Spooner- Argument #25 Against The U.S. Post Office

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In his seminal pamphlet, The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, prohibiting Private Mails, Lysander Spooner provides twenty-seven brief arguments countering the veracity of the government-held monopoly on mail services. More specifically arguing from the perspective of Constitutional law. Utilizing the precepts of the U.S. Constitution, Spooner derives numerous thought-provoking arguments that challenged the government prohibition on private mail carriers. One of Spooner’s more novel arguments is presented in argument # 25 (p.12) of his pamphlet.

Spooner writes:

“25. If the exclusive right of carrying letters, has been granted to Congress, then it is unconstitutional for a person even to carry a single letter for a friend. And Congress is bound to punish such an act as an offense against the constitution.”

At first glance, this argument may seem thin or even frivolous. However, the implications of this refutation are much deeper than loose extrapolation. If we were to replace “letter” with any other legal commodity, such sanctions would be absurd. For example, the United States government has the exclusive right to sell, produce, and distribute bread. Making the production, sale, or transfer of bread by any private company Constitutionally barred. Any commentator with a market-oriented position on economic would be quick to decry this as “socialism”. The government attempting to monopolize and control the market for bread. If such a notion of government control of bread production seems inordinate, couldn’t the same be said of letter carrier services? The transaction costs of private companies delivering letters domestically are low. The government’s fixation with keeping private carriers out of the market back in the 1840s was puzzling.

Spooner carries the argument to its logical conclusion by extending it to the potential of congressional restrictions on gifts.  He states that “… then it is unconstitutional for a person even to carry a single letter for a friend. And Congress is bound to punish such an act as an offense against the constitution. “Hand delivering a letter to a friend is only a step away from giving a gift to a friend. The only difference is the intent. Hand delivering a message is intended to disseminate information. Giving a tangible item to a friend with no expectation of direct reciprocity is a gift. As soon as you are trading tangible goods it becomes a form of barter. Does transporting a letter somehow become crass or require the need for state intervention upon exchanging money for this service? Even if we are paying someone to deliver a letter to someone else, this is a form of volunteer exchange. Just as much as giving someone a gift or opting to cut the middleman out and hand-deliver a letter to a friend. If I am not stealing the envelope, ink, and paper to compose a letter.  No laws are being violated while transporting the letter, there shouldn’t be an issue. If a private company (subject to taxation) wants to provide the service of transporting that same letter for a fair price, congress should not obscure this free exchange. Especially if the company is being taxed. However, the legitimacy of taxation is a whole other stand-alone argument. If an organization pays to play and the transaction costs of such a business are low. Any functional counterargument is at best flimsy.

Outside of the Constitutional concerns of congress veering into unjustly regulating trade. Something that happens frequently in modern society as the Commerce Clause has been stretched beyond its original intent. Generating several perverse interpretations of this clause.  There is a strong natural rights perspective implied in Spooner’s twenty-fifth argument. If a person composes a letter, it is their letter. As in the own the physical paper it was written on and the envelope it is sealed in. While the letter is in their possession they can do as they like with the letter. They could burn it in their fireplace. The author of the letter could elect to frame the letter. They could throw it into the recycling bin. Even better yet they could choose to give it to another person. To convey a message to the letter’s intended recipient. Instead of wasting time, energy, and resource on driving across the country to deliver the letter, they can decide to transfer this duty to a third-party. In effect, temporarily consigning possessing of the letter to the third-party carrier. In any developed market system, it would be fair to say that the consumer shouldn’t be restricted to using one carrier. By owning the letter, the consumer should not be restricted by legal barriers when choosing a vendor. It would be one thing if there was a natural monopoly (if such a thing exists) then the only other choice the customer has is to transport the letter by their efforts. When the government skews the interpretation of the Constitution to carrier barriers to entry into the market.  Spooner highlights this point in his earlier arguments.  For instance, argument #1:

“1. The Constitution of the United States (Art. 1. Sec. 8.) declares that II the Congress shall have the power to establish post-offices and post roads.” These words contain the whole grant, and therefore express the extent of the authority granted to Congress. They define the power, and the power is limited by the definition, the power of Congress, then, is simply” to establish post-offices and post roads,” of their own not to interfere with those established by others.” (p.5).

Spooner fully asserts that has written, Congress has the power to establish a postal service along with the parallel infrastructure to support mail delivery. Nothing more. The power is not extended to ensure that no other entrants pursue the same line of work. Nor does it explicitly state that congress is required to distribute sanctions for market entry. Not only does congress acting against private mail carriers inhibit natural property rights, but it is an overextension of the intended duty of creating a postal service. Meaning that any action taken against Spooner’s business The American Letter Mail Company was illegitimate.  Did nothing more than preserve the jobs of bureaucrats and place artificial barriers on the natural cadence of market processes. The antithesis of preserving our natural rights and liberties.   

Lysander Spooner Week

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I officially declare the week of January 19th Lysander Spooner week. To commemorate the birthday of this legendary contributor to anarcho-political theory. I am proud to say I happen to share a birthday with this renowned theorist. Not to mention one that was heavily influential on the development of anarcho-capitalism (although arguably Spooner had some socialistic tendencies).  Next week, I will attempt to dedicate two essays to the life and work of Spooner. I will not allow this influential figure in Libertarian political theory to become a minuscule footnote!

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.

Machiavelli in the Office-Part 2- Flattery

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The wise words of Machiavelli are equally applicable to the campaign trail and the sales floor. They aren’t regulated to the shadowy subterfuge of the Renaissance era Florentine Court.  After all, The Prince is the work that transitioned us from unconditional virtue to pragmatism. In the hierarchical folds of a corporate office, pragmatism prevails over virtue. Your happy hour drinking buddy may superficial appear to be a friend. However, if it is between your well being and their promotion. Rest assured they will betray your “friendship” for the promotion. When your livelihood is on the line the incentives to do what’s practical are high. To some extent, the ends justify the means. The only restraint is your local human resources office.

 

Part 2 of this series is more geared towards management as we address the issue of flattery.  Flattery can assume forms. Ranging from compliments to subordinates hanging out with their boss after work. How sincere are the motives of the brown-nosers and yes-men that surround you? Every apple-polisher as an ulterior motive. The unfortunate facts are there is a significant number of those in management that seek the approval of their subordinates. It hinges on a similar principle of presidential approval polls. Your employees under your leadership assume the role of a constituency. However, you can’t let the prisoners run the prison. That’s why it is imperative to superficially appeal to the biases of your employees, but do so in a manner that can provide you leverage. Perception is everything. It is important to remember your employees are not your friends. Due to many in management longing to feel expected they often blur this line. This is a trap that strong leaders adroitly sidestep.

 

I do not want to leave out an important point and error from which princes defend themselves with difficulty …. the flatters of whom their courts are full; for men take such pleasure in their own affairs and so deceive themselves there that they defend oneself from it risks the danger of becoming contemptible. From there is no other way to guard oneself from flattery unless men understand that they do not offend in telling the truth..

(Machiavelli, 1532, Trans. Mansfield (1985) P. 93-94)  [1].

 

The quote above from The Prince provides some straightforward advice to anyone in management. Hire people that are honest. The facts are not everyone is going to like you. Especially considering any leadership position requires you to make tough decisions. It is best to look towards your subordinates that provide forthright feedback than those who blow smoke. If you distort the social dynamic between boss and employee it is a treacherous path. Employees stop respecting you as a boss. Which means you are no longer able to command any authority. Beyond that flattery is generally illusory in nature. Merely smoke and mirrors. Odds are if Bill is having a 30-minute conversation complimenting you about your new BMW, isn’t just trying to be friendly. He is utilizing flattery as a tool to gain leniency or consideration for a promotion. The fact that John all of a sudden wants to go out for a drink with you on Friday, should be held in suspicion. In contrast, it is wise to listen to Jim’s feedback on the new invoicing process. Rather than hold his constructive criticism against him.

 

Not only does flattery blind us to the reality of the motives of others, but it also erodes respect.  Being wary of flattery is a natural corollary of  Machiavelli’s most famous principle of  “it is better to be feared than loved”. I will directly address that concept directly in another essay. As I mentioned earlier about the distortion of the social dynamic, once esteem is lost it is difficult to be regained. Psychologically we are wired to remember the negative more so than the positive. It may be impossible to revive your image after slamming down shots at the local bar with all of the bootlickers in your office. It is prudent to distance yourself from such situations. Focus on the employees that provide valid criticisms. Set aside your ego and realize that you are not always right and that no one is Mr.Popular.  This isn’t High School and it certainly isn’t a popularity contest. It is more important to command some respect without being too draconian. That will also have some adverse consequences. The Law of Dimmishing Returns applies to just about anything. Whether tanigble or conceptual.

 

 

 

 

Machiavelli In the Office- A Career Advancement Guide (Part-1)

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Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is arguably one of the most important books ever written. It is often speculated to be one of the first written works of political philosophy. It dropped us down from the lofty cloud of idealist virtue to the Earthly necessity of hard-nosed pragmatism. Straying from the idealized conceptions of Plato’s Republic and Aristotelian “right-reason”.  It is not enough to behave virtuously, but we must also have virtuous intentions. It because evident how such principles can impede effective leadership. Machiavelli was concerned with results making him to some extent a forerunner for . He catapulted us into the era of modern philosophy. An acknowledgment of what is versus what should be. An acknowledgment of the true nature of man in contrast to what man could be. Such deep insights are not without a price. Few thinkers have been as universally misrepresented and villainized as Machiavelli.  Often reduced to a cartoon caricature.

 

A book spanning less than 200-pages rarely has many insightful observations embedded in it as The Prince. Few books are as nuanced as The Prince contributing to the wide array of misinterpretations. Most of us would prefer to live under governments far more liberal than a highly centralized principality. That does not mean the advice in Machiavelli’s most well-known work doesn’t apply to modern politics. The observations made in The Prince applies to any organization with a social hierarchy. Meaning its applicability extends the bloodstained floors of the Florentine royal court. The wisdom presented in The Prince can easily be applied to the boardroom as well as the political arena. I would contend that many of the principles that encompass the Machiavellian brand of political philosophy can be applied in the office. That’s right, you can utilize these same tactics at work.  Here we will embark upon a series of applying the political lessons from Machiavelli to the workplace.

 

The first lesson of we can draw from Machiavelli to apply to our work life, it is more important to appear virtuous than to be virtuous. Keeping up appearances. What your actual motives are for making friendly small talk with your co-workers or subordinates is inconsequential to the outcome. Similar in politics, it doesn’t matter if you follow through with your campaign promises. The “say-do gap” can be mended by high voter approval ratings. If the voting public has a high opinion of you it isn’t necessary to be effective. The same can be said at work. Even if you are the hardest worker in your department you could be passed for a promotion if you appear to be unsociable. The consequences of having cultivated such a bad reputation is difficult to correct. To some extent, image is everything.  This is a sentiment that is echoed throughout The Prince.

 

Thus, leaving  out what is imagined about a prince and discussing what is true, I say that all men whenever one speaks of them, and especially princes, since they are placed higher, are noted for some of the qualities that bring them either praise or blame. … someone cruel, one merciful… the one honest, the other clever… And I know that everyone will confess that it would be laudable thing to find a prince with all of the above mentioned qualities  that are held good. But because we cannot have them,  nor wholly observe them, since human conditions do not permit it. (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 61-62. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

And one of the most powerful remedies that a prince has against conspiracies is not to be hated by the people . (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 72. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Both quotes exemplify how appearing to be good is more important than being good. There are a lot of admirable characteristics that you want to display to your co-workers. You want to appear smart, creative, reliable, friendly, interesting, enterprising, etc. The probability of one person possessing all these attributes is slim. Making it a necessity to pretend to have these attributes. Which is imperative if you are seeking career advancement. The idiom of “faking it until you make it” is central to this whole idea. This is why oftentimes individuals in management rarely admit to being ignorant or lacking information.  It degrades confidence in their leadership abilities. This is somewhat perverse the standpoint of pure logic. Human perception is seldom guided by logic. Especially when we account for the prosperity of people to use heuristics to aid in making quick decisions. A rule of thumb is to appear to be organized, sociable, hardworking, intelligent, and possessing a capacity for critical thinking. It is hard for your boss or co-workers to objectively validate that you have all these characteristics. It is easier to assume some who is confident and well-spoken has their shit together. Rather than examine the quality of work from a co-worker that is more reserved.  Whether you are dealing with voters or hiring managers appealing to their biases is key.

 

Part of behavior in a manner that will cultivate a positive image it is imperative to stay on the good side of your co-workers. Attend the occasion happy hours. Say good morning to everyone. Engage in small talk. Small talk can also double as a means of extracting information and gossip. Serves as a dual benefit. No one will be the wiser that you have ulterior motives. It also helps you to better integrate yourself with your co-workers. All of this goes into the social capital bank for you. Regardless of your intentions. If you are within the good graces of your peers they are less apt to throw you under the bus or start rumors about you. It isn’t full proof, but what is? It is when you appear unfriendly and negative is when people tend turn on you. Appearing to be nice will help smooth over your deficits in other areas of your job. Even if you are an impeccable worker, if you are hated by your peers you are on borrowed time.  It will create a hostile work environment for yourself and at that point you are better off jumping ship. Unfortunately, a bad reputation will endure longer than your tenure at the company. It is quite cumbersome to revive a sullied reputation among closed-minded people.

 

Much how Machiavelli dedicated his great book Lorenzo de’ Medici, I should dedicate this blog series to someone.  To the recent college graduate with too much time on their hands. As you pursue Zip Recruiter and Indeed for your first career opportunity, please keep this blog series in mind. The advice present is unorthodox and may even make your future human resources representative queasy. However, take from a guy with a job … it is sound advice. I may not be as innovative or clever as Machiavelli, but I can apply his philosophy to corporate America on a micro-scale.  I wish you luck in your job search.