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Who’s Ill-Mannered?

This Café Hayek post prompted an anonymous person to send to me a scathing e-mail.  I here respond:

“An Ethical Businessman”

Mr. Businessman:

Calling me (among other things) “ill mannered,” you protest my insistence that business people such as you are unethical for seeking protection from foreign competition.  I don’t doubt that you believe yourself to be ethical.  But let’s probe the robustness of your belief.

Suppose that you own a coffee shop and are unhappy that many coffee buyers patronize the coffee shop across the street from yours.  So you arm yourself and, pointing your weapon at people walking into the shop across the street, demand that they instead either buy coffee from you or pay a fine if they insist on buying coffee from the shop across the street.  Would you object if, upon my witnessing your actions, I call you unethical?

Same example but with one tiny change: rather than you personally arming yourself to accost coffee buyers, you instead outsource this armed accosting to neighborhood thugs.  Am I now ill-mannered to call you unethical?

Suppose that you respond to my unflattering description of you by complaining that, unlike you, the owner of the coffee shop across the street has a rich uncle who gave her lots of money to start her shop.  Would you object if, upon my learning this new piece of information, I nevertheless continue to call you unethical for threatening to inflict violence upon that shop-owner’s customers?

No substantive differences separate you as an American businessman who endorses threats of violence against people who wish to patronize your competitors across the border, from you as a coffee-shop owner who threatens violence against people who wish to patronize your competitors across the street.

The ill-mannered one in this case isn’t me, sir.  It’s you – for it’s you who rudely and maliciously threaten violence against peaceful people for no reason other than to artificially drum up business for yourself.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030