A Violation of their Liberty Interests

Following up on the Nozick piece below, a politician descends into mockery. Just as income taxes represent a kind of forced labor, as taking an hour of your labor from you in compensation is not very different from forcing you to work for an hour for the good of the state, forcing you to take time to wash your hands if you work at a restaurant is also a kind of forced labor!

Perhaps he did it on purpose? Maybe not.
“I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like ‘maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,'" the senator said.

Tillis said his interlocutor was in disbelief, and asked whether he thought businesses should be allowed to "opt out" of requiring employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

The senator said he'd be fine with it, so long as businesses made this clear in "advertising" and "employment literature."

“I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,” Tillis said.
Maybe Nozick recanted for good cause.


MikeD said...

Here's where I'll disagree. The employee washing their hands is doing so on the clock, not on his own time. In other words, he is being repaid for his time taken to washing his hands (thus, no forced labor is involved, only the voluntary trade of his labor for pay from his employer). But let's say that isn't the case. Let's say employees are required to clock out to take restroom breaks. I never had such an employer, but let's say it's the policy over at Skinflint Industries. Is such an employee laboring for the government when they are required to wash their hands on their own time?

Again, I would answer 'no'. His employer has a policy that all employees must wash their hands before returning to work. It is a condition of his employment, just like wearing the company uniform (or business attire for senior management), or always greeting customers in a particular manner. As such, if he disagrees with that policy, he is free to find work at a location that does not have that as a condition of employment.

"But Mike," you say, "that company policy only exists because of government regulation. Without that government interference, they may have no such policy, thus isn't the employee laboring on behalf of the government?" I reject that premise. Because the employer could choose not to enforce the regulation on his employees (Radical Freedom, as per Sartre... I'm learning, Grim), the employer just needs to be prepared to pay the price for flouting such a government regulation. The employee does not face any penalty for failing to wash his hands if it is not a company policy. So in fact, it is the employer who takes on that risk by choosing not to enforce the government regulation.

Now, you may argue this is splitting hairs. But I submit that I am not one who actually believes that government may not enact laws for the public good unless it's solely related to police, judges, and national defense. I merely argue that the powers of the government should be as limited as possible so as to inflict the least burden on the citizens as possible without putting their life, liberty, and property at risk. Health code regulations are in place to protect the life of customers.

You CAN argue that an establishment that clearly signals that their employees are not required to wash their hands after using the bathroom would be sufficient. But technically, such a requirement is still government regulation, so how is one heath code regulation more "moral" than another? A business required to post such a sign would lose a lot of business (mine for one), so it stands to reason that such a requirement is still a burden on the employer. I personally don't oppose the more restrictive requirement, so the point is rather moot in my opinion.

Grim said...

The regulation can be a violation of the employer's liberty interest too, though, right? It's costing them money by forcing them to pay employees more for the same amount of work: if these are hourly employees, and it takes longer to wash your hands than to skip it, multiplied by every employee and every time they go to the bathroom all year, then the same amount of work will eventually require more hours to complete. So it's a tax on the business owner, forcing him to employ his own income to achieve the state's purposes.

Nozick's argument seems to hold whether the employee or the employer's liberty interest is being violated. Even if we're radically free and elect to violate the law and pay a fine, the state will still seize a portion of your wealth (and thus your time, since it took time to earn the wealth). Forcing you to work is slavery, which is the violation of your liberty interest that Nozick was concerned about.

That would seem to imply that not only can government not tax income, it can't even impose health regulations with minimal costs and substantial benefits. One wonders what the government would be allowed to do.

MikeD said...

I really cannot defend Nozick's position because I do not believe it to be completely correct. It attempts to define the world in absolutes, and we as humans do not live in a world of absolutes. As well to agree that "all lying is bad" and accept that it is better to tell the Nazis where Anne Frank is hiding if they ask because of it. Yes, lying is bad. But there are varying degrees of bad.

I believe the government must have limits. It is in the best interest of the people to define those limits as narrowly as possible while not confining themselves to changing those limits in the future, as necessity dictates. I believe our Constitution does a pretty good job of this, but has some minor flaws in that the language of it is too vague in many places (for example, the Common Welfare clause). I believe it would be in the People's best interest to tighten some of that language up, and thankfully there is a mechanism to do so within the Constitution (Amendment or Constitutional Convention). Now, would the People agree with me, and implement the same choices I would. In fact, I highly doubt it. But such is the way of things. I am not dictator of the world, and I am glad of it. Even if that means people act in ways I think is bad for them.

Grim said...

So what is the right principle? The government may rightly take your time and/or money when...? To what degree?

(Assuming for the moment that Nozick is right to conflate these, which is debatable: we don't set equal legal limits on seizure of property versus actually taking you and putting you in a jail, let alone forcing you to labor. But perhaps we're wrong not to protect property more than we do.)

MikeD said...

Oh, civil asset forfeiture is an abuse that ought to be taken before the Supreme Court and crushed ruthlessly. This legal fiction that they're not saying you broke the law, just that your money was involved in a criminal enterprise and can therefore be legally stolen is past travesty. This is the kind of stuff that I think rises to the level of armed revolt. They're quite literally seizing property without even a pretense of due process.

But to answer the former question, "where is the line drawn", then I'd have to answer, "it depends". You are subject to taxation to pay for public services that you cannot otherwise provide. That is part of the social compact. But what that full list is, I cannot just list off the top of my head. It's pretty big, actually.

Grim said...

I'm not looking for a list so much as a principle, or set of principles. They should be limiting principles, ideally: in the form of 'not unless' or 'only if X, Y, Z obtain.'

MikeD said...

But that's the problem. Drawing bright lines of demarcation is more than a little difficult, I submit it's impossible. Unless, that is, you make a specific list. For example, I generally support the Federal government having the right to regulate trade that occurs between the States (eliminating tariffs, promoting a common currency, preventing in-state protectionism, etc). But I cannot abide when "Interstate Commerce" is claimed as the justification to interfere with products produced within a State, being transported within that State, and sold within that State. Yes, individual citizens are free to cross State lines and purchase those goods, but that does not have an ounce of impact on commerce between the States, only between that one State and individual citizens. Or more egregiously, when the Federal government claims it has a right to interfere when you do NOT engage in Interstate Commerce. As if the lack of something is the same as that thing itself.

Even National Defense (a proper role for the Federal government) has limits that I think are routinely breached. Purchasing a new Destroyer for the Navy? Fine. Funding a study into global warming under the rubric of National Defense? Ridiculous. If anything, that would fall under the EPA (which is again of dubious national legitimacy). The purchase of biodiesel for naval vessels at a price 10 times that of traditional fuel? Cronyism and FWA (Fraud, Waste, and Abuse).

So how does one draw demarcations? In my opinion, an explicit list is about the only way. The beauty of lists is, you can add to it, or take away from it, but if you're restricted to what is printed on the list, you cannot "assume" something which is not explicitly included.

Grim said...

Well, that's a different set of questions. Asking "what can the government legitimately spend money on?" is not the same as asking "when can the government legitimately take money from an individual or family?"

At least one limiting principle is easy, so it's not impossible: "Only in accordance with the law." Then, even if we still must now ask what the law should be, we've got a limiting principle. I think there are others, don't you?

MikeD said...

Well certainly. I'm admittedly less comfortable with the "Only in accordance with the law" in that it is that same government which is capable of changing the law. Oh, certainly if they egregiously change the law (*coughobamacarecough*) we can potentially replace the lawmakers who vote for it, but even so, that is a slow process and much harm can be done in the meantime.

I much prefer the formulation "Only in accordance with the Constitution", but as I've stated, there's apparently far too much vagueness (or people who do not wish to be bound by it claim too much vagueness which works out much the same way) and we clearly need more specific principles.

And this kind of ties in with my comments on philosophy seeking universal truths and principles which may never actually exist. And the inherent problems with language being of a non-logical basis. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." may very well have been perfectly clear to the Founders, but apparently we can have people who interpret this in the most tortured manner and claim that the clear meaning of this Amendment, unlike every other single Amendment in the Bill of Rights, is written to specifically restrict the People and not the Federal government.

What's the solution? Frankly, short of some form of artificial logically based language being created for the specific purpose of law, I don't see a way around this "Given: subset of citizenry == all non-felon += non-mentally impaired. Granted: rights to keep, equip, maintain, carry, and use projectile launching firearms. Purpose: self-defense, hunting, sport, overthrow tyrannical government. Restrictions: no laws infringing Granted properties to be made."

Grim said...

Frankly, short of some form of artificial logically based language being created for the specific purpose of law, I don't see a way around this...

I can assure you that isn't the solution! :) The reason analytic philosophy has been so popular for the last hundred-odd years is that people were thinking along those lines, and tried it. It's still very popular, but it's not actually solved any problems. There are two reasons why this is the case.

1) Logical languages eliminate some of the ambiguity characteristic of natural language, but introduce other problems that come from the structure of logical language.

2) Political/ethical problems are not logical problems, they're analogical problems. The problem with trying to describe them in logical language is that you end up forcing round pegs into square holes. For example, if you say, "For any situation x, if x is a war..." you are now about to craft a rule that mandates the same solution set for the Civil War and the Spanish-American War and the Gulf War. Those things are alike in being 'wars,' but they aren't alike the way logical or mathematical objects are alike.

So any hard, non-ambiguous, logical rule you create for political (or ethical) purposes is actually harmful. It forces you to think about a logical category that doesn't actually exist, instead of the real problem in front of you.

MikeD said...

When speaking of laws, I think requiring the very bright lines of "this counts as illegal, but that is not" should be required. Forget trying to define "war" because as you say, that word is too ambiguous, and should not be used in such a case. You'd either need new words, or simply more specific phrases "internal war between two competing factions", "external war fought to acquire territory", "external war of liberation". Each would have a separate set of solutions. All are subsets of "war", of course, but instead of tying the solution set to the common root, how about tying the solution set to the most specific subset?

And let's take what ought to be a far easier example. The rule about handholds and footrests on motorcycles from the earlier conversation. How difficult does it really need to be? All elements of the equation need to be properly defined (and they're not), and it should be immediately understandable not just by the authors, but the legislators, the law enforcement personnel, and the public at large. Define specifically that "motorcycle capable of seating two passengers" means either pre-modification two seat (in which case the handholds and footrests should already be mounted, even if subsequently made obsolete by the removal of the two-passenger seat) or post-modification (in which case the handholds are required to be added at the same time as the two-passenger seat), and define what kinds of handholds and footrests are acceptable. And such definitions need to be clear and precise so as to make it require next to no judgment calls on behalf of law enforcement as to whether the vehicle is in compliance with the law or not.

And really, if they cannot craft the law in such a manner, then I submit that the law should not be crafted. And absolutely, if the law's authors try and claim "well, I don't know anything about aftermarket motorcycle modifications" then I submit that author has just admitted how unqualified they are as to passing laws about the subject. Either get a staff who DOES know the subject (even if temporary), or defer writing the legislation. Law makers who attempt to legislate on subjects they know nothing about make terrible laws (see the Assault Weapon Ban of the 90's which was written to ban "scary looking" weapons).

Grim said...

I agree about all that. So does Aristotle, who in the early part of the Rhetoric says that the law should be as comprehensive as possible in order to leave as little as possible to the interpretation of judges or magistrates. Those can be corrupted by being attached to one of the parties to the case in some way, but the law is written without specific parties in mind.

However, as he also says, you're going to end up having to leave something to the courts, because the specifics of every case are different. You can't just have a law: "In any case where a person should take a knife, defined as a bladed metal object at least six inches long, into a school, defined as a building owned by the government or a private corporation whose purpose is the education of children under the age of 19, that person shall be fined exactly $100."

That's a pretty well-crafted law, but what if it turns out that a couple of the students failed a grade or two, and so there are 19 or 20 year old students? Is the building not now a school? What if the knife was made of carbon fiber and contained no metal?

As far as I know, by the way, the idea of putting handgrips on the rear seat of a motorcycle is a nonstarter for most bikes. There's nowhere to mount them! It would work on big bikes like the Gold Wing that are designed for touring, maybe, but on my bike you'd have to mount it to the rear fender somehow. I've never even seen anything like that for sale.

douglas said...

The rear handhold is usually the strap across the middle of the seat. It doesn't really give you much but I suppose it could help on not get bounced off by a bump or dip.