Thursday, November 3, 2011

Freeloading: What We Give for Free

The big problem for humans as social animals is the question of free ridership.  For nothing destroys social cohesion like freeloaders.

We have seen how human societies deal with freeloading: through government force, through the notion of divine justice in religion, and through the free choice in economic relationships.

In fact though, society actually encourages the freeloading of people who aren't doing well.  We have a variety of ways of talking about this: helping the less fortunate, feeding the hungry, reaching out to the poor.  There is clearly a suspension of judgment.  Never mind how the poor got to be poor, let's just help.  Judgment, if any, is on those expected to help.  It is considered a moral failing not to help.   Judgement is not canceled; it is merely suspended.  It reappears as soon as we start to differentiate between the deserving and the undeserving poor, as George Bernard Shaw did so cunningly in Pygmalion.

In the abstract, we all sit around and wonder why we all can't just get along.  Noam Chomsky, famous leftist, told the Occupy Boston folks that they should "Occupy the Future."  Said he:
The Occupy outposts are trying to create cooperative communities that just might be the basis for the kinds of lasting organizations necessary to overcome the barriers ahead and the backlash that’s already coming.
The thing is, Noam, that everyone is in favor of cooperative communities.  That is what "human society" means.  The problem comes in the next moment.  For instance, your cooperative communities seem to be having a real problem with crime and pilfering.  Not to mention sexual assault.  According to reports the Occupy folks are investigating and dealing with these problems on their own without referring them to the police.

Earth to Noam.  When communities deal with crime without the police it is called vigilantism.

The whole idea is that government has a monopoly on force.  If someone has broken the peace, by sexual assault or by theft, then the peace forces are the only chaps supposed to deal with it.  It's called due process.  Law enforcement without the government leads to lynching.  And so on.

In other words, the newly created "cooperative communities" are already having to deal with the free-rider problem.  And one of the ways of dealing with freeloading is with force.  When force is needed you call in the government.

Years ago, a communications engineer told me that when a electronic communication works, that is a non-problem.  The whole point of communications protocols is to deal with cases where communication has failed.  The same is true of human society, or "cooperative communities."  What do you do when things go wrong?

One way that things can go wrong is that someone commits a sexual assault on another person.  WHen that happens you call in the police.

Another way that things can go wrong is when Democrat banker Jon Corzine bets the firm on Eurobond default and bankrupts the firm MF Global.  What do you do then?  Call in the government's bankruptcy court.

As soon as things start to go wrong, then the question of being free to do what you want and collaborate in communities any way you want comes into question.

Now it is obvious that the Occupy folks don't want to have government getting in the middle of their community affairs.  That's natural.  We capitalists don't like the government getting in the middle of our capitalist acts between consenting adults either.

But at some point, the freeloading has to stop.  We give freely to others.  Up to a point.

The point at which the freeloading has to stop is what we are all arguing about.  It is called politics.

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