United’s customer service policies in this case are clearly heinous and absurd…While there may be something to be said for the ability for private businesses to summon the help of the police to remove people from their premises if they refuse to leave peacefully and their presence is unwanted, there is no excuse for the police to cooperate when the reason their presence is unwanted is not “causing a disturbance” or being violent or threatening to other customers, or stealing goods or services, or doing anything wrong at all, but rather wanting to peacefully use the service they legitimately paid for. – Brian Doherty, Reason
The libertarians at Reason need to make up their mind: either contracts are sovereign, or they aren’t. United’s right to bump passengers from overbooked flights is stipulated in the terms of service of its contract with its passengers, which both parties entered into freely. If the passenger had no contractual right to be on the plane, then he was trespassing, and the police had an obligation to remove him – by force, if necessary. In fact, according to libertarians, this is the only thing the police should be doing: enforcing contracts and defending property rights.
To get around this merciless capitalist rationale, Doherty tries to delegitimize United’s contract with its passengers as “heinous” and “absurd” – that way, he can insist that the police shouldn’t have enforced it. But isn’t this the move that critics of capitalism always make? Intuitively, most people seem to get that business arrangements can be unjust and grotesque – even ones that both parties entered into freely. We look at situations like a man being dragged off of an airplane, and we realize that something monstrous is happening, even if the logic of capitalism insists that it’s okay.
That’s why critics of capitalism tend to insist that there are contractual arrangements and private property claims that the government should decline to enforce – and in fact, that the government should probably intervene against. The United incident has put capitalists in a uniquely embarrassing position precisely because it demonstrates the kind of horrific, violent outcome you can get when capitalism is enforced.