Tuesday, November 18, 2003

CEO pay: Normal or unfair?

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

In my many years of trying to understand the free market economy I have been hampered by the fact that rarely does a true free market exist. Like ideal marriages, genuine free markets are mostly something we can conceive of and understand in theory but rarely encounter in the actual world.
Yet, just as with ideal marriages, we can ask whether free markets, if they did exist, would be better for us all than, say, some other conception of economic life, such as mercantilism, socialism, the welfare state or communism? And we can also think through how near-free market systems operate, by reference to the pure free market ideal and various thought experiments, as well as the history of approximations.
When comparing the merits of economic systems, it is necessary to examine what would happen if they existed in pure form. That way it is possible to propose various public policies based on the results of such comparative analysis.
One thing about free markets is that in such a system to a considerable extent the consumer drives the economy. Sure, producers come in with big ideas, but unless consumers decide to purchase their wares, producers will go under. Sure, advertising can help; yet even there no one has to respond to ads – indeed, we encounter thousands of them we evidently ignore.
Critics of the free market ideal maintain, however, that the system is largely rigged in favor of big greedy players, by which they tend to mean corporate managers and their clients, shareholders (investors, stockholders or family members who own closed firms). Especially outrageous to such critics is the sizable salaries made by some CEOs and a few other company managers. Among these critics many hold that something must be wrong when such people can garner huge incomes, sometimes even when the company isn’t doing well, while ordinary employers make but a fraction of what these folks rake in. This surely cannot be the result of mere consumer choices. There must be something corrupt or grossly unfair afoot, so critics tend to approve of various state – by which read: coercive – efforts to set things straight, make the system more fair and just.
Of course, there can be malpractice in any profession, including business and, indeed, big or very big business. We have witnessed much malfeasance throughout the history of the profession. Yet, misdeeds abound within all professions – medicine has its quacks or charlatans; education its indoctrinators and deadbeat scholars; politics its demagogues and petty tyrants. Virtue and vice tend to be pretty evenly distributed among the various different careers upon which folks may embark.
Yet, most disparities in pay are driven by the free choices of consumers, up and down the line of the business community. This is akin to many other fields of work.
Consider that orchestra conductors get much higher pay than, say, the violinists or viola players; the most powerful sluggers in baseball receive far greater compensation than those who put forth an average showing, let alone ballboys and others in the employ of those who own the team. There are only so many people in the professional sport, music, movie or book industries who are in wide demand, with the rest lagging far behind. The star system is nearly ubiquitous throughout society, and it is mostly due to how consumers of the various products and services choose to spend their resources.
I know this from personal experience. I have authored nearly 25 books, edited another 20, yet none have hit the big time, all the while around me I am fully aware of the best sellers every week in The New York Times Book Review section. My columns fetch me a pittance compared to what George Will or William Saffire earn. And it is all pretty much due to nothing more insidious than the fact that zillions of people want to read those other folks, while only a few hundred, maybe a thousand at most, are interested in what I produce.
That’s life. Is it unfair? No, because none of those folks who do not purchase what I write owe me anything. If you aren’t owed the same consideration paid others, there is nothing unfair about the little you receive.
The free market, like life itself, isn’t about fairness. Yet, oddly, at the end of the day it comes closer to it than all the alternatives – no near-socialist system has ever managed to distribute power and wealth without some folks at the top getting the bulk of it and few ever having the chance to take their place. On that score, at least, the free market is far more fair – we all have a pretty good chance to get into the game, provided we keep at it.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Why partial birth 'abortions' should be banned

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

What does "partial birth abortion" mean, anyway? A procedure whereby a nearly born infant is killed just before it sees the light of day. The reasons for this are usually because there are concerns about the health of the mother, but without a ban that wouldn’t be necessary.
What is wrong with it, if anything? As someone who is pro-choice up until weeks 24-27 of pregnancy, I would be among those who consider this procedure not only morally wrong – that could well be true with any abortions – but also one that should be legally prohibited, against the law, a crime. That’s because at that point of the development of the fetus it is pretty much a child, so killing it amounts to homicide – infanticide – beyond a reasonable doubt.
The most vehement opposition to banning partial birth "abortions" – and the scare quotes are there because "abortion" means the termination of a pregnancy, not of a human being – comes from those who think the ban sets a bad precedent. They argue that a slippery slope is created this way, one that will ultimately result in banning all abortions. Moreover, some worry that a mother’s life may be jeopardized so as to keep alive any child about to be born.
As to the slippery slope, it is not applicable. I am fond of concerns about the slippery slope in valid instances, but this isn’t such an instance, since here we are dealing not with a zygote or embryo or even an early fetus but an infant, which is clearly different.
By all rights any attempt to kill a fetus after the 24-27 week pregnancy point amounts to homicide, whereas killing it before that point is to terminate the life of a potential, not an actual human being. What is the difference between the two so that laws maybe passed against killing the actual but not the potential human being?
At about the 25th week of pregnancy, the fetus acquires the (admittedly minimal yet real) capacity to use its higher mental faculty. The cerebral cortex is by then part of the brain, and it is this part that renders something a rational living being, the defining aspect of what it is to be human. So, once a fetus gains the cerebral cortex, it is no longer merely a potential human but in fact an actual human being, somewhat analogous to how after the caterpillar sheds its cocoon it turns into a butterfly but before that it is only a potential butterfly.
As far as jeopardizing the lives of mothers, there is no reason that exceptional cases couldn’t be seen for what they are and legal provisions made, accordingly, as is the case with self-defensive killings in general.
The two extremes on the issue of abortion are: (a) At conception we get a human being; and (b) we get a human being only when other people ("society") have identified the newborn as an individual young person or infant. The Aristotelian mean, so to speak – the happy medium between two unreasonable extremes – is the fetus that is now in possession of what it takes to be a human being, a rational (albeit minimally functioning) mind. Even St. Thomas Aquinas agreed with this.
Of course, there are many views about this, and anyone who chimes in like I am doing will have to weather some very serious objections. What about the ensoulment idea, that at conception God implants a soul in the conceptus, thus making it a human being? What about the idea that what is potentially X is virtually X, anyway, so why not give it the same protection as one gives to X?
Or, on the other side, what about the fact that we celebrate the birthday when an infant emerges from the womb? What about the fact that infants usually do not get named until some time after birth, so personhood should be ascribed to them at that point. And then there the claim that it is viability that should count, not acquisition of the cerebral cortex.
Trouble with ensoulment is that it is heavily dependent on a given theological school of thought, not shared by all of the citizens of a large and diverse society to whom the law applies. Laws based on such a restrictive tradition are clearly unjust. And, also, often for about two weeks after conception there is no individual person – could, indeed, be two or three or more, by the time things settle down. Furthermore, if one considers killing the life of a potential human being something that ought to be banned, then, since there isn’t any appreciable difference between it and other living animals, vegetarianism is the only alternative that’s moral.
But going in the other direction is also unwarranted. Birth dates are notoriously variable – some are born very early, some normally and some very late, so this would amount to a very arbitrary point for considering the newborn, well, a newborn. And it would render it palatable to judge the matter entirely by cultural standards which can be extremely variable, too.
Thus, using the biological point at which the thing that defines us as human becomes real for a fetus as the point where killing it would become legally actionable – except in cases that are extraordinary – is indeed the most reasonable solution to this vexing problem. The ban on partial birth "abortions" is, therefore, quite reasonable.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Bias even in the best sellers' list

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

In the battle over journalistic balance, both Left and Right uphold the thesis that it is the other side that’s biased. And since professional media bias watchers are themselves usually partisan, this debate is likely to continue for eternity.
However, in order to keep up to date, it is nice to cast a watchful eye on areas of reporting that do not deal directly with controversial topics. One would expect, for example, that reporting on what books sell best in the land would involve hardly any opportunity for bias. After all, one just tells what the book is about and states the numbers, period. No chance for distortion or show of partisanship, is there?
Well, think again. In the Sunday, Oct. 19 issue of The New York Times Book Review, Al Franken’s book "Lies" takes first place and Bill O'Reilly's "Who's Looking Out For You" takes second. But as the contents of these books is briefly identified, something creeps in that really should not. Consider that The Times' staff compiling the list states that Al Franken's "Lies" is "a satirical critique of the rhetoric of right-wing pundits and politicians," while it tells readers that in Bill O'Reilly's "Who's Looking Out For You," "the host of 'The O'Reilly Factor' attacks those individuals and institutions that he believes have let down the American people."
You may say, "no big deal." Yet the example is still illustrative of just how far the bias – "A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment" or "An unfair act or policy stemming from prejudice" – at The Times can go. One may ask, why not say of "Lies," "of what the author regards as the rhetoric ..." or of "Who's Looking," "those who have let down the American people"? That would have been fair and balanced. But, no! Instead the staff makes sure that readers do not miss the fact that in O'Reilly's book the author gives us what "he believes," as distinct from what is the case, while in Franken’s book we get the actual "rhetoric of right-wing pundits and politicians," as distinct from what Franken takes to be such rhetoric.
Such difference in wording isn’t negligible. Franken is given full credibility by it, while O'Reilly's isn’t. Franken is treated by the staff as actually reporting something, while O'Reilly is treated as if he were only venting his beliefs that might very well be only in his mind, with no solid foundations.
Perhaps one has to have the kind of eagle eyes I possess for these things to make much of The Times’ book review section’s transgression, but then one would have to be pretty finicky about language to report on the stuff we get from William Safire in his "On Language" column. Someone has to do the dirty work. And I volunteer. Why?
Because when bias is being discussed, it is important to look at whatever meager evidence we have at our disposal. The Times is a revered paper, by many considered to be the paradigm of American journalism. Though it is caught engaging in some malpractice now and then, its routine reporting is supposedly impeccable. And by its own declaration it is above board as far as letting bias color its work, except where such coloring belongs, on the editorial pages.
What about the op-ed section of the paper? Well, when it comes to publishing pieces that fit the characterization of "opposite the editorial page," The Times satisfies this only as far as location is concerned. Most op-eds follow party line. Yet, from the viewpoint of journalistic ethics, on the editorial and op-ed pages that’s unobjectionable. After all, in a country with a free press one can turn elsewhere for other opinions. (I recall back in the early '80s the editors of the op-ed section welcomed submissions even from the likes of me, so I had about eight pieces published there until the editor left and the next one began to reject every submission I sent without comment.)
But the best sellers’ list isn’t the editorial or op-ed page, so insisting on fairness and balance there is just the ticket.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Robert Bork's reckless majoritarianism

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

Judge Robert Bork is known to many Americans because back in the presidency of Ronald Reagan he was nominated by "the great communicator" to the Supreme Court, then rejected on controversial grounds by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which at that time was ruled by Liberal Democrats. They didn’t like some of his published opinions, which isn’t supposed to be a reason for such a decision.
In his recent book, "Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges" (American Enterprise Institute, 2003), Bork argues that there's no support whatsoever in the Constitution for striking down numerous pieces of legislation on the spurious thesis that the doctrine of judicial review – made prominent in an early Supreme Court decision, Maybury v. Madison (1803) – authorizes the Court to invalidate legislation other than by reference to explicitly stated provisions of the Constitution.Thus, it is OK to rule that a law aimed at establishing a state church or censorship of the press is unconstitutional. That is because the First Amendment states explicitly that Congress may not make laws like that.
But, Bork argues, when the Court ruled, in Lochner v. New York (1905), that legislatures may not make laws regulating the hours of bakers, it overstepped its authority.
Although Robert Bork is considered to be a conservative, he approves neither liberal nor conservative judicial activism. The Lochner decision, which is now famous mainly for the dissenting opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., was a form of the latter. The recent ruling striking down a Texas anti-homosexual sodomy law was, Bork argues, an example of the former.
On a recent appearance on American Enterprise Institute co-fellow Ben Wattenberg’s television program "Think Tank," Judge Bork summarized his position and received a bit of resistance from the host, although not enough, and that is too bad. Although Bork’s book is worth a read, most folks probably won't buy it and try to wade through its various twists and turns of legal argumentation.
One point Wattenberg should have made but did not in response to Judge Bork is an important one and could be raised to seriously challenge Bork’s very restricted conception of constitutionality. The Constitution does lay out, quite explicitly, various prohibitions on the federal legislature, Congress, and on first inspection may appear to fully support Bork’s view that what courts have been doing since Maybury v. Madison has indeed been to block legislation in an imperial fashion – meaning without proper judicial authority. For example, in the Texas homosexual sodomy case, as in others such as Roe v. Wade, which affirmed the constitutional right to abortion before the 27th week of pregnancy, the court claimed there is a right of privacy in the Constitution. Bork vigorously disputes this.
Yet, the "forgotten" Ninth Amendment states clearly, unambiguously, that there are rights not enumerated in the Constitution that are retained by the people. Contrary to Bork, it is by no means a stretch to argue that, especially in light of the Declaration of Independence's statement that we have the unalienable right to liberty (a statement that at least helps to gloss the Ninth Amendment), free men and women ought not to be coerced to behave as majorities want them to behave. Sure, this doesn't accord with Judge Bork's conservative views, nor with his view of how the Constitution must be read, namely by paying attention only to explicit bans on legislatures. However, resistance to Judge Bork's claim could well be based on the Ninth Amendment, combined with the philosophical message of the Declaration, a message that could well inform Justices as they attempt to understand the Ninth.
More generally, we could pose the question to Judge Bork and his supporters: "Why is it OK for majorities and legislatures to coerce virtue but not OK for Justices, with their own version of legal clout, to restrain majorities? Didn't James Madison and other Founders of our republic caution us about the tyranny of majorities? And aren’t courts just those bodies that are supposed to make sure legislatures do not become tyrannies or lynch mobs that run roughshod over our rights?"

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Rush Limbaugh's woes

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

The story in Newsweek was gleeful, to say the least. But why not – mainstream media has been Rush Limbaugh’s target for years now, so it would be ridiculous to expect anything but glee from Newsweek.
It is interesting, however, to check one of the points the magazine made against Limbaugh and see how well it flies. Here is the passage I have in mind:
Limbaugh clung to the ideology of self-reliance to the last. "I’m not going to portray myself as a victim," he said. Millions of pain sufferers who use powerful medications could sympathize. But the mockery was instantaneous. Liberal mouth Al Franken (author of "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot") hit the airwaves to relish Limbaugh’s greatest hits of hypocrisy and his sneers at celebrity dopers like baseball player Darryl Strawberry and rocker Kurt Cobain, and virtually every newspaper dredged up this 1995 quote from Rush: "Too many whites are getting away with drug use. The answer is to ... find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them, and send them up the river."
Why label Limbaugh’s idea of self-reliance an ideology? Probably because "ideology" is a pejorative term used for phony ideas, those that clever people invent to rationalize some hidden motive, something that would, if honestly presented, not look so good. So, according to Newsweek, Limbaugh’s idea of self-reliance is phony.
Then there is that pipsqueak Al Franken whose moral sensibilities amount to zero: He loves to exonerate everyone who has sunk low except those who will not forgive it all, for example, Rush Limbaugh. In other words, Franken thinks we are all helpless, fated to be as we are, undeserving of any achievements and innocent of any faults – except when it comes to people who disagree with him. They are all guilty. Of what? No one really can tell with such a confusing position as Franken is peddling, so just trust him!
The crucial point to make about this passage from Newsweek is that just because someone who proposes a theory of how to live isn’t fully willing to live by that theory, it doesn’t invalidate the theory by a long shot.
Few of us are perfectly consistent, integrated to the utmost, yet we often know what’s right. Rush Limbaugh, despite his failure to rid himself of his "addiction" – and that is a loaded term he shouldn’t even be using because it does seem like an excuse – may well be correct that people ought to be more self-reliant than they are. The doctrine that we are all victims of circumstances over which we have no control is so self-defeating that it cannot even apply to Limbaugh's case. He, after all, is just about to do something about his problem. Alcoholics, so called, and other "addicts" all need to know what Limbaugh has preached for years, that they can take control of their lives.
Sure, sometimes it is difficult to cope with strong temptations. Whoever pretended otherwise? Self-discipline has always been a virtue, as has moderation and temperance. So, Limbaugh was merely pushing what amounts to a well-traveled idea, that people need to see their own role in their lives as being more prominent than some folks contend. And those folks do include a lot of modern liberals. It is they who preach to us about how homelessness, poverty, ignorance and the like must always amount to some kind of affliction, never something for which persons are responsible, never a matter of negligence, evasion, laziness and such.
Are there times that those who recognize the virtue of self-reliance fall into the temptation of becoming dependent on others or on some phony crutch? Sure. But that does not undermine the position they take, namely that it is best when people rely mostly on themselves to guide their lives. This doesn’t mean becoming a hermit by a long shot. But it means being the ultimate, sovereign authority of one’s life and not abdicating to others or fate or one’s genes or whatever.
Finally, there is the business about the law. Limbaugh was so far a supporter of the war on drugs, albeit a less than enthusiastic one, from what I have heard him say now and then on that topic. Still, he should not have been. He should have opposed it. In any case, there should be nothing legally actionable about what he did, abusing painkillers. It is ridiculous to have such things made into crimes. Perhaps this will teach him finally how wrong he was on that score.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Tony Blair and Old Labor

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

Most weeks I read through my favorite British magazine, The Week. There is now an American version, but I get mine from the UK, so it contains lots of news from that side of the Atlantic.
One of the more interesting series of reports recently concerns Tony Blair’s difficulties with his Labor Party, where he is widely seen to be a leader of New Labor. And Old Labor frowns upon this good and hard, judging by the editorial commentaries and news reports summarized in The Week.
Perhaps the most damning thing being said about Blair by Old Labor partisans is that he has sold out on the principles of socialism and has compromised with the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, the Tory MP who managed to reacquaint Britain with the principles of classical liberalism, especially in the realm of economic policy. His chummy relations with President Bush and his complicity in the Iraqi aggression did not endear him to most Brits either.
Thatcher’s leadership – inspired by her reading of F.A. Hayek and other free-market economists and her witnessing of the demise of Soviet socialism – led to a good deal of privatization and elimination of the policy of nationalization of industry that was all the rage in England after World War II. Having learned a thing or two from the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was perhaps the fullest development of the Labor Party’s vision of political economy, Thatcher counseled Britons that markets are better at allocating resources, creating products and services, than any top-down political management of the economy. Not that Thatcher could have her way, what with people all over the island having gotten used to the promise of being taken care of by the government, of being shielded from risks, never mind how much it cost them. Thus, under Thatcher, much of privatization was half-baked, at best, some of it even worsening some services (e.g., those of certain rail lines).
Some folks never learn, of course. Just as in the United States we have top-notch universities teaming with socialist or near-socialist academics, so in Great Britain there are many people who dream of returning to the days when socialism reigned and the country’s economy was sluggish, at best. But these folks had enough political clout, via their trade unions and academic friends, that they could usually squeeze the rest of the population for various benefits from Britain’s redistributionist economic policies.
Still, Tony Blair saw the writing on the wall and decided to relax the grip on Britain’s subjects while still holding on to elements of the welfare state – what he calls The Third Way – to please quite a few of the rank and file of the Labor Party. As it goes with all compromises with statist policies, Blair’s project wasn’t a principled change of the country’s system, and so those who preach socialism galore have kept the rhetorical advantage.
They have now taken the moral high ground by preaching a return to the policies of Old Labor. They have even managed to convince many of England’s pundits that Blair is but an opportunist who just wants the limelight and cares nothing about a functioning society and government. Only they, with their pure-at-heart vision of running the country in support of the people (which means becoming economic managers of society), have integrity, of course.
Now it is a cheap trick to have integrity when you need not make policy, need not have things actually work. Blair, whatever his flaws, has tried to keep to the policy of "putting England first," sometimes by way of using his youthful charisma and his oratorical skills. Yes, he is unprincipled – neither all the way Left, nor near enough to the classical liberal Torys – but given the realities of his constituency it is difficult to see how he could have survived without engaging in this kind of torturous balancing act.
In my view, Blair ought to have gone all the way out to follow and even extend much further Thatcher’s ideals, at least once he became PM and stayed in office for a while. That would have done the UK a great deal of good. And he might just have managed to bring this off because of his skills, his potential for leadership. But that is not the course he took. Instead, he stayed with his incoherent, mixed system.
Still, a little freedom is better than none. If the Brits go back to Old Labor and completely forget the lessons from the Soviet bloc – namely that top-down management gets you no growth and eventually no security either – it will be a bleak prospect for the country. Blair’s halfway house of compromised liberty may just avoid the demise that Old Labor is most likely to usher in.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Absolutes in ethics and politics

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

In a free society where citizens have many different faiths – in the United States there are now about 2,500 religions – one might think no common standards of right and wrong, either in ethics or in politics, can be identified. But this is wrong.
The basis of common standards of right and wrong conduct and public policy need not rest on religion. If they did, we would indeed have a very difficult time seeing eye to eye about morality and politics. All varieties of Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and others would be at interminable odds when it comes to judging how people should act, what our laws should be.
Instead, and this is in fact something certain theologians in the major religious faiths have argued, there is natural law, based on our understanding of human nature. The natural law tradition of morality, based on human nature, begins with some assumptions that do have their doubters, of course. But these doubters are fairly easy to refute. For example, some of them say there is no human nature at all. Some say there is nothing distinctive about human beings, so we cannot really tell people apart from many animals – this is the main message of the animal rights movement. Some say we cannot really know the world at all – our minds serve as filters so what we think we know may not be true at all (this is what the German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed). And there are other skeptics, with different messages.
Still, it is nearly bizarre to deny that there is a distinct species we refer to as homo sapiens, the human race, and that members of the human species are sensibly distinguished from other living beings by virtue of being rational animals, thinking biological entities, with the extraordinary capacity to choose freely from among alternative courses of action, a choice they are routinely responsible for making correctly instead of wrongly. In other words, we humans have a moral nature and from this certain principles of conduct follow, some bearing on personal ethics, some on the laws of our communities.
The American Founders were aware of the problem of trying to bring all members of different religions together, so they made sure they were discussing the standards of a just society in terms of natural law. They referred to the "Creator" in a way that would not offend anyone, even those who didn’t believe in a supernatural deity, since some believed that nature itself created human beings. (Spinoza, among other major philosophers, actually believed that God and nature are identical.) This way they spoke to all citizens, present and future, as human beings, not as members of any particular faith or culture. And because even at the time of the American Revolution there were colonists with origins in many different societies, with many different religious faiths and ethnic backgrounds, this was a very wise thing for them to do. They were, of course, also well aware of some of the bad side effects of people wishing to lord their religious views over others, resulting in many wars through Europe and the rest of the world.
But if we are not going to be commanded by the god of this or that religion – a god who may or may not change his mind about how we ought to act in certain ways (just notice how various religions often change their doctrines about, say, contraception, homosexuality, eating meat, etc.) – how could there be stable, lasting standards of conduct we can use to guide ourselves and judge others?
Natural law – principles of conduct derived from human nature – can be of great help here. If we really are rational animals – meaning we are uniquely equipped with minds capable of abstract thinking, and if we also lack instincts that others animals have to prompt them to act correctly – then we pretty much need to live by the use of our minds. Aristotle called it practical reason, as did the Roman Catholic Saint, Thomas Aquinas, an avid follower of Aristotle. And so did many, many other thinkers throughout human history, East and West.
The various human virtues Aristotle identified on the basis of his natural law ethics all flow from this basic insight that we need to live rationally, sensibly, logically, if you will. Honesty, generosity, courage, prudence, charity, temperance, moderation and justice itself are the particular virtues everyone, including governments, ought to practice, and when one fails to do so, one may rightly be criticized, even harshly condemned if the infraction is grave enough.
These are virtues that are based on our common humanity and so long as we are human beings – which means throughout human history and as far into the future as is possible for us to plan – they will all apply. That is why we can tell that stealing, murder and slavery were wrong in ancient Greece as well as America or anywhere else. This is so even though slavery was sanctioned by a flawed U.S. Constitution and upheld by morally obtuse justices. That is how we can tell, if we look into the matter, whether folks are acting rightly or wrongly throughout the world. That is why human rights violations are wrong no matter where they occur, carried out by members of whatever faith or ethnic group or nationality.
So, there are common standards of ethics and justice because we have a common human nature from which we can derive them. And most people, of course, know this well enough and act pretty much accordingly.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
The blues and your muse

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

Ever since I got wind of American music, I have been a blues fan. Like many others, I eased up to the blues via big band, jazz, ragtime and, later, rock 'n' roll. But from the start the blues gave me instant goose bumps. (My childhood music loves, before I came west, were Hungarian gypsy tunes and Viennese Waltzes.) I am very eclectic in my musical preferences, but if I must choose just one venue, I chose the blues — on radio, in music stores or at concerts.
No, I am no expert on either the history or the artistry of the blues. So when I listen to or watch various programs about the blues, I am always being educated. But my main purpose is never to learn the history or cultural background of the music but to experience it being played and sung. The stuff really sends me — I get very passionate about it, with perhaps Fred Astair’s dancing and Erroll Garner’s piano playing being the only other forms of entertainment coming close to thrilling me as do the blues.
OK, so that’s a personal statement, but what might it have to do with something that we should all find important? It is the way so many blues artists have absolutely no hesitation about admitting that they love doing their work, that indeed they nearly live just to do it. What has struck me about many of them who are interviewed about this — for example, on the recent three part PBS special — is how unapologetically self-absorbed they are as they declare their commitment to what they do. Indeed, one of the constant themes emerging from these interviews is just how little interest many of these performers have in pleasing their audiences or anyone else. And that is remarkable.
As someone who teaches ethics at the college level and someone who has done so for more than three decades, I am familiar with the various schools of morality that address the issue of what principles should guide human beings as they live their lives. "How should I live and act?" is the question to which the discipline of ethics or morality is addressed.
More recently I have taught business ethics, the field that to many people, sadly, seems to be nothing but an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms — as if the very idea of doing business ethically were impossible. Why is this the common opinion about business?
Because people in business, as most of us in ordinary commerce, aim for improving the bottom line. We all go shopping, and all business professionals carry on, so as to strike a good deal. However much as people may profess to be altruists — devoted to serving others first — when it comes to their buying and selling, they mostly prefer that they come out benefitting from it all.
But for this very fact, business — and commerce (as in "commercialism") — gets the back of the hand from a lot of indignant people in politics, the ministry, the arts and so on. How dare you look out for yourself? How dare business think mainly of the bottom line?
In most business ethics courses and text books it is made plain that for thinking about the bottom line, business must be chided, denounced. The ideal role of business, the line goes, is to help others, to be socially responsible. That’s the line that has made Ralph Nader famous, as well as hundreds of pundits and other verbalists in this culture and many others.
Yet, think about these blues artists, who unabashedly proclaim that they want to please themselves; that they are devoted to doing their own thing, learning how to do their craft just the way they see it should be done, not as others might want them to do it. Their gigs are done reluctantly, just to earn a buck; what really turns them on is jam sessions, where they do it for themselves. Then, of course, if others turn out to like the jamming part — the composition, the sound and the rest — that’s a nice bonus. But the first thing is to do right by their craft, the blues (or whatever other art happens to be their preference).
That this same dedication is denounced when people embark upon business is a tragedy, given, especially, how important business is for nearly everyone — including those who constantly bash it. Of course, there are charlatans in business, as there are in the performing arts, but that shouldn’t make any difference about the basic worth of the bona fide, honest work involved.
What I’d like to propose here is just that all those who are ambitious about doing business, who want to succeed at the thing, should feel exactly as those blues artists do -- completely self-satisfied that they are doing something wonderful, valuable, with no need to apologize for being devoted to it.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Problems with egalitarianism

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

A reason some opponents of liberty give for their position is that there isn't supposed to be any significant difference between any of us. So those who do well and those who do worse both really just deserve the same. Indeed, dessert is not even in the picture for these folks because everything just happens to us, we do not do anything well or badly, better or worse than anyone else. It is just que sera, sera.
That, for example, is the thesis of the not-so-funny comic-turned political commentator Al Franken. He has penned two books now chiming in on political matters, mainly to advocate what amounts to a socialist state.
OK, he doesn't know much about how awful that system is. What's interesting is that he openly boasts about how he himself hasn't achieved anything, but everything good just came to him, accidentally. And he suggests we are all in the same boat, be we happy or unhappy with our lot.
Now the problem here is a bit tricky. It recalls the judge who heard a defendant say, "Your honor, I simply had to do the crime. We all just are puppets in the hands of fate, so clearly I shouldn't be punished."
Whereupon the judge replied, "Same with me, exactly; so I cannot help myself and simply must punish you."
The egalitarians deploy their deterministic argument so as to eliminate any distinctions between the successful and the less so. But this, then, infects the purpose of making the argument, which is to get us all to help all the helpless folks who ended up badly off. We ought to, they argue, fork over what we have so they don't suffer. But if we just have to do what we do, then whether we will fork over anything or not is all in our genes or the stars. We cannot help any of it. No complaints can be lodged against all those who refuse to budge and hold on to their good fortune. They aren't doing anything wrong either. In short, the egalitarians who argue their case along these lines are inconsistent. If there is no one who deserves anything more than anyone else, then there is also no one who ought to act compassionately toward the hapless. Everything will just happen as it must.
If, however, we do have moral responsibilities which we carry out more or less conscientiously, among these could well be working harder to prosper. Those who have more could well have earned this, due to their greater prudence and industriousness. Those who don't do so well, could well have
deserved this, too, by failing to discipline themselves, to work hard, etc. And all that needs to be settled before any judgment can be made as to who does or does not deserve his better or worse lot.
OK, there is no doubt some people are hit with circumstances that prevent them from prospering. But who they are is not dealt with well by government bureaucrats. It is far more effective to leave the
determination to those who know them, who have the evidence at hand. And it is also best to leave to them what to do about this. Governments have no real chance of showing generosity -- they must use other people's resources when they redistribute wealth, and that gains them no credit at all.
It is a mistake to think that all things work out for the best in a free society. But it is even worse to think that governments -- with their main tool being coercive force -- can remedy the mistakes better than can the free men and women who made them. That thought assumes people who may use guns to get things done somehow escape our ordinary foibles and temptations. Quite the contrary. People with coercive (as opposed to defensive) force at their disposal are more likely to do the wrong thing
because they feel invincible. They have this magical authority to make others behave -- which is the source of police misconduct, political corruption, bureaucratic mismanagement and the rest.
The big mystery is why so many otherwise sensible people have faith in the wondrous influence of governments. Whatever has led them to this myth that people with guns -- such as those in the vice squads, the IRS, the government regulators and the rest -- will bring peace and justice to us all?
I can only suggest it is the bad habits from our past, where governments were mostly conquerors, people who made no bones about aiming to oppress others. The idea that government could be about justice and peace is a late arrival. And it still doesn't carry the day.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Left and Right are now one

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

Hearing President Bush at the United Nations on Sept. 23 reminded me that the Florida 2000 decision probably didn’t make any difference after all. Sure, I find Bush more simpatico, just because Al Gore possesses such an unappealing personality. But that shouldn’t matter for political purposes.
What ought to count there is which of these individuals is likely to promote the best protection for individual liberty. And, I am afraid that George W. Bush has shown absolutely no interest in that task whatsoever. He doesn’t even pretend to be interested in the basic rights of Americans any longer.
At the UN, we heard that Bush is mostly concerned with order – it’s between order and chaos that we must choose. As he put it, “Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: between those who seek order and those who spread chaos.”
Just before President Bush sounded off on his various pet topics – Who should establish order in Iraq; How sexual slavery must be combated, etc. – we heard from Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan. And he, too, made it clear that individual liberty isn’t at the top of the list of his concerns. What he wants is, well, more power for the United Nations to deal with the world’s economic and social problems. As he put it, he believes that “this assembly itself needs to be strengthened, and that the role of the Economic and Social Council and the role of the United Nations as a whole in economic and social affairs, including its relations to the Bretton Woods institutions, needs to be rethought and reinvigorated.”
In other words, Annan believes that a world authority of top-down regulation of human societies everywhere needs to be established. Certainly, social problems cannot be left to free men and women to sort out as best as they judge fit. So, it is clear that President Bush and Secretary General Annan see things eye to eye: the world needs to be put in order, as per the vision of world leaders.
I am sorry, but I do not see much difference between this and what some of the worst dictators in human history have had in mind for us. Sure, these two blokes may not wish (yet?) to resort to out-and-out brutality, at least not on the scale of a Stalin or Hitler, in attaining their vision for us all. They will probably proceed by more subtle means – various treaties and such, backed up by the heavy hand of the tax authorities everywhere who will make sure that our lives and labors go to a good cause and aren’t wasted on things we ourselves might like to pursue. (Oh, that unalienable human right to the pursuit of one’s happiness! Where has that notion gone these days?)
Domestically and internationally it looks more and more like the forces of Left and Right have reached a rapprochement. They will no longer fight each other on very much but agree to unite so as to bring about order. Sure, some of their objectives may remain slightly different – the Right will tend to fret more about our souls, while the Left will likely keep attending more to our pocketbooks. But these are mere details.
What is crucial for both camps now is that statism live on and flourish and everywhere people give up all that nonsense the American founders made so much fuss about, namely our basic individual rights to life, liberty and property. Because there are rival groups vying to run the world, some more overtly violent than others, some threatening more innocent people than others do, the relatively more “civilized” statists can invoke plenty of excuses to try to hold on to power and wield it themselves rather than allow these barbarians to take over. But this is only a matter of degree, not one of principle – all the major power blocs are out to rule the rest of us.
There was once an idea, even if not quite a full-blown reality, that the United States was a sanctuary to the politically oppressed across the globe. But no more. The United States has now become just one of many countries in which statism is run amok and individual liberty isn’t even mentioned in the country’s presidential addresses.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Criminal and political minds

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

If anything unites most criminals it is their belief that instant forceful action is best. Robbery, rape, murder or assault to get what one wants seems to them more effective than peaceful means to their ends. This is their form of immaturity and, as adults, their moral failing (I am talking about real criminals, not those made criminal by government via, for example, the blatantly unjust drug laws).
Now check what it is that motivates most political action. It is to get some goal achieved without having to wait for the results of a process that is peaceful, non-coercive. You want higher wages? Get government to force employers to pay you more. You want people to stop smoking? Get the politicians and bureaucrats to ban this practice wherever they can. You want prices to go up? Get the state to enact price-support measures. Or you want prices to go down? Get government into the wage and price-control business. All these measures are symptomatic of the criminal mind – the conviction that it’s just fine to circumvent civilized conduct by forcing people to comply with your wishes so you can get what you want.
Of course excuses for this kind of behavior abound. This is just as true with the conventional criminal community as it is with the constituency lobbying the politicians who all too willingly serve up the muscle to them. "We need to help the poor; the children require it; old people must have their prescription drugs; farmers, textile and furniture and other workers must have their jobs protected. Or, again, artists, scholars and scientists need to be supported since their works are so vital."
You name it, the excuse is there. And that is just what criminals tell themselves: "I needed the money. I had to have the satisfaction I gained. I couldn’t wait until I had a job. My children needed to be fed." It is always something.
Such policies of taking shortcuts to what are often perfectly legitimate goals if pursued peacefully are of course tempting to most people, but the bulk of us resist them. Parents are often tempted to strike their children instead of taking a more patient and cumbersome approach; spouses often yell and scream at each other, engaging in verbal and psychological abuse, instead of taking a peaceful tact to resolve their differences. Nations often go to war instead of the more prudent but lengthy and arduous approach of diplomacy.
Well, there is, of course, a difference between the violent criminal and those who turn to government to get what they want – the former do the crime themselves, thus exposing themselves to the considerable likelihood of arrest, conviction and punishment, while the latter employ the hired gun and thus get no direct rebuke from those they violate and hurt. This gun, the state, then hides behind the concept of sovereign immunity, which makes it impossible for us to sue it for any activity, however violent and harmful, that has been politically authorized.
But there is, of course, a price to be paid for all the ways individual rights are violated. When people circumvent the rights of others, this creates artificial benefits for them, benefits others do not actually chose to grant. And this then produces resentment and fear that create massive efforts at circumventing the state’s edicts. So, for example, employers who are forced to pay higher wages than they would choose simply refuse to embark on business ventures which creates more unemployment than would otherwise have existed. Farmers who gain subsidies create higher farm prices and drive people away to feed themselves by alternative means if possible. Firms and individuals use every conceivable means of avoiding paying taxes or complying with regulations.
The distortions to the society are legion – it is evident from comparing the economies of countries where governments intervene more heavily with those where intervention is less Draconian. Thus, in Europe, where employers are forced to give their employees virtual lifelong employment and security, there is far greater unemployment than in the United States, where such demands haven’t yet been implemented.
Perhaps the best way to grasp the situation is to recall that cliché – a widely recognized but often forgotten truth – that haste makes waste. These shortcuts via government lead to worsening economic conditions, in the end, just as the criminal’s violence lands him in jail, most of the time, and his goal is left unattained.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
When Huffington's right, she is right

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

I am a supporter of California's Proposition 54, which aims to eliminate racial classifications from public affairs. Specifically, the measure "seeks to prevent California state and local governments from classifying persons by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin."
Recently I attended a debate at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., between Arianna Huffington, the Cambridge graduate, formerly avid conservative and recently populist pundit and California gubernatorial candidate, and professor John Eastman, professor of law at Chapman, on the topic of Prop. 54. During this debate, one that had a pretty good dosage of substance but also a good deal of ad hominem content – such as, "You are white, so how would you know and why would you care" debater’s moves – Huffington made a very nice point, even if it was slightly off target. She noted that those, mostly Republicans (according to her reading), who support Prop. 54 really do not like government very much and that their support of Prop. 54 was merely symptomatic of their general, ideological opposition to government.
I only wish she were generally right, although it is certainly true in my case. (Republicans can be as "big government" as Democrats; simply look at Washington now.) I completely distrust governmental powers when they meddle in anything other than securing our rights (as per the U.S. Declaration’s charge). Since government has no legitimate business doing anything else, when it embarks upon other tasks it is not to be trusted. And gathering information about the race, color, ethnicity or national origin of the citizenry can only be a means for government to try to perpetrate yet another activity that’s none of its business. That is my reason for supporting Prop. 54.
Now Huffington mentioned during the debate that those who support this measure are people who are like the ostrich with its head in the sand, wishing to avoid reality. She also said "we would be prevented from gathering information" if this measure became law. There was more, but let me just comment on these two charges.
While there may very well be some who don’t wish to admit to any racial problems in California or elsewhere, there are many who disagree that doing it by means of government favoritism, affirmative action, and related policies is a good idea. They disagree with Huffington’s political ideology and programs and do not, contrary to what Huffington would like voters to believe, wish to avoid the issue. Charging them with preferring ignorance is to evade the question, which is, "What approach will best solve racial and related problems?"
On the second claim, that we will no longer be able to gather information about how various racial, ethnic or other groups are doing and what their needs may be, Huffington shows her clear bias in favor of political solutions to social and economic problems. Prop. 54 aims to prohibit the government from gathering such data but doesn’t impede this by various private organizations – research centers, think tanks, universities, the media and so forth. The idea is that since government is supposed to be color blind in its policies, it has no business focusing on race and similar irrelevant matters as it forges its policies. But non-governmental organizations are not officially committed to serve all citizens equally (color blind), so they need not be prevented from such data gathering.
Huffington’s recently found ideology – which, she claims, came from her having recently considered the evidence and arguments (which apparently she has failed to do as a student and longtime pundit) – is out-and-out statist: She is now a firm believer that government is the solution to all our problems, including the problems of race that came about, of course, through the direct power of governments. (Slavery could not have existed if government hadn’t enforced it; nor cou" target="_blank">Link #3

Link #4

Link #5





Links




Link #1

Link #2

Link #3

Why laws are flouted so much

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

We have far too many criminals, and that bodes ill for our reputation as a free society. In a free society the law protects our freedom. Otherwise it concerns various administrative matters but always related to this central purpose. For example, military justice concerns how to conduct oneself in the course of protecting our freedom from foreign aggressors, and administrative law concerns how politicians and public officials must behave as they serve us in such a protective capacity.
But today we have zillions of laws that have nothing to do with protecting our liberty. Indeed, the bulk serve to oppress us, in various more or less Draconian ways. Thus, we have laws banning drug use, laws that regulate commerce and laws that license professionals (except for journalists, authors and religious leaders, who are exempted by the First Amendment).
This, of course, is rank injustice, all around. Why should journalists and ministers be exempt from government meddling when the rest of us suffer their intervention on so many fronts? There really is no good reason for such favoritism. Why should the criminal law, especially when it comes to violent crime, observe the ban on prior restraint and other violations of due process while professionals are being regimented – subjected to various rules and fined if they do not comply – by governments, despite having done nothing wrong?
In the face of such injustice within the law, it is not surprising that millions of people treat laws as obstacles for them to negotiate cleverly, not as binding edicts. We do this obviously enough when it comes to tax laws. Nearly everyone is out to keep as much of his or her earnings as the CPAs or their own smarts make possible. The only reason most people comply is the threat of sanctions – jail, fines, etc. Not because the laws are understood to carry moral authority.
In a free society, in contrast, the law would have the only moral authority that justifies its customary resort to force or its threat. This is self-defense, defending oneself from those who embark upon the violation of one’s basic and derivative rights. If you attack me and I resort to violent force to defend myself, I am justified, at least up to the point that I need to fend you off, disarm you and so forth. But if I attack you unprovoked, I am morally wrong and so would be those laws that help you in this kind of conduct. Why? Because of my basic natural human right to my life. The same goes for when I defend my liberty and property – those are the instances when my use of force is morally OK, none other. So, laws that do violence to my rights are also without moral force.
Just law is simply the organized and elaborate expression of this moral fact – force may be used in self-defense, only, never coercively! If the law goes beyond this, it loses its moral authority and gradually the society in which this has happened will be replete with guiltless lawlessness. Which is what is just what’s happening in America and elsewhere – the only "authority" the law now tends to wield is fear of sanctions, not the conviction that it does what is right.
Some will no doubt protest that the law has, at least in most modern societies, the backing of the vote, does it not? Does it not matter that the majority of the people who reside in a society back some edict? Does that not give the edict its moral authority?
No. Majorities are no less able to do unjust things – including enact bad laws – than can vicious dictators, Caesars, czars and so forth. Mere increase in the numbers of those who violate people’s rights doesn’t make it any less of a violation of rights. Once the laws of a country are mainly comprised of such rights-violating edicts, they stop carrying any moral authority and people merely go along out of fear, not out of moral conviction and respect.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman Universit>Link #3

Link #4

No comments: Links to this post

Thursday, September 04, 2003

What’s With Candidates’ Non-Responses

Tibor R. Machan

Someone with the views about the proper scope of politics that I have concluded is sound may be thought to be completely cynical about politicians. As one character’s thinking in Alan Furst’s spy novel, Dark Star, would have it, “Politicians were like talking dogs in a circus; the fact that they existed was uncommonly interesting, but no sane person would actually believe what they said.”
I cannot say I am not tempted to think this way. Why?
All you need to do is follow for just a little bit the current California scramble to attract voters to the October 7 special election. Whenever one of these people is asked a question – or indeed, whenever their campaign managers is asked something – invariably the response is obfuscation, changing the subject, broad generalities, and, well, BS, to be plain about it. “What would X do about the California deficit?” “Well, there are many problems in the state and our candidate is best qualified to deal with them and his or her staff really has a plan that will make it all right.” Or perhaps, “Now that you mention the deficit, isn’t it interesting that those in office haven’t been diligent enough to come to terms with it.” Or, and here is the most frequent ploy, “I am glad you asked that question because we are willing to go anywhere in the state to address anyone’s concerns about anything, any time, so you can see that we are best suited to run the state government.” As if any of this amounted to an answer.
Why are politicians so blatantly evasive? One suggestion that seems to carry conviction is that since they are dealing with such a huge electorate, each with such an incredibly long and diverse wish-list, politicians and their spin doctors have concluded that saying nothing is safer than to say anything at all.
If they did propose something specific and clear cut, odds are they would more likely alienate a great many voters instead of attracting a sizable number to their camp. Any specific proposal will only please a small percentage, whereas saying nothing at all leaves open the possibility that no one will notice the evasion and some kind of blind hope or a reliance on image and charisma will carry the day.
As much as this sounds like a promising answer, it is so cynical about voters that I find it very difficult to accept it. I do not consider myself such a superior being, compared to other voters, that only I and a few others – like Alan Furst’s fictional character – could notice the rank evasion in how candidates handle questions. Nor do I think my values are so unique that only I and a few others would find this repeated, persistent evasiveness and obfuscation an unworthy trait in a person, let alone someone who aspires conscientiously to serve millions of people in state or any other government.
So what may well be true is that because many others are just as disgusted with the deliberate shelling out of non-answers to questions posed to candidates as I am, this sizable group simply does not vote. The remaining millions are those who do have some kind of blind faith in – or are moved by the irrelevant imagery projected by – some candidate. And there are the loyalists who line up behind some special interest leadership – say, the public service or teacher unions – and vote for anyone these people recommend.
But the reason why such a relatively small percentage of the voting population goes to the polls is probably that the disgust with evasiveness is indeed widespread.
How might this be remedied? Only by getting government out of the zillions of tasks it hasn’t any business trying to perform and giving it a clear mandate everyone has a stake in, defending our rights. Then the issue will indeed be what Michael Dukakis once said – and was roundly condemned for having said – namely, a candidate should be judged primarily on competence. Not on how he or she can fulfill a wish-list that not even Santa could handle.

Wishes versus Individual Rights

Tibor R. Machan

When social life becomes politicized, one is tempted to present all one’s wishes to politicians and bureaucrats because they have the power to fulfill them. A local resident, for example, wishes that a restaurant down the street from him not play any music he doesn’t like, anytime of the day. Even though the various bureaucracies dealing with these matters gave permission for the restaurant to feature live music, this resident wrote to the politician who represents the area, who then managed to sic the AFT on the proprietor and the music got banned. Or a parcel of land is being planned for development, all in line with the rules, passing various boards and commissions. But, no, those with strong wishes against it are needling their politicians and even the courts to get the thing stopped.
The case of the Alabama court house display of the Ten Commandments is not unlike these others. A great many people who are devout Christians wish for one of their icons to be displayed in the court house, so that’s what should happen, period. Or many wish that there be no smoking in any restaurants in California or New York or wherever, so they appeal to the politicians and bureaucrats and they, in turn, deliver.
The examples could continue ad infinitum. This kind of populism – enacting into law whatever enough people wish for – is, of course, a form of dictatorship. No, not the dictatorship of one powerful person such as a Mussolini, Hitler or Stalin but of several thousand or millions who happen to share strong wishes among themselves.
But notice that there is also a tradition in the American system that opposes such lynch mob politics. This tradition emphasizes individual rights and their protection by the law. According to that tradition, within one’s own realm of authority – that is, when it comes to oneself, one’s home, one’s business establishment – the decisions lie in one’s own hands not in those of politicians. And the public authority within that venerable tradition is severely limited.
In short, in the American political tradition of limited government, politicians and bureaucrats have just one basic job: to secure the rights of all individuals. They are not there to promote the projects of any group of these individuals.
No one’s favorite idea is supposed to get special government endorsement or support. If I do not wish for people to smoke, I am supposed to advocate this, promote it through various voluntary means without getting politicians to back my wish and ban smoking for folks who don’t want to live by my wishes. Or if I have a strong wish for my fellow citizens to pay attention to my ideals and principles, I must proselytize on my own and with my cohorts without getting government to pick us for favorites, as against all the others with their own ideals and principles. Unless the music from the restaurant is unreasonably loud, just because some cranky guy nearby wishes there to be none in “his” region, he does not get to call the shots with the aid of the local sheriff or the state senator. Nor do a bunch of citizens get to have their wish for “no more people and homes in ‘our’ neighborhood” fulfilled by means that crush the rights of others – they have the option to purchase the land they want unoccupied or to persuade the owner not to build on it, in peaceful, non-coercive ways.
But this idea that government upholds the basic rules of a free society and leaves the rest to peaceful cooperation – or lack thereof – among the rest of the citizenry seems to have very little standing in our day. Everyone thinks his or her wishes should rule, never mind other’s rights and the limits of state.
Yet, it is exactly that idea of politics – whereby government is supposed to secure our rights and we must go about getting our wishes without its favoring us with its forcible intervention – that made this country special and politically sound in the world. That is what earned it the label, “leader of the free world.” For the only freedom that’s really worth having is individual freedom.


Espresso Tax and the hidden costs

Tibor R. Machan

News reports had it the other day that Seattle’s politicians and bureaucrats have cooked up yet another extortion scheme. They are now planning to put a 10 cent tax on every shot of espresso coffee. No, regular coffee, which is drunk by nearly everyone, will not be taxed – one may assume opposition to that would be too costly for the Seattle extortionists. But espresso coffee, which is drunk by fewer folks who probably will not bother to organize any serious opposition since they have better things to do with their time, will get the axe.
Now why is this of any significance? After all, such schemes have been the norm ever since taxation was invented in the ancient feudal eras and, in America, ever since politicians have managed to hoodwink the public into voting in the income tax, which pretty much opened the floodgates so there’s no principled way to stop a tax. What is interesting about the Seattle extortion scheme is how some journalists – in this instance the CBS radio correspondent who reported the item midday August 25th – have become naively or consciously complicit in perpetrating it.
After reporting the plan, this particular CBS network radio anchor mentioned that the ten cent tax on espresso coffee will produce various wonderful public projects, such as child care facilities, in greater Seattle. Thus the reporter managed to provide a boost to the idea, mentioning only that the extorted funds will be very helpful to some needy people in the city.
What about the millions of folks who will be the victims of the extortion? Did the CBS anchor say anything about what the loss of millions of dollars will do to other projects, ones that might have been funded by espresso coffee drinkers? Of course not, proving, once again, the insight of Frederick Bastiat, the 19th century French political economist who wrote “[ fcp://@fc.freedom.com,%231011100/MailBox/That_//www.jim.com/ ]That which is seen, that which is not seen,” the essay which explains how because political projects get a lot of visibility, their costs tend to be largely unreported, even unnoticed. Our CBS radio network anchor’s conduct is a typical instance of Bastiat’s point.
Of course, there is something else amiss with the CBS anchor’s conduct – it is entirely unprofessional. By reporting only on what the proposed espresso tax is partially going to produce – and only “partially” because, after all, the taxation process will also eat up a good deal of the funds obtained – this rather prominent CBS journalist was exhibiting an undeniable bias. It is just this bias that many journalists – especially at CBS, the target of the expose book, Bias (Perennial, 2002), by Bernard Goldberg – are contesting. Yet here is an instance of it that stares us in the face.
Of course, the CBS anchor would claim that he was merely reporting what the politicians claimed. Yet, why was he not reporting what critics of the tax claimed?
Taxes, as all extorted funds, not only take resources from projects taxpayers would prefer as against what the politicians prefer. But they also increase the of politicians and decrease that of citizens. That, indeed, is the point of trying to keep one’s funds under one’s own control – not greed, not meanness, not lack of compassion, not stinginess. It is to be in the position to provide the direction to one’s resources, whatever that direction may be.
The ten cents robbed from espresso consumers in Seattle – and the billions of dollars from the American public – by politicians and bureaucrats might have been left to those who own those funds to use and dispose for various projects, be these personal, familiar, social, religions, philanthropic, or recreational. The central point though is that it would have been the owners of the resources who decided what use is made of them, not the politicians and bureaucrats.
And that is just what makes taxes so important to those politicians and bureaucrats – the more taxes there are, the more power they!

Why Taxes are Really a Bad Thing

Tibor R. Machan

This is one of my favorite topics because I like to tell it like it is even when so many fashionable folks think I am way off base.
You’ve heard it before, I am sure – taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Bunk – that’s a ruse someone who loved big government dearly tried to perpetrate and, yes, one with which he managed to fool quite a lot of people. Millions still believe that taxes are necessary just to have a decent community.
Well, here is what’s wrong with that. Even the most vital services governments provide can be bought instead of extorted from us. There is no free rider problem – meaning, because some pay for something others can use, others will stubbornly refuse to contribute -- and even if there were one, it wouldn’t justify extortion.
What folks don’t seem to understand is that a truly just society is a place where people can live without having to deny their basic humanity. And our humanity consist primarily in needing to be free of other people’s oppression. That is why slavery was such a vicious institution. That is why oppression is so terrible, be it by one bloke, a party, or a majority. That is why any kind of coercion must be banned. People require, for their flourishing, to be free to choose and when this freedom is impeded, even just a little bit, their humanity is being assaulted.
The fact that in most of human history people lived under oppression doesn’t in the slightest undermine the moral point I am making here. Throughout history there has also been theft, rape, robbery, murder, assault and all kinds of related evils, yet no one would seriously argue that those are just part of the price we pay for civilization. That’s because it is clear cut enough that these practices are evil.
Yet what is taxation but imposing an ongoing, heavy burden on persons without their consent, just so that they can make a living, own property, and buy and sell goods in the market place.
Sure, there are services that make working free of intrusion more likely and these services cost something. But we should only have to pay and get these services if we choose to do so. That is what civilized life requires. We should be able to try doing without the services and suffer the consequences.
But most of us would not try to live without cops, courts, and the military, all of which make working, owning property, trading things and stuff more convenient. And we can arrange to obtain these services without deploying any kind of coercive force, contrary to what those try to peddle us who hold that extortion and coercion are needed so as to reduce, well, extortion and coercion. That is just nonsense.
OK, so it hasn’t been tried too often to get legal services governments provide without extracting funds for this coercively, at the point of a gun. Taxes are common, so they are widely thought to be necessary, but this is where the big mistake lies.
Why, however, would so many bright enough people insist that taxation is necessary and moral?
In her first novel, We The Living, Ayn Rand has one of her characters ask, “And what is the state but a servant and a convenience for a large number of people, just like the electric light and the plumbing system? And wouldn’t it be preposterous to claim that men must exist for their plumbing, not the plumbing for the men.”
Yes it would be but there are many, many people who love the idea of ripping off the rest so as to get greater control of the world around them, including of other people. And these folks want to peddle the idea that someone must be authorized to extract from the rest of us funds and labor time and goods and services so as to do certain kinds of good things.
They start by saying, “Well, we must have such extractions so as to provide us with the police, the military and the courts.” But they never end there. Once they have gotten millions of us to say, “Oh, yes, those things are vital, so you go ahead and use coercion to get them,” they proceed to say, “Well, now that we have the authority to use coercion, why not use it for all kinds of purposes other than proving security from others?” And the state then grows and grows and grows and the moral argument against it has been lost.
As I said, the whole thing is a ruse and it is about time for folks to recognize it. The main reason taxation actually prevails is that we haven’t yet fully grasped the implication of asserting individual rights and rejecting the divine rights of kings and the supremacy of government.
We need, in other words, to extend the American revolution to its logical conclusion.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Right to Privacy – From the Declaration to the Constitution

Tibor R. Machan

One old gripe about a near-libertarian interpretation of the Constitution -- leveled at the court, for example, when it overturned a Connecticut law banning contraception in the name of the right to privacy -- is that it mentions no right to liberty or privacy.
On the Fourth of July, however, we should note that the Constitution contains the Ninth Amendment. It states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” What this means is plain: there are other rights we have besides those listed in the Constitution.
But what rights are they?
Before the Framers produced the Constitution, there was the Declaration of Independence, being celebrated today, and many of those same Framers signed it. It makes clear that those who founded this country agreed that “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
A consistent reading of this passage implies, plainly, that we have the right to do anything that does not violate others’ rights, contrary to what many champions of big government, Right and Left, would admit.
Sure, the Bill of Rights lists rights the Framers believed needed special mention, such as the First Amendment, the second and the fourth stand out. Yet all these clearly presuppose the right to liberty or privacy. Why, shouldn’t government carry out unreasonable searches if those being searched didn’t have a right to be left alone? A traditional monarchy, for example, isn’t bound by such restraints since it doesn’t recognize individual rights to liberty or privacy. But the Framers left behind the English monarchy because it violated individual rights. There is also the somewhat belated 14th Amendment. It states that “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
So, clearly, the unenumerated rights mentioned in the Ninth Amendment can very reasonably be said to include the right to liberty and/or privacy. Such a right is a very broad one, of course, and our public officials, including many judges and justices, are hesitant about admitting that it is one of our operational constitutional rights. For if they do admit this, it would bring to a screeching halt the bulk of meddlesome government regulations which these officials depend on for their jobs.
But that doesn’t matter. What is relevant is that if we consider the matter reasonably -- by reference to the meaning of the terms involved (which is how the Framers signaled their intentions) -- then the US Constitution was devised in part to make sure that rights not enumerated in it would also be protected, and that one of those rights surely must be the right to liberty or privacy.
What is so upsetting to so many people is that a principled approach to American politics will not make it possible for them to fight just for those liberties they prefer, leaving the liberties they dislike abridged by government. And so they try against all reason to squeeze out of the Constitution a system of government that favors their own liberties as well as the limits they wish to place on other people’s liberties.
In fact, however, an honest reading of that document -- given its political legacy of the Declaration of Independence and its internal integrity -- makes this exercise a futile one.

It's as if it were their own money

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

When the House of Representatives voted recently to eliminate the federal estate tax (something the Senate probably will not support), liberal Democrats reportedly objected that "it was immoral to add to the nation’s record-setting debt to benefit those at the economic pinnacle" (The New York Times, 6/19/03).
Such objections reveal just what those offering them think about the wealth of this nation – that it belongs to the government which then decides who is to benefit from it, and who is not. As if eliminating a tax amounted to giving something to people, providing them with a benefit, instead of stopping taking things from them that belongs to them in the first place.
Relatives to whom a business or some other source of wealth had been left by now deceased persons are forced to pay estate taxes. The wealth had been left to these relatives, but in order for the relatives to receive what they were given they must first pay a huge sum to the government. This is extortion, plain and simple – "You’ll get what someone else freely gave you provided you first pay us not to send you to jail or fine you." That is how the mob behaves – "You get to run your business provided you pay us not to burn it down."
Liberal Democrats think, however, that the wealth never belonged to those who left it to their relatives but belonged to the government that permitted it to be held and used by the bequeathors. So, the issues for liberal Democrats is, should the government continue to permit the wealth to be held and used by the relatives provided they pay some kind of fee or rent.
That is exactly the thinking behind what monarchs did when they sold everyone on the idea that a country belonged to them and those working there were their serfs, with the products these "serfs" created belonging to the monarch as well. So, a quarter of millennia after the American founders dispatched monarchy, the system is back again, along with its economy of mercantilism. Liberal Democrats, as well as those to their left, really believe that government owns us and our work and we only get to keep some of this if the government deems that suitable to its purposes.
Unfortunately, while liberal Democrats are avid supporters of such mercantilism, Republicans aren’t quite opposed to it either. After all, when it comes to their own various pet projects, Republicans are not above treating our assets and incomes as their own disposable wealth. Just look at the perks Republicans attach to various bills they believe will pass, sending these to their constituents in the full spirit of wealth redistribution. Thus when they do not quite like the degree of extortion liberal Democrats favor, they have no moral arguments to offer against it. Thus we get Speaker Dennis Hastert intone with this kind of muddled thinking in response to the liberal democrats’ opposition to eliminating the estate tax: "This isn’t just for rich people, this is for everybody who shares in the American dream. ... We need to pass this piece of legislation, so we can keep this American heritage of families working, of families creating wealth, of families creating businesses."
Never mind about the rights of those relatives to receive what they were given free and clear by the deceased. Never mind the immorality of taking anything at all from them as booty. Never mind that what the government confiscates is loot and doesn’t belong to it. Why? Because saying such things would cut the Republicans off the booty, too.
So, instead we get the old line of defense of free trade and free enterprise and freedom in general, namely that such freedom is good for the country, not that everyone has a right to it. Because saying so would concede that it is these individuals who have the first right to say what happens to their wealth, not the politicians.
In other words, Republicans do not want to acknowledge any more than liberal Democrats that American citizens have a right to their assets and products. They only claim that it would be more efficient to leave them to hold and manage those assets and products on behalf of the country.
Ayn Rand, the most passionate defender of the free society in recent times, noted that when you compromise on the principle of liberty, you eventually have to cave in to the demands of those who do not believe in liberty. You have no principled defense of your position and so it continues being eroded, slowly but surely.
That is just what the Republicans are showing us when they give wimpy objections to the liberal Democrats who would just as soon confiscate everyone’s wealth if they could and manage the country according to their own personal vision, never mind the diverse yet often perfectly valid visions of the individuals who own that wealth in the first place.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu
Frank Rich's view of Americans

By TIBOR R. MACHAN
Freedom News Service

One of this country’s most prominent newspaper columnists is Frank Rich of The New York Times. While the Times has taken a few hits on its reputation recently, Rich is not among those who endured criticism. Rich is not directly associated with the Times' recent controversy because he writes columns. And Times’ columnists are often treated as public philosophers par excellence.
In his June 8 column, in the Arts & Leisure section, Rich began with the following: "Here is how desperate Americans are to be on TV ..." He goes on to note that many people line up on various locations across the country where they expect television cameras to get a glimpse of them. The 15 (or fewer) minutes of fame syndrome is, of course, old hat now, but never mind that for the moment. Columnists, including yours truly, do not shy from repeating themselves – it was George Orwell who is reported to have said, "The first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious."
What is remarkable about Rich’s statement is how unself-consciously it assumes that what characterizes some publicity-hungry folks across America is, actually, characteristic of Americans as such. He does not say "Here’s how desperate some Americans are to be on TV." No, it is Americans who are desperate to be on TV.
Well, I have to admit that now and then I like being on TV – mostly if I have something of value to say, as I did when John Stossel was kind enough to have me on one of his special programs on ABC and when back in 1982 I had the privilege of being on William F. Buckley Jr.’s "Firing Line" on PBS. But would I wait four hours to have a camera get a glimpse of me standing outside some studio? No, I wouldn’t, nor would, I seriously suspect, millions of my fellow Americans. It takes desperation, indeed, to go to such lengths for so little.
Rich, however, uses the mere existence of a few thousand Americans eager to be on TV to jump to the conclusion – or carelessly suggestion – that it is Americans, all of them, who are desperate to be on TV. Why would a columnist from The New York Times allow himself to say such an evidently silly thing?
I do not read minds, but one can make inferences about people’s general thinking from reading and listening to what they say in various circumstances. My suggestion is that Rich has a very low opinion of Americans as Americans. In short, he doesn’t much like Americans just in their role of being Americans. This shows from his willingness to think such silly things about them all, even while it is clear that only a small fraction of them seem to be silly as he claims all are (which isn’t all that bad a thing, in any case). It is this bad opinion of Americans as Americans – that is, as citizens of the United States – that would allow him to throw elementary caution and logic to the winds and make an assertion smearing them all with the silliness that is true at most of a fraction of them.
Now people often generalize on the basis of a little bit of evidence, but this makes sense only when the little bit of evidence is representative. So, if one goes to Italy and finds that the several dozens of Italians one meets all speak Italian, it is safe to conclude that in that land Italian is spoken even without having met everyone there.
Rich, however, had no such representative sample at his disposal, quite the opposite. He was considering only people who could perhaps be said to be desperate for some kind of minor fame (And, actually, what is so terrible about that? Taken individually, most of us spend much time on stuff others consider utterly silly.). And on that basis he was willing to leap to the view that it is Americans who are desperate to be on TV.
So, what of it? Well, it goes to show – or at least to suggest – that one of the nation's most prominent columnists has it in for Americans. His willingness to think badly of them is evidence of that. Which is sad. Maybe it’s time for The New York Times to select a columnist who isn't so hostile to his own country.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and author of "The Passion for Liberty" (Rowman & Littlefield). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at Machan@chapman.edu

Saturday, May 31, 2003

NPR and Media Bias

Tibor R. Machan

Over the years there’s been this on-going debate about whether the American news media is biased toward the Left or the Right. For example, most recently John Stossel’s selection as Barbara Walters’ co-host of ABC-TV’s “20/20” has been attacked by the Left leaning media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. It has urged viewers on the Internet to “[t]ell ABC to provide John Stossel with some of the competition that he professes to admire so much. If he is allowed to openly and consistently advocate for his laissez-faire point of view, ABC should also provide comparable airtime to a critic of laissez-faire policies--preferably one who does not have Stossel's extensive record of inaccuracies.”
I do not wish to jump into this dispute, although one wonders whether having Peter Jennings as a constant head shaking, finger wagging body-language commentator, with unmistakably Left leaning views, did not suffice to show ABC-TV’s belief in competition? And other than one inaccuracy Stossel apologized for on air, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting is simply whistling in the dark. Furthermore, competition is supposed to occur between networks, not necessarily on them!
What I am more interested in is the fact that in all the debate about whether American media is biased toward the Left or the Right few ever mention the undeniably biased and all so ubiquitous National Public Radio. NPR is a huge network of radio programs, involving news, analyses, interviews, and, of course, classical music and jazz programming, located on nearly every university and college campus across the USA. As the NPR Web Site tells it, “NPR serves a growing audience of more than 15 million Americans each week via 620 public radio stations and the Internet and in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR Worldwide, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network, and throughout Japan via cable.”
As far as its tone is concerned, NPR is very polished, as if all of its personnel graduated from Swarthmore or Vassar. They all sound exactly alike, without anyone on the air who doesn’t have just the right phlegmatic New England accent, often coupled with a curious sounding name like Corey Flintoff, Cokie Roberts, Ketzel Levine and so forth. But never mind these minor quirks.
What is more important is that NPR is partly funded from money extorted from citizens who are forced to pay taxes just to be able to keep a job or to sell goods or services. Sure, NPR stations also receive voluntary support from some of their listeners but from what I have been told the bulk of them could not survive without the subsidy provided by the government, either directly or via the educational stations that carry NPR programming on a non-profit basis. And certainly the fact that they receive tax funds would obligate them to be scrupulously unbiased.
However, NPR is beamed to millions of college radio station listeners and it is clearly biased toward the Left. For example, nearly anyone who is supportive of more government funding for environmentalist projects (especially ones involving extensive private property confiscation) is welcome on Fresh Air and similar interview programs. Then, also, so called public affairs programming would include quite a few hard hitting interviews but in the case of NPR nearly all of these are of the “throwing the Christians to the Christians” variety.
Because I am committed to hearing out the views of people whose overall viewpoint I regard basically mistaken, I often tune in NPR and on nearly every occasion I am amazed at how brazenly biased is its programming. Even the news coverage shows this, as when reports from the war against Iraq relentlessly focused on whatever negative story they could find, and reported virtually all the criticisms of USA policy (something with which, by the way, I also found serious fault). On NPR the refrain is nearly always that of what we might call the Soft Left--as if Ralph Nader, with his politics of economic democracy--meaning that economic decisions are all to be made by politicians--were the network’s ideological czar.
As far as I can tell, NPR’s government-supported near-monopoly of college and university radio broadcasting is far more significant than, say, the popularity and ubiquity of Rush Limbaugh’s radio talk show. Hammering away with their Soft-Left bias at nearly all the college students of the nation and pretending to deal with topics fairly and professionally, amounts to a very significant bias in American media, one that no Rush Limbaugh could possible balance. Yet oddly this is rarely if ever discussed when the topic of media bias is touched upon.