Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Column on Liberty not being Easy

Liberty Isn?t Easy

Tibor R. Machan

Sometimes I find myself enchanted with what I should reject. That?s true
both in my personal and public concerns.

For example, I am a fan of rail travel?just finished several legs of it
in England and Europe. When I can afford first class, reserved tickets, I
am especially delighted. I settle into my comfortable state subsidized
seat, look out the window all the time, enjoy as we rush by scene after
scene, some familiar and some new to me. I am fond of all those little
villages in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but I also enjoy watching
the great variety of vehicles racing up and down the Autobahns or
Autostradas next to the tracks. And then there are all those lakes and the
beaches and whatnot?I can never get enough, except when I begin to have to
deal with the bureaucracy that seems to be present everywhere, with its
endless dilly-dallying and inefficiency that taxes my patience.

But I feel conflicted, too, because, after all, nearly all of these
trains run at the expense of the population that no longer really wants to
ride trains a lot. Not only trains, either. Buses are running about
throughout the continent with hardly a soul using them other than at some
peak hours. And all those ?public? realms throughout the continent bother
me because I realize how used people become to them, how they tend to
induce complacency about privatizing it all, as it should be.

Even in the USA, of course, this attachment to what statism has and had
to offer someone is difficult to overcome. People are often so fond of
their public education, public TV and radio, public parks, forests and
beaches, and a whole lot else, that the idea of possibly changing these
into private sector provisions sets them virtually permanently against the
idea of a truly free society.

I recall many occasions when, while defending the privatization of
education, the emotional response, aside from how this would affect the
poor?yes, it usually beings with the poor and their children and ends with
subsidies for massive inefficient industries and professions?involved,
mainly, how everyone in the audience went to public schools and how
unlovely it would be to abandon them all.

Most of us have lived in the shadows of major and petty tyrannies and
have become quite used to how things are done in such regimes. Few of us
knows anything else, really. In Europe the suggestion that broadcasting,
for example, should all be private is met with near total disbelief on the
part of a great many folks, so much so that someone who thinks this is a
good idea can be shaken and will tend toward cynicism about the prospects
of full liberty.

Yet, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has succeeded recently in
persuading Japan's lower house of Parliament to narrowly approve
legislation to transform the state-run postal savings and insurance system
into a private enterprise over the next 12 years. So, it?s not really
impossible, only difficult, to make headway toward greater freedom. When I
consider that I, who am fully committed to the radical transformation of
the world?s legal systems toward the limited function of the protection of
individual rights, find this transformation difficult to fathom, at least
emotionally, how can all those who don?t give a hoot about such principled
reforms get on board with the program?

It is here that education, persuasion, argument, advocacy and the other
peaceful roads to reform must be carried out with the utmost vigilance and
on innumerable fronts, with all the talents and specialization available
for the task. It is a bit like when one must quit some destructive habit,
even though one likes it a lot but the greater importance of a longer and
healthier life make the change imperative. It?s not easy, no, but a
sensible, reasonable person will usually take up the challenge,
nonetheless. Pick any such habit that?s turned against you and you will
grasp the problem immediately.

It is necessary, then, for revolutionaries to understand that millions of
people are not likely to be eager to part with their habits, even once
they found them to be bad ones. Statism is a very ancient bad habit
indeed, the ?governmental habit? (as Jonathan R. T. Hughes called it in
his book by that name). Vigilance is of the utmost importance in the face
of this realization.

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