Monday, December 18, 2006

A Stale Liberal Sophistry

by Tibor R. Machan

In a mildly interesting exchange in The New Republic, between Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsay and one of the magazine's senior editors, Jonathan Chait, the idea of a possible alliance between modern liberals and libertarians was recently debated. No one, I think, really believed in a serious prospect for this alliance but it made, as I said, mildly interesting copy.

My own attention was piqued by a particular locution in Mr. Chait's missive, where he discussed the suggestion, voiced by Lindsay, that perhaps Social Security ought to be (somewhat) privatized and why this could appeal to younger liberals. (I must admit it always irritates me to call these folks "liberals" when they have no interest in human liberty whatsoever any longer!) In reply to the idea, Chait asks, "And why would we force retirees into the individual medical insurance market?" He adds, "After all, we've tried that system with the working-aged population, and it has produced 45 million uninsured."

Now first, this figure of 45 million uninsured is about as reliable as most other statistics bandied about by those who have immense faith in government. As if only if the state got into the mess would everything that's amiss go much improved. As if being insured the government way were some kind of panacea.

But the second point is more interesting. It has to do with how Chait characterizes even partial privatization, namely, as "forcing" retires into something. Whereas the truth of the matter is that the Social Security system has been notorious for perpetrating the extortion of millions and millions for decades now: "You are only going to work lawfully if you pay the government something some have decided you must pay and that the government will, somehow (but no one knows how and, anyway, don't even count on it), save up for you until you retire. Then government will decide how much of it you will get back." Talking about doing some forcing!

Modern liberals have for ages gotten away with this, claiming that if you do not submit to being coerced into providing the funds they want, you are forcing them or someone to do something. So if I don't want to be taxed—to help the war on drugs or the Social Security system or whatever else government decides the funds extorted via taxation should go to—then I am "forcing" someone to do something, like supporting drug abuse or going without insurance.

Notice immediately how insane this idea is: If I didn't exist at all, and the funds I might have produced but I didn't are not there for these various programs, somehow some nonexistent I would have forced the recipients to go without.~ Now, of course, if I do exist and have the legal right to keep my very own resources, I would not be forcing anyone to do or be anything at all. I certainly wouldn't be forcing retirees to go without insurance since I would not have stolen a thing from them, only refused to allow government to steal the funds on which they would gladly retire, given that they wouldn't invest in this themselves. Nor would I have forced anyone to stop saving up for me—everyone would be free to do this to their heart's content but only without coercing me into their scam.

For centuries enemies of human liberty have played this nasty game, stealing concepts that support freedom and putting them to use opposing it. Like the concept of individual rights, which used to concern securing our liberties but now, after years of sophistic conceptual gerrymandering, is used to refer to alleged entitlements from others—meaning, of course, others' lives and works, the very opposite of individual liberty—the exact reversal of the idea of individual rights as John Locke and the American founders understood them.

Chait has for years rolled out this kind of sophistry. Instead of admitting, plainly and honestly, that what he wants is to steal from those who work and take care of their own retirement and hand over this loot to those who don't (or not enough), he pretends that not stealing for this purposes amounts to forcing people into doing without old age insurance. Please, don't accept this kind of verbal trickery. See it for what it is, trying to win political arguments by subterfuge.

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