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Author Archives: Matt Zwolinski
Over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, we are in the middle of a symposium on Michael Huemer’s new book, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.
Huemer’s book has two main philosophical aims: to refute the main philosophical arguments for the political authority and legitimacy of government, and to construct a defense of political anarchism.
An introduction to the symposium, with an index to contributions as they go up, can be found here. The first contribution, from Kevin Vallier, is here, and the second, from Christopher Morris, is here. The symposium will run through the end of the next week, with future contributions from Bas van der Vossen, Massimo Renzo, and a response from Michael Huemer.
The Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog is hosting a symposium on John Tomasi’s newest book, Free Market Fairness. The symposium begins today, June 11th, and runs through next Monday, June 18th.
The schedule for the symposium is below. Please see the introduction page here for more information.
Tuesday: Elizabeth Anderson – “Recharting the Map of Social and Political Theory: Where is Government? Where is Conservatism?”
Wednesday: Will Wilkinson – “Market Democracy and Dirty Ideal Theory”
Over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, we’re running a symposium this week on the topic of “Libertarianism and Land,” featuring essays by Eric Mack, Hillel Steiner, Fred Foldvary, Kevin Carson, and David Schmidtz.
The first essay went up this morning: “Natural Rights and Natural Stuff,” by Eric Mack. The other essays will go up one per morning for the rest of the week.
Hello Public Reasoners,Simon has graciously given me permission to use my posting privileges here to tell you about a new group blog that I’ve started, along with Jason Brennan, Andrew J. Cohen, Jacob Levy, Daniel Shapiro, and James S. Taylor. It’s called “Bleeding Heart Libertarians.” It is, in the words I used in our inaugural post, a blog that is meant to serve as a “forum for academic philosophers who are attracted both to libertarianism and to ideals of social or distributive justice.” If that’s of interest to you, you might want to check it out.
PBS‘ Frontline this week aired an interesting episode on the credit card industry, which began with a discussion of some of the controversial practices initiated by Providian and soon adopted by the bulk of its competitors. I think the episode raises some interesting philosophical questions about the nature and moral force (to borrow Alan Wertheimer‘s term) of exploitation.
For instance, one of the practices Providian is said to have developed involved substituting what they called “stealth pricing” for explicit annual fees. Instead of charging all its customers a flat fee of, say, $50 per year, Providian offered cards with zero annual fee but with steep penalties for late payments, going over your credit limit, etc. To many customers, Providian’s cards thus appeared to be free. But Providian knew that many of its customers – especially the low-income, high credit-risk customers it was targeting – would wind up paying much more in penalties than they would have with a flat annual fee, even if most customers (wrongly) believed the opposite to be true.
So, at least at first glance, it looks like Providian was exploiting several kinds of vulnerability on the part of these customers. First, the customers were vulnerable insofar as they were likely to do the things that would incur penalties. And secondly, they were vulnerable insofar as they tended to underestimate the extent to which they would do this, and hence underestimate the true cost of the cards Providian was offering. Providian took advantage of these vulnerabilities to enhance its own profit (which, at its peak according to the documentary, were around $1 billion per year).
Is this a case of wrongful exploitation? It might be, but the story raises a few questions in my mind.
Though I’m a political philosopher, Marxism/Socialism is not my area of expertise. Still, I was surprised when, while teaching an essay by Kai Nielsen the other day, I discovered that I really don’t know what a means of production is supposed to be.
The claim that the means of production ought to be owned publicly, rather than privately, seems to be one of if not the defining characteristics of socialism. So it seems pretty important to be clear on what it refers to.
On the most natural reading, a “means of production” would be anything that’s used to produce. But that seems very, very broad. Sure, factories are means of production, but so are muffin trays. So is my brain, and my muscles.