Public Versus Private Action

Dave Killion — November 27, 2012

I found a couple of stories recently in which private-sector actors undertook actions which libertarians would take exception to… but only if those actions had been undertaken by government –

“Dozens of strata members at Vancouver’s tallest all-residential tower hooted and hollered after a motion passed Tuesday outlawing smoking in any of the building’s 237 units.

Roughly 70 strata members of the 42-storey Melville building in the city’s tony Coal Harbour neighbourhood voted to fine residents caught smoking, while about nine opposed the bylaw.” Link

“… rather than taking yummy calorie-laden choices like cheese and chocolate away to help help employees watch their waistlines…  [Google] decided to “nudge” people to make better food choices.

In snack-filled micro-kitchens… Google now puts healthful options like apples and bananas front and center while relegating sugary and starchy foods to opaque containers in less accessible locales.” Link

So we have one case of apparent coercion, and one case of paternalism. Why would a libertarian defend that? Two reasons –

1. The ‘victims’ (tenants and employees) entered into their contracts voluntarily.

2. The ‘enactors’ (fellow-tenants and employers) must bear the cost of their actions. In the case of the condo owners, banning smoking may lower the value of their units by decreasing the number of purchasers interested in buying units that come up for sale. Or, the value of the units might rise because some people will be willing to pay a premium to live in a non-smoking building. In the case of Google, if they have chosen poorly, then they may lose employees or diminish employee productivity. If they have chosen well, productivity will rise, and more people will compete for Google jobs. In all cases, the enactors are incentivized to carefully consider new policy, and to monitor it to confirm it either (A) achieves its intended goals or (B) gets repealed.

Isn’t it amazing how genuine, voluntary cooperation makes all the difference in the world.




David says

Preach it brother.

— December 1, 2012

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