jason.sorens's blog

Comparative Advantage for Economy and Career

haitian garment workers

This post originally appeared at e3ne.org.

All wealth comes from production and exchange: making and trading goods and services. The two are closely related: the more you trade, the more you’re able to produce. How does that work? Through the magic of specialization.

When you trade, you’re able to specialize in your comparative advantage, that is, what you can do relatively cheaply compared to everyone else. If you didn’t trade, you’d have to make everything yourself: clothes, food, shelter, transportation, health care, etc. You’d be very, very poor. By trading with other people, you can focus on doing one narrow thing really, really well, earning money, and trading that money away for other goods and services that other people focus on doing really, really well.

Why Paternalism Is Undesirable

John Stuart Mill

Paternalism means forcing someone to do something, or not to do something, for that person's own good. For instance, a vigilante paternalist might go around slapping cigarettes out of people's hands. The government often engages in paternalism to deny adults the right to possess substances in their own home, to forbid "immoral" exchanges, or to prevent people from making their own decisions about health care, education, or other services.

The famous essay by John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, argues that paternalism is wrong. A person’s own good is not a good enough justification for using force to restrain or punish that person – at least, so long as we’re talking about sane adults. Instead, Mill proposes the “Harm Principle” to regulate the use of coercion, even by the government. The government should get involved in regulating people’s behavior only when that behavior causes “harm to others.”

Is Doing Good for Others an Enforceable Moral Duty?

Theory of Moral Sentiments

Let's assume that we have a moral duty to help others from time to time, at least when it is not too costly for us to do so. That's what I really believe. Now, is such a moral duty enforceable? Is it OK to use coercion to make someone do good for others? Not usually, I believe. And Adam Smith's moral theory tells us why.

According to Smith, you know an act is right when an impartial spectator would sympathize (or empathize) with the emotions motivating your act. Smith says that an impartial spectator will always empathize with both the kindness of someone who acts to benefit others and with the gratitude of the recipients of that kindness. So, as Smith sees it, acts of beneficence are always right.

A simple example is that of a friend who usually brings you coffee in the morning. If he fails to bring you coffee one morning, are you justified in resenting him? Has he acted immorally?

There is a clear answer here using Smith’s logic. An impartial spectator wouldn’t empathize with your resentment against someone who merely failed to be generous one morning. And an impartial spectator would never want to force someone to be kind.

The Statement of Intent Isn't a Promise

Why doesn't every libertarian sign up for the Free State Project? For some, deep local connections to family or friends make it difficult or undesirable to move, and I don't wish to see them uprooted: society trumps politics every time. But for many, the issue is being unable to promise confidently to move to New Hampshire within six or seven years. This short essay is for these people.

The Free State Project's Statement of Intent isn't a promise. It begins, "I hereby state my solemn intent to move to the state of New Hampshire." What does "solemn intent" mean? Let's look at the word "intent" first.

In normal usage, "intend" and "intent" convey something weaker than a promise. "I intended to go, but something came up." Here, the speaker isn't admitting to breaking a promise; instead, he's simply noting that he meant to pursue a particular course of action, but unforeseen circumstances changed his mind. When you intend to do something, you admit it might not be possible, but you think it will be.

Press Release: Libertarian Author Vin Suprynowicz signs up for the Free State Project

Photo of Vin Suprynowicz

October 17, 2002 – The Free State Project recently gained a new member, noted libertarian author and speaker Vin Suprynowicz. While speaking at the New Hampshire Libertarian Party convention, Mr. Suprynowicz announced his intention to sign up for the project, and inspired others to do so with his statement that he would be happy to "cross state lines to preserve liberty, when our founding fathers were willing to die to do the same."

The Free State Project is a growing movement with the aim of obtaining signatures from 20,000 people who commit to move to a single, low-population state of the U.S. and work to institute political reforms there. Since the FSP's founding in September 2001, over 1500 people - including Mr. Suprynowicz - have decided that this route represents the most viable strategy toward the creation of a free society, and have signed up as participants. For more information about the Free State Project, please see the website, freestateproject.org.

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