Is Fractional Reserve Banking Ethical Part II: Contract Theory and the Naysayers

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See Part I: Click.

Introduction to Part II:

The key arguments against fractional reserve banking being a moral system came from a 1998 paper co-authored by Austrian economists Hans Hermann Hoppe, Jorg Guido Hulsmann, and Walter Block. The white paper entitled Against Fiduciary Media was a response to a previous paper written by George Selgin and Lawrence H. White. Hoppe at al. crafted a repudiation against  Selgin and White’s 1996 paper In Defense of Fiduciary Media or, We are Not Devo(lutionists), We are Misesians. In which both scholars provide a normative and positive defense of fractional reserve banking. Even utilizing Murray Rothbard’s Title-transfer Theory of Contract to defend the practice. However, this application of the Rothbardian contract theory did not sit well with Hoppe and the company. All being devoted and unwavering followers of Rothbard believed that Selgin and White’s interpretation of Title-Transfer Theory of Contract to be incorrect. Making their justification of fractional reserve banking on grounds of contract theory to be inherently flawed. It is worth noting that Hoppe was a direct protégé of Murray Rothbard and even owed his career and position teaching at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to the late Austrian economist.

Rothbard’s  Title-Transfer Theory of Contract:

Before claims that Selgin and White did not faithfully adhere to or misinterpreted Title-Transfer theory, it is important to thoroughly explain this concept. A reader without a firm comprehension of this idea cannot adequately determine if free-banking proponents of fractional reserve banking suffer from profound confusion. The proceeding section will provide a brief overview of this theory. Hereby providing the reader with the requisite background information to justly assess this debate.  

Before diving into Rothbard’s theory, it is important to note his ideological disposition.  Murray Rothbard was the modern father of an ideological subset of libertarianism known as anarcho-capitalism. Rothbard and his followers hold that there should not be limited government, but rather no government. All services and products can be produced by private industry with no necessity for government intervention. This even includes services that have been traditionally provided by the government. This includes defense/security services, law enforcement services, charity, resource management, infrastructure, private legal adjudication, and so on. Rothbardians even go so far as to assert that the government possesses a monopoly on such services. It is imperative to understand this aspect of Rothbard’s political economy and political philosophy. It illustrates the fundamental philosophical precepts that govern his theory of contract.

Rothbardian Contract Theory is expounded upon in his 1982 book The Ethics of Liberty. Rothbard derides that the concept that all contracts in a just society need to be enforced( P.133). He draws a sharp line of delineation between “promised” and “conditional” contingencies in matters of exchange. Per his logic, the utilization of legal channels to enforce a promise is wholly illegitimate. Constitutes the use of government force in a situation in which no property has been transferred. Making it equivalent to state enforcement of morality (p.133-134). The reason why the property needs to be involved for a contract to be valid pertains to the distinction between what is intrinsically alienable and inalienable to the individual. This has to do with the fact that a person cannot alienate their own will or relinquish control of their mind and body to someone else. Humans can quite easily dispense with tangible property, including money (p.135). Due to the fact enforcing a promise is a compulsion because it interferes with the free will of the individual. It is not technically a breach of contract. On the other hand, if the agreement included a transfer of property for non-compliance then it would be another story.

In instances of conditional contracts and agreements, noncompliance is equal to a form of theft.  One salient example Rothbard provides is the circumstances of service providers receiving advanced payment but never providing the service (p.137). For example, if I were to offer to paint your house and I received an advanced payment of $300.00 and never show up your house that is theft. One contractual contingency that can shift a promise to a conditional agreement would be a performance bond clause within the agreement.  For Rothbard’s example, if a movie theater has a meet and greet event with a famous actor, they can put into the agreement a clause where the actor agrees to pay the theater a sum of money for abdicating this obligation (p.137). Since a property can be transferred and not the will of the actor this is an ethically binding agreement. However, failing to fulfill a property-related obligation is not always necessarily deemed as implicit theft. In instances where a creditor provides immunity to a debtor who cannot pay their bill this is legitimate (P.144). Why?  The creditor reserves the right to forgive debts due to the fact they are the ones who transferred their property under the condition of repayment. Please note that this scenario details circumstances in which the credit lent out their funds.

It should be noted that a Rothbardian conception of contractual property rights does not preclude someone from selling off a portion of their property. For example, if I own 100 acres of land in Montana. It is well within my rights to transfer you 5 acres for $20,000.00. Concurrently, retaining my claim on the residual 95 acres of land. This does not mean that mean I in any way still own those 5 acres. Through the sale of this land, I have effectively transferred ownership to you. In turn, I have relinquished by entitlement to the lands sold.

Page 146:

“Another important point: in our title-transfer model, a person should be able to sell not only the full title of ownership to the property but also part of that property, retaining the rest for himself or others to whom he grants or sells that part of the title. Titles, as we have seen above, common-law copyright is justified as the author or publisher selling all rights to his property except the right to resell it.”

How The Free-Banking Argument For Fractional Reserve Banking Violates Contract Theory:

Selgin and White claiming that fractional reserve banking is consistent with Title-Transfer Theory suffer from some blind spots. Blind spots that are fully magnified by Hoppe et al. One of the fundamental chinks in the armor of the Free-Banking argument is that fractional reserve banking inherently violates Title-Transfer Theory. It assumes that two people can own the same piece of property simultaneously (p.21). By the very nature of how fractional reserve banking engages in lending, it creates ambiguity regarding ownership. Through issuing more promissory notes both the bank and the customer assume ownership of the same banknote, which is fraudulent by nature (p.22).  Creating more claims to money against the present supply of money will not create more money (p.22). Rather, will only serve to redistribute the present supply of actual currency from client to client without increasing the amount of money in the vaults (p.22). Effectively creating fiduciary media (money-substitutes issued by a bank that is not backed by gold or paper money) out of thin air without transferring assets or liabilities (p.22). As detailed in Rothbard’s theory, we can sell off a portion of our property. However, we relinquish our own once we transfer it to the party purchasing it.

This illusory arrangement also conflates property with property titles (p.23). Treating and categorizing banknotes( fiduciary media, money claims) as money (physical property). This only enables this fallacy to continue. Keeping in tune with the Austrian tradition the Regression Theorem states that all money had a prior use value (p.34-36). For instance, tobacco and nails at various times in human history have been used as money. Meaning that these banknotes cannot be money in the actual sense, but a claim or title to money. Through this categorical fallacy, the banks can divorce titles from ownership resulting in the redistributive practices of fractional reserve lending (p.23). Even going so far as to promising future entitlement to goods against present goods that may or may not be fulfilled. It would be honest to label these claims to future goods or debt claims, but not a claim to money (p.24).

An inquisitive observer may question why it is dishonest or even outright fraud to categorize future claims to money as money titles or even as money? Hoppe et al. frame this from the standpoint of we cannot claim or transfer ownership from a title to a car for anything but a car and the same applies to money (p.25). If we were using more precise language what banks and customers have truly agreed to is debate claims versus money titles. Per the authors of  Against Fiduciary Media Selgin and White adopted a hyper-subjective interpretation of contracts to side-step this discrepancy (p.26). The misrepresentation engaged in by practitioners of fractional reserve banking extends beyond labels of goods, but to actual quantities as well. By treating fiduciary media as money, it creates the false perception that clients own more than what they truly due on paper. The fabricated money quantities do not reflect the amounts present in the vaults of the bank (p.27). Free-banking proponents may believe that fractional reserve banking isn’t so much the problem, rather government intervention. As long as the withdrawal requests are fulfilled it cannot be tantamount to fraud. However, even without state interference, the transfer practices of fractional reserve banking blur the lines of definitive ownership (p.29). Making the system incompatible with upholding property rights or just contract enforcement.

Is Fractional Reserve Banking Ethical- Part I- An Introduction

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The norms of modern banking are something that most of us take for granted. Few ever question the inner mechanics of such transactions we engage in daily. However, banking has been steeped in a fog of mystery due to complex operations and seldomly failing to fulfill any obligated services. Beyond questioning the functions or internal workings of modern banking even fewer people recognize that most people are participating in a fractional reserve banking system. In a random survey of average people, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone aware of what fractional reserve banking entails nor any intimate understanding of its implications. That is to be excepted considering this is a niche area of expertise that is truly the domain of an economist, banking/ financial specialist. This assumption relieves us of any responsibility to cultivate a better understanding of these systems. After all, this is best left to the experts. How do we know whether there any inherent risks associated with fraction reserve banking? Do we just assume that due to the fact it is the most common banking system that it is the most effective and secure? Better yet, is it even a moral system of banking, or is deceptive by design and tantamount to fraud?

Over the past several decades, a controversy has been brewing among monetary economists concerning fractional reserve banking, Modern economic theorists of the Austrian School who are generally hard money advocates, find fractional reserve banking to illegitimate to its core. Equating it fraud and perceiving it to be antithetical to a free market in money. Whereas free-banking (an economic school that is arguably an outgrowth of the Austrian School) do not see fractional reserve bank as immoral. Rather, such institutions could not only ethically co-exist with 100 % reserve banks but also flourish. Any ethically questionable operations were the byproduct of government intervention and mutually exclusive from the banking practice (p.8). While their Austrian counterparts insist that the practice not only supports the monetary objectives of the state but owes its existence to the state (p.9, p.15-17).In this series of essays, we will examine the ethical arguments for and against fractional reserve banking. To present an unbiased account of the controversy.

What is Fractional Reserve Banking?

Before we can embark upon discussing the ethics of fractional reserve banking is important that we define what it is. On a high level, fractional reserve banking is a system in which banks are required to only hold a fraction of money deposited as reserves. This is done to enable banks to make loans. The recipient of the loan receives a transfer of deposited money upfront which they are expected to pay interest on. The bank customer who deposited the money that was lent out theoretically will receive the money-back in their account with sustained interest. This is done to expand the economy through “freeing capital for lending”. This is done without the depositor relinquishing their claim to this money. Effectively creating more money titles than physical money held on reserve at the bank (p.3)  The foundation of this banking system is fastened to the assumption that most customers with savings accounts will not simultaneously withdraw all of their savings at once. Otherwise, this could lead to what is known as a bank run. A phenomenon where the bank as completely depletes their liquid reserves. Since they are only mandated to hold a relatively small portion of reserves on hand.

Reserve requirements typically hovering around 10 % (presumably applicable to central banks).  Most reserve requirements are contingent on the bank’s size. Banks holding less than $15.2 Million in reserves are exempt from maintaining reserve minimums. The requirement of 10% reserves is applicable to banks holding over $100.2 million in deposits. Per the Garn-St Germain Act  banks are free from any reserve requirements for their first $2 million held. This legislation was initially passed by the Regan administration as a means of relieving pressure on banks as the federal reserve significantly increased interest rates. Banking institutions that hold excess reserves or amounts of deposited money above reserve requirements are entitled to interest payments. Under the Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006, these interest payments are allocated by the Federal Reserve.

As mentioned above fractional reserve banks issue more money titles than currency on hand. Through this process, they engage in form of indirect “money” creation. The loan itself treats the money titles as being equally as valid as actual currency notes. When the loan is issued the bank “credits” the borrower’s account with an amount equal to the loan, mimicking a transfer of physical cash. The methodology of money creation on the part of fractional-reserve banks has been distilled down to a science. Guided by the money multiplier principle. This concept broadly describes how “.. initial deposit leads to a greater final increase in the total money supply”.  More specifically how much commercial bank money ( demand deposits that can be utilized for credit and debit purposes, basically your residual after reserve requirements) using a defined unit of central bank money. Central bank money is any medium of exchange that these institutions acknowledge as being money. The correct proportion of “money” creation is determined by the below equation:


M=  Money Multiplier, R= Reserve Requirement

Tocqueville on The South and Slavery

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Some of the keenest observations made by Alexis De Tocqueville in Democracy in America were made in his comparisons between the agrarian South and industrialized north. Tocqueville’s characterization of the two regions of the new American republic was so powerful they still passively influence regional stereotypes even in the modern era. The northern eastern United States is presented as a bustling hub for commerce and productivity. The south being caricatured as being rural, lackadaisical, underdeveloped, and board-line primitive. This may have been somewhat true in the 19th century. However, to hold such a view as being accurate today would be a gross demonstration of ignorance. Not too much it would require drastically underestimate the economic potential of cities such as prosperous Atlanta, Georgia, or the buzzing tourist town of Nashville.

In the nascent period of American history, southern states weren’t luring northern away from  Boston with low taxes and warm weather. The South was still primarily reliant on agriculture to fuel its economy. As we all know most of the labor was done by slaves. Tocqueville goes so far to point to the use of slaves in the south being the core differentiating attribute between the North and the South (p. 408).  Why? The practice of slavery in the south influenced many aspects of southern culture at the time. The absence of the practice in the north also helped shape the industrialized economy and culture of New England. Where the Weberian Protestant work ethic was very much salient. Through possessing a steadfast and unwavering focus on commerce the north ended up outpacing the south economically and technologically. Due to the lack of industrialization, much of the southern United States was less apt to become urbanized. However, considering the large plots of land required for agriculture lack of infrastructure and urbanization is understandable.

Farming is certainly a labor-intensive vocation. Requiring years of dedication spending engaging in hours of back-breaking working daily. How could we say that southerners of the 1800s did not possess a strong work ethic? The typical plantation owner did not do the work themselves. They had their slaves sweat and toil to produce the crops they sold. Making labor a necessity of the less fortunate. As ascribed by Tocqueville this subordination of work not only would be indicative of the luxuries of “idle men” (p. 407) but a more pervasive attitude towards labor. Relegating work to being only acceptable for the poor or slaves, it implies those above a specific status should not work. Especially when men of money have much more entertaining pursuits to indulge in. Such as hunting, gambling, socializing, womanizing, participating in local politics, etc. Drawing a sharp contrast with the self-made tycoons of the industrialized northeast. Where wealth was more of the byproduct of enterprising wit than old money or traditional social arrangements. Almost expressing a distant desire to return to the days of the monarchy. Where the slaving owning elites would either serve as the ruling class. Their slaves would be nothing more than captive constituents Analogous to the serfs of medieval. However, while the serfs were owned by lords only be being tied to the land and insurmountable debts. In the humid countryside of 19th century Georgia, the plantation owner possessed the land and the workers.   

Alexis De Tocqueville did point out that slave owners advocated for the continuance of the institution for the sake of profits. But rather to maintain their aristocratic lifestyles. To many unacquainted with the economics of slavery, this may come as a bit of shock. Tocqueville flat out declares slavery less efficient than free labor. A view is also expressed in the book The Real Lincoln by economist Thomas DiLorenzo. Tocqueville citing that the observation that paid workers tend to work faster than slaves (P.406). This being a core driving force of any economy. What Mr. Tocqueville is implying that the slave owners could not possibly be solely concerned about profits. If they were they would have switched over to paid labor. Due to the increase in efficiency and decreased production costs (food, room/board, and clothing for the slaves). In contrast, the profit-centric northern capitalists would see this transition as a no-brainer and a strategic shift in production methods. This would require the southern elites to become more involved in managing the process. Rather than have administrative and managerial matters handled by slaves that have proven themselves capable of such higher-level tasks. Hence, foiling the regal lifestyle fulfilled with entitlement, unearned honor, and leisure.

The Long White Beard Fallacy

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There are few fallacies as prevalent as equating age with wisdom. This false assumption is predicated on the belief that age tends to correlate with the accumulation of life experiences. Conventional wisdom would dictate that a prudent mind would be able to formulate deep insights based upon these plentiful experiences.  However, this presumes that the individual of advancing age is capable of shrewd judgment. Much like another demographic of people, some older people are not.  This error in thinking has been enshrined in the mythical image of a sagacious prophet or philosopher. A Socratic or an Aristotelian figure radiating the mystique of lost ancient knowledge. While imagery plays a powerful role in our perception, picturing every individual with a long white beard as being wise is an illusion. Simply confuses correlation with causation. The reality reduces the saying of being “another year older and another year wiser” to an empty statement.

Believing that every older individual has amassed a stockpile of knowledge ignores several prerequisites that make an individual inclined to become a wise person.  These characteristics include intellectual curiosity, the ability to learn from experiences, and the capacity for sound reasoning. Without these attributes it doesn’t matter if a person is twenty-five or ninety-five, they cannot be wise! To credulously accept conventional wisdom without any forethought makes an individual nothing more than a passive fool. To only continue to do so for decades on end is antithetical to wisdom. It is quintessentially spending an entire lifetime relying on lazy thinking, which will not lead to acquiring any knowledge. Claiming that such an individual is wise or knowledgeable irrespective of their chronological age is borderline criminal.

Intellectual Curiosity:

Encapsulated in the words of the wisest man among the ancient Athenians, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Arguably one of the most cited quotes in Western Philosophy conveys a lot of the nature of knowledge and wisdom. If one is not inclined to pursue the knowledge they cannot become wise. This is regardless of how many years they have spent living on this planet. Most true knowledge generally needs to be pursued, not passively obtained. The thought process of an individual content with accepting the superficial appearance of the world is not one who is going to explore ideas or the nature of the universe. Rather have their beliefs bequeathed to them.  Versus actively discriminating between two choices based on acquired knowledge. To merely accept the status quo for decades on end without any deeper contemplation is the opposite of being wise. This person has only spent their life regurgitating the ideas that have been inculcated into them since childhood. Instead of thoughtfully engaging with ideas to acquire knowledge.

Spending a lifetime staring at the surface deludes people into thinking they understand how the world works. Creating the erroneous belief that they can easily formulate solutions to problems or have a firm grasp of the nature of reality. Unfortunately, they have only been gazing at shadow puppets on a cave wall for all these years. Attempting to derive a complete understanding from such an inadequate foundation is impossible. Further substantiating the importance of having a thirst for knowledge to achieve the coveted status of a wise person.  A wise person does not succumb to the illusion of having the complete picture when all that is available are thin silhouettes. They have a firm understanding of the limitations of knowledge and acknowledge that learning is a continual process, not a destination. They echo the sentiment of the Socratic profession of ignorance keeps themselves open to accepting new information. Through remaining humble and reminding ourselves that there are severe limitations on our breadth of knowledge we allow ourselves to broaden our horizons.  If we assume that due to our age we automatically have a thorough understanding of the nature of the world, we are only fooling ourselves.  Such self-deception does not amount to wisdom.

The Ability to Learn from Experiences:

It is easy to assume that because we lived through an experience we truly have a strong comprehension of how to handle it if it reoccurs in the future. Once again, this is an attribute that is tantamount to self-depiction. Making matters only worse, our elders feel so confident in their abilities to draw meaningful inferences from these anecdotes they firmly distribute this advice to younger generations. Creating personal allegories that become imperative that younger folks learn from. However, how are these sage individuals so sure they have pin-pointed the precise source of the issue? Narrowing it down to one salient detail is an oversimplification of a complex situation. There could be multiple issues resulting in the problem at hand.  The specific contextual details of the current issue may differ just enough from the situation experienced by the older individual that their remedy may not be applicable. Dismally, even after all of these years, they have never been able to accurately determine the source of the problem. But have spent the past number years under the false impression that they know the correct course of action. People have the unfortunate propensity to conflate and transpose details that lead them astray. Rendering the solution to being ineffective. Attributing the issue to a salient detail rather than the true cause of the issue. A confusion that can lead a litany of personal fables and longwinded tales resulting in faulty advice.

It should also be noted that if an individual lacks intellectual curiosity, the aptitude of them ever getting down to the heart of a problem is slim. The capacity to learn from experiences is an attribute that dovetails to tightly with intellectual curiosity.  Those of an inquisitive nature are much more likely to weigh all the variables and then cautiously attempt to conclude. Resulting in sound retrospective analysis. While those accepting a crude and rudimentary version of the truth are prone to devise a solution from incomplete information and half-baked premises and reasoning. When examining experience and only accounting for an incomplete depiction or inaccurate assumptions about the scenario, it is impossible to learn from that experience.

Capacity for Sound Reasoning:

You can possess the learning capacity, applying information, and drive to acquire knowledge. None of this will make you wise if your thinking is plighted with biases and fallacies. To have all of the information but no means of interpreting it essentially makes this knowledge useless. What good is information if my interpretation of it is clouded by my prejudices. Capacity for sound reasoning is so integrally related to learning from experiences, it could be argued that without sober reasoning skills we would not be able to draw meaningful lessons from our past experiences. Odds are we would again resort to spouting the convention wisdom specific to our generation. Following the crowd does not lead you to the truth. Conforming for the sake of conforming is nothing more than a flaw in reasoning. Cemented and immortalized in the appeal to popularity fallacy. Popular consensus can lead us down some dark and treacherous roads. One only needs to be reminded of Nazi Germany to witness the grisly ultimate consequences of this fallacy. A genuinely wise individual would be able to recognize the danger in mindless acquiescence. Versus firmly leaning on the thoughtless cliché of referring to “back in my day”. However, times have drastically changed since the youth of well-meaning elderly folks.  Espousing outdated platitudes for fifty years ago (that most likely were even incorrect back then) is not equal to disseminating wisdom.

Assuming that advanced age automatically is equal to wisdom presents another fallacy in reasoning in its own right. That is the appeal to authority fallacy.  Utilizing age as an indicator of wisdom is setting that up as a social signaling mechanism. We hold an authoritative reverence for the advice provided by an elderly person, even though that advice could be flawed. We are allowing the variable of age to obscure our better judgment.  If we truly thought about it, only a small minority of people under the age of sixty-five are truly wise.  Do these individuals all of a sudden alter their habits and adopt a proclivity for sound reasoning magically after reaching this arbitrary age of retirement? No. Odds are as we get older we tend to become more rigid in our thinking and set in our ways. This may not be true of all individuals, but it does tend to be true for most people.

Tocqueville and The Free Press

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Over the past couple of years, the issue of media bias has become a regular talking point in public discourse. Contrary to popular belief, “fake news” has existed long before the advent of the 2016 election cycle. However, some may cite the work of William Meckling and Michael Jensen and claim that left-wing media has existed since at least the late 1970s (P. 49). One only needs to read Barry Goldwater’s 1988 memoirs to see how media coverage mispresented him during his 1964 presidential campaign. Media bias is not relegated to only left-wing media outlets. Conservative publications also suffer from distorting the facts when reporting the news. Liberal media bias is just more salient since liberals dominate the media. When ideologically loaded editorials start being presented as information this is problematic. Regardless of which political proclivities of the author or correspondent. This is nothing more than clear deception. A snake oil salesman presenting opinions as information. Talk about being sold a false bill of goods!

Alexis De Tocqueville reveals to us in Democracy in America that media bias also existed in the 19th century.

“What the latter look for in newspapers are knowledge and facts; only by altering or distorting these facts a journalist can gain some influence over his views (Tocqueville, Transl. Isaac Kramnick, P. 216-217)”.

Tocqueville didn’t dwell on the biased nature of American journalism. This is because he viewed news publications as not so much as vehicles for disseminating information. Rather, as a form of networking. Individuals who share the same values will invariably read some of the same books and obtain their information from the same sources. While it tempting to blame social media companies for indirectly creating powerful echo chambers through data aggregation to maximize user engagement; this problem predates modern technology. Due to confirmation bias, it is always easier to read publications that reinforce our prior beliefs. Converse with people who already agree with our perspective. Considering this quirk of human nature it isn’t surprising that Americans of the 19th century would levitate towards certain publications. Naturally, journalists of the era would either inject their own opinions into news stories or manipulate the facts to make their article more enticing to specific demographic.

This counterintuitive observation regarding the American press bucks our conventional understanding of the intended purpose of news media. Conventional wisdom would dictate that news is purely designed to inform.  Tocqueville obliterates the myth of a journalistic “golden age” in the mid-20th century. Romanticized images of smoke-filled greenrooms and hardnosed reporting epitomized in the likes of Edward R. Murrow. The notion of the news being fact-driven back in the early years of television is an illusion. Per Democracy in America, even in the 19th century, the line between fact and opinion was blurred. Making Tocqueville’s suggestion that the press represents institutions of political association more than they do sources of information a sizeable argument. Presents a hard reality check for those entranced by the tidy and staid conservatism of the 1950s. The news correspondences may have been more eloquent and professional, but were still imparting bias in their reporting.

If media organizations are nothing more than a collective association of like-minded content producers and readers, how do these coalitions form? This a profoundly difficult question to answer. Did ideology bring the members of the media outlet together? Did the political leanings of the content consumers influence what the organization produces? It is hard to say. However, there is certainly an interconnected relationship between content consumers and producers. Tocqueville expounds upon this co-dependent relationship stating:

“… a vital connection between association and newspapers; the latter creates associations which, in their turn, creates newspapers. If it is a truism that associations must multiply as social conditions become more equal, it is no less certain that the number of newspapers increases as associations proliferate. (P. 602).”

While it may be fair do disagree with Tocqueville’s assertion that political associations are the impetus for the establishment of publications, he does touch upon an important aspect of this dynamic. That is  if one media outlet of a specific political disposition is established more will follow. One just needs to look at the history of network television to see this principle in action.  Back when network television was first established in the 1980s the 24-hour news channels were all left-of-center. Conservative media was essentially relegated to AM/radio talk shows. Then in 1996 the Fox News Channel was launched and provided a conservative presence on network television. The proliferation of conservative media shifted from the dying platform of network cable to the wild frontier of cyberspace. Leading to the development of outlets such as Newsmax, The Blaze, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, The Drudge Report, The Daily Wire, etc. All platforms whose success was propelled by the internet. One can’t help but wonder if Fox News had never been established if these outlets would have ever achieved their present level of success. Especially when you consider The Blaze was founded by former Fox News personality Glenn Beck.

The above example details this relationship of associations and the growth of media outlets for conservative publications, this rule most likely applies to any ideology imaginable. Just think of all the political movements that have spurred by the zealous distribution of literature by pamphleteers.  This ranges from movements as diverse from the American Revolution to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. What is the first thing any wide-eyed college kid at a protest does when you approach them? Offer you a pamphlet detailing the rationale for their outrage and indignation. If a movement becomes large enough eventually formal media outlets fixated on the political movement are established.

Polemics such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the Cato Letters may provide the rebel-rousing fodder for revolution. What sustains these political movements and their various supporting publications? It is easy to see that ideas spread through collective association and the proliferation of related literature/media. As enthusiasm, wanes momentum starts to sink. Convictions and commitment among supporters start to dissipate. Making the role of publications much more important.

“ This association can be more or less strictly defined, more or less restricted, more or less numerous but at least  the seed of such an association must exist in men’s minds to ensure the survival of the newspaper (P. 603).”

Tocqueville believes that the conviction conveyed by journalists only continues to live on if supported by the readers. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. If no one is buying your newspapers or magazines your firm will go out of business. In terms of the transmission of ideas, the intertwined nature of content publisher and consumer is much more co-dependent. Yes, the passions of the readers need to remain resolute for the publisher to keep their lights on. But,  the publisher needs to keep putting out engaging content to further perpetuate the movement can keep the movement from getting stale. It may be bold to argue with a thinker as brilliant as Tocqueville, however, let’s say he is only half right on this account. Fostering strong political coalitions requires both the publisher and the reader.

Some observant readers may be wondering, how does this model apply to local newspapers?  After all, they tend to be more provincial in their scope and less politicized.  The less politicized part may be a false assumption, due to the fact the local paper tends to conform to the political leanings of the region. If hypothetically there was a local or regional newspaper that was completely objective it still would provide a form of collective association. The news stories and editorials would focus on local issues.  Presumably, all the readers would have interests in the commentary about new ordinances and municipal taxes. Readership and the employees of the publication bound by a mutually shared self-interest in local affairs. A cohesion that sometimes breaks through partisan barriers and transcendent party affiliation. National and international publications look to sow a connecting ideology among its viewers and readers. The local media outlets unite its staff and audience with universal concerns about daily affairs.

Did Alexis De Tocqueville Predict “Cancel Culture”?

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Alexis De Tocqueville was arguably one of the most insightful writers to ever detail the intricacies of American Democracy. Tocqueville’s journey sounds like an unlikely one. Something analogous to an intellectual version of the excursions taken by Lewis and Clark. A royal magistrate from France traveling throughout North America in only nine months. Even spending some time with local tribal nations. Based upon his keen observations of American political culture Tocqueville made many predictions. Some of his lofty inferences fell flat and resulted in nothing more than faulty speculation.  What was truly impressive about his insights is what he got right.  He did possess an uncanny aptitude for being able to foreshadow various political and societal shifts in America. Much of his writing was quite prescient.

Any modern reader of Democracy In America can’t help but wonder if Tocqueville predicted the phenomenon of “cancel culture”. The present trend in which individuals guilty of engaging politically incorrect speech is de-platformed. Whether it be shadow-banning on twitter or having their radio talk show pulled from the airwaves. Tocqueville shared many of the same concerns that James Madison voiced in Federalist Papers #51. Both men understood how the collective passions of the people could veer into the territory of authoritarian mob rule. That is precisely what “cancel culture” has morphed into, figurative lynching-mob. Relishing the downfall of anyone transgressive of the virtue of political correctness. Resorting to de facto censorship to prevent such subversive individuals from having the ability to transmit any more socially intolerable ideas.

Tocqueville shrewdly points how often any minority must contend with institutional barriers when it comes to seeking justice. The outcry for prohibiting offensive speech targets individuals who are out of lock-step with the majority opinion, effectively infringing upon their First Amendment rights. The true intention of codifying protections for free speech is meant to protect the expression of unpopular opinions. Where is an individual to turn their right to free expression is violated, but their views are perceived as being reprehensive by society?

“My main complaint against the democratic government as organized in the United States is not its weakness, as many Europeans claim, but rather its irresistible strength And what I find most repulsive in America is not the extreme freedom that prevails there but the shortage of guarantees against tyranny.

When a man or a party suffers from an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn? To public opinion? That is what forms the majority. To the legislative body? That represents the majority and obeys it blindly. To executive power? That is appointed by the majority and serves it as a passive instrument. (Tocqueville, P. 294-295. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”

He could easily see that those with unpopular opinions could very well have little recourse in enforcing their liberties. It’s easy to defend someone’s right to denouncing racism. It is profoundly more difficult to defend the right of someone to publish racist literature.  This is mainly due to societal pressures. In the present climate defending the First Amendment rights of a bigoted person is tantamount to be racists. While this assumption rests on a rickety premise, public opinion only seeks to promote this fallacy. Due to public passions being more concerned with social justice, there is a willingness to mischaracterize people and to even dispense with critical rights if they do not comport with the grand objective of “tolerance”.  Both Madison and Tocqueville intuitively understood the social dynamics of crowds which would later be expounded upon by social psychologists. Not only to members of the crowd feel a decreased sense of individual responsibility, but there is an emotional amplifier effect. Having either attribute present will make an individual less apt to rely on reason and more apt to go along with the mob. Even if their outrage and indignation are hyperbolic.

The shrewd Frenchman not only understood how popular passions would overwhelm sound reason and effectively alienate minorities, but he foresaw the development of Progressive ideology. Tocqueville noticed that democracy had a proclivity for drifting towards equality. He wrote at length detailing the lack of social stratification in the United States. Even noting that the capitalistic tendencies of America could provide a man from a poor family with the opportunity for exorbitant material success if he is willing to work for it. Democracy as a whole has an equalizing effect on society.  The people elected officials that represent their will. The whole notion of “the government works for the people”.  An idea completely foreign to continental Europe in the 19th century (foreign in practice, not so much in theory). Tocqueville audaciously claims that disposition towards equality implies perfectibility within human nature.

“As classes disappear and grow closer, as a tumultuous mass of mankind, it practices, customs, and laws alter, as new facts emerge, as new truths come to light, as old opinions disappear and are replaced by others, the image of perfection in an idealized and fleeting form is offered to the human mind.

….. Some changes improve his lot and he concludes that, in general, man is endowed with the faculty of indefinite improvement. . (De Tocqueville, P. 522-523. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”

It is the tendency towards  “indefinite improvement” that lays the groundwork for Progressive ideology. Progressivism generally holds that people are capable of constant betterment. The goal is to keep striving towards an idealized world where all the ills have been neutralized. Most adherents of Progressivism do not mind using the levers of government or other institutions to help lead people in the right direction. One of those corralling techniques would be punishment for veering off the path of social improvement. Such as making a culturally insensitive joke. This would explain the functionality of “cancel culture”. The de facto censorship is one of the means utilized to keep people on the straight and narrow.  If you say something offensive you will be ostracized and have your career ruined. The logic being you will avoid making such a social faux pas when faced with the severity of the consequences. Why? Because followers of the Progressive movement believe that you can do better. Some even sincerely believe that a world without prejudice could exist. Unfortunately, is nothing more than a pipe-dream. Nothing more than good intentions knocking on the door of utopianism. If man is fallible, the odds of offensive speech dissipating is unlikely. Such an assumption demonstrates an unrealistic perception of human nature. We can mold people into the image we desire through social pressure and coercion.  Rather, they need to come to their conclusions not to be forced into socially desirable opinions. There may be immorality in racism. However, there is also immorality in weaponizing social conventions to callously achieve social goals. Especially when innocent parties have their comments taken out of context and are used against them. Making these innocent bystanders nothing more than collateral damage.

Substance over Style

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Just a random thought. As I have gotten older I have begun to realize how you arrive at your answer is more important than what your answer is.

Anyone can get lucky with incidentally contriving a profound insight. However, your method of arriving at such a conclusion cannot be the byproduct of chance.

Rather, it would be the byproduct of sounding thinking. Replicating the feat will eliminate the potential it was a happenstance fluke.

The Paradox of Atheism


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Many proponents of Atheism hold it as the only perspective on religion free of dogma. The irony is that Atheism has it’s own orthodoxies that are held as strongly as a fervent belief in a higher power. Not all  Atheists fall into the “free thinker” or the “enlightened individual” trap, however, there is a number that does. Failing to see some of the parallels between devout atheism and organized religion.  The one characteristic shared by an atheist and a Baptist Minister is their immutable stance on religious faith. Being easily disposed to write off any contrary perspective as being false and ill-advised. The three main commonalities between atheism and religion are a collective association, possessing fixed views on belief in a higher power, and the proclivity to proliferate their religious perspective.


Rarely is atheism criticized from a neutral standpoint? Meaning generally it is critiqued concerning some form of religious precepts. This essay is not intended to be a polemic defense of religion over atheism but rather aims to observantly point out areas of inconsistencies. Atheism is presented as a dynamic belief system. The natural gradation in the development of human understanding and a departure from the ancient proclivities of magical thinking. It still suffers from many faults. Unbending commitment to a set of beliefs. Atheism even exhibits attributes of tribalism which can have dangerous consequences. One needs to look no further than the present political climate to witness the venomous repercussions of in-group conformity.


Collective Association:


Humanist groups are collectives of nonbelievers that meet periodically. Generally focusing the social gathering around discussion or other social activities. The number of activities that could encompass one of these gatherings are endless. Ranging from meeting at a coffee shop to bowling and beyond. It is reasonable to suggest that these groups are merely a surrogate for the religious communities previously forfeited by non-belief. Religion does provide a cohesive glue that voluntarily keeps communal bonds intact. This was an observation that the great political theorist Alexis De Tocqueville made back in the nineteenth century.


Considering that many atheists still grew up in a religious background, it isn’t surprising that many yearn to be a part of a community of like-minded people. Without the formal institution of an organized church, this endeavor has previously been difficult. In the age of the internet, many of the logistical costs of organizing have been minimized. Technological advancement coupled with a decline in religiosity in the United States has created fertile ground for the spread of humanist groups. As America continues to shed its Christian identity with declines in religious observance the societal acceptance of such associations increases.


The most perplexing aspect of these groups they are essentially church groups. Yet, few if any of the members of a humanist group would call it a congregation. It is a group of people drawn together by the commonly shared religious convictions. Those convictions may be a lack of faith in God, nevertheless, still are religious beliefs. It is merely the reciprocal of the traditional beliefs of a religious association. A humanist group is a community of nonbelievers. It is the embodiment of the church community that they had abandoned with losing their faith.  Somewhat analogous to converting to another religion and joining a different community of believers. Minus the immense amount of formal ceremonial procedures.


The Irreverent Dogma: The Freethinker Paradox 


Much of the rhetoric shrouding atheistic thought is fixated on purportedly on free thinking. Atheists by definition hold an inflexible view of the existence of a higher power. They have also seemed to have substituted faith in religion for an unquestionable belief in the authority of science. To be an atheist you must hold the rigid stance that there are no deity/deities that exist in the universe. If you do not conform to this crucial pillar of atheism you cannot be a part of the club. It is important to acknowledge that this argument is tautological. However, that is not grounds for disqualifying this point.  Anytime we opt to adopt a specific label whether it is a political designation, sports team affiliation, etc. there are certain characteristics we are expected to conform to.  Can an individual be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and not even like the team?  No. Therefore, to be a part of this subset of society you must conform to this virtue of group identity. To be an atheist you must capitulate some of your capacity towards freethinking. If you question the doctrine of non-belief you are no longer categorical an atheist. This parallels the fact that a Christian cannot be a Christian without believing in god. It is merely the same premise, just inverted.


Another issue that the free thinker designation that many nonbelievers adorn themselves is that their lack of belief mirrors the intensity of the belief of religiously observant individuals. It takes a lot of faith to make a definite claim about something that cannot be falsified. This goes back to the conundrum presented before us in Pascal’s Wager.  We really can’t prove or disprove the existence of God, therefore the possibility of a higher power existing is fifty-fifty. The odds are no different than that of a coin-flip. As we are presented with two potential outcomes. Because atheists are armed with the precepts of science the inability to falsify the existence of God already disqualifies the possibility of existence.  A corollary of this idea came from the infamous atheistic polemicist Christopher Hitchens in the form of Hitchens’s Razor. Succinctly put claims made without concrete evidence can be refuted without evidence. Technically, this argument could also be applied to atheism. The enigmatic nature of the God question is one that is cloaked in uncertainty. We have no means of proving or invalidating it. Either position is a leap-of-faith. Even the exalted dismissal of religion by science is still a leap-of-faith. With no means of testing the veracity, we will still run the risk of invaliding something true. As improbable as the premise may be.


Spreading the Word:
Atheists are just as incline as Jehovah’s witnesses to spread the good news. The attempts of atheist to proselytize their beliefs is somewhat underscored.  The author of this essay knows from anecdotal experience members of humanist groups will go to great lengths to persuade you to join their congregation.  It is not uncommon for nonbelievers to engage in heated debates over religious doctrines. In a futile attempt to persuade their religious opponent they are wrong. Making many atheists agents of transmission for their position on religion.  The vocal atheists who engage in this domestic missionary work have a clear agenda of making the world less religious. Pointing out the faults in reasoning synonymous with religion and atrocities committed in the name of God. Analogous to those spreading religious doctrines highlighting how the absence of religion leads to moral decay and sin.


Just about every religious tradition has it’s philosophical defenders and intellectual apologists, the same is very much true in atheism. The number of books, pamphlets, websites, blogs, and podcasts designed to persuasively defend atheism is dizzying. These substantial efforts have been particularly evident among the New Atheist intellectuals. Minds ranging from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris and even the previously mentioned late Christopher Hitchens provide the fodder for the growth of this movement. Their polemical treatises against religion are widely read. Mirror the popularity and purpose of many books designed to promote religiosity. Both Joel Osteen and Sam Harris are best-selling authors in the United States. Proving that those in the ranks of defending atheism are starting to exhibit similar notoriety as those who defend the faith.




This essay is not intended to be a personal attack against atheists or a moral judgment of atheism. It is merely expressing curious commonalities between atheism and organized religion. Intriguingly, atheism’s uncompromising nature does lend itself to having some peculiar similarities to strict forms of religious practice.  A conservative Christian is as equally invested in the promotion of their beliefs as of any atheist. Psychology and sociology most likely have some answers to why this is true. It is important to remember the Horseshoe Theory of Politics.  This theory asserts that the political extremes have more common characteristics than they do with the centrists. Leading one to speculate that this theory could be extrapolated and applied to other belief systems. Ranging from religion to positions on ethics issues.





Being Plagued by the “What ifs”


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One of the bittersweet aspects of the pandemic has been having more time to think. As any reflective thinker can tell you this is a double-edged sword. While this allows you the time to contemplate new insights, it also provides you the unfortunate opportunity to dwell on the past. Plaguing yourself with a multitude of “what ifs”. Excruciatingly examining every lost opportunity.  Every single faux pas firmly under the microscope. Self-reflection soon descends into an unrelenting trial and you are judge, jury, and executioner. One can only cringe when confronted with the prospect of innumerable instances of time wasted. Ranging from a misspent youth to the stagnation of mediocrity. Taking responsibility for all of your missteps is a sharp pill to swallow. Much of this self-reflection has been fruitless and has done nothing more than to rob me of more time.  Creating a bit of cosmic irony. Painfully reflecting upon the past is in turn mimicking the behavior of the past, wasting time. This is self-perpetuating cycle is nothing more than a prison.  A self-made prison.


The Stoic philosopher Seneca succinctly describes how we often take time for granted.


People are frugal guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy


While personal property and money should not be consumed frivolously, we can always acquire more physical goods.  Once a moment is squandered we can never get it back. It is the one nonrenewable resource that few people genuinely are concerned about conserving. It almost seems tempting to veer into destructive patterns of wasting time. Humans have an almost universal proclivity for being fixated on the negative. How often at work do your co-workers relish engaging in a venting session? I am willing to wage more frequently than they are apt to expound upon the positive aspects of their job. Too frequently negative restaurant reviews are more salient to us than the positive ones. The allure of reality television is wholly based on negativity. Millions of Americans are entertained daily by drama and conflict depicted in this variety of programming. Even our escapism is marred with this time extracting parasite.  Like a moth to a flame, we find ourselves drawn to it.  Why do you think network news outlets love being the peddlers of doom and gloom? Not because they are overtly morbid organizations, but because it sells. Like any other business, you need to provide customers with what they want. Even if it isn’t good for them.


Unfortunately, life is rife with distractions. Frequently our wills are tested, but the temptation is too great to capitulate to their influence. The countless hours the average person squanders on social media is a sobering realization. It is estimated that in 2019 the average person spent 144 minutes on social media a day.  That is over 2 hours a day and over 14 hours a week.  Social media consumption adds up. The 14 plus hours a week wasted on social media is gone forever. This lack of mindfulness of time may not immediately lead to regret. However, give it time. Many of the young people today will reflect upon their misspent youth much as I have and feel a gripping sense of melancholy. How could have been so stupid?!  I could have been out experiencing life instead of relegating myself to a screen. The only difference was I squandered my teen years drinking, listening to music, and talking smack with my equally misguided friends.


A few weeks ago a finished reading a book written by Ari Kiev, The Psychology of Risk which provides some interesting insights into risk management. Granted the book is geared towards day-traders, but the strategies offered for coping with uncertainty are universal. Whether you are a business owner, or you manage a household. Life while always have risk. Every decision has negative and positive consequences. Every decision will have some implied risk. Kiev provides a powerful realization of being cautious. To succeed you need to assume some risk. Many traders suffer from losing out on good opportunities due to being too cautious. This is one of the many ghosts of the past that haunt me in my phases of intense introspection. I always tried to play it safe and attempted to be realistic. Through doing what I believed to be prudent I ended up limiting myself. Much how choosing not to act is still an action, paradoxically, in an attempt to avoid risk I was still taking it on. Now I am at times immobilized by the regrets.  A little bit of risk could have resulted in rewards much grander than my apprehensions.  I am trying to make strides away from this cylindrical, revolving, echo chamber of the past.  To focus on what I can have control over.


A few years back I wrote a derisive essay criticizing Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk on the Paradox of Choice. I must embarrassingly admit I have never read his book. Ironically, I was given the book as a Christmas gift and intend to read it soon. Within several years after writing this essay I do not 100 percent agree with all of my previous assumptions.  While I do not believe we should as a society restrict choice. After all, options are the hallmark of any health modern economy. Schwartz wasn’t wrong about the phenomenon of choice paralysis. If offered a myriad of different choices most people are prone to become overwhelmed. Even worst, if we choose that we are unhappy with psychological distress is difficult to reconcile. Because any form of decision making has implied risk, there is always the potential that we made a bad decision. The direct risk of decision making. Kiev reminds us that it isn’t the mistakes we make, but rather how we react to them. That axiom isn’t confined to the trading floor. We need to learn from our errors and move forward. To a certain extend invoking Stoic philosophy. We only concern ourselves with what we have control over. Anything else isn’t worth the stress.


To quote Epictetus:


“I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.”



Let’s be present and in the moment. That is what we have control over. The demons of the past will forever be.  Let’s all look towards the new horizon.

The Lockean Theory of Property- Part II


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In Locke’s book the 2nd Treatise of Government, he provides an answer to a perplexing problem concerning property rights. What authority grants us the right to own and acquire property? Is it the whim of a benevolent monarch that provides us a right to property? Are we granted a right to property through cultural norms?  Is the right to acquire and own property the by-product of legislative fiat? Locke would suggest that none of these factors wholly justifies our right to ownership. He asserts that it is a natural right endowed upon us by our creator. Veering away from the premise that ownership is privileged granted by a ruler or government. Rather, it is the birthright of every free individual. Opposing the convention that the king has dominion over everything within the boundaries of his kingdom.


It could be argued that to some capacity that theorist before Locke had an understanding of property rights Even the famously illiberal  Niccolo Machiavelli stated in The Prince:


What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From there, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, Transl. Mansfield, 1985).


Machiavelli did recognize property rights based on natural law. He saw respecting the property of a ruler’s subjects as a matter of pragmatism. A ruler cannot get ward off insertions and usurpation plots if he is hated by his people. Demonstrating how the indignation of the people can potentially operate as an informal check on power. Even in illiberal principalities. However, provincial self-interest falls short of a comprehensive ethical argument for the preservation of property rights. This is why this philosophical breakthrough is attributed to Locke. Versus previous thinkers.


The bigger mystery at hand is how did humans end up acquiring private property? In the nascent period of human history, nomadic people did not own land. Moved from location to location searching for various resources. Upon the dawn of the Neolithic period, hunter-gather societies were on the decline. Humans started to form sedimentary communities. Before permanent settlements, all lands and resources were part of a commons.  What is known as today as a common-pool of resources. Where the availability of resources is not limited by private ownership. Once humans started to acquire land, they were effectively taking it out of the “commons”. No longer could your neighbor harvest lumber from the thicket of woodlands you now presently own without permission.


How land transitions from the “commons” to private ownership is where Locke’s theory comes into play. We are born free and therefore we own ourselves. Consequently, we own the fruits of our labor. Through our private effects, we effectively take the resource out of the commons by harvesting it.


The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are his property. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state of nature hath, provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in…

(Locke, 1690, P.19. Ed. Macpherson, 1980)


Effectively, if now one else owns the resource and you effectively harvest it or process it for use it is yours. Unfortunately, this method of claiming tangible property is much more complex in the modern era. Most land and resources are under either private or state ownership. There are exceptions. The ocean is one of the few pure tangible commons left. Where fishing rights tend to be delineated by licensing or argument. However, this same principle of ownership can be applied to intangible goods in the form of intellectual property. This explains a plethora of societal sanctions for copyright infringement, plagiarism, and a myriad of other varieties of intellectual theft.


Locke, in his argument, does not condone resource consumption without limits. We can continue to procure resources providing two conditions 1.) we are not letting anything spoil and 2.) we are leaving resources for others (Locke, 1690, P.21). Inferring that God didn’t bless with bountiful resources to squander them nor to be gluttonously hoarded. This demonstrates the fact that there natural limits on consumption. Providing that we stay within these limitations our consumption doesn’t transgress against the rights of our neighbor.


Locke also provides some interesting commentary concerning the introduction of money. Many resources that are harvested are perishable meaning we can only take as much as we intend to personally use. Limiting us to a Robinson Crusoe Economy, laboring for mere subsistence. Any further harvesting would lead to waste. What Ludwig Von Mises referred to as Autistic Exchange. Unlike harvested goods, money does not decompose.  This characteristic of money is so salient that it is one of the seven defining features of money. By the introduction of a medium of exchange vastly expands our ability to consume resources by remedying the issue of waste and depletion(Locke, 1690, P.23). Substituting currency for barter we can develop a division of labor. Instead of attempting to produce everything we need, industries emerge that are devoted to food production.  Meaning other segments of society can create other goods and services. Using the market as an allocation mechanism we can remedy the waste/ depletion conflict. Producers will tailor production to market demand, limiting the potential for waste. This also provides consumers with the opportunity to freely acquire these resources.


There are two caveats here. One we still see plenty of instances of hoarding in free-market economies. No system is perfect. Hoarding can still transpire with a common-resource pool in a state of nature. A market-based system helps diminish the coordination issues associated with obtaining resources. Also, keep in mind, this treatise was written before the technology that allowed for mass resource extraction. This issue could be mitigated through private harvesting collectives and contractually agreed upon extraction quotas.


The second being is that money helps minimize the number of resources being spoiled. However, it is not a full-proof safeguard against it. Then again, there is never a full-proof method of preventing bad consequences.




The Lockean Theory of Property (Part I)



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The philosopher John Locke is arguably one of the most influential thinkers in Western thought. Locke’s crowning achievement of political philosophy would have to be his theory on property. A theory of property rights that has become the focal point of liberal democracy.  The king does not have possession of the estate you inherited from your father. Even if the land is within the jurisdiction of his kingdom.  This powerful distinction provides the precedent to legally codify the natural right to property in positive law.


Protection of property is one of the few legitimate ends that government serves. In Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Governmenthe goes so far to claim that the main reason why humans form governments is the “preservation of their property” (p.66). If a government fails to protect the rights of its citizens it has abdicated its main duty. Thus, it is illegitimate. Especially, when the government is supposed to operate as the mediator between burglar and homeowner. We depart the state of nature and handover the authority to distribute restraint and reparation to the government (p.10). In exchange, we refrain from enacting justice as we would in state of nature because the government has promised to justly addressing transgressions such as theft. The question becomes why do we delegate the responsibility of defending property to the state? Per Locke,  we surrender the right to punishment so that it is applied justly and isn’t influenced by bias (p.66).  Harm can even come of the individual who had their property taken or defiled.


They who by any injustice offended will seldom fail, where they are able, by force to make good their injustice; the resistance many times makes the punishment dangerous, and frequently destructive, to those who attempt it. (Locke, 1690, P.66. Ed. Macpherson, 1980).

Making for good justification for why we allow the government to determine the means and magnitude of the consequences (p.67). It is safer for society than allowing individuals to act upon their passions. Beyond the concern of general well being, it provides standardization of repercussions for property crimes. Uneven or inconsistent consequences is a haphazard application of force defended on the grounds of fickle passions. This is nothing more an individualized form of tyranny.


That does not mean that every government policy implemented since the publishing of Locke’s magnum opus has secured the property rights of the citizens. Even in the contemporary world, there are many autocratic and despotic regimes. One of the more notable luminaries of the illiberal regimes in 2020 would be North Korea. Even in the United States, a country founded on Lockean principles, there are policies antithetical to property rights. One such embarrassing example is civil asset forfeiture.  By a loose definition is a legal doctrine that allows law enforcement to seize property that is suspected of being used in the commission of a crime. Since 2014, approximately 35 states have reformed their civil forfeiture laws, 15 states require a conviction.


Reform isn’t enough to right the wrong of civil asset forfeiture. The only time property should be taken from an individual who violated the law would be in the instances of property crime. Only under the condition of restoration.  For example, my car was stolen and then found in the driveway of an individual that lives two towns over. It is permissible for law enforcement then to seize the car and return it to the rightful owner.  If I am trafficking black tar heroin in my car, it is wrong for the police to seize my car.  Even if my car was purchased with the proceeds of drug sales. My transgression of transporting illegal drugs for sale is mutually exclusive from my conveyance. Yes, the conveyance did help assist in transporting the drugs. It was rightfully paid for. I did not steal the car. Paid for the car through engaging in the victimless crime of drug sales.


By self-ownership, I utilized my labor by selling drugs to purchase the car (p.19). Therefore it is my car and the government does not have the right to take it. At least from a philosophical standpoint rather than a legally positive standpoint.  In the same vein (no pun intended), selling drugs to others is a victimless crime. As free individuals, who own their bodies, they are electing to ingest the drugs I sell. This an authority they cannot be transferred to anyone else. Especially not the leader of the  Corrections Officer’s unions who frequently lobby against drug legalization (a shining example of rent-seeking).


Civil asset forfeiture is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the state violating our right to property. Other policies such as eminent domain present other examples of the government treading upon our property rights. I can only picture John Locke rolling over in his grave every time we justify these egregious crimes against our property. Every example is a direct violation of our social contract. The deal being we relinquish our right to individualized punishment for an assurance that our property is protected through legal means. It is a horrifying juxtaposition when the government becomes the burglar. The same institutions that were designed to protect our property are then used to commandeer it. That runs contrary to the philosophical core of the United States. The first country founded on the right to secure property.





Locke and How Parents Shape our Political Reasoning


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John Locke is arguably one of the most influential political philosophers to ever live. The father of liberalism built the intellectual scaffolding that hoisted Europe up towards the Age of Reason. He also effectively build the philosophical foundation for the founding principles of the United States. America serving as not only an enduring social experiment but as a living tribute to Lockean ideals. Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Government serving as the fodder for the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…


The first paragraph of the Declaration almost serves as a succinct summary of Locke’s 2nd Treatise. Locke’s influence on America’s political heritage is indisputable. Many of our cherished rights such as free speech and freedom of religion are based on the concept of natural rights. The concept of natural rights served as the core justification for Locke’s arguments in the 2nd Treatise. There was one observation in Locke’s grand treatise that was only quasi-political which was the relationship between parent and child. To refer to such as dynamic as even quasi-political may seem far-fetched to many modern observers. Then again, this may be an indicator that we have allowed the government to have too much dominion over our daily lives.


Locke begins his argument by stating that both the mother and father have authority over their children (p.30). Providing paternal power to both parents.  Citing the Ten Commandments  of the Christian Bible, the commandment ” Honor thy father and mother”. Providing biblical justification for allotting control to both parents in rearing their children. Versus having the father serve as the one and true tyrant. There is also a practical consideration if the mother has no authority over her children, what is she to do in his absence? If he is sent off to war. If he passes away due to disease. It is only sensible to endow both parents with the authority of arising their children.


Why do the parents need to exert control over their children? Does John Locke assert that all men are born free? Yes, equal in the sense of the capacity for reason. By being born as a human being and therefore possessing the faculties for reason.

Children, I confess are not born in a full state of equality, though they are born into it. Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them, when they come into the world, and for some time after; but it is a temporary one…. The bonds of this subjection are like swaddling clothes they art wrapt up in, and supported by, in the weakness of their infancy: age and reason as they grow up, loosen them, till at length they drop off, and leave a man at free disposal  (Locke, 1690. P. 31. Ed. Macpherson, 1980)


This eloquent description explains how parents will relinquish their control once their children reach adulthood. Before becoming an adult, most children lack the full capacity for sound judgment. The parents must instill values in their kids. Also, to assist them with developing their reasoning skills. Reasoning skills are partially a byproduct of experience. However, there is also a biological component to this development as well. Contemporary research suggests that brain development continues into our mid-20’s. Back in the 1600s, the life expectancy was approximately 39 years. It most likely would have been unrealistic to assert an individual was a fully cognizant adult at 25. Most likely after the child had a firm understanding of basic reasoning and societal norms and values was when they were deemed an adult. Currently, in society, we utilize arbitrary age cut-offs to determine adulthood. Libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard asserted that a person becomes an adult once they are self-sustaining.


The question remains how does the stewardship of parents over their children pertain to political life? Parents are preparing their children to become active members of the community. The values that parents instill in their children will have consequences for society as a whole. Granted, once the child reaches the age of majority they are free to exercise their will. Often, our childhood does have implications of our behavior and decisions as an adult. While not every parent is capable of raising upstanding citizens, most are.  How children interact with the community and society as a whole is based upon the modeling of their parents. Humans not only learn from auditory input (the directives of our parents) but also visually. We watch what our parents do and to some extent absorb it into our repertoire of permissible behaviors. It wouldn’t be outlandish for a parent who doesn’t vote to raise children who choose not to vote.


A lot of our “political behavior” is learned from our parents. More often than not an individual declaring allegiance to a political party. It wasn’t a choice.  Choice requires a specific degree of evaluation and subsequent discrimination. Much like religious convictions they are often bequeathed to the children from their parents. Further demonstrating the importance of parents in establishing the child’s capacity for moral reasoning. While it is imperative to initiate children in a cohesive moral philosophy such as religious domination or a set of political beliefs, developing reasoning supersedes both.  Having morals inculcated into you does not make you moral. You must first be able to distinguish morality from immorality. Then the individual’s religious and political beliefs have substance. Without having a strong moral framework choice are arbitrary and lacks context. Effectively makes any decisions you make at the political level done so blindly. Such moral and rational illiteracy can be disastrous to an individual, community, or country.

How Not to Live Your Life- A Lesson from Kierkegaard and Seinfeld

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The 1990s sitcom Seinfeld  was loudly proclaimed to be the show about “nothing”.  The very term “nothing” is somewhat paradoxical. Nothing denotes the complete absence of an essence or form. Technically it is herculean  task to fixate any concept around the word. Logically some attribute is bound to invalidate the notion of complete absence of  any form or detail. Hence, why the show really wasn’t about nothing. It was really an unapologetic slice-of-life comedy. Focused on four 30-something NYC residents and their day to day lives. Lives typically punctuated by social faux pas and outlandish situations. Generally spurred by their own errors or impulses. It the television program doesn’t fixate on nothing. It merely lacks an overt, cohesive and reoccurring theme. In contrast to the modern fables portrayed in a sappy coming-of-age drama.


At first glance, it would appear the odds of obtaining any profound philosophical insights from Seinfeld would be unlikely. However, some philosophers would disagree.  Back in 2000, William Irwin edited  a collection of essays drawing philosophical themes from the sitcom. To think philosophical insights from a show where the characters quibble over breakfast cereals and superheroes. Seinfeld and Philosophy  is a brilliant attempt to infer the unthinkable from the show about “nothing”. The unthinkable being is logical and moral parables.


Out of the four main characters of Seinfeld  Cosmo Kramer is certainly noteworthy. A slender and cloddish man with a mop of wild hair upon his. His rangy frame often silhouetted by a thick hazy of smoke from a burning Cuban cigar. Frequently barging into Jerry’s apartment and rifling through his refrigerator for food. He never holds a steady job. Often is hopping from one fleeting interest to the next.  Whether it be some harebrained business scheme or new absurd fixation. For example, in season nine when Kramer discovers the furniture from the old  Merv Griffin Show in a dumpsters.  He then decides to assemble the set in his own apartment and pose as if he was a late-night talk show host. Kramer mirrors Peter Pan. Stuck in a perpetual state of adolescences. He is fickle with is commitments and interests. Making his life a revolving-door of collective fads.  Giving some credence to Elaine one time insulting Kramer by calling him a “hipster doofus“.Yes kids, this episode did predate the American Spirits smoking, fake glasses wearing, Pabst Blue Ribbon drinking hipsters of the 2000’s.


How could any sizable moral lesson ever be derived from a character that lives such a shallow life? Philosopher William Irvin found some insights in Kramer’s disregard for commitment.  Detailed in his essay Kramer and Kierkegaard: Stages on Life’s Way.  Where Irvin parallels Kramer’s life to that of the Aesthetic Stage of Life. In terms of stages of moral development that would appear to be Kierkegaard’s most rudimentary stage.  It is important to note that this starts with and ends with despair. Is distinguished by a flight from boredom. Fully illustrated by Kramer’s ever-changing agenda. Spirited, but short-lived enthusiasm. Such as the time Kramer pitched his idea of a cologne that smells like the beach or a pizzeria where you can “bake your own pie” (Irvin, 2000). This only dovetails to possessing a lack of commitment another defining feature of this stage. Exemplified by Kramer referring marriage has a man-made “prison” (Irvin, 2000) Clearly  illustrating his distaste for committed romantic relationships.


Cosmo Kramer operates as a moral  allegory of what not to be. Unprincipled and pleasure seeking. To characteristics of hedonism that run contrary personal responsibility. One of the conceptual cornerstones of Existential philosophy. The philosophical movement Kierkegaard was a pioneer of. Can an individual float through life as a middle-aged or even elderly “hipster doofus”? Constantly raiding your neighbor’s refrigerator. Hatching various get-rich-quick schemes that invariably fail with in a short duration of time. Finding novel oddball hobbies to occupy your decades of scant employment. It is no wonder many of these interests fade fast. There isn’t any substance to them. They are merely temporary distractions for a man lacking conviction. If Kramer was truly committed to any of his business ventures he would abort them within a matter of days. He would fight for his business to success.  He isn’t the type to want to exert such effort on what is difficult.   Kramer would rather feed the perpetual cycle of fleeting interests and wavering commitment. Making him a prime example of what we should avoid being in real life.



Machiavelli in the Office-Part VII: Lady Luck

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Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lips service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.


Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.


Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.


The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.


I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].


Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.



Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lip service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.


Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.


Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.


The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.


I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].


Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part VI- Don’t Hire Mercenaries

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Machiavelli could easily be considered one of the most misinterpreted thinkers in political philosophy. His name has become synonymous deceit and other vices of public office. This marred image of Machiavelli has sullied his reputation as a philosopher for centuries. Despite Machiavelli’s image problem, his insights extend well beyond the provincial mode of retaining tyrannical authority. He expounded upon immutable truths about human nature. Truths that need to be acknowledged anytime you are navigating any kind of social hierarchy. Whether naturally developed or systematically contrived.


By Machiavelli conveying these truths in his works of political philosophy, he distinguishes himself on a deeper level than a mere political theorist. Rather, he transcends that restrictive title. Embarks upon detailing the more convoluted and perplexing realm of human nature. His observations at times even veer into the territory of practical advice.  Hence why the application of his work isn’t just limited to the sly trickery that characterized the Florentine royal court back in the 16th century.


In terms of applying  Machiavelli’s lessons to the workplace, this insight is a unique one. That requires some abstract thinking to foresee the application but conceptually is similar enough that it works. This is about hiring managers utilizing contracted employees from employment agencies. This is colloquially known as “using temps” or temporary employees. Some individuals may question what hiring temps over fully company employees has to do with mercenaries. Hiring mercenaries is something that Machiavelli advises all shrewd rulers to avoid doing so.

And by experience one sees that only princes and armed republics make very great progress; nothing but harm ever comes from mercenary arms. And a republic armed with its arms is brought to obey one of its citizens with more …. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.50. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].


And because with these examples, I have come into Italy, which has been governed
for many years by mercenary arms, I want to discourse on them more deeply, so that, when their origin and progress have been seen, one can correct them better. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.52. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].


Let him, then, who wants to be unable to win make use of these arms, since they are much more dangerous than mercenary arms. For with these, ruin is accomplished; they are all united, all resolved to obey someone else. But mercenary arms, when they have won, need more time and greater opportunity to hurt you since they are not one whole body and have been found and paid for by you. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.55. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [3].


All three quotes from The Prince exemplifies the perils of hiring soldiers. At the end of the day, the soldier of fortunate only has his eyes set on fortune. There isn’t any sense of pride, heritage, community, kinship, or other forms of social cohesion bonding them to the kingdom they have been paid to defend. Even if native-born soldiers are receiving a salary and other benefits (in the modern era; health insurance, education) they still have a bond to the country they defend. They joined the military out of nationalist or patriotic convictions.  There is more of an emotional and philosophical bond to there defense of the homeland. Money can motivate people to do unfathomable things. To truly and consciously commit to taking a bullet for a cause is an act based upon strong convictions. This is the kind of loyalty that cannot be bought. Some historians have even speculated about the folly of England utilizing Hessian mercenaries in the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, providing some credence to the assertions of Machiavelli.


Temporary workers hired from an employment agency provide similar issues. From my observations, temps tend to be fired for much more frivolous reasons than full employees. If you are hired directly, in most instances, your boss will understand if you are having car trouble. If you are a temp you could very well be fired over the incident. If you were directly hired by the company you would be subject to the rules listed in the “employee handbook”.Such document details policies that provide specific parameters for proper conduct. Meaning you can be three times versus once before you are terminated. Temps are technically considered employees of the employment agency. So they are not insulated by these measures. Paralleling the premise of being paid to be a foreign soldier.


The pretense of lacking stability and lack of uniform policies for temps skews incentives away from productivity. We all know that “temp-to-hire” arrangements are an exercise in carrot dangling. Your manager doesn’t ever treat you like part of the team. What is the point in killing yourself for a company that will never outright hire you? It presents a problem of mutual investment. The employer doesn’t feel invested in the temporary employee. The temporary employee does not feel invested in the company.  Creating a disconnection that is a very similar dynamic to that of mercenaries. A lack of connection and commitment does not yield good results.




Machiavelli in the Office – Part V: Respect Property and Privileges


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Machiavelli’s remains one of the most insightful and misinterpreted philosophers of the Pre-Enlightenment era. His observations have been grossly distorted to the point that his very name inspires fear of treachery and callous calculations. Few people in human history have ever been honored with having their name made into an adjective. However, this honor for Machiavelli is muted by the fact that it carries a negative connotation. Leading to his legacy as a writer and thinker to be forever stained.


Machiavelli’s legacy is marred by misconceptions is typical for writers who are either seldom read or read in the proper context. I would tend to agree with Machiavelli scholar Harvey Mansfield that the latter is very much applicable to his work [1]. Machiavelli was immoral or amoral as he is typically painted by popular perception. Rather he departed from the classical understanding of morality.  Favoring pragmatic uses of force and deception versus appealing to divine directives. These same godly decrees most likely were given lip service by the pre-renaissance ruler. However, once they interfered with the interests of the royal court were quickly dispensed with. Leading one to surmise that maybe Machiavelli wasn’t any less moral, but rather was more forthright.


All because he has been misrepresented over the centuries does not mean we cannot draw valid lessons from him. He provides some great reflections upon general aspects of human nature that extends beyond the blood-soaked halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Lessons that can be applied to just about any social structure including the work environment.


In Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince, he mentions several times that a rule needs to respect the property of his subjects. This lesson can be modified for a manager in an office environment by supplanting property with workplace privileges. An example would be allowing your employees the ability to work remotely a few days a week. Keep in mind this example may be more applicable in the pre-COVID-19 world. It will work for this essay. Naturally, if you receive a directive from upper management to suspend this privilege with little justification their will be some backlash.  The brewing undercurrent of frustration and resentment will dampen morale.  The consequence of backlash is referenced multiple times in The Prince.


Machiavelli cautions to be cautious when levying taxes upon your subject because unjust and burdensome taxation could fuel discord (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985) [2]. Predating the whole “taxation is theft” mantra. However, he does more directly call out the vice of not respecting property rights among rulers.


What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From these, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985)  [3].


In other words, it might be wise if you have any leverage to debate this policy change with upper management. Otherwise, you will have some disgruntled employees on your hands. Unfortunately, in some instances, managers need reminders to keep their hands off of the property of their subordinates. It could be as minor as using Karen’s bottle of hand sanitizer when she on vacation without her permission.  It could even as severe as taking claiming to Henry’s commission on a sale behind his back. Both situations demonstrate a boss disrespecting the property of their employees. While the scene with the hand sanitizer is little more of minor faux pas, taking someone else’s commission is stealing out of their pocket.  Aside from the moral consideration of theft, how are you going to gain the respect of your staff if you are willing to blatantly steal from them?  You are lucky if you can retain staff at that point never mind have them respect you.


Unfortunately, I have to say don’t fraternize with the spouses and romantic partners of your employees. Not that they are property. Slavery has been abolished, therefore people cannot be property.  There is no better way to sow resentment than to cross that line. It is a folly that will not only sully your reputation as a leader but will cause unnecessary friction.  Also, it is completely a superfluous action. There is never a good reason to venture into that territory.  No one leadership using reason would ever think that such conduct is permissible. You are not a member of congress. You are not in the oval office. There is no reason to ever go there.

Social Media – A Virtual Cave

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The topic of reality is one that has been highly discussed in the discipline of philosophy. From the extensive discourse has generated a litany of postulations pertaining to the nature of reality. A natural corollary of examining reality is the extent to which our perception of reality is a delusion. How do we know what we believe to be real is truly real?  This is a daunting question that humans have been grappling with since the days of  Greek antiquity. No other than the philosopher Plato. Plato provides a firm demonstration of the illusory nature of reality in The Allegory of the Cave [1].


In a nutshell, The Allegory of the Cave details a group of people held captive since infancy in a cave. The only visual stimulus they have “shadow puppets”. Produced by the fire-light silhouetted hand gestures of their captors. The prisoners only know the forms of our world through these two-dimensional figures projected on the cave wall. As we all know from our own experience with shadows they lack texture and detail. Only provide a general outline of the for of an object. One day, one of the prisoners breaks free from their shackles and decides to leave the cave. That prisoner was in for a shock.

Blinded by the blaring sunlight the prisoner’s eyes adjust to the lighting of the external environment. Then realizes the true vibrancy of the world outside of the cave. The prisoner comes to the realization that the “shadow puppets” projected on the cave walls were only a caricature of the true objects. For example, a shadow puppet of a tree does not convey all of the veins in the leaves or the crevices and grooves in the bark.  Upon this monumental discovery, the prisoner comes back to the cave to announce his new findings to his captive peers. Unfortunately, they were not receptive to this new perspective of the world. The looked at him as if he was crazy. Defended the validity of perceiving the world as depicted on the cave walls. They continued to intently watch the motions of the shadow puppets on the cave wall.


The Allegory of the Cave demonstrates some important points about human perception. Clearly, the shadows simulating the animals on the cave walls are not an accurate representation of their actual forms. We can believe that we know the true form of the depicted animals, however, due to our faulty perception, we do not have an accurate account of their essence. The prisoners believe that they were seeing a dog, however, it was merely the shadows being formed by their captors. By referring to the shadows as a dog does not mean they truly comprehend the essence of a dog. What a dog truly is. It is possible to gain knowledge through perception. However, there is a gulf between our perception and truth [2]. Meaning there is a giant gap between true knowledge and illusion.


Illusion tends to be a problem that has continuously plagued humans in the pursuit of truth. On a biological level, we are susceptible to optical illusions.  This is a by-product of evolutionary adaptions that help facilitate easier navigation of our environment. The human mind has a limited capacity for sensory input, therefore our eyes are designed to operate on preassumptions.  Hence, why we tend to enjoy looking at the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet. We are reading into the painting with our perceptual assumptions. His painting is comprised of a myriad of loose, formless, and broad brush strokes. Anyone of us would swear up-and-down that we see a sailboat or a springtime picnic. In reality, our brain is imposing that form on the sensory input. Such misconceptions are innocent in terms of visual aesthetics. In areas where moral considerations are more pressing, this can be dangerous.


Throughout Machiavelli’s flagship book The Prince there are multiple references to perception being more important than reality. He clearly asserts that appearing to be righteous takes primacy over actually being so (Machiavelli, 1532, Transl. Mansfield, 1985, P. 62) [3]. This sentiment is quite often reflected throughout modern society. The idiomatic statement “fake it until you make it” a perennial favorite of every aspiring salesman. Above all, this reflects a dishonest mentality and a facade that cannot indefinitely be maintained. Due to our strong proclivity towards a plethora of biases, we will continue to trust those exuberating confidence over people who are competent. At least until charade starts to unravel. Needless to say, we are wired to fall into the trap of faulty perception. If we are easily tricked by smoke-and-mirrors it is reasonable to question the validity of our perception.


While Plato may have used The Allegory of the Cave as an abstract model it still has countless potential for real-world applications. One of the best examples is social media. I really could not even fabricate a better example of a metaphorical cave. The emergence of the occupation of social media influencer has only compounded the extent to which reality is distorted. Even for the average social media consumer you only get a brief glimpse of their life. Often it only details vacations, happy hours, good times with friends, and rarely displays hardship. This brief snapshot of your friend’s life is somewhat illusory. It only illustrations only a fraction of the story. It does not detail the mundanity of day to day life or family disputes.  As people we all have struggles. What those struggles are and their magnitude is what varies. No one has a perfect life. Therefore, I would suggest stop looking at the exploits of your Facebook “friends” with envy. Realize that odds are their life isn’t much better than yours.  In fact, theirs could be worse. Hence, why they are putting up an impenetrable front.


In the instance of social media influencers, this effect is only compounded. They are frequently paid to promote a service or product through the channels of social media platforms. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. I am a proponent of capitalism after all. It should be noted that many of these influencers are also paid to embellish upon their lifestyle. Make it seem as if they have more freedom, wealth, and sex appeal than what they actually possess. Ultimately, a great lifestyle is the best selling point for a product or brand. Regardless of the truth of the matter. This contrived lifestyle does not convey the actual truth of the influencer’s lifestyle. You do not see the behind the scenes pressures of appeasing a brand’s aggressive marketing department. Nor do you see the pitfalls of fame. Fame brings a level of Scrutiny that few mild-mannered people can adequately weather. This was the same point that Adam Smith illuminated in his book Theory of Moral Sentiments. The trapping of fame often comes with profound drawbacks. The lavish life portrayed by the kings and queens of  Snapchat does not include the bad and the ugly aspects of their lives.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part IV: The Folly of Neutrality




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Machiavelli was arguably one of the most dynamic minds of the Renaissance era. Some scholars argue that was the first pragmatic philosopher. Lending his contextual morality to thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. The righteousness for its very sake can prove to be an impediment. Even stray us away from the greater good. This for any ruler would be to protect and defend their principality/kingdom. Being the first pioneer to venture into the dark waters of practical utilitarianism has made Machiavelli a symbol of moral impropriety.  Forever staining his legacy as an intellectual and writer. To such an extent some are bold enough to claim that he was not even a philosopher.


The pragmatically-minded Niccolo Machiavelli provided some deeply profound insights into the study of politics. However, many of these insights are quite transcendent and shed light on the inner mechanics of human nature. Applying to more than the grisly and hallowed halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Realizations that can be applied to better survive the duplicity of the boardroom or sales floor.


As in any work environment, disagreements are invariable. They are bound to happen regardless of workplace dynamics. The defining difference between successfully navigating such situations and being trapped in a spider’s web of drama is simple.  Do not be neutral! I would also innovate upon Machiavelli’s point by including do not play both sides of the conflict. Remaining neutral or being a “double-agent” has several adverse effects. All will damage your reputation at work. It will make you appear to be dishonest, disloyal, indecisive, weak, and disconnected.  None of these attributes will convey any leadership potential or valuable soft-skills. Rather it makes you look pretty foul professionally.


A prince is also esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is when without any hesitation he discloses himself in support of someone against another. This course is always more useful than to remain neutral, because if two powers close to you come to grips, either they are of such quality that if one wins, you have to fear the winner, or not. In either of these two cases, it will always be more useful to you to disclose yourself and to wage open war; for in the first case if you do not disclose yourself, you will always be the prey of whoever wins, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the one who was defeated, and you have no reason, nor anything, to defend you or give you refuge. For whoever wins does not want suspect friends who may not help him in adversity; whoever loses does not give you refuge, since you did not want to share his fortune with arms in hand. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.89. Transl. Mansfield. 1985) [1].


Staying neutral or switching sides above all damages trust.  As conveyed in the wise words of Machiavelli. If there are ongoing issues between a co-worker you are friends with and another co-worker. Your work pal is expecting you to stick up for them and have their side of the conflict. Anything else will damage your relationship. Granted, we are only talking about one co-worker, but the image is everything. If you appear as disloyal, dishonest, or fake word will spread. Typically you will not be the wiser. The true irony being many of the individuals proliferating gossip about you being fake are the same people that fall into this very same trap.


If you are neutral in an inter-department conflict the negative consequences are only magnified. If others cannot rely on you for support, how can you expect them to do the same? That is precisely Machiavelli’s point. Beyond appearing to be fake, you are burning bridges. People who may have been willing to help you through various conflicts or issues will be less inclined to. Like anything else in life, reciprocity is key. That doesn’t matter if it is a key ally being attacked by hostile forces or a dispute over the delegation of responsibilities at work.  We all make cognitive assessments about our relationships. Everyone whether consciously or subconsciously is keeping a proverbial scoreboard. Similar premise to a bank account, if you don’t contribute anything the well will eventually run dry. It is best to bring what you can to the table. Whether or not you intend to protect a true friendship or solidify an alliance is another story.


To expect the benefits of a relationship regardless of its nature, without out reciprocating anything beneficial is presumptive. Very well could put you on the road to creating a new adversary. Machiavelli, the dark philosopher himself, recognized this. He understood to achieve anything you need the assistance of others. We are not marooned on a  desert island like Robinson Crusoe. If you appear to be disloyal or to manipulative, you will eventually hit a brick wall. Leaders need the support of their subordinates. If you are under leadership you need the support of your leader and peers. Marring these ties with being the office gossip or being too timid to declare sides, is only a detriment to yourself. Wanting to keep the peace in the office is a laudable goal. However, it is far too idealistic and not within reach. If a dispute is unavoidable, you need to pick aside. The consequences of not doing so are much more profound than those of staying neutral. Having only enemies in the office is a lonely and treacherous road.

Hume v.s. Kant- Thoughts on the Act of Suicide


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The act of suicide most likely has been around since the dawn of human history. The reasons that an individual chooses to take their own life run the gamut. Suicide much like other decisions has a litany of moral considerations. It should be noted that many religions actually have prescriptions explicitly against the act. Any steadfast contrarian would question whether suicide can be ethically justified. Some thinkers would even be so bold to address whether or not we have the right to commit suicide.


Two marquee names of the 18th century European Enlightenment were bold enough to expound this morbid topic. Although, both came to very different conclusions about ethical considerations of suicide. German philosopher Immanuel Kant viewed suicide to be unquestionably immoral. In contrast, Scottish thinker David Hume struggled to find the immortality within the act. Both taking on diametrically opposing views.


Kant not only found it impossible to rationalize the act of suicide. He expresses the utmost censure for those who dared to commit such an atrocity. Kant believes since we were created by God we belong to him. Operating on the understanding that our life is not ours to dispose of on our whim. However, Kant took it one step further by equating the victim of suicide to the level of a lowly beast.

Man can only dispose of things; beasts are things in this sense; but man is not a thing, not a beast. If he disposes of himself, he treats his value as that of a beast. He who so behaves, who has no respect for human behavior, makes a thing of himself.”[1].

Unrelentingly harsh.  Certainly, a severe assessment to make. Especially considering most people plagued by suicidal thoughts are generally psychologically tormented. Kant’s thinking is notorious for being complex and nuanced, but he was quite rigid in the realm of morality. The topic of suicide is no exception.  From Kant’s perspective, if you killed yourself you would no longer be able to engage in moral acts. This highest duty to our self, due to all other duties being contingent upon being able to be moral [2]. If an individual dies of natural causes he did not choose this path. If an individual dies in combat defending his country this is a valiant act of bravery. From Kant’s perspective, the soldier sacrificed his life to spare his fellow countrymen from such a fate. In contrast to selfishly taking one’s life. May alleviate the victim of suicide, but does not help society in any way. It could be argued that suicide inflicts more harm on society making it immoral.

Kant’s perception of those who have committed society is quite brutal. The opposing views of David Hume provide more clemency towards suicide victims. Rather than morally browbeating them. David Hume expressed his views on suicide in the 1755 essay Of Suicide expressing some of the logical fallacies implied in arguments against suicide.  Hume suggests that God allows us to control other aspects of nature, for example harnessing and collecting natural resources. So why would suicide be the one exception (Hume, 1775, p. 3) [3][4]. Beyond that point :

…. divine order’ is meant simply that which occurs according to God’s consent, then God appears to consent to all our actions (since an omnipotent God can presumably intervene in our acts at any point) and no distinction exists between those of our actions to which God consents and those to which He does not. If God has placed us upon the Earth like a “sentinel,” then our choice to leave this post and take our lives occurs as much with his cooperation as with any other actions we perform [5].


Hume has addressed the theological concerns of suicide.  But what about the duty to ourselves and others?  The way Hume saw it, you do not harm society by taking your life. You only “.. cease to do good..” (Hume, 1755, p.8) [6]. Almost perceiving the act without any further context is morally neutral. Considering how drastic the act of suicide is this is kind of a far-fetched notion.  Odds are whatever moral contributions we have to offer society are minuscule. It is absurd to stay alive to provide a mere “frivolous advantage” to the public (Hume, 1755, p.8) [7]. Hume also argues that suicide isn’t necessarily an abdication of duty to ourselves.  If affiliated with sickness and other ailments synonymous with advanced age, what is the point of living? To a certain extent, you are existing to endure more misery (Hume 1755, P.8-9) [8]. With such health conditions, you could only prove to be a detriment to others. This could result in more mental anguish.  Making staying alive merely for its own sake fruitless.


To conclude, I see some profound problems with both perspectives.  Kant is far too judgmental and rigid concerning suicide. The last thing you should ever do is deride someone for having suicidal proclivities. Chances are it will only exacerbate the problem rather than persuade them to not commit suicide. Also, suppose the scenario where you and your child are held at gunpoint. You are told by the assailant “either take this gun and shot yourself or I am killing your kid”. It may be debatable if this scenario would constitute suicide. If we argue it does, clearly killing yourself would be more moral than continuing to live. While there is a clear distinction between right and wrong, Kant’s moral absolutism can prove to be problematic.

On the other hand, David Hume is far too flippant about the subject as a whole. There are profound consequences that result from committing suicide. I am a fierce defender of individuality. But suicide impacts people other than yourself. The impact is not isolated to you and you only. Friends and family of the victim will be devasted by the unexpected turn of events. People at work depended on the victim. Believing that suicide is morally neutral is a fallacy. I would advise against codifying the moral considerations of suicide in law. End of life decisions should be left to the individual. Especially if they are suffering from a terminal illness. Making something legally accessible doesn’t make it right. Many states have annulled anachronistic laws prohibiting adultery. That does not excuse the moral failings of adultery. However, to humiliate and denigrate those with suicidal thoughts is also wrong. Downright cruel!

Machiavelli In the Office-Part III: This Isn’t a Popularity Contest

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The principles detailed in Machiavelli’s flagship mirror-for-prices book The Prince are quite versatile. Concepts that can be applied anywhere from the bedroom to the boardroom. Ideas that possess utility beyond the treacherous halls of the 1500’s-era Florentine courts. They may very well be useful to you in your daily life. May even be able to help you navigate the minefield of climbing the corporate ladder.


In the third installment of this series, we will examine one of the most well-known quotes from The Prince.

It is better to be feared than loved when either is to be dispensed with. (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1].


The meaning quote appears to be quite linear. Many variations of this concept have circulated throughout history and popular culture. This premise was first captured in print by Machiavelli. Presents a pragmatic truth that is applicable anywhere. From the schoolyard to the prison yard. It even has its utility on the sales floor. All because you enter adulthood doesn’t mean that “bullies” become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, individuals looking to victimize others is all too real of a problem in the workplace.  Whether you are in management or are an entry-level employee you need to be to cope with this aspect of work. There will always be people looking to undermine and tear you down. Outside of the emotional stress, it can cause, it also can be detrimental to your career. Sometimes rumors can take on a life of their own, you wouldn’t a damaged reputation to sully any opportunities for advancement.


To some extent this advice from Machiavelli is counterintuitive. Growing up we were always told, “you get more flies with honey than vinegar”. There is some truth in that to a degree. Like with most things in this world, kindness is not exempt from the Law of Diminishing Returns. If you are too kind, those with a proclivity for predation will see a potential target. Not to mention, another point shrewd point that was made by Machiavelli. People are fickle. You can be exorbitantly kind and friendly to them one day. The next they will be stabbing you in the back. Trying to be everyone’s friend may be a luxury you can’t afford if you are serious about your career.


Often excessive kindness is viewed as a weakness. If due to dynamics within the work culture you are not well-liked, kindness will only be a noose around your neck. Even pretending to appear kind will be too much of a liability. You will have to cultivate a tough exterior. One that conveys you will put up with any nonsense. Sure everyone will appreciate you bringing in donuts for about 15-minutes. Then less than an hour later you are back to being the office doormat. The weak link that can be used and abused. More domineering and aggressive co-workers will recognize this and will try to test you. Give them a run for their money. Let them know you are not intimidated!  The shock of that alone will have them reeling. Underneath it all, they are weak people. They are lazy people. In order to make themselves appear productive, they need to degrade others. This is nothing more than grade A sophistry. Nothing of substance. Just tawdry and cheap tricks. Do not let these prime examples of dishonesty, banality, and mediocrity get to you. If they were more capable they wouldn’t need to stoop to such lowly tactics to discredit others. Gently push back, they will not expect it. Their reaction will be priceless.


Crafting a resilient facade and be able to defend yourself from the office “bully” does have its limitations. While you don’t want to seem like a pushover, without constraint aggression can backfire. Even the master of statecraft and subterfuge understood that if you become known for superfluous acts of cruelty you will become hated (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985, p.72) [2]. This would defeat the whole purpose of making yourself appear intimidating. Once you cross certain lines, your co-workers will relish taking you down. Not due to perceived weakness, but due to your actions appearing to be unjust. Per unwritten and unspoke social conventions, there are certain norms that are to never be violated. Defending yourself from the predator by becoming the predator is rarely ethically justifiable. Machiavelli acknowledged this indirectly. The informal restraints of excessive cruelty are other people. Whether codified in formal law or in informal normative values. If others sense injustice in your actions, they will put you in your place.


That is one of many examples of why labling Machievlli as “amoral” is a misnomer. There was a loose moral code implied in The Prince. A general message of pragmaticism above all. If you fail to protect and effectively rule your principality, you have failed as a ruler. While this brand of philosophical thought is not grounded in the grandiose conception of idyllic morality, doesn’t mean it is devoid of morality. Pragmaticism may seem cold and mechanical there are natural constraints. If as a ruler you implement a grotesquely inhumane policy, public outcry and the threat of rebellion will swiftly prove as a check on your power. The same applies in terms of inspiring cautious respect among your co-workers. Act in a manner that will persuade people to not take advantage of you. However, the perception of your co-workers also operates as a restraint on how menacing you can be.