Saturday, September 17, 2005

Column on Property, Voting, and Taxation

[Please always proof columns before use.]

Property, Voting, and Taxation

Tibor R. Machan

The poll tax has properly been struck down in American law?one need not
be a property owner or pay any fee in order to vote.

OK, but may be this is obsolete. Arguably, it is an ideal that fits a
kind of government that does not sanction coercive, political wealth
transfers?theft by remote control. That is to say, when a government is
properly limited to its minimal function of securing our rights?in terms
of the Declaration of Independence?s theory of just government?then the
limited voting power should be available to all citizens. We all do have
an just concern with the performance of government officials as protectors
of our basic rights.

The poll tax idea can make sense because so often American governments go
way beyond their proper function and get involved in all sorts of coercive
wealth redistribution. Following the idea of no taxation without
representation, in a somewhat roundabout fashion, a modern poll tax policy
would support the idea of ?no representation without property,? since
those who represent voters turn out to have all kinds of power to use and
dispose of other people?s property. If you have no property, then, you
should not be involved in deciding who will be representative in this game
of wealth distribution. Just stands to reason?not stake, no vote.

The remedy of eliminating any poll tax and having to own property as
qualification for voting makes sense, however, when the vote is not a
means by which people may confiscate other people?s wealth. Yet that is
exactly what the vote has become, as some famous and prescient thinkers
had forecast many moons ago. The idea is simple: Send enough folks to
Congress who will simply vote into ?law? taxation measures against those
who have wealth and, then, once they have been taxed good and hard, send
the money to those who voted them into office (not before, though, taking
a good bite for themselves for their services of performing legalized

Some would justify this by the claim that ?we have decided this, so no
one can complain.? But that?s dishonest and means to achieve, by
linguistic trick, something that is morally vile.

Just imagine that a German responds to a complaining Jew who protests
having been sent to concentration camp, saying, ?But we have decided this,
so you shouldn?t complain. It?s the will of the people.? Balderdash. It is
no such thing. It is the will of some people and it comes to trampling on
the will of other people, plain and simple. Which is exactly what this
taxation scheme comes to, as well: by means of the bugaboo of majority
vote?that is, what has come to be the tyranny of majority?some get to rob
others of the fruits of their labor, their good fortune, and their savvy
commerce. By what right? None.

This idea that majority vote makes everything fine is becoming more and
more insidious and we can see it clearly now in the newly created
semi-democratic Iraq where it seems like a majority will simply run
roughshod over a minority, where religious fanatics of one stripe will
oppress religious minorities of another, not to mention all the secular
inhabitants of the country.

This illiberal democracy, critiqued adroitly by Fareed Zakaria, in his
The Future of Freedom (Norton, 2003), is, of course, also a direct threat
to democracy itself, to the proper kind. Just recall how Adolph Hitler
managed to get to be supreme ruler of The Third Reich! By the unrestrained
democratic method that was afoot in the Weimar Republic, that?s how. How
do lynch mobs work? Quite democratically, thank you.

This view, then, that so long as it?s all done democratically, it is
morally and politically unobjectionable is nonsense, a ruse that?s
convenient for those who want to live off other people. No doubt,
sometimes it is understandable why people are eager to gain the support of
others resources and labor, but this, from the moral point of view, needs
to be obtained voluntarily, not via expropriation and conscription.

So, yes, there should be no requirement of owning property in order to
vote. However, there should be no opportunity to vote measures into law by
which some people confiscate the belongings of others, by which they
coerce others to work for them. Let generosity flourish, but never at the
point of a gun even if it?s held by the majority.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Column on Judge John G. Roberts, Jr.

[Always proof before publishing!]

Judge Roberts Conforms

Tibor R. Machan

It would have been welcome, indeed, although admittedly surprising, to
have a nominee to the US Supreme Court, especially to the post of Chief of
the court, turn out to be a principled person. The US Constitution is,
after all, a legal document that aims to lay out a set of internally
consistent, comprehensive principles that would guide justices in their
work to make sure that various legal bodies in the country stick to what
is constitutionally mandated, namely, restraining the growth of
government?s scope and power and respecting and protecting the individual
rights of the citizens.

Instead Judge John G. Roberts, Jr., a man of great intellectual acumen?of
judicial virtuosity if not of virtue?has caved in to the contemporary
pressure to be pragmatic, to see things not in terms of right and wrong
but ?maybe,? ?perhaps,? ?possibly,? and ?it all depends.? This move of
his, performed rather adroitly during the last day of his nomination
hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was promptly hailed by The
New York Times, which selected, on Friday, September 16, 2005, his words,
?I'm not an ideologue" as its notable quote.

The Times? editors must have been beaming from joy when they heard the
Judge utter that sentence since it showed how influential their own kind
of thinking has become. Even a nominee of their nemesis, George W. Bush,
decided it?s best not to quarrel with post-modernism, wherein principles
have basically bit the dust and catch-as-catch-can thinking is the rule of
the day. It?s the triumph of the philosophy?or, rather, anti-philosophy?of
?the living constitution,? a doctrine that construes the role of justices
to be that of moral inventors, second guessers, situational legal scholars
and certainly anything but loyalists to the American constitution.

No one in his right mind would argue that the original constitution of
the United States of America was flawless. It was flawed by, among other
things, internal inconsistency?all the while it listed various rights
retained by the people and the states, including unenumerated ones, it
also empowered the federal government in ways that would in time get out
of hand and produce the Leviathan we now have on hand. This, clearly,
needed to be corrected and justices who took their oath of office
seriously as their professional ethical guideline, would have gone about
straightening out the flaws, the inconsistencies, the lack of completeness
and comprehensiveness as they ruled on cases come to them.

But that doesn?t construe the constitution a ?living document??or, more
accurately put, a cancerous organism that has gotten out of control and
begun to devour its own essential substance and structure. No, that would
merely have acknowledge that like so many good human institutions, this
one also needs to be kept in line with its essential nature. Like good
physicians, the preservation and enhancement of those essential elements
would have been part of their goal, of guarding the constitution, of
protecting it.

Just keep in mind, please that the term ?ideologue? now stands for anyone
with principles, never mind what the principles are. So announcing that
one isn?t such an obsolete sort is basically to make the attempt to
appease those who wish for justices to flay about as the political winds
demand, never mind their oath of office of protecting the constitution,
its essential substance.

If you wish to know what that substance is, you could do much worse than
consult Professor Randy Barnett?s brilliant book, Restoring the Lost
Constitution, The Presumption Of Liberty (Princeton University Press,
2004). The subtitle telegraphs the main message of the work?the US
Constitution is a legal document the default principle of which is the
idea and ideal of individual liberty. And Barnett shows this to be so with
great skill?one wishes he were nominated and confirmed to the court,
instead of Mr. accommodation John G. Roberts, Jr., the one who shuns
seeming like an ideologue, like, that is, someone with principles.

It?s not, of course, only Judge Roberts? character flaw, this embrace of
non-ideological approach to America?s law of the land, this jettisoning of
principle in favor of, well, being hailed by The New York Times as good
boy. It is also the character flaw of most of the senators, if not
all?because they, of course, wish to be left undisturbed by constitutional
concerns in their own power grabbing. It?s the flaw of most of the current
Justices, barring, perhaps, Clarence Thomas. But ultimately it is also the
character flaw of much of the American citizenry. They, after all, send
these senators to Washington and bear the responsibility for the

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Column on "taking responsibility"

The Fraud of ?Taking Responsibility?

Tibor R. Machan

Have you noticed this? Politicians can take responsibility without having
to experience any adverse consequences at all. When President George W.
Bush recently took responsibility of the federal government?s conduct in
the wake of hurricane Katrina, what exactly was he doing? What did he
think he was doing? Or his spin doctors? And when several Louisiana and
New Orleans politicians made similar announcements, what did these mean in
concrete terms? Where, one might resurrect the old question, is the beef?

Say you hit a pedestrian who?s walking across an intersection and who has
the right of way, because, say, you were messing with your CD player or
cell phone or just daydreaming. Later, once you have stopped blaming God,
the Devil, or your DNA?or, perhaps, your economic conditions or
institutional racism?you finally acknowledge that you were responsible for
the injuries the pedestrian sustained. Now what?

Presumably, you will go on to admit to a measure of moral and even
criminal negligence. This, in turn, will lead to prosecution and either
some huge fine and/or jail time. In short, the clear implication of being
responsible?that is, honestly taking responsibility?for the pedestrian?s
injuries is that you will shoulder some heavy burdens in the wake of what
you did or failed to do. The matter will not be treated as an act of
nature or God but as your doing, something you could have avoided doing
had you paid attention, had you chosen to act properly as you were driving
your vehicle.

Where is there anything comparable in President Bush?s ?taking
responsibility? for the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, or, for that
matter, anyone?s making such a claim? Nothing I can detect exhibits the
logic of genuinely taking responsibility?that is, of being responsible?for
bad things people do in these politicians? pretentious announcements. Are
they sent off to jail? Are they fined a good and hefty sum? Do they even
lose their jobs?

Now and then someone in government will be demoted or transferred to some
other position but is anyone who is supposedly responsible?and admits to
this?for bad things happening get his or her comeuppance? No. So then
what?s the point of making these announcements?

I confess to having a suspicion. The point seems to be to appear
conscientious, someone who comes to terms with his or her failings. But
failings produce adverse results and if all one does is babble on about
being responsible for those results without any bad thing happening to
one, this is all likely only for show. And that pretty much puts these
politicians on record as completely disingenuous, as deceitful people, as
officials who have no intention of actually coming to terms with their
malpractice but, instead, perpetrate a ruse upon the people they are
supposed to serve in some useful capacity.

Of course some of this is understandable. Millions of Americans and
indeed people around the globe look to government to solve their problems,
to bail them out of disasters, even though properly understood none of
that is government?s task. Governments are instituted to secure our
rights, not to cope with all the problems with which life faces us.
Natural disasters, especially, but also illnesses, misfortunes of all
kinds, are part of life and free adult men and women are supposed to
prepare for this?an elementary point any Boy Scout can teach you. However,
governments have for centuries been anointed the omnipotent security
agents of us all, a role that they are, of course, utterly incapable of

Instead of President Bush making it clear to everyone that governments
simply aren?t up to the task of solving all our problems, including those
resulting from natural calamities and the subsequent confusion and
individual catastrophes and, yes, also individual failures, he produces a
sham admission of guilt. This isn?t only a fraud but a colossal insult to
all those affected by the disaster, suggesting that had he and his team
only been alert enough, there would not have been any need for personal
initiative in the wake of the disaster?everything would have been just

I suppose Bush and other politicians simply wish to keep their jobs, so
they have to pretend that it includes being everyone?s savior, never mind
that that is plainly impossible. So they step up to the podium making an
empty gesture of taking responsibility so as to continue the ruse that,
well, they might actually have been a big help.

They could only have been a big help if for decades they would have
refrained from acclimating Americans to the phony idea that government can
bail them out of all their problems.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

From Tibor Machan about his Columns

Please always proof read my columns if you are posting or otherwise using
them so others will be reading them--I try to do what I can to do this but
for some reason very often I fail to catch all the typos.

Tibor R. Machan

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Column on "We have Decided"

So ?We? Have Decided

Tibor R. Machan

Randy Cohen, the New York Times Magazine?s ethicist, who answers a few
question in each issue about what is and is not ethical conduct regarding
certain specific problems, recently admonished a reader for wondering
whether students who do not pay taxes ought to vote in a college town they
will leave when school?s out. He counseled that ?it is irrelevant that few
students pay property taxes. We eliminated economic requirements for
voting long ago: you needn?t own property; you needn?t pay a pool tax.?

He went on in this vein for a while in his September 11, 2005, column,
forgetting entirely that the question wasn?t about what the law is but
what someone ought or ought not to do. (All the above could be right,
historically, and it could still be wrong to vote when one hasn?t a stake
in the place where one votes. It could be construed as wrongly imposing
one?s will on others!)

I chimed in with an email to him noting that taxation is extortion. It
is the dubious institution that's based on the monarchical tradition when
governments (the monarchs) owned the realm and taxes were the tribute they
collected for permitting ordinary folks to live and work in this realm.
Kind of like charging rent in one?s apartment building. Only the monarch
had no right to the realm, as it was later discovered.

Cohen fired back with the point that, well, ?we have decided long ago? to
levy taxes, as if this could nail the ethics of it good and hard. In fact,
all this can do is confuse matters since we, of course, have decided
nothing of the sort. Some people?the American framers and many who took
political power after them?have decided to impose taxes on us all?well, on
those of us who haven?t the savvy to dodge the thing good and hard. As a
matter of us having decided?that is to say, some of us having made this
decision for all the rest of us?the implication that that makes it all OK
comes to something very bad, indeed.

After all, didn?t ?we decide? to make slavery possible in the American
South? Isn?t it also true that ?we (that is to say a lot of Germans)
decided? to engage in genocide against the Jews? (Yes, Virginia, Hitler
came to power democratically.) Didn?t, also, ?we (the Iranian mullahs)
decide? that women will be kept in their place in that country?

All this royal ?we? stuff is precisely what the American Declaration of
Independence trumps by identifying our unalienable individual rights to
our lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. According to a consistent,
honest interpretation of that venerable sketch of the new, radical,
American political tradition, we do not get to decide for other people,
not unless they consent. And such consent is meaningless if it is done for
me by you, or for you by me. It is supposed to be about you and me and the
rest of us agreeing to what happens to our persons and estates?ourselves
and our resources. That is the greatest bulwark the human mind has
identified against tyrannies, be they powerful families, individuals or

But of course what can we expect from ?the ethicist? of The New York
Times Magazine, published by an organization of human beings hell bent on
promoting (an admittedly soft version of) socialism around the country
and, indeed, the globe. They would of course hire an ethicist who will
spread the ruse about how ?we have decided? something he and The Times
would have wanted us all to decide. In fact we haven?t decided it at all
but were pushed into it as done by the Mafia. This involves being extorted
for part of our labor and wealth all the time, in return for which we are
permitted, like their victims, to remain somewhat safe.

Not to despair, however. The idea of individual rights and of a just
community in which they are fully respected and protected is so radical in
human history that it is understandable why even an ethicist for a
prestigious magazines will not have managed to grasp them clearly enough.
The idea that support for various worthy projects must be obtained from
voluntary contributions and not confiscated is so new that Mr. Cohen is
probably totally baffled by it.

Maybe in a not to far away future it will no longer be so baffling and
even the ethicist of The New York Times Magazine will answer questions
from readers recognizing that taxation is extortion that should have been
left behind with serfdom, in the feudal era.

Machan is the R. C. Hoiles Professor of Business Ethics at the Argyros
School of Business & Economics, Chapman University, Orange, CA, a research
fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author of A
Primer on Ethics (1997).

Monday, September 12, 2005

Column on the "success" of Nannyism

When a Success is a Failure

Tibor R. Machan

My favorite newsmagazine from the UK, THE WEEK, titles a brief report in
its August 27, 2005, issue?on its weekly ?Health & Science? page??Smoking
Ban Success.? The item deals with the recent finding that ?New York?s ban
on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places ? has done wonders
for the city?s hospital workers.? This, THE WEEK reports, comes from the
New Scientist, another magazine from the UK. (THE WEEK is a news digest of
sorts, subtitled ?All You Need to Know About Everything that Matters?The
Best of the British and Foreign Media.?)

The report goes on to say that prior to the ban a group of researchers
recruited 24 non-smokers from places where smoking went on and the results
were far worse then three months after the ban commenced. The exposure to
smoke ?dropped from 3 to 0.05?; cotinine levels came down by 80% and ?the
eye, nose and throat irritations were halved.?

In short, coercing people to behave in healthful ways produces some
healthful results. But does that justify the ban?

There are, of course, two substantially different classes of public
places, those that are, in fact, not public at all, namely, privately
owned business or clubs or similar venues, and those that are public
service establishments, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or court
houses. The former are supposed to be the sovereign realms of their
proprietors, who in a free society would have the right and authority to
decided whether smoking or hurling bowling balls or serving beer, wine and
hard liquor will go on there, provided this is fully disclosed and no one
is mislead by misinformation. The latter are supposed to be realms
wherein the public authorities or regulators decided what is to be done,
and here the decision can follow the standards that have been settle on by
way of a democratic vote or the judgments of appointed officials in line
with criteria that?s suitable to the use to which the realms are put.

That is how it would be in a free society. Since in such a society there
is no officially protected monopoly as to what bars, restaurants or
similar privately owned places can operate, these would be completely free
of official intervention except possibly after the fact, if it were to be
shown that criminal conduct ensues within them. People wouldn?t need to
go there to receive services or to obtain employment.

Just as no one is authorized to enter my home?or, at least, ought not to
be so authorized?unless there is probable cause for thinking that I am
violating someone rights therein, the same goes for all privately owned
establishments where men and women come and go of their own free choice,
meeting the freely agreed to terms of both proprietor and customer.

Now it can be argued that now and then a coercively imposed policy can
reap desirable results?for example, so far as health, wealth, beauty or
some other end is concerned that many people wish to achieve. But the
issue here is not that?no one disputes this possibility from paternalistic
legal policies.

The issue is that free men and women are not kids to be regimented about
by their elders. They are to be respected not so much for what they decide
but for being adults who are supposed to make their own choices and not be
subject to the will of other people, even if being so subject could
produce something desirable for them. This is their right but, also, when
they are treated as the Nanny state treats them, there are dire
consequences from that, too. (Just consider Katrina and how too many
people failed to cope because they were counting on government to do it
for them.)

But then in America we now are clearly gravitating toward a society in
which Nannyism is triumphing. The US Supreme Court?s ruling in Kelo v. New
London, CT, testifies to this?the court decided that if city officials
believe that confiscating private property will produce the desirable goal
(for some) of economic development, go ahead and do the taking with
impunity. The various cigarette bans, too, prove that individual rights
are now officially violated across the legal landscape and supported by
the major political factions. Each side is merely interested in having its
agenda get official backing, and then the march toward a paternalistic
order is just fine.

One of the consequences of a regime of liberty is that men and women may
not be stopped from embarking upon conduct that may do them harm. This
idea is clearly upheld, still, when it comes to freedom of religion and
press or speech. Despite the hopelessly ridiculous, often
self-destructive, creeds people embrace, they are free to do so because,
well, they are adult human beings, not children or invalids. Despite the
nonsense some of them choose to read or write, there is no prohibition
against this because, well, they are adults who are taken to be
responsible for their own lives and conduct.

The fact that this isn?t acknowledged and upheld in law about the rest of
what adult men and women would embark upon in their lives, be it for
better or worse results, is certainly not any evidence of success in our
society or anywhere else. Here Americans are, in fact, treated no better
than are women in Iran or others in various totalitarian societies.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Column on Corrupt "Liberty"

Peddling the Corruption of Liberty

Tibor R. Machan

Ever since the idea of individual liberty has achieved some measure of
credibility over the world, those who would be unseated by its limited
triumph had to find some way to discredit it or trump it somehow. One way
was to re-christen servitude, to make it appear like an even more
important kind of liberty than what individual liberty, properly
understood, amounts to.

When a human being is free in the most important, political sense, he or
she is sovereign. This means he or she governs his or her own life?others
must refrain from intruding on this life, plain and simple. That life may
be fortunate or not, rich or not, beautiful or not, and many other things
or not, but what matters is that that life is no one else?s to mess with.
One gets to run it, no one else does.

Now this is a very uncomfortable idea for all those folks who see all
kinds of benefits from running other people?s lives. But they cannot
champion this now in so many words, what with individual liberty having
gained some solid standing, so the only way to remedy matters for them is
to claim that their oppression brings even greater freedom to people than
the respect and protection of individual liberty.

So, we have the kind of ?freedoms? propounded by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
the freedoms now dubbed ?positive.? These freedoms do not fend off those
who would use you, interfere with you, invade your life, rob, kill, or
assault you but promise, to the contrary, to take good care of you without
your having to do much, by invading others, by violating their individual
liberties. These are the entitlement "rights" offered up by proponents of
the welfare state, all those who claim that government is best when it is
"generous," when it becomes the Nanny State?meaning, when it enslaves
Peter to serve Paul and vice versa.

I am not sure about what exactly motivates this ruse?some of it is surely
the thirst for power. When you want to enslave people, promise them a
special kind of liberty. Castro managed to win over millions of Cubans
this way, as did other Marxists in Eastern Europe and in Latin America, as
do politicians nearly everywhere.

Maybe a few folks actually honestly believed that this kind of political
alternative is best for us all, but it is difficult to imagine what would
persuade them of such a fraudulent notion. Giving people this positive
freedom must always involve depriving other people of their individual
liberty, their ?negative? freedom, which is to say, their sovereignty and
their freedom from having others interfere with their lives, from
depriving them of their resources and labor and regulating them to the

Now, there is little that can be done about this in the short run?when
people put their minds to such deceptions, the only ultimate defense is
clear thinking and vigilance, which is unfortunately always in short
supply and needs to be slowly cultivated. Too many people are tempted by
the promise of effortless living, of getting all their problems solved at
the point of a gun turned on others who will be coerced to come up with
the solutions. This is such an addictive notion to those who are lazy, who
feel left out, or who believe that they are entitled to everything all
those who are better off already have going for them, so the power-hungry
have a good marketing ploy here. Then there is envy, too, and all the
bogus political ideologies promoted by those who just must step in to
govern the world as they see fit?as I say, I am not sure what kind of
mental acrobatics manages to allow people to live with themselves in peace
who perpetrate such fraud.

Despite the fact that there is little one can do at once in response,
other than to keep spelling out just what a ruse it all is, perhaps now
and then institutional barriers can also be built. Yet, since they too
depend upon ideas, ideas that are so easily corrupted, the only real
answer is the old one about eternal vigilance. I say, it?s worth it, so
let?s go for it.