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June 28, 2005


Joseph Hertzlinger

Can we both protect individuals from big government and, at the same time, empower big government to restrain and regulate industrial businesses?

In other words, can we muzzle the ox while it treads the corn?


In other words, can we muzzle the ox while it treads the corn?

Good point and allusion, thanks. Oxen were very valuable in antiquity, but oxen also can cause a wide range of problems. Your point about muzzling the ox concerns a potential loss to the owner alone. In Talmudic literature, the owner also needs to be responsible for damage/loss caused to others by productive assets. Three categories of damage can be represented by the ox: goring by its horn (qeren), trampling by its feet (regel), and unauthorized grazing (shen). In modern parlance, the latter two categories reflect externalities that arise from ordinary business operations. Trampling is like predictable pollution from which the company (ox) does not benefit, whereas grazing might be like a hazardous product from which the company benefits without the consent and at the expense of others. Goring is a potential harm that is not expected; but a beast that gores repeatedly ought to be put to death. Owners who don’t know how to take proper care of their raging bull could soon be owning a carcass instead. Government agencies obviously don’t deal that way with repeat corporate offenders, though sometimes the market itself is quite harsh.

P.S. Now I see that you put this point in the context of a longer analysis in your blog. I'll think about that and try to comment more later. Thanks again for debating this point.

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