The Power of “No”

Despite my best efforts, I have increasingly come to enjoy Meghan Trainor’s new song No

It has a rather simple message:

My name is “No”
My sign is “No”
My number is “No”
You need to let it go
You need to let it go
Need to let it go

There are other lyrics, but that’s about 90% of the song right there.

And there’s a lot to get out of the song, too.  Jeffery Tucker has an excellent article on just this over at FEE.  The biggest take away is consent.

Consent is vital to any free society.  Without it, peaceful actions are no longer peaceful.  Sex without consent is rape.  Co-habitation without consent is kidnapping.  And trade without consent is robbery.

This leads me into what I want to discuss: market power.  In any voluntary transaction, both parties have the ultimate veto: “no.”  Once that veto is invoked, neither party may legally or morally compel the other to action.  Most conversations about market power discount this veto.  They’ll claim Party A has more market power than Party B because they are richer or because they have what B wants.  But the simple truth is this: Bill Gates, who has orders of magnitude more dollars than I will ever hope to have, has no more power over me than I over him.  Bill Gates cannot compel me to buy Microsoft products because of my simple two-letter veto: “no.”  Likewise, I cannot compel Bill Gates to sell me his home because of his simple two-letter veto: “no.”

Unfortunately, there are some who do not take “no” for an answer.  They do not, as Meghan sings, let it go.  And thus they are happy to resort to force via the government to compel an action.  Eminent domain, protectionist tariffs, immigration restrictions, and occupational licenses are examples of this (although they are hardly the only cases).

One of the reasons I support free markets over socialism (democratic or otherwise) is because I respect the individual’s right to refuse.  I believe in the right to say no.  I believe “no means no.”

7 thoughts on “The Power of “No”

  1. “Eminent domain, protectionist tariffs, immigration restrictions, and occupational licenses are examples of this (although they are hardly the only cases).”

    You can always say “NO!”

    If you don’t like the fact that the law of the land allows for eminent domain then you are free to go. Maybe you can find a country that will accept you that has laws that you like better than America. If so, then you can go. Maybe you don’t like the tariffs we have, or the immigration restrictions we have, etc. Then please either work to change the laws you disagree with or go.

    What country will let you in that has better laws that the US?

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    • You are right; I can (if another country is willing to grant residence) always leave.

      On the other hand, that is an extreme step. It might involve moving to a place whose language I do not yet speak; finding that my qualifications no longer count and my employment prospects are limited; shifting my children to unfamiliar schools, social assumptions and economic habits. It also involves removing from my own community the political input I am currently responsible for, and so pushing it further in a direction I dislike.

      You want people to do all that just because they dislike the tyranny of the majority and would like to live in a more tolerant and diverse society? A far better option is to accept that there are political differences; to accept people’s right to believe and to say, for instance:

      “Consent is vital to any free society. Without it, peaceful actions are no longer peaceful. Sex without consent is rape. Co-habitation without consent is kidnapping. And trade without consent is robbery.”

      and to press – as do you, of course – for societal changes more congenial to me.

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    • Two quick points, Neil:

      1) The US may have better legislation than other countries, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get even better.

      2) You hit the nail on the head regarding why simply emigrating is not really that practical an option with this comment: “What country will let you in that has better laws that the US?” Emigration depends on somebody else letting you in. Unfortunately, the world still have largely closed borders, so simply leaving is not really a practical option for most people. I’d also add “Would the US even allow one to leave?”

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      • I have the right to move someplace else. I can move and work in Japan.

        Assuming you spoke the language and understood the customs would you choose the US or Japan? If you were ethnically Japanese so you could blend in, which country would you choose?

        The USA ain’t perfect. I used to work in Switzerland and even if I could live there, I would take the USA over Switzerland.

        How bout you?

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        • I agree you have the right to move someplace else. The problem is governments, including our own, don’t recognize that right.

          As for me, where would I move outside the US? I don’t know. Never really thought that much about it. Not done exploring America. So far, I’ve lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Moving to Virginia next month. That means I still have 47 states to go.

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  2. The ultimate question boils down to why should a government get to decide where I get to buy products from? Drawing the arbitrary consumption boundary to the United States is really no different philosophically and morally than drawing a consumption boundary around my neighborhood. When one paints it in this light, then the restrictions on individual liberty and punitive tariffs becomes quite the sophistry.

    I rather enjoyed this video that someone down at the American Enterprise Institute cobbled together under the title of Trump versus Friedman on Trade Policy. https://youtu.be/7DhagKyvDck. A key phrase from Friedman in the video montage that I particularly enjoy (at the 2:00 minute mark) summarizes the topic of free trade quite well, “When I look at the legislation it always seems to me that the legislation is enacted to benefit a small group at the expense of the large group. Free trade is a way of benefiting a large group at the expense of the small group. But, politically, a small group always speaks with a bigger voice.”

    Another brilliant quote that I want to call out is when Friedman uses a quote (7:35 minute mark) from the classical American economist Henry George (circa 1890) that, “It’s a very interesting thing that in times of war, we blockade our enemies in order to prevent them from getting goods from us. In time of peace we do to ourselves by tariffs what we do to our enemy in time of war.”

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