Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

In Response to Values

Posted by Jerry on February 6, 2008

I sometimes get the desire to spend money on apparently cheap items only so that the people selling them to me continue to remain in business. Many times, I consciously feel the urge to buy something from a streetside vendor so that I can prolong his sense of hope and trust in the virtue of trade and production—particularly because I realize the sharp necessity of this hope in the face of what surrounds such people in India: abject poverty, beggars, homeless wanderers, alcoholics, marauders, looters, unscrupulous police officers, cheats, robbers, thugs, etc.

The other day, I was eating a vegetable sandwich at a roadside foodstall. In the short time that it took me to eat my sandwich, three different individuals–perhaps thugs, goons, or police officers in plain clothes–came up to the sandwich vendor at separate times: all three of these men didn’t say a word; they just came up to the stall and looked at the vendor knowingly. Then all three of them left with money that the vendor had given them. After the last of them had gone, the vendor just looked down at his table and muttered in Hindi: “Everyone wants money; if they take all my money away, what will I have left?”

I was shocked and disgusted by what had just happened! I knew that the vendor had just been extorted of money for the “privilege” of setting up his stall and running his food business on that street. Typically, such vendors have to pay not just the police officers patrolling the street but every other thug who has laid claim on a stretch of land only by the virtue of force for the privilege of being productive.

After I had finished eating, I paid the money I owed the man for my sandwich, and then gave him an extra 10 Rupees. It is a very small amount of money–both to him and to me; it was not intended for him to use it to survive the night or some such thing. I gave him the extra money to convey a sense of hope–my hope that he chooses to continue his business and be productive, instead of quitting and joining the thugs, or becoming a leech, or giving up on life entirely and stagnating.

I offered my money in response to his struggle to attain values and live life. I was proud of it.

Advertisements

17 Responses to “In Response to Values”

  1. Monica said

    That’s a wonderful action in the face of such thuggery and injustice. Man, I complain about the United States a lot. But after reading this, I feel so lucky to live there.

  2. I feel sorry for that man, too. It is horrendous that anyone, high or low, has to suffer extortion from thugs when he is trying to earn a living. The extortion your street vendor suffers is no different, except in magnitude, from the extortion a wealthy businessman suffers when he has to bribe the local politician, except that the streetside vendor may starve if he cannot make enough money.

    If only there were a way to take money out of the corrupt policeman or street thug’s pocket instead of your own, then justice would be perfect.

    India, like the rest of the world, sorely needs Ragnar Danneskjold.

  3. Tim R said

    Nice post Ergo

  4. Ergo said

    Galileo,

    Nice comment; thanks for drawing out the perfect parallel between the plight of the street vendor and rich businessmen who have to bribe politicians and local goons to the tune of millions.

    I love Ragnar Danneskjold. In fact, just the other night, I was re-reading the conversation between Ragnar and Hank when they first meet on the deserted street. The essence of the Objectivist theory of justice is brilliantly encapsulated in that brief conversation. Ragnar is a looting pirate to the crumbling and corrupt world of Atlas Shrugged, but in a free society, he would be regarded as a police officer in the best sense of the word.

  5. Priyank said

    Corruption in any form is a crime – regardless of who the victims are, rich or poor. The food stall owner or the rich businessman would probably have to pay more to get things done legally. So, maybe this option is better for them? Remember that bribing – both receiving and paying – is illegal. If his operating costs (that includes bribes) increase, then he’ll raise the price of his sandwich (and all sellers around him will be equally affected). At the end, we (consumers) will pay more.

    The complexity doesnt end here. Are we encouraging illegal hawking? Can the policemen afford to live on the Rs. 60k they are paid per year? It’s all a web and simply raising one node won’t help.

    I do understand your gesture of paying him more. I did that once and was not sure if that was the right decision.

  6. evanescent said

    Really nice article, Ergo. Well said and well done – good man.

  7. Ergo said

    Priyank,

    Bribing becomes a crime only in a perverse twist of legitimate trade, wherein one or both parties have no value to offer, but only force. In general, I don’t accept that offering money in exchange for a favor a crime. It’s only when force is involved that this transaction (you can call it a demand for bribe money or you can call it blackmail) becomes criminal.

    The vendor did not offer the money as a plea in exchange for any favors. The money offered by the vendor was at the point of force–intimidation–by thugs or perhaps the police. This is what makes the situation outrageous and criminal.

    I reject any notion of “illegal hawking”. To accept such a notion would be to implicitly legitimize the role of government in owning public property, i.e., roads and streets. Illegal hawking would only be sensible if all land–roads, streets, etc.–were privately owned and then encroached upon by street vendors. So, given our context of reality in India, I do not recognize illegal hawking, and the vendor was legitimately running his business on “public property”. (Now don’t ask me who “public” is and who owns the property; that is for the Indian government to answer. It is their reality that we are working under.)

    It is not any other businessmen or private citizen’s business to worry about whether or not police officers can live on Rs. 60K. Just as it is not my worry whether or not you can survive within your current wages. By that token, you could argue that the actions of poor thieves are excusable because “can a poor man really live on Rs. 2K?”

    Rights are an absolute; and as such, they are *inviolable*! It doesn’t matter who’s doing the violation–the police officer who earns 60k, the multi-millionaire who threatens his competitors with force, or the petty theif–they are all criminals.

    It’s really not that complicated, Priyank. If you think in principles, matters become clearer. This is not to say that matters are *easy* to grasp and principles are *easy* to apply. No; it is incredibly difficult to think consistently and in principles and then apply it to concrete situations: but it is the *only* sure way to smooth out all these “creases” that distort your perception of reality.

  8. Charl said

    That’s really beautiful, Ergs.:)

    PS: (Sorry to ruin the moment, but I can’t resist) I can scarcely believe you were eating white bread!:P

  9. Ergo said

    Hehee. Actually, I make it a point to remove the slices of bread, potatoes, and the beet from the sandwich. The rest of the veggies (which is basically only tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions) give me the carbs I need before my workouts.

    In fact, noticing all the stuff I was leaving behind on my plate, the sandwich vendor has even asked me if there was something wrong in the way he made it. And I said, no no, it’s just the way I like to eat them. He seemed really confused. 🙂

  10. Priyank said

    Ergo, thanks. That really puts matters in perspective.

  11. Moris said

    Ergo,

    You the man, hats off, It just shows, no matter what happens, people like you with great heart will make the day of someone somewhere.

    Its all the play of Maya, there was no evil in what you saw, its just the play of her.

    I know you don’t agree with Maya, advaita philosophy, but it is ok, what you did was soo beautiful..

  12. Akhil said

    Jerry,

    I kind of disagree on roads being private property in principle. I believe free markets function properly only when there is choice. In the case of roads and lanes within a city, a person does not have much choice in choosing a selection of roads to reach from one point to another point. A road has to be used by people not only living in the surroundings but almost by people of an entire city. So here a person does not have much choice unlike say in choosing a restaurant, school, hospital, etc. So if roads are to become private property, one is going to be at the mercy of the owners of each and every road. There is also the question of price discovery and estimating cash flows from a road or lane of a city. Are you going to collect tolls at every road and thereby make commuting cumbersome and long-drawn? Well, for long stretches of roads like highways and bridges, one can open it to private ownership based on a pre-determined revenue formula in terms of annuities or share in collection of toll, like it is being done currently. But to extend it to every nook and corner would be not be rational. That’s why I think roads and lanes of a city should be public property in principle, which should just be for the purpose of commuting. In this context, I think illegal hawking on the roads is absolutely a nuisance. The traffic on Linking Road, Bandra is really irksome because of the organized illegal garment and accessories stalls which have occupied almost half the road. Then you have zillion people milling about these stalls and their parked cars in front of these stalls which further slows down traffic. It’s a nightmare. If everyone is free to do whatever he wants on the roads, there’s going to be absolute anarchy.

    I really appreciate your gesture in the context of a poor guy, devoid of education and being born into poverty, trying to make a honest living in the face of widespread poverty, thuggery, cheating, etc and the general lack of ethics that exists in the Indian society. Given the abject situation the poorer sections of Indian society are in, and also that many of them who make a meager but honest living can probably only afford the cheap food that illegal hawking offers, maybe concessions can be made for limited individual hawking for food items, though I have to say I’m not sure of this because in matters of principle one will not be consistent. But organized illegal hawking, the sort that exists in Bandra is an absolute nuisance.

    akhil

    PS: Damn you really are strictly following a diet. Removed the slices of bread!!! 🙂

  13. Ergo said

    Akhil,

    I’ll perhaps write a substantive response to you later in the form of a post (or just talk to you in person). But for now, let me point out that the terrible state of “Linking Road” traffic that you decry is precisely the result of the status quo you are defending. Bandra does not have privately owned roads. What you are complaining about is the same thing you are defending as well.

    Note that a free market society is *not* an anarchic society with no laws and rules. In fact, I envision a free society to have more stricter adherence to laws and rules because the laws will be objective and not arbitrary, and the authorities and resources will be committed to a much greater degree to the enforcement of such laws.

    Further, to say that one will be at the mercy of someone else’s property if roads were privatized is akin to saying that we are at the mercy of the doctors to provide us with medical services, at the mercy of silk manufacturers to produce the silk clothes we like to wear, at the mercy of motor engine inventors and manufacturers to produce the vehicles we need, at the mercy of those who own services, products, and property that the rest of us use and need on a daily basis! But that’s precisely the function of the free market: division of labor and efficient allocation of resources in an organic, self-monitoring, self-adaptive, self-regulatory manner!

    This should suffice for now. The principle is absolute: all property should be private.

  14. Orville said

    It is so sad that the vendor was basically robbed by the police officer and the two other people. The vendor is trying to make it, trying to make a living. It is really nice that you did something altruistic.

  15. Dexter said

    Akhil/Jerry,

    Private ownership of roads, streets, and highways at first seems absurd. However, they should be privately owned as all property should be private in a free market. Below I’ve attempted to explain how private ownership of roads is possible. Akhil, let’s take for example SV road. When the road was being planned by a private road builder, the road builder would have to buy those parts of privately owned land which fell under the road plan. If a land owner chose to not sell that part of the land, the builder could chalk out an agreement with the owner, wherein the owner would still own the land but receive regular payment from the builder for the use of his land. If this also failed, the builder would have to simply alter his original road plan.

    Now, on the question of return on investment for the builder: if vehicle owners wish to use the road, they have to pay a certain fee as set by the builder. I don’t have the perfect framework for fee collection but I was thinking of this. There are so many roads and all vehicles don’t always ply on a fixed route. So having a toll for each road would not make business sense because it would restrict the smooth flow of vehicles, translating into poor customer service. I was thinking that all road builders could form a collective body or association and vehicle owners would pay this association a fee as set by the body. In effect, by this payment, vehicles could be driven along any of the roads owned by members of the association. In addition, road owners could also earn revenues through advertisements (street billboards etc.) and by giving licenses, if they wish to, street vendors. Now it would be in the interest of road owners to become a part of this association because, if a road owner wishes to be independent, he would have to collect a toll, thereby causing inconvenience to drivers. This is turn would discourage drivers from using that road. Consequently, revenues for that road would decrease in terms of ad agencies wanting to display ads and street vendors wanting to put up stalls. Also, because of less use of that road, businesses and constructors would be discouraged to set up offices and buildings respectively in the area surrounding that road. Consequently, we would have lesser vehicles wanting to use that road. In such a scenario, the independent road builder does not stand to benefit from any angle and it just makes business sense to join the association.

    However, one could argue that a powerful builder who owns important roads (for example SV road) may choose to not join the association and collect its own revenues by means of exorbitant tolls. Now, this builder is free to do such a thing. However, if you really think about it, this would not be in the interest of the road builder in the long term. Because in a free market, and over time, there will always emerge a competitor who would build an alternative road with a competitive fee or that competitor would join the association.

    Now some roads would have heavy traffic, while some wouldn’t. The association could thus have a mutual agreement with regard to the allocation of the total fees (collected by vehicle owners across the city) among the various road builders (owners). About the question of overall city-wide road planning, I’m sure a free market would tackle that problem far more effectively than the government has, because historically and evidently, a free market is self-correcting, efficient, and would take into account future scenarios (such as anticipated widening of roads due to increase in vehicles) far more better than centralized planning would due to the nature of the free market.

  16. Ergo said

    Dex,

    I had intended to draft a separate post on this topic, but you’ve covered the issue well enough. However, let me add a few points:

    When we think of privatizing roads, the scenario is so far removed from anything we have witnessed in real life that we respond–almost instinctively–with concern… of uncertainty, anarchy, and unpredictability. Our inability to imagine the operations of a free society is not inhibited our by level of intelligence but by the strictures of thought that we–and the current philosophical system–have placed upon our minds; the concept of the government is so entrenched in our socio-political thinking that life without government produces a mental blank-out.

    This is a good test of whether you hold your philosophy as a body of abstract, rationalistic principles or as a properly integrated system that you use in daily living, and which you can readily apply to concrete situations.

    The effort required is much like shrugging off theism and stepping into a world without a god, which appears at first to be daunting, anarchic, amoral, uncertain, and even barbaric.

    1) We just have to think about analogous situations that most closely resembles the operations of a free market; I submit that in a free society most people will not have to pay for practically *any* use of the roads. As analogous situations, think of your use of the Internet and the radio. The vast resources of the Internet are available to most of us for free. The Internet operates in such a way that there’s not only an abundance of voluntary content generators but also massive revenue generators: the revenue is generated by amazingly innovative methods that would be simply impossible were the Internet to be a government-regulated operation. The people who invest and wish to make money from the Internet are making their profits (provided they have been sensible in how they went about it), and those who simply wish to derive the benefits of using the Internet are doing it for FREE (like myself. :)) And note that the Internet is a GLOBALLY free phenomena, at least in all the places where governments have not been foolish enough to interfere.

    2) The radio is another similar example. Most of us do not pay for radio, and yet we derive the pleasurable and important benefits of it. Radio frequencies were only recently privatized in India; if our broadcast TV frequencies were also privatized likewise, then–as in America–we would even be enjoying high-quality broadcast programming for free on TV (however, since this is not the case, we have rampant cable thievery instead).

    3) Who pays for all this? To a communist or socialist, it seems incomprehensible that such awesome benefits on the radio, television, and the Internet is being offered for free; to that kind of mindset, the limitation is not necessarily a low level of intelligence, but the accepted premise that man should not (indeed, cannot) be free to devise his own ways and means of living, trading, producing, and pursuing happiness.
    =============

    [UPDATE: There’s more to the comment above, and I have moved it to its own separate post. Comments on this topic should be posted under the new post’s thread.]

  17. […] Comments Ergo on Being Gay in IndiaErgo on In Response to ValuesTeddy D on Medical Ethics and Moral DilemmasDexter on In Response to ValuesOrville on […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: