Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guns for Hire

In the Old West, young men with fast hands and no scruples could make a living hiring themselves out as private enforcers. It didn't matter what they were enforcing; matters of justice were irrelevant to the business of enforcing. With the general lack of peace officers spread over large areas, these young men filled the power vacum and became, defacto, the law.

One hundred and thirty years later, those young gunmen with no scruples have become respected officers of the court. They still carry guns, but they wear blue uniforms and a shiny badge. What are they hired to do? Whatever the law tells them to do, no matter how wrongheaded. Their mantra is that they are Law Enforcement, not Peace Officers.

Whatever the law says, that is what they will enforce. There are easy examples: arresting peaceful people who have inhaled smoke that they law has proscribed, even though they have hurt no one and damaged no property. Arresting people who choose to pay for their sexual pleasures. Arresting people by setting speed traps. Arresting people for not wearing seat belts. They live to arrest. It really does not matter what the law is.

Because of this, and because there are literally thousands of laws that one can violate without even knowing it, the police have become feared and hated. A wonderful Youtube entitled "Never Talk To The Cops" includes a presentation given by a former cop who said he merely needed to follow someone in his car long enough...they WILL commit a crime for which he will pull them over, legitimately, and begin the process of interrogation in order to ticket or arrest them. This is scary: when a cop believes there can be no such thing as an innocent citizen, then it is understandable that they would feel free to push, prod, threaten, and harrass you because, after all, you HAVE DONE SOMETHING. You just don't know it yet.

The response to this point of view is that cops are the ones that rush to the scene of accidents, put their lives on the line when responding to robberies, and help find and arrest murderers. My response: not quite. Yes, they rush to accidents...but it is the EMTs who provide the life saving care. Yes, they rush to scenes of violence, like robberies, but it is rare that they arrive in time to do anything about it except take down information and write up a report. Ditto for murders. I don't mean to belittle the importance of their contributions to solving crimes, but let's not make their contribution out to be more than it really is.

Few of us will experience violence in our lives. Those of us who do will find the cops generally are not there to do anything except take the report. On the other hand, we are all, daily, confronted by the very real possibility of being arrested or ticketed for violating one law or another, few of which are designed to protect life and property. The fines generated will fund some government body, and a cop will get another notch in his career belt. We, on the other hand, will have to deal with the fines, the increased insurance rates, and the public record.

In this day and age of innumerable and unknowable laws, Law Enforcement Officers are NOT our friends. They are the enemy. Tell your children.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Capitalism: The Unknown Definition

I don't have a clue what Capitalism is.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I've got a pretty good handle on the ins-and-outs of Friedman, Mises, Rothbard, Rand, and Hayek. The people with whom I discuss issues, political and economic, have read the New York Times, Krugman, Keynes, Marx, and Samuelson. I may as well be speaking Hindu, and they are probably speaking Gaelic. I'm not sure, because I can hardly understand a word.

I often argue with my favorite self-described "socialist." Mind you, we both work for a retail company, buying and selling consumer products, trying to produce a profit in a very tough environment. We agree on business issues to the extent my job overlaps with his (his is in IT, I'm a merchant). Me, the Capitalist and, he, the Socialist have made common cause to run a for-profit business. My socialist friend is worried we won't make a profit this year. Odd, eh?

Yet when we discuss what is going on in the larger economy we can find no common ground at all. Over the years we have had numerous heated debates which sometimes resulted in each of us resolving to go to our respective corners of the office and avoid further conversation except for the most banal pleasantries. The more serious the issue, the deeper the disagreement.

Today, we discussed elements of the current credit meltdown that are putting our company in jeopardy. The discussion quickly spiraled into a debate over Capitalism and whether or not it is doomed to failure unless it is carefully regulated. I could see that this was going to be another unproductive sharing of views, my Hindu versus his Gaelic, so I did something I usually cannot do: I shut up and listened.

My friend trotted out his parade of economic criminals: corporate robbers, lobbyists for corporate interests, Wall Street insiders, lapdog regulators, etc. In other words, "Capitalists."

Normally I would have bristled at his distorted view of my "Capitalism." A fight over the proper definition would have ensued. Just as I was about to launch into my tirade, I said instead: I don't believe in Capitalism, because I don't know what it is.

He was stunned. I continued.

"I believe in a Free Peoples' Market, where everyone is entitled to keep or trade the fruits of their labor, freely."

"Ahhhh," he said with a smirk, "Communism!"

"Ok, Communism! Whatever word you like. If that means we're free to live our lives without coercion, then I am a Communist."

Amazingly, the argument was diffused and the discussion turned to the Federal Reserve, Fractional Reserve Banking, and the gold standard. We disagree about these things, too, but at least they are more concrete and can be discussed with some precision. Oddly, the socialist was defending the central bankers, and the Free Peoples' Market person was arguing against the current monetary system.

We didn't get very far in our discussion today. I'm sure there will be longer and deeper conversations in the future. I can guarantee, however, we won't be debating definitions.

Death to Capitalism, whatever the hell it is!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mr Officer, arrest me...I am a criminal

I am a drug user. The law requires a fine and jail time, and in the interest of solidarity with my fellow druggies, I'm asking the law to come and get me. Now. Before more time lapses.

My story is an old one. Weak will. Peer pressure. Low self esteem. A comely woman. How many have gone down this path that led to fines, jail, embarrassment, and a failed life? Millions. No matter how I try to dress it up, I am one of them. The veneer of respectability is a lie.

It began during my college years. My roommate sold drugs, mostly pot, to friends and acquaintances to help fund his education. He would buy large wafers of pot from a supplier, then spend hours carefully weighing out one ounce bags for sale. Despite being a drug kingpin in our dorm, he was scrupulously honest with his weights and measures. After all, his reputation, such as it was, depended on it.

I did not smoke during college. My roommate and the guys next door threatened violence on me to get me hooked (they would look at me a little askew as they took hits from the bong, then through the clenched teeth of carefully controlled exhaling they would say that, dude, we ought to put a bag on your head and pipe it in. Then they would giggle. OK, maybe it wasn't real violence they were talking about, but technically....) My roommate even tried to grow some pot in the room, but I was not careful about who I let in and I was afraid that some maintenance workers saw the plants. So I helped hide the plants all over the dorm until the danger of arrest had passed. That was the beginning of my long slide down the path of law breaking.

(As a footnote, I would mention that just because my old roommate and the guys next door survived their pot addiction and their raging hormones to become a CPA, a doctor, and a dentist, does not excuse them for breaking the law. After all, the law was the only thing between them and the gutter.)

When I quit college, I dated a girl in my hometown who popped pills. I can't say what kind, nor can I say that I knew when she used them because I really couldn't tell any difference in her behavior. When my old college roommate came to visit, she and he hit it off right away, and soon the conversation turned to getting high on a little weed. None of us had papers to roll joints, and I did not have a bong, of course, so I was taught the finer points of creating a "shotgun" out of an empty soda can. At least I think it was soda. Maybe it was beer. I don't remember exactly.

My old roommate and my girlfriend traded hits on the soda-beer-can-shotgun until I felt they were getting a little too close and I was feeling like an uncool dweeb. So I took my first hit. Suddenly, I was one of them. I took more hits (one? two? I don't remember) before the small stash of pot was burned up. No cares; my girlfriend liked me again. My roommate thought I had gained some cool.

I was an official druggie. I had inhaled, held in the smoke to maximize the effects, and went back for more. I can't say that I got high that day, nor did I particularly like the taste the pot left in my mouth, but I very much liked the fact that I was liked. It was a pattern I would repeat.

A few months later, at a party in the next door apartment, a joint was passed around and when it got to me I sucked on it. My fellow partiers ooooooh'ed and aaaaaaah'ed, and in their low-key-mellowed-out way they applauded me. Even the man of the house, who was a cop in real life, smiled a little. He didn't smoke. Those days were behind him, and besides, smoking dope could end his career. Nevertheless, as an ex-druggie, he did not arrest kids for having pot. He would confiscate it, then dump it on the ground. He would give them a little warning about the law and the likelihood that some other cop would not do as he had done, then send them on their way. No record of the stop. No punishment. He was the personification of graft and corruption in the local police department.

I continued down the path of drug dependence by becoming a groupie for a rock band made up of old high school buddies, one of whom, the lead singer, made no secret of liking her pot. Once, during a break between sets, the woman and I went out to her Subaru parked behind the bar and lit up a joint. I remember being paranoid of being discovered, since it was a very public place. She, however, was calm and cool. She thought I was, too, since the last time she'd seen me was when I was an uptight dork in high school in buttoned down shirts and plaid polyester dress pants. I liked that she liked the new me. I didn't much like the paranoia, however. Sadly, my friend, the lead singer, died of cancer a couple of years later. I must be truely twisted because I cannot help forever treasuring that moment in her car, sharing a joint.

That is my story. I never touched the stuff again, not because I had learned to reform my scofflaw ways, but because I didn't see much point to it. My experimentation was over. I had other things to do, like make some money, go back to college, and get a career going. I had been a late bloomer my entire life, but my time had finally come.

My use of pot ended around 1980. I can't remember exactly, since those years were stewed in alcohol. The legal drinking age was 18 at that time, so that's one thing the cops can't bust me for.

I am tired of living the lie. Bust me. I need to atone for my wicked druggie ways. Then maybe I won't feel bad for the 800,000 people who get busted, booked, charged, and punished every year for what I got away with scot-free.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Religious Belief

It is a truism that there are two things one does not discuss in polite company: politics and religion. I've found it impossible to shut up about the first, and almost impossible to avoid discussing the second.

The most common assertion by my conservative friends is that our society is based on belief in God and the teachings of Christ. Therefore, any attempt to create a society without reference to God is to build an edifice on the quicksand of highly debatable human reason. Human reason, after all, is what Communism was based on...and that didn't turn out so well!

This is not a discussion of the relative merits of belief or non-belief, nor the political ramifications of excising God from the Constitution (actually, He's been missing from that document from the very beginning). No, this is about dealing with my friends, acquaintances, and people who think I am the tool of the devil.

To the true believers out there, there is nothing I can say that will put you at ease about my intentions. Nevertheless, let me repeat: I have no desire nor intention to curtail the free practice and evangelizing of your religion. I don't mind churches (I find many of them quite beautiful), I am not offended by religious displays (even on public land, though that's another can of worms), and I do not get bent out of shape when the occasional religious solicitor comes to my door to save my soul.

A little part of me gets annoyed, however, when I (a non-believer) am accused of destroying Western Civilization via immorality and hate. I believe allowing those kinds of statements to go unchallenged can lead to an appearance of agreement, not only about religion (which I could care less), but also about ipso facto policy prescriptions. Like mandatory recitation of the Pledge of
Allegience. Like outlawing the purchase of liquor on Sundays. Like banning pictures of naked women. Like justifying the killing of Muslims.

So I draw the line and I dispute. This is where it can quickly turn into an all-out war of misunderstanding topped with willful distortion. Defusing the situation is sometimes not possible and the best course of action is to walk away before really nasty things get said. Most often, however, I find that taking (ironically!) Jesus' advice and turning the other cheek while refusing to attack in-kind tones things down considerably. Then sticking to the facts of the libertarian philosophy (the principle of non-aggression, whether arrived at by a belief in God or Nature) means I cannot be a threat to others.

This is the point at which the discussion often morphs into an attack on freedom in general, and that is a good thing. Now, instead of discussing belief or non-belief in God, we are discussing the very real and very important definition of human freedom and the likely results. Preconceptions die hard. I will do ten rounds defending drug use, prostitution, and price gouging. But in the end, I have introduced ideas that will rattle around in their brains for a long time.

I don't like these religion based discussions because they are highly emotional (on the other side). Nevertheless, these are some of the most important discussions I can have. Many of the public policies advocated by the Religious Right are every bit as anti-freedom as those of the Radical Left. Usually, after some time, the advocates of religion come to understand I am not endorsing an anti-religious public policy, they themselves become more circumspect in their approach to libertarianism. They, indeed, become mini-libertarians themselves!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good sense?

Carrying a weapon is an individual's natural right. Threatening others with the weapon is not. The difficult question is: when is carrying, threatening?

There was a post on the today that told the story of a father who took his son to the neighborhood park while openly carrying a sidearm in a holster. When walking home, the police stopped him and, through a series of give and take exchanges, the father ended up handcuffed and peppered with questions from several cops. Eventually he was released with no charges, but the event was traumatizing to him and his son.

The story is about the encounter, but I have a hard time getting past the initial event. What possessed the father to wear a handgun to a park with his young (4 year old?) son? Was he legitimately concerned about his safety in a dangerous neighborhood? Was he making a point about his right to carry? Was this his normal habit on any given day?

All of these reasons are perfectly defensible from a traditional libertarian perspective. Being armed is not, in and of itself, anything to condemn anyone for. On the other hand, wearing a gun to a children's park is something akin to a touched homeless person haranguing passersby on a busy city sidewalk. He may be harmless, but his actions are disconcerting to the point of being threatening to some people. Does civil society assume the peaceful intentions of the gun carrier and ignore all displays of weaponry until a shot is fired, or does society work to protect the gentle feelings of the people who are shocked and fearful of the sight of an openly carried gun?

The people who responded to the post at generally agreed that the father had done nothing wrong. The police, they said, overreacted and violated the father's rights. I a point. Then I remember another story from a number of years ago....

A man chose to carry a shotgun down a busy city sidewalk. The state in which he did this had an open-carry law, so technically he was within his rights to do so. The man was stopped by police, and questioned. The police agreed that he was within his rights to carry the gun down the street. Then they ticketed him....for disturbing the peace. The man had caused such a fright by his actions, the police contended, that it was very similar to intolerable unruly behavior. In other words: go ahead and carry, but don't scare people. I was tickled when I read that story because it showed uncommon common sense on the part of the police.

As humans living among other humans, interpersonal relations are messy. The exact points at which my rights begin and end are anything but totally objective, though the general outlines should be visible for anyone with the willingness to see. On the raw edges between people, sometimes rights don't mean much. Sometimes it comes down to the very unphilosophical and sloppy approach known as "common sense."

Instead of the gun toting father insisting that every last drip of his "rights" be respected, a little charity toward his fellow humans (in the form of considering how his actions will affect others) would go a long way toward gaining the respect he desires.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Stumble

I couldn't sleep the other night because I had not been honest. Well, that doesn't really get to the root of the matter. I couldn't sleep because I knew I had to correct a dishonest decision and, no matter what I did to fix my transgression, it could all end up badly.

One of my favorite people called me up and informed me that, while closing stores in the latest round of downsizings, she was going to sell off some electrical accessories and use the money to give her people a party. The amount of money was a few hundred dollars, the fixtures were going to be thrown away anyway, so I paused for a second or two, then said "we didn't have this discussion."

The moment the words came out of my mouth I knew it was wrong. If it were my business, I'd have given her the money without a second thought. But that was the thing that weighed on my mind: it was not my business and I had just condoned stealing from the owner. Worse yet, my employee, though she presented the plan to me as a done-deal, was more honest than me because she was asking for my official approval, albeit after the fact. In my career, I'd seen people make such a personal attachment to the company they worked for that the lines of ownership were, in their minds, confused. They believed, wrongly, that they had been entrusted with powers well within their rights to exercise, though in doing so they went well over the line. These people were usually good, loyal, dedicated, honest, and well meaning. They were, also, usually fired and disgraced.

I believe I had fallen into that same mindset. My authority to make decisions affecting finances and business operations is quite extensive. I can obligate the company to large expenses merely on my say-so and without any counter signature. I can hire and fire; I can give raises and pay cuts. I literally have the power to make or break the company.

What I don't have is the power to use or authorize the use of company assets for personal gain, and that is what I had agreed to by using the wormy phrase "we didn't have this discussion." I was no better than a thief, for I had been informed of a future theft of assets I was charged with protecting and had done nothing to discourage or prevent it.

I had a few options. I could call the employee and tell her I could not condone the appropriation of company property, even though it was being discarded, for personal purposes. It seemed, on its' face, to be a petty thing to do. I could tell the owner someone was going to steal from him, but that seemed equally petty and just about as dishonest since I had already given tacit approval to the theft. Or, finally, I could ask permission to allow the sale of useless assets for employee use.

I took the last option. If the owner said "no," then I'd have to rescind my approval and be vigilant to be sure no assets were being sold without my knowledge, which would put the strain of distrust between me and my favorite employee. I might even find myself in the position of firing her for theft. Oh, how I could have avoided all this with just a simple statement of "this is not right."

I put the question to the owner simply, "would you mind..." He said he didn't. Total time of discussion: fifteen seconds. Total amount of sleep lost: hours and hours.

Today I called the employee. I told her I had gotten approval for her plan and it was all good. She thanked me profusely. I could hear the sound of relief in her voice. She, too, had been bothered by her own plan. Maybe she had been bothered by my response, since I had not given official approval and therefore had put her in jeopardy if the scheme had been found out. Whatever the case, we both breathed easier.

There is not much about this story that is exclusively libertarian except that being libertarian is, at its' core, perfect respect for the property of others. I had failed to live up to my principles. Or maybe I had just stumbled on my path and regained my balance.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Legitimate beneficiary, or tax sucker?

I graduated from high school during the late 70's, when the country was in a blue funk from losing the Vietnam War, there were periodic shortages of the strange things like toilet paper and paper clips, inflation and interest rates were in the double digits, and unemployment was higher than at any time since the Great Depression. Prospects seemed dim.

Neverthelessw, my parents instilled in me and my brothers that there was no excuse for being on the dole, and they would sometimes speak in hushed tones of someone they knew who had succumbed to taking unemployment insurance. Their tone and delivery made it clear that unemployment was a moral failure, and taking unemployment insurance was a scandal.

When I attended the University of Michigan, I hooked up with the local Ann Arbor Libertarian League. I found in that rag tag group of students, grad students, former students, assistant professors, and various adult leftovers from the 60's, kindred spirits and fellow travelers. We partied together, ran petition drives to get Roger McBride on the presidential ballot, and hung out at the office. These were my kind of people: fiercely independent, intellectual, and principled.
Imagine my dismay when I found that the reason some of these people, especially the adults, were able to spend extraordinary amounts of time being politically active was they were unemployed and living on unemployment insurance payments. The argument was that unemployment insurance was a tax on their wages, so they in effect paid premiums and were now due the benefits.

I didn't buy it. In fact, I felt it was a major cop-out for a libertarian to succumb to taking government money of any kind (which was one of the reasons I quit U of M).

Thirty years later I am watching the company I work for go through a major downsizing during the deepest recession since the 70's, maybe even the 30's. We have had to let many good people go and some of them seemed to have had extraordinary problems getting back on their feet. During that time, most of those let go have taken unemployment insurance. One of the managers who will lose her job soon has flat-out stated that she is done working, and she has every intention of taking unemployment payments for as long as they are offered, but she has no intention of looking for or taking work.

She and I argue about politics and policy on a regular basis. When we took up the subject of unemployment insurance, she made her position clear that if I argued with her over it "we'd come to blows." She said it with total conviction in her always intimidating deep south drawl. If we ever "came to blows" I would not bet on the winner.

She is a conservative Republican, yet she believes with all her being that the money paid by the company for unemployment insurance is no different than the money paid for health insurance. No one is expected to live with discomfort, pain, or chronic disease...that's what the insurance is for. Even non-life-threatening medical events are considered good reason to take advantage of the insurance offered. Could unemployment insurance be any different? They're that's what the insurance was paid for.

As I grapple with this issue, I note that there is a difference in intent and use of unemployment insurance versus health insurance. Health insurance restores you to health after an outside event (disease, accident, etc.) that made you unhealthy. Presumably you cannot simply wait-out the disease/injury (unlike a cold or a flu) but instead require some kind of medical intervention to restore your health. That restoration requires doctors and hospitals, and paying for all that is the purpose of insurance. On the other hand, unemployment may also be an outside event (you are not considered "unemployed" if you quit your job voluntarily), but its' continuance is very subject to personal actions. You can, as the "patient" of unemployment insurance, frustrate attempts to make you whole again by simply refusing to take work that is offered. The insurance pays you to be unemployed, unlike health insurance which pays to make you healthy.

The next question is: does any of this matter? Insurance can be structured to cover anything you like, including bets at the blackjack table. That is true, so maybe the difference is more cosmetic than substantial.

The premiums for unemployment insurance, unlike health insurance, often do not cover the real expense of the payouts. During difficult economic times, like now, the unemployment funds often run dry and require an infusion of tax money to keep them afloat. Anyone accepting unemployment checks once the fund has been depleted is, for all practical purposes, living at the expense of someone else. Is it reasonable for a beneficiary to worry about what the source of the money that pays the benefits? Didn't they, after all, pay premiums in good faith? Maybe it was the OTHER guy who got the tax money.

If libertarians adhere to the non-aggression principle, then unemployment insurance is tricky ground. Yes, it is a form of insurance that is at least partly paid for by the worker in the form of premiums (taxes) that are specifically earmarked for paying the benefits. However, the morality of taking the insurance payments once the fund is depleted seems clear: the fund is bankrupt and you are just plain SOL.

My parents were correct, at least in part. The extent to which we have paid for a service, we deserve the benefits, but once the money is gone, even if we did not get any, we no longer have a legitimate claim. Forcing someone else to pay the benefits is aggression. Unemployment insurance benefits, when the fund is dry, is nothing more than the dole. It behooves a good libertarian to avoid it.

With my mind now made up, I can prepare for my beating from my good friend in Texas. It won't be fun, and it won't be pretty, but it will be right. Let the abuse begin.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Very little big lesson

This is not a difficult one. Your boss asks you to take an action that will hurt someone else's ability to make an honest living. The action is legal. Indeed, the law encourages the action. The penalty is minor, maybe a small fine. The guys who will be fined are scrappy and will probably find other work.

You, however, believe the law to be immoral. If you refuse to take the action, you could lose your job. You stick to the high ground and refuse to take an immoral action, right? Oh yeah, you live in a small town and it has been hit hard by double digit unemployment in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression. So, again, do you risk losing your job, a job you can't afford to lose, so someone else won't have to pay a minor fine for violating an ordinance, or do you protect yourself and go along to get along?

This wasn't my first dillema with my libertarian principles, but it was the first one that got my heart pumping.

The year was around 1981-82. I was working for a small roofing company in my hometown of about 10,000 residents. It was a family owned and operated business, completely above board with all the proper licenses, permits, certifications, insurances, etc. With a crew of about 15 guys, we were the largest roofer in town.

My job was to do whatever the owner needed me to do. One day I'm answering phones and making coffee, the next day I'm carrying 500 degree hot asphalt in buckets up and down slippery roofs in 90 degree heat because a crew member didn't show up as scheduled. I was his right hand and his boy-friday. I cheerfully did anything he needed done because that was the nature of my job.

On that particular day, the boss and I were driving around town measuring roofs and preparing estimates. It was work that, for some reason, the boss hated to do. He much prefered to start a big job, say the tear-off and replacement of a factory roof that could occupy him for weeks at a time, than to give attention to the dozens of little residential roof replacements and repairs that were worth a couple thousand dollars and produced less than $100 profit each.

I was holding on my lap the sheaf of files I had created for each of the requests for estimates that had been previously phoned in. All of the files carried the date of the call, so I could see that some of the files were weeks old. More than once we would drive up and be met by an irate homeowner who did not understand why his call (usually in the middle of a rainstorm) was being responded to many weeks later. More than once we would find the request for an estimate to be a moot point as, clearly, the roof had already been replaced. I'd draw a slash across the information sheet inside the folder and put it aside, then move on to the next location.

At one of the homes we visited, we could see our services were not going to be needed because half of the roof had already been replaced and there were a couple of scraggly looking shinglers still working on the other half. The boss recognized the workers. Fly-by-night's, he called them. He hrumphed and told me to note this address, then call the City Building Commission when we got back to the office.

I didn't say anything, but I felt an instant stab to my gut. I put the folder aside as I was told, and we moved on.

Back at the office, I went to work on estimates, calling customers, cleaning the warehouse, filing, making keep myself busy, waiting impatiently for the boss to go home. He announced he was heading home (he usually knocked off an hour early, though he might come back to the office later and work until midnight) and I was relieved that the incident with the "fly-by-nights" had been forgotten.

"Goodnight," he said. "Oh, yeah, did you report the fly-by-nights to the Building Commission?"

"No." My stomach felt that stab again.

"Call them in the morning, then."

I paused a split second.

"No. I can't." My heart was pounding.

He looked at me, puzzled. I had never, ever, refused to do any work. I felt I was being in-your-face insubordinate.

"Why not?"

"I don't believe in building permits or licensing roofers. I can't turn them in."

He just stared at me for a few seconds.

"We have to follow the law, why don't they?" he asked.

"We shouldn't have to follow those law, either," I anwsered. The stab in my stomach eased a little.

"You understand, they're probably not even insured, don't have a license, don't have a permit, and so don't have our expenses. They can undercut us on every job if we don't stop them. It's not fair."

"No, it's not fair. But we shouldn't be forced to have those expenses."

"Hmmmm. Sounds good in theory, but that's not the way the world works," he said.

"It doesn't matter. I can't. It's not right."

The boss didn't answer. He just nodded, said goodnight again, and left.

The subject did not come up again. I don't know if he made the phone call himself. I was not reprimanded and I was not fired. Life went on. I don't think I ever again had the same fear of the effects of sticking to my principles. This was a very little big lesson in my life.