Philosophy Hammer
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Protecting Freedom and Civil Society
Holiday Shopping
By: James Jeff McLaren
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Opinion Piece on Protecting Higher Order Values and Civil Society from Turning into a Market Society

Sometimes following the best self-interested course of action actually leads to a bad outcome for everybody. This is important because the issue of exempting downtown businesses from provincial legislation on statutory holidays will create negative consequences for all.

Please, consider two examples of self-interest leading to negative consequences. First, standing on your toes at a concert may help you see better for a second but you will not see better when everyone else does so too and you will get tired faster. Second, Leaving earlier for work to make sure you get one of a limited number of parking spots will only work until everyone else leaves early too; then all will have lost leisure time and the lot still fills up. Game theory textbooks can give many more examples of rational self-interest leading to worse individual and social results.

The logical fallacy that underpins many such cases is called the fallacy of composition: inferring a truth of the whole from a truth in the parts. Kingston may fall prey to this logical fallacy in the case of holiday shopping. Just because one part of the city believes they would be better off does not mean that they actually would be or that the whole city would be better off.

To help see what is stake, I ask you to consider the difference in quality of life of living in a civil society versus a market society. In a civil society there is room to express our freedom of choice along many standards of valuation that are not necessarily motivated by self-interest. Having many legitimate sources of value improves personal freedom and social vibrancy. In civil society the market economy is the place to express our freedom in economic self-interest for non-unique goods and services.

By contrast, in a market society everything is subjected to the values of the market: to economic self-interest. In a market society the coin of power and the measure of value is money. Money, being unequally distributed, is not a good common standard of personal value because the marginal value drops with its accumulation. For example, a loaf of bread is valued more by someone who spends half their disposable income than someone who spends a tenth of one percent. The loaf’s price only shows how many are willing and able to pay for it. Willingness and ability to pay do not translate into equal value when the dollars are not equally distributed.

A market society reduces personal freedom by forcing all our expressions of freedom into one source of value: self-interest measured in money. Forcing all valuations into the monetary category forces perverse questions such as “how much of a dollar value is a human life worth?” or “What is the dollar value of your ‘life’ time?” or “How much money is clean air and clean water worth to you?” The perversity comes from valuation criteria which are inappropriate for the subject matter. The uniqueness of an individual makes their reduction to common non-unique things a travesty because non-unique things are easily replaceable whereas unique things (which include all people and most of the environment) are not.

Many things are beyond measure in dollar terms. This is why we are fortunately still not allowed to buy and sell our kidney, our children, or our vote but we are allowed to give them away. These should rightfully be valued by a different valuation criterion than monetary self-interest. All of these have a value that is beyond measure in dollars and their value is perverted and cheapened by attaching a market dollar price.

When businesses open on more and more holidays we move inch by inch deeper into a market society; where all our values including our leisure, life and family time become subject to market valuations; where they are reduced to mere market exchange value rather than being valuable in and of themselves; where all civic virtues are crowded out by one market virtue; where many positive motivations such as love, altruism, volunteerism, honour, public spirit, charity, self-actualization etc. are commandeered and reduced to one motivation: self-interest.

Ethically, I believe self-interest has its place among many values in our society but it should not be allowed to have the dominant place in our society. The decision that has to be made is whether the alleged private gain to some is greater or more valuable than the corresponding loss of freedom, leisure, holiday, family time, and other civic virtues for all. In this case I believe that the loss to the community would be far greater than any possible or alleged private benefit. I need to know if I am the only one that feels this way.

Added on: March 23, 2016
By: James Jeff McLaren
© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren