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This essay is about reputation.

According to Shakespeare:

Iago: Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls.  Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.

That’s from Othello, Act 3, scene 3,

Or we might quote Socrates (in translation of course):

“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of – for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again.  The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”

Now if we bring these two famous ideas concerning reputation together we can say that either by the efforts of others or through our own foolishness we can lose a good reputation which is extremely valuable.  The persons whom I quoted above were from long ago, over 2000 years ago in the case of Socrates.  So reputation has been important to people for a long time now.  And that importance is not exclusive to Western cultures.  I believe that it is a part of Japanese cultural history that when a person “lost face” that an honorable suicide by disembowelment would restore some honor.  This very painful self-inflicted death was considered to be the “easy way out” in comparison with living in shame.

We also might note that some occupations have a reputation.  Just think of all those lawyer jokes.  Or those wisecracks about lying politicians.  And consider the reputation of used car salesmen.  In earlier times the horse trader and the traveling salesman (see Music Man) were thought to be suspicious.  Of course, there was always the “snake oil salesman.”  In other words, reputation is connected in many cases with the use of money.  Now money in this case refers to physical object money or POM as we’ll refer to it.  That’s money which is a physical object such as currency or coins or money which is treated as if it were a physical object such as money in bank accounts.

You are well aware that POM can be taken from you against your will by force or fraud.  Armed robbery and taxes are examples of force and swindles are examples of fraud.  If you have reached my age you almost certainly have been a victim of at least frauds and may have been a victim of theft as well.  And you will definitely have paid taxes since the alternative is jail time.  You are also aware that POM is amoral.  POM can be used for any purpose whether bad or good.  But perhaps you are not aware that POM also creates a false simulation of a zero-sum game.  In a zero-sum game what one person wins some other person or persons must lose.  It makes people feel like rivals, competitors, or even enemies.

In that kind of context, in a POM context, what must we expect of other people?  We must expect that they want our money, our wealth, our property, our jobs.  We must expect that people will want to cheat us.  So we must be very careful in whom we deal with.  This is where that reputation comes in.

Businesses (corporations) want to have a good reputation.  Bank buildings in the 1800s were large, substantial buildings with stone pillars, marble floors, and huge vault doors visible from the lobby.  This gave the impression that the bank was sound and had plenty of money.  Advertising likewise is shaped to give a boost to the company’s reputation.  For individuals we have something similar.  People dress to give a good impression.  We all strive to give an impression of being honest, responsible, smart, and having strength of character.  But what is all this based on?

In the time of Socrates the residents of a city would know most of the prominent men personally.  The top families of the city would have reputations and their members were expected to maintain a life style and behavior that was consistent with such high status.  Ordinary folks lived in neighborhoods in which they knew their neighbors personally.  In those times it was very difficult to maintain a false reputation over the years.  When everybody you deal with “knew you when” you really can’t fool them very easily.  But now let’s move ahead in time to industrialized economies of the last 200 years.  In those economies labor is mobile.  People move frequently, perhaps not from nation to nation every few years but within the nation one is born into.  One leaves home upon completing one’s formal education and goes out into the world to make one’s way.  So we meet a lot of people who are strangers to us.  We deal with people in business whose character is not known to us.  The letter of recommendation we receive about some prospective employee may or may not tell us accurately about that applicant.  What do we know, after all, about the stranger writing that letter?

Let’s say a person commits a fraud in one town.  The people of that town now know about the character of the swindler.  But that’s just one town.  The con artist can simply move on to another town or, if it’s a city, into another part of the city.  With another set of strangers, the swindle will work all over again.  And as we move into the information age, we get long distance swindles.  As the old cartoon says, “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.”  Those Nigerian prince guys can work their swindle again and again.  So reputation needs more data, a higher technology, something that will provide protection in the modern era.  One of the approaches is to have people write reviews of products.  If you have bought a book from Amazon there’s a good chance you have been asked to rate the book and write a review.  “Angie’s List” generates ratings of service providers and products.  Of course, that’s a business which generates lots of revenue from advertising which presents a conflict of interest.  Angie doesn’t want her customers giving bad reviews of major advertisers.  So POM makes it hard to trust these efforts as well.

On the other side, we have the problems of maintaining privacy in a modern, high-tech world.  The ability of others to spy on us has greatly increased.  Of course, that spying is not for our benefit.  Governments and corporations are out to get our money and make sure we are not attempting to thwart their plans.  Churches want to keep tabs on us as well.  There are also lots of people out there who just like to watch their neighbors and others.  The technology exists for this spying so you know it’s being used more and more as the expense of acquiring the equipment goes down.  How can you keep people from spying on you?  Well, the answer is that you can’t.   In the old days before industrialization people lived in small, extended family groups with perhaps a couple of servants.   The rooms in a house were small and few in number.  Privacy was hard to come by.  But this meant that it was hard to keep secrets from those who knew you.  So it was difficult to pretend that you were something you were not.  Your reputation was probably pretty accurate and you were among people who knew you well almost all the time.  Of course there were strangers but everybody was suspicious of them.  With the coming of industrialization and those high rates of migration from farm to city and from city to city we ran into more and more strangers and it became possible to start afresh, like declaring bankruptcy but with regards your reputation.  You could leave the settled towns of the East and move west and start a new life.

Today, the worst of both worlds is the situation.  We have neither privacy nor a consistent reputation wherever we go that warns us of the character of those we meet.  The technology exists to provide the best of both worlds.  We could have privacy in personal matters which are no one else’s business and yet have a reputation that is instantly available to anyone we meet concerning our previous dealings with others.  But that’s not possible in the same economy as a POM.  You can see why this is the case.  People want to take your money.  If they didn’t your money would be worthless.  That makes them your enemy in that simulation of a zero-sum game relationship.  And that POM is amoral so it can be used unethically, immorally to gain information about you that will give those others power over you.  POM cannot be controlled so even if there are laws intended to protect you they will fail just as the laws against illegal drugs have failed spectacularly.  Those with large amounts of money will shape the laws anyway to make it easier for them to get your money and to exploit you.  When we apply these facts to the privacy / reputation issues the result is neither privacy nor accurate reputation information.  Swindlers still defraud people by the millions.  (See the housing bubble of the last decade for a grim example.)  Note those smart phone videos being taken without your knowledge.  I have a very cheap little sound recorder.  It’s small enough for me to slip it into my shirt pocket and go out in public recording everything people are saying in my vicinity.  Now I haven’t done such a thing but the fact that it’s possible means that many people have done it, perhaps some have even done it by accident.

You are also aware of identity theft because there are companies advertising on TV about helping you keep your identity to yourself.  That’s another powerful motive to the criminally inclined to invade your privacy. If a skilled identity thief really wants to get your identity, he or she can do so.  It’s almost impossible to prevent it.

So you see, the reputation a person has in the modern world of information technology could be quite accurate and revealing of one’s trustworthiness and it could be quickly and easily made available to anyone who needs it.  But POM makes it impossible because those who are exploiting others don’t want their reputations known.  The powerful want to be able to work their frauds.  What politician wants his (or her) past public actions revealed to anyone who inquires?  What corporation executive wants his record of actions as a businessman easily available to anyone who might do business with him?  (Yes there are women corporate executives but the glass ceiling is still operating so most are men.)  So POM provides the means and the motive to keep things as they are with everyone being cheated and spied upon.  Yes, even the rich and powerful are cheated (see Bernie Madoff) and spied upon (see Mitt Romney).

How would things be any different with a non-POM?  It’s easy to see that in a non-POM economy you can’t get anyone else’s money since it can’t be transferred from one person to another so you don’t have to worry about force or fraud being used to take your money.  That eliminates most of the motive for others to invade your privacy.  Since people can earn non-POM only by producing net benefits to others, there is a powerful motive to do things to protect the privacy of others.  To keep their personal information private.  For those who manufacture and distribute the means to spy on others, their earnings depend upon that equipment being used only to help others, not to hurt others.  So they would be very careful about giving others such capital goods.  Note, by the way, that such devices would be capital goods since spying on one’s neighbors is not a capacity that would be considered to be a luxury service.  So it’s really easy to see that invasion of privacy is something that would not be invited by a non-POM economy.

These days and in the past POM has given people an incentive to find out about others to exploit them or to protect one’s self from them.  No such incentive exists in a non-POM setting.  On the other hand, the more we know about someone else, the more able we are to render aid and assistance to them when they are in need.  The more we know about them, the better we are able to select things to do which they will enjoy.  It’s like selecting Christmas presents.  It’s easier to pick a good present if you know a lot about the person you want to please.  Being a person of unusual tastes, I would be very difficult case for a stranger to be able to select a present I’d really like, for example.

Many of the invasions of privacy which are practiced today involve consumer tastes and habits.  Stores like to keep track of who buys what.  The grocery stores I frequent give me discounts on many products if I allow them to keep records of my purchases.  Of course this gives them information about my life style but I really don’t mind since I have a life style which most people would consider to be quite boring.  I am very regular in my purchases which has resulted in my getting better service by my being very predictable.  In a non-POM economy I suspect that the vast majority of people would want their needs and wants to be known to those who try to meet those needs and wants.  After all, the motivation for those others is to help and benefit consumers.  That’s how they earn money.  Those who produce luxury items would also like to know “what sells” in the market.

So for the bulk of consumers in a non-POM economy, keeping track of their consumption habits would be something they would want producers of products and services they consume to do.  Thus, it would not, for them, be an invasion of privacy.  But let’s assume that some consumers do not want such records made available to producers.  Simply making that known would be sufficient to keep their data private.  Yes, the computer system would have that data but as collective or group data, not information on those individuals.  Doing so would benefit the individual consumer even if the benefit were only a comfort or a feeling of security on the part of that consumer which seemed irrational or unreasonable to others.  It’s still a benefit and providing that benefit would still earn those producers some income.  It’s also relatively easy to have the computer system be programmed to bring that about so that sales clerks and others who deal face to face with consumers would not have to take any action to bring about the denying of that data to others.

Reputation does not generally include such matters of consumer choice.  Oh, sure, some people are considered distinctive for their consumer habits.  I drink only water when I dine out, for example.  This is distinctive in that the vast majority of people drink coffee, tea, fruit juice, sodas, or alcoholic beverages when they dine out.  Some people rarely ever drink just plain water unless they are forced by circumstances to use a water fountain.  But most people’s consumer habits would not be mentioned if a friend of theirs were asked to describe that person’s reputation.

If you own rental property I am sure you are concerned about the character and habits of those persons who rent from you.  Careless or irresponsible renters can significantly damage the home or office in which they live or work.  It would be useful to you to know the rental experience of prospective tenants.  In our POM economy you are quite unlikely to have such information available to you.  You can probably get their credit rating but I doubt that would tell you much unless they were taken to court.  In a non-POM economy such information would be available to you since providing such information would benefit you.  Furthermore, anyone who has had a prospective tenant live in or work in their property could gain income by providing information about their experience with the tenant.  So hiding or not making public that information would cost the property owner possible future income.  Therefore a property owner would have a strong money motive to share what was learned about a tenant.

The situation in a non-POM economy is similar with respect to one’s behavior and actions in a work setting.  The character, skills, habits, and other relevant information about one’s performance in the context of working with others is also valuable and beneficial to those who are considering working with one.  The reluctance, today, to say bad things about an employee or co-worker is greatly lessened in a non-POM context.  Remember that in a non-POM economy no one needs money to get along.  Money is strictly for luxury goods and services.  Life’s basic necessities are provided at no cost to the consumer.  Therefore, being denied the opportunity to work with someone is not going to harm anyone.  It will not harm the rejected worker nor that worker’s family.  This is definitely not the case in the past nor in our present POM economies of the world.  Today people really need jobs to support themselves and their families.  Being denied a job can result in lack of needed medical care, good nutrition, a decent education, and appropriate housing.  In POM economies, to deny people money is almost to deny them life.

Have you ever dated someone and wished you knew more about their background?  Have you ever hired baby sitters and worried about how responsible they were?  Have you ever hired contractors or bought a service and had to trust your instincts as to whether they were honest and trustworthy?  In a POM economy this information is available in some instances but even then you cannot be sure about the motives of those providing the information.  With non-POM you can be sure.






















































































































































































you really can’t be sure.  When you are looking for a doctor or lawyer you may ask friends to gain the benefit of their experience.  But how much information do they have?  You may use something like Angie’s List or other online rating service for the information.  But those lists are supported by those being rated.  In short, there is a great need for just general character references concerning those people with whom we deal on a day to day basis.  Is that Little League coach really as nice as he seems?  Is that new neighbor really all right?  With POM the cost of providing such information makes it available only to the well off who can hire detectives or some such to find out and even they it’s difficult to do.  With a non-POM economy, the collection of such information is almost automatic and those who organize such information and make it available in an appropriate fashion earn money.

Does this sound like prying into your private life?  Perhaps and perhaps not.  If you are a regular person who makes the usual errors of judgement and who yields to temptation from time to time then there will be things you would rather not have made public about your past.  You are only human, after all.  And there are a surprising number of people who have committed criminal acts walking the streets.  I would say that almost every adult you meet has probably committed a felony at one time or another.  The number and extent of laws in modern nations is so great that one can even commit crimes without knowing they have done so.  Also, the law is often quite unreasonable.  Take the use of recreational drugs for example.  Most people have at least experimented with illegal drugs.  Most people have violated the laws concerning sexual acts.  Most people have cheated in one way or another on their taxes.  And these are just the most obvious categories of laws which most people violate.  So almost everyone has a good legal reason for not wanting their past to come out.  But today we have a POM economy and a non-POM economy is quite different.  There are no laws in a non-POM economy because they are not needed.  Therefore one doesn’t have to worry about illegal acts they may have committed in the past.  One only has to worry about having harmed other people in the past in some way.  Notice that it doesn’t matter whether the harm was intentional or accidental.  Naturally, if that harm done was intentional, that will probably make people reluctant to deal with you.  If the harm was accidental but was something which you really could and should have prevented then again, others may feel you are irresponsible.  In a non-POM economy people will know about your past errors of judgement or failures to resist temptation.  But I ask again is that prying into your private life?

You will understand that harm you do to other people is not a private thing at all.  Harming another person is a very public thing to do, even if that other person is your wife or dependent child or someone you are dating.  Naturally, doing something which benefits others is also public as opposed to private.  How you deal with and treat other people is public.  If you abuse your spouse or your child or your grandmother that is a public act.  You have no right to keep that behavior secret.  Hundreds of years ago you would have been unable to keep such behavior secret because people lived so close together.  It is only in the modern day when houses are separate and families are so often just two adults and their dependent children that abuses of intimate family members can go unrecognized by the community.  It is only in the modern day when we don’t really know our neighbors because we and they keep moving every few years that we ignore the screams of the victims.  We don’t want to get involved.  So our experience of what is public and what is private is something relatively new in the world.

In case you had not noticed, the technology to spy on other people, to monitor their actions, is getting better (or worse, depending on your point of view) every year.  There are those satellites and drones which can look down on you from above and see everything.  There are tiny cameras and microphones which can be easily hidden in your environment to listen and keep watch.  There are software packages and hacking tools which allow one to retain data and hack data those same data bases in which your records are kept.  So we are losing any privacy we may have now or think we still have.  Having a secret life is getting more and more difficult regardless of the kind of money we use and regardless of which political party dominates our governments or which political philosophy or school of economics dominates our economy.  In other words other people are going to know more and more about you whether anyone likes it or not.

With POM, that is a huge threat to your life, your freedom, and your wealth.  With non-POM, that’s a promise of a better life to come.  With POM, that information about you will be used to take advantage of you, to exploit you, to take from you what’s yours by right.  With non-POM that information will be used to improve your life, to make you safer, and to provide help when you need it.

Remember those aspects of one’s reputation that you wish you had today in dealing with strangers?  Well, in a non-POM economy, you have them available.  If you have a good reason to know something about a person with whom you are dealing, you can get access to that information quickly and easily, just as that other person can get access to relevant information about you quickly and easily.  You will note how this fact tends to reduce the incentive to try to cheat and how it benefits those who behave responsibly and are kind to others.  Just as people 200 years ago expected everyone in their village to know all about them so will people in a non-POM economy expect others to know, upon need, relevant facts about them.  But there’s a big difference.  In a POM economy 200 years ago you might know lots of things about others which were none of your business.  Gossip does not confine itself to a limited range of topics.  Also, there was a really good chance that a lot of what people thought they knew about the other individuals in their community was simply wrong.  There was no mechanism in talking about one’s neighbors which eliminated the untruths and preserved the facts.  Also, there was no means to limit gossip to topics that were the listener’s business.  Non-POM does have such protective mechanisms.  Providing false information about others does harm.  Therefore it will increase the provider’s income if statements are verified and lies and errors are removed or corrected.  Also, providing information about someone which is not relevant to the person requesting that information is also harmful.  Therefore, it increases the information provider’s earnings to keep private those matters which are no business of the person requesting the information..

For example, with non-POM, spreading lies about others costs the liar future earnings.  All that information which the technology is able to collect about you can be cross checked against what people say about you.  Very little opportunities to lie without confirmation from the data collection technology.  It will be like President Nixon trying to lie about what happened in the Oval Office when everything was recorded there.  So that ubiquitous presence of computer linked sight and sound will provide a protection for everyone against slander.  It also provides confirmation of one’s virtues.  If one is dependable, thoughtful of the needs of others, skilled, and creative that will all be confirmed in one’s reputation because the evidence the computer system will have available will be right there.

It has been observed that people behave much more ethically when others are watching, even when there’s not actually a person there at all.  For instance, just a picture of a face on the cabinet over the coffee maker encourages people to leave payment for the coffee they drink.  You can just imagine how motivated one will be to be kind to others and avoid harming others when it is obvious that one is being observed.  Of course, those people who control the computers and the surveillance equipment are also being observed.  So if they try to embarrass or otherwise harm any of the people their position allows them to observe they, themselves are exposed.  The watchers are also being watched.  With non-POM those with power are the least of them.  Gaining power can only be done by being among the best in benefiting others.  Exploiting anyone tends to weaken the person doing the exploiting.  Others will be less likely to cooperate with such a person since helping to exploit reduces future income.

Just as Shakespeare observed, to lose ones reputation makes one poor indeed and that is almost literally true with non-POM.  To have a bad reputation costs one in money terms.  Because your reputation cannot be erased or left behind.  Moving in a non-POM economy finds your reputation at your destination before you even arrive.  You cannot be a perfect stranger to those you meet for the first time because the testimony of those whom you have dealt with in the past and the ghosts of your previous actions are with you always.   If you are a virtuous person this is a blessing.  If you are a rogue, everyone you meet will know.  If you are responsible, you will be trusted.  If you are irresponsible, you will have to work alone.

In a POM economy, one is punished for doing bad things, sometimes, under some circumstances.  In a non-POM economy, one simply gains fewer rewards as a result of doing bad things.  In a POM economy others can benefit from your suffering.  In a non-POM economy others can benefit only when you also benefit.  When you are among friends who love you it’s all right for them to know your secrets since they love you anyway.  That’s why we trust our friends and “act naturally” in their presence.  What would be dangerous vulnerability in a POM economy is quite safe in a non-POM economy.   In a non-POM economy everyone has a motive to love you.


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