Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The First Rule of Double Standards

One of my favorite self-reflective statements is: The first rule of double standards is that I get to have one and you don't. I like it because in one sentence, it demonstrates the problem of a double standard: some person or entity holds two conflicting standards and applies them to his, her, or their advantage. But if two different people or organizations hold a different standard, that is not a double standard. Sure, it's two standards, but it's not got the same logical inconsistencies as a single person trying to hold two conflicting standards at the same time.

I think the author of this article is frustrated. But when he says "double standard", I'm forced to disagree with him. Last year, Brett Favre played for the Green Bay Packers while Steve McNair played for the Tennessee Titans. That they have been treated differently during this off season simply means that the general managers for each respective team had different priorities. If one entity, had treated each of them differently, then the author could argue that there was a double standard. But the Green Bay Packers are not the same entity as the Tennessee Titans.

One could argue that the NFL is the unifying entity since both of them play in that league. But the NFL isn't the entity that is making the contract decisions for the Packers or the Titans. Each of them is doing that independently of each other and the NFL.

The author does argue that there is a unifying entity (the media and the fans) who are treating each player differently. And that's got a little more teeth to it. The problem is that there is no organization that is either "the media" or "the fans". Those are convenient terms that we use to describe a group of independent people who have similar characteristics. As a result, the media and the fans will almost always hold more than one standard: there's more than one of them deciding what standard to hold.

The author might want to make the point that the double standard is actually prevalent among NFL fans. If so, he'd need to find out how many people simultaneously support Favre returning to the Packers and reject McNair returning to the Titans. You can't simply say that one group of fans supporting Favre, and another group of fans rejecting McNair indicates that there's a double standard. They're different groups of people.

You could also find real double standards in the media: just find any author who has written in support of Favre and in opposition of McNair. Unfortunately, in that case, you're really only criticizing the specific authors who hold those conflicting views. It's got much better rhetorical value to say "the media holds a double standard". It makes for a much taller soap box.

There may very well be a double standard. It's possible that many NFL fans are individually holding two conflicting viewpoints with respect to McNair and Favre. Maybe there are lots of individuals in the media who are praising Favre while rejecting McNair. Maybe there's some mastermind in the league offices pushing a pro-Favre and anti-McNair agenda. But nothing in this article lends any credence to any real claims of a double standard. What the author does call a double standard isn't one. And calling it that only serves to dilute the meaning of those words. It makes them less useful when a real double standard comes along.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers. I'm glad that Favre is back. I have no opinion on whether or not Steve McNair plays for the Titans.

Friday, May 05, 2006

FAITH based initiatives

The American Muslim has scheduled news conference. This is an interesting announcement. It would appear that they find Wachovia's closing of the account to be problematic and worthy of some sort of political response. Presumably, this response would then force Wachovia to re-open the account. Perhaps, their ultimate goal is to force all banks to not discriminate based on the religious preferences of their account holders.

I don't know the ultimate goal of this. But as a person who holds religious beliefs, I find this to be rather wrong headed. Let's suppose, for example, that I were a customer of, say, Bank of America. And Bank of America decided that it was going to close all the accounts of all people of German descent who are also Christians. Would I be annoyed with this? Yes, of course. My great grandparents moved here in the early 1900's from Germany and I am a Christian. I'd be excluded.

But, unfortunately, a free market demands that each participant in the market be free to decide their trading partners. I am free to exclude Bank of America as a trading partner - I can choose not to be their customer. They should have that exact same freedom - to choose not to do business with me. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what the reasons are. If you force trade between two parties where one of them doesn't want it, that party is being robbed. Thaey are having their assets taken from them without their permission and given to someone else. It doesn't matter that they receive some compensation for those assets. What matters is that the robbed entity didn't think that compensation sufficient for the trade. As a result, they're getting something less than what they're being forced to give up. I see no distinction between that and robbery.

And it makes no difference if this is between a Muslim group or a Christian group or a German group or whatever group. If Wachovia doesn't want to do business with them, that is their prerogative. If, it turns out that none of the existing major banks want to do business with this group, that simply creates a market oppurtunity for someone else. Let's suppose that I'm being discriminated against by Bank of America. I could give you my money in return for a promise that you

  1. Have sufficient loss insurance
  2. Will give it back to me when demanded
  3. Will pay me an agreed upon interest rate
You are then given the freedom to invest that money however you want, so long as you meet the above criteria. You might even open an account at Bank of America, and the agreed upon intersest rate is 0.5% less than Bank of America's published rate.

But maybe I don't trust you. Ok. If Bank of America is discriminating against me alone, then Citi probably won't discriminate against me alone. They want my profits. So I'll go there. Or, if Bank of America is discriminating against me as a class (German Christians) then I can still go to Citi. But maybe all of the existing banks are discriminating against German Christians. Now the risk of trusting you might look better. Or maybe there's someone else who's interested in my 0.5% profit and is more trustworthy than you.

Given time, the market will produce someone who's willing to get my profits. The beauty of free association is that this is what happens. The cost of free association is the ability of one entity to refuse to associate with another. If you keep free association, over time, we all get what we want. If you start forcing associations, over time, none of us get anything we want.

Don't kill free association.