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comment by b_b
b_b  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: An interesting question

Lots of good answers on here. This is what I had to say to wasoxygen, and what I think many people on here are say in different words:

    Here's why I oppose slavery, and why I think that libertarians and liberals sometimes find themselves on the same side of human rights issues: Because the most basic human right is the right of self-determination. The essence of being a human is the right to choose. When we deny that choice, we are stripping a person's humanity from them, humiliating and degrading not just their person, but their very existence. That is why slavery is wrong.

wasoxygen  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

And here is my response to b_b's statement:

    Your description was so clear and aligned with my perspective that I could not have stated it better myself. Thank you for expressing it so eloquently.

My favorite response here was lil's, as it is as inspiring and lovely as lil is. But on reflection I thought it was another instance of label-switching and did not have much explanatory power. "Why is slavery bad? Because we long for non-slavery." I know why I love freedom, but I don't want to make any assumptions about lil's position.

I like _refugee_'s approach too. It depends on the idea of theft, but I feel that theft is so obviously and universally wrong it is not necessary to make the case further.

Similarly, b_b and I (and thenewgreen) seem to agree that coercion is wrong. I feel we are on the verge of agreeing that labor relationships in which coercion is applied are objectionable, and those in which the terms, including any monetary compensation, are arrived at voluntarily, are not objectionable.

lil  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

In preparation for Passover, my friend just sent me some quotes about Freedom. I should make this its own post, I guess. I don't agree with all of these, but they add dimension to the discussion.

1. “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” ― Gloria Steinem

2. “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.” - Harriet Tubman

3. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” ― David Foster Wallace, "This Is Water"

4. “For any human being, freedom is essential, crucial, to our dignity and our ability to be fully human.” ― Izzeldin Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

5. “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” – Sigmund Freud

6. “We gain freedom when we have paid the full price.” – Rabindranath Tagore

7. “When a truth is not given complete freedom, freedom is not complete.” – Vaclav Havel

8. “The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” ― Albert Einstein

9. “Jazz stands for freedom. It's supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don't be a perfectionist - leave that to the classical musicians.” – Dave Brubeck

10. “Slaves are generally expected to sing as well as to work.” ― Frederick Douglass

11. “If my mind cannot be tied down, if my dreams cannot be diminished, then no amount of restraints can really guarantee my quiet submission.” ― Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

12. “Literature was the passport to enter a larger life…Literature was freedom. Especially in a time in which the values of reading and inwardness are so strenuously challenged, literature is freedom.” ― Susan Sontag

13. “The thing is this: You got to have fun while you're fightin' for freedom, 'cause you don't always win.” – Molly Ivins

14. “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” ― Rosa Luxemburg

15. “Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.” ― Isaiah Berlin

16. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

17. “Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.” – Hannah Arendt

18. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

19. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ― Nelson Mandela

20. "The special virtue of freedom is not that it makes you richer and more powerful but that it gives you more time to understand what it means to be alive.” ― Adam Gopnik

21. "Anything outside marriage seems like freedom and excitement." – Jeanette Winterson

22. "Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice... No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out." – Thich Nhat Hanh

23. "Freedom means the opportunity to be what we never thought we would be." – Daniel J. Boorstin

wasoxygen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

For this conversation, #4 seems especially relevant.

#14 and #15 are powerful.

#10 is heartbreaking. Douglass's memoir, along with Malcolm X's autobiography, are two books I read because I thought they would be good for me, like vitamins, but they turned out to be just great books.

lil  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yes, 10 gave me a pause. 15 made me sad.

I value your thoughts.

b_b  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yes, and #15 is exactly why we have laws in a civil society, and why we value rule of law over rule by force.

b_b  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yes, but where we disagree is in the grey area between being a free, rational player, and being a forced slave. The line between choice and coercion lay somewhere in between, but where? Unless we can agree what constitutes a coercive circumstance, I'm afraid we'll always be at a standstill.

wasoxygen  ·  1961 days ago  ·  link  ·  

b_b, you have put your finger on the very crux of our debate. Our understandings of what the word "coercion" means will determine where we agree and disagree.

I have provided a description so that a reader can examine any work situation and determine whether wasoxygen would say it is coercive, hopefully without having to consult me. Could you please do the same?

wasoxygen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yes, I agree. For my part, I do not believe that factors such as the following are relevant to the question of whether a workplace is coercive:

• the physical characteristics of the worker

• the net worth of the worker

• the cost of goods or services in some place

• the average amount people in some place spend on food or housing

• the compensation of other people who work at the same workplace

• the amount of misery a person would suffer if they choose not to work∗

I have asked you several questions that I think are relevant in deciding if a workplace is coercive.

    What would evidence of coercion in a labor arrangement look like? I think it would be obvious. Are chains required to prevent the worker from escaping? Is corporeal punishment used to intimidate and frighten the worker? Is the worker considered the property of the master? Do legal institutions enable the master to prevent the worker from seeking alternative opportunities?

    But there is a simpler way to find evidence that workers are being coerced. We can ask them.... If an intern tells you he or she is free to leave the internship (though quitting, like any other decision, may have some negative consequences), where is the coercion?


    Did anyone force the interns to sign? Are they not free to choose any other opportunity that they find more advantageous? If they learn that the internship is not what they had in mind, can't they quit at any time? Where is the coercion? As long as the arrangement is perceived as beneficial to both sides, it continues. As soon as it ceases to be, it dissolves.

∗This last bullet point is the tricky one, because it affects us emotionally. I recognize that hunger may compel someone to work; the alternatives are too dire. We all want the hungry worker to have less misery, so we want them to have more money. The employer is already giving them some money, so it is easy to say that the employer should give them some more! But to the extent that hunger is a reason for the employer to pay them beyond what their work is worth to the employer, it is also a reason for all of us to pay them purely out of charity. The argument for forcing the employer to give the hungry worker charity applies to everyone else just as well. I would argue that the employer is already doing something to help the hungry worker, by offering them a job and some income, so we should not make things any harder for them.

user-inactivated  ·  1961 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I have to agree with wasoxygen for the most part. I am reminded of an argument I have heard many times in the last few years – the argument that workers are being "coerced” to stay in jobs they do not want simply to keep the healthcare benefits their employers provide. It is astonishing to me that a benefit provided by a private entity can be widely perceived as a form of “coercion” – and yet a government entitlement providing exactly the same benefit is perceived as a “right”. Doesn’t the individual feel somewhat bound to support those providing the assistance in either case – exactly up to the point at which the costs of retaining the benefit outweigh its value?

briandmyers  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

So, do you believe the minimum wage should be zero?

wasoxygen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Short answer: Yes.

The minimum wage is already zero. That is how much someone earns if they choose not to work or can’t find a job.

I don’t see how selling one’s time, energy, and talent for money (i.e. working at a job) is meaningfully different from selling tangible products or services like massages or driving lessons. I think it is obvious that forcing a minimum price on any of these sales can be harmful to both buyer and seller.

The buyer (i.e. customer, or employer) is forced to pay more, or go without what they wanted to buy. The seller (i.e. business, or worker) already had the option of refusing to sell for a lower price if they so choose, and must now get by with fewer options.

Minimum wage can result in some workers getting a raise, but it is likely to result in additional, undesirable changes in the workplace to compensate. It encourages employers to prefer advantaged, more skilled workers over more vulnerable, less-skilled workers. It artificially encourages outsourcing, automation, and can promote discrimination (as “undesirable” employees are prevented from “competing on price”).

When an outsider forces two people to modify their working agreement to satisfy the (possibly well-intentioned, possibly not) demands of the outsider, this is undeniably coercive.

I have made more tedious arguments here and there arguing against coercive minimum prices for labor (warning: snark).

briandmyers  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    The minimum wage is already zero. That is how much someone earns if they choose not to work or can’t find a job.

This is a dishonest re-definition. A wage is what you must pay, as an employer, if you wish to employ people. A wage is not "what you don't earn when you don't work".

Minimum wage is there simply to prevent the type of abuse that is possible by employers when/if people are very desperate for work. It is a restriction on employers. It is no more coercive than myriad other taxes; I see no difference. No one likes taxes; that's not a good enough reason to eliminate them.

I'll read your links and respond more later probably; busy week :-)

[edit] It appears to me that your argument is exactly the same as an argument calling for zero taxes, on employers at least. ANY extra expense might keep an employer from employing someone, therefore it's wrong. Your argument devolves into "all taxes on employers are wrong".

wasoxygen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    This is a dishonest re-definition.
You are right; thanks for the catch. Perhaps I should use the term "income," but it is still missing the point. The idea I want to hint at is that increasing minimum wage does not automatically mean workers earn more. The standard economic objection is that minimum wage reduces employment opportunity and increases unemployment.

    the type of abuse that is possible by employers when/if people are very desperate for work
Would you support minimum prices on goods for sale when a business is very desperate for revenue? Do you use the term "abuse" when businesses offer very low prices? Consider that the "business" could be a single person and the "product" could be math lessons.

    [Minimum wage] is a restriction on employers.
It is enforced that way, but it seems clear to me that it effectively restricts both sides. It makes it illegal for workers to take jobs that pay below a certain level — in other words, from selling their assets (time, energy, talent) at certain prices.
briandmyers  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Would you support minimum prices on goods for sale when a business is very desperate for revenue?

Selling products at a loss to drive competition from the market is a common tactic. I'm not sure but I believe that's illegal in some circumstances. What I don't understand is why you believe the situations to be equivalent. A low wage is the employer harming or abusing the employee; a low price is the employer harming or abusing himself.

wasoxygen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    It is no more coercive than myriad other taxes
Agreed. And surely we can agree that all taxes have the negative effect of depriving the taxpayers of some funds. To decide if the tax, or a law, is good or not, we have to do a cost-benefit analysis. The fact that coercion must be used to collect taxes or enforce laws is a negative, but one that people might decide is worthwhile given the benefits.

Here are some illustrations of the principle of minimum wage:

• People who beg in the street sometimes receive donations of small change. These small payments won't help them much. Suppose they are prohibited from accepting donations less than US$10, will they will be better off?

• Suppose coffee shops sell cups of coffee for an average price of $2. There are so many coffee shops competing for business that they can barely cover their expenses. Coffee shops sometimes become insolvent and close. The Coalition of Coffee Vendors proposes a law to support this important and beloved industry. From now on, the minimum legal price of a cup of coffee will be $5.

Most coffee shops will be hurt, isn't that obvious? But some will do well — those which sold premium coffee in luxurious shops which were already charging close to or more than $5. (You won't be surprised to learn that these shops have a lot of influence with the Coalition of Coffee Vendors.)

The law causes more harm than good. Therefore it is a bad law, aside from the fact that dictating how coffee shops and customers interact is nosy, paternalistic, and coercive.

The chief practical negative of minimum wage is increased unemployment among the most vulnerable workers, who would most benefit from greater access to employment. This is a realistic concern (emphasis added).

    The number of unemployed youth in July 2013 was 3.8 million, compared with 4.0 million a year ago. The youth unemployment rate was 16.3 percent in July 2013. Among the major demographic groups, unemployment rates were lower than a year earlier in July for young women (14.8 percent) and whites (13.9 percent), while jobless rates changed little for young men (17.6 percent), blacks (28.2 percent), Asians (15.0 percent), and Hispanics (18.1 percent).
briandmyers  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Just FYI - the NZ minimum wage is $14.25; our current government (the right-wing party is in power now) have suggested it may rise to $15. Youth unemployment is a problem here, but not a major one, as far as I know.

briandmyers  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

First bullet - you are seriously equating people who give to beggers in the street with employers? Really?

Second bullet - you are trying to equate minimum price with minimum wage. Apples/oranges.

So you support a zero minimum wage because you believe it prevents unemployment? Well sure, of course it does, because with a minimum wage, you're not allowing unfair employment. That's kinda the point.

wasoxygen  ·  1962 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    you are seriously equating people who give to beggers in the street with employers?

Really, no. I don't think that giving charity to strangers constitutes an employer/employee relationship.

    you are trying to equate minimum price with minimum wage. Apples/oranges.
A price is an amount of money given in payment for something. A wage is a price for labor. Consider that the "business" could be a single person and the "product" could be math lessons.

    So you support a zero minimum wage because you believe it prevents unemployment?
Alas, no.
b_b  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The loss of one's right to choose is also why I think we find neurologic diseases so tragic, whether it be motor neuron disease, in which one can decide but not execute one's choices, or dementia, in which one can act but not choose. Either situation seems less than human.

_refugee_  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The movie I reference is apparently The Kiterunner, which is actually a book (and a pretty decent one at that). For those that are curious.

wasoxygen  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft.... When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness.
I didn't care for the book (quotes here). Too unrelentingly, intentionally sad. Strangely, I did not feel the same way about The Road.
ecib  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The Road was the most emotionally evocative book I've read in years (before that, -Dostoevsky). It gave me vivid dreams and nightmares on multiple nights (I only read it before bed for the most part). The best were the nightmares that contained scenes preceding the book...stumbling down a highway, looking back over my shoulder to see a mushroom cloud in the distance...

wasoxygen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The Road broke me. It was the last book I can claim to have read in a sitting, though the sitting was split over two days, if that counts.

What was the Dostoyevsky that affected you?

ecib  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

When they speak of the great Russian psyological novel authors, it isn't just a convenient label. In Crime & Punishment, the internal unravelling of the protagonist was rendered with such realism, it was almost to the point where I could understand him and his skewed point of view. It was that well written. This was profoundly disturbing and depressing while reading it, since the protagonist committed a grisly murder. It's one thing to make a character come alive, but another to tease out the threads of his mind and gently lead you to the same place he is going. Just made me feel like I understood the mechanics of a broken mind far more than I wanted to. The Road was emotionally impactful to a similar degree but in a more benign way as I had a relationship with the victims in that case.

thenewgreen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I agree with your assessment of Crime and Punishment, it was disturbing how much I could "relate" to his way of thinking. I felt similarly after reading Albert Camus' the Stranger.

ecib  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I could not get into The Stranger. Camus is one of my favorite authors but I much prefer his political essays to his fiction. I started The Stranger after reading Letters to a German Friend and it was too much of a departure in style at the time I think.

_refugee_  ·  1964 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Ha, I have read them both as well. As for The Kite Runner, it's a first novel and shows it in places. I wasn't that fond of it and it didn't break my world open. The Road I found more readily engrossing though I think that is also a result of McCarthy's writing style.

wasoxygen  ·  1963 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I couldn't help being affected by The Kite Runner, it just felt manipulative. It is perhaps a poor criticism, since there must be many true stories that would be even more heartbreaking.

I did not see either movie, but have The Road on my list. Can you recommend for or against it?

_refugee_  ·  1962 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I have not seen the movie for The Road. I may have seen the Kite Runner movie (the first time I read it was for an English class) but I don't remember it.

To be honest, I have been watching a lot of documentaries lately, and things on Netflix. I am not good at catching movies in theaters or shows when they're on TV.