Monday, June 08, 2009

Mini Business Ethics & Freedom

Tibor R. Machan

In matters of ethics one is best equipped to understand when one is close up. Politics is different, as is law, although one reason for having courts is to hash out cases with all the details on view. Otherwise misjudgment lurks nearby.

A recent incident brings to light how business ethics bears on our day to day affairs and how it is really impossible to handle these the way so many people, especially politicians and bureaucrats, would like to, namely via government regulation.

Someone near me found a TV repairer on the Internet and set up an appointment, after trying to make sure the repairer knew a thing or two about the set in need of work. The repairer asked that he could come out on Sunday and it was agreed that that would work out fine. Between 11 AM and 1 PM was the window for the visit.

By noon it was evident that something went astray--the repairer got lost or met with some mishap. But once reached by phone it turned out he wasn’t lost or anything. He was just delayed for reasons the customer didn’t need to know. But he would be there by 2, latest. By 3:30 PM another call went out but only a voicemail system answered it. The customer indicated some irritation with having to wait so long without being informed as to the new time or the cause of the delay. At 5 PM the repairer finally called saying the deal is off, he will not be there to fix the set, period.

Now there is and should be nothing illegal about what the repairer did, anymore than there is or ought to be anything illegal when people fail to keep their promises. Still, failing to keep a promise can be quite costly and in this case the cost was that the customer had to just sit and wait and wait while a lot else could have been done, errands taken care of, etc., instead.

Now with thousand of this kind of malpractice quite a lot of losses could be chalked up, not to mention the irritation. So the temptation often arise to bring in some kind of law enforcement.

But the customer here was, in effect, asking for the mess since there was no reason to just accept the repairer’s word in the first place. And even if that was all that was convenient, there is still some kind of recourse through an outfit such as the Better Business Bureau. So, clearly, brining in any kind of legal authority would be (a) unjustified and (b) impractical.

There are zillions of these minor mishaps in commerce, often easily seen as the fault of one or another party to a verbal deal. And that is to be expected, after all, in multilayered commercial relations, where tripping up is possible on so many fronts. Nor is this the case only with commerce! The way to cope here, however, isn’t to empower government officials, who are themselves just as capable and even more likely to misbehave as are the parties to all the deals that are mismanaged.

The customer in the above case cut the losses and went on to get service elsewhere. And that is just what these minor or even major business ethics infractions need, not some bureaucracy that is teaming with busy bodies who pretend that they can rectify matters in these kinds of instances and even far worse ones, despite being way removed from the cases and needing to pay attention to their own problems. (This is the gist of what James Buchanan’s and Gordon Tullock’s public choice theory teaches!)

Sometimes those who defend the free market--or freedom in general--overstate the promise of these, as if perfection would always emerge from free men and women going about their affairs without government intervention and regulation. That promise is unjustified and is due mainly to the fact that many economists who support free markets do not believe in objective values, in anyone being able to tell right from wrong, good from bad. It’s all subjective, they believe. And then, of course, nothing wrong can happen so long as people act freely and interact voluntarily. But this is a very mistaken idea.

Freedom does not promise perfection by a long shot. But those who insist on perfection are themselves being irrational and fail to realize that bringing in governments just makes things worse, in the main. That’s because governments use coercive force from which human affairs very, very rarely benefit!

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