The Political Architecture of Democratic Libertarian Socialism, Part 1

Introduction

In this series of posts, I will discuss aspects of political architecture consistent with democratic libertarian socialism. My purpose is to attempt to rationally plan a functioning democracy in relation to libertarian socialist ideals. This is counter to most libertarian socialism which is generally understood to be anarchist. What I will not be doing in this series is arguing why democratic libertarian socialism is superior to anarchist libertarian socialism. Neither will I be making the argument for libertarian socialism as a socio-economic system which I have done numerously elsewhere in different ways on this blog; e.g. here, here, here, and here. Also, see my prize-winning essay on the subject.

To keep with libertarian ideology, the structure I plan will be a limited state, voluntarily justified in the places it is coercive, and run on principle and law. The goal is to protect each other from the abuse of power that comes with a community by structuring the power, through principles, in such a manner that it cannot be overwhelmingly coopted. See my post on the different kinds of political discourse in philosophy for a more about the goal of political architectures.

The point of this post is not to decide on a method of political activity, nor to find a method of resolving political disputes, but merely to ask how do we best organize ourselves into political structures as to maintain relative economic equality and liberty. I want to ignore the battle between monarchy and democracy, loosely defined, as over and done with; democracy I hold to be the clear favorite. However, democracy by its very nature comes in a multitude of configurations; from indirect republics, plutocracies, and aristocracies to more direct tribal democracy, congregations, contractual alliances and–at the bottom–simple friendships between individuals. The division I just drew stands in need of explanation, for the former represent larger forms of democracy, scaled all the way up as it were; while the latter tend to represent the smaller forms scaled down to the deliberative decision-making of individuals. Both scales have their positives and negatives. The large scale allows for mass action that generates truly miraculous feats, irrespective of whether those feats are right or wrong. The problem is that it is very hard to get decisiveness out of such a large body of people, that is to say, the greater the capacity for mass action, the lower the possibility for univocal agreement. The opposite is just the case with the smaller democratic forms. Here we see that mass action is limited by the smaller populations, but at the same time, a greater possibility for explicitly-voluntary concord among the members is still achievable. This is the nature of the dilemma for a political architecture of democracy. How best to organize a political population so that the best of both scales is preserved?

First, we must ask, is it even possible? No doubt there must be some form that maximizes the best of both scales even if it doesn’t completely resolve the issue. Every form of state even paying lip-service to the idea of democracy, like fascism, observes the rule that power is legitimated by the people. What is questionable about there highly authoritarian forms of democracy is whether or not the structure is in fact legitimated by the people. The test for the level of democratic influence is well known to political science: are the laws and decisions of the government in step with the opinions of the people at large, some larger association within the populace, or with an elite minority? On this scale, few if any real democracies exist in the world. Most republics can be defined by which association they serve. For example, the United State is plutocratic because the legislature, executive, and judicial branches of the government are more likely to enact policy following the desires of the wealthy than the general public, see the study here. My goal is to find a form that would be genuinely democratic. That is, where the policies of government closely represented the desires of the general public.

I will generally skip over a history of political forms and assume you have a working knowledge of past regimes. However, I feel compelled to speak briefly of the form known as a “republic”. This form is interesting because, in my opinion, it is a hybrid between monarchy and democracy.  Republics attempt to solve the same stability problem we are. The republican solution is to preserve attributes of a monarchy inside a democracy. One way it does this is by limiting who “counts” in the population generally and the citizenry specifically. By reducing the number of decision-makers, either by explicitly forbidding certain populations access to public affairs or by diminishing the effect of their influence or by structuring certain domains of political discourse to a select group or single “head” or some combination of all these, republics reduce the instability of a mass of decision-makers. Limiting the decision-making capacity for the majority, (to voting for representatives, for example), or relegating it to minor and insignificant decisions (e.g. voting on the occasional ballot measure) are the most common method of republics. They work by paying homage to democracy while giving the real decision-making powers to an elite few or one. Over time, the need to pay homage to the people wanes and there is a tendency for this type of government to go from a de facto monarchy or oligarchy to an explicit monarchy. Think of the Roman Republic and its civil strife that lead to the formation of an autocratic Emporer. For our purposes then, a republic of any form is not a genuinely democratic option. I seek a stable form of democracy, not a tacit form of monarchy.


Deliberative Democracy

To form a democracy it is necessary that a forum for the full expression of every individual’s political concerns exists and that every individual has a turn to speak and be heard by their political peers. This I will call the short definition of deliberative democracy. Deliberative in this respect meaning simply a democracy where people come to talk to work out their respective political issues. Deliberation is essential for democracy for two reasons: (1) it is by definition voluntary and (2) it forces a recognition of the actual political issues confronting individuals and communities. Bounding the deliberative aspect of democracy effectively eliminates participation by its citizenry. This makes any action the state takes involuntary action on the part of those who either could not participate or were limited in their ability to participate. Similarly, no individual can rationally decide matters they have not had a chance to hear argued, neither could they empower a representative to do so on their behalf. Representation, even plenipotentiary representation, is possible in a democracy. However, it is not something someone can simply empower another to do without a specific outcome in mind. How could you represent my interests, if I don’t know what is going on or what would be best for me? I don’t want to digress too far down this path, except to say that representation is a necessity to large scale democracy, but without the opportunity for all individuals to confront the issues of the day, in both a direct and personal way, representation is illegitimate.

What often happens in republics is elected “representatives” are empowered with the entire decision-making capacity of their constituents, i.e. they do not represent the people so much as they replace them as though they were the only citizens of a democracy. This is oligarchy and the first step on the inevitable road back to monarchy; once the relationship between the representative and the represented has been usurped, so that the representative no longer needs any input from the represented to make decisions, then all “representation” has ceased, and the so-called representative has become an independent lord of their constituency (a member of the house of lords) and a patrician among plebians (senator of the Republic).

founding-fathers-declaration-of-independence.jpg

Let’s consider the notion of scale more closely.  Here we should ask, what is the smallest unit of a political entity? Prima facie, the obvious answer would be the individual, but a little reflection reveals that the answer is flawed. The problem with the individual is that decisiveness and action collapse and become one and the same. Individuals, barring mental disease, are considered the master of themselves precisely because there is nothing political about them. In fact, the appeal of monarchy resides in its utilization this natural apoliticality to make decisions for everyone, which are then applied through authority or force over them. We see again on the individual level that the problem of political architecture is decision versus action. How are things to be decided (e.g. by whom?) and how much action is going to be brought to bear (i.e. how many individuals will be involved)? The greater the action; the greater the power, but the decision is how that power will be utilized and towards what. Monarchy is appealing precisely because so much power can be brought to bear so single-mindedly! This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the monarch that utilizes the full power of the population for their own self-aggrandizement is what we call a tyrant.

The individual’s apolitical nature means that a single individual cannot be the smallest unit of a polity. I would argue then that the smallest unit must be the individual as he or she stands in relation to others. The pair may be the smallest political unit then. A pair of friends, of lovers, parents, or children; even of bitter enemies are all examples of the smallest political unit. There is an effect of the pair that we can see continuing in larger and larger scales, up to a point. This effect is a need to work together toward some end.  Even among enemies, there is a shared desire to eliminate the rivalry, albeit mostly following the strategy of eliminating the rival. Nevertheless, the end of the rivalry would bring about the end of the relationship as enemies and at the same time the end of the political unit. Thus, we could say that all political units are relationships between two or more individuals. We can see these relationships do not change as we scale them up, at first anyway. There is hardly a difference between two rivals and three or a team of six and a team of seven. But this direct relationship doesn’t scale up like that forever, and this is again owning to natural conditions. There are important differences between a company of seventeen and a company of seventeen million. In the latter, the “company” will hardly be able to recognize each other, and it is unlikely that a direct and personal relationship will exist between all the members as it would for the company of seventeen.

So here we have our first two architectural principles: political units begin with relationships and so require at least two individuals and these relationships cannot scale up beyond a certain point. I leave it to science to determine that point, and I highly suspect that it would vary with the individuals and cultures. A group of people with excellent memories, for example, might be able to maintain a direct and personal relationship with everyone else at a higher population than a group of people with faulty memories. That said, I feel we should put some rough number to this point that is generally manageable for an average human being. For the sake of mathematical ease, I’m going to say one hundred is the threshold of direct and personal political relationships for the sake of the scaling problem. Essentially, I’m suggesting that under a hundred individuals most groups could manage their own affairs through direct democracy, without the need for written laws, procedures, representation, or much political architecture at all. This is the threshold of anarchism. Talking and relying on each other would be all that it would take to resolve nearly all of the group’s problems. So, let us call this anarchist unit of one hundred or fewer, the basic unit of democracy. My goal is to introduce political architecture so that these units can combine and scale upwards with similar stability, all the way up to the incorporation of humanity as a whole.


The Scaling Problem

My guess would be that each democratic unit would require a representative in the next scale up. So, let’s call this basic democratic unit a “community”, we might imagine a municipality that consisted of representatives from each community of one hundred or fewer individuals. But again, we encounter the same scaling problem. Fifty community representatives could all know each other and function as a community of representatives, but fifty thousand would just lead us back to the same instability we saw before. The obvious solution then is to repeat the same process again and limit “municipalities” to groups of one hundred community representatives. And so forth, we might see this same scale repeat so that a “county” consists of the representatives of a hundred municipalities, a “territory” of a hundred counties, a “district” of a hundred territories, a “nation” of a hundred districts, and “world” of a hundred nations. But there is a problem with this model, several in fact.

One problem is that each scale up removes the representative from those they officially represent. Another problem is who elects these representatives or who are these representatives ultimately accountable to? How does information flow in both directions in this system?  And there is the problem of jurisdiction, how are laws geographically applied? What if I want to be part of a “community” made up of individuals spread across the globe? We may not even have the same political concerns. Another problem involves the politicization of other forms of human distinction, such as race, class, gender, age, etc.  Doesn’t a demographic identity, say black males aged twenty to thirty in the southern United States, have shared political needs that form a kind of quasi-relationship even if no direct and personal relationship exists between them? All these problems point to the fact that our political architecture requires more than simply scaling representation up at the threshold of direct relationships. It’s not enough to have direct democracy at all scales and that each scale is likely to require its own unique design.

In the next part, I will address these problems as I paint a picture of how representation may be managed on a rising scale.

The Wealth of Nations, Revisited

A Contradiction of Interests

I’m not sure if this is a real contradiction or not. But it seems to me that Adam Smith has a perspective problem. Smith famously argues that what is best for the individual is best for the society, and yet at the same time he argues that slavery is not best for the society because slaves lack individual incentive to work hard. This may be true, but it certainly seems to serve as a counter-example to the notion that what is best for the individual is what is best for the society. For when he suggests this, we must sincerely ask, which individual? The slave or the slaveholder?

What is true in Smith’s slave argument is that it is not best for the slave to be a slave, and correspondingly it would not be best for a society that the slave be so either. The slave’s disincentive to work would lead to less work performed in general, and correspondingly to a less productive society. However, is that which is best for the slaves or the best for the slaveholders? As a slaveholder, owning many slaves is what is best individually. If the rule holds, we must conclude that owning slaves is what is best for society. Is this not a contradiction? It cannot be both best and not best for a society to have slaves. Perhaps we could claim that being a slaveholder requires the existence of slaves, which we just said were not beneficial to society. But then the question becomes, why should we take the slave as “the individual” and not the slaveholder, as Smith clearly does? 

Smith’s problem seems to be one of perspective. The value of the rule that societies do best when people are free to pursue their own interests is debatable. It may depend entirely on which individuals’ perspectives we adopt. Is it better that a landlord is allowed to collect rent or that every person own the property they live in? Is it better than an employer negotiate wages before the sale of the product or that laborers are paid in accordance with their efforts? These perspective questions shoot holes all through the idea that liberty is the best policy and its more general precept that individual interests can be used as the best guide for social action.

The Utopia of Competition

It seems to me that competition itself becomes romanticized under most libertarian writers. The reason for this is if they use it as a cure-all for many economic injustices. The assumption works like this: as long as the rules are fair, then competition will lead to the best possible use of resources. And so it would, as long as we had some way to ensure the fairness of the rules. What does it mean to be fair? Who decides what is fair? On what basis is that decision to be made?

One can always succeed in competitions through two different methods. The first method is exactly what the libertarian writers imagine, a system where everybody follows the rules, the rules are fair, and then the winner deserves what they get, and this would work out best for society, just as Adam Smith suggested. The reason is that if everyone competed this way, we would all benefit from the maximized effort competition elicits. But unfortunately, there are no umpires or referees in economics, no one to turn to and say, “Hey, that’s not fair!”.

The second method for success in competition is free and unrestricted. Players follow their own best self-interest, and when the “rules” of fair play get in the way, they abandon them. In this method, one might succeed by making their competition under-perform or advance themselves through some form of subterfuge. This method focuses on distinguishing oneself by making all of the others look worse. This, of course, is a natural tendency of free competition that ultimately degrades society.

So we have a choice. Either competition is regulated to enforce an external set of rules that foster fair-play or economic competition is not good for society. If we were to have the former, a sport-like instead of war-like competition, then we would have to insist that the players do not get to dominate the body that makes up the rules. In real terms, this means that businesses would have to have minimal effect on political determinations of economics.

The Fable of the Bees?

It is perhaps ironic that Mandeville’s “The Fable of the Bees” features so heavily in Smith’s thought. The poem presents the idea that it is private vice (greed) that drive humanity to the public good (prosperity). The irony is not what climate change and over-use of pesticide have done to the bees, but the fact that Mandeville chose bee’s as his perfect society turned waywardly toward virtue to the ruin of all.

Bees are hive-minded totalitarians. The structure of bee society is based on homogeneity. The hive is comprised of nearly identical genetically speaking. The small individuality comes in the form of castes: the Queen, the product of royal jelly is tasked exclusively with all the breeding for the entire colony; the drones, a small subset of males, whose only function is impregnating the Queen; and the workers who do everything else to make the colony run. There is some break down among the work performed by the workers but this too is regulated exclusively by age. The high organization by nature is related to the Orwellian suppression of individuality inherent in bee society.  

There is no private vice in bee society because there is no individuality. Private vice requires individuals whose interests, even if entirely dependent on the efforts of others for their survival, can still conceive of themselves outside of the society. If private vices are public virtues then it perhaps proves that what is best for the individual is not what is best for society and vice versa. For it seems that public vices can just as well be private virtues.

Murder by Libertarianism

I’ve written more and more in-depth on the problems with libertarianism before, but in this post, I’d like to delve into a specific absurdity of libertarianism. Let me start by summarizing Nozick’s understanding of why he feels there is no exploitation in economics. He argues that people cannot be faulted for taking actions that limit the opportunities of others even beyond the point that some of those others have intolerable lives. The implication is that, while unfortunate, these people’s misery is justly derived and nothing should be done to alleviate it because any form of redistributive justice would assault the rights of the beneficiaries and thereby, be unjust.

In a section of his magnum opus, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, where Nozick discusses capitalism and force, he claims that what limits the choices determines whether or not an act is voluntary. He further claims that when choices are limited by other peoples’ rightful actions, the remaining choice is “voluntary”, even if it is limited to a single option. He helpfully provides a concrete example of his position: imagine 26 pairings of marriage partners A-Z and A1-Z1, so that A1 is the most desirable for all letters and A is the most desirable for all primes, B1 and B are the second most desirable, and so on through the list, so that Z1 and Z are the least desirable in each group. Naturally, we could assume that A and A1 would get together, thus delimiting the options of all the rest by removing themselves as available options. Sure, B1 would like to get with A, and B would like to get with A1, but they simply do not have that option. The actions of A and A1 getting together limits the actions of all the others but is just. By rational extension, B and B1 get together, C and C1, etc., until we reach Z and Z1. In this case, Z and Z1 have no choice but to marry each other or remain single. Nozick asks, have they been forced to make this decision or is it still voluntary on the part of Z and Z1? 

Nozick’s point is not that the situation is not unfortunate for Z and Z1, but that the only alternative, forcing one of the other couples to not get married or give up their chosen partner to make the situation of Z or Z1 better, is worse. In this Nozick is right, however, that’s not the whole story. Nozick has chosen a rather disanalogous example. Z and Z1 are of course free not to marry without being harmed. Would the situation be different if they would be killed if they did not marry? Would a threat of death be enough to change the ethics of the analogy?

Imagine the same situation except for this time a dictator threatens each couple with execution if they do not agree to choose any mate. Would there be a violation of rights? I imagine Nozick would say yes, it is the dictator who violates the rights of the couples. But let us tweak the situation slightly again, and this time say that the dictator will only provide food to those individuals who agree to marry so that if they do not, they will starve to death. Here, you are free to choose the harm, but the question becomes is it within the rights of a dictator to choose how food is distributed? Again, Nozick would probably argue it is not. However, if the dictator choosing how food is distributed is a violation of individual’s rights then would it be less so for the dictator to decide to distribute food on the grounds of who worked to produce it? If the dictator doesn’t have the right to choose the one method, they do not have the right to choose any. Let me try one more tweak before we quit this example: imagine this time instead of a dictator, we imagine an incredibly wealthy individual, who gained his wealth through entirely justified means. This individual has had his love rejected by you and as a result, he has made it his life’s goal to revenge himself on your romantic endeavors. Towards this end, every time you have fallen in love, he has paid off your would-be lover to quit you so that you are never able to marry. Would this still be just according to libertarianism?

I think it must be! It meets all the libertarian criteria for “voluntary” action. The spurned suitor has the right to spend their money as they like, and the would-be lovers have the right to break off with you in exchange for his money. It may seem unfair to you, but it is not unjust according to libertarianism. It would be a breach of justice to protect your happiness by interfering in the rights of the spurned suitor. But if this is justice, would it be different if the actions were deadly? This time imagine the same rich individual, except now he’s decided to escalate matters and take your life. In this case, every time you go to buy food to feed yourself, he offers the food purveyors more money to sell it to him instead. This is well within his rights. He is simply buying food. Since he has a right to do with his money as he pleases and the money is indubitably his, and purveyors have every right to get the best price for their food, all the transactions are therefore legitimate. Through the exercise of his rights, the spurned suitor is able to prevent you from buying any food, effectively and willfully starving you to death.

The Nozickian libertarian must conclude that it would be perfectly just for the rich man to starve you in this manner. This reductio ad absurdum comes about because libertarianism insists that the government cannot take any action to prevent your death as long as the agent of your death were legitimate in their actions preventing you from getting any food for a long enough period of time to intentionally cause your death. The fact that this scenario is highly unlikely is immaterial. The point here is that libertarianism allows such absurdities as part of its ethical ideology.

The fact that the spurned suitor is not buying the food to use, but merely to prevent you from having it is also immaterial. This could only be seen as a violation of your rights if and only if we observe something like the troublesome Lockean proviso that forbids ownership in the event that there is not “as good and enough left over” for others. I will spare the details of Nozick’s treatment of this proviso, except to say that he doesn’t explicitly reject the proviso; he merely points out the unsatisfactory nature of it as a solution. Sadly for libertarians, there seems to be no alternative. They are forced into a dilemma between accepting a dangerously unsatisfactory proviso or uncomfortably admitting that there are ways in which it is permissible to intentionally murder another individual under the ethical framework provided by libertarianism.

If you accept my argument, it is but a small step to the idea that there are other places where libertarianism leaves gaping holes in its ethics. I am perfectly willing to suggest that at least one such hole is its treatment of owner/laborer negotiations under capitalism. It’s entirely keeping with Nozick’s premise that if the situation is unacceptable in an individual instance it is equally unacceptable at larger scales so that the reductio ad absurdum given above is sufficient to condemn libertarianism altogether.

However, as I do not agree with his premise, I will not offer such an argument here. Instead, I would want to show that the situation is no better on a large scale. The ultimate condemnation of libertarianism comes from the fact that it can be found absurd both individually and socially. Imagine a situation in which a rich man, goes on accumulating through legitimate means until the whole of the Earth is their exclusive property. This, when combined with the minimal state and without the Lockean proviso, would create an autocratic libertarian nightmare. Such leverage would make all life entirely dependent on the will of this libertarian autocrat, annihilating the possibility of free choice since one would have to “voluntarily” agree to whatever the autocrat asks of them or die or watch their family die, or both, or worse. At this point the difference between the worst kind of authoritarianism and libertarianism vanishes and the two become identical. Libertarianism requires only that the autocrat has derived his total leverage via “legitimate” means. So on this scale too, libertarianism could justify absurdities.

I obviously believe that it is a failing of libertarian ideology that it can be used to justify totalitarianism. A zealot of the ideology could always argue that libertarianism is correct despite such arguments and the unlikeliness of such extreme situations reinforces this view. But I am not one to follow absurd ideas. On the other hand, this condemnation of libertarianism should not be read as a suggestion that governments can or should dictate all aspects of individual life. It only suggests that there are times when society has the right to intervene in the lives of its members. Freedom is not always the best policy, although it is generally the best policy. There are the places where we slip beyond the ethical into the political, and such places are blind spots for libertarians. It is in these places, however, that libertarianism must give way to libertarian socialism if it is to retain the aspect of justice.

 

How to be a Nonlinear Progressive

In the most basic sense, to be a progressive is to believe that human beings are capable of progress. For example, if you believe that human beings can be “civilized”, live in “civilizations”, and are not entirely subject to the animal nature of primates, then you may be a progressive. But progression implies a linear movement. We progress from point A to point B along some path and the very idea of a path, suggests we are moving toward a destination. Somewhere we believe we can go. To be a progressive then is to have an idea in mind and strive to achieve it.

If you’re anything like me this notion seems to fit most human projects, but not humanity itself. There is no ideal human just as there is no human ideal. I take an existentialist bent on this idea of progress. We exist first, then we decide on what it means to exist. If this is the case, then we struggle to understand progress. How can we progress toward a better civilization–a better us–if starting places and destinations are impossible. Perhaps, I’ve gone too fast here. Perhaps civilization is one of those human projects and not really substantive of humanity itself. We should ask, does society shape our being? Unfortunately for “progress”, I think it must. The society we are born into will dictate many parts of our being. It will set the bounds of our potential, our understanding–both of ourselves and the world around us. It will form our reason, our logic, even our imagination. Whether we are wealthy or poor, white skinned or black skinned, Hindu or Jewish, Midwestern or Tujia, an anglophone or francophone, highly educated or illiterate or aliterate or one of thousands of more distinctions, our civilization will have great impact on the meaning you make of your life, even on your physical existence.

If society shapes us, as I suggest, then the project of progressing toward an ideal state of existence seems doomed. There seems to be no ideal state to progress toward, only suggested states. One person’s Utopia is very likely some other person’s living hell, and vice versa. The problem with progress, however, is not that we have no ideal state of existence, but that we have too many. We have utopias aplenty. The idealists of the world all have their own utopia, and guess what so do the realists! Everyone has a vision of the right way to act, the right way to think, the right way to be, and when they imagine that vision as dominate in a society, they imagine utopia. More radically still, each and every one of them has the right utopia. The Nazi and the Israeli both have utopian ideals, as much as the capitalist and the Marxist, the pastor and the scientist, the technophile and the Luddite, and they are all right; all of them. Right for them alone, anyhow. What we really are interested in then is a shared Utopia, not an iconoclastic one.

But of course, a single shared vision of society cannot move in all directions at once without tearing itself apart. And while I have argued elsewhere sometimes tearing society apart is what is best for everyone involved, many times the situation is not so drastic. If an idea can be settled on, then we can mark progress toward or regress away from it. Say you were an American just before the advent of the Civil War. You would likely have an opinion of slavery, and that opinion would likely be shaped by the then important social distinction of living either north or south of the Mason-Dixon line. If you grew up north, you were most likely an abolitionist, especially after the attack on Fort Sumter, while if you grew up south, you were most likely pro-slavery. Depending on your side then, progress looked different. The issue could only be settled by force, the vision of who and what America is, was what was at stake. The battles were all real enough, even if the war was really over ideas. That one side won set the standard for progress but had the other side won, the idea of progress would have been the same, just reversed.

Libertarian philosophy offers us no outs here. There is no way to settle such disputes except war and compulsion. Libertarianism is a subjugated political philosophy; one dependent on the unity of the political order. It cannot give us our rights or guide our morals in discord or disagreement. It has no way of settling issues of rights or membership but only of recognition of member’s rights, taken as given. Libertarian socialism, on the other hand, does not necessarily place the individual as sovereign and recognizes the importance of group unity as the primary question of politics. 

The question for libertarian socialists is “can we have progress that doesn’t look for any final end?” If there is no ultimate telos or end of history if each end is maybe just another beginning, is there really progress? I think so. Let’s look at the swinging pendulum of politics in the United States. Every four years or so, the country lurches right or left. A miserable back and forth that almost everyone hates and almost everyone blames their opponents for. This oscillation is not merely an effect of systems of election or the American political architecture, although these contribute to it, no doubt. It is really the effect of a shared ideal with two radically different paths to its attainment. The ideal is prosperity. The paths are social and individual, and those come with an entire host of corresponding belief systems making it virtually impossible for either to see the other’s perspective. Progress has hung up again over economic prosperity, just like it did over slavery.

But the stakes seem much lower this time. Slavery is fundamental state of being that brings with it different laws for different people, hierarchies based exclusively on permanent attributes outside of one’s control, and even a difference in the very humanity of some individuals. Our modern hang up is more like a difference of opinion about the shortest route to the airport. It most likely will not take a civil war to figure this one out. However, it will take some serious philosophic and political effort. What is important for us is that the lower stakes stem from the real fact that both “paths” are sometimes right. Unlike with slavery, this is not something we really want to be decided once and for all: we want to sometimes emphasize individual effort and sometimes emphasize social securities, and nothing says we can’t do both. In this case, progress is possible, but it must be nonlinear or plural.

Nonlinear progress feels strange, like being able to move forwards or backwards and still be going the right way. The strange sensation is cleared up at once if we realize that “moving” is the wrong metaphor to be using here for our idea of progress. We should be thinking of progress as adapting. In this metaphor, the situation changes and we change with it. What is wisdom one minute is folly the next and vice versa. More like putting on a coat or taking it off depending on how the temperature fluctuates.

I think of this in terms of a social version of Aristotle’s ethics. Aristotle didn’t have a universally right answer for every situation. In fact, he disavowed the very idea that one could have a single right answer. But neither did he argue that any action was as good as any other. A virtue must be identified before an action can be judged as in accordance with its approach to that virtue. Aristotle focused on the pragmatic task of adapting the self to the situation in this way. More of this or that action is called for, depending on two things: who you are–or more specifically what you’re capable of–and what situation you find yourself in. Perhaps it’s the time to stand up and fight your enemies or perhaps it’s time to run like hell. To know if you should stay and fight or head for the hills you need to know your abilities and exactly what you’re up against. The goal then, according to Aristotle, is to find the sweet-spot in the middle of the two options. To not be foolhardy or cowardly but appropriately brave. If the situation changes, a revaluation must also take place.

If the target is always moving then our aim ought to be also. There is no time when utopia will be reached and we can sit back, kick up our heels, and rest on our laurels. It’s just not the way the world works. Utopia is not a place, it’s a process, and progress is actively processing. Seen this way, we only stop progressing when we get hung up. Like now. Dangerous gridlocks, like over slavery, or prolonged squabbles are equally progress-halting. The goal of progressives then is to build bridges, level obstacles, and keep the ball rolling. This doesn’t mean giving up on pushing the ball the direction you believe it should go, but it does mean demanding of yourself that you have to give the other side it’s due and equally demanding that they give you yours. We all fail when the ball stops moving, and it takes so little to give in some, compromise a bit, and roll in a new way.

Collective Action & Social Responsibility

Introduction

Whenever collective action is required we are confronted with a choice, whether to use the coercive power of society or whether to preserve freedom by encouraging voluntary participation.  What is called for is a criterion that would help us distinguish which tactic is best suited to the task. To start this examination, we’ll look at Iris Young’s examination of just what social responsibility asks of us in her book Responsibility for Justice.  To help us understand the interplay of individuals in a social matrix we’ll examine Mancur Olson’s book The Logic of Collective Action, where he describes how and why individuals form groups and the mechanisms necessary to keep those groups providing optimal amounts of the goods they formed to obtain.  Additionally, I consider two empirical accounts analyzing the interests of corporate directors in making socially responsible decisions. Altogether these draw a portrait of human beings as social animals imprisoned in unique subjective perspectives.  These perspectives lead to patterns of behavior or norms that, if widespread enough, confront individuals as though they were forces of nature. Despite their presentation, these norms remain contingent and can be changed through sustained organized group action.  Achieving this group action, I show, requires the use of coercion whenever the group is so large that the normative structure of group interaction cannot be managed by trust.

Social Responsibility

In her book, Responsibility for Justice, Iris Marion Young gives her account of how individuals should be responsible for the social condition of justice.  Her book elaborates a “social connection model” of responsibility for justice. In this model social connection links every individual in any position within a social structure that is linked to injustice as equally responsible for the injustice (Young, 2011, p. 104).  Mere membership in the structure is cause for responsibility. That said, Young disassociates responsibility in this sense from blame and guilt, which she feels should be reserved for questions of punishing infractions inside an established system by isolating individual rule-breakers from the innocent (2011, p. 105).  Questions of justice, which involve the normative background conditions of moral and legal judgments (Young, 2011, p. 106), in the social connection model are “forward-looking”, in that they are more concerned with setting the rules right, rather than punishing rule-breakers (Young, 2011, p. 108). Essentially, the questions her model are concerned with are ones where everyone in the structure are already responsible for both its good and bad aspects.  This makes responsibility for justice a shared condition of every participant, no matter how tangentially involved or positively/negatively affected (Young, 2011, p. 109), and as such it can only be affected through collective action (Young, 2011, p. 111).

Young is concerned primarily with the consequences of activity.  Social ills are implicitly assumed to be synonymous with bad outcomes.  How we assess such outcomes is left untreated by Young. Assuming utilitarianism then–for the sake of argument–would allow us to say that if an outcome does not lead to the greatest happiness of the greatest number then it is a social ill.  Everyone involved in the structure that allows for the social ill is, under Young’s model, equally responsible for it doing something about it. Although the individual actions one must undertake in order to discharge their individual responsibility is unique to the position they occupy in the structure itself, according to Young (2011, p. 142).  The particular actions Young leaves up to the deliberators themselves, since she holds no philosophy could possibly prescribe them (2011, p. 124); however, she maintains that responsibility for justice can only be discharged through the use of collective action (2011, p. 111). Young means civil or social action by collective action, not individual action.  In this model, ethics is reserved for individuals but justice is a property of collectives and only as a collective agent, acting to modify the whole collective can one discharge their responsibility. For example, you might spend a day picking up litter from a park, and that is ethically right, but it is not a collective action and does not discharge your social responsibilities.  To do that you would need to work with others to remedy the litter problem in the park. This could take several forms, such as organizing regular cleanings, outlawing the sale of non-biodegradable packaging in your town, or petitioning to add to the number of waste collection bins in the park, etc. The point is that the action must be collective in order to resolve our responsibility for justice.

Young’s model then leaves us perpetually facing the challenge of ascertaining when to use coercive force or supra-incentives and when to allow individual freedom and hope to align individual interests with social goals through practical incentives and adherence to a mere ethical ideology.  

Young hopes philosophy can assist us, by setting out some “parameters of reasoning” (2011, p. 142).  These parameters helps us to assess our position in the structure and so our particular relationship with a perceived injustice.  From a sound appraisal of our role, she assumes we will be able to assess our unique obligations and discharge them in concert with others.  She names four such parameters: “power, privilege, interest, and collective ability”, (2011, p. 144). The most relevant to our discussion is interest.  What is essential in this parameter is that there is almost always–in any sustained injustice–an individual or set of individuals to whom the injustice is beneficial and equally another to whom it is detrimental.  Those who benefit by perpetuating the injustice will have a difficult–if not impossible–time coming to understand how their actions should be voluntarily changed, despite the adversity to their own interests. In other words, given the current social norms that permit this injustice, these beneficiaries are unlikely to change their behavior in the name of justice (or any other ideal) because doing so directly harms them.  Young writes, “Aligning interest with responsibility is not a problem; indeed, one way of looking at what taking political responsibility means is to figure out how to align one’s own interests with those of agents that suffer injustice” (2011, p. 146). Still, the choice remains whether coercion or supra-incentives are necessary to align the interests of beneficiaries of injustice with those of the sufferers of injustice.     

Young has provided us with the impetus to act socially to cure structural injustice, but she has not provided us with an apparatus for doing so.  Power and privilege are always protected by an interest in preserving them, and the collective ability to act can be mobilized as readily to protect and extend those interests that perpetuate injustice as it can to thwart them.  The question is how do the weak, the underprivileged, and the unorganized sufferers of injustice create systemic change against the overwhelming adversity of those total and partial beneficiaries? Against libertarian doctrine, does Young’s theory advocate or allow political action to limit the freedoms of the privileged and powerful in order to carve a place for themselves in the society?

The tragedy of Young’s account is that those most in need of structural change are generally the same ones in the worst position to go about organizing collective action to change it.  Typically these victims of injustice are limited to merely being vocal about their plight, hoping others might join them and create change. This leaves them very vulnerable to being ignored.  Young lists four rationalizations of those who would rather avoid social responsibility: reification, denying connection, immediacy, and displacing responsibility (2011, p. 154). For the sake of time, I’ll only describe the first, reification, since it is the most relevant to our discussion.  Reification, put simply is the making natural of that which is contingent. External forces may be either controllable or uncontrollable, and reification is the mistaking of the former for the latter kind. Typically these are contingent social norms that are either reified as human nature or mistaken as some natural or formal law.  A reified norm is believed to be immutable and so must be worked around rather than confronted, changed, or denied. The powerful may easily reify the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. This may be both unethical and unjust but, assuming a libertarian sentiment of non-interference, this is the best that we might expect.      

To see why, we must turn to the mechanisms for effecting collective change.  But at this point our earlier assumption of utilitarianism becomes untenable.  Either we have to prove that utilitarianism is an acceptable justification for any or all coercive or supra-incentivized political actions or else discard it in favor of some other criterion.  Assuming that we want a libertarian (as opposed to a totalitarian) government–by which I mean only that we want a government that intends to leave its citizens free except where there has been established a justified social need to delimit their freedom–we need a methodology for determining when a structural injustice is neither natural, nor self-correcting, nor inherently unstable, nor likely to be remedied by education or an appeal to an ideal.  In other words, we need to answer the question: when would it be justifiable to coerce free people?

Collective Action

In The Logic of Collective Action, Mancur Olson theorizes about why individuals organize into groups and how those groups function internally.  Specifically, he is interested in the way public goods, which he defines as good that even when consumed cannot feasibly be withheld from the other members of the group (e.g. security or freedom of expression), create, sustain, and define group activity (Olson, 1965, p. 14).  Olson (1965, p. 7) reasons that groups organize around particular member interests that cannot be met at all or as well individually. Public goods are necessarily interests of this type. The problem that sometimes arises, according to Olson (1965, p. 21) is that “[t]hough all of the members of the group… have a common interest in obtaining this collective benefit, they have no common interest in paying the cost of providing that collective good.”  Left at this point, it is easy to conclude that coercion of the members to get each to contribute their share is a necessary conclusion of all public goods. However, group interplay yields different results at different scales. Olson finds (1965, p. 33) that “small groups can provide themselves with collective goods without relying on coercion or any positive inducements apart from the collective good itself”. Although, he finds, they are unlikely to do so optimally (Olson, 1965, p. 34) and that “the larger the group, the father it will fall short of providing an optimal amount of a collective good” (Olson, 1965, p. 35).    The result of this situation, according to Olson, is that “the larger the group, the less it will further its common interests” (1965, p. 36).

This analysis, prima facie, seems to preclude the possibility of very large groups.  But Olson (1965, p. 37) goes on to show that groups act either inclusively or exclusively regarding the movement of members in and out of the group.  Inclusive group members benefit proportionally with the greater the number of members in the group, while exclusive group members benefit proportionally to the lower the number of members in the group.  Olson notes (1965, p. 39) that groups can act simultaneously as inclusive or exclusive depending on the type of goods the group is seeking. For example, a franchise might act exclusively to protect its share of the consumer-base by seeking to limit the number of other franchises operating in the vicinity.  On the other hand, the same franchise might act inclusively, by joining with as many other franchises (or even other companies) as possible, in seeking changes to government policy respecting their industry. When the goods in question are not public, there is an interest in exclusivity, but when the goods are public the groups tend to be inclusive.  Inclusive groups grow large because the need for bargaining and the strategic actions of individual members towards self-interest is greatly reduced, making “group-oriented action more likely” (Olson, 1965, p. 42).

The drawback is that group size affects efficiency because of the limited perceptibility of individual efforts.  Olson writes (1965, p. 44) “in a large group in which no single individual’s contribution makes a perceptible difference to the group as whole, or the burden or benefit of any single member of the group, it is certain that a collective good will not be provided unless there is coercion or some outside inducements that will lead the members of the large group to act in their common interest.”  The limit of perceptibility here provides us with the dividing line, separating the large group who–left to its own devices–will fail to provide public goods, and “the oligopoly-sized group which may provide itself with a collective good” (Olson, 1965, p. 45).  The difference “depends upon whether any two or more members of the group have a perceptible interdependence,” Olson says (1965, p. 45); that is it depends “on whether the contribution or lack of contribution of any one individual in the group will have a perceptible effect on the burdens or benefits of any other individual or individuals in the group.”  

Olson elaborates three key factors that keep larger groups from furthering their own collective interests:

First, the larger the group, the smaller the fraction of the total group benefit any person acting in the group interest receives [relative to costs], and the less adequate the reward for any group-oriented action, and the farther the group falls short of getting an optimal supply of the collective good, even if it should get some.  Second, since the larger the group, the smaller the share of the total benefit going to any individual, or to any (absolutely) small subset of member of the group, the less the likelihood that any small subset of the group, much less any single individual, will gain enough from getting the collective good to bear the burden of providing even a small amount of it; in other words, the larger the group the smaller the likelihood of oligopolistic interaction that might help obtain the good.  Third, the larger the number of members in the group the greater the organizational costs, and thus the higher the hurdle that must be jumped before any of the collective good at all can be obtained. (Olson, 1965, p. 48)

The takeaway here is that larger groups, beyond a perceptibility threshold, simply cannot maintain provide optimal amounts of public goods without coercion.  Without the optimal amounts of public goods group cohesion breaks down, since groups are only formed around the receipt of these goods. We might conclude from this that large-scale groups that do not break down do so by the use of coercion; whether that coercion is by force or supra-incentive.  Thus the libertarian assumption of freedom is already questionable beyond the perceptibility threshold.

Olson summarizes his conclusions this way:

The smallest type of group–the group in which one or more members get such a large fraction of the total benefit that they find it worthwhile to see that the collective good is provided, even if they have to pay the entire cost–may get along without any group agreement or organization… In any group larger than this, on the other hand, no collective good can be obtained without some group agreement, coordination, or organization.  In the intermediate or oligopoly-sized group, where two or more members must act simultaneously before a collective good can be obtained, there must be at least tacit coordination or organization. Moreover, the larger a group is, the more agreement and organization it will need. (1965, p. 46)

By coordination and organization Olson means the use of political force to coerce people into behaviors that allow for the provision of the optimal amounts of public goods.  In effect then, Olson is saying that the larger the group, the more political force must be applied to achieve the same goods as the small group can achieve without any force at all.  Recalling that the benefit of the large group is the reduction of individual costs to achieve a good, a trade-off must be struck between where a public good is still beneficial despite increases in organizational costs to achieve it.  We should expect to see different scales of political activity, pursuing different public goods, and that is what we do see.

Problematically, Olson’s theory assumes a good deal of individualism; he presupposes individuals as atomic and fully-formed units prior to the inception of any and every group.  This is a state that has never existed and limits the applicability of some of Olson’s conclusions. However, the ability to remain or leave or otherwise alter the composition of some specific groups of which an individual member, would enable one to see his or herself as an atomic whole relative to the group.  In this sense, Olson’s theory does help us to understand the movements and actions of groups as they struggle to maintain themselves in a turbulent social environment. For our purposes, Olson provides us with a minimal guide to where coercion or supra-incentives become necessary in order to provide public goods or discharge our responsibility for justice.  As a group exceeds the limit where individual contributions are perceptible group cohesion breaks down, requiring the application of external action in order to retain unity while obtaining the optimal amount of any public good at grand scales.

It is too simple to argue that groups over a certain manageable size (e.g. a hundred members) should apply rules to bind individuals in order to obtain public goods.  We must also inquire about the particularities of the public benefits and their necessity. It might be a public good that everyone abstains from cigarettes in a society, it is another thing to demand that all do so.  We might think of Olson’s theory as providing the borderline where we should expect coercion or supra-incentives to become necessary, and optimal at some scale. Looked at this way, we should not have to spend effort on enforcing participation from small groups because they will largely monitor themselves and achieve the public goods in question, without any sort of external force.  It is only as a large, disorganized group that the need for such external compulsions arise in the first place. So we have our first criterion.

In questioning whether or not to limit individual freedom, we should examine the structure inside of which the actions in question take place.  To do this we cannot rely on courts or existing laws. Instead we must debate the action from all angles in political deliberation. The reason for this is that–viewed structurally–every action is connected to other people.  These sets of relations carry their own interests, so that it is possible–prima facie–to have conflicts between one’s social interests and one’s individual interests.  The problem is epistemological. One’s social interests are difficult to ascertain (because they rely on relationships to others including others relationships to even further removed others and so on) whereas one’s individual interests are often immediately perceptible.  As we saw perceptibility is key. It should be obvious that one’s social interests, if recognized are in fact one’s individual interests. Thus without the epistemological gap there could be no conflict between one’s social and one’s individual interests. Societies then have a vested interest in keeping the peace, and reducing the epistemological gap would greatly facilitate social understanding, mutual respect, and a comprehension of one’s shared responsibility.  

In Practice

To explore this issue in greater detail, let’s turn now to a couple of empirical examinations before trying to generalize our conclusion.  The first is an article by Sally Simpson and others which explores “the extent to which decisions by managers to violate environmental laws are affected by command-and-control or self-regulation prevention-and-control strategies” (2013, p. 234). In essence what is being measured here are the “intentions to act illegally” of decision-makers in corporate business organizations (Simpson, 2013, p. 250).  Similarly with the second article, Jacob Rose details his study of the decision making processes of those who primarily determine the social responsibility of corporate behavior: the corporate directors. Simpson et. al’s study is complementary with Rose’s, since both examine similar situations. The relevant difference for us is that Simpson looks primarily at strategy to curtail illicit corporate behavior while Rose focuses more on why individual directors are likely stray without regards to any strategy.  The findings together propose a picture of individual human interests inside and a part of a matrix of social interests, as we saw in Olson.

Sally Simpson et. al. contends that “scholars and policymakers know very little about “what works, what doesn’t, and what’s promising regarding corporate crime-control strategies” (2013, p. 234).  One reason for this is the general complexity of controlling the behavior of multiple agents by multiple agents. “Regulatory instruments and institutions are interconnected…” so that any talk of so-called strategies is purely conceptual to begin with.  However, the authors find they are useful heuristics for comparing “particular instruments” especially in light of the way context and interaction may affect their results (2013, p. 235). In statistically analyzing the results, the authors combined different relevant factors in six different models showing, for example, the changes of the effective deterrence of informal sanctions alone versus when combined with formal sanctions (Simpson, 2013, p. 258).     

The two basic “strategies” discussed in this paper are command-and-control and self-regulatory.  “In command-and-control strategies, legal authorities dictate the terms of compliance, relying on the threat of formal legal sanctions to achieve compliance with those terms” (2013, p. 236).  In simple terms, this approach involves outlawing certain behaviors and then policing corporate activity and punishing violations, in other words what we’ve been calling coercive actions. “Self-regulatory approaches (typically offered as a complementary strategy in conjunction with government-enforced regulation) presume that prosocial norms and values coupled with effective internal compliance systems (e.g., clear accountability, communication of expectations, effective monitoring, and appropriate reprimands when violations occur) will secure compliance” (2013, p. 238).  In this strategy, the hope is that companies will come to adopt certain norms proscribing the unwanted behaviors, this will lead to self-policing and internal punishment for violations. This sort of internal regulation is what saw was achievable for small groups in Olson, but not large ones. Additionally, the authors examine informal sanctions that are associated with both strategies, such as bad publicity.

Simpson et. al. draw several particular conclusions from their data.

For each unit increase in the respondent’s estimate that the behavior will advance the manager’s career, the odds that the respondent would be willing to violate environmental regulations increase by almost 26%.  For every unit increase in perceived thrills, the odds of being willing to offend increased by about 53%… For every unit increase in perceived business-related informal costs, the odds of being willing to offend decrease by 62%. (2013, p. 261)

None of the self-regulation variables significantly affect offending intentions, nor do they mitigate the effect of the individual- and firm-level risk factors…  A one-unit increase in the formal sanctions costs scale decreases the probability that the respondent is willing to violate environmental regulations by about 54%. (2013, p. 262).

More generally, the authors conclude that “our results suggest that both formal legal and informal… sanction threats can inhibit environmental noncompliance” (2013, 263).  Additionally, they stress that “none of the interventions appears to substantially lessen the powerful influence of career benefits on offending intentions” (2013, p. 263). The authors continue,

This implies that when a person perceives a large career benefit, she is less likely to consider informal sanctions before deciding to offend. The perceived benefit of illegal behavior for this group appears to trump any anticipated loss of respect and future harm to job prospects associated with the informal discovery that promotes crime inhibition for others in the sample” (2013, p. 264).

This conclusion suggests that if corporate decision-makers have an individual incentive in violating the law then they are significantly more likely to do so and that neither formal or informal social sanctions seems to affect that decision.     

The findings themselves merely “reinforce what sociologists have emphasized since Durkheim—social norms influence how we behave” (Simpson et. al., 2013, p. 266).  The authors conclude, “[w]hen norms fail, the government must be ready and willing to intervene” (Simpson, 2013, p. 267). More importantly, the findings imply that individual incentives play a marked role in neglecting social responsibility.  In light of Young’s and Olson’s contributions, this evidence seems to suggest that individuals will excuse themselves from social responsibility despite easy recognition and full knowledge of what they are doing and even in the face of public shaming, if and only if that there is an individual reward for doing so.  

Jacob Rose suggests a structural reason why this is the case.  His study of corporate director’s decision making processes finds that directors sometimes sacrifice personal ethics and social responsibility in favor of legally defensible actions.  They do this, Rose claims, in full knowledge of the implications of their decisions. They act in such an unethical and socially irresponsible manner because they believe the law, requires them to maximize shareholder value, demands they take such actions, (Rose, 2007, p. 319).  Rose suggests that, “additional ethics education will have little influence on the decisions of many business leaders because their decisions are driven by corporate law, rather than personal ethics” (2007, p. 319). To some extent then, Rose’s findings confirm Simpson et. al.’s findings that individual incentives can influence moral decisions and that it is the normative field that is the greatest influence.  But what Rose draws out is that the normative field also influences the motives behind the individual incentives.

The specific findings of Rose’s study are succinctly summarized by the author,

The results of the experiment indicate that: (1) directors that have duties to shareholders consistently give up corporate social responsibility for increased shareholder value, even when their personal morals and ethical standards suggest alternative courses of action; (2) directors making decisions from the perspective of a business owner, rather than a director, do not consistently trade ethical standards or social responsibility for wealth maximization; (3) directors recognize the ethical implications of decisions that affect social welfare; and (4) directors favor shareholder value over personal ethical beliefs and social good because they believe that current corporate law requires them to pursue legal courses of action that maximize shareholder value. Taken together, the findings indicate that our corporate leaders make decisions that emphasize legal defensibility, rather than ethics or social responsibility. The results also suggest that additional ethics education may have little influence on the decisions of most business leaders because their decisions are driven by existing law, rather than personal ethics. (Rose, 2007, p. 319-320)

The formal law is rightly seen by these directors as overpowering normative ethical concerns.  In other words, the coercive spirit of the law is a norm itself or a supra-normative norm. We are prepared to follow the law even as it leads us into unethical and unjust action. Specifically then, when the law dictates the maximization of profit for shareholders in all situations that it does not otherwise forbid, the directors feel they have no choice but to follow the law, even when it drives them to act unethically and socially irresponsibly.  This is most obviously demonstrated by Rose’s second finding; where the decision-maker was also the owner, they were much less likely to violate their own ethics and act irresponsibly. In this latter case, the law leaves them free to choose. The major implication here is that the social structure of capitalism that pushes businesses to maximize shareholder value drives the decisions of directors that lead to socially undesirable results. We might be inclined to forgive the directors for this clear double bind.  However, this commonly held belief of the directors is actually only a reified norm; the law does not in fact require them to maximize shareholder value (Stout, 2015). Following Young, we would see their actions as the excuse of reifying the demand to maximize the shareholder value. They are simply justifying their actions by absolving their own responsibility. That said, the common belief is likely reflecting a very real norm in the economic world: that is if directors do not maximize shareholder value, they will be replaced with someone who will.  This fierce competition for the job requires then a certain amount of ruthlessness in anyone ambitious to attain it. In other words, while the law does not require directors to maximize shareholder value, the structure of capitalism most certainly does and that confronts these directors with all the coercive force of the law. Interestingly then, it is the supra-normative belief that the law is rightfully coercive that does all the work of keeping behavior inline and so providing public goods or preserving structural injustices, without regards to written law at all.

One possible objection to my connection between Rose and Simpson et. al. is that what they are comparing is not precisely the same.  Simpson et. al. is analyzing the tendency to knowingly violate a real law, while Rose is analyzing the tendency to choose a belief in the law over personal ethics.  In the specifics these are not the same things at all. However, we are concerned primarily with the fact that individuals making larger social decisions do so exclusively in light of their individual perceptions.  These perceptions shape both their individual and social interests. Viewed this way, Rose and Simpson et. al. both find that decision-makers act in their own best interests first and their social interests second, if they may.  The conclusion we wish to draw from Rose and Simpson et. al. is simply that individuals view themselves subjectively, and so have a tendency to see themselves first.

From this we can draw the conclusion that individuals can be expected to do what is socially right if and only if what is right is aligned with their individual interests.  They may be compelled to do what is socially right by bringing the individual’s interest into alignment with social interests. This can only be done through some kind of threat of coercion, either a punishment which reduces the individual’s interests in committing the offending behavior (if they’re caught) or through a reward that entices them to obey.  

Conclusion

While we do not find fully formed atomistic agents, we do find socially-constructed agents doomed to view themselves as atomistic agents.  The normative structures these agents are fully in control of, nevertheless confront those same agents as external forces beyond their control.  The coercive power of an organization is one such force. Organization is thus required to harness the control of these structures and make them either more beneficial or less harmful.  This organization necessarily limits individual freedoms, but does so to provide optimal amounts of public goods, when scaled appropriately. Logically then, the large structures, such as nations, states, cities, corporations, and collectives, must threaten some coercive means upon its membership whenever it is confronted by a structural problem.   The criteria for whether or not to apply coercive means is based partially on the scale of the group in question, specifically concerning the perceptibility of individual contributions, and partially whether or not the act is the result of structurally patterned behavior which incentivize individual norms to supercede collective ones.

This makes Young’s theory something of a communitarian theory.  In order to require that we discharge our social responsibilities, those responsibilities have to be superior to our individual interests in all cases.  Libertarianism is only consistent with the entirely isolated individual. Inside a society, communitarianism is the background assumption. Thus we might hold each other accountable for not discharging our social responsibilities.      

References

Olson, M. (1965). The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the  Theory of Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rose. J. M. (2006). Corporate directors and social responsibility: ethics versus shareholder
value. Journal of Business Ethics, 73, 319-331.

Simpson, S. S., Gibbs, C., Rorie, M., Slocum, L. A., Cohen, M. A., & Vandenbergh, M. (2013).
An empirical assessment of corporate environmental crime-control strategies. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 103(1), 231-278.

Stout, L. (2015, April 16). Corporations Don’t Have to Maximize Profits. The New York Times. Retrieved from
https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/corporations-dont-have-to-maximize-profits

Young, I. M. (2011).  Responsibility for Justice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.