Fairness and the Agent’s Cut



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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112 Responses

  1. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    I’ll have to think about the other questions when I’ve had a bit more sleep. But Q1 is easy — it depends on the marketability of the player. A player who’s been around for a year or two and performs well can shop for any agent. This player can tell his agent, “You’ll take n% or I’ll get a new agent”. Any agent can also shop for a newbie, 18 years old and anxious to play. The agent can tell this player, “You’ll give me m% or I’ll find someone else”.

    Is this “fair”? Maybe not, but I can’t get too excited about it (which may have something to do with Qs 9 and 10).Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There’s also the issue of how 80% of whatever you get from Campbell’s Soup is a lot more than 100% of nothing because the guy with the agent got *HIS* guy an ad with Campbell’s Soup.

    The football player’s job does not necessarily allow for enough free time to shop himself around to hundreds of companies looking for an athlete in an ad.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      The added value of the agents with regards to endorsements seems like the sort of thing that makes any reasonable percentage-based deal a “fair” one.

      Not only would most athletes not have the time or connections to make these deals, but they could also get raked over the coals by the company their promoting.Report

  3. Avatar Matty says:

    I know nothing about NFL but my instinct is that the ‘fairness’ of different levels of bargaining power is a gradient not an absolute. I’d also say that it matters what happens if you push an advantage – “accept my fee or survive on a players salary without income from endorsements” is very different from “accept my fee or have no income at all”, which is different again from “accept my fee or I kidnap your children”, going roughly on a scale of acceptability. But this is probably what you meant by mentioning in extremis situations anyway.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      As I see it, the agents are selling a service.

      “I can provide you this service for X. Do you accept?”

      Plays can say yes, no, or make a counter-offer. The only difference is that X is not necessarily a fixed cost but is instead a percentage. Other factors in the contract matter (e.g., Does the player have the right to refuse an endorsement deal? Or must he accept any and all the agent finds?) but the basic framework doesn’t seem unique enough that it should be considered distinct from a number of other business relationships.

      There is the potential for such gross asymmetries in information that the bargaining power is unfairly concentrated. I would hope that the NFLPA and/or NFL would take steps to address this. I do know that they have a “Rookie Summit” every year where they talk to the players about a number of things, including agents. I also know that some leagues require agents to be “certified” to handle contract negotiations with teams. I don’t know if the NFL does this but it would also mitigate a potential gross imbalance.Report

      • Avatar BobbyC says:

        This line of thinking reminded me of a passage in Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. It’s tempting to see rules restricting contracts like this as correcting an imbalance in free markets – many players are dumb and absent regulation, unscrupulous agents will take advantage of them. Friedman argues that the long-run effect of having govt write regulations in order to correct such a situation will lead to a worse outcome for the parties we are trying to help. The people who are bad at negotiating contracts turn out to be even worse at winning good outcomes once the issue is moved to a political process – the same forces that win and extract gains from weaker players in a free market also win and extract gains from weaker groups in the political / legislative process.

        The FDA may have meant to be a consumer advocate, but now it just protects profits for big business (Pharma, Alcohol, Agribusiness). The FDIC may have been set up to protect small savers, but now it just protects the banks in the Federal Reseve System from competition. Next we will see this happen with the new Consumer Financial watchdog, which will temporarily reduce bank profits and then banks will adjust and competition will exit and then we will have even less competition and even higher bank profit margins. The elaborate rules around govt contracts were designed to prevent corruption in govt procurement, but now it acts as a barrier to entry (spend 2hrs trying to figure out how hard it would be to create a temp agency to compete with Halliburton and then tell me this isn’t deeply true!). This isn’t meant as an argument for quietism and rolling over when faced with problems, but rather an argument for humility about the ability of us to use a political / legislative process to solve many such problems.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          Friedman is correct that political solutions end up being gamed by the unscrupulous.

          Criminals are forever trying to co-opt, bribe, outwit and game the police.

          Wouldn’t humility about our ability to find political solutions, also seem to require us to also be skeptical about mechanistic approaches such as the “free market”?

          Economic theory, like political theory, is flawed and needs to be constantly adjusted, reassessed, and revised.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:


            Good points. I think we should be skeptical of everything and open to the possibility that it may fail or that a better alternative could be discovered.

            That said, we need to be very careful that the competition doesn’t shift from the field to the room where rules are agreed to. If the rules of any sport are constantly under review, the winning strategy shifts from winning on the field to winning via rule change. It actually becomes a sucker’s game to play on the field, when the real action occurs behind the scene. I fear this is the case in many industries in many nations.

            My recommendation to address the this dilemma is to have competing markets with somewhat different but basically stable ( but not totally stable) rules. As with everything else I have written here, I believe this would lead to competition and choice over which market rules we would operate under. The system would get increasingly fair.Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 says:

              “competing markets with somewhat different but basically stable ( but not totally stable) rules.”

              Isn’t that what we have now?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                In functioning markets like appliances and food and such yeah. That is why we are becoming more prosperous over time. In the finance, education and health care markets, I would say no. That is why they are going to hell.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I agree, the deregulation of Wall Street, the attempts to profitize public education, and the very existence of health insurance companies are bad for the country.Report

  4. Avatar Roger says:

    Dude, lots of questions.

    Let me respond with a link.


    In this article, George Reisman takes on the various fallacies relating to fairness and power inequality. In summary…

    “This case contains the fundamental principle that names the actual self-interest of buyers. That principle is that a buyer rationally desires to pay not the lowest price he can imagine, but the lowest price that is simultaneously too high for any other potential buyer of the good, who would otherwise obtain the good in his place.”

    The point is that power imbalance is a mistaken way to evaluate price and wage negotiations in a relatively free market with open entry and exit. The market rate is where supply meets demand. This is also the only fair rate, as any other rate requires coercion and exploitation of one party or another.

    Reisman answers your last three questions. I will answer your first.

    A minimally fair economic transaction is one which is voluntary on all involved parties. As the numbers of competitors and alternatives increases it becomes more and more fair. In other words fairness is a spectrum relating to mutually beneficial interactions with alternatives.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:


      The point is that power imbalance is a mistaken way to evaluate price and wage negotiations in a relatively free market with open entry and exit.

      Wow, an argument from simplistic first principles with no evidence or arguments from the real world. I’m convinced.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Why are you skeptical? Is the argument of supply and demand wrong, or is it just something that you wish was wrong?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Because I’ve seen examples of serious worker exploitation (of white-collar workers) in the real world, so I’m unimpressed by explanations of why they can’t possibly occur.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            You will need to define YOUR terms then. When have you seen a white collar worker in a competitive, voluntary market who did not make a mutually agreed upon salary ?

            My guess is that we are using totally different definitions of fairness and exploitation, or have totally different understanding of voluntary markets. Care to elaborate?Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              When did the goalposts shift from “no significant power imbalance” to “mutually agreed-upon salary”? Fine, I’ll stipulate the 13th Amendment.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I’ve already clarified that power imbalance is irrelevant. The price Walmart charges be has little or nothing to do with our power balance. It has to do with supply and demand. That was the case with every job offer I’ve made as well, and I’ve made countless such offers.

                If you have a coherent counter argument, please lay it out. Otherwise, you are just being snarky.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                You’ve said that the power balance is irrelevant, but I don’t know that you’ve shown it to be true.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Where does Reisman’s argument fail? What is the counter argument?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Just to clarify,

                The point is that in a relatively free market, workers are not competing with employers when they look for a job. Employers are competing with other employers for workers. Workers are competing with other workers. The same is true for buyers and sellers. I don’t compete with Walmart on the price I pay for an espresso machine, they compete with Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

                Wages, commissions and prices in a relatively open market are established by the point where supply meets demand. And I am still waiting for Mike’s explanation / definition of how this point can be considered either unfair or exploitative.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                When there is a severe imbalance in supply and demand and that point becomes such that it shocks the conscience. (and creates severe mismatch in power that itself leads to more exploitation. Because people are people)

                Now, I’ll grant you this is subjective, and there is a a different dynamic for short term vs long term imbalances and the proper role of govt to serve as a countervailing power in it each case (and the government’s own propensity for powerful to capture it to its own ends) and TANSTAAFL.

                But, as said, this is why we have a 13th Amendment.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “The point is that power imbalance is a mistaken way to evaluate price and wage negotiations in a relatively free market with open entry and exit.”

                I’m not going to criticize the assumption of ‘relatively free market’ – we don’t have one in a lot of cases, but we should.

                It’s the ‘open entry and exit’ that often trips things up and make the power imbalance dynamic supremely important. (i.e. if you’re sick you can’t ‘exit’ the health care market)

                (which is not to say that competition has a useful role to play in any and all markets – we need to eat too, and there are competitive markets in that industry)Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Thanks Kolohe

                Can someone explain to this admittedly dense libertarian what slavery has to do with free markets?

                Certainly I won’t argue that markets are free enough. I’ve routinely argued they should be much more free. On the issue of health insurance — one of the most unfree markets we have — I will add that it is theoretically easy to sell insurance to sick people and those whose houses are on fire. The difficulty is that the premium is higher than the payout, as such it is economically absurd to sell.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                “Can someone explain to this admittedly dense libertarian what slavery has to do with free markets?”

                Is this a serious query?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Because if the supply and demand curves were in fact freely allow to float, there would be some intersections for some set of individuals that would be at or below the zero level of the axis. And so the State (rightly) prohibits transactions at this intersection, which in turn distorts the curves, or rather, likely makes them undefined for that region of price. Hence, I am actually in favor of a (low but not entirely trivial) minimum wage – it prevents work that should not really be done, and slavery by any other name. (now as an aside there is a class issue – the State won’t allow low skilled workers of low socioeconomic status to work for less than x dollars an hour, but will allow low skilled workers of high socioeconomic status volunteer as unpaid interns in all sorts of enterprises.)

                Yes, it might kill jobs at the low end. But we need these restrictions on what contracts people are allowed to enter into, so that we can be more straightforward in enforcing all contracts – for instance, signing away 3-4 years of your life in the Army.

                What does this have to do with Agents and NFL players? Not much at all. They are far away from the intersections of the supply & demand curves I’m concerned about in my above comments. And in any case, are a tiny market – a few thousand individuals a year. Your line of I rather agree with in this specific case, but I do not generalize it to all cases.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                I will leave the arcana of economic theory to others, but just point out- again- that no evidence has ever been presented of the existance of a “free market”. Not currently, not ever in history.

                Moreover, I have never even seen a convincing scenario for such a thing existing.

                But aside from that, Reisman’s argument is pretty convincing.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Can’t reply til the AM, but thanks Kolohe, and yes I’m serious, Tod. I don’t see enslavement as a voluntary transaction, though Kolohe has offered food for thought. Why do you doubt my sincerity?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                Let me play back what I think you are saying… Below a certain point, wages for services rendered is “slavery by any other name.” You also mention that it is work that “should not really be done.”

                I certainly understand that some wage rates are so low that a person cannot live a good life on them. This is why we have safety nets in society for the unskilled, handicapped, special needs, etc. Minimum wages are, in my opinion, a cop out way to deal with this inconvenient fact. Instead of ponying up the resources to help the less fortunate, we attempt to make the issue go away by forcing the employer to pay more than the market rate. This tends of course to eliminate the job and thus leads to unskilled people who are now unemployed, who now need even more assistance, and who now are no longer producing anything of value and are no longer gaining experience or skills.

                In summary, I believe minimum wages are destructive ways to deal with the real problem, and that the employer is nothing like a slave master. The employer is actually doing more for the lower skilled worker than you or I. They are reciprocatively cooperating with the person. But I also think sweat shop employers are a force of good, so go figure.

                By the way, are you suggesting we should not allow people to voluntarily contract to join the military? What do you recommend?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                You misunderstand where I’m coming from when I brought up the military. I have confidence in contracts, and saying ‘a contract is a contract’ *because* the State has prohibited and voided contracts where the asymmetry of information is so great, where the supply and demand curves are so out of whack, where the power imbalance is so substantial as to make the contract itself an afront to morality. (I am using ‘contract’ in a broad sense here as just any agreement that may be either on-off or for a duration).Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Cool. Thanks for linking me to the discussion.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                It’s true throughout the white-collar world that people are highly discouraged from discussing their salaries. In some places, it’s actually a firing offense. Thus that during salary negotiations, one side knows precisely what both it’s paying for similar position and what similar candidates’ salary expectations are, and the other knows at most a small fraction of that. The result, almost everywhere I’ve ever worked, is that person A, who sits next to person B, and does more or less the same job, may be making a substantially different salary. This correlates at beat weakly with who’s a more valuable employee, since it’s set from the time of hiring (especially these days, where the weak labor market has made significant raises a thing of the past.).

                Now, should I believe this fact, or should I believe a “proof” that people are paid the marginal value of their labor?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Apropos, a story long-time Dodgers GM Buzzi Bavasi used to tell:

                One year I had signed Tommy Davis to a contract for $50,000. Ron Fairly was coming in to negotiate his contract, and I knew he was going to ask for far more than I felt he was worth. So I had a dummy contract drawn up. It showed that Tommy Davis would be paid $18,500. I put it on my desk, where it could be seen easily. When Fairly came into the office, I came up with an excuse to leave for a minute. I knew Fairly would peek at the dummy contract. When he saw that Davis would make only $18,500, he figured he could not ask for more money than a National League batting champion was getting. Fairly signed for $18,500.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Thanks Mike, these really help to get what you are speaking of. I can’t reply now, though… Must wait for the AM.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I had a conversation about this recently with a coworker. Another colleague let it be known that she was being paid differently for the same additional responsibility than others. My friend was debating approaching administration about this, but feared that she couldn’t bring up what the the third coworker had told her because of “confidentiality”. I tried to explain to her that confidentiality regarding salary was intended to protect the employee, not the employer. The employee was, or ought to be, free to discuss her salary how she sees fit; what is not appropriate is for the employer to make that information known against the employees wishes. Unfortunately, employers like to exploit this sense of privacy to manipulate their employees.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Long ago, I was working for a company that occasionally ran projects of their own, but more frequently hired its employees out to other companies. I was working in the latter capacity in Salt Lake City when a newly hired co-worker showed up. He had been out of work for a while and was happy to have the job, but he had an odd story. He’d been marketed to the client as an expert in X (something he’d never done before), so he’d spent the previous week at a class in X. That’s not the odd part: that’s pretty standard procedure 🙂 The odd part is that, after he’d accepted the job, they’d told him he wouldn’t be paid for that week.

                Now, obviously, if he’d been in a position to say “Fish you!” and leave, or at least “No, if I’m spending that week doing what you want, I’m getting paid”, he would have done so. But he wasn’t. Even if not paying him was technically illegal (not sure, and it probably depends on the state), he’s hardly able to hire a lawyer and make a fuss. So he agreed.

                Anyway, when he told me this story, I knew exactly what had happened. The branch manager saw an opportunity to make his branch a little more profitable, which at the end of the year would put money in his pocket. So I called corporate HR and said “Look, this branch is abusing their employees. We can’t have that.” At which point, you guessed it, both he and I were reprimanded for discussing compensation. Because, you know, that leads to hard feelings.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Mike and Kazzy,

                I think your examples are great at getting your point across. Thanks for illustrating the issue so well.

                This seems to be in the class of actions which are trying to separate demand elaticities and/or to obscure the transparency of the interaction. Other examples are how car companies and flea markets use negotiations (aka haggling) to differentiate savvy from naive buyers, how grocery stores use coupons to offer different prices for the same product, and how everyone on an airline is paying a vastly different price for their seat.

                Relating back to the FP post, the interesting thing is that the agents role is in part to act as a service in important negotiations to represent one party to offset this dynamic.

                In general, I agree that less transparency and less competition makes the negotiations less and less fair. To the extent these types of activities or shenanigans do so, I believe they are destructive. In other words I am to a large extent agreeing with you.

                Can I add two caveats though? One is that I am not sure all these activities are actually hurting the lower powered party CLASS on average. They tend more to separate or differentiate winners and losers within the class of employees or consumers. Some are paying less or getting more at the expense of their competition within their class..

                Second, relating to the first, I am not sure broad brushed regulations would be beneficial in addressing many of these issues. (not saying anyone suggested they would).Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I think there is a clear and important difference between employers punishing employees for discussing compensation and airlines or flea markets or super markets charging different prices. In the former, there is a quasi-coercive force limiting the knowledge and, thus, the power of the employees. “Educate yourself and we’ll fire you!” In the latter, folks are free to educate themselves and to use that information gained in their negotiations. Hell, there is a whole industry around education consumers… Orbitz or Kayak or the various coupon aggregation websites.

                There is nothing wrong with an employer paying folks different salaries based on their skill sets, experience, or the demand for their services. There is something wrong with an employer taking action or threatening to take action against employees who seek to educate themselves going into a negotiation, which the discussion of salary is.

                For the record, I’m not necessarily calling for any specific form of regulation. I’m just saying that information asymmetry can reach a point where a “voluntary” negotiation can become “unfair”.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                I agree. Information asymmetry can lead to unfair negotiations and this is a bad thing.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Can I add two caveats though? One is that I am not sure all these activities are actually hurting the lower powered party CLASS on average. They tend more to separate or differentiate winners and losers within the class of employees or consumers. Some are paying less or getting more at the expense of their competition within their class.

                Since employment is, as you’ve pointed out, a free transaction, each individual case involves non-negative consumer surplus and producer surplus. What information asymmetry does is increase one side’s surplus at the expense of the other’s.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Yeah, but it might be helping the higher paid worker at the expense of the lower paid.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    1) Ordinarily in the absence of a cap, who has the bargaining advantage in negotiating the fees? The player or the agent?
    Like said by others, it depends on the player. What point are they at in their career, and how much absolute value the agent thinks they are worth. (Similar to how higher net worth individuals typically have less brokerage and management fees on a percentage basis – except the greedy ones, of course)

    2) Would the answer to Qn 1) change if the cap were in place?
    The equilibrium would probably shift to the players somewhat. But large established agents and their companies would also have a advantage due to economies of scale and existing power networks – i.e. they would be in best position to extract maximum profit from a 3% cap.

    3) Supposing there is no cap and the fee level doesn’t change, does this mean that the agreement is fair?
    It means the market was already close to equilibrium, fair’s (like deserve’s) got nothing to do with it. (regulated markets can happen to be close to equilibrium conditions already, a fact too many libertarians routinely ignore. Conversely, though those markets closest to equilibrium already have the best case going for them for deregulation)

    4) Supposing still that there is no cap, but this time the fee increases, is the agreement fair?
    See 3

    5) Is the answer to Qn 4) dependent on how much the fee increases?
    Yeah a bit.

    6) Suppose that the cap is in place, but that the fee wouldn’t increase if the cap were to be removed, is the agreement fair?
    I ‘m not seeing the difference between this question and #3.

    7) Suppose that the cap is in place and that removing the cap will result in a higher fee being charged, is the agreement fair now with the cap still on?
    Ditto with this and #4

    8) How do you identify politically?
    American Glibertarian

    9) What is your opinion of NFL football players?
    They are overall underpaid for the amount of personal health risk they take upon themselves, and for their career longevity.

    10) What is your opinion of NFL football players’ agents?
    They actually more often than not get the best deal they can for their clients. I’m often surprised by the disconnect between some marketing deals and on-field performance. Individual football players are at an inherent disadvantage anyway compared to most athletes because you generally only see their faces when something has gone wrong.Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    When did the goalposts shift from “no significant power imbalance” to “mutually agreed-upon salary”? Fine, I’ll stipulate the 13th Amendment.Report

  7. Avatar Murali says:

    Thanks everyone for the responses so far. However, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t want your theoretically informed considered judgments. I want your instinctive gut response. It is okay if you think your initial gut response is problematic. I’m trying to get a rough feel of how people in general associate fairness and bargaining power differences.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      I will try to answer your question. My opinion on fairness is that an interaction is minimally fair if it is voluntary but it becomes more fair as the number of alternatives and the degree of competition between alternatives increases. The net effect is that people compete to cooperate with each other.

      Power imbalances could reduce fairness on any one interaction, competition can offset or even negate this.

      Answering your questions point blank… I constantly have fair interactions with more powerful entities. The reason they are fair is that the powerful entities (corporations) are competing with each other to cooperate with me. I wish I could get another class of powerful entity — government — to compete for my membership too. This would make government more fair.

      I am not exactly sure how this relates to Rawls original position. My take on it is that one way to view the veil is to take an impartial view of who you are and then select the society and institutions which will optimize long term outcomes of the median impartial person. Of course, the solution to this exercise doesn’t lead to anything like what Rawls suggested, as he downplays the effects of growing the pie, risk tolerance, free riders, and time horizons.

      In other words, like many classical liberals, I think Rawls asked a great question and just gave the wrong answer. The answer he gave is the one that would lead to all future generations cursing his name.Report

  8. Avatar BobbyC says:

    1) Player and agent both get to set their prices. NFL players / agents contracting is entirely voluntary, both have exactly the “bargaining advantage” equal to withholding themselves from the mkt for such contracts at a given price. Each has a monopoly on himself.

    2) Yes, with a cap both are restricted unfairly. The player cannot pay up to buy a better agent and a talented agent who would be able to create value above the cap must accept unfairly low pay or, more likely, leave this profession for one where his superior negotiating skill will be fully valued.

    3) If nothing was contracted above the cap in a fully free alternate world, then it would be good evidence that the theoretical harm done by the cap was irrelevant. So this turns into a moral philosophy question about fairness. For most, yes, it’s fair if it doesn’t harm either party.

    4) Nope.

    5) Nope.

    6) I tend to say, no, because it can only restrict the liberty of both parties, but from any consequentialist point of view, this response is nonsensical and the answer is trivially yes.

    7) Nope.

    8) Libertarian.

    9) They are athletes of varied quality as humans. Realist!

    10) Bloodsucking opportunist scumbags.Report

    • Avatar BobbyC says:

      Bonus questions!

      B1) An agreement is fair if both parties enter into it knowingly and willingly. One party being dumb doesn’t make it unfair. It being unequal doesn’t make it unfair. One party being tricked, defrauded or otherwise coerced would make it unfair. Saying “I didn’t feel like I had a choice” doesn’t make it unfair. Actually not having another choice makes it unfair.

      B2) Every voluntary agreement! Let’s say I buy any item at Wal-Mart. That’s a fair agreemnt with very unequal bargaining power. Wal-Mart won’t bargain with me, and has made that very credible by refusing to let their employees bargain, investing in a whole pricing system that precludes bargaining, etc. My only bargaining power is to walk away, which is the minimal power in any voluntary transaction. But it’s entirely fair when I go into a Wal-Mart and buy stuff!!

      B3) Wal-Mart – they sell 400bn stuff annually and set their prices based on profit maximization, refusing to bargain with any individual customers. Viewed as a class the customers actually have equal or greater power, but I don’t feel like a class when I go into Wal-Mart and offer 5% lower for milk and they tell me to take a hike!

      B4) Because it’s voluntary, non-coercive, and no one is committing anything close to fraud. There are huge information asymmetries, huge wealth disparities, huge differences in the ability to fund legal expenses, and in some cases the consumer cannot even leave the market (ie I have to obtain food somehow and I have little leverage in bargaining to get it from food retailers).Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Everything you wrote reads like something I wish I had written.

        Question. You start b1 by saying it is fair if it is entered into knowingly and willingly. But then you end by saying not having another choice makes it unfair. Even though it seems contradictory, my take on the issue is similar. That is why I say it is minimally fair if voluntary ( knowingly and willingly) but potentially MORE fair with choices and competing alternatives. I think fairness is a range, not a point. The benefit of competition and choice is that it promotes fairness.


        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          In what world do you guys live, in which the line between coercion and consent is so clear and easily drawn?Report

          • Avatar dhex says:

            when you use the word coercion it means something more like “choice someone feels forced into” whereas the meaning here is closer to “choice enforced by violence or the threat of violence”. i believe that’s the gulf at work.Report

            • Avatar BobbyC says:

              I don’t think it’s easily drawn – where did you (Liberty60) get that impression?

              If the standard for coercion is saying or feeling that one was coerced, then, yes, I need a new word along the lines of what dhex wrote. People say they were coerced all the time when what really has happened is that they wanted more and got the best that they could but aren’t happy about the outcome. Not getting your way is not the same as being coerced. For example, I don’t think I’ve been coerced into being an American, although the choice of not being an American would be a really costly one which is practically not an option for me.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                OK, so if the line between coercion and consent is blurry and hard to distinguish, then using “free choice” as a premise for a test of when it is appropriate to restrict rights seems to be unhelpful.

                Not wrong, just not very helpful.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                Well, we can say it various ways, but it should be clear from above that I would leave our right to contract largely unregulated.

                If you’re wondering how this would help make such distinctions in legislating, well it would radically change how much regulation we have. Basically fraud and assault are illegal. Things like setting minimum milk prices are not. Also, for the cases where a political movement argues that we should intervene in contracts to clarify where the line of coercion lies, the policy solution should be to clarify or correct the fraud or coercion, not to restrict the right to contract. For example, don’t make it illegal to sell a 64oz soft drink in Manhattan, but perhaps require that the size or calories be clearly disclosed prior to purchase.

                I find it helpful, even if I admit it is not the whole of the story.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I’m not following you Liberty.

                If an action is taken voluntarily and not under duress by a rational adult experiencing the feedback of his action, I think it is reasonable to assume they were not coerced…no? Certainly there are courts to debate the tough cases, but my guess is that 99.9 % of our actions are pretty clear and easy.

                By “restricting rights” are you referring to our suggestion that people should be allowed the right to enter a contract of sale or employment if it is voluntary? If so, I will repeat that I think the reason voluntary is a good rule of thumb is that the dynamic of the system leads not just to individual mutually beneficial decisions, but also to constructive competition. In other words it starts minimally fair and keeps getting fairer over time.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                It isn’t helpful, since for every example you can provide of a choice being made “voluntarily” I can point out why it is “coerced” and vice versa.

                Taxes are voluntary- since you freely chose to set up business in that jurisdiction.
                Taxes are coercive, since it is onerous to have to move just to avoid them.

                All rights are limited, and restricted in order to advance the outcome that society values; we all agree that limiting freedom is not preferred, but is preferable to a bad outcome.

                So rather than fixating on deciding “was this contract entered into voluntarily?” we focus on “does this sort of contract provide benefit to society as a whole?”Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I think you are sweeping away voluntary actions. How are my purchases of food, shelter and video games coerced? The first two may be necessary, but they are not coerced.

                Second, how are you determining social preferences except via voluntary choice? All you are doing is saying that the voluntary choices of democratic elected representatives and bureaucrats should take preference. But if everything voluntary is coerced, then how are their actions any better?

                And doesn’t your argument also lead you to deny all voluntary interactions? All market transactions? All votes? Is it just some voluntary transactions that you disagree with? How do you decide which are correct and how can you be sure you weren’t coerced into thinking so?Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Another pair of examples-

                “Citibank just raised my interest rate! Thats coercive!”
                No, you voluntarily chose to engage with them, knowing full well they reserved the power to do so. You are free to go elsewhere.

                “Mayor Bloomberg won’t let me sell a 64 oz. Squishy! Thats coercive!”
                No, you voluntarily chose to set up shop in NYC, knowing full well they reserved the power to do so. You are free to go elsewhere.

                This becomes a game, that can be played in forward or reverse, depending on what outcome we want to achieve. We can show that anything is voluntary or coerced just by challenging the underlying assumption.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                You are answering the question you wished I had asked, not the question I actually asked.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                I guess it was a poor idea to try and make the case for coercion; it might be better to work the other direction.

                Suppose I assert that every transaction that we can conceive of is purely voluntary, except for the one where someone is literally pointing a gun at you.

                Compliance with EPA regulations? Voluntary!
                The Obamacare individual mandate? Freely chosen!
                Paying taxes? Totally noncoercive!

                These things work because at some level on the decision tree, a free choice was made that lead inevitably to the decision point; no one forced you to enter into a business, etc.

                You can take any “coercive” choice and turn it into a “voluntary” choice just by stepping back far enough in the decision tree.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                No you can’t. You keep giving carefully chosen examples of government actions and then stating that this proves that all decisions are both voluntary and coerced. Please tell me how food, shelter, entertainment and so forth are coerced.

                The one exception is your Citibank example. There is no coercion here at all. Zero. They offer a different rate, and you either except it or not. The only way this is coercive is if you redefine coercive to mean necessary and assume there are no other alternatives and assume people have a right to some particular interest rate.

                Liberty, you are a smart guy and you take pride in this. You need to take on this question seriously. It is simply not true that EVERY action that is voluntary is also coerced.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                OK lets try it again;
                Give me an example of a coerced choice, and I will show that it is voluntary.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I again disagree. Once coercion enters the picture in terms of force, deception or threat of force any subsequent related choices are no longer voluntary. They are constrained by the coercion. Thus they are coercive.

                If a robber points a gun at me and says “wallet or your life ” the voluntary nature of the choice becomes irrelevant. If a slave owner says “work or I will whip you”, the choice is not voluntary, it is constrained by the coercion.

                I agree that when we get into the weeds on coercion, that you have to start defining what qualifies as coercive harm or not.

                Let me give a tougher example. Implicit in any voluntary employment contract is that failure to do the job will lead to the contract terminating or not renewing. This is commonly referred to as getting fired or laid off. That is not coercion. The contract is voluntary on both parts. If either chooses to discontinue it, it results in “quitting” or “firing”. Threatening to exercise this freedom “give me a raise or I will quit” is not coercion as we are defining it.

                On the other hand, “give me a raise or I will tell your wife you had an affair ” is probably something that courts would define as coercive.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Finish this work over the weekend, or we’ll find someone who will.
                When you’re at the point of 80+ hour workweeks, 15 minutes straight of being yelled at during meetings (actual yelling, not just cussed out)… I think you’re dealing with something that is coercive.

                Even if the only real problem is you’re too much a coward to quit.

                Welcome to the world of not-hypothetical anymore!Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Yep, that is real world.

                But you are redefining coercion to mean a decision I am freely making that leads to an outcome which I do not like.

                There is a key difference between “shitty choices” and coercion. Note I am not lobbying for “shitty choices.” I am stating that the cure for one is not the same as the cure for the other.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                reHiring you for half your pay after crashing the housing market so you’re underwater and can’t afford to move?
                Izzat coercive ta you? [obviously we’re moving back into hypothetical–I hope!]
                (what is your solution for shitty choices?)Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                You are demonstrating the point I want to make- namely, that any coerced decision can be argued as being voluntary, unless it is literally at the point of a gun.

                So in my examples above, your compliance with governmental regulations is voluntary, because you freely chose to engage with them in the first place.

                By defining coercion so narrowly, it becomes meaningless. Every decision we can imagine becomes voluntary.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Nope, another shitty choice. My advice on shitty choices is that those that depend upon them the most are the ones that will be hurt the most if we take the choices away. I would be vewy, vewy cautious before limiting voluntary, albeit shitty choices.

                If pushed out of my liberal comfort zone though, I would agree that some choices are so totally alien and distasteful to our standards that they should be eliminated. Here are two…

                Give me sex or you are fired!

                Sign here to become my slave for life!

                In general, I think we are better off allowing all but the absolute shittiest of choices, but am fine with a court defining those that go well beyond all standards of decency.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                No I am not. I am arguing that coercion is a different beast than “outcomes which I do not like”, and that we should not redefine the former to include the latter.

                I have done business for years with Citibank, and it has been voluntary and uncoerced. And this is true even though the terms of the contract specify penalties and such in breach.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                still a shitty choice? Gawd, how explicity do I need to make it? Any more a “company store” and “they’re deliberately making you poor to get you to accept less than your normal pay”…

                I wish those two coercions you cite were hypotheticals, and not things that have happened to people discussed on this board (on both sides).Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                In so narrow a definiton, coercion never exists, except at the point of a gun.
                So when we hear businesses complain about being coerced by the government, we will remind them that all transactions with the government are purely voluntary.

                I’m actually ok with that.
                But again- point waaaay upthread; if all decisions are voluntary, it is a meaningless measurement.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                I can imagine company store situations that would count as duress and thus would be considered exploitative.

                Actions can be wrong without being coercive. They can even be illegal without being coercive.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                Well thanks for the dialogue. Let’s continue this as we go along….Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 says:

              Coercion is always present in every choice, if only to a negligible degree.

              There are always negative consequences of some kind or another that affect our decision.

              So using “free choice” versus “coercion” as a binary toggle forces the entire universe of possibilities into two arbitrary sets.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I agree that virtually every action we take has positive and negative consequences. That is why I would never use coercion to describe a voluntary action made by a rational adult not under duress. A voluntary action is one we choose based upon our expectation of how to optimize the net result. I have to eat, but have never been coerced to eat. I have to find shelter in the winter, but have never been coerced to find shelter. I had to work when I was younger, but was never coerced to work.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          Not surprised that we see it the same way.

          I regard the whole set of what you call “minimally fair” up to the paradigmatic fairness of many choices and lots of competition as all Fair. I think the competing concept here is gains-from-trade – what many left-liberals are complaining about in my view is that the outcome has unequal gains to the two parties. So when one side has lots of options and the other doesn’t, they enter into an agreement which is Fair to me, and is unquestionably voluntary, but one side is getting a better deal, so left-liberals regard that as Unfair. In some cases, left-liberals also confuse whose preferences matter – so I create a company which sells the pet rock, charge $20/rock, and sell a million common rocks that cost me $400k for $20m. In my view, those rocks were worth more than $20m to the people that I sold them to at the time that I sold them. Most of the value disappeared shortly thereafter, as the depreciation on entertainment is about 100%! But my point is that the perspective that sees this as exploitation just doesn’t respect the actual values and choices of those consumers. They want to help them make better choices, ie choices that they regard as better. Having well-intentioned elites restrict my options in an effort to help me out is not my idea of freedom (although maybe it is for a Woodrow Wilson or FDR).

          Were I forced to argue against the libertarian view of voluntary exchange as fairness, I would try to elevate all manner of marketing, advertisements, and many product design choices to the category of fraud. Producers in a free market will allocate to making better products and stimulating artificial demand for their products until the marginal revenue from both activities are equal. On this view, govt should step in to punish efforts by producers to stimulate demand. I don’t buy this line because I think that one cannot differentiate between real and artificial ways of making consumers happy.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            ” …left-liberals are complaining… that the outcome has unequal gains to the two parties. … one side is getting a better deal…”

            I will add that this view also seems to imply that value is objective. That a third party is qualified to evaluate relative gains in utility. In general they are not. Utlity cannot be measured, but it can in practice be optimized by allowing supply to meet demand. Alternative methods tend to be inefficient, ineffective and intolerant.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              lol. in what world should we optimize for 99cent gas??? Lol, in what world should we optimize our nation’s economy for $3 gas???Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                Unfortunately not a laughing matter! Seriously, probably over half the American electorate thinks that corporations have all the bargaining power and conclude, wrongly, that they need to be regulated in order to stop them from abusing consumers.

                Anyone who understands how corporations plan and allocate capital will quickly see the truth of Mises’s claim that the consumer is king in a free market system. Democrats can investigate oil companies for alleged collusion every time the price of gasoline goes up, but they will keep coming up with nothing as they have for decades.Report

  9. Avatar BobbyC says:

    Mike Shilling – a line of questions for you. I’m closely aligned with Roger on this, but want to ask a separate question of you.

    1) Do you believe in an individual right to own property, ie the right to exclusive use of something as one’s own?

    2) If so, then what limitations should be put on that? Should there be any limitations beyond using one’s property in a way that harms others? Does an anti-social use of one’s property count as harm?

    3) If not, then why are you so hostile to employers offering what you regard as a crummy deal to their employees? It just amounts to using the property of the owners in an anti-social or dickish way.

    My point is that to hold the views you hold, it seems to me you have to either (1) not believe in individual property in a substantive way or (2) believe that an individual’s use of their property ought to be restricted beyond just preventing direct harm to others.

    I’ve seen you comment a few places about how classical liberal arguments are not empirical and generally suck. Against that, one can see much of human history as supporting the otherwise logical argument that without well-defined property rights, human societies underinvest and suffer. On this view, all human progress, both material and social, is underwritten by savings broadly defined – technology, population growth, capital goods and the rule of law are all a direct result of the savings of prior generations. You can look past my words and decide that such ideas are just apologia for class interests, but for true believers of the classic liberal tradition property rights matter because they are the essential ingredient to human progress, not for example because we are anti-social or unconcerned about justice.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    1) Do you believe in an individual right to own property, ie the right to exclusive use of something as one’s own?

    In general, but not as an absolute.

    2) If so, then what limitations should be put on that? Should there be any limitations beyond using one’s property in a way that harms others? Does an anti-social use of one’s property count as harm?

    I don’t believe, for instance in an absolute right to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy elections. I don’t consider taxation to be theft, or the progressive income tax to be immoral. I consider it the government’s job to recognize and deal with externalities, e..g pollution. I think that it’s been demonstrated repeatedly that the financial sector is stupid, greedy, and irresponsible, and that regulations to prevent their activities from harming the rest of us are entirely justified.

    3) If not, then why are you so hostile to employers offering what you regard as a crummy deal to their employees? It just amounts to using the property of the owners in an anti-social or dickish way.

    Well, I’m hostile to anti-social and dickish behavior in general.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      I agree with the hostility to anti social and dickish behavior. Just because it is legal does not make something good.Report

    • Avatar BobbyC says:

      Snarky: Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked if you prefer the politicians that buy votes with promises of my tax dollars rather than letting me use my tax dollars to speak loudly in favor of candidates who promise not to tax me as much. How that is a principled stance is beyond me.

      Less snarky: property rights are always anti-social in a certain sense. I really would be interested in whether you draw a different line than me/libertarians, or if you are just avoiding the conflict between property rights and regulations. If I go to a fancy dinner and eat a crazy expensive meal, employing dudes to make an elaborate meal for me, is that anti-social? Should I be allowed to do that? Should people be allowed to build massive houses for themselves? What if I want to construct an elaborate statue of myself in my front yard? My point is that most individual consumption, certainly at the level of an American std of living, can be presented as selfish and anti-social. I’m not talking about telling me that I cannot pollute the world or commit any other direct offense upon the freedom and property rights of others. The question is whether my exclusive use of property in socially unpopular ways, constitutes “harm” in a way that justifies restrictions on such uses.

      When you say you believe in property rights generally, but not absolutely, it seems to me that you are avoiding dealing with the line of questioning from me – there is a conflict between regulating my use of property beyond the principle of equal freedom and believing in property rights as a legitimate, socially acceptable institution. You can ignore the conflict, or only address clear cut examples where my use directly harms others, but the harder problem is still there, yet unaddressed.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        I’m genuinely curious as to the libertarian view on purpose.

        What is the purpose, the end goal of why we erect governmental structures that define and defend rights?

        Or do rights exist just as an end in themselves, regardless of their outcome?

        As the social conservatives would remind us, all rights are directed towards an outcome, that of defending the dignity and sacredness of the human soul.

        In the Constitution, the very first sentence lays it out pretty clear that the purpose of the document is to promote a more perfect union, domestic tranquility, general welfare, etc.

        This preamble appears to me to define “harm” much more broadly and “rights” more narrowly.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          The libertarians are arguing this over at the Bleeding Hearts website today. My answer is the instrumental or consequentialist one.

          “Rights” to me are not Platonic essences, they are useful social constructions that have poven themselves to support the flourishing of human beings. If property rights led consistently to bad outcomes, then property rights would be bad ideas.


        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Lib60, I awoke puzzling on this just today!—again, the purpose of government. Neither the American conservative nor American liberal [we shall leave “the left” in a separate box for now] see liberty as an end in itself, as good in itself. It must serve a purpose, a telos, which is often put as “human flourishing.”

          The llibertarian, I do not know. A friend sent me this and I intend to chew on it today. Perhaps a way out for Paul Ryan from under Ayn Rand’s leaky roof.


          Free Is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should Be Libertarians is definitely geared to make Catholics become libertarians, but England’s argument might also persuade a few libertarians to become Catholic. This is the third book England has written, and it shows. His style is very easy to read and maintains one’s interest, as he clearly explains what libertarianism is, as well as what libertarianism is not. He also makes the case for how libertarianism is perfectly in line with Catholicism. England separated his book into two parts, with part one focusing almost entirely on explaining why libertarianism is consistent with Christianity and part two further explaining how libertarianism relates to the rest of society.

          Simply put, England explains, libertarianism is about the non-aggression principle, which “prohibits the initiation of physical force (or the threat of force) against people or property. The use of force is only legitimate in defense of life or property.” This idea applies to both individuals and governments. That means that if something is wrong for an individual to do — robbery or murder as an example — then that is also wrong if a government does it. England points out that every “government relies on the kind of aggression that would be criminal if used by an individual — that is, the initiation of violence.” Sadly, in present times, we have become accustomed to government using aggressive force or the threat of force to achieve its goals. Libertarians, England states, reject “violence as a solution” and “embrace the goal of eliminating all authority that relies upon the initiation of force to accomplish its ends.”

          The supporters of state action on the Left and the Right would be quick to label such rhetoric as the ranting of an anarchist, which, in practice, would produce a lawless society. England addresses such criticism by arguing that order can be accomplished through voluntary, nonviolent means. England reminds readers that authority does not need to come only from an “aggressive government. There are other ways to secure agreement so that orders may be given and obedience expected. Authority based on reciprocity and trust is more powerful than that based on physical coercion.” One idea proposed later in the book is cooperative contractual agreements, which are based on private property rights. These cooperatives, many of which exist today, can take the place of the role presently handled by coercive governments.


          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            Except that Christian theology is suffused through and through with the concept of submission to a higher power, with the consequence of every choice being eternal bliss on on hand and eternal damnation on the other.

            Nope, no coercion there!Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Lib60, I’m not inclined to discuss this at hand grenade level. See Aquinas on Romans 13, which even opens the door to regicide.

              Further, in a democratic republic, we areCaesar, so the theological arguments would need reframing even if they had been phrased conscientiously.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                In order to follow Christ, one is required to place the good of the group (family, community, nation) ahead of their own interest.

                If libertarianism is cool with that, we are all good.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I am fine with that as long as they voluntarily agreed to become a Christian.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                The interests of one’s own family may be in conflict with those of the “nation.” Big “communitarian” problem here, and I think we’ve created more problems than we’ve solved with that particular formulation of Christianity.

                “By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

                This, we might call a “natural law.” It’s not nice to monkey with the natural law.

                [And besides, Jesus doesn’t attempt to equitably divide 5 loaves and 2 fish among 1000 people. That’s just stupid.]Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                The fish-loaves story always suggested to me that Jesus was a pro-growth sort of guy.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Totally off topic and totally inappropriate but when this…

                “The fish-loaves story always suggested to me that Jesus was a pro-growth sort of guy.”

                …showed up in “Gifts of Gab”, I read it as:

                “The fish-loaves story always suggested to me that Jesus was sort of gay.”

                I don’t know why. And that is obviously not what BobbyC said or meant. But that just tickled my fancy a bit and now I’m trying to read something into that story that is clearly absent.

                Sorry for my immaturity… :-pReport

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                I’m unlikely to slip into a burst of anti-gay slurs … it’s just not in me. Maybe anti-affirmative-action or anti-lazy or anti-religious, but I’m solidly pro-gay. I’m also a feminist, but the kind that thinks the first generation of feminists need to chill out and stop telling women that they have advance the cause via self-sacrificing careerism.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Oh, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you were. If you really did think Jesus was gay, I wouldn’t consider that insulting to either gays or to Jesus. I just thought it was funny how I read it at first glance.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Luke 9:14-17
                “But He said unto them, Give you them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; unless we should go and buy food for all this people.
                Then He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and expropriating them in the name of the people, He blessed, and broke, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
                And they did eat, from each according to his ability, and were each filled according to his need.”

                Its right there people, plain as day.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Ah, the Gospel According to St. Bastard.

                If one is to overturn the chessboard, it’s best to do it with flair. Props, sir. There was a point in here somewheres, oh yeah, property rights. I ran across the below passage this morning in the late historian Ronald Hamowy’s evisceration of a Garry Wills book that attempts to tie Jefferson to the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment without much of an understanding of either. [My favorite: “…he is passing off a confusion as a profundity.”]


                This tortured attempt to create differences where none exists is carried over to Wills’s treatment of Jefferson’s list of inalienable rights. Why, he asks, is “property,” central to the Lockean canon, excluded from the trinity? The answer to this question, we are told, lies in an analysis of Hutcheson’s philosophy, where “property, depending on agreement (compact) for its definition (its delimitation, or division), follows on society rather than precedes it.” Wills arrives at this conclusion because Hutcheson noted that men may alienate their property, that is, trade it, sell it, give it away, etc. Here Wills is the victim of a semantic muddle. Hutcheson did not hold that property is an “adventitious right” rather than a “natural right,” as Wills contends, but that the right to possess and to alienate specific property after it has come into private possession is adventitious, that is, arising out of “some human institution, compact, or action.” Hutcheson was eminently clear on this point. He stated that” all adventitious real rights arise from a translation of some of the original rights of property from one to another. “

                In his chapter on “natural rights,” which falls in the section of his System of Moral Philosophy dealing with the laws of nature “previous to civil government,” Hutcheson declared: “Each one has a natural right to the use of such things as are in their nature fitted for the common use of all; . . . and has a like right, by any innocent means, to acquire property in such goods as are fit for occupation and property, and have not been occupied by others. The natural desires of mankind, both of the selfish and social kind, shew this right.” Hutcheson defined “natural rights” as those rights that derive “from the constitution of nature itself without the intervention of any human contrivance, institution, compact, or deed.” Hutcheson so firmly rejected the notion that the right to property follows upon a compact, as Hume was later to maintain, that he took both Grotius and Pufendorf to task for advancing this view. When Wills writes that “Hutcheson recognized man’s right to the fruits of his labors, but he put this in terms of a paradoxically

                unalienable right to alienate one’s property,” he is passing off a confusion as a profundity. No one who holds that the right to property is inalienable, including Locke, would argue that one cannot alienate specific property. If Jefferson chose to substitute the broader “pursuit of happiness” for “property” in his list of inalienable rights, it certainly was not because he substituted Hutcheson’s notion of property for Locke’s. There are simply no significant differences between the two thinkers on the subject.

                The alienation of the right to specific property seems a different issue than the right to private property generally, then. A necessary distinction.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                I just read the article in depth, and was even impressed with his abortion arguments. Interesting stuff.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          I agree with Roger here as well … although I want to claim more … that the libertarian approach to government is better in fairly value-robust way … one should be libertarian whether you are hedonist, utilitarian, unphilosophical, religious, etc. I do respect some arguments against libertarianism, eg ararchism, radical environmentalism. And I understand, but do not respect, objections from people who are not pluralist in their worldview.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I gave a number of examples for you to agree or disagree with. If you’d like more:

        I don’t agree that corporations have the right to spend their money to influence elections, without some mechanism that demonstrates that that’s the desire of the owners, not just the management. Given the amount of stock that goes 401K contribution -> mutual fund -> company, that mechanism doesn’t come close to existing for Exxon or IBM. It was completely true for Citizens United, which is how I’d cut that baby in half.

        I don’t think an employer has the right to discriminate racially, religiously, or by gender, or to demand sex from his employees.

        I believe in a comprehensive safety net, which will have to be funded by other people’s money.

        As to the hard problem: yes, it’s hard. Lots of real-world problems are. Saying that the answer has to be all one side or all the other makes someone less serious, not more serious.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          Ok – so I’m hearing that there are plenty of examples where you are willing to restrict property rights, but you’d rather not think of yourself as not believing in property rights generally. Are you fine with lavish, excessive consumption by rich people? The caviar eating, non-working, jet set of trust fund babies for example – should we just take their money or figure out some way to tax their wealth or at least prevent them from directing the scare resources of the world towards their selfish ends? I’m not assuming that you go there, but you can appreciate that someone who draws the line at voluntary acts limited by equal freedom would wonder where it ends for you. I just don’t see where or how to draw the line once peaceful anti-social acts are restricted – which peaceful but unpopular acts are you willing to restrict and why?

          In case it’s unclear, I would let corporations spend unlimited money in campaigns – the corporations have rules and the stockholders elect the Board. I agree that stockholders suck at using their power, but it’s all quite voluntary – maybe we could tinker with some rules to make it harder for the managerial class to abuse those relationships (I’m with Icahn on that). What I find absurd is that the law of the land is that I can spend unlimited money in a campaign on myself or via a corporate entity, but not as an individual – that’s just absurd regardless of where one draws such lines.

          As for the safety net, one of the reforms I like that will unfortunately not see the light of day in the coming entitlement reform cum tax reform debate, is to replace the whole bureaucratic structure of the safety net with a minimum income administered by the federal govt – every American would get a monthly check for $1000 and then there is no Medicare, no Medicaid, no ADC, no food stamps, no anything at the federal level. Neither party will go for that, but I probably prefer that solution to any other attempt to have a publicly funded safety net.Report

        • Avatar BobbyC says:

          There are just so many questions raised by your non-absolute stance on property rights. Why on earth would you allow people to smoke? The evidence is pretty overwhelming that smoking is bad for everyone – bad for the smoker and society. Why allow it? You’ll prevent me from giving unlimited money to Gary Johnson, but you’ll let my cousin smoke a pack a day!!Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            There are just so many questions raised by your non-absolute stance on property rights.

            Or, to put it another way, so many closed off by absolutist views. That’s not a good thing. As for smoking, so long as it’s done where no one else has to breathe it, knock yourself out. Also being a rich waste of space. I wish Larry Ellison had one tenth of Bill Gates’s’ desire to do some good in the world, but if all he wants is bigger and fancier toys, c’est la vie.Report

            • Avatar BobbyC says:

              That response is intellectual evasion – I think you have a pretty good idea where I stand on property rights. You leave me with the impression that you like to say you believe in property rights, but then decide in a case-by-case way without principle. Is the principle your judgement about whether the particular use is good for society (eg discrimination bad, smoking okay)? Your answers on smoking and excessive personal consumption entertain some selfish, anti-social but legal behavior. I’m still not sure why I cannot buy a kidney or a blowjob or spend unlimited money on Gary Johnson ads, but perhaps you can enlighten me why those voluntary transactions and uses of my property are verbotten in Schilling-world.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                In my view, property rights exist but are not absolute and have to be weighed against other rights, values, and goods. I can’t, within this combox (or even outside it, probably) give a Complete Theory of Everything that will answer all questions. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’ll have to disappoint you.Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                I hear you. It’s not appealing to me philosophically or intellectually because I see the logical consequence of limiting property rights even when there is no direct harm to others as undermining savings and the foundations of prosperity. And, without citation, I view that as empirically well supported.

                One last salvo – isn’t it ridiculous that a rich man can throw a lavish party and waste money in frivolous consumption without attracting taxation, but that he cannot pass a set of investments in businesses, that is putting productive capital behind other people for the benefit of yet other people, to his heirs without facing a wealth tax??Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                So if a rich guy throws a party he doesn’t pay taxes on all the caviar, monkey brains and Dodo egg omelettes? I believe rich guys often find away around taxes but how to they buy stuff for this party without paying taxes?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Well, I get MY dodo eggs on the black market so…Report

              • Avatar BobbyC says:

                Do you mean sales tax? Sales tax is really small compared to the estate tax. My point is that our tax system allows rich people to push real resources into things like wine cultivation and making luxury watches without any more tax than when a person making 40k buy staple foods, but if the rich dude wants to pass his conveyor belt business to his daughter, then he has to pay the gift or estate tax. Ridiculous, no?Report

  11. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    The biggest disservice to the NFL playing public is that they are in a very high risk profession, and the balance of that risk is borne by individual players. This is (IMO) a failure of the union, really… more than the ownership.

    The agent-player relationship is complicated by the imbalance in information (as pointed out elsewhere on the thread). In the particular case of NFL, the information imbalance is far less about salary – since this information is largely public – and far more on the general risks and the possibly extraordinary rewards of being a football player. It’s pretty much a given that a rookie signing his first contract is (due to age) going to be developmentally likely to mortgage a lot of future value for present value. Again, this is kind of the fault of the union, really.Report

  12. Avatar Plinko says:

    I’m going to bite and kinda ignore the arguments in the comments above.

    1) Ordinarily in the absence of a cap, who has the bargaining advantage in negotiating the fees? The player or the agent?
    The player, because the player can always forgo an agent altogether. The player has far superior options to the agent who’s BATNA is to find a different line of work.

    2) Would the answer to Qn 1) change if the cap were in place?
    No, the relative positions shift a bit, but I’d still say the player does.

    3) Supposing there is no cap and the fee level doesn’t change, does this mean that the agreement is fair?
    I would find that to be strong indication that there is some kind of collusion going on (hint: I’m quite sure there is).

    4) Supposing still that there is no cap, but this time the fee increases, is the agreement fair?
    I dunno, it’s not like we suddenly created a free-market here. After all, the players and league are already in cahoots to severely limit the market with or without the agents. It also seems extraordinarily simplistic to assume the fees would rise – this assumes so much it makes it tough to engage. Most likely, fees would rise for some and lower for others, wouldn’t it? Maybe it would allow for more creative arrangements. Most likely, low-information players (i.e. rookies) would probably end up with bad deals, hence why the union has set caps.

    5) Is the answer to Qn 4) dependent on how much the fee increases?
    Given my answer, no.

    6) Suppose that the cap is in place, but that the fee wouldn’t increase if the cap were to be removed, is the agreement fair?
    Again, I am not sure how they would suddenly be fair or not fair since there are so many more moving parts to this we don’t know the answers to.

    7) Suppose that the cap is in place and that removing the cap will result in a higher fee being charged, is the agreement fair now with the cap still on?
    If it were unfair, wouldn’t the agents all go do something else?

    8) How do you identify politically?

    9) What is your opinion of NFL football players?
    They’re wealthy dudes.

    10) What is your opinion of NFL football players’ agents?Report