (the more mentally disturbed prisoners that are executed) the more job instability becomes an unpleasant reality. Fewer prisoners mean fewer services provided by state agencies. This means an increased probability of being laid off. 

Coalition B:

Baptist:  Family members of death row inmates. Their emotional appeals can be just as riveting as those shouted by the family members of the victims. These personal advocates of the convicts tend to stress the potential for rehabilitation and forgiveness as the normative justification for sparing their lives.

Bootlegger:  Defense attorneys. It is uncommon for families of death row inmates to hire lawyers to appeal death penalty convictions. The monetary benefit of lawyers in this niche of the business should be quite conspicuous. 

Coalition C:

BaptistsPro-life Catholic Organizations. Just about any religious or biblical justification for a policy prescription would count as having normative incentives. No pun intended, unquestionably they would be Baptists (yes, Catholicism is distinct from the Protestant Southern Baptist Church). Pro-life is pro-life where it means refuting abortion or state-sanctioned executions. 

Bootleggers: The web developers that build and maintain the organization(s’) website(s).This firm owes its livelihood to the organization’s crusade against practices that violate the sanctity of life. 

Bootleggers & Baptists: XVIII: Corporate Virtue Signaling

Bruce Yandle’s Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) coalition dynamic can be applied to a sundry array of various social interactions. One such example below is the below corporate communication sent out to every employee of an undisclosed firm. Please note how this communication emphasizes a strong opinion regarding the trial of Derek Chauvin. It is also salient how this e-mail also stresses the company’s focus on “inclusion” and “diversity”.  What happened to George Floyd was reprehensible. No sane person could argue that his civil liberties were not violated by the officers that apprehended him. However, why would a CEO of a corporate entity express such a strong opinion on this topic?  What would this individual have to gain?

In theory, this person could be providing the moral justification for speaking out against injustice and prejudice. Making them Baptist. By default, the corporation’s legal team are the Bootleggers, taking a clear stance on this issue and promoting “diversity” fosters a positive public image. Preemptively building a case against any discrimination complaints through fabricating the narrative that such conduct is not tolerated. Fewer lawsuits and legal complications, less work for the legal team.

There’s also another potential B&B dynamic present, one that is less obvious. This publicity stunt could also be an example of Dual-Role Actor B&B action. The CEO is simultaneously preaching a moral message while benefiting from the social currency obtain through doing so. Hypothetically,  this person could sincerely believe in promoting diversity and at the same time reap the rewards of being outspoken about the topic. It is possible to interpret the CEO’s actions as a form of virtue signaling. Virtue signaling amounts to nothing more than a form of social rent-seeking. This individual gains more social clout for being “progressive” without taking on the external and decision-making costs (interdependent costs) associated with the political organization required for actual activism.

Bootleggers & Baptists-VXII: Dual-Licensing In Arizona

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Recreational Marijuana and Dual-Licensing

The legalization of recreational Marijuana has resulted in the proliferation of regulations and bureaus tasked with enforcing compliance with state laws. This promulgation of new rules has created new opportunities for “odd couple” political alliances to form. This has been seen in the myriad of grassroots initiatives for legalization and the street-level efforts to thwart the establishment of a legal recreational Cannabis market Now coalitions are being synthesized to debate the granular details of how Marijuana should be regulated. In many states where recreational Marijuana measures have passed, there is a notable amount of discretion giving to municipal governments. For example, the state of Alaska taxes Cannabis by the weight and maturity of the plant. State law even allows municipalities to apply their excise taxes on retail sales.

In the state of Arizona, Proposition 207 was passed in November 2020. Permitting the sales and use of Marijuana for recreational purposes. The parameters of the law gave lawmakers until April 5th, 2021 to formulate the rules governing the sales and use of recreational cannabis. Despite the state’s past hostility to Marijuana (1997 reversal of medical Marijuana), lawmakers ended getting everything squared away before the deadline. Legislators hostile to the bill could have easily dragged their feet in an attempt to sabotage the legalization effort. Perhaps the incentive of additional tax revenue in the form of a 16 % excise tax eased their concerns?

Proposition 207 also allows for cities and towns to create and enforce their regulations for the sales of recreational marijuana. As one could except not every community is thrilled by the idea of having a Marijuana dispensary in their town. Devising ordinances to either limit or outright prohibit recreational Cannabis sales within the city limits. One popular means of placing such restrictions on Marijuana sales is dual-licensing requirements. This entails that the establishment possesses a nonprofit medical Marijuana license and a “Marijuana establishment” license. Municipalities that do not want a dispensary in their town will simply generate an ordinance that reinforces the dual-licensing mandate. One prime example of this is ORDINANCE NO. 4949 in the city of Chandler (drafted by the city attorney’s office and the police department). See below from Ordinance #:4949:

11-17.3. Recreational marijuana retail establishments are prohibited. The operation of a recreational marijuana retail establishment is prohibited in Chandler. This prohibition does not apply to a dual licensee who is permitted by the State of Arizona to operate both a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary and a recreational marijuana retail establishment at a single shared location. (P.3. Section I, 11-17.3).

However, it should be noted that Chandler already medical Marijuana dispensaries operating within the city limits before Prop. 207. This measure only serves to limit the volume of recreational sales rather than act as an outright prohibition. Whereas communities such as Maricopa, Arizona codifying mandates that limiting recreational sales of Marijuana to dual-license establishments is a circuitous form of prohibition. This is since Maricopa does not have any medical dispensaries within the boundaries of the town.

The Dual-Licensing Bootleggers and Baptists

As economist Bruce Yandle points out, in his seminal 1983 paper, interest groups may come together for a common goal even when they seem to have opposing interests. Solidifying the contingency for a Bootleggers and Baptist dynamic of political action. The Baptists provide the moral argument for the policy prescription. The Bootleggers support the initiative because they stand to benefit. The Baptists in the dual-licensing debate are quite salient. The Baptists are all of the individuals who want to impose regulations to restrict the sale of Marijuana in their hometown. Assigning the role of Baptist to actors that oppose recreational Marijuana sales is not a value judgment against cannabis. Rather they assume this role from their arguments stemming from a normative concern diverging from the direct promotion of self-interest. Their rhetoric typically mirrors the arguments used against the regulation of other forms of vice. Notable examples being casino gambling and prostitution. Arising from a concern of the “negative externalities” generated from legally permitting such establishments to exist (p.2). Moral opponents have long cited that casino gambling brings a criminal element to communities. This same argument is being revived for the Marijuana debate. As many pundits cite examples of criminal activity connected to the legal cannabis industry. The jury is still out on the veracity of this correlation. The typical appeals for maintaining social stability remain a mainstay in the Baptists’ anti-pot arsenal.

The policy of requiring recreational dispensaries to have two forms of licensing benefits an unlikely interest group, current Medical dispensaries. They already have an advantage to market entry through having one of the two required licenses. All these storefronts need to do is comply with the criterion to obtain one more permit and they can easily transition to selling both medical and recreational cannabis products. Another advantage they possess is familiarity with the licensing process in the state of Arizona. Where a new prospective business would have to jump through all these hoops to obtain both licenses and navigate the intricacies of Arizona’s licensing process with no prior experience. This can operate as a deterrent for potential entrepreneurs from entering the recreational market. Securing more business for the existing medical dispensaries.

Bootleggers & Baptists: Volume 1

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Below are the first ten blog entries of the Bootleggers and Baptists series on the Inverted Logic Blog. Going forward collective volumes of the series will be published for every ten blog posts, composing a volume. These volumes include supplemental essays and  addendums written within the timeframe of the corresponding blog posts.

Essays 1-10:

Bootleggers & Baptists- Part I- Gun Control Act of 1968

Bootleggers and Baptists Part II- Netflix is One of the Winners of COVID-19

Bootleggers and Baptists- Part III: Holy Rollers and The Beer Industry Take On Pot Legalization in The Bay State

Bootleggers & Baptists IV: Good Cop, Bad Cop. Qualified Immunity

Bootleggers and Baptists Part V: Occupational Licensing- Arizona Edition

Bootleggers & Baptists Part VI: Unlikely Foes of Universal Medicine

Bootleggers and Baptists VII: Jones Act

Bootleggers & Baptists VIII: Can The Bootlegger and The Baptist Be The Same Person: A Drive-Thru Revelation

Bootleggers and Baptists IX: Ballot Access Laws- An Example of A Dual Role Actor

Bootleggers and Baptists X: Marijuana and Taxes

Supplemental Content:

Dual-Role Actor- A Fresh Look At Bootlegger and Baptists Dynamics- Pending Acceptance by The Journal of Brief Ideas

Dual Role Actor Thesis Published by The Journal of Brief Ideas

Letter to Bruce Yandle: Dual Role Actor Dynamic: Bootleggers and Baptists

Letter to Bruce Yandle- Dual-Role Actor Dynamic

Bruce Yandle’s Reply

My Response to Bruce Yandle

Cooperation and Conflict

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Staying within the structure of methodological individualism it is important to see how Smith’s Pin factory example (p.54-55) exemplifies the coordination of a group of economic agents. All working in unison towards the common goal of producing pins. All of these individual works comprise the overall assembly line. The totality of all the adjacent departments related to manufacturing makes up the internal structure of the firm. Any social institution whether it be a hobbyist club, social club, buyers club (e.g. Sam’s Club, BJ’, Costco), government, business, trade association, private governing bureau/authority (e.g. homeowners association), charitable foundation, research institute, study group, etc. are comprised of multiple individuals forming the group. It is flat-out erroneous to speak of the entire organization without any consideration for its members. The collective action of all the group members acting harmoniously to achieve the same ends is much more complex than treating these collective efforts as lumped together aggregate.

Each member of an organization has their internal objectives, thoughts, feelings, and desires. It can be said that all the active participants have their utility functions (p.25-26). Meaning that to some extent their wants, needs, and desires align with the overall group goals. For example, very few people like their jobs, but they voluntarily consent to the terms of employment because of their desire to earn money. Whether it is for the intrinsic satisfaction of possessing money or what currency can be redeemed for. Keeping within the theme of a Smithian analysis of social institutions, it is important to note that more than tangible goods are exchanged through interaction with others. We exchange ideas, culture, skills, knowledge, friendship, guidance, sympathy, morality, and moral support among other forms of desirable forms of social currency. Political activities tend to be a form of social association that is frequently marred by corruption and various forms of abuse. However, is the dynamic of politics overtly a zero-sum game? Not necessarily. As it can be viewed as a form of exchange, individual actors engage in various exchanges for mutual benefits (p.25). One example being logrolling the practice of lawmakers trading votes/favors.

The intangible exchange of social commodities cannot be understated in formulating effective working relationships. One crucial assumption of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) that we seek the “approbation” of others. In other words, we seek to praise and approval from others. We are constantly seeking the acceptance of our peers. Being well-liked on the individual level wields a significant amount of social currency. If the ability to seek acceptance and cooperation is applicable on the individual level, couldn’t it also apply to the harmonious relationships between groups of people? After all the scope of social and economic interactions operates on a continuum of scale, what is applicable on a minuscule level should also work on a larger scale. The principle is a general maxim governing social interactions, therefore it should be transferrable. One of the best ways to overcome cultural barriers is through finding a form of social exchange desired by both parties. It does not mean that it must take the form of economic exchange. It possibly manifests itself in alliances and treaties among nations. Special agreements, pacts, contracts among nonpolitical social units. Most often it takes the form of economic trade between foreign nations. The necessity of unilateral trade agreements is refutable. Consumer sovereignty is the true impetus of international trade. Despite the bluster and theatrics of vociferous diplomats and other garden variety elected representatives.

Why voluntary association over other coercive means do we yield harmonious interactions? There isn’t a magic bullet answer to this question. However, some insights from Public Choice pioneer Gordon Tullock may help elucidate a potential variable that sheds some light on this occurrence. It is the ability to choose our partners in voluntary social arrangements that reduce the instance of Prisoner’s Dilemma. If our trading partner is not being cooperative, we can easily do business with someone else. Because of the mobility of free association (which is purportedly protected under the First Amendment) we do not need to be held captive by aggressive or hostile social relations. Due to this consideration, it is easy to see the original sentiment behind antitrust laws, but much like all laws, they suffer from loopholes and other issues. Even from the standpoint of the definition of a monopoly. One of the common attributes of monopolistic market behavior is assessed by is market concertation. However, this is problematic how do we determine which market is categorically correct for the assessment of market concentration? Nevertheless, we can freely choose our partners whether in trade or other forms of social situations it reduces the occurrence of the perverse incentives to be noncooperative. Sullying our reputation deprives us of the esteem that Adam Smith surmised we all crave.

Considering that trade is one of the forms of association that fosters cooperation. Even if free trade is not the key to world peace, it still makes us less apt to raise the sword to our geographic neighbors. To repudiate the previous administration’s trade policy, international trade should be encouraged. It is only natural to perceive David Ricardo’s concept of comparative advantage as an extension of Smith’s pin factory.  The premise of comparative advantage is that it can make production global and explains why we tend to import higher-order goods to produce commodities domestically. No one climate can best produce glass, grapes, and corkwood in the Cognac region of France. However, all of these components are required for assembling a commercially produced bottle of Cognac brandy. This specific region in France has some of the best grapes in the world for brandy production. The climate is wholly inappropriate for cultivating and harvesting the wood used in the stopper placed in every Cognac bottle. To avoid placing great restrictions on our ability to manufacture sophisticated goods, we need to trade with other nations. We can only truly achieve this through peaceful relations. Free trade in itself helps to facilitate peaceful relations.

Adam Smith’s Pin Factory

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Below is Adam Smith’s famous Pin Factory example detailing the benefit of a specified Division of Labor. This single paragraph has evolved to be one of the most heavily referenced tropes in all of political economy. Detailing the advantage of job specialization over having one person complete production from start to finish. The proliferation of job specialization is what has allowed for technological advancement and the development of more complex goods.

“…TO take an example, therefore,’-‘ from very trifling manufacture; making, but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), _ nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head ; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; mad the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day…”(Wealth of Nations, 1776, p.54-55)

See Interactive Pin Factory at Adam Smith Works (Click Here).

How Adam Smith Beat the Prisoner’s Dilemma

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Public Choice founder Gordon Tullock in his paper Adam Smith and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (1985) applies a game-theoretical lens to the Smithian assumption of “the discipline of continuous dealings”. In other words, the famous game theory trope of the Prisoner’s Dilemma actually substantiates the idea that vendors are less likely to cheat customers if there is the chance of repeat business. Often in a Prisoner’s Dilemma, there is a strong incentive for defection, as we do not know how the other person will respond to our cooperation. It’s possible that we sustain a loss due to being double-crossed by the other player, even if the reward is greater if both parties choose to cooperate. In situations where the is a degree of asymmetry in the behavioral information and risks of losing is too high, cooperation is not likely.

Tullock shrewdly points out that market transactions differ radically from most Prisoners Dilemma scenarios in one crucial way. In commerce, our partners are chosen and can change at any given time (p.1074). Meaning that not only is trade less static than the typical Prisoners model, but the characteristic of fluidity also alters the rules of the game. If our trading partner is opting to be non-compliant, we can always choose to do business with someone else. Versus being limited to only one partner who may or may not have an adequate incentive to be cooperative. Also, unlike the controlled experimental conditions under which most Prisoner’s dynamics are observed, in commerce the relationships are ongoing (barring death, bankruptcy, or termination of the relationship) (p.1075). Under such conditions maintaining a positive reputation as a trading partner is much more crucial. Engaging in dishonesty or uncooperative behavior could be the death knell of that relationship.

Due to the desire to establish credibility among other firms and potential customers the “… prisoner dilemma vanishes..”(p.1076). If a firm is not cooperating with its customers and suppliers this will impact future interactions. The Masterpiece Cake Shop case is a classic example of this. Yes, the Cake Shop owners were well within their First Amendment rights to not bake a cake for a gay wedding due to religious convictions. However, that does not mean that their decision was a prudent one for the longevity of their enterprise. The bakery received a massive amount of bad press and poor reviews from socially conscious consumers. Resulting in a substantial loss in revenue. Providing the shrewd observer with an allegory conveying the importance of working with your customer base rather than against them. Ultimately, bad press can be the kiss of death for any mom-and-pop establishment.

Consequently, unfettered trade is uniquely insolated from the occurrence of Prisoners Dilemmas due to being able to choose trading partners for extended periods of time. Tullock details a scenario that reflects the typical cartel arrangement among competing firms in a specific industry. If there are five domain firms and one decides not to comply with reducing production there is not much the other participating firms can do (p.1076). Providing some insight into why most price-fixing agreements have a proclivity of failing. There is no safeguard preventing participants from reneging. The inability to choose our partners also explains the issue surrounding international relations. As we cannot choose our “neighboring countries” (p.1077).

Tullock also describes how to trust in business is established. It goes beyond merely providing a superior level of service or a high-quality product. In society, we are judged on a multitude of criteria, even when some of these characteristics do not pertain to the nature of our business. A business person may attend religious services or engage in philanthropy to cultivate the image of being a “safe partner” (p.1077). In the process of establishing one’s self as a “safety partner” what they really are doing is conforming to societal norms. This is precisely what fostering a good reputation entails. Through conforming to societal norms you are presenting yourself as a trustworthy person, who given a Prisoner’s contingency you will be more apt to cooperate (p.1077). Whereas an individual of a more subversive disposition would be more likely to defect. The true irony is that the customer is able to better trust the vendor than the vendor is the customer. Why? The high degree of costs involved in vetting and validating the integrity of the customer (p.1078). Outside of the customer writing a bad check (if anyone still writes checks anyone more) or is caught stealing it is difficult to monitor the myriad of patrons flowing in and out of the store.

Another consideration arises from the observation of the Public Choice pioneer that penned the cited paper. What if a firm or vendor already has a sullied reputation? It is insurmountable difficult to mend a shattered public image. Those with a poor reputation will “rationally respond” by continuing to engage in off-color behavior and practices (p.1079). From a prima facie standpoint, this self-defeating behavior may appear to be anything but rational. However, due to the high costs of repairing a damaged reputation, it is most effective to continue down the path of poor business practices (p.1080). Once trust has been broken it requires a lot of time and effort to win over the hearts and minds of the public.

Considering all of Tullock’s observations, it would appear that Smith’s notion of “the discipline of continuous dealings” is an enduring maxim of economic exchange. If we are accessible to multiple trading partners and are not held hostage by a monopoly, the potential for a Prisoner’s Dilemma dissolves (p.1081). Tullock also notes that with more potential vendors there is “improved” market information (p.1081). Meaning that proprietors will be much more knowledgeable about industry trends and intricacies of the product market. This partially due to having to keep one leg up on the competition. A bigger impetus for this accumulation of market knowledge is observable trends present in daily transactions. Hence why prices serve as the great information bridge between vendors and patrons. It can also be assumed that in a highly competitive market that customers are also savvier in markets where there are many vendors to choose from. As they are too beneficiaries of the follow of market information.

Bootleggers and Baptists XVI:Delta-8- Addendum

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Some additional thoughts regarding the Marijuana industry’s response to the emergence of Delta-8. It is irksome to hear invested interests claiming that a competing product is unsafe. Sure, it is well within their right to free expression to do so. Doing so in the context of political advocacy takes on a completely different tone. Any concerns expressed by Cannabis trade associations regarding public health can only be seen at best suspicious, if not outright spurious. If a similar rate of taxation and the same regulatory requirements that Marijuana sales are subjected to were applied to Delta-8 it would provide Cannabis sellers and producers with an anti-competitive advantage. Because the overall psychoactive effects of the compound are less intense than Marijuana. Subjecting it to similar regulations could effectively put many Delta-8 producers out of business. There may be some individual that prefers this neutered variant of Cannabis, however, this would be a very shallow niche market.

The true travesty of the thinly veiled advocacy of the Marijuana industry is perplexing. It is mirroring the same public health campaigns championed by alcohol producers when states were initiating legalizing recreation pot. Back in 2016, the Beer Distributors PAC of Massachusetts funded and advocated for an anti-legalization initiative. It wasn’t that the beer industry was really concerned about public health, rather they were concern about their bottom line. From a shortsighted perspective is a rational response to competition. This approach is morally and economically flawed. You beat the competition by producing a better product not using political channels to erect more barriers to market entry. If you can’t beat them, join them. Many beer producers have started producing “beers” infused with Cannabis. Some notable examples include Hi-Fi Hops from Lagunitas and Ceria (from the creators of Blue moon). Why can’t Marijuana producers just jump on the Delta-8 train and ride it out until the DEA invariably crackdown on it? If producers are able to manufacture a wide array of edibles and extracts they can figure out how to synthesize Delta-8. No need to engage in false posturing under the guise of “public health”.

Bootleggers and Baptists: XVI- Marijuana Industry and Delta-8

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Background: What is Delta-8 THC

The federal prohibition of Marijuana much like most laws and regulations is subject to loopholes. One of the previous attempts to circumvent federal cannabis laws came in the form of designer drugs. Manifested in the development of novel molecular compounds that mimic the pharmacological effects of cannabis intoxication. Many of these manufactured chemicals resulted in adverse psychological and physical consequences. Due to the fact that these various THC derivatives were not directly restricted, for a time science was outpacing the law. Since the development of the first synthetic cannabinoid molecule in 1995 (JWH-018), there has been a vast proliferation of new molecules to replace the ones prohibited under federal, state, and local law. Essentially making this cat-and-mouse game of the late-2000’s-the the 2010s an all-out arms race. This is understandable considering the profits that can be made on the designer drug market. The synthetic cannabinoid epidemic from a few years back was a monster created by the “good intentions” of state intervention. If recreational Marijuana had never been illegal, there arguably would not be a market for such unstable chemicals.

The story of Delta-8 THC is nevertheless a byproduct of a blind spot federal regulation. However, so far the results have not been as detrimental as the development of synthetic Marijuana in clandestine laboratories. There are two different THC structures that exist that can be derived from cannabis. The Delta-9 THC  subtype of Tetrahydrocannabinol is commonly found in recreation, medical, and black-market Marijuana products. Whereas Delta-8 is isolated from “hemp-derived CBD” and provides the user with a reduced state of inebriation. Not to mention it is not subject to the same degree of taxation, regulations, and restrictions as legal recreational and medical Marijuana. One glaring difference between how the two compounds are regulated is it is illegal to ship marijuana even in states where retail purchases are illegal (it is still illegal at the federal level). In stark contrast, Delta-8 products can be effortlessly purchased from online vendors. (At one point the author found a vendor on Amazon selling Delta-8 products). The discrepancy between how Delta-9 and Delta-8 variants of THC are treated under the law is due to a loophole in the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 (H.R.5485). The law permits the sale of plant byproducts below 0.3 % Delta-9 THC and does not exclude the sales of hemp goods with high concentrations of Delta-8.

Bootleggers and Baptists: We Must Regulate Delta-8!

Naturally, a loosely regulated alternative to Marijuana is going to incite the ire of the cannabis industry. It is certainly a lot less hassle to buy a serviceable substitute online than have to go to a dispensary. Meaning there is a potential loss of business for the storefronts and the vendors manufacturing/cultivating the materials for pot-related goods. The purveyors of Delta-8 have another adversary lurking in the background that would serve as an unlikely ally to the Marijuana industry. That would be the very regulators that place legal restrictions on cannabis. Setting the stage for another classic example of Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootleggers and Baptists. A coalition formed by two unlikely factions sharing the same political goal. Per Yandle’s account of this phenomenon the “Baptists” provide the moral justification for the policy goal and the Bootleggers are the ones that benefit from the outcome. In regard to the regulations governing the sale and production of Marijuana, the regulators are something of a nuisance to the cannabis industry. The cultivation and sale of Marijuana require compliance with a multitude of state laws and licensing requirements. The overlap in common interests is peculiar at first glance. One only needs to remember that those selling and cultivating Marijuana are hoping that the regulators will level the playing field with equitable restrictions. Preventing business from being diverted to companies producing and selling this pot alternative.

The Advocacy of the Baptists:

 The first rumblings of the need for clear regulations pertaining to the production of Delta-8 came from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. One of the state’s compliance specialists claims that “15 to 30 %” of the constituents used to convert CBD to Delta-8 are unknown. From a “safety” standpoint testing for impurities and standardization of production could ensure product quality. There is always the lingering concern of producers that will take shortcuts that will lead to the Delta-8 being less safe. Providing insight into why regulators in Oregon have recently begun the process of formulating regulations for Delta-8.

The Misgivings of the Bootleggers:

As can be expected cannabis producers are not pleased with the prospect of competing against an unregulated product. It appears as if the Bootleggers are attaching themselves to the public safety argument posited by regulators. The Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association has expressed concern over the safety of Delta-8 products. Categorizing this product as an “immediate health risk” to consumers. Any credulous observer would perceive this statement as a concern for public health. Marijuana producers and sellers stand the benefit through reducing competition in the hemp/pot market. Looking to impose regulations and taxes on Delta-8 is merely asking for anti-competitive measures to compensate for business lost to firms selling this new product. This is nothing more than a form of rent-seeking. Publicly advocating for specific policies that you benefit from can only be viewed as a form of rent-seeking. Suggesting that competitors should be regulated is tantamount to asking the government for a subsidy.

Free Trade: Closing the Cultural Gap

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If the direct feedback from social interactions can help facilitate morality and positive social relations, how can this be done on a larger scale? Corporations, nations, communities, coalitions, etc. are institutions comprised of many individuals. Staying within the framework of methodological individualism, we assume that the collective action of a single institution represents the unanimous will of all the individual agents affiliated with the organization. In a sense, the collective action “speaks” for the group. How does social distance influence the interaction between various institutions, nations, collectives, etc.? Per the insights in Smith’s book The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), a person’s socialization and moral development are shaped by their peers. How would we go about socializing an entire culture? What factors enable us to peacefully co-exist with our neighbors? There certainly are not any clear-cut answers to these vast questions. The best we can do is hone in on the variables that help support human flourishing and social stability.

Some people assert that a common cultural identity is a cohesive glue that keeps the fibers of society together. There may be some veracity to this opinion as possessing a common culture can reduce the potential for conflict. However, there are some profound issues with holding culture as the variable that unites mankind as a whole. For one, commerce is global. Anyone in the business world cannot merely associate with people sharing the same cultural experience. In theory, you can, however, you would be severely limiting the potential reach of your business. Due to globalization and technological advancements, clinging to cultural identity has become more futile. Another consideration is that associating with people of a similar cultural background (closer social distance) is detrimental to our ongoing moral development. Demonstrating the fallacy of nationalism from both practical and moral perspectives.

If the cultural distance is inevitable what is one way we can bring people of various cultures together? Many people may suggest the use of international treaties. The parameters of such an agreement serve as nothing more than a compulsive obligation. Outside of state-sanctioned compulsory inclusion (which is not limited to treaties, but also pertains to sections of The Civil Rights Act of 1964), there is also social pressure to force the association between different cultural groups. We see this in the aggressive push for multiculturalism. The intentions of some proponents may be laudable, however, too often it is utilized as Trojan Horse for political opportunists. It should also be mentioned that does not arrive at cultural diversity through voluntary association. But rather from a form of informal social cohesion. While Smith may point out that conforming to this new norm would be an example of our peers shaping our moral development, this simply is not the case. Most of this rhetoric comes from the deepest fringes of academia. These norms are enforced through immense social pressure by a small minority of people who are out of touch with the real world. Cultural diversity is not something that can be forced by legal statutes nor by social cohesion. Rather it exists through the voluntary movement of people, which is a spontaneous phenomenon that cannot be artificially manufactured.

It is evident what fails to bridge the gulf between different cultures and societies. However, what can succeed at this seemingly insurmountable task? Here is where the themes of  The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and the Wealth of Nations (1776)  converge. The social arrangement that keeps the appropriate distance for peaceful relations between strangers is commercial societies (p.13). Please keep in mind that this is not the recipe for sustained and eternal peace. No thinker has been able to formulate a tried-and-true solution for eradicating violent conflicts. Our propensity for violence may be an unfortunate proclivity of human nature that cannot be contained by reason or by institutional means. Providing validation of David Hume’s assertion that we are essential “slaves to our passions”. Voluntary trade may reduce the frequency of armed conflict between nations. In commerce, we do need to maintain a certain level of professionalism (self-command) to establish an effective working relationship (p.14).

To perceive free trade as a magic bullet would be a complete fallacy. For one, if it was the key to enduring peace, world peace would have been achieved back in 1776. Ultimately, Smith viewed trade as a potential source of tensions between nations. It has been argued that Regan/Thatcher-era proponents of Neo-Liberalism overstated the role free trade plays in facilitating peaceful relations. If the tides of economic nationalism are not stifled international trade continues to serve as a weapon against rival countries (p.4). The growth of military strength tends to coincide with an expansion of the division of labor (p.5). Economic development reduces the perceived costs of entering armed conflicts (p.2 &5). Smith contended that the root of international conflict was power imbalances among nations (p.34). The prospect of an imbalance of economic power in global trade is the core assumption behind mercantilism. Exemplified in the rhetoric surrounding trade imbalances.

Even though Smith did see trade as a potential source of tension, does that mean that free trade could not reduce the social distance between different culturally distinct nations? No. It may not be the cure for global conflict, but it can reduce the instance of it occurring. There is something of a reciprocal relationship between social stability and economic advancement. The “violence trap” of the feudal era stymied economic growth due to instability in property rights (p.41). Coping with the constant upheaval of violent conflict is destabilizing enough to inhibit economic flourishing. While the prosperity of neighboring countries may conjure the envy of less fortunate nations, Smith suggested that the better-off countries should act as a model of what to aspire to. Rather than an adversary to hold in contempt (p.31). The rise of government and free trade may not conclusively prevent war, per Smith’s treatises that balance power and foster respect among nations helps reduce the instance of armed conflicts (p.32). Such agreements help align interests among different countries. From an economic perspective, unilateral trade agreements help balance the concentration of economic power among trading partners. Loosening the barriers to international trade not only broadens the market for domestic production but also works to reduce hostilities (p.33). Providing the power gap isn’t too wide and nationalistic sentiments can be dispensed with.

“By opening a more extensive market for whatever part of the produce of their labor may exceed the home consumption, it encourages them to improve its productive powers, and to augment its annual produce to the utmost, and thereby to increase1 the real revenue and wealth of the society. These great and important services foreign trade is continually occupied in performing, to all the different countries between which it is carried on. They all derive great benefit from it, though that in which the merchant resides generally derives the greatest, as he is generally more employed in supplying the wants, and carrying out the superfluities of his own, than of any other particular country. To import the gold and silver which may be wanted, into the countries which have no mines, is, no doubt, a part of the business of foreign commerce. It is, however, a most insignificant part of it. A country which carried on foreign trade merely upon this account could scarce have occasion to freight a ship in a century. (Wealth of Nations, p.358-359)”.

While voluntary exchange may not bring about world peace, it does help close the gap between different nations. Resources that could theoretically be dedicated to warfare are reallocated to production for the global consumer market. Providing a practical example of Frédéric Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy.  War does not generate wealth, but rather rearranges the disposal of resources. Wealth may be correlated with the advancement of military technology. The development of military technology does not necessarily generate wealth. Beyond free trade re-directing resources from armed conflict to the consumer market, there are also other intangible effects. When we engage in trade with foreign countries we are also exchanging culture and ideas. Attending a business meeting in Japan, American executives may consume food that they are not accustomed to. May even learn some of the subtleties of Japanese business etiquette. Through their Japanese counterparts providing the social ques imperative in business transactions in Japan. Talk about challenging a person’s impartial spectator. The American businessmen walk away with more than a new business partner. They are also exporting cultural traditions, new business practices, and even new types of food when they arrive back home. When we have more familiarity with another culture we are less apt to fear them. In turn meaning, we are less apt to bomb them. Closing the cultural gap requires not only a certain degree of openness but also an effective working relationship.

Calibrating Our Impartial Spectator is An Ongoing Process

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In my previous blog post, I address the role of social distance in moral development. Per Paganelli’s interpretation of Smith’s TMS (1759), we reduced our self-command when we are around people we are emotionally attached to (p.12-13). Much of our moral development arise from socialization. Making our self-restraint a combination of learned behavior and social conformity. The schoolyard may be the proper environment for individuals to fine-tune their social awareness. Does our moral development stop once are no longer school age? I would suggest not. If anything it a continual and lifelong process that is always in progress. If anything as we grow older, the expectation of others and social norms become much more intricate. Some of the basic principles learned on the playground are social conventions that are applicable in any social dynamic. The etiquette learned in the schoolyard is too rudimentary to comprehensively cover all the social nuisances of professional situations.

For instance, what is the proper attire for a job interview? How do I politely reject my boss’s dinner invitation? These are just a few examples of social scenarios of greater complexity that cannot be learned even in High School (arguably even in college). The reserved awkwardness of new hires fresh out of college exemplifies this deficit in workplace social skills. Outside of there being a likely age gap between the new employee and the rest of their co-workers, they are afraid of making a faux-pas. They are deathly afraid of being the person who takes the last of the breakroom coffee without making more (this individual is universally hated). They do not want to be disliked by their new pool of peers. To not look like a self-absorbed young person, it going to take time. The new employee will go through an acclimation process. The primary drive of this adjustment is going to be the feedback of their co-workers.

I would go so far as to even suggest that each new social environment requires some duration of social learning. The phrase “.. reading the room..” comes to mind. For example, even if an individual has worked as a salesperson for twenty years, as soon as they take a job at another company they now become the “new guy”. A new job entails new co-workers, a new boss, new corporate policies, new corporate culture. Despite this individual’s extensive experience they still need to go through an adjustment period. This seasoned salesperson now has to learn to adapt to the personalities, culture, and rules in their new work environment. Even in social situations where we are familiar with the location and the people, various factors lead us to constantly adjust to the feedback from others. If you were attending a dinner party at your brother’s house (only family members were in attendance) you would still have to mold yourself to the social conditions of the moment. You will taper your behavior to the dispositions of the other dinner guests. Social settings are dynamic and even the slightest change to one variable can profoundly alter the course of events. To a certain extent, we are always fine-tuning our Impartial Spectator to maintain social harmony. Social situations much like all complex systems have a loose structure with a set of informal rules. Although there is a resolute structure the one altered variable can drastically change the trajectory of the interaction. As the expression goes “high school never ends”, actually we never leave the playground.

Social Distance: The Foundation of Our Morality

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Adam Smith is arguably one of the most misunderstood thinkers in all of philosophy. The public reduces the corpus of his work to a one-dimensional caricature of The Wealth of Nations (1776). Such characterizations of Smith’s work are carelessly painting with a broad brush. It can be suggested that when to draw new insights from Smith’s work we should be even more cautious. So much has been written on the body of his work, as Donald Boudreaux keenly points out, it is difficult to formulate any new meaningful insights (p.487). This issue is only compounded by the fact that new interpretations of Smith’s work run the risk of misrepresenting his brand of moral philosophy. Which is equally as shameful as representing a shallow representation of his insights.

One development springing from modern interpretations of Smith’s philosophical ideas comes from professor Maria Pia Paganelli. Back in 2010, she wrote a paper entitled The Moralizing Distance in Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments as Possible Praise of Commerce. In her paper, professor Paganelli analyzes smith’s emphasis on the impact of relational distance and moral development. As Smith points out in The Theory of Moral Sentiments because we are subject to “self-deception” due to our immense self-love (Paganelli [TMS III.4.2–6], 2010, p.6). Due to human nature, who wants to view their conduct in a negative light? In many regards, the moral tuning of our impartial spectator occurs due to social influences (Coase, 1976, p.5-7) It exceedingly difficult to admit when we are wrong. Never mind disclosing an outrageous oversight or a profound moment of weakness. Both are humiliating and are the kind gaffs we attempt to bury. The true interest insight from Paganelli is the fact that Smith contended that if our relationship is too close to a person, we do a poor job of shaping their moral development.

Surely, this does not apply to parents? After all, aren’t parents one of the greatest impetuses of moral development of children? Per Paganel’s research Smith’s TMS does emphasize that socialization is a byproduct of the impressions of others (p.7). It is unquestionably true that our emotional attachment to an individual has the potential of skewing our impartiality. The more emotionally attached we are to a person there is greater the aptitude we will perceive the course of events from a similar perspective (p.8). Paganel points out that Smith believed that parents were too “partial and indulgent” of their children to be the prime mover in facilitating their moral maturity (p.9). There is some qualitative validity to this observation. Anecdotally we have all heard a parent proclaim “… not my child..” in regards to the potential of their son or daughter engaging in unruly behavior. Most parents want to hold their children in high regard and implicitly view them as a genetic extension of themselves. To acknowledge the unpleasant truth little Johnnie is capable of stealing Mr. Johnson’s car is excruciatingly painful on two accounts. First, there is the discomfort of acquiescing your child’s capacity to engaging in morally abject behavior (despite years of the parents’ efforts to socialize their child). The second and more damaging pressure point is a sense of having failed as a parent. This extension of yourself is presenting you with challenges that could easily be interpreted as a sign of personal failure.

The emotional distance to aid children in developing moral precepts also cannot be too far. Helicopter parents fail to help their children erect a strong moral foundation. Smith also observed the same being true of children that are sent away to boarding schools. A parent being too aloof can have the same effect as being too indulgent, a child with a lack of respect (p.9). This phenomenon parallels what happens in foreign countries with opposing interests. If there is too much social distance between the two nations, factions will form (p.10). Creating a self-congratulatory echo chamber where there is not any room for negotiations or compromise. Rather the ire is driven by unconstrainted passions shouting the valiant chants and battle cries of nationalism. Too often nationalist fervor results in actual battle cries. Firmly illustrating how social distance has an impact on both the micro and macro scale of social interaction. Achieving the precarious balance of the correct social distance between various groups and individuals is key in achieving stable relations.

According to Smith what is precisely the correct amount of social distance? It is too herculean of a task to determine this balance at the level of nations. If this could have been achieved in a philosophic treatise back in 1759, wars would become a relic of the eighteenth century. Smith does suggest that the best platform for moral development is a child’s peers. Through a child adjusting themselves to the expectation of their fellow playmates, they gain a sense of self-command (p.11). Above all, we tend to have better deportment around strangers than we do our own family (p.12). This goes right back to the concept of social distance. When we are closer to someone on an emotional level we exhibit less self-command. One example would be a small business that attempts to foster a family-like dynamic. Most observers’ prima facie impression would be that such an ethos would create a “hospitable work environment”. Even though the idea of a workplace that creates a culture of close-knit comfort may sound endearing, it possesses a lot of pitfalls. For example, if an employee makes an error the business owner may take it personally. Since the business proprietor is not constrained by the formality of a corporate environment, they are free to curse and scold the offending employee. Like how a parent censures a misbehaving child. Demonstrating how the voice of the impartial spectator becomes more salient when others are in the room. A CEO of a company has their conduct limited to the expected deportment that the employees and board of directors find to be acceptable. Behavior outside of these norms will result in disapproval.

Can Adam Smith Help Us Recover From COVID-19?

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Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely turned society upside down. Plagued by uncertainty the entire planet was alarmed in went into full panic mode. Leading us to the immediate question of how do we contain a novel virus when its origins are shrouded in mystery? Many of these reactionary policies may have modestly slowed down the spread of COVID-19, however, most of the state-sanctioned restrictions ended up causing unforeseen problems. The shelter-in-place orders resulted in the highest recorded rate of job loss since The Great Depression. The economic ramifications of various lockdown measures go beyond the immediate consequences. There was a November 2020 study conducted by USC projecting an overall GDP loss of $3-4 Trillion over the next two years.

Lengthy book treatments could be composed to fully detail all of the intricacies of the economic carnage of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the fall-out of the pandemic reaches well beyond the economic repercussions. Our overall health has been impacted. Not necessarily by the direct symptoms of COVID-19, but by a result of the lockdown orders. People have been less active leading to weight gain, which may lower an individual resistance to the virus. While physical health may be most salient to us because it can be observed by the naked eye, what about mental health? It is well documented that social isolation is a contributing factor to depression. A multitude of stories has been published describing the psychological struggles of Americans during the pandemic. The hardnosed statistician may be quick to dismiss these narratives as being purely anecdotal. However, many of the risk factors for suicide have been magnified since the beginning of the pandemic. There has been a notable increase in the suicide rate from 2019 to 2020.

The pandemic has also fractured relations between us and our fellow citizens. Clinging to our inner circles to avoid spreading COVID-19, we begin to become more tribal. The trust we once held for our neighbors has become eroded over the past year. Anytime someone sneezes we give them the side-eye. Fostering a climate of distrust and paranoia. This distrust has manifested itself in actual hate crimes and discrimination. Some reports estimate that hate crimes against Asian-Americans increased by 150 percent in 2020. What does this have to do with COVID-19? Quite a bit. It is speculated that the outbreak originated in the Wuhan province of China (p.2). Leading some to erroneously blame people of Asian ancestry for the spread of the virus. Creating friction between various communities across the country and only serving to make an already tumultuous situation worse. Asian Americans much like all other Americans have been grappling with the stresses of the pandemic. Adding racial tensions to the mix only serves to create more division and distrust. We need trust to have a stable society. 

Could a voice from the past help us navigate these difficult times? Provide us direction in helping us heal from the carnage caused by a global pandemic? I would argue yes. That voice of reason comes from no other than The Enlightenment-era moral philosopher Adam Smith Many readers are probably thinking to themselves “… isn’t this the guy that told us to follow our self-interest. In other words, to be selfish?”. In a sense, yes. However, limiting the body of Smith’s work to the following passage is nothing more than a caricature of his overall contributions to economics, never mind moral philosophy.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but their advantages. (The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, p. 456, para. 9)”

The above paragraph may be the most famous one ever written by Smith, but it does not wholly define his breadth of work. Smith believes that markets and morality were inseparable, and you could not have one without the other. At the crux of voluntary trade is interaction. If we treat each other poorly and do not foster a good-working relationship trade cannot take place. To foster strong relationships, we as a society need a firm moral backbone. Morality provides us with the precepts to facilitate just and fair interactions despite conventional wisdom, this is crucial to success in business. If you are not running your enterprise justly your client will eventually find out and choose to do patronize another vendor. 

Business ethics and social morality are intimately interconnected, one cannot exist without the other. That is why the two great works of Smith were meant to be read in tandem. The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) addresses social morality and The Wealth of Nations (1776) details the inner mechanics of economic exchange (catallactics). Both books dovetail together so well, reading one leaves you with a missing piece of the puzzle. COVID-19 has unquestionably harmed society economically and socially and both books contain the wisdom to help us get back on the right track. I am a great admirer of economist Don Boudreaux, but I do have to take issue with his recent assessment of Smith’s possible perception of the impact of social isolation resulting from COVID-19. Dr. Boudreaux states that Smith could certainly empathize with and rationally understand the distress caused by social isolation. I do not disagree with his inference, but I would surmise that Smith would want us to draw lessons from his work. To apply the concepts in both books to help us as a society overcome the hardships imposed by COVID-19. His work was not intended to be confined to the postulations of lofty ivory tower discussions, but also for practical application. What good is moral philosophy if it is never put to practical use? Why not look to the works of Adam Smith for guidance and solutions to help us navigate the uncertainty that is the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Law of Diminishing Returns and Human Capital

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Most of us that have a rudimentary understanding of economics, are familiar with the concept of the Law of Diminishing Returns. It is quite evident that this premise is unquestionably applicable to physical goods. Does this enduring economic law also apply to intangible commodities? It is salient once a person has exhausted the optimal quantity of solid objects. This is conspicuous in the disutility of engaging in hoarding behavior. While the optimum number of chairs a person should furnish their home with is debatable and depend on several factors, it is obvious once a person has amassed too many. Once an individual has so many chairs that it makes restricts accessibility to certain rooms in the house, becomes a fire hazard, or the homeowner can no longer contain all of the objects they own within the confines of the physical structure of their house- then it is problematic. Then rightward shift from the equilibrium point is universally expressed. There is no foreseeable value in obtaining more or maintaining your current collection of chairs. The assessment of whether you have too many chairs is no longer a matter of aesthetic preferences, but a matter of physical limitations. It is easy to determine once we obtained too many physical goods. 

The saturation point is much more difficult to answer when about intangible goods (human capital, intellectual property, etc.). However, it could be argued that the Law of Diminishing does apply to human capital. The ultimate marketplace for human capital is the job market. Often we hear the term “saturation” be used to describe the labor market. Several factors can contribute to the overabundance of human capital available to employers. Periods of high unemployment leave firms with the ability to hire, a large pool of applicants to choose from. The saturation could be referring to a glut of similar skill sets or credentials. If history majors are a dime a dozen, but math majors are hard to come by, who is going to stand out in the job market? If everyone has basic Microsoft office skills, but there is one candidate in the resume heap that has an advanced certificate in Excel, needless to say, this will catch the eye of any hiring manager or human resources representative. 

Degrees and certificates are not so much human capital as documentation of skills and formal education. Couldn’t the soaking point of specific forms of human capital also be relevant to soft skills? Well, why not? If can be applied to credential and soft skills then it must apply to more innate qualities. Such as personality types. Pre-employment personality tests not only qualify if a candidate is a good match for a specific job role but also help to bring more balance to team dynamics. 

Going beyond even the job market or potential job prospects, human capital is integral in determining an individual’s overall trajectory in life. While other factors such as opportunity, motivation, and timing have a lot to do with success. Without the proper skills, most people will not rise above a certain point of attainment. One of the most coveted, but arguably overrated attributes in the panoply of human capital is general intelligence. General intelligence can only get a person so far. There is no one single factor that leads a person to success, but rather a multitude of different variables. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole certain applies. Providing some validation of  Scott Adams’s postulations regarding complementary skills. No one needs to a virtuoso, but it is better to be reasonably good at many related skills than to fully master one. General intelligence is the archetypal example of being a master of one domain. We all have heard the platitude “… jack of all trades, master of none…” so frequently that it is deeply ingrained in our subconscious. However, this old saying has little applicability to the real world. It isn’t the smartest or the most diligent among us that succeed. Then again, the village idiot and the local ne’er-do-well burnout aren’t the ones rising to the top either.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (2008) presents an intriguing example of why general intelligence alone will not ensure success. Gladwell details the near-tragic trials and tribulations of Christopher Langan. A man who is a bona fide genius. Despite his expansive and impressive intellect he never had the opportunity to thrive as a universally praised academic. Langan boosted an IQ of 195 shadowing the IQ of Albert Einstein forty-five points (p.70). As impressive as it sounds to have an IQ of 195, there is one important point to remember. A veteran scientist with an IQ of 130 is equally as likely as a colleague with an IQ of 180 to win a Nobel Prize (p.80). Meaning that Lagan’s intelligence while awe-inspiring could even be viewed as being superfluous. If a person with an IQ thirty points lower than Langan can be a Nobel laureate what value does the extra IQ points effectively bring to the table? 

Despite Langan’s intimidating intellect he failed to even obtain an undergraduate degree. This was due to a string of unfortunate shifts in his vicissitudes. One notable incident transpired when he was enrolled at Montana State, he had car troubles and could not make his morning classes. He had a neighbor who offered to give him rides in the afternoon to school. Regardless of how much cajoled and begged the dean he was not allowed to change his class schedule and was forced to withdraw from his program (p.94-95). Langan’s foil must be Robert Oppenheimer who worked on the development of the atomic bomb during World War II (p.97). Here was a man who as a student attempted to murder his tutored (p.98). Not only did he get away with it, but later on after he completed his graduate program he managed to get on the prestigious Manhattan Project. It is evident his past transgressions did not dampen his career in any way. What truly separates both these men from one another? Both men were exceptionally bright, but one man couldn’t even convince his dean to do something as innocuous as changing his class schedule. Another got away with attempted murder. The difference was that Oppenheimer had a greater degree of practical intelligence (p.101).

The comparison between these two men illustrates that not only is there a ceiling in the benefits of having high general intelligence. There are also limitations if the only skills you have are related to general intelligence. Without practical knowledge, a robust IQ is tantamount to be a weight. We all need the precepts requisite to tactfully navigate the world. In the absence of this scaffolding, our intelligence is of little use and only serves to weigh us down.

Suicide As A Property Rights Issue- Part II

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PART I

The moral argument for a right to suicide is firmly grounded in property rights. To many readers the very notion that suicide and ownership of tangible objects are interconnected is farfetched. Upon a superficial assessment of the premise, it is easy to jump to this conclusion. Once we get to the philosophical taproot of the concept of ownership the overlap between the two concepts becomes much more apparent. Fastened to the pillar of natural rights, the right of ownership is crucial in establishing all other rights. The ability to retain, transfer, and exclude others from one’s property lays down the framework for all other negative rights we cherish. For example, if a dinner guest offends us with an off-color joke at our house, we have the right to ask them to leave. The right of excludability. If the dinner guest is aware, we are offended by specific kinds of jokes, they fully consent to the conditions of the dinner party by opting to attend. Due to this variety of informal rule creation, there is no need to implement laws prohibiting offensive speech. Individual property owners can decide what types of jokes or language will be tolerated in their household.

The basis for ownership of tangible items goes back to an even deeper principle of self-ownership. If we do not own ourselves how can we possibly possess physical property? Either in the title or tangible form. The philosopher who bridges the gap between self-ownership and ownership of objects, locations, and intellectual property is no other than the great John Locke. At the most rudimentary level, we must own ourselves before we can possess any additional property. The extent to which this self-ownership is applicable is debatable. We can legally own ourselves. We have autonomy over (in most cases) our corporeal vessel that holds our inner organs. An individual can also exert control over their mind. Where does the right of an individual to own one’s self arise from?  This merely the abstract pontification of an out-of-touch philosopher? Most who have read Locke would staunchly disagree with the prior inference. Locke developed a concise explanation linking self-ownership to an unwavering natural right.

In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1689) he further expounds upon the natural basis for self-ownership. Arguably laying down the nascent substrate for the ethical arguments against slavery later on in the 19th century. The right to self-ownership is the result of divine providence. In Locke’s view, God gives us life and we are born free. For those who have more of a secular view of the world, it could state we are born free by our humanity. There is no grand authority that we must oblige by involuntarily transferring self-possession to as a result of cohesion.  

“…Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his person: this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. (p.11)..”

Locke establishes that no one person has the right to own another human being. The implications of the above quote go beyond the abstract conceptualization of self-ownership. Due to a person owning themselves they also possess the fruits of their labor. If you work and toil to harvest lobsters in the icy waters off the coast of Maine, whatever you catch is rightfully yours. Providing you are not capturing so many lobsters that you are preventing others from having a chance to obtain the seafood delicacy. Nor are you procuring so many they will go to waste (p.12-15). Through self-possession and possession of our labor and the results of our labor, the natural rights argument for property ownership is pithily conveyed.

John Locke was correct about all people being born free and having possession of overall commodities, lands, and intellectual property that they have rightfully obtained through their labor. Where he went astray was asserting that natural rights are inalienable. Regardless of whether we procure these rights from god or as a result of our personhood, you can alienate these rights. Whether or not it is ethically justifiable is completely contingent on the consent of the individual. We have a natural right to free speech for example. While at work we temporarily or indefinitely suspend (for the duration of our employment) our right to unfettered speech as a condition of employment. There is nothing illegitimate about this arrangement because it expresses a form of tacit consent.  If you truly disagreed with the rules of the company you otherwise would not accept the job offer. Agreeing to conditions of employment can operate as a form of selling our natural rights. If we truly own ourselves and possess all of the natural rights we are guaranteed in the Constitution, why couldn’t we sell the title to our rights to other people? That is effectively what we do when after signing an employment agreement. Our natural rights cannot be transferred or relinquished unless we willingly agree to conditions or arrangements that nullify these rights.

One particularly controversial example of this concept was formulated by the Austrian economist and political theorist Walter Block. Dr. Block postulates that voluntary slavery is not incompatible with individual freedom. Such a position sounds antithetical to liberty, however, understanding the context is key. There is a difference between being forced at gunpoint into slavery and choosing to be a slave. Why would anyone choose to be a slave? They or a family member may owe an astronomical amount of money to a private individual and the only means of making restitution on their debts would be a lifetime of unpaid servitude.  It highly unlikely that anyone in modern times would consent to such an arrangement. Being able to sell one’s self to another person demonstrates an unfettered view of self-ownership. The laws prohibiting voluntary slavery are essentially are equally as unjust as keeping involuntary slavery legal. We can’t say that we truly own ourselves if we cannot do as we please with our bodies. That includes opting to sell ourselves into slavery.

The question becomes how does the argument for voluntary slavery apply to suicide? Logically it is predicated on the very same principle of self-ownership. If you truly own yourself and no one else has possession of your body and mind, then you have a right to kill yourself.  As jarring as this statement maybe it is nevertheless true. If we truly possess an object or an idea we can do as we please with it. We can sell the item or bit of intellectual property, or we can dispose of it. Nothing is stopping us from purchasing the latest iPhone at full retail price and then upon receiving the device, abruptly throwing it into a trashcan. While by the assessment of convention sensibilities such an action would irrational or foolish, no one has a right to prevent this behavior from occurring. Regardless of the perception of others, the notion of ownership prevents others from intervening. Some may criticize this example because it is comparing a replaceable item with the irreplaceable essence of human life. This critique is a fair one, however, that does not make this a false analogy.  The operative condition is the concept of ownership not what the individual is choosing to dispose of.  Regardless of the origin of where we obtain our natural rights from we do own ourselves. Much like anything else we own we have a right to dispose of ourselves. This is not making a moral judgment about the act of suicide in-of -itself. Nor is this a tacit endorsement of suicide. However, legality is no measure of morality. Nor is pressure to conform to societal norms.  If we legalized heroin use and prostitution tomorrow, these activities would not necessarily be moral.  But they would be legal. While these activities may be immoral, inferring an individual’s right to poison their body or engage in infidelity is also immoral. Immoral on a grander scale. When victimless crimes have codified sanctions, they are generally backed by the threat of incarnation, fines, or state violence.  

The decision to commit suicide is a deeply personal decision that should not be felt in the hands of doctors, psychologists, and especially nor legislators.  Attempts to intervene in suicide attempts are naturally transgressive against the individual’s property rights.  If indeed, we truly possess self-ownership.