Sometimes Tex and I talk about the dangers of the market. Things sometimes prove to be for sale that ought not to be. Not at any price.


Texan99 said...

I'm not sure I'm seeing the connection to the market . . . .?

Grim said...

Well, the reason for doing it is because if you want to sell product in Saudi Arabia, you must erase any image of a woman in a public space. This is opposed to values that we have in the West -- certainly they have them in Sweden, where IKEA is headquartered.

But the money to be pursued in selling furniture to the Saudis, well, I guess we set aside our values and cater to theirs. After all, you can't expect us to take a financial loss over the small matter of values?

Texan99 said...

Should we economically boycott cultures that offend our commitment to putting women in public places? Would that extend to cultures that fail to promote women in positions of authority in business and politics? Cultures that support honor killings? Cultures that promote clitorectomies?

I say "economically boycott" because, as a practical matter, we can't sell in markets that have religious objections to showing women in public in less than full states of dress, or to exposing women in less formal domestic scenes, unless we remove images of those offensive subjects from the marketing material.

These cultures' insistence on privacy and modesty for women bother me considerably less than their other ways of relegating women to second-class (if not subhuman) status, none of which would be likely to show up in a controversial in advertising images. The traditions of modesty and privacy are by far the most benign expression of their fanatical determination to make rigid distinctions between men and women in nearly every conceivable walk of life.

Grim said...

Gramercy for your modesty and privacy; airbrushing women out of the world is something else again.

Should we boycott them? No; by all means send them your catalog. But I wouldn't allow it to be different in this way. If that keeps them from buying my products, so be it. If it, instead, lets them dream of a better world: that is well.

Texan99 said...

I'm not sure why it doesn't strike me the same way. Normally, the whole idea of airbrushing women out of view would offend me deeply. I suppose if a woman had been airbrushed out of a scene of doctors, lawyers, or leaders, I'd have your reaction. This catalog, instead, seems like airbrushing women out of a scene of domestic semi-undress that they can just tolerate showing as long as no women are in it, which doesn't have quite the same abusive message. Not that it makes the least sense to me that anyone should flip out over women's modesty and not care about men's, but that's a very common cultural attitude.

I'd be more up in arms if the issue were one of preventing real women from doing real things because of fear of offense to modesty. But I see your point that this censorship stands in for that behavior.

MikeD said...

I am of two minds on this. The fact is, Ikea wants to sell in that market, and the market says they don't want those images in their catalog. So Ikea does not include those images in their catalog. It's easy enough for us to say "they should just forgo that market" as we are not answerable to their shareholders.

And furthermore, imagine if twenty or thirty years ago, Ikea had a catalog that showed a domestic scene (like that bathroom picture) with two men and a child. There would have been a uproar in most US States about it. And would Ikea have been wrong for altering the US catalog to allow for American sensibilities?

Or what if today, there was a catalog that featured full nudity. Scandinavians tend to be less prudish about the human body than we are in the States. Would they be wrong for censoring the US version of that catalog?

And yet, I fully see Grim's point as well. Censoring the image of women completely from the catalog allows them to be complacent in their treatment of women as second class citizens. We certainly did not honor their driving ban on women when our female soldiers were protecting them from Saddam Hussein, so what is the difference?

I think I'd still come down on the side of "it's up to Ikea if the images are censored or not." After all, it's their company, not mine. And I'm not a giant fan of telling other people what they can and can not do. I will say, I don't shop at Ikea now, but even if I did, I don't think this issue would cause me to boycott them.

Grim said...

Instead of two men with a child -- which could be the father and the uncle of the child, visually, which would be acceptable to anyone -- let's take a more obviously explosive case, Mike. Let's say it was a mixed-race couple and their child. That would have been explosive in the US in, say, the 1970s.

If you catered to American racism in order to sell us products, believing yourself that such racism was odious, are you right or wrong? Pretty clearly, you're violating your own moral beliefs. That's usually said to be wrong.

Does it make it better that you did wrong for profit, instead of from desiring the wrong thing for itself? Or does it make it worse, because you know it's wrong, and you did it anyway for money?

MikeD said...

Again, I believe that's a decision for Ikea to make. And you're absolutely right, were I to be in charge of Ikea and intentionally choose to airbrush out mixed race couples in order to move more furniture, I'd be in violation of my own principles. But I'm not. I'm not in charge of Ikea, so I'm not prepared to give them grief over it. That's not to say I think you're wrong in any particular. Just that given that I must decide how I feel on this topic, that's the side I've come down on. I certainly have reservations about it. Nor am I NEAR saying "this is ok". Just that if I have to take sides on this topic, that's it.

And by the way, I considered bringing up the "mixed race" thing myself, but I realize we're now too far removed from that world. It is far too hard for us to empathize with those who thought mixed race marriages were a societal evil. Not just wrong, but evil. Because people really DID feel that way. But I can't wrap my head around that position. I thought the "gay" example might get some more traction, but the one I really hung my hat on was the "naked" example. And realistically, it's the more applicable. It's not just "immoral" in Saudi Arabia to portray women as they are in the Ikea catalog, it's potentially illegal. So to would it be to publish a catalog with naked people in the states (or perhaps "illegal" might be too strong... shall we say "restricted"?). Would Ikea be wrong for censoring nudity in a catalog intended for US distrobution?

Texan99 said...

But suppose we wanted to market to a society that didn't object to mixed-race marriages, but believed that it was immodest to show both members of a marriage in the same room in a state of half-undress. Would it be wrong to air-brush out the black member? Would that be like denying the humanity of that member?

Grim said...

In order for your analogy to hold, Tex, it would have to always be the black member being brushed out -- perhaps it was a black woman. Maybe it doesn't really matter that she's black to this society; or maybe it only matters that she's black, and not that she's female. Regardless, she is always the one brushed out.

In that case, yes, it's a problem.

Mike and Tex both:

The point is that corporate capitalism carries with it its own ethic. Increasing shareholder value isn't just the point, if you're a member of the corporation it is your actual duty. And this duty sometimes -- maybe often -- comes into conflict with other moral duties you may have.

In any other context, we would condemn a person who did something he believed to be wrong in order to enrich himself. Because there is this fiduciary duty, though, we are able to get around condemning even grave violations of moral duties in pursuit of profit.

We can do this because we have this idea that the person acting as a corporate officer has another ethical (not really moral) duty. But of course in enriching the shareholders, he is also enriching himself. Or she is; the corporate officer speaking in this article is female. She is a Scandinavian woman who almost certainly is horrified by the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, and by the very idea that they should be airbrushed out of life.

But she did it anyway.

My claim is that we ought not to favor this corporate ethical duty over actual moral duties. To put it another way, I claim that it's ethically right to pursue shareholder value if and only if it does not entail doing something morally wrong.

Texan99 said...

She's always the one brushed out IF she's half undressed and portrayed in a medium that's intended to reach the public.

Personally I don't see much point in modesty, and I certainly have no use for modesty that's limited to women -- I think it's just a way of running the world for men who think their women's beauty is their private property -- but if we posit that exclusively female modesty is reasonable, then we're not talking about denying the existence of women. We're only talking about refusing to allow images of half-dressed women in public.

Was it wrong for prudish societies to put fig leaves on male statues but not female ones? That was something that always affected only the male images, and it was a low tech way of "airbrushing" their genitals out of existence. But would we really take that as a blow against male sexuality? I maintain we'd experience it as a sex-linked modesty and not any kind of statement about the intrinsic value of the hidden thing.

Texan99 said...

Or to put it another way, would we be offended if IKEA airbrushed in burqas to cover the women completely as they stood in front of their mirrors brushing their teeth?

Grim said...

I think the idea is that it's improper for men and women to be together in a bathroom at all. But you tell me: would it be acceptable to airbrush in a burqa or other similar Islamic garment? Or to re-shoot the catalog with all the women hidden away by such things?

Grim said...

Remembering, please, in answering the question that what I'm questioning is the idea that the capitalist ethic can be put on the same level as actual morality. It's clearly not a problem for (say) a Saudi firm to produce a catalog that adheres to Saudi morals. But if we find the removal of women from life -- the denial of their humanity, you put it -- to be immoral, then isn't it immoral for us to comply with it in order to profit ourselves? Isn't it even more wrong for us to do what we know to be wrong in order to make money?

Texan99 said...

It goes without saying, at least when you're talking to me, that it's wrong to do something, then a profit motive is not a good enough reason to override that prohibition. (If one can't reconcile his moral duty with the expressed wishes of his shareholders, however, I think he has to resign rather than impose his views on them. He can use his own capital in future!)

So I'm not concerned with the capitalist overtones. I'm only concerned with whether it's wrong to craft a message for the express purpose of reaching people who believe that women must not be publicly exposed in dress that's considered immodest in that culture, by making sure that the message does not show women in that condition. No, I don't think that's wrong. I might not be willing to go to the trouble of catering to that particular cultural sensitivity, and therefore might prefer to forgo the market (i.e., boycott that culture commercially). But I would be very unlikely to choose this particular issue as my line in the sand. I'm much more concerned about doing whatever I can do to help women escape the reality of a cultural restriction on their actual behavior, if they want to escape it. I don't care so much about creating pictures of the restriction (or escape) or not creating pictures of it. What's more, there's plenty of work to do on that and related subjects in my own society before I feel called on to evangelize in others.

And if I did conclude that it was my duty to evangelize in such a society, I'd probably prefer to do it openly rather than by slipping in the image of semi-clothed women in commercial messages, knowing that the message will offend. I'm not completely sure about that, though. There's something to be said for undermining foolish societies by exposing them to alternatives, even if they'd prefer to avoid looking at the alternatives. It beats sending in an army.

Grim said...

Here's a problem I have with what you are saying:

(If one can't reconcile his moral duty with the expressed wishes of his shareholders, however, I think he has to resign rather than impose his views on them. He can use his own capital in future!)

Let's say we have an issue that involves a corporate decision where (a) money stands to be made, but (b) the action involves doing something immoral. My suggestion is that the corporation ought not to do the immoral thing, and should be punished (via boycotts or whatever) if they do.

Your suggestion is that the officer who has the moral problem should resign. But of course this will simply mean that they will conduct a search for someone who doesn't have a moral problem with whatever it is that makes the money. That person will go ahead and do the immoral thing, and the corporate ethic of moneymaking will override the moral question every time.

In other words, your suggestion is a ratchet mechanism that will eventually crank morality out of corporate mechanisms entirely. You'll end up driving the moral out of the most profitable companies, so that the wealth and power those companies accumulate is even more likely to be used in morally problematic ways.

These companies get to be quite rich and quite powerful. If they are going to grind their way to sociopathy, we're better off without them. I think the only alternative is to subordinate the corporate ethic to moral duty. If people want to make money regardless of morality, well, they're wrong to want that. In an individual we'd call that desire by one of several unpleasant names, and I see no reason to call it by a better name just because there is more than one person involved.

Texan99 said...

I think that, if you find a group of people doing something wrong, you have to find a way to stop them that doesn't involve taking their money as a paycheck while subverting their group's policy. After you've resigned, you're free to sue them, to try to persuade them to change, to refuse to do business with them, to advocate for the passage of laws to stop them, or to organize boycotts against them. But we do not each have a roving license to prevent other people from doing things that outrage our own sense of morality, by subterfuge within their organizations, particularly when the immorality that's troubling us doesn't even rise to the level of illegality that would permit us to bring in the police.

Each man has to follow his own conscience. He does not have to go around making sure everyone else follows his conscience, unless of course there's some kind of immediate physical emergency.

The solution to companies that follow bad policies is like the solution to people who espouse bad ideas: form our own companies that behave at a higher standard (and espouse our own, better ideas). That is, do things the right way and serve as an example. There's rarely a justification for the use of either force or dishonesty to prevent a wrong. (And in dishonesty, I include the subterfuge of continuing to represent a company while deliberately undermining its corporate decisions.)

I think we differ a great deal in our view of money. You almost seem to view it as a taint -- as if an action that might otherwise be morally neutral necessarily became more suspect because money was involved. I'd say that it is very natural, in deciding to approach a group of people whose customs differ from mine, to find a way to craft my message so that it is least likely to outrage them. That would be true whether I was trying to expose them to the beauty of the works of 19th-century European painters, or the virtues of a representative democracy, or the need to emancipate women, or the opportunity to buy a new style of bathroom faucet. The point is that I don't have the right to force myself on their attention, so I'd better figure out a way to gain their voluntary attention, whether its for commercial purposes or otherwise.

Now, if they intrude into my culture and start demanding that I curb my speech, I'll cheerfully tell them where to get off. And if their culture is too repulsive, I may forgo the pleasure of further contact with them for any reason.

Grim said...

You almost seem to view it as a taint -- as if an action that might otherwise be morally neutral necessarily became more suspect because money was involved.

If it were morally neutral, actually, I think the corporate ethic provides a useful corrective: it provides an ethical duty that guides right action in the absence of a moral duty. That's good, because it provides a kind of reliability that gives confidence to us as investors.

The problem is when we allow the merely ethical to override the moral. If it is morally wrong to sell slaves, the fact that it may be an excellent profit-maker really does not apply. If it is morally wrong to banish women from the world, the fact that I can make a lot of money going along with it likewise does not apply.

The problem with your model, if I may say so, is that there's no reason to believe that a moral company can compete with an immoral one in the market. The market itself is amoral, but the moral company will be setting aside profitable ventures (like slavery) that the immoral company will gladly seize. I think if you put the weight of defending morality on market mechanisms, you'd better get used to watching morality erode and vanish from public life.

Indeed, how far down that road have we come already?

Texan99 said...

You might also say that evil men will prosper while good men go begging. That's an old, old complaint -- it far predates the modern free market. Yes, men who are willing to do evil to get ahead have got what you might call an "unfair" advantage. But are you talking about men (or groups of men we call corporations) getting ahead by force or fraud, or merely by consensual exchanges among free men who make choices that don't suit you? Take your slavery example. The problem with a corporation that gets rich off of slaves is not so much that it finds people willing to exchange money for slaves. The problem is that the corporation has to whip and chain men to induce them to remain slaves, and it has to collaborate in a society that helps it do so via the police, the courts, the customs, etc. Absent all that wrongful force, the slaves wouldn't be valuable commodities, because the slave "owners" wouldn't have any way to induce the slaves to provide their services for free. The solution is not for the corporation to continue to traffic in slaves on a non-profit basis. The solution is to abolish the corrupt system that allows anyone to force the slaves to work for free.

I don't think markets are amoral at all. I think markets represent a system in which people have to work out voluntary transactions with each other. Some people, given their free will, will make wrong decisions -- but there is a positive virtue in leaving them their freedom. It's a cinch that nothing they do will have any positive moral value if they didn't do it freely.

And why in the world should we assume that moral companies can't compete effectively? Morality isn't self-defeating, or inefficient, or unpopular. We already have police and courts to rein in companies that try to compete by employing force or fraud. Why should a company that relies on other kinds of evil do well? When I look at successful companies, I don't see evil, or at least not in comparison with unsuccessful companies. They're all groups of people, and therefore subject to human frailty, but the rich ones no more so than the poor ones.

By the way, I don't put the weight of defending morality on market mechanisms. I put it on the conscience of individuals. Each individual makes choices, some of which will lead him to trade one thing for another in a market. The market won't force him to do the right thing, and it won't protect him from doing the wrong thing. It will only ensure that he has to make his own moral choice.

So I don't buy for one second that free markets will cause morality to erode and vanish from public life. I don't see a scrap of evidence that public life is less moral here than in systems in other places or times.

Grim said...

Yes, men who are willing to do evil to get ahead have got what you might call an "unfair" advantage.... We already have police and courts to rein in companies that try to compete by employing force or fraud. Why should a company that relies on other kinds of evil do well?

You've just walked past the issue. The reason why corporations can't do good business in slavery is that we don't allow it using extra-market mechanisms: the police, the courts, and in fact the Navy. Otherwise, business would be booming. This is just what I said above: corporations should not be allowed to do immoral things, and should be punished if they do.

In cases where the immoral behavior is not actually illegal, the form of punishment may need to be different. Nevertheless, the method is the same: the corporation that behaves immorally, and anyone acting as a corporate officer who behaves immorally, must be punished.

So when you say you don't see a scrap of evidence that our morality is less than in other times and places, I think you've actually provided a very strong example. Our market is less free than it was before 1860. This restriction is external to the market, imposed by law and force. The moral improvement came to exist precisely because a free market was destroyed.

douglas said...

I hope everyone is following this thread, because it's a great discussion of the nature of men and markets. Thank you Grim and Tex. A few thoughts if I may.

"Each man has to follow his own conscience. He does not have to go around making sure everyone else follows his conscience, unless of course there's some kind of immediate physical emergency."

But here, I think we run into the modern out for standing up for a moral society- for maintaining moral norms in our society- because we don't stand up for morals, except by our management of ourselves. True, setting a good example is important, but is it enough? If we live a libertarian existence- live and let live- soon, the moral man will see his moral society eroded by the temptation of ditching that morality for a more 'enlightened', 'tolerant' existence. The so-called tolerance movement of the last half century has been a massive force against morality in our culture, and we need to recognize that and put aside our conservative natures (and wanting to keep to ourselves) and speak out and act in a way that demands morality of others, or at least to force debate on what we should agree on as moral, as opposed to continuing to fracture morality into personal fiefdoms of one doing as they like, and another as they like, because that won't work in the end.

"If it were morally neutral, actually, I think the corporate ethic provides a useful corrective: it provides an ethical duty that guides right action in the absence of a moral duty. That's good, because it provides a kind of reliability that gives confidence to us as investors."

This is a major strength of the capitalist system- I can fairly easily predict what someone is likely to do by getting a handle on their morals- if they have them, they may stick to them, and if they don't, I can pretty reliably bet that they'll do what is best for their pocketbook. This accounting for human nature is precisely what utopian states like communism lack. That stability and predictability are critically important things to a society. I have no need to rely entirely on the good faith of others, though we can as a society choose to encourage that sort of thing, so as to reap an even better harvest than cash, both here and hereafter.

douglas said...

"The problem with your model, if I may say so, is that there's no reason to believe that a moral company can compete with an immoral one in the market. The market itself is amoral, but the moral company will be setting aside profitable ventures (like slavery) that the immoral company will gladly seize. I think if you put the weight of defending morality on market mechanisms, you'd better get used to watching morality erode and vanish from public life.

Indeed, how far down that road have we come already? "

Markets are inherently amoral, but really are as moral as the society within which they operate. No business can break the bonds of trust with the public and survive once found out. Ultimately, if we wish for moral markets, legislation won't do it, only working to make people more moral will.

"So I don't buy for one second that free markets will cause morality to erode and vanish from public life. I don't see a scrap of evidence that public life is less moral here than in systems in other places or times."

Perhaps not less moral- but amoral- we're letting morals go in favor of feelings- which are no standard at all- they're as solid as a cloud. It's not evil per se, but it leads to the results promised by the pavement on the road to hell.

" The moral improvement came to exist precisely because a free market was destroyed."

No, I'd contend that particular market segment was destroyed because enough of the people embraced a morality that forbade slavery, and did something about it once reaching critical mass. So the question is, what level of the loss of classical Judeo/Christian ethics can we toss aside and still remain moral, particularly if all we're replacing it with is leftism (a purely material philosophy)?

Texan99 said...

Grim: I would say the markets worldwide are much freer than they've ever been in history, and this also is the first time in history that slavery has ever been so relegated to the remotest corners of the earth. The abolition of slavery was not a "market restriction" in the sense I give to the term, but a criminal prohibition of activity (denial of liberty; kidnapping; incarceration) that is equally wrong whether it stems from a profit motive or not, and whether it is carried out by individuals or by multinational cartels. It's akin to a prohibition on murder for hire: the sore point is not the hiring but the murder. You bring in the "hiring" part because it helps to establish a conspiracy to do the crime between an active agent and a paying principal.

We agree that men who break the law (using corporations as their M.O.) are to be stopped by the justice system. You say, "In cases where the immoral behavior is not actually illegal, the form of punishment may need to be different. Nevertheless, the method is the same." But what does that mean? I would argue the method is nothing like the same. We have a system in which the justice system intervenes to cure some kinds of immorality: those that rise to the level of illegal activity, using force. Other kinds of immorality we mediate among ourselves in voluntary ways.

It would help me for you to give an example of something you think is immoral for a corporation but not illegal (either civilly or criminally). Then I could address how I think people do or ought to address it in a free (and free-market) system.

I think referring to specifically "corporate" crime confuses the issue. Things that are illegal for corporations to do are also illegal for individuals to do. Corporations are only people acting in concert, or as agents for each other.

Texan99 said...

Douglas: I didn't mean to suggest that we should be supine in the face of the immorality of others, only that we don't have a roving license for forcibly correcting them, except in cases that rise to the level of illegality. In the case of wrongdoing that doesn't meet that standard, we have a wide variety of social responses available to us, including the ones I mentioned: Moral example, moral persuasion, shame, appeal to rational self-interest, shunning, boycotting, agitating to pass a new substantive law, etc. All of those responses are available to us whether the immoral actor who is troubling us is an individual or a group of individuals banding together to act in the form of a corporation.

We are going back and forth a bit over whether it makes more sense to call a free market moral or amoral. I would call it a positive moral force in society to the limited extent that it requires people to deal with each other voluntarily, to their mutual and genuine satisfaction. Beyond that, it is the market actors themselves who act morally or immorally in their dealing with one another. But it's hugely important to me that, in this society, if you don't have a warrant to use force, you have only one way to get your neighbor to do what you want him to do, and that is to persuade him. One of the traditional ways to persuade him is to offer him something in return that he freely concludes is equally valuable: i.e., a free market. Of course, you may also persuade him in many other ways, such as an appeal to his love, conscience, self-interest, or public spirit. But if all those appeals fall short and you can't force him, you've got to bargain with him freely. In a non-free-market, some third party intervenes and decides when the bargain is fair. I prefer a system in which no one gets a vote but the two who are bargaining.

Grim said...


We started with what strikes me as a clear example, so let's return to it. We have a case where a Western corporate officer, the woman from IKEA, is engaged in violating what are almost certainly her moral principles; and the company is violating what certainly are the moral principles of Scandinavian society, and Western society. They are doing this by participating in and giving comfort to the Saudi assault on the dignity of women, by helping enforce the rule that women ought not to be seen. Their lives should be invisible, to the greatest possible degree.

Now, I understand the point you've raised about modesty (to whit, that you don't particularly see the point of it, but you respect that another culture might). This goes beyond modesty, though, to denial of human capacity: of the capacity of movement (you may not drive), of voice (you may not speak outside of approved areas and in approved manners) and presence (you may not appear in public without being so heavily veiled as to be nearly invisible). IKEA is giving comfort to this by demonstrating to the Saudis that they are willing to accept their terms in return for their money.

To me that is wrong, and it ought to be punished. I am not sure if a law is the answer, however: I'm not sure how you would structure such a law so that it wasn't either too narrow or too wide. By too narrow, I mean that it wouldn't actually capture the real offense ("No one shall publish an IKEA catalog that airbrushes out the women for the comfort of Saudis"); by too wide, I mean that the law would endanger rightful liberties ("No one shall publish anything insulting to the dignity of women").

So here is a case of an immoral act by a corporation and a corporate officer, but one that probably should not be illegal. That points us to other options, such as boycotts, angry letters of protest, and (in cases more extreme that this one, but as a limit case for this kind of activity) cases of civil disobedience akin to the Boston Tea Party.

Texan99 said...

I hear you, but our original source of disagreement on this moral crime was that it didn't strike me as immoral at all, even though in general I think you'd agree that I'm considerably more prickly than you on the subject of dehumanizing women. Yet you call it "a case where a Western corporate officer, the woman from IKEA, is engaged in violating what are almost certainly her moral principles; and the company is violating what certainly are the moral principles of Scandinavian society, and Western society." Isn't it at all possible that IKEA takes my view, which is that there's nothing immoral about avoiding offense by forbearing from publishing, in a Muslim country, a catalogue that portrays women half-dressed in intimate domestic scenes?

It's nowhere near as clear a moral issue as you suggest. If it were, we'd find it easy as a society to subject it to criminal or civil penalties, whereas even you agree that IKEA's behavior "probably should not be illegal." So where does that leave us? We can agree on the propriety of legal, nonviolent boycotts, letters of protest, etc. Whether civil disobedience would suit me would depend on what you mean by it. What civil disobedience means to me is disobeying an unjust law. What law would you propose disobeying here? Firebombing IKEA HQ? Hacking into their server? Slashing the tires of their delivery trucks? Setting on fire the warehouse where they stash the offending catalogues? I could not agree with any of those even if I agreed that the catalogue was immoral. I would confine myself to resigning from IKEA (for the officer) and finding another purveyor of furniture (for the consumer), in addition to the boycott/letters line of attack.

Let's take a different example. I believe it is deeply immoral to euthanize a healthy pet that has grown tiresome or inconvenient, but it is entirely legal and many vets are willing to do it, however reluctantly. What should my response be? Should I hold the vet at gunpoint? Should I egg the pet owner's house? Should I organize commando teams to rescue all the pets threatened by this fate in my immediate area? May I shoot the pet's owner if he resists? Must I devote my life to raising funds for the rescued pets' subsequent upkeep?

Let's suppose the vet is a corporation. Does that change my duty? -- I maintain that the corporate form of the wrongdoer is a red herring, as is its participation in a commercial market.

Turning back to the symbolic annihilation of women by airbrushing, the reality bothers me more than the pictures. With regard to the Muslim substantive treatment of women as less than fully human (on a much more pernicious scale than the similar problem we have had in the West), I'd have a harder time with the following scenario: As an executive who contemplates marketing in a Muslim country, should I pander to local prejudices by promoting only male marketing executives to the new positions opening up there? That's a situation where real harm is coming to a real person, and therefore much more readily engages my moral outrage. and yet, fifty years ago no one would have thought twice about what to do.

Grim said...

I may be less prickly, but don't mistake that for a lack of seriousness in the cases that strike me at deep affronts to the dignity of women. See for example here, and here, paragraph beginning "There can be a case."

In cases where there is a dispute about morality, we have to fight. I don't get the impression that IKEA is in that position; their response isn't, "What? We're just being polite." The response was one of embarrassment at being called out for what they were doing, followed by apology.

So the odds are that they know what they are doing is wrong. In cases like your pet-slaying neighbors, well, you can try education. You can try to put together a charity to care for elderly pets. And ultimately, as far as I'm concerned, you can move on to forms of civil disobedience such as stealing pets-slated-for-death if you're prepared to accept the consequences of those decisions.

To actually go so far as to kill (or threaten to kill) the vet or your neighbors would be to escalate to a greater wrong. (The only alternative position is to read the pets' lives as equally weighted with the human lives, which is a hard position to defend; but even granting it for the sake of argument, your action wouldn't lessen the wrong being done, since it would only balance it with an equal moral wrong.)

Texan99 said...

Well, there you go. They agree with you that what they did is wrong, and they've apologized and stopped doing it. So what's the problem? More specifically, what's the problem with the free market? And how does either my pet scenario or your response to it shed light on any problem with the free market? After all this back-and-forth, I still don't get it.

I note with amusement that Sweden's EC minister said, "This shows they still have a long way to go to reach equality between women and men in Saudi Arabia." Ya think? I love the notion that IKEA's newly PC catalogue is contributing in a useful way to solving that problem.

Grim said...

There's no problem, because they were brought to heel. They were made to recognize that pursuit of profit was out of order with morality, and to apologize and do what is right.

That's all I ask. I don't mean to dismantle capitalism: I just want it to subordinate its ethic to morality.

Texan99 said...

So the free market worked exactly the way it's supposed to: it is a system in which many individuals put nonviolent pressure on each other to alter their behavior, without the police having to step in. I've always thought it was a great system.

What "capitalism" has to do with it is still unclear to me, unless that's meant as a synonym for free markets, in which case I agree.

Grim said...

I think I only mean that I'm not a Marxist: the point isn't to tear apart the free market, or capitalism, or whatever else. It's just to keep it in order. I love a strong horse, but when I sit on the horse, I want to be in charge of it. If the horse gets in charge, it's generally bad for both of us.

Texan99 said...

Well, you're not personally going to get to be in charge of the market, but all of us individuals will be in charge, very directly and immediately. That's how it works. That's why it's a good system.

Grim said...

Hah! I'm not personally fully in charge of my horse. Courage is necessary. With motorcycles, too: you can do everything right and still lose limbs in a wreck, because of what someone else did foolishly.

I get risk. I'm fine with danger. I just want our priorities to be rightly structured. Money isn't the main thing. It's good in its place, but it's not the main thing at all.

Texan99 said...

Of course money isn't the most important thing. We have this discussion all the time. A free market doesn't mean you have to express all values in terms of money. It means that every two people who get together to bargain don't have a deal until they're both entirely satisfied with the deal, without anyone else getting a say in it. If they want to make the deal X thing for Y dollars, that's up to them, not to us. If they want to barter, that's fine. If they want to make it a free gift from one to the other, that's their business. If they just want to beam spiritual values at each other, terrific. But they get to decide, not some central planner.

Grim said...

Yes, I understand. In its place, a market can be a very good thing. I certainly like having access to one, kept within its proper limits.

Texan99 said...

There are proper limits on the freedom of two consenting adults to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with each other about an exchange of some kind? Aside from criminal and fraud restrictions of the sort we were discussing before, I mean.

Grim said...

Sure there are.

In general these arise when -- although the transaction is in a sense consensual -- a power imbalance or a natural necessity creates circumstances in which one party can behave in a predatory manner. For example, let us say that a hurricane is coming; having a lot of capital at the moment, I buy up all the bottled water nearby and truck it out of the city for safekeeping (and also to diminish the supply of bottled water).

Then, after the hurricane, I bring it back and sell it to people who will otherwise die of dehydration... in exchange for whatever family jewels or other valuables happened to survive the storm.

The transaction is consensual, but improper. There are any number of examples of this kind.

Texan99 said...

And there are laws against that, so that falls into the justice-system exception we already set aside. I'm not 100% comfortable with anti-gouging laws, but they have a very broad appeal and have no trouble winning the support of the electorate.

I think we can agree on exceptions for transactions concluded under unusual duress, like a life-threatening emergency or martial law. If you move too far outside the bounds of life-threatening emergencies, though, you risk infantilizing people: telling them they aren't free to enter into an agreement because we know it's not good for them. We have a lot of those kinds of regulations already: anti-usury laws, restrictions on terms of consumer debt, prohibition of contracts to provide medical or legal services by non-licensed personnel, requirement to buy health insurance from a government-approved source. Do we need more than we already have? Or should we actually be thinking of stripping away a few?

Texan99 said...

PS -- what worries me about anti-gouging laws is their squelching of what otherwise would be the natural market response to a critical shortage: everyone within reasonable driving distance decides to take a break from whatever he was doing and drive in there to sell whatever's in suddenly short supply. If enough people do that, the price doesn't even go up much, just enough to give nearby people an incentive to hustle. You can freeze a price in order to be compassionate, but unless the National Guard airlifts in everything anyone could want, you're just about guaranteeing a prolonged shortage of supply. In other words, the intent is compassionate but the result is not -- the usual problem.

Grim said...

As I said, the case is paradigmatic. You offer plenty of similar examples, some of which are actually illegal and some aren't. Anti-usury laws, for example, don't (or don't always) embrace the kind of payday loans so commonly aimed at young servicemembers at military bases. So these may not be illegal, but I think the gouging of the young corporal is immoral, and I feel free to despise the man who makes that his business.

In other words, there are extra-legal, moral pressures I would bring to bear to discourage anyone from wielding their power in the market in this way. They're just maximizing profit, though: they could offer the loans at lower rates and still make a fine profit, but why should they if they can make more? The soldiers are consenting to being charged a massive interest rate, after all.

Well, it seems to me there's a good reason why they should behave differently. The moral sense of respect for the service of the soldier ought to impel you to voluntarily reduce your profit margin when dealing with them. But there's no law that says you have to.

Texan99 said...

So what is the method you would propose to rein in the profit motive, and keep the market within its proper limits?

Grim said...

Depends on the particular offense.

Texan99 said...

I think you're suffering from an essential confusion between the need to criminalize particular behavior and the general feeling that you should have some kind of personal discretionary veto power over any situation in which a person might be tempted to do something wrong in order to pursue profit. It's almost as if you were more concerned that profit would be an overwhelming motive for wrong doing, more dangerous that all the other traditional suspect motives -- pride, avarice, wrath, etc. Someone has taught you to fear the profit motive in particular. I've never found it to be a greater problem than all the other many reasons people neglect their duties to each other. But the restless urge to second-guess other people's valuations and substitute our own does a lot of harm -- far more, in my view, than ever is done by striking hard bargains.

Grim said...

I don't claim a veto over anyone's actions, Tex. I claim a personal duty to uphold what seems right to me. If I go no farther with it than to despise a man who rips off a soldier whose service underlies his liberty, or to write a pointed letter that protests catering to a culture that tries to drive women out of public life, I have not interfered with their liberty at all. I've merely exercised mine -- my right, and as I see it, my duty.

Grim said...

Furthermore, I don't think my claims about the profit motive are any different from my claims about (say) pride or anger. There is a way in which these things can be channeled to create good, even great good. Pride, if it is the pride that won't let yourself stoop to something you know is unworthy of a free soul, is a good thing. Pride, if it is the pride that won't stoop to apologizing to someone you've wronged that you think beneath you, that is a bad thing.

Anger, if it is the anger that motivates you to strive against the unjust, that is a good thing. Anger, if it is the anger that poisons you to the point that you won't accept a sincere apology, that is a bad thing.

The profit motive, in cases where it does no moral harm, establishes a kind of ethical duty that helps us work together in freedom. That is a good thing. The profit motive, when it causes you to wrong another for your own gain, then it is a bad thing.

All I ask in all of these cases is that self-love be subject to moral duty. You can be proud, you can be angry, and you can pursue personal profit. There are right ways, and wrong ways, to do all these things.

Texan99 said...

Now you're talking my language. You address the wrongs around by taking responsibility for your own duty to subordinate self-love to duty, not by infringing on the liberties of others. That's how I view the free market, too.