Saturday, May 14, 2005

Column on Fawning over Galbraith

Fawning over Galbraith?to a Point

Tibor R. Machan

The New York Review of Books is a well edited magazine and the writing in
it is of high quality. That?s not to say the writers tell it like it is,
unfortunately, so the recent kudos, delivered in the way of a review of a
book about the famous Harvard ?economist,? manages to avoid saying perhaps
what?s most interesting about John Kenneth Galbraith?s recent intellectual

Professor Galbraith has been as avid a socialist in the American academy
as that?s possible to be without coming off utterly ridiculous. He has
managed to cling to his Leftist-statist dreams about how a society should
be organized by blaming everything that?s gone wrong in the country on
capitalism, never mind that blaming the mixed economy and the absence of
bona fide free markets would have been much more credible and defensible.
Of course, because when it comes to truths about social affairs testing
them is difficult?we cannot run experiments sticking a few millions into
fascists, another few into socialist, then yet another into welfare states
and into capitalist laboratories?dreamers can fare well enough.

Now you may believe that I am engaging here in some distortion?isn?t it
to beg the question to call Galbraith and his American socialist pals
?dreamers?? Well, not if you listen to, you guessed it, Galbraith himself.

This famous champion of nationalization of much of American industry?in
one of his books in the 1970s, The New Industrial State?and the fierce
regulation of corporate commerce, as well as the view that consumers are
imprisoned by way of advertising (which out his The Affluent Society for
this one), ultimately changed his mind, shortly after the fall of the
Soviet Union. I recall reading an interview in Alitalia Airlines?
in-flight magazine, as I flew from Rome to Athens some years ago, where
Galbraith stated unequivocally that capitalism is the winner between the
two major alternatives in contemporary political economy. He was asked, in
an interview published in the October 1996 issue of the magazine, "You
spoke of the failure of socialism. Do you see this as a total failure, a
counterproductive alternative?" To this question he replied as follows:
"I'd make a distinction here. What failed was the entrepreneurial state,
but it had some beneficial effect. I do not believe that there are any
radical alternatives, but there are correctives. The only alternative
socialism, that is the alternative to the market economy, has failed. The
market system is here to stay."

Nothing about this appeared in the fawning review in The New York Review
of Books; the piece makes it appear that Galbraith, who is now 97, has
remained an unreconstructed socialist (of the ?democratic? variety). One
may, I believe, assume that this has less to do with what Galbraith
actually believes now than with what the author of the review, Jeffrey
Madrick, an economist at the New School for Social Research and editor of
Challenge Magazine, believes.
(Nor did Mr. Madrick report one of Galbraith most perceptive remarks,
namely, ?You will find that the State is the kind of organization which,
though it does big things badly, does small things badly, too? [[

I recall, in this connection, that when Robert Heilbroner, another long
time champion of socialism, died recently, none of the obits reproduced
his famous declaration, made in The New Yorker Magazine, namely, ??Ludwig
von Mises...had written of the ?impossibility? of socialism, arguing that
no Central Planning Board could ever gather the enormous amount of
information needed to create a workable economic system....It turns out,
of course, that Mises was right....?

You need to watch out when current dreamers loud the thinking of older
ones: Do they reveal the whole truth or only the portion that gives their
dreams some measure of respectability?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Column on NIMBY Squared, then Cubed

NIMBY Squared, then Cubed

Tibor R. Machan

Over the years I have occasionally written about goings on in Silverado
Canyon, where I live in Southern California. The place is smack in a part
of Cleveland National Forest, although obviously the strip that?s the
inhabited canyon is mostly private property.

One of the fracas has been about building a small development with 12
expensive homes. This has been lingering in various bureaucratic city,
county and whatever departments, with the delays brought about by the
NIMBY crowd, of course. Not everyone in the canyon is opposed,
interestingly, but those who are have much time and energy on their hand,
so this valuable property lies waste until the opponents are finally

Now the hullabaloo is about the possibility of a tunnel or corridor
coming through or near the canyon and, of course, there is even greater
opposition to this than to those 12 homes. The tunnel would help, it is
argued by traffic experts, ease the nearly immobile morning and afternoon
traffic on the Riverside Freeway (#91). Just as with the new homes, which
would ease some of the escalation of home costs by freeing up some lower
priced homes in Orange County, so with the proposed tunnel, certain people
would be helped by making their commute less painful and costly.

Alas, the NIMBY folks care nothing about this. They just bellyache about
how they wouldn?t be viewing only the beautiful mountains peaks but may
have to see a bit of road traffic from the canyon home windows and as they
mosey about the region.

I lived in Switzerland for two years and traveled extensively from there
to Southwest Italy and and elsewhere where tunnels about in great
numbers?big ones, small ones, wide ones and narrow ones, all types. And,
mind you, they are impressive, too, sights to behold at least to those of
us who enjoy some humanity mixed in with the wilds.

Now if you mention this hereabouts, you will hear all about the delicate
ground of Southern California, what with its various fault lines and the
like. But when you read the rants and raves about the possibility of
tunnels there is no word about that at all. It?s all about our wonderful
view and wild life and such, as if the wilds had no resilience and needed
these NIMBY folks to rescue it from human intervention.

Of course, you will never hear about how perhaps those who care so much
about the wilds should move out of their canyon homes, maybe to some city,
thus making the personal sacrifice they want everyone else to make by not
living or traveling near the canyons. The idea of the 12 homes or the
tunnel is rank villainy but their own insistence of having things go their
way is, well, the moral high ground. Sure?if you buy this, I got this
bridge in Brooklyn I could sell you for peanuts.

We live in the world alongside a lot of other people?many of whom will
not even consider responsible parenting but pop kids into it without a
moment reflection, often completely unprepared to care for them. Indeed,
many of the same folks who fret so much about the environment are also
very protective of those who are poor with large families. (They agitate
for paid family leave, for example, which clearly encourages population
growth.) But never mind, NIMBY comes first for them, whatever the impact
on those whose cost of living rises as a result.

It is simple maturity to acknowledge that space will be squeezed and that
no one has any right to live on prime real estate surrounded by wild life
that he or she didn?t bother to purchase fair and square. And part of the
price of living in California, especially, is to put up with millions of
others who also wish to live and travel there. And that means more roads,
even, sometimes, through nifty places like the Cleveland National Forest.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Column on Multicultural Paradoxes

Paradoxes of Multiculturalism

Tibor R. Machan

My own university has recently experienced a minor upheaval because the
president refused to exceed to demands to build a multicultural center.
Some who wanted such a center have claimed, rather angrily, that this is a
denial of their unique identity, an insult to who they are. The last issue
of our student paper contained quite a few such outbursts, although there
were also several letters in support of the president?s stance.

The incident brought to mind for me a paper written by a very good
friend, though I don?t believe it was ever published, on the very idea of
multicultural educational efforts. After much investigation and
reflection, this friend concluded that a great deal of so called
multicultural education is actually not multicultural at all but rather
one-sided. Among the discoveries he made is that when people study
multiculturalism they are rarely presented with an in-depth view of
different cultures. Indeed, these cultures are hardly studied as
distinctive phenomena. Instead, it is the idea of multiculturalism?the
idea that there are many different cultures and they all deserve equal
respect from everyone?that?s promulgated.

But by adhering to this idea, one isn?t immersing oneself in different
cultures at all. This notion of cultural egalitarianism is something very
few members of the great varieties of cultures around the globe actually
believe, quite the contrary.

The notion that one?s own culture has nothing over others is mostly
anathema to most who live in societies that have traditions of fierce
loyalty to certain unique religions and practices. That, indeed, is the
natural stance to take?why else would these religions and practices be
embraced in the first place, if one believed they are no better than
others around the world?

In fact, if there is a society in which multiculturalism is embraced by a
most folks, at least to some significant measure, it is the United states
of America. And this has been so from its very beginning.

In 1798 a young man, J. M. Holley, wrote a letter to his brother
attesting to this multicultural character of the new country, noting that
?the diversity of dress, manners, & customs is greater in America, than in
any other country in the world, the reason of which, is very obvious. It
is considered as a country where people enjoy liberty and independence; of
course, persons from allmost every nation in the world, come here as to an
assylum from oppression; Each brings with him prejudices in favor of the
habits of his own countrymen....? (Quoted in ?Endpaper,? The New York
Times Book Review, November 5, 1995, p. 46).

In our time, when critics of the United States denigrate its allegedly
self-deluded exceptionalism?the idea that it has uniquely favorable
attributes as a human community?it could easily be replied that the
country?s hospitality to so many different cultures is indeed one of its
unique, albeit sometimes problematic, but mostly benevolent attributes. No
one is required to swear to much more when taking up US citizenship than
to embrace the country?s basic laws. (I recall when I became naturalized
as an American, back in 1961, in Washington, DC, we were required to swear
only to abide by the US Constitution and not to hold loyal to others in
conflict with it.) No one is put through some litmus test about specific
cultural features.

This, of course, annoys some folks a great deal. The likes of Pat
Buchanan, for example, are very concerned that too many people come to
this country who give not a hoot about its cultural attributes. And, yes,
I have to admit that I myself have never come to love baseball,
basketball, and football, or hot dogs and hamburgers. Instead, I, who
consider myself quite cosmopolitan, am still loyal to tennis and gulyas
soup and espresso coffee, not to mention various types of music and
painting and drama from the old continent from which I hail. No one has
treated me badly for this, not even for my other peculiarities, partly
attributable to my accidental cultural background, and from what I have
observed this is pretty much so with millions of other newcomers.

I think my college president was right. This country is already
multicultural to a vastly greater extent than are most others (except
perhaps for a few of the big cosmopolitan cities). So he can do better
with the funds of our university than make an empty gesture toward what
usually turns out to be a rather shallow so called multicultural
educational effort.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Column on Corporations and Governments

Corporations and Governments

Tibor R. Machan

Many critics of free market capitalism focus their energies on
demonstrating that with corporations as powerful as they can become in a
free market, there is no danger as great as making it possible for them to
pursue profit freely, unregulated by government. They are convinced that
only a power that is even greater than wealthy big corporations can
contain the rapacious ambitions that are evident throughout corporate

The idea that big corporations are untamed beasts that wreak havoc upon
civilized society is immensely popular throughout the academy everywhere
in the world, including the United States of America. Most professors in
the humanities and social sciences, a great many writers, journalists,
artist, and entertainers?centered mainly in New York City and
Hollywood?cling firmly to their view that corporations are a threat to the
well being of nearly everyone in society and that those who do not share
this belief are deluded, period. It is not only Ralph Nader who embraces
this idea and the only reason Nader hasn?t reached national political
office is that he is viewed as a naïve idealist who wants to take on
forces that must be appeased, not fought.

It is pretty clear that in a society in which people may solicit
governments for favors, big corporations will have an advantage over
others, although universities and unions are not all that far behind in
the power they wield through lobbyists throughout the capitols of the
various states and the federal government. Champions of the free society
hold, of course, that the answer to this problem isn?t to abolish or try
to regulated big business but to refashion the legal system so as to ban
favors to any sector of society. They believe that corporations should be
independent of government as much as churches are. And their idea is not
implausible since by firmly separating church and state, the American
government has, in the main, remained independent of religious control.
If, for example, a massive Roman Catholic church, with millions and
millions of faithful, can be kept at bay, surely corporations could be as

Still, business corporations are probably always going to have a hold on
politicians in the legal system as currently composed. They control huge
sums of money that politicians want so as to run successful campaigns,
which isn?t the case with churches and universities. So long as election
campaigns need to be conducted and so long as people, including their
organizations, are, as they should be, free to make contributions to these
campaigns, it is difficult, critics of free market capitalism say, to
imagine a largely capitalist society free of undue big business-corporate
political influence.

Yet it is possible, slowly and over much time, to wean corporations from
government largess and vice versa. But this requires extensive education
and vigilant proselytization. The probability of such reform is small,
admittedly, but then so was the probability of abolishing slavery at one
time, or, later, segregation or the military draft. All changes of this
magnitude, that require undoing centuries of bad habits, both personal and
institutional, have a slim chance of succeeding. After all, corporations
are entrenched in the system itself, one that gives them such a bad
reputation, without many of them making a determined effort to end their

The question then becomes whether it is of any real use to seek remedy
for corporate influence from expanded government regulation, This is what
the current movie Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, along with most
statist critiques of the Enron fiasco suggest?namely, that the answer to
corporate malfeasance is more and more state intervention. But the logic
of such a position is seriously flawed.

After all, if corporations have powerful, albeit wrongheaded, influence
on government today, why would government have the ability to set them
right? That is a preposterous idea. Moreover, government intervention,
even apart from clearly often serving corporate interests, is so
susceptible to corruption, to misuse, that placing one?s hope in more and
more of it is flat out incredible.

The only hope is the slow, vigilant, process of divorcing corporate
commerce?as well as all other institutions susceptible to corruption?from
government. However much existing corporations exhibit the relentless
tendency to link up with government and thus wield much more than
harmless?and perhaps well deserved?economic power, it is plainly
unreasonable to expect that the alternative of increasing government
regulation is the right solution.

Column on Targetting Individualism (sans typos)

Another Effort to Discredit Individualism
Tibor R. Machan
Regular contributor Jim Holt's column in the May 8, 2005, New York Times
Magazine is all about recent efforts to map the human brain. Some of these
are so successful that they record highly specific brain processes that
are correlated with thoughts and even subconscious perceptual activities.
But don?t count on Holt to report on such matters without a political
agenda. In discussing the fact that the human brain is split and sometimes
when the two spheres are severed things keep on going quite nicely, thank
you, he reproduces this line from New York University philosophy Thomas
Nagel, famed recently for co-authoring The Myth of Ownership (Oxford,
2002): "The ordinary, simple idea of a single person will come to seem
quaint some day, when the complexities of the human control system become
clearer and we become less certain that there is anything very important
that we are one of."
Over twenty years ago another rather prominent philosopher, Derek Parfit,
advanced a similar thesis, in his Reason and Persons (Oxford, 1984),
according to which we are each actually teams?Parfit in fact used the term
"nations"?and not single persons. The whole book was a rather clever piece
of logic chopping in which the main goal seems to have been to show that
no individual human beings exist. And so, no moral or legal order that
rests on the idea of individual rights could be sustained. Nagel, then, is
certainly quite unoriginal but that, of course, would be no problem of he
weren?t so wrong.
My new friend, Barnard Baars, a neuroscientist and author of In the
Theater of Consciousness (Oxford, 1996) made some interesting observations
to me about Nagel?s (and Holt?s) contention, which I reproduce here with
his permission:
"It's complete nonsense from a scientific point of view. My friend Stan
Franklin, who is a mathematician/computer scientist, talks about
?autonomous agents.? Humans are nothing if not autonomous agents?not in a
mystical sense, but in a very specific and causal sense.
"One of the ways we are autonomous is in terms of substitutability of
resources. On the level of food, we like to eat meat, but if that runs
out, potatoes will do. So there are options. In terms of human
relationships, we'd like to have Julia Roberts as our playmate, but there
are other fish in that sea. In terms of making a living, we'd all like to
be paid for our books, but... (etc.) I think that's one of the keys to
autonomy, substitutability of resources.
"Another is flexibility in acquiring knowledge. Humans are by far the best
learners in the animal kingdom, obviously. But acquired knowledge also
shapes who we are and how we define our purposes and interests. Gerald
Edelman, who is a heck of a lot better scientist than Thomas Nagel, makes
a big thing about the distinctiveness of the INDIVIDUAL human brain. His
Neural Darwinism gives a conceptual account of individuality from solid
biological evidence.
"So the NYT quote is complete nonsense supports the social
engineering agenda. Of course that agenda keeps failing in reality!"
Most of us are familiar today with junk science in support of various
environmental and related political programs and how often the government
is eager to cash in on it. (The recent howler about the rate of obesity,
fortunately nipped in the bud shortly after it was floated, is a good case
in point.) Perhaps we need to be alerted to junk philosophy, as well, put
in the service of a political utopia?although, come to think of it, that?s
been going on for centuries. Yet, hasn?t junk science had a long career
itself, yet folks keep falling for it repeatedly?