Finding the lesser of two evils
Q: In defending Craigslist against charges that it facilitates prostitution and casual sex and undermines the news business, founder Craig Newmark relies on an unwavering commitment to free expression, free markets and an open Internet. Is such an unwavering commitment to core principles the essence of leadership, or is leadership more about accommodating core principles to other social needs and values?
Most Americans would agree that a free marketplace needs a government umpire. Tension exists between the often-opposing end states of liberty and equity. Unchecked liberty is Hobbesian state-of-nature anarchy, and unchecked equity is extreme socialism: both of which most Americans find unpalatable.
In this sense, leadership is the ability to navigate the poles of the liberty-equity spectrum and draw the best solution for the context - and further, to inspire and influence others to achieve the desired end state. With regard to the United States, the framers created broad limitations steeped in a liberal tradition, but there is enough ambiguity to allow for
The debate over Craigslist falls relatively cleanly into that spectrum. The liberty of an enterprise to operate unrestrained and the resulting venue for child sex trafficking is a delicate issue, but it also has ample precedents. In the context of eradicating hunger, for example, to what extent should the government be a free fish distributor as opposed to a tackle shop?
In this case, it will be up to the umpire to decide how unalienable human rights fall in line with the rights to unrestricted trade. As is the case with most difficult ethical questions, the choice in this case is not clean; the duty of the leader is in finding the lesser of two evils.
--Cadet Sam Goodgame
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
West Point Cadets
September 7, 2010; 3:55 PM ET
Category: Accomplishing Goals , Ethics , Government leadership Save & Share:
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