Friday, September 06, 2013

Can "All Workers Unite" Actually End Capitalism?

I'm always interested with the claim that if all workers in the world cease to work, capitalism would crumble and there will be no more masters and servants afterward. I highly doubt that a labor strike in such supernatural level will ever occur considering the nature of men and their self interest.  Nevertheless, this could be an interesting thought experiment.

So, for the argument's sake, let us just assume that all of the workers in this planet simultaneously stop their work. What would happen? If all productions stop, I assume that most businesses (especially those which use employee/employer system) will also stop save for businesses that are being run by individuals.  My assumption that individual businesses will still conduct their business activities is based on two further assumptions: (i) they are their own masters, and therefore, there is no need for them to follow the workers, and (ii)  they can run their businesses without significant dependance on other businesses or infrastructure support. In short, they would be most likely local businessmen who have the capacity to produce their own products by themselves.  

Now, you can always stop working, but you can't stop living. You still need to obtain your basic needs right?  If you can gather everything by yourself from the nature, that would be fine. But if not, what would happen? You'll depend on other people, and in this case, you will depend on the above individual businesses during your strikes while waiting for the crumble of capitalism.

In such case, the law of supply and demand will automatically work. With less supply and more demand, price will increase. Even worse, without any competitors, the local businesses will eventually have enough monopoly power to solely control the price of their goods and services. And trust me, that would be a very bad scenario.

Let me give you an example: previously a local farmer sells an apple for US$2. In reality, he's almost out of the business since he can't compete with the local supermarkets which are far more efficient than him and can sell their apples for US$1 each. But, with the great labor strike, the supermarkets cease to operate and the farmer becomes the only apple seller in the community. Imagine his power now to determine the price of his apple without any competitors. Why bother charging US$2 if you can get a higher price? After all, people can only get apples from you.   

How about the workers? Without a job, the only thing that they can do is to use their savings, or they can try to become businessmen on their own, selling their own services/products to other parties. If they can do it, that would be nice, if not, they will need to rely on the new capitalists, i.e. the individual businessmen as I described above and the cycle will begin again. The irony is: in order to survive, they need to become new capitalists.

So in the end, at best, the strike will only produce new capitalists and a new cycle of capitalism. At worst, the workers lose their savings before the rich guys lose all of their money and therefore, the old capitalism prevails. In any case, it won't change the fact that servants and masters will always exist.

The problem lies with human nature, namely: the basic needs for surviving in this world. In the past, in order to survive, men must have a lot of skills. In such case, only the true elites can survive while others perished. But humans are not stupid, there is an easier way to survive, and that is by interacting and cooperating with others.

Unfortunately, by default, you can't get anything for free. Either you need to obtain your needs by self labor (producing everything by yourself) or you exchange something with others to obtain what you need from them. This process creates the market and within such process, the iron law of supply and demand will eventually lead some people to be on the top place while others will stay below depending on their skills and luck.

The above analysis is made on the assumption that order and authority remain to exist. But how about in worst case scenario when there is a revolution? Suppose the workers are out of their savings and they decide that they will take control of the resources from the businessmen. Will that change the analysis?

My answer is no. Once the workers gain control of the resources, similar issue will still exist. Even if you have all the money in the world, you can't do everything by yourself. Some will still be better at doing things than you and the process of exchange of products and services will start again. This will lead to another cycle of supply and demand, market, etc. And before you know it, capitalism will return swiftly. Of course, this is also assuming that those workers will distribute the resources evenly in the first place. If not, even from the very beginning, new masters will emerge without having to wait for another cycle of capitalism.   

In the end, I don't think the slogan "All Workers Unite" will work to end capitalism. It will just produce another capitalism (but with different "capitalists"). It is still a nice slogan though, has a nice ring to it, and sounds powerful. Well, at least it is perfect for campaign and propaganda.         

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Does Islamic Law Deal With Minimum Wage?

There is a fundamental problem when I read this paper titled: Islamic Commercial Law and Social Justice: Shari'ah Compliant Companies, Worker's Rights and the Living Wage (written by Susan C. Hascall), namely, the fact that she argues that some of the Prophet's Hadiths can be used to support the existence of minimum wage for employees and the notion that a company cannot claim itself to be Shari'a compliant without complying with minimum wage requirement. 

Why? Let us read first the Hadiths used by Ms. Hascall below:

"Give a servant his fee before his sweat dries"

"God Most High said: I shall be the opponent of three people on the day of judgment: the man to whom I gave generously but then he cheated; the man the man who sold a freeman into slavery and ate up its price, and the man who hired a worker and took his due measure from him but did not pay him for his (fair) wages"

The word "fair" that I underline above is an additional language used by her. I have to disagree with Ms. Hascall because from the very beginning, these Hadiths do not deal with the fair amount of wages to be given to a worker. It is true that some Islamic scholars tried to argue in such a way, but I do no think that their interpretation is correct.

In my view, these Hadiths deal with the obligation of an employer to honor his contract with his worker, i.e. to pay his employee's salary/fee for the work that has been done and that he should not postpone such payment without a valid reason. No words on fair amount. Therefore, this is about the sanctity of contract not minimum wages.

As I have argued several times in my blog and in my paper here, Islamic Law (as a concept and not in the context of Legal Positivism) separates moral and legal issues and also puts efficiency and the general welfare maximization as the main principles in building its legal system. This is why Islamic Law does not prohibit or even condemn pre-existing slavery, condemns riba but does not provide any sanction even though God says that the sin of committing riba is equal to murdering a man or having an incestual relationship with our own mother. When dealing with economic/commercial issues, we have to admit that Islamic Law is very flexible, namely it does not criminalize the violation of provisions relating to commercial issues.

This is also in line with the fact that God does not prescribe an absolute value of minimum wage and cannot be expected to do so. Once we deal with fairness issue, there is no single clear answer. Saying that Islamic Law compliance can only be done once you pay your worker with a fair amount of salary creates too much ambiguity. It also transforms a moral issue into a complicated legal issue.  As an example: if an employer pays his worker too small, does it mean that he violates the law? Would that mean that the contract is invalid? What would be the consequences?

Of course you can always say that it would be good if employers pay attention to the overall well being of his employees and should pay good salaries to them. But that should stay as a moral issue rather than a legal issue with all of its consequences. Because payment of salary is also subject to many factors and the law of supply and demand. As there is a fairness aspect relating to the employee, there is also a fairness aspect relating to the employer.

I think that is why Islamic Law focuses more on the enforcement of the contract to protect the rights of the worker and the Hadiths are more consistent with this approach. As I argued here, I believe that the best way of promoting the interest of the workers is by making policies that are correlating with the supply and demand of manpower.       

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Friday, August 23, 2013

My New Papers on SPV's Law and Economics and Legal Positivism

It's been a while since the last time I wrote in this blog. I admit, I have sinned. But enough with the excuses. I've just finished two papers having completely different themes. The first one is titled: "Special Purpose Vehicles in Law and Economics Perspective". You can download the paper here. The second one is titled: "Legal Positivism and Law & Economics: A Defense". You can download the second paper here.

The first paper will be published in the Journal of Indonesia Corruption Watch to be published this year. In this paper, I discuss the nature of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) in the form of corporation, their function and benefits, their potentials for misuse, and also the techniques to solve or prevent such issue. I believe that for a developing country like Indonesia, relying on legal doctrine such as piercing the corporate veil to chase the ultimate shareholders of SPVs who conduct illegal acts would be too costly. They are just too cunning and some countries specialized in the formation of SPVs have all the incentives to assist these crimes.

So, the other solution is to ensure that those SPVs established in Indonesia will be here to stay, namely, we need to put some of their capitals as hostages in Indonesia by way of mandating minimum capital requirement or bank guarantee/insurance requirements. I also discuss the costs and benefits of these solutions as there is no such thing as a perfect solution. The rest can be read in the paper.   

The second paper will be presented in the third Indonesian national conference of legal philosophy to be held at Surabaya on 28 August 2013. I always enjoy legal philosophy, particularly Legal Positivism and I think that most Indonesian scholars misunderstand the nature of Legal Positivism by equalizing Legal Positivism with Legal Formalism or even worse, strict textual method of legal interpretation.

Of course this is wrong. Legal Philosophy is a theory of law while Legal Formalism is a theory of adjudication. But the mistake is so persistent that Legal Positivism is often blamed for many issues in Indonesian legal system! I think the conference would be a good place to present a defense on Legal Positivism so I decided to write this paper.

The paper will discuss the main thesis of Legal Positivism, i.e., the Source Thesis (that law is a social fact and can only be derived from social sources) and the Separability Thesis (that the content of the law does not have any necessary connection with its validity). People usually connect Separability Thesis with the relationship between law and morality. But I believe that the issue is wider than that, it can include religion, local custom and other type of norms.

I certainly believe that Legal Positivism (if applied correctly), is a democratic thought that will allow various legal theory to compete for domination within a legal system. I argue this by showing how Law and Economics (which is obviously not a pure theory of law) can survive in the framework of Legal Positivism but will be kicked out from the game in the framework of Natural Law (because by nature, Natural Law which supports only one absolute value will not be tolerant to other type of thoughts). As usual, the rest can be read in the paper itself.

Happy reading and hope it is useful.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Once Again, In Defense of Legal Positivism

This article is a continuation of my previous article: In Defense of Legal Positivism - A Reply to Iman Nasima. Since Imam has kindly responded to my article here, I think it should be appropriate to press the discussion one step further (though I have to apologize for the huge delay in responding to his second article).

Legal Positivism is Not a Method of Legal Interpretation

The first question that I asked in my previous article is: how critics to Legal Positivism perceive Legal Positivism? Is it a legal theory or method of interpretation? For me, the answer is obvious. Legal Positivism does not deal with method of legal interpretation, it is a theory of law.

Why does this distinction matter? Because from my readings of various people who criticizes Legal Positivism, I get a tendency that they equate Legal Positivism with strict Textualism or Legal Formalism, i.e. that under Legal Positivism, judges tend to interpret the laws solely based on the texts of the formal laws issued by the state, and that these judges do not consider other basic principles such as justice and morality when they can found a governing law in resolving legal matters.

Of course this is completely wrong and shows a lack of understanding of what is Legal Positivism. You cannot make a good critic if you don't understand the concept that you criticize. It will simply be a waste of time for everyone.      

Whose Authority?

This is indeed a really difficult question. In practice, questioning the normativity of law will not be completed without asking who is the authority that must be honored in the first place. This is in line with the support given by Legal Positivism to the Source Thesis, i.e. that the existence of law can be solely derived from its sources and not its contents.

Under the Source Thesis, people can recognize the existence of the law by paying attention to the sources of that law, i.e. the authority who issues the law. HLA Hart tried to explain this thesis through Rules of Recognition, i.e. secondary rules in a legal system that give guideline on when certain rules can be treated as laws.

When certain rules meet the criteria of the Rules of Recognition, those rules will be deemed as laws with all of their authoritative/normative power upon their subjects. The problem is, who stipulates the rules of recognition and why we should follow those rules of recognition in the first place?

At this stage, Legal Positivism as a descriptive theory of law would be unable to answer that question. Why? Because it is a question of fact. Imam correctly shows that there are various competing theories on dealing with the concept of authority and how authorities derive their power.

To give more context on the above discussion, I recently read Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner's  treatise on Legal Interpretation where they said that British and US judges differ in terms of authority. In England, the judges can hold the same position with legislators, so they can make the law and interpret the provisions at the same time. While in the United States, the power to make laws lies with the legislators while judges are required to enforce the laws.

The basis for this separation of power in US (at least according to Scalia and Garner) is to maintain the basic principles of democracy, i.e. that laws should be promulgated by representatives of the people that will be held accountable to their voters, and not by judges who are not appointed through democratic process.

It's an interesting theory of how judges and legislators should behave in a legal system, but I'm not sure that we can consider this as a pure legal theory. It's more of a political theory. There is no legal basis on why judges should behave like what Scalia said nor a rule of recognition for that given the fact that judges in the United States are still debating on their roles in the legal system.

The same thing is also applicable for  Indonesian case. Suppose that judges political power is weak here, would that be a concern of Legal Positivism? I would say no and that would be enough for the purpose of defending Legal Positivism. From the very beginning, what I want to show through my previous article is that the critics misunderstand the issue. If the judicial branch is weak in Indonesia, it does not have any correlation with Legal Positivism as a theory of law. 

How Social Facts Are Determined?

In dealing with Imam's second question, I find it interesting that he made a correlation between public acceptance of judges decision with the normative power of such decision. Should the judges decision be accepted by the majority of the public in order to be eligible to be considered as a valid law?

As interesting as it may be, it is actually not a question that can be answered by Legal Positivism as a descriptive theory of law. It is again, a question of fact. Legal Positivism only says that law is a social fact, that its existence relies on the acceptance of the majority, including the people and legal authorities.

However, Legal Positivism is silent on the actual practices of social acceptance because they can have many different forms. Theoretically speaking, we can have a legal system where court's decisions will be automatically considered as an authoritative source regardless of public acceptance of the content, and it is also possible to have a legal system where in order to obtain validity, a court's decision should be accepted first by the majority of the people. Can we use Legal Positivism to endorse the first system against the second one and vice versa? I don't think so.

In fact, we already have a very good example when we discuss the power of judicial precedents. It is common to aspiring Indonesian law students that in Indonesia (and other civil law countries), unlike in the common law countries, the principle of stare decisis, i.e. that a court's decision will be considered as a binding precedent to be followed by future court decisions, is not applicable. Thus, in Indonesia, future judges are free to disregard previous decisions and make their own decisions for a similar case.

Will Legal Positivism say that common law stare decisis system is better than civil law system? No. Can Legal Positivism explain why Indonesia and civil law countries choose to abandon stare decisis system? No.

But I am confident that Legal Positivism can explain to us that stare decisis is not applicable in Indonesia because most, if not all, of Indonesian legal authorities reject the concept. In other words, under Indonesian rules of recognition, court decisions do not have binding precedent power toward future court decisions (at least as of the date of this article). Can this rule of recognition change in the future? Might be, who knows? 

Can Law and Economics Succeed in Indonesia?
 
Imam claimed in his article that Law and Economics method will fail as long as the judicial power is not strong enough to uphold any form of legal certainty. I do not think so. After all, judicial branch is just a part of the overall legal system and Law and Economics can become a mainstream legal thought through many windows, including the academic world and other branches of government.

When Imam mentioned the names of Posner, Dworkin, Barak, etc, I do not think that he discussed their debates in legal theory but more on legal interpretation method. This is not relevant to Legal Positivism. How the judges should interpret the laws is not a question for Legal Positivism (the same mistake made by Dworkin when he criticized Legal Positivism).

As a descriptive legal theory, Legal Positivism would be more interested on what are the actual methods of interpretation that are acceptable in a legal system. What does this mean? In a situation where there is no clear ground rules for legal interpretation, every system of legal thought can fight for domination.

As I said in my previous article, Law and Economics was not a mainstream thought in the United States prior to the 1970s era. It was thanks to Richard Posner and many other academics and political patrons that Law and Economics could finally gain a dominant position in the US legal thought. We see more judges using economic analysis in resolving cases.

How about in the executive branch? It was Cass Sunstein who brought cost and benefit analysis to the next level in the US government regulatory making process through his office, OIRA. Is this because of Legal Positivim? Of course not, it's a political and academic fight. The same thing can also happen in the legislative branch through political process.

This is what I want to reiterate to the misleading critics of Legal Positivism. If you want to ensure that your personal legal thought (whatever that is) can dominate Indonesian legal thought, it is a waste of time to criticize Legal Positivism because it is not Legal Positivism's mistake in the first place. In short, try other persuasive methods and good luck with that.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Victimless Crime

One of my favorite legal issues is the existence of victimless crime, usually defined as non-forceful actions whose participants are not complaining for their participation and no direct injuries are inflicted to non-participants of such actions.

Victimless crimes are traditionally associated with actions performed by consenting adults which harm the society's moral foundations but not the society directly. These include drugs use, prostitution or non-marital sex and gambling, to name a few.

Some economists would argue that rather than criminalizing the above acts, it would be better to instead legalize them. Not only that those acts can provide additional income to the government in the form of tax, it can also minimize the costs of legal enforcement. A good example would be the war on drugs which has caused a significant costs in the form of money and lives.

Contrary to the above opinion, I, on the other hand, argue that victimless crime does not exist. If we are calculating the general welfare of the society, the costs imposed to each member of the society, even if they don't directly affect other members, would still matter.

There are costs involved associated with drugs usage, health costs of the user. There are also costs associated with prostitution, costs related to sexually transmitted disease and possible costs to marriage relationship because yes, marriage too is a form of investment between the parties.

And how about gambling? It is a form of property transfer which may easily fall into an inefficient form of resources allocation. Why? Because the game is usually designed to ensure that the bookie will always win.

A simple example: most gamblers' chance of winning is very slim in many types of games, while the winning chance of the bookie depends on the probability of the gamblers losing the game, i.e. 1 – whatever the probability of the gambler to win. If the gambler only has a chance of 1 percent or 0.01, the bookie will have 99 percent chance to win the game. A really easy way to gain money.

Sure, we always have the usual argument: those adults have already given their consent and they must take the responsibility for themselves. And it is also true that the regulations are not always consistent.

Take the cigarette industry as an example. The business is legal and they pay a considerable amount of taxes to the government each year in order to maintain the business.

So why don't we do the same for other type of "victimless crimes"? Let us view this not from moral point of view, but from economics point of view. Usually most people forget that when we legalize certain acts, it does not necessarily mean that the enforcement costs will disappear into thin air.

You still need to spend money to ensure that the "legalized" business will comply with the rules set out by the government.

As an example. If you criminalize drugs sale, you will need to allocate funds to enforce the law and  punish the violators. If you legalize drugs sale, you will spend funds to also supervise the business, ensuring that these "business men" will play in accordance with the rules on drug sale. And if they don't? You will simply penalize them again.

How about income from tax? Well, you don’t need to legalize an act in order to gain additional income via tax, you can simply change the rule so that instead spending times in the prison, the criminals are required to pay all of their profits to the government. The effect will be similar to a tax and the government will receive money too.

How about prostitution? Legalizing the prostitution might reduce the costs of supervision because legalizing the business is usually associated with its localization. This will reduce the possibility of sexual diseases transmission and improve the protection of the sex workers.

But it is also not without additional costs. Localization may also increase the costs of the prostitution business. The procurer will need to pay taxes and the building lease fee, not to mention that there will be additional costs for moving the business place. With increasing costs, the service fee will also increase.

Who will guarantee that it will not create incentives for a black market with cheaper services for consumers who don't have enough money to go to the valid prostitution area? This will again impose another costs for legal enforcement, i.e., eradicating the illegal prostitution outside the legalized area.

Through these examples, I would like to show that thinking about victimless crime is not as easy as imposing tax and reducing legal enforcement costs. Instead, for every action, there would be economic consequences and if we want to make a proper policy, we need to carefully calculate the costs and benefits of such policy.

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