No one in his right mind denies that people in commerce can become criminals. That’s because people in any walk of life can — it is a basic human capacity not only to do something wrong but to hurt others with it.
No other known animal is like us in this respect, which is why the courts aren’t flooded with cases of animal crime. Despite what all the champions of animal rights and liberation suppose, people are basically different from non-humans. And the source of that difference is free choice. Without it, all human misconduct, malpractice — including Goldman Sach’s, Enron’s, Bernard Madoff’s, etc. — would be but natural disasters, like earthquakes or tsunamis or volcanoes. No one could be deemed guilty of anything at all since personal responsibility would be what many philosophers and social scientists claim it is, a sheer myth.
OK, then, but there is another implication of our difference from fellow critters in the world. This is that one person’s or group of people’s guilt doesn’t imply the guilt of another’s. This is why it is wrong to form prejudices based on what people have done who are in some respects similar to a wrongdoer. I am a college professor and if I do something wrong as such, it doesn’t show anything about my colleagues. All we may infer from my misconduct is that, well, such misconduct is possible, that others like me might also act badly. But from my acting badly no one is justified in inferring that other professors are also doing so.
Nonetheless modern liberals, unlike classical ones and libertarians, seem to overlook this principle when it comes to people in commerce. So if one Wall Street firm has been found guilty of fraud — which is to say the managers of such a firm have been found guilty of a certain kind of crime — many modern liberals will unhesitatingly rush to condemn other such firms. This is shown clearly by how readily they move from an instance of commercial crime to condemning all those doing the kind of commerce done by the guilty and how they insist that all these others must now be severely regulated even though they have not been found guilty of anything.
This is wrong, and modern liberals should be first in line condemning it, yet they are often first in line showing such prejudice toward all those doing the sort of business done by the ones found guilty of malpractice, like Goldman Sachs, for example.
And this is not the only instance of modern liberal prejudice toward commercial agents. The very institution of government regulation of people in business is flawed — it involves what in other contexts is considered impermissible prior restraint. Just because a business might do something untoward, it is deemed a valid target of prior punishment or imposition of burdens.
Tibor Machan writes for Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: TMachan@gmail.com