Why Liberty of Contract Matters

UPDATED 10/19/15

I wrote this four years ago “In Defense of Wal-Mart“:

There are no goon squads dragging unwilling people in from the streets to work in Wal-Mart stores. There are no Wal-Mart employees caged in their work areas. There are secret prisons in Arkansas where they send Wal-Mart employees who elect to move on to more highly compensated jobs at other companies.

People work at Wal-Mart because it offers them the best combination of pay, benefits, and working conditions available to them. In other words, employment at Wal-Mart usually is a step up, not a step down.

The attention of the worrying classes turned recently to Amazon, as John O. McGinnis notes:

The New York Times has recently portrayed Amazon as a workplace somewhere between the first circle of hell and a bad section of purgatory, with harsh supervisors and backbiting colleagues that are the inevitable consequence of the company’s management practices. I did not need Jeff Bezos’s demurral to doubt the accuracy of portrait. In a company this large, there will always be bad supervisors, intriguing colleagues and disgruntled employees that can support a lot of wild anecdotes. And the New York Times, a newspaper that even a former ombudsman has admitted is on the left, has an agenda of attacking business the better to justify an intrusive state. [“The Liberty to Work Under Tough Bosses,” Library of Law and Liberty, August 19, 2015]

McGinnis continues:

But let us suppose for moment that the Times portrait is more accurate than Bezos’s denial that overall these anecdotes capture the reality of the company.  Is it really any cause for concern? The employees chose to work there and can leave at any time: it is not a case of indentured servitude. The white collar jobs portrayed here pay good wages. And most important of all, we have a competitive labor market that serves the needs of employees and consumers alike. Even the Times’ description shows that many employees find the culture empowering and thrilling. Some employees stay for a long period. Others use the skills they learn to start their own businesses. It may well make perfect sense for some people to endure upfront unpleasantness—even of the kind that leads to occasional tears—to gain discipline and knowledge that will later stand them in good stead.

I couldn’t have said it better.


The Atlantic reports on Amazon’s response to the Times story.  I gagged when I read this:

The company, in its post Monday, also did not challenge the other claim made in the Times story: that Amazon can be a challenging place for its female employees. One female employee, Molly Jay, who had received high ratings for years, found herself being called “a problem” after she began traveling to care for her father, who was stricken with cancer. Another, Michelle Williamson, a 41-year-old mother of three children, was told, in the words of the newspaper, “that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required.” A third, Julia Cheiffetz, wrote in Medium, about being sidelined after having a child and being diagnosed with cancer. [Krishnadev Calamur, “A Blistering Response from Amazon,” October 19, 2015]

Life is full of choices. If you choose family over work, don’t expect your employers’ customers to pay you (or your employer) for time you spend away from work.

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Related posts:

A Short Course in Economics
Law and Liberty
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
“Buy Local”
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States’ “Police Power”

The Hall of Fame Reconsidered

Several years ago I wrote some posts (e.g., here and here) about the criteria for membership in baseball’s Hall of Fame, and named some players who should and shouldn’t be in the Hall. A few days ago I published an updated version of my picks. I’ve since deleted that post because, on reflection, I find my criteria too narrow. I offer instead:

  • broad standards of accomplishment that sweep up most members of the Hall who have been elected as players
  • ranked lists of players who qualify for consideration as Hall of Famers, based on those standards.

These are the broad standards of accomplishment for batters:

  • at least 8,000 plate appearances (PA) — a number large enough to indicate that a player was good enough to have attained a long career in the majors, and
  • a batting average of at least .250 — a low cutuff point that allows the consideration of mediocre hitters who might have other outstanding attributes (e.g., base-stealing, fielding).

I rank retired batters who meet those criteria by career wins above average (WAA) per career PA. WAA for a season is a measure of a player’s total offensive and defensive contribution, relative to other players in the same season. (WAA therefore normalizes cross-temporal differences in batting averages, the frequency of home runs, the emphasis on base-stealing, and the quality of fielders’ gloves, for example.) Because career WAA is partly a measure of longevity rather than skill, I divide by career PA to arrive at a normalized measure of average performance over the span of a player’s career.

These are the broad standards of accomplishment for pitchers:

  • at least 3,000 innings pitched, or
  • appearances least 1,000 games (to accommodate short-inning relievers with long careers).

I rank retired pitchers who meet these criteria by career ERA+,. This is an adjusted earned run average (ERA) that accounts for differences in ballparks and cross-temporal differences in pitching conditions (the resilience of the baseball, batters’ skill, field conditions, etc.). Some points to bear in mind:

  • My criteria are broad but nevertheless slanted toward players who enjoyed long careers. Some present Hall of Famers with short careers are excluded (e.g., Ralph Kiner, Sandy Koufax). However great their careers might have been, they didn’t prove themselves over the long haul, so I’m disinclined to include them in my Hall of Fame.
  • I drew on the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com for the statistics on which the lists are based. The Play Index doesn’t cover years before 1900. That doesn’t bother me because the “modern game” really began in the early 1900s (see here, here, and here). The high batting averages and numbers of games won in the late 1800s can’t be compared with performances in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Similarly, players whose careers were spent mainly or entirely in the Negro Leagues are excluded because their accomplishments — however great — can’t be calibrated with the accomplishments of players in the major leagues.

In the following lists of rankings, each eligible player is assigned an ordinal rank, which is based on the adjacent index number. For batters, the index number represents career WAA/PA, where the highest value (Babe Ruth’s) is equal to 100. For pitchers, the index number represents career ERA+, where the highest value (Mariano Rivera’s) is equal to 100. The lists are coded as follows:

  • Blue — elected to the Hall of Fame. (N.B. Joe Torre is a member of the Hall of Fame, but he was elected as a manager, not as a player.)
  • Red — retired more than 5 seasons but not yet elected
  • Bold (with asterisk) — retired less than 5 seasons.

Now, at last, the lists (commentary follows):

Hall of fame candidates_batters

If Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame, why not everyone who outranks him ? (Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and some others excepted, of course. Note that Mark McGwire didn’t make the list; he had 7,660 PA.) There are plenty of players with more impressive credentials than Mazeroski, whose main claim to fame is a World-Series-winning home run in 1960. Mazeroski is reputed to have been an excellent second-baseman, but WAA accounts for fielding prowess — and other things. Maz’s excellence as a fielder still leaves him at number 194 on my list of 234 eligible batters.

Here’s the list of eligible pitchers:

Hall of fame candidates_pitchers

If Rube Marquard — 111th-ranked of 122 eligible pitchers — is worthy of the Hall, why not all of those pitchers who outrank him? (Roger Clemens excepted, of course.) Where would I draw the line? My Hall of Fame would include the first 100 on the list of batters and the first 33 on the list of pitchers (abusers of PEDs excepted) — and never more than 100 batters and 33 pitchers. Open-ended membership means low standards. I’ll have none of it.

As of today, the top-100 batters would include everyone from Babe Ruth through Joe Sewell (number 103 on the list in the first table). I exclude Barry Bonds (number 3), Manny Ramirez (number 61), and Sammy Sosa (number 99). The top-33 pitchers would include everyone from Mariano Rivera through Eddie Plank (number 34 on the list in the second table). I exclude Roger Clemens (number 5).

My purge would eliminate 109 of the players who are now official members of the Hall of Fame, and many more players who are likely to be elected. The following tables list the current members whom I would purge (blue), and the current non-members (red and bold)  who would miss the cut:

Hall of fame batters not in top 100

Hall of fame pitchers not in top 33

Sic transit gloria mundi.


Defending the Offensive

An image of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is displayed prominently in the sidebar of this blog. I do not display the flag to defend it, as one reader suggested. As it says under the image of the flag, I display it to symbolize my hope for deliverance from an oppressive national government (the present one) and to signify my opposition to political correctness (of the kind that can’t tolerate the display of the flag for any purpose).

I certainly do not display the flag to defend the Confederacy’s central cause: the preservation of slavery. (For an alternative view, see this.) But I do defend the legality of secession, as a constitutional right of States. Nor does the display signify racism on my part, because I am not racist. Clicking on the flag takes the reader to my “moral profile,” where the last entry strongly supports my claim of race neutrality.

In any event, as I told my reader,

Perhaps there are some visitors to my blog who are turned off by the flag, and who leave without reading my explanation or despite reading my explanation. Frankly, I’m too old to give a damn.

I refuse to cater to the ignorant and easily offended. The ranks of the latter seem to be growing daily. Karen Swallow Prior writes:

[I]t seems political correctness is being replaced by a new trend—one that might be called “empathetic correctness.”

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort….

The most jaw-dropping display of empathetic correctness came in a recent New York Times article reporting on the number of campuses proposing that so-called “trigger warnings” be placed on syllabi in courses using texts or films containing material that might “trigger” discomfort for students. Themes seen as needing such warnings range from suicide, abuse, and rape to anti-Semitism, “misogynistic violence,” and “controlling relationships.”…

The purpose of these trigger warnings, according to one Rutgers student calling for them, is to permit students to either plan ahead for “tackling triggering massages” [sic] or to arrange “an alternate reading schedule with their professor.” The student, a sophomore and, surprisingly, an English major (once upon a time, English majors clamored for provocative books) advocates professors warning students as to which passages contain “triggering material” and which are “safer” so that students can read only portions of the book with which “they are fully comfortable.” [“‘Empathetically Correct’ Is the New Politically Correct,” The Atlantic, May 23, 2014]

The empathetically correct mindset is beyond parody. (For more in the same vein, see “The Euphemism Conquers All.”)

A lot of people just want to be offended, and they look for ways of achieving their aim. Take the controversies about the use of “niggardly.” They became controversies for two reasons: (a) some persons who knew the meaning of the word chose to take offense just because it bears a resemblance to a racial slur; (b) some ignoramuses didn’t know the meaning of the word and chose to remain offended even when it was explained to them. (For a recounting of my experience as a user of “niggardly,” go to “On Writing” and scroll down to “Verboten Words” in Part IV.B.4.)

Symbols of the Confederacy are the new “niggardly,” but on a grander scale. As suddenly and pervasively as the hula-hoop craze of the 1950s — and mainly because of a single act of violence in Charleston — it has become de rigeur to condemn persons, places, and things associated with the Confederacy. This is nothing but hysterical nonsense.

Cue Jim Goad:

Stone Mountain is a 1,700-foot-tall grey dome rock located about a half-hour due east of downtown Atlanta. On its northern face is the largest bas-relief carving in the world—bigger even than the carving at Mount Rushmore. It depicts Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. The mountain also features a Confederate battle flag at the base of its hiking trail.

Stone Mountain is also where the Ku Klux Klan reinvented itself in 1915 under the direction of William J. Simmons. As legend has it, the Klan would conduct nighttime cross burnings from atop that massive rock to frighten the Atlanta area’s entire black population in one big theatrical stroke of political terror.

Fast-forward a hundred years, and the Klan has clearly lost. The surrounding town of Stone Mountain is now over 75% black and about 18% white. And Atlanta hasn’t had a white mayor since the early 1970s.

Mid-June’s Charleston church shooting—involving a killer who had sullenly posed for selfies hoisting a small Rebel flag—was used as an excuse to launch a full-on cultural purge of all Confederate symbols by those who hate what they insist those symbols represent. And they insist those symbols represent HATE. And they hate that. Those symbols represent intolerance. And they will not tolerate that….

Recently a spokesman for Atlanta’s NAACP demanded that the Confederate carving “be sand-blasted off” Stone Mountain’s side. He also urged authorities to remove the Rebel flag from the mountain’s base.

This raised the hackles and chafed the sunburned necks of Confederate sympathizers across Georgia. Insisting that the flag represented “heritage, not hate,” they arranged for a pro-Confederate rally last Saturday morning at Stone Mountain Park….

[A] young black male was pleading with attendees about how he felt the flag was a provocation, and the attendees kept insisting it had nothing to do with him, especially not with hating him. But he told them that it did. And they kept insisting that it didn’t.

Smirking at an argument that kept going in circles, one peckerwood quipped to me, “That’s one of those deals where ain’t nobody going to get ahead.”

And that pithy quote encapsulated the entire event. It was an argument over what symbols represent—an argument that no one could ever win, because there is no objective answer. In the end, symbols represent whatever someone wants them to represent. One person’s heritage is another person’s hate. And the twain shall never agree. [“Of Heritage and Hate,” Taki’s Magazine, August 3, 2015]

What should and shouldn’t be considered offensive? More to the point, where should the boundaries of state action be drawn? I offer some guidelines in “The Principles of Actionable Harm“:

5. With those exceptions [e.g., defamation, treason, divulging classified information, perjury, incitement to violence, fraud and deception], a mere statement of fact, belief, opinion, or attitude cannot be an actionable harm. Otherwise, those persons who do not care for the facts, beliefs, opinions, or attitudes expressed by other persons would be able to stifle speech they find offensive merely by claiming to be harmed by it. And those persons who claim to be offended by the superior income or wealth of other persons would be entitled to recompense from those other persons….

6. …Nor can it be an actionable harm to commit a private, voluntary act which does nothing more than arouse resentment, envy, or anger in others….

9. Except in the case of punishment for an actionable harm, it is an actionable harm to bar a competent adult from

a. expressing his views, as long as they are not defamatory or meant to incite harm….

10. The proper role of the state is to enforce the preceding principles. In particular,

a. to remain neutral with respect to evolved social norms, except where those norms deny voice or exit, as with the systematic disenfranchisement or enslavement of particular classes of persons; and….

c. to ensure free expression of thought, except where such expression is tantamount to an actionable harm (as in a conspiracy to commit murder or mount a campaign of harassment)….

It would be nice if these principles were observed by politicians, the media, the punditocracy, and various interest groups (both left and right). But it won’t happen for two reasons:

  • People are tribal and love to take stances that identify the particular tribes to which they belong. Arnold Kling puts it this way: “You can take man out of tribal society, but you cannot take tribal society out of man.”
  • Elites and aspiring elites are especially enamored of tribal signaling. As a  commenter at Kling’s blog says: “The main goal of the ascendant educated left-wing white people is to differentiate themselves socially from middle-class white people.” For completeness, I would add lower-class white people, evangelicals and other defenders of traditional morality, the petite bourgeoisie, and anyone who might be suspected of voting Republican.

Clearly, the culture war has entered a new and dangerous phase, reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution under Mao. As Boyd Cathey writes,

in the United States today we live in a country characterized by what historian Thomas Fleming has written afflicted this nation in 1860–“a disease in the public mind,” that is, a collective madness, lacking in both reflection and prudential understanding of our history. Too many authors advance willy-nilly down the slippery slope–thus, if we ban the Battle Flag, why not destroy all those monuments to Lee and Jackson. And why stop there? Washington and Jefferson were slave holders, were they not? Obliterate and erase those names from our lexicon, tear down their monuments! Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Fort Gordon? Change those names, for they remind us of Confederate generals! Nathan Bedford Forest is buried in Memphis? Let’s dig up him up! Amazon sells “Gone with Wind?” Well, to quote a writer at the supposedly “conservative,” Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, ban it, too!

It is a slippery slope, but an incline that in fact represents a not-so-hidden agenda, a cultural Marxism, that seeks to take advantage of the genuine horror at what happened in Charleston to advance its own designs which are nothing less than the remaking completely of what remains of the American nation. And, since it is the South that has been most resistant to such impositions and radicalization, it is the South, the historic South, which enters the cross hairs as the most tempting target. And it is the Battle Flag–true, it has been misused on occasion–which is not just the symbol of Southern pride, but becomes the target of a broad, vicious, and zealous attack on Western Christian tradition, itself. Those attacks, then, are only the opening salvo in this renewed cleansing effort, and those who collaborate with them, good intentions or not, collaborate with the destruction of our historic civilization. For that they deserve our scorn and our most vigorous and steadfast opposition. [“‘A Sickness in the Public Mind’: The Battle Flag and the Attack on Western Culture,” Abbeville Institute: The Abbeville Blog, August 4, 2015]

I stand with Dr. Cathey in offering scorn and most vigorous and steadfast opposition.

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Related reading:

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Related posts:

The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America<
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
Good Riddance
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
The Tenor of the Times
Social Norms and Liberty
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Madness Continues
The Euphemism Conquers All