Friday, December 17, 2004

Column on SS Privatization

Social Security Abolition vs. Gradualism

Tibor R. Machan

Human beings often want to improve matters, including how they solve
problems. Some of their efforts could use drastic improvement. When a
goodly portion of America tolerated slavery, this was something that
needed drastic changeÂ?it had to be abolished somehow. The social security
system isnÂ?t so severely tyrannical, but it, too, needs to be gotten rid
of. On a personal level, too, there can be demands for different degrees
of change. If one is a thief or molester of children, this requires
drastic change, no two ways about it; if one smokes or eats too much, the
change to moderation is needed but not so urgently.

How does one go about changing these kinds of things in oneÂ?s life and
society? Some believe that nothing but cold turkey will do, in any of
these cases. I disagree.

In personal matters it is often best to go cold turkey, but that, too,
can depend on oneÂ?s personality, temperament and even medical situation.
When it is a matter of violating other peopleÂ?s rights, cold turkey is a
must, that is clear. When it is a matter of becoming more virtuous,
conscientious in going about oneÂ?s life, a gradual approach is certainly
not out of the question.

There are those who believe that in matters of political reform only the
abolitionist approach will suffice. Thus, for example, they insist that be
it slavery or social security, there is no room for gradualismÂ?both must
be instantly abolished. Well, sadly, this is a mere dream.

Unfortunately institutional malfeasance brings about massive dependence.
Slavery, once established, became entrenched and in order to rid the
country of it, there needed to be a process of disengagement. Abolition
was, of course, the right goal. But there was no way to simply halt it.
Too many people had all sorts of rationalizations for hanging on to the
practice and they needed to be dealt with without catastrophic measures.
Indeed, many argue that the a war was not the right way to handle itÂ?the
slave holders could have been bought out or some other policy of bringing
about change might have been tried so as to save the thousands and
thousands of lives lost in the war.

Once an institution gains a loyal constituency in a society, however evil
it may be, it will require cumbersome disengagement and there is rarely
some policy of pushing a button that can switch things from bad to good,
from wrong to right. ItÂ?s a bit like going from sickness to
healthÂ?convalescence, recovery, cure and the rest all require time.

Social security abolition is even more difficult to deal with because so
many people sincerely believe it is OK to coerce people to put money away
for their retirement. Never mind that the scheme is also fraught with
fraud. The fact the millions of people accept it as legitimate and that
hundreds of pundits and politicians rationalize it around the countryÂ?not
to mention all those employed to administer and are thus economically
wedded to itÂ?makes instant reform impossible.

However, the gradual approach is also very risky and could amount to no
change at all. Already, in the case of social security, we get word from
President George W. Bush that severe restriction will accompany his meager
privatization measures, should they go through. Â?You canÂ?t take it
[Â?retirement nest eggsÂ?] to the racetrack and hope to really increase the
returns.Â? He added, Â?ItÂ?s not there for the lotteryÂ?.People are not going
to be allowed to take their money for their retirement account and take it
to Vegas and shoot dice.Â?

Now this is outrageous by standards the American founders set out in the
Declaration of Independence, where they spoke of our unalienable right to
liberty. Who is President Bush to speak of Â?allowingÂ? anyone to do this or
that with his or her money? All this talk about an Â?ownership societyÂ? is
evidently bunk. People will continue to be treated like children or

Sadly, this is standard fare these daysÂ?political thinkers around
universities and the media accept that government is in charge of us. Yes,
it is a kind of modern day serfdom, one that denies our sovereignty. But
because of its widespread acceptance, there is no way to put a stop to it

So those who love liberty may just have to put up with the gradual,
imperfect approach of semi-privatizationÂ?just as they need to put up with
school vouchersÂ?in order to make some headway toward the proper goal of
ridding our society of the paternalism that the social security system

Mencken quote re. practical politics

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
- H.L. Mencken (From: Minority Report, H. L. Mencken's Notebooks, Knopf, 1956. These have numbers in square brackets corresponding to the numbers in the book.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Column on Boston Legal

"Boston Legal" equals Boston Unjust

Tibor R. Machan

Having from my early childhood been a fan of court room dramasÂ?I had read
45 Perry Mason novels before I ever left Hungary at age 14Â?I have a hard
time denying myself the pleasures of a good legal squabble. So, I have
watched Law & Order since it started and even stuck with The Practice
until it turned into little more than a soap opera where law was but a
side show.

Now I am giving Boston Legal a try and my patience is being seriously
tested. In addition to finding one of the central characters, Alan Shore
played by James Spader, mostly annoying while also somewhat admirable,
there is a bigger issue for me. I am now and have for a couple of decades
been teaching business ethics courses in which I try to impress upon my
students that the profession is actually quite honorable, no need at all
to apologize for it and its primary goals, namely, profit. (If it were not
so, business ethics would indeed be an oxymoron.)

You see, in Boston Legal the firm for which Shore works represents many
big corporations and one way that he is made out to be a hero is that he
repeatedly denounces these firms for having profit as their major
objective. In a recent case a drug company was funding an experimental
study with a promising new drug but, alas, the doctor who designed the
study got too eager and introduced a significant bit of deception that
ultimately hurt mainly her alone and disappointed several dozen others who
had to stop taking an experimental drug. Sure, the hope was to demonstrate
that the drug the subjects were using would do millions of people a lot of
good; but the subjects were not told the truth and thought they were
actually in a different experimental program. It all came out in the wash,
in the end, with the doctor who perpetrated the deception suffering most
but looking merely a little morally shady, while the corporation that
funded the study end up looking terrible. Why? Because David E. Kelley,
the creator of and major writer on Boston Legal, made sure that viewers
were told via Alan Shore that the company was motivated only Â?by greed.Â?
As if he had actually known the owners, managers, investors, employees who
made up the firm.

Still, Alan Shore being the hero of the show, it made little difference
that he hadnÂ?t a clue about the motivation of the companyÂ?for all he could
tell, the money the company would make of the drug would be spent on
saving the spotted owl or feeding children in Bangladesh. But, no, the
showÂ?s writer, David E. KelleyÂ?famous for creating and writing for many of
TVÂ?s legal showsÂ?just had to stick it to big corporations. Never mind that
Boston Legal is broadcast on ABC-TV, itself certainly a huge corporation,
that makes it possible for Kelley to peddle his prejudices across the land.

In fact, of course, the general task of businesses is indeed to achieve
significant measures of prosperity for those who own them through the
production of goods and services that the buying public will value. This,
then, makes it possible for these owners to devote their earnings from the
firmÂ?s business to whatever they deem has merit, including contributing to
innumerable philanthropic objectives, as well as to sending their children
to good schools, taking decent vacations, purchasing health insurance, and
so forth. Again, neither the fictional Alan Shore, nor the actual David E.
Kelley has a clue just what such the prosperity the company achieves will
go to help support. Somehow that is of no concern to them. Bashing big
business is.

Back in the 80s television personality and attorney Ben Stein narrated an
hour long documentary, HollywoodÂ?s Heavies. It demonstratedÂ?as well as
such programs can do such a thingÂ?that Hollywood writers systematically
discriminate against corporate managers. Most crimes were committed by
them on their programs and movies and none of them ever managed to come
off as a hero. The movie Wall Street is perhaps the paradigm instance of
this but there are many more.

To this day Hollywood hasnÂ?t changed. As if they were part of a Ralph
Nader Chorus. I have no idea why, although several reasons come to mind
that may well explain it. But I would have to know these people
betterÂ?David E. Kelley, in particularÂ?to venture an educated guess as to
why the very institution that allows them to prosper and to back all kinds
of goals and causes is hated by them so much. LetÂ?s just say, whatever
explains it, the outcome is plainly unjust.