Saturday, September 10, 2005

Column on Arnold v. Gay Marriages

The Gay Marriage Fiasco In California

Tibor R. Machan

I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in that special election because I
found the 11th hour attack on him in The Los Angeles Times disgusting and
his political ideas were closer to mine than those of Gray Davis. Now I am
not sure I did the right thing.

OK, I find it annoying that matters like whether gays may marry ever
become part of the public agenda. Frankly, the issue should be totally
privatized?I should have no say in whether someone else gets together with
another person of whatever gender and unites in marriage, barring some
problem for public health. That is a matter of whatever creed they profess
and the practices and rituals of which they choose to follow. I may even
disagree, rather emphatically, with what they call this union. But it
simply isn?t my business and to have ?the public? butt in is very
disturbing. Do they get to butt in on which church other people attend? On
what sports they choose to follow or take part in? And whose art they
admire and support? On whether they believe in Darwin or creationism?
These simply aren?t matters for public policy and neither should it be
whether gay people marry.

Since there is no justification for ?the public? butting in here, the
vote cast in California about gay marriages is entirely beside the
point?as if they had voted on creationism versus Darwinian evolution or on
whether to go to bed at 9 PM or 2 AM. None of their business what I
believe or do, not if it violates no one?s rights. And gays marrying
doesn?t violate anyone?s rights.

So when Governor Schwarzenegger announced that he is going to stand up
for ?the people? of California by vetoing the act making gay marriage
legal, I felt betrayed. I thought this man had some appreciation for human
freedom?after all, he was once closely associated with Professor Milton
Friedman, the leader of the Chicago School of free market economics and a
champion of individual rights. But no. Arnie appears to be playing
politics with this issue, just as he seems to be gravitating toward
playing politics with a number of others these days. I would have hoped he
would simply allow the policy of laissez-faire to go forward, however, it
came about. And that is simply not to bother about gay marriages one way
or another. They aren?t something for others to decide but only for those
who want to enter into the union, even if by some accounts the idea of gay
marriage may be off (although I see no good reason to think it is).

But then politicians have managed to dismay me for decades?the last bona
fide politician I thought may have had an ounce of good sense was Barry
Goldwater but even he betrayed his own principles when it came to bringing
home the bacon for ?the people? of Arizona.

Incidentally, all this stuff about ?the people? just rings so wrong in
the context of the American political tradition. I even squirm recalling
?We the people,? since in fact the Founders didn?t really speak for all
the people, only those who didn?t believe in slavery and did, in fact,
embrace the idea of universal individual rights. But I guess sometimes one
must put a point in ways not literally correct. Yet this ?the people?
stuff is really very risky and tends to give the impression that it
confers justified power on some people over others, so one must be very
careful when using the phrase.

In any case, Governor Schwarzenegger had a chance here to affirm his
libertarian leanings, if he actually ever had any, but missed out on it.
These days I do not believe dickering about legal technicalities is
justified?however some measure of liberty manages to get on the official
books is OK by me since the entire process by now is such a mess, what
with the US Supreme Court having abandoned all semblance of reliance on
principle, letting lower courts and various political bodies lord it over
all kinds of individuals whose rights matter nothing to the justices.
(This goes for Scalia, too, by the way, who professors to be a
?textualist? but then promptly ignores the text of the Ninth Amendment
instead of grappling with it as his oath of office obliges him to do.)

So, Arnie, thanks for nothing. Next time you will not get my vote.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Column on Ideas Having Consequences

Ideas Do Have Consequences

Tibor R. Machan

Many moons ago Richard Weaver wrote the book, Ideas Have Consequences,
but some very prominent economists, one with a Nobel Prize to his credits,
disputed this notion (with, paradoxically, their own contrary ideas that
they hoped would also have some consequences).

They argued that it is not ideas but desires alone that produce actions
and policies. The point wasn?t always address against Weaver but someone
with greater star status, namely, John Maynard Keynes, the famous British
political economists who had said that it was usually the ideas of some
departed thinkers that lead to public policies.

To indicate just how wrong the skeptics were, let me report on how the
listing of a firm, Huntingdon Life Sciences, the medical research company,
announced the other day that it had delayed its listing on the New York
Stock Exchange in light of the probability of protests from animal rights
activists. (See the story in The Financial Times, 09/08/05.) This same
company had been driven out of the UK for the same reasons. Furthermore,
as The Financial Times reported, ?a farm that bred guinea pigs used in
medical research, was subjected to a long campaign involving vandalism,
firebombings and death threats. It recently announced it would close.?

I have spent a few good years dealing with the question of whether
animals have rights and concluded that the idea was a big mistake?my book
Putting Humans First (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004) was my latest salvo but
I began writing on this in 1991, for the journal Public Affairs Quarterly.

Animal rights defenders, who do not always support the violence some of
the activists perpetrate, tend to believe either that animals have the
same rights humans do?to life, liberty, pursuit their happiness, etc.?or
that they deserve to be liberated because their satisfaction should count
as a goal for public policy just as is the satisfaction of human beings.
The former argue mainly on the basis that at least the higher animals have
minds like ours, while the latter believe animals of all kinds have
interests and these need to be promoted as ours are. (The former group is
led by philosopher Tom Regan from North Carolina State University, while
the latter by Peter Singer of Princeton University. Both are very well
published and widely hailed academics, although the activists, many
motivated more by sentiment than by reasons, may not even pay a lot of
attention to their arguments.)

If animals did have rights like we do, well then not respecting and
giving protection to these rights would be a scandal. That?s just how the
denial of women?s rights or the rights of members of various minority
human groups is properly understood. Just as right to lifers in the
abortion debate believe fetuses have human rights and some of them are
then motivated to firebomb abortion clinics, animal rights activists are
also motivated to violence because they are convinced that the
animals?especially great apes or others with fairly complex
mentalities?ought never to be used against their will.

But if all of this is wrong, the results of the thinking and activism can
be drastic?major medical research projects may be banned and patients
across the globe may go without medication and treatment. The question is
vital for all concerned.

In my view animals have no rights, couldn?t really, since rights are
based on the general human capacity for moral agency?for being able to
choose between right and wrong conduct. Even animal rights champions admit
that this is a unique human capacity, since they never preach to animals
about how they ought to treat other animals or humans, realizing this
would be pointless. Respect and protection of their rights secure for
human beings in their communities the condition for moral agency?their
freedom and independence. That?s what rights-based legal systems have been
all about since the writing of the Declaration of Independence, based on
the work of many thinkers throughout history (mainly John Locke).

Oddly, extremely few people have chimed in on this debate, publicly, on
the side of human beings and their rights to use the world around them to
improve their own lot, first and foremost. That wouldn?t imply at all that
animals should be treated badly, only that people are more important,
which they are even by the logic of the animal rights/liberation champions.

This brings to mind that famous saying by Edmund Burke??All that is
necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.? And it is
evil, certainly, to allow a violent and wrongheaded group of people to
bring about private and public policies that promote the banning of vital
medical and other scientific work in support of human well being.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Column on Alan Greenspan's open secret

Alan Greenspan?s Open Secret

Tibor R. Machan

When some time back one of the Archbishops of Canterbury?I can?t remember
which one it was?reportedly told the world of his doubts about God, it was
big news and something of a scandal. Certainly unbelievers and heathens
everywhere welcomed it and the faithful in the UK had their good measure
of trepidation. Understandably so. Just imagine the Pope professing
something like this?it would certainly make the headlines, maybe even
bring down the Vatican.

In 1997 Alan Greenspan, the Chair of America?s Federal Reserve (or
?central?) bank gave a talk at the Association for Private Enterprise
Education, which was held in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington,
D.C. In this talk, titled ?The Evolution of Banking in a Market Economy,?
Published in Volume XII (1997), pp. 195-203, of the Journal of Private
Enterprise, Dr. Greenspan pretty much did something akin to what the
Archbishop reportedly had done, namely, announced his skepticism of
central banking. He made clear, after giving a rather detailed account of
the organization he had been appointed to 10 years ago and chaired for
nine of it, that ?The federal safety net for banks clearly has diminished
the effectiveness of private market regulation and created perverse
incentives in the banking system.?

What did he have in mind when he made this observation? ?To cite the most
obvious and painful example, without federal deposit insurance, private
markets presumably would never have permitted thrift institutions to
purchase the portfolios that brought down the industry insurance fund and
left future generations of taxpayers responsible for huge losses.? In
short, when the feds lower risks, they encourage people to take them at
the expense of other people and this certainly proved to be the case
during the crises that brought the thrift industry to its knees. Greenspan
admitted that ?the safety net undoubtedly still affects decisions by
creditors of depository institutions in ways that weaken the effectiveness
of private market regulations and leave us all vulnerable to any future
failures of government regulation.?

But Greenspan went even further than raising these skeptical points. ?I
should like to emphasize that the rapidly changing technology that is
rendering much government bank regulation irrelevant also bids fair to
undercut regulatory efforts in a much wider segment of our society.? On
and on he went, raising doubts about the very organization that he has
chaired and where he has gained so many accolades?as well as criticisms
during several political administrations. (The man, after all, was
appointed in the Ford Administration and is still heading up the Fed!) His
rather comprehensive history of central banking didn?t paint this darling
institution of the establishment in the favorable light in which so many
hold it. Nor did he blame the Great Depression on the free market, which
is one way the Fed has gained its support, namely, through a distortion of
the history of American banking. Even without his own explicit opinions,
Greenspan?s recounting of the monetary history of the US and the role of
central banking in it showed that the institution of central banking is
very far from the safety net so many believe it to be.

Free market champions have, of course, had their complaints with
Greenspan, most of them expressing perplexity?some virulent
hostility?given his early unapologetic support of the gold standard and
total laissez faire, combined with his subsequent lack of hesitation in
heading up a government agency that is completely anathema to the free
market theory of free money. The argument Greenspan?s defenders have
advanced has been, mainly, that if you cannot avoid a dictator at the Fed,
it is better to have one in power who admits to his own lack of
qualifications to do much, say, about the monetary system, and is trying,
in the main, to urge decisions at that body that he believes lead to
results the free market itself would have produced. (I actually remember
Greenspan saying something along these lines in a long interview he gave
to Edwin Newman of NBC-TV News on a public affairs program many moons ago.)

What is most interesting to me, though, is how silent the Washington
press corps has been on Greenspan?s views of central banking. Maybe they
all like the Fed so much, they do not want to broadcast the fact that the
Pope himself doubts whether the church is even needed or doing any good at

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Column on Public Onwership and Lack of Care

The Myth of Public Ownership

Tibor R. Machan

Recently I have been struck by how many smart people advocate that
society and its realm belongs to us all, that we or the government owns it
all. Important books, such as Thomas Nagel and Liam Murphy?s The Myth of
Ownership (Oxford UP, 2002), propound this view, while rejecting the
principle of private property rights according to which only individuals
or their voluntary associations can come to be owners.

The doctrine of public ownership had its pedigree in the history of
monarchies, although looked at up closely monarchies actually endorsed a
perverse idea of private property?everything was owned by the king and his
family, not in fact by the public. It is when monarchies came into
disrepute?since the claim that a king had the authority to own and rule
simply couldn?t be justified?that the idea came up that ownership of
oneself and property is something only individuals can enjoy. John Locke
showed that it is you and I an every other individual who owns his or her
?person and estate.? The only ownership by ?the public? would involve
government having been provided with what it needs to do its job, such a
court houses, military bases or police stations. And this public ownership
came from ?the consent of the governed.? It wasn?t the natural kind,
whereby individuals acquire stuff from nature that no one owns.

Yet some clung to the old monarchist idea and treated ownership
collectively, claiming that instead of the monarch, everyone owns society
and its realm. And there have been and continue to be many injustices that
have been perpetrated with the aid of this phony idea of public
ownership?mostly that some few people in a society get to use and dispose
of things, with the ruse that they stand in for ?the public.? But another
important injustice the idea promotes is a vast war of all against all,
with everyone?and every special group?fighting to get hold of some of what
the public supposedly owns.

We see this all around us as people and their various organizations and
associations vie for ?public support,? out of the national, state, county
or municipal treasury they all consider ?ours.? Once the government takes
private property with the excuse that it really isn?t private property at
all?that?s just a myth, after all?everyone then comes to hold the utterly
confusing notion that the loot so taken belongs to us all, whatever that

A very good example of the disastrous results of such confusion occurs in
the area of environmental policy. Everyone is supposed to own the
environment. It is, then, held that government is supposed to care of it
and preserve it for members of future generations. Yet, no individual
person owns any of it, according to this ?myth of ownership? doctrine, so,
of course, no one and no group of private individuals has a stake in
caring for it. As the ancient Green philosopher Aristotle already warned,
this creates the tragedy of the commons, a state most recently identified
by the late professor of evolutionary biology at UCSB, Garrett Hardin, in
his seminal piece ?The Tragedy of the Commons? (Science, December 1963):

For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care
bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of
the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an
individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined
to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill?.(Politics,

One reason John Locke and others identified ownership as a principle of
private property rights is that such rights are natural, meaning, they
accord with human nature and the nature of human community life. Public
ownership, in contrast, is artificial, a make belief?indeed, it is public
ownership that is a myth, contrary to what the likes of Nagel and Murphy
champion and, sadly, so many others unthinkingly accept and try futilely
to implement in practice with mostly devastating results.

Private property rights do not guarantee responsible use of resources but
clearly encourage it a lot more than does public ownership?as recent
history has demonstrated all too clearly. It is no mystery, then, that the
publicly owned and maintained facility that was supposed to protect New
Orleans against the see ?ha[d] the least care bestowed upon it.?

Machan, the R. C. Hoiles Professor of Business Ethics at the Argyros
School of Business & Economics, Chapman University, Orange, CA, edited The
Commons: Its Tragedy and Other Follies (Hoover Institution Press, 2000).