Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Freedom from telemarketers

Via CalPundit: Tyler Cowen of The Volokh Conspiracy has this to say about telemarketing "do not call" lists:

Take those people who have put themselves on the list. Do they really not want to be called? Maybe they are afraid that they really like being called. That they will buy things. That they will be impulsive.

Arguably those people have a rational controlling self, and an impulsive buying self, to borrow some language from Thomas Schelling. Why should we assume that the rational controlling self is the only one who counts (do you really want a life devoid of spontaneity?)? Why should our government be in the business of altering this balance in one direction or the other? Isn't the market a better mechanism for balancing the interests of the conflicting selves?

The thing he seems to be ignoring is that the government doesn't go around arbitrarily forcing people to put themselves on the do-not-call list; it's their decision. They may make that decision on exactly the basis Cowen suggests above - "I may buy something if called, so I will remove the temptation" - or they may simply not want obnoxious pricks trying to ram a sale down their throat during dinnertime. Either way, it's their choice, no matter what the reason.

Though this does raise the interesting question of who exactly is entitled to "balance the interests of the conflicting selves". Some breeds of Rationalist have held that a rational State is entitled to do this, in order to free its citizens from their irrational desires and false consciousness and help them achive true freedom (in other words, they know what you "truely" want, and if you claim not to want it, you're simply deluded - the danger implicit in this attitude has been pointed out by Berlin). Liberals, OTOH, have traditonally been very suspicious of anyone who claims that any outside agency is entitled to overrule the choices of individuals in this fashion - respect for individual freedom demands that we respect people's irrational or impulsive decisions as much as their rational ones, as both are an expression of who they are (at least if you're a Compatibalist about free will). Libertarians have traditionally been in the liberal camp, at least with regard to one particular outside agency (the State). I guess the difference between Cowen and myself is that I think that "the market" is as much of an outside agency as the State is.