Friday, October 07, 2005

Column on Whether Markets Will Do It

Will the Market Do It?

Tibor R. Machan

I am a bit concerned about this expression, ?the market will do
it??there?s even a joke in which a libertarian is asked how many people
will it take to screw in a light bulb and answers, ?None, the market will
do it??because it treats markets as if they were persons. But most of us
know that the idea is that the task, whatever it is, will get done without
government needing to stick in its fingers because free men and women are
enterprising enough to get it done and make a living from it.

Recently, as I was running out to get some groceries, I listened to KFI
AM Radio, the Los Angeles all talk and news ABC affiliate, and heard an ad
for a company that provides other companies with the service of handling
their human resources tasks. This reminded me of yet another local
company, called Government Solutions, Inc., which specializes in providing
private firms with the needed expertise to obtain various government
permits to carry on their business. For example, a private developer has
been trying hard to get a project involving 12 large homes built near
Silverado Canyon, where I live, and this company has been leading the
various battles with the several layers of government, including planning
groups and courts, to get the deal done.

Now what caught my attention is the fact, easily noted around the country
once you think about it, how readily such companies are started by various
entrepreneurs simply because there is a demand for their type of service.
Frankly, I am not always very happy with how eager some of these
entrepreneurs are to go into business as a sort of liaison between private
firms and public agencies. That relationship seems to me altogether too
cozy for comfort for those of us who are convinced that government and
business alliance tends to perpetrate more harm than good. But let?s leave
that aside for the moment.

What is important is how responsive people are to the weirdest types of
demands that spring up in a community. Does this not suggest that if the
government itself got out of trying to solve every other problem people
face, there would be a great many entrepreneurs who would step in to
handle them? In short, the market is very likely, indeed, to do it and all
the complaints that we need the government to get things done tend to stem
from a bad?the governmental?habit, not from serious reflection and
historical evidence.

Of course, it is difficult if not impossible to fully anticipate just how
in particular the market will respond. If there is a need for old age
security provisions, product quality control, workplace safety measures,
and all the rest, precisely how markets will meet the need may be
impossible to predict. Just as sometimes when a person is asked the
question, ?Well, what are you going to do (in some novel situation)?? the
best answer could be, ?I?ll think of something,? so with how people in a
market system will address various needs?they will most likely think of

What this suggests to me is that folks who insist that governments must
address most problems in human communities?big ones, small, medium,
immediate, or long range ones?really show a distrust of human nature. Why
they, then, trust governments is beyond me, since all governments are is a
bunch of human beings equipped with the most dangerous of all tools, raw,
aggressive power. So these folks appear to believe that men and women in
the market place, since they are forbidden to use aggression to make
things happen, simply are useless, whereas governments that wield such
power are just the ticket for solving problems.

The truth, however, is precisely the other way around. Governments and
their tool, aggressive power (exhibited by the police and the military)
are at most useful in defending against criminals and invaders from
abroad. They are, however, not much use for anything else?to get anything
done, they actually need to conscript labor and talent from the market.

So, yes, the answer is, the market will do it. Far better than government.

Column on whether rights are created

Are Our Rights Created by the Framers?

Tibor R. Machan

One of the world?s most influential and honored legal theorists,
Professor Ronald Dworkin of Oxford and New York Universities, has recently
expressed a view that has been gaining more and more support in
intellectual circles. This despite the fact that it is quite reactionary,
returning to a time when its was understood that it is the monarch who
grants rights to the people of a country and these subjects have no rights
apart from what the monarch grants.

In a fascinating essay, ?Judge [John G.] Roberts on Trial,? discussing
the judicial philosophy?or rather, lack thereof?of the recently confirmed
Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Professor Dworkin makes the
following revealing aside:

...A constitution shapes democracy by assigning powers to different
institutions?by specifying the composition and responsibilities of the
legislative, executive, and judicial branches?and its regulates democracy
by creating individual rights that act as constraints on what those
different branches of government may do.... (The New York Review of Books,
October 20, 2005, p. 15)

There is a great deal in the piece that could be discussed but for those
who are convinced that human beings have basic rights?e.g., to life,
liberty and property?by virtue of their nature and not because someone
grants them their rights, this comment deserves special attention. It is
just one, but a rather clear cut, statement of the growing political
viewpoint that what is basic to human community life is that it must be
democratic, not that individuals have certain rights. Rights are created,
according to Dworkin?and many others, such as Professor Cass R. Sunstein,
of the University of Chicago?and not identified as a feature of human
reality. So, democracies come first; rights then are created to guide it
in one or another direction?e.g., it can be a nearly unlimited democracy
or one with some limits, in virtue of whatever rights have been created by
the constitution.

A central issue here is that the shape of a democracy is entirely
optional; it depends on what rights a constitution?that is, those who
frame it?has created. Which is to say, any insistence that a democracy
itself must be constrained in specific ways is thus sidestepped.
Democracies are the given, the rights are an afterthought!

Yet this is quite disputable. Democracy, after all, rests on the idea
that those in a society?all of them?possess the equal right to take part
in the political process. So the individual rights of those who make up a
democracy must precede, not follow, democracy. Without individual rights,
in another words, democracies as such are groundless.

Another famous public philosopher, Professor Richard Rorty, shares the
view that democracies come before rights. For him, writing in the first
volume of his collected essays, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth
(Cambridge University Press, 1991), human rights are impossible to
identify because the idea of human nature is too unstable. More
importantly, Rorty also holds that democracy comes before everything, even
philosophy and objective knowledge. He too fails to contend with the
objection, noted above, that democracy is groundless without individual
human rights.

If, however, one admits that conceptually?and in fact?individual rights
come before democracy, then democracy cannot be of just any scope someone
happens to prefer. Democracy itself would be strictly limited by the fact
that individuals have other rights besides the right to take part in the
political process. And these other rights would be a firm constraint on
what can be done via the democratic process. (We all understand this when
we see, clearly, that a lynch mob, though democratic, is morally and
legally intolerable!)

When famous legal theorists relegate individual rights to a status of an
invention or creation by framers of a constitution, they sanction anything
those framers, just like monarchs, might get into their head to do. If,
however, such influential thinkers acknowledge the priority of individual
rights, they sanction the principle that governments, democratic or
otherwise, must be limited in their powers. But this is just the idea of
which Professor Dworkin, Sunstein, Rorty, and all too many others may not
want to remind us. It would undermine their embrace of almighty government!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Column on impartial government

Myths of Neutrality?Governmental or Otherwise

Tibor R. Machan

Driving to school yesterday I listened to a talk program on KNX AM Radio,
the Los Angeles all news CBS affiliate. It was a consumer help-out show,
with the host taking calls about various beefs people have with their
banks, barbers, department stores and the like. In this case the focus was
on how easy it is to steal people?s credit and debit card numbers and what
banks are doing about it. (It?s interesting that the perks banks offer
seem almost like entitlements to customers now, probably because of
getting used to this from government.)

In the course of giving some advice to one of the callers the host of the
program made a comment that brought me up short. ?With this matter you
probably be best of going to the State of California since they will be
unbiased.? Oh? Why should that be so? But no one asked that question of
the host and the matter was simply dropped.

Now this idea that government is an unbiased, nonpartisan agency has wide
currency in certain circles, including the academy. Whereas scholars who
do research for some business corporation are immediately suspected of
bias, those who get their work funded by the government never get so
accused. There is a famous case in which the animal liberation activist
philosopher, Peter Singer, now at Princeton but earlier at some Australian
government university, refused to go to a conference sponsored by Shell
Oil and made a big deal of announcing to the world that he will not take
part in something funded by a profit making company since it is
undoubtedly biased, the agenda loaded. Yet he and thousands of other
scholars go to hundreds of university sponsored and government funded
conferences all around the globe without ever giving it a thought that
these, too, have their biases.

What would such a bias be? Well, just as the KNX radio host assumed that
if you bring in the State of California, you will get impartial treatment
and matters will be looked at objectively, so, too, many, many folks think
that universities funded by governments are impartial forums of discussion
and research. But they are not. For instance, very few people at
universities, even private ones, ever challenge the idea that government
ought to be involved in higher education?they are entirely blind to that
notion and, of course, that is precisely where their bias lies. In
government funded or heavily subsidized universities and, indeed, all
schools, the idea that such subsidies are wrongheaded, even unjust, isn?t
likely to be explored. Many other topics also tend not to be explored with
care and openness at such institutions of learning?whether affirmative
action policies are proper, whether special sensitivity seminars dealing
with sexual harassment might not be themselves quite insensitive. (Why not
other types of harassment or student exploitation, why focus only on sex?)

A great many professors in higher education are unabashed champions of
extensive government involvement in, you guessed it, higher education and
nearly every other aspect of society. I recall one minor star at Auburn
University who even went about the state of Alabama urging politicians to
increase funding of higher education, giving it no thought that this
qualified as gross self-dealing, something professional ethics classes
teach professionals to shun as a matter of their ethics!

Indeed, there is a great deal of nonsense going around about
impartiality. A great many journalists actually believe that because they
do not deliberately slant their stories, their values and those of their
editors play no role in what is selected for coverage, what is ignored. It
would be far more honest, in fact, if they did peddle some of their values
so readers could tell immediately where they stand?because stand they do,
someplace, no matter how much they protest, and it?s going to have its
influence on their work.

Still, my first concern here is to disabuse people of the myth that when
they bring in government, they will get fairness and impartiality. That?s
bunk. Government is now so vast, so much involved in promoting various
projects for special interests groups that to think of it as one thinks of
an impartial judge or referee is quite naïve.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Column on Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law

[Please proof read before using!]

Oregon?s Right to Suicide Law

Tibor R. Machan

If the Ninth Amendment to the US Constitution were heeded by our
and legislatures, there wouldn?t be public controversies about whether a
person has the right to commit suicide. This would be understood as one of
the many un-enumerated rights reserved to the people, just as saying a
prayer, worshiping Satan or playing bridge are. We have the right to do
all this and nobody has the just power or authority to interfere (beyond
certain measure that make sure this is really what we want to do).

Unfortunately the United States of America has become a country
just like
the country from which it gained its independence back in the late 1700s.
It is now managed by government and nearly everything people want to do
that doesn?t please some other people needs to gain public permission.
Thus we have the US Supreme Court hearing arguments about whether Oregon?s
law permitting doctors to dispense drugs that can be used to commit
suicide is constitutional. Of course it is. The big idea about the US
Constitution, as argued so astutely by Professor Randy E. Barnett in his
Restoring the Lost Constitution, the Presumption of Liberty (Princeton,
is that citizens are free to do everything apart from just a few matters
that are the purview of their governments. Like fight wars with foreign
nations or establishing the final court system. These are matters that
were empowered to do but everything else is--or should be--none of the

Now they are. So, the issue is not our liberty but who gets to
us?states, municipalities, counties, or the feds. That is a disaster in the
development of a country that the world still considers to be largely
free. And
our public officials still pretend that they represent a free people and
are promoting freedom abroad. But heaven help Iraq if it gets the kind of
legal system under which Americans live today. The only reason the
tyrannical implications of this system are not prominently displayed in
the lives of Americans is that the earlier understanding?itself merely
partial?of the meaning of the US Constitution had been that individuals
have rights that are indeed unalienable. The momentum that such an
created is still evident, from which we get our relatively free society?a
mostly free market, due process of law, civil liberties, freedom or
religion and
the press, and some semblance of respect and protection of the right to
property and drafting of contracts.

This momentum, however, is slowly petering out and the courts and
are doing nothing to abate that trend. No, instead they are hastening the
demise of those aspects of the country that had earned it the designation
of "a free society." (Of course, it
never was fully free?consider, among other things, slavery and
conscription as just two major contradictions to that ideal.)

Think about it for a moment: What business is it of the voters of
the federal government, the US Supreme Court or anyone else if someone in
the city of Eugene elects to obtain some help from a doctor in his or her
efforts to end his or her life, especially a life that is unbearable to
live for that person? Who are these meddlers anyway to burst in on such a
person and order him or her to desist?

May I remind you that we are talking about adult US citizens, not
children, ones who have in the course of making their decision to seek
help passed a bunch of tests to show they are of sound mind when they made
their decision? May I remind you that these adult human beings have an
unalienable right to their lives, which means they may not be intruded
as they decide whether to live or to die? (Having a right means one must
be left free
by all others, including the government, to decide about what one has a
right to!)

But no. These free citizens of a supposedly free country are
first to ask permission of Oregon?s voters. Then they need to fend off the
United States Federal Government that wants to override the voters?
decision. And then they need to submit all of this to the US Supreme
Court, which should long ago have stated very simply: ?Leave these folks
around, it is their life, so let them decide about it!?

Instead, we have the ugly spectacle of free adult men and women
around in circles, begging for permission from all kinds of strangers, to
what is clearly their unalienable right to do.

And you wonder why the rest of the world may be a bit confused as
to just
what the government of the United States of America is promoting around
the globe?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Column on why many accept "Public" Crimes

Why They Keep Doing it?

Tibor R. Machan

Few people we know approve of break-ins, bank robberies, forced labor,
trespassing and other crimes. Sure, there are the criminals but even among
them most do not generally approve of their crimes; they tend to
rationalize them in various ingenious ways. But among the rest of us such
deeds are not tolerated, even from desperate folks. These latter should,
most will contend, find some alternative way to manage their emergencies.

On the other hand, there are millions who fully approve of voting in
various ?public? policies that amount pretty much to break- robberies,
forced labor, trespassing and other deeds. Or they vote for people who go
to various centers of political power and cast votes in favor of such
policies. And then there are all those who give support to these by
working in various government bureaus that administer the ?public?
programs that basically involve the commission of the crimes that very few
of us tolerate when they are committed without the cover of being ?public.?

Now, one answer defenders of such ?public? policies will give is that
after all, the measures had democratic support. So they couldn?t amount to
crimes (in the sense of violating basic principles of community life),
could they? However, this doesn?t clear things up fully since few among us
approve of lynch mobs whereby the majority of a community perpetrates,
say, a hanging. Even though the majority backs it, the hanging is widely
understood to be unpardonable.

There may be no ?one-size-fits-all? answer available to my question. Why
certain people accept criminal conduct dubbed ?public? policies may be
different from why others do. And most would not accept that these
?public? policies are akin to the crimes they uniformly condemn. But why?
Why don?t they appreciate that getting a great many people together and
thus empowering various ?officials? or ?authorities? to commit the crimes
amounts, well, simply to magnified criminal conduct?

One widely voiced reason given in academic circles for why the two things
aren?t at all the same is the democratic one but another is that there is
some kind of tacit agreement people in societies enter into that
authorizes the ?public? measures that are, in fact, criminal in other
contexts. Such a belief in a mythical social compact or contract has
recently surfaced in the popular press when Professor Michael Ignatieff of
Harvard?s JFK School of Government advanced it in The New York Times
Magazine. He claimed that citizens who were hurt by hurricane Katrina had
a valid complaint about lack of government help since governments exist to
protect people against disasters and other adversities.

It is true enough that in the old era of monarchies, government was seen
to be the ?keeper of the realm.? In return for this it had nearly full
authority to tell the people what they must do with their lives. The
divine right of kings doctrine helped shore up this idea. But in most
instances such government ?authority? came about by default?after some
realm had been conquered, whoever?s army did the conquering simply assumed
full powers over the conquered and their territories. There was no
question about right and wrong, about whether this was justified, only
about who had the power to carry off the deed of conquest.

In the wake of this ancient?and not so ancient?attitude about who is
authorized to control society, many people tend toward a kind of realism
in political matters. While at the personal level they disapprove of
theft, break-ins, forced labor, trespassing, and so forth, they also
embrace the notion that when it comes to the interaction of large groups,
insisting on moral standards is sort of naïve. Instead, we need to accept
that if some group is powerful enough, it will be impossible to protest
effectively against its policies once it?s been labeled ?public.? (It
doesn?t extend to the Mafia, of course.) Those who protest are seen as
idealists?including the American Founders.

Another way some defend crimes masked as ?public? policy is to claim that
as the outcome of public debate, they are legitimate. It?s a bit like
justifying a heist on the grounds that, after all, those perpetrating it
had a long and intense discussion about whether to do it. This lends the
deed a semblance of civility.

None of this passes muster. Such criminal public policies are just that,
criminal. It does, however, suggest why it?s so difficult to sell this to
millions?and to all those among them who own and manage the media. No
matter how many people approve of and back it, crime by any other name is
still a crime. The government deeds amounting to such crimes are every bit
as objectionable as when individuals carry them out. This isn?t easy to
sell, especially when so many hold out hope that they, too, will sometimes
benefit from these crimes.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Column on Pitfalls of Diversity

Pitfalls of Diversity

Tibor R. Machan

Diversity is a goal of many organizations, including private
businesses?especially those wishing to gain work from governments.
Universities across the country are holding formal sessions in which staff
and faculty are instructed about how to stop being insensitive to
minorities and anyone who might feel offended by certain language and

In the wake of this the burden has fallen mainly on employers to shield
vulnerable personnel from unpleasant experiences, so that, for example,
they are prohibited from asking certain questions when they hire or
promote people. Even those who have habits that can impede their assigned
work have been known to get a pass so as not to violate some provision of,
say, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Someone who is an alcoholic or
dyslexic may not be refused work or reassigned lest that be construed as
singling out the person and thus violating his or her civil rights.

It has come to light, however, that all this protectiveness toward
certain minorities may actually do them some serious harm. It turns out,
for example, that medical doctors have been reluctant to call attention to
their patients? obesity of the last several decades. ?The likelihood that
a health professional had mentioned a weight problem varied with a child?s
age and ethnicity,? reports Science News in its September 24th issue.
Researchers Cynthia L. Ogden and Carolyn J. Tabak, had written about this
matter for the September 2nd issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly
Report. The younger the obese children, the less likely would health
professionals call attention to this to their parents and recommend any
sort of remedy.

Of course, such statistics do not say very much but it is not unlikely
that one reason for the reluctance of health professionals to alert
parents is that they find doing so awkward, potentially offensive. In my
own case when a few years ago I suggested to some of my students that they
speak up in class instead of merely sit passively as I presented the
material and discussed it with others, several of them reported me as
being insensitive to their cultural background which encourages students
to remain silent instead of raising questions and offering observations or
opinions in class. Of course, not taking part in the discussion robs
students of the opportunity to hone their skills, and I am responsible, in
part, to help them to avoid this. So what?s more important, guarding them
against possible offense or helping them gain a handle on class materials?

The more these areas of sensitivity bear on behavior that is actually a
matter of choice, not merely on attributes over which no one has any
control, the more teachers, health professionals, and others in the
service professions may find themselves hampered in the effort to
conscientiously serve their clients. A tax attorney may have to tell a
client that his or her way of preparing a report is inadequate but that
client might well take offense, construing this an insult instead of
assistance. A hair dresser might suggest a different cut for a client only
to be rebuked for insensitivity. There is, in fact, no end to the possible
ways human communication could be undermined by all this worry about
hurting people?s feelings. It isn?t just that employers must put up with
habits they consider objectionable. But they and others could well be
impeded in providing valuable information to those who can benefit from it
because such information could upset those to whom it is communicated.

There used to be a pretty sensible distinction between lashing out at
someone for something he or she had no control over?one?s race, sex,
height, national origin, etc.?and matters over which the person had or
could gain ample control?e. g., how well one speaks a language, how one
dresses, one?s hygiene, and so forth. But when government got into the
business of regulating how people interacted, some began to see an
opportunity to exploit it all. The first instance that came to my
attention was when some San Francisco taxi drivers decided it went against
their culture for their employers to require them to cut their hair or
stop wearing certain kind of garments.

Now it seems anything about anyone is coming to constitute an essential
part of his or her identity and may not be criticized, even for practical
purposes. But, as is the case with those young children whose obesity can
be a serious medical hazard, the failure to discuss some of these personal
attributes could itself be not just something uncomfortable but out and
out hazardous. For the sake of not offending someone?s sensibilities,
their well being itself could be placed at risk.

Column on Prestigious Media Ignorance

Uneducated Interviewer

Tibor R. Machan

It may be gross folly but I have had this notion that contemporary
journalists working at major media outlets had to have received a good
education. Alas, I could be very wrong.

Evidence for this comes from the Sunday, October 2, 2005, issue of The
New York Times Magazine. In it interviewer Deborah Solomon was sparring
with former Massachusetts governor William Weld, who expressed his support
for privatizing a good deal of what governments do around the country. One
of his targets was zoos.

Alas, when he gave voice to this idea, Ms. Solomon responded by saying,
?But surely I don?t have to remind you that the private sector cannot be
trusted to act in the interests of society as a whole, which is why
government exists....?

Not only does this retort fly in the face of centuries of history and
even plain common sense but it counters one of the most important insights
of contemporary economic understanding of the public sector. I have in
mind the famous "public choice theory," as laid out in detail in James
Buchanan?s and Gordon Tullock?s seminal book, The Calculus of Consent
(University of Michigan Press, 1962). (Buchanan received the Nobel Prize
in economic science for advancing the theory; Tullock didn?t because, I am
told, his degree isn?t in economics but biology or law).

The gist of the theory is that people in the public sector and the
private sector are motivated very similarly, that is, so as to advance
their own agendas. And why not? Why would someone enter ?public? service
if not to promote some cherished purpose, in this case by means of
politics rather than enterprise? Indeed, most folks who go into politics
do not devote themselves to promote the interest of some illusory ?society
as a whole.? There is no such thing??society? is a term applied to the
interlocking network of all the private and social endeavors and
achievements of individuals, nothing more. There is no entity the term
refers to the interest of which public servants can advance. There are
only the innumerable private interests, all of them with more or less
support within society, and people entering politics and working in
government are pursuing these interests, not the interest of society as a
whole. (The only common interest governments can possibly protect is the
equal individual rights of all citizens.)

Whenever people do pursue their various private interests within
government, they have one advantage over those who do this in the private
sector. This is that they can obtain resources from taxation instead of
voluntary contributions, via trade. So the pursuit of the ?interest of
society as a whole? routinely gets reckless and unrestrained. We have, as
a result, massive, uncontrolled spending on projects that have become the
purview of governments because they can legally extort?and, if that
doesn?t work, print?money with hardly any obstacles standing in their way.

Former governor Weld is right to complain and to seek some remedy from
privatization. Indeed, throughout the globe desperately broke governments
have begun doing this whenever they aren?t prevented by citizens who have
come to depend on them for handouts. (Germany is a good example where some
in government is seeking to reign in spending but free riders fiercely

In any case, one would have thought that Ms. Solomon, being as she is a
journalist in the employ of a very prestigious media giant, The New York
Times, would have some inkling about public choice theory and its
successes in understanding how politicians and bureaucrats behave. Yet,
she asserts, as if it were a self-evident axiom, that government can be
trusted ?to act in the interest of society as a whole.? Is she whistling
in the dark or is she really so ignorant as to buy into this widely
exposed old myth?

One would have hoped she is aware that governments mostly serve various
special private interests and care not a whit about society as a whole but
use the idea as a ruse. And, contrary to another myth to which she
subscribes, the only reason government exists is to secure our
rights?which is something Ms. Solomon could easily have gleaned from
reading not some obscure technical treatise but the Declaration of