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Focus on Freedom

Personal Characteristics as Market Commodities


The thesis of this essay is that, if the members of a society view and treat the personal characteristics of themselves as simply a subset of the collection of all commodities that are exchanged on the marketplace of human interactions and, as in the case of other types of goods and services, endeavor to make available as much information as possible about these personal characteristics, this will greatly aid each member of that society to maximize his or her lifetime happiness. We (Paul and Kitty Antonik Wakfer have jointly written this essay) first explain why this thesis should be obviously valid to anyone who understands the value of free markets. Then we describe some behaviors that this thesis logically implies, but which are generally not considered to be necessary or even valuable by most current freedom thinkers and writers, are practiced by few libertarians and, in fact, are strongly rejected and even considered their "right" not to do by most.

Even though this is not openly acknowledged (since "discrimination" of any kind is politically incorrect in current society), personal characteristics are already evaluated in all rational decisions (as much as they are known by the evaluator) about whether or not to interact with a person for any specific purpose. This is totally reasonable and is, in fact, no different in principle from the manner in which the characteristics of any good or service offered on the market are scrutinized and evaluated prior to any decision to exchange value for it (any kind of value - even one's time, consideration or affection).

As an example of the increase of amount and fluidity of information about market commodities, note how many car manufacturers and dealers in the last few years have begun to offer owners online database storage of information about their newly purchased vehicles1, specifically for maintenance, service and repairs, but this could easily include gas mileage, tire wear, accessories added and all other information about the car's history and operation . When the vehicle is considered for sale or trade, the owner and the prospective purchaser would have the complete history of the vehicle available for a fully informed transaction. This type of record keeping which would have been done only by the most diligent of individuals in the past, is now much easier and likely can be even more automated with further technological developments. Most people appear to readily recognize and understand the benefit of such technological capabilities for themselves and everyone else.

What is currently available in making such information known about one's car when selling it could also be done with one's other possessions and one's business activities. Just as with a car, a person seeking to purchase any good or service wants to have access to as much information as possible about the item or the service for which he is contemplating purchase. While it is true that no one has the time to inform himself in any totally complete sense, the availability of the information at least gives the purchaser the ability (ie. the freedom) to assess as little or as much of particular parts of that information as he estimates is worth his time for that particular decision. Since everyone is constantly both a buyer and seller of market commodities, it is clear that consistency and reciprocity require that everyone who wants to have access to full information about his purchases, must also make such information available to others about what he sells or otherwise exchanges. When others are able to operate more efficiently, then their increased productivity will generate more and better choices directly for themselves and others with whom they interface, and indirectly from the effects on everyone else as these more and better choices propagate through relationships into all of society. To hold and act on a "buyer beware" viewpoint - that whatever the buyer does not specifically ask, one should not or need not offer - is to stifle the flow of information, similar to adding sand in a gear box. While the movement of a powerful geared system will not stop with only a small amount of sand present, the movement of a weak system can be stopped in such a situation. The performance of even the most powerful system will be far more efficient if there is no impediment and even more so when there is plenty of lubricant. Buyer beware behavior may be thought of as the equivalent of that sand, readily available information as the equivalent of that lubricant, and the meshing of gears as analogous to the interactions of individuals.

As these examples have shown, a free market best enables each individual taking part in it to optimize his actions to gain what he most wants (ie. to maximize his lifetime happiness), when there is as much information about all its commodities as easily available as possible.

The implication of this clearly valid thesis is that anyone who wishes to maximize his ability to achieve what he desires under a free market (ie. non-coercively) will want everyone (including himself) to make all possible information about him or herself freely available to everyone else, since only in this manner can mistakes concerning the evaluation of other individuals relating to one's actions (and of one's evaluation of the actions of others) with them be minimized (ie. since only by such behavior will the market of interpersonal interaction decisions be adequately and effectively lubricated). This shows immediately and clearly that actions to maintain personal privacy of any kind (purposeful hiding of information about oneself from others) will inhibit the information available about a marketplace commodity (namely, the characteristics of oneself which are needed by others to make an optimal evaluation concerning their interaction with one) and thus, will reduce the ability of all market participants to optimally gain their desired ends (ie. to maximize their lifetime happiness).

One type of such counterproductive behavior may be seen in the notion held by many people that any information that they transmit to another privately (ie. not clearly able to be seen, heard or read by anyone else), whether in person, on paper or electronically (phone, tape, email, etc.) is "confidential" unless specifically stated otherwise. These individuals assume that there is some type of "default" by which their view is understood and agreed to by all others. Any person holding this view and acting on it - by withholding information or refusing further contact (and worse, sometimes condemning publicly without explanation) with another who has made such information publicly accessible when no confidentiality agreement was concluded beforehand - is reducing the amount of knowledge that all others will have about him/herself, and the matters under discussion.2 Any such action will be an intentional reduction of both the amount and the fluidity of information about a commodity (that individual's characteristics) that will subsequently be the subject of examination and negative evaluation by all individuals considering interaction with that individual. As with the prior analogy, just like adding sand to a gear box or increasing the viscosity of an existing lubricant by reducing its temperature, limiting the knowledge potentially available to everyone about any market commodity, in this case one's personal attributes, reduces the efficiency of the marketplace which is best lubricated by informed decisions prior to all actions - in this case having personal repercussions on the person restricting the information about himself by eliciting negative discriminating behavior by others toward him.

Not everything that one person knows about another would be of value or interest to others. But even if how many times one defecates daily or bathes weekly or engages in sexual activity monthly or what opinion one holds on any subject were publicized, what coercive action can be taken by another (outside of government of course) using this information? Some who learned these facts about a person may be offended, annoyed or titillated and may even shun the person. But in the current society where electronic media has made possible the rapid dissemination of all information, these actions also themselves (of shunning or even verbally condemning) can be made known to others for their individual evaluation. In this manner, everyone is fully judged by all their actions, even those in judgment of others. As never before, except perhaps in small towns, knowledge about the transmitted thoughts and actual actions of any given person for the purpose of optimizing the evaluation of that person by anyone who is contemplating or maintaining interaction with him or her, is now technologically attainable.3

No one is perfect and errors in judgment do occur; it is the trend *towards* perfection in any area of human activity that should be the objective of all reasonable people. Therefore, hopefully, the errors become less with age and/or experience. The fact that one acted poorly (evenly "badly" perhaps) in the past is part of one's history and is information, especially with the understanding that was gained by the subsequent wider viewing, longer range thinking, that will be of even greater benefit to all, not just the person himself. If, however, the individual is currently acting in a short range, limited manner, self-acknowledged to be "wrong", others should know this fact. Would he not also want to know this of someone else himself as part of his decision about whether and how he should interact with him/her? Information must flow unimpeded to everyone who needs it for his/her decision making in order to optimize the efficiency of the marketplace and thus, to be of maximum benefit for everyone.

There are those who would use certain information - as an example, knowing that a person will be away from home and leaves a door key in a certain hiding spot for family and friends - to do harm, perhaps to burglarize or vandalize the property. But this information also known to many others would allow them to be on the look out for suspicious strangers in the area of the individual's property and more likely inhibit/prevent any harm from being done. (This is in fact the way small towns operated in the past when everyone knew virtually everything about everyone else in the community, and most people rarely locked either their houses or their cars - in fact, early cars had neither ignition nor door locks on them.)

The fact that governments exist (made up of people who want to use force on others, employing others who are actually willing to do so) does not invalidate the value of full and easily accessible personal information. It only means that in the interim, while governments continue to exist, the marketplace of information will necessarily be less than optimal because certain kinds of information which governments can use to harm people will still need to be kept private. The long term eventual withering away of the state and its agencies of force is the goal of the Self-Sovereign Individual Project, with parallel replacement by a self-ordered society on the principles of the Social Meta-Needs Theory. In order for this to occur and to successfully function, information pertaining to the personal characteristics of individuals must be just as accessible as for any other market commodity. The more information each individual has available, the greater the likelihood that his/her decisions will maximize his/her own lifetime happiness - the sum of all one seeks to gain using the longest range, widest viewing thinking.

1. An example of an auto manufacturer's online database for new vehicle owners.

2. An example of public condemnation for some action (not stated) and without explanation.

3. The subject of the hazards of anonymity rather than the often thought of "protection" (and the benefits of openness) is the subject of an earlier published essay.


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