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Know the Importance of “No”

In my most-recent column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I point out the importance of the right to say “no.” A slice:

The right to say “no” features also a beautiful component of equality. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, with his vast fortune, must nevertheless persuade each of his customers to deal with him. Because they can refuse his offers, he must find ways to make them better off if he is to profit from having them as customers.

It’s true that, in Bezos’s case, his having to persuade each and every person with whom he deals to say “yes” to his offers resulted in his monetary wealth growing disproportionately large compared to that of almost everyone else. But so what? Individuals’ right to say “no” motivated Bezos to figure out ways to entice people to say “yes” to do business with him. The fact that, in consequence, Bezos became one of the world’s wealthiest people means only that he was especially successful at persuading people to say “yes.”

Shouldn’t we applaud rather than bemoan or begrudge such success?

Also, although Bezos today is magnificently rich, in the economic market his power to compel people to do business with him remains equal to that of the poorest immigrant motel maid: neither person has any such power. The poor motel maid can say “no” to any offer from the tycoon Bezos that she believes will not improve her well-being. Bezos has no power over her.

Matters are the opposite in politics. Government’s nature is to threaten force to do whatever it does. And so because government can force each person to do its bidding, no one has a right to tell it “no.” There is, therefore, no good reason to expect that the outcomes of political processes will be widespread human betterment.