Friday, August 11, 2006

Paternalism, Is it Here to Stay?

Tibor R. Machan

Or maternalism, if you wish, for what billions of people across the globe appear to want from government is being treated like children, taken care of by some elders. Yet this is an old story, indeed.

Throughout the ancient world, including in much of its political literature, the idea has been dominant that government is our care taker. All the kings had been credited with the role of “keepers of the realm,” as if they were the legitimate owners of the regions they ruled and had the virtue and wisdom—not to mention authority—to rule the rest of us.

It is only gradually, beginning with Magna Carte in the 13th century, that the myth of monarchical superiority came under serious and widespread enough criticism. At first it was only that perhaps some of the nobles in the country ought to curb the king’s absolute sovereignty; in time, especially with the emergence of the classical liberal social-political idea, the very notion of the special status of those in government started to be questioned.

With the American Founders, of course, the view that government held sovereignty over us all lost some credibility. We all are equal in having unalienable rights, to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and any other thing that doesn’t violate the rights of others. This truth took a while to surface but it finally got on the agenda within the forums of political disputation. And when Abraham Lincoln said that "No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent," the point was beginning to catch on, especially in light of the Draconian paternalism of chattel slavery.

Yet, after its brief emergence, the idea of a free society began to get lost in the shuffle. The paternalists started to regain their appeal, what with all the promises they offered to save people from having to fend for themselves and only with the voluntary cooperation of their fellows. No, the temptation of taking shortcuts by way of coercion, which is the prime motivation of criminal conduct, was beginning, once again, to be yielded to and the old governmental habit reasserted itself.

By the time Americans encountered some serious difficulties in their country (due to compromises on their commitment to full liberty), via for example, the Great Depression, they started to cave in to the notion that some great savior is needed to take care of us. FDR came charging in, claiming to have the magic formula that none of the old monarchs could deliver on, namely, to provide us all with guarantees against life’s uncertainties and complications. Instead of keeping loyal to the spirit of the American Founder’s idea of individual rights, FDR invented the so called “Second Bill of Rights,” with all of its promises to guard us against adversities of any kind by way of wealth redistribution and the conscription of all for the benefit of all. It is from this attitude that millions of Americans began to look to government for protection against disease, ignorance, natural disaster and anything else they were worried about in their lives.

Which brings up, a year after it happened, the disaster that was hurricane Katrina. Nearly everyone knows by now that the disaster wouldn’t have been nearly so severe had those levies been properly cared for, just to mention one task the nanny state assumed for us. But instead of learning from this that government isn’t the answer but the problem, in ninety-nine percent of cases where it asserts its powers for our good, the cheerleaders of the paternalistic state continue to drum up support for getting it further involved in our lives.

What Katrina taught these champions of the all mighty government isn’t that the solving of our problems in virtually all cases—apart from abating of violent crimes and foreign aggressions, perhaps—should be decoupled from government. No, like the proverbial gambling addict, millions of Americans and their academic leaders want, instead, to go back to Uncle Sam for its useless "help." As if government really were the source of help for people. Never mind Hitler, never mind Mussolini, never mind Stalin, never mind Mao, and never mind all the lesser tyrants and dictators and pretenders to serving the public interest, these dreamers will not give up. So even while some around the globe are experimenting, sometimes only as a last resort, with privatization, others are clamoring for more statism.

It is time, really, to give up the myth of paternalism, of the nanny state, of the superiority of those who have a monopoly on the use of coercive force in society.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

[ ]Hoover Institution Press: Liberty and Justice, Edited by Hoover Fellow Tibor Machan (Business Wire via Yahoo! Finance)
STANFORD, Calif.—-July 31, 2006–Liberty and Justice marks the final volume in a ten-volume series titled Philosophic Reflections on a Free Society, edited by Hoover fellow Tibor Machan. Contributors are:
Anthony de Jasay is an economist and political philosopher . His published work includes The State (Oxford 1985), Social Contract, Free Ride (Oxford 1989) and Justice and Its Surroundings (Indianapolis 2002).
Jonathan Jacobs is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Division of the Humanities at Colgate University. He is the author of Choosing Character (Cornell, 2001) Aristotle’s Virtues (Peter Lang, 2004), Dimensions of Moral Theory (Blackwell, 2002), and other books.
Jennifer McKitrick is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
Tibor R. Machan is the R. C. Hoiles Professor at Chapman University, Orange, CA, Hoover Institution research fellow. His books include Individuals and Their Rights (Open Court, 1989), Classical Individualism (Routledge, 1998), and Objectivity (Ashgate, 2004).
Table of Contents
Preface Tibor R. Machan
Chapter 1 Justice, Luck, Liberty Anthony de Jasay
Chapter 2 The Exercise of Liberty and the Moral Psychology of Justice Jonathan Jacobs
Chapter 3 Liberty, Gender, and the Family Jennifer McKitrick
Chapter 4 Libertarian Justice: a Natural Rights Approach Tibor R. Machan
The Mid East Crisis

Tibor R. Machan

When the Hizbullah initially kidnapped the Israeli soldiers, the event that seems to have sparked the current crisis, I was traveling in Europe with only the International Herald Tribune, CNN, BBC and some German newscasts available to keep me up to snuff. I also had a chance to talk with several people from the region itself.

These days there is hardly a conflict in the world that one can afford to ignore, if only because the price of something or other is bound to be affected, even if one can live with all the misery these events spawn for thousands of people. Of course, in all armed conflicts there is the immediate question of who is responsible. And while it would be very helpful to have a dependable historian tagging along so as to keep one informed about how various crises were precipitated, few of us have that luxury. (I actually did have just that luxury for a week since at one of the seminars where I was lecturing, near Cologne, Germany, a superb historian was one of my colleagues. Unfortunately, even he wasn’t in full command of the necessary details to get a decisive handle on what was going on just then in the Mid East.)

So I continued to check into my highly suspect news sources—suspect because even an amateur could tell how slipshod and often mainly sensational the coverage was—so as to keep abreast of unfolding events. I was beginning to get a sense of at least how the mainstream media was covering the unfolding conflict but not until I visited my mother in Southern Germany did something come together for me about this coverage.

My mother has always had a tinge of the anti-Semite about her, especially back when she was married to my father in the late 1930s, a man who was the epitome of the virulent Central European anti-Semite. Till the day he died, in 1970, he continued with this attitude, so much so that he alienated both his children as a result, not to mention innumerable acquaintances who knew him mainly professionally. My mother was never quite like my father in this regard but she clearly shared the widespread prejudice against Jews shown by millions throughout Europe, east and west.

We had managed during my previous visits to skirt this topic—there was no way that I could make any headway with her during a day’s worth of chit chat, although in her mid 80s she is entirely lucid. This time, however, she initiated a discussion on the topic of the Jews by turning to me and saying, “You know, Richard (she calls me by my middle name), I have never liked the Jews, but recently I have begun to wonder why it is that so many people around the world begrudge them that tiny plot of land they got back in the 1940s.” I was taken aback by this and my shock increased as she continued: “I have been watching television news throughout the recent upheaval (indeed, she can do little else but that and read, given that she is physically quite frail), and have noticed that nearly all the commentators, including reporters, seem to favor the Hizbullah even though they were the ones who started all of this.”

By my own fragmented information, too, I came to this conclusion but having my anti-Semitic mother in agreement with me on the matter was quite a surprise. Because she seemed to me to be right. Everything I read and listened to about the conflict kept emphasizing the collateral victims in Lebanon, produced from Israeli shellings, with hardly any reminders that (a) the Hizbullah initiated the conflict and (b) the Hizbullah routinely locate themselves—their artillery and inventory of weapons—within the Lebanese civilian population so that efforts at placating them and any retaliation could not but do damage to these civilians.

During one of the few presentations on CNN of the Israeli side of the dispute, the ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, did manage to make what to me appeared to be the decisive point, namely, that “there is a huge moral disequivalence between the two sides. While our enemies—who only today have launched more than 100 missiles at Israeli towns and villages—specifically target women and children in order to kill them, we are defending ourselves in this brutal war. And sometimes, tragically, as happened today, women and children get hurt, because they are used as human shields by Hizbullah. Hizbullah has homes in Lebanon that house missiles—in which the family sleeps with a missile. When you sleep with a missile, sometimes you do not wake up in the morning. In Israel, we have homes that are equipped with air raid shelters to save people from bombs; in Lebanon, they have homes that they equip to launch missiles, taking into account that those people could be killed.”

So, for the time being, this amateur will hold to the belief that there is indeed some kind of irrational anti-Israeli sentiment afoot around the globe and that it is Israel that holds the moral high ground in at least this current conflict.
Development and Freedom

Tibor R. Machan

The late Peter ("Lord") Bauer devoted much of his life to championing the political economy of classical liberalism for developing societies. This is what would bring them out of their wretched states, not a bunch of foreign aid and intervention by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the United Nations. His friend and sometime critic, Amartya Sen, a
Nobel Laureate who now teaches at Harvard University, had a serious disagreement with Bauer. Sen had been defending what he has dubbed the capabilities approach whereby the people in underdeveloped, Third World countries, must be helped not only by removing all the terrible obstacles placed before them by politicians and bureaucrats but also be [by] providing
them with some initial aid and with making it possible for them to
influence their governments. Such influence, of course, would direct public policies to garner resources via taxation and then hand out subsidies and other forms of support to special interest groups that had helped vote in these measures. Sen's basic idea is that once this opportunity for making an impact on politics has been exploited, development would commence and most
often private individuals and firms would start embarking on various productive enterprises. But, argues Sen, first they need a little help from government and various international groups.

Bauer's and Sen's conflicting approaches may best be accounted for by reference to what seems to be their respective views of human nature as well as of governments. Bauer would seem to have been confident that free men and women will do well by themselves, provided the legal authorities uphold the regime of private property rights and the integrity of contracts. This is the limited government idea, once favoured by the American Founders in the Declaration of Independence. This is the idea
that comes from John Locke who held that government is but a way to secure our rights and there is no other serious business for it to carry out for us. And this view rests on the idea that human beings are able to fend for themselves, in voluntary cooperation, because they are inventive and creative and productive once the threat of criminal and foreign invasion
is dealt with in their societies. Sure, there will be some who are lagging behind, maybe because there are suffering from certain maladies or unusual natural impediments but to help them it's enough for their neighbours and relatives and philanthropist to give them support. Governments should stay the course and secure individual rights, period.

Another matter Sen appears to overlook is what public choice theorists have taught us, namely, that when government gets involved in helping various groups in need, those in government pretty much manage to divert this help to projects they themselves prefer. Bureaucrats and politicians have their own agenda and when they gain power so as to help out, it is
their idea of what needs to be helped out they will follow, not that of those who reached out to them. Given that politicians and bureaucrats lack budgetary constrains like normal businesses and families do, they are also likely to overspend and deplete the resources of their treasuries.

Of course, those who are eager for the unfortunate and those left behind to get on their feet must also accept an uncomfortable fact—not everyone is eager to go along with this objective even among those who are in the worst shape. It is utopian to believe that any kind of method for development will be universally effective. When one does hold that view, one is only likely to throw good money after bad and perpetrate serious wastefulness. Some measure of poverty, for example, as well as devastation
from natural disasters will have to be accepted. Human beings aren't perfect and to fail to realize this leads to what Voltaire called the perfect being the enemy of the good. This applies to efforts to facilitate development across the globe.

It seems to me that Bauer had it right, even though from his perspective one must also accept that some underdevelopment will remain in place here and there across the globe. But the kind of efforts urged on us by Sen and, especially, by the likes of Jeffrey Sachs and Bono—massive transfers of wealth from developing to underdeveloped countries—will only lead to
disappointment and frustration.
Troubles of Transition

Tibor R. Machan

If you haven’t had the chance of visiting former Soviet bloc countries you will find it difficult to appreciate just how devastating an impact socialism has on human community life. Judging by the continued popularity of socialism among academic political philosophers, economists, and theorists, it is not likely that many of these folks have ever travelled to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, or Albania.

Of course, even among these people the form of socialism championed has changed from the massively planned, top-down economy to what are labelled “market socialism,” “democratic socialism,” “communitarianism,” or “the third way”. Although the ultimate authority for economic decision-making in all of these would still rests with the government, in these systems governments graciously permit activities in many areas, including in commerce and business, that they do not directly oversee.

To get a good sense of the practical consequences of socialist economies, whatever the new label they have been given, it would be valuable for proponents to get a close look at what has happened in the former Soviet bloc countries. Even though nearly two decades have passed since the Soviet system has collapsed, the signs of socialism are everywhere. That’s
in part because these societies have not yet managed to generate the wealth that would be required so as to replace all the horrible leftovers of the socialist system with what a free and prosperous country can produce. Rows of dilapidated apartment houses, factory buildings, government offices, schools and the like are strewn across these countries with little evidence that purging them soon is very likely. After all, even though the Draconian type socialist planned economy is now part of the
miserable past in most of these places, a robust recovery has not yet taken place, so that people, companies, and communities could afford to get rid of the remains of the socialist era.

After all, even under miserable socialism people had to live someplace, tried to get some work done, approximated some measure of education of their children, farmed, manufactured and so forth, however poorly and inefficiently. And having invested in building their places of residence and work and play with the little wealth they had available, it is not practical to simply destroy it all and start from scratch.

But this is only one obstacle to a serious recovery from the grand Soviet socialist experiment, one that a great many of the academics in the West eagerly supported. There is also the fact that in most of these countries the old communists and socialists are still very active in the political arena. Unlike the Nazis, the communists were not deactivated after their
system came a cropper. And given how unprepared the non-communists and non-socialists in those countries were for guiding their countries toward a substantially free society, these old-liners are still often in leadership positions.

Indeed, in Hungary, Bulgaria and elsewhere they have managed to get elected to lead the government, mainly by frustrated citizens. Some of these are nostalgic for the “good old days” of socialist security the devastating consequences of which they still haven’t fully grasped. Some of them were, of course, part of the old system and still actually wish for it to come back. (When I recently visited Gori, the town in Georgia
where Joseph Stalin was born, I saw the huge statue of him still fully intact, alongside a museum in his honour that I was told has a steady stream of admiring visitors, mostly from Russia!)

If you add to all this the fact that a great many Western advisors to these former Soviet bloc countries preach not the virtues of a fully free society but a variety of reconstituted versions of socialism, it becomes pretty clear why there is such slow progress evident throughout the region. Rent seeking—which is to say, using the government for purposes of obtaining benefits for which other people must pay with their labour and
other resources—is of course the norm in many Western countries, including the United States of America (which is actually quite popular with most of the citizens of these former Soviet bloc countries). So what the West's leaders preach to the leadership in these former Soviet bloc countries is itself more of an impediment rather than assistance in the direction of full
development and liberation.

Just imagine if someone who has been felled by some devastating illness tried to recover by getting small dosages of both good and bad medicine. Such a person’s recovery would take a long time, if indeed it would be likely at all. That is just the situation with many of the countries of the former Soviet empire. Which is a sad prospect, indeed.
An Important Reason for Freedom

Tibor R. Machan

In a seminar I took part in a few weeks ago in Yundola, Bulgaria, I was asked about the best reason for supporting a fully free society. There are many reasons, of course, and the most popular one tends to focus on the economic benefits of freedom. When people are free, they tend to produce much better than if someone holds a gun to their heads, or even just bullies them, like bureaucrats tend to do in welfare states. Also, there is more creativity and innovation in a free society than in one that’s
planned or even just heavily regulated. The arts, too, tend to benefit since there is a far greater dissemination of what artists create in a free country than in one that’s run by some elite group.

But in the end the most important benefit of freedom is really something quite distinct. This is that it is the precondition of living a morally good life. Of course, what such a life is needs to be discussed and certainly has been the focus of debate from some of the best mind throughout human history. Yet, whatever is the full story on just what is the morally right way to live, one thing is for sure. If one isn’t free to make choices in one’s life, if one has no sphere of personal authority to decide on how one is going to conduct oneself, such a life is going to be outside of one’s reach. Morality requires liberty for one--when someone isn't free to choose to act as one will, is it even possible to think of whether the person has acted rightly or wrongly? People ruled and regulated by others aren’t their own masters but involuntary servants, subjects and not sovereign citizens. So what they do isn’t up to them, at least not to the degree that others control their behaviour.

It is also clear enough that what is most important for everyone is whether he or she is a morally good person. Whatever the specifics, it is not much in dispute that whether someone is good at some profession, sport, hobby, or any special activity, what counts for most is whether one is being a morally good human being. This is easily confirmed—nearly everyone can testify that above everything else, it is whether someone is
morally decent that counts in the end. Sure, we like it when folks are handsome or beautiful or rich or talented or skilled—all of this matters to us a great deal. But if one has met all these standards swimmingly but is, in the end, a scoundrel, that pretty much as a deal breaker.

There are some apparent exceptions to this—say if someone who is basically a cad does, nonetheless, contribute something vital to the world, in science, medicine, athletics, the arts or scholarship. And there are a few such people who seem to get a pass as far as their rotten character is concerned. Still, they aren’t fully embraced as worthy human souls, that’s also for sure.

So, if it is true that human liberty is a prerequisite of human morality, it is difficult to dispute that a free country is better than various more or less coercive alternatives to it. In a free country the rights everyone has--to be respected by others and protected in the legal system--are supposed to secure for one what the late Robert Nozick called one’s moral space, a sphere of exclusive jurisdiction that’s inviolate, wherein one is in full control. With everyone in possession of such a sphere, regardless
of its exact size or range, everyone is then in charge of how one will comport oneself within this sphere and will carry full responsibility for his or her conduct.

Those who will freely join with others and cooperatively carry out various projects, for better or for worse, will also have the chance to prove their moral worth. In a free country dumping one’s ill doings on other people is prohibited and cannot be done with impunity, which is likely to encourage more decent behavior than will be done in societies in which one can lose oneself in the crowd and routinely dodge personal responsibility.

Of course, freedom has many other benefits besides encouraging ethically or morally responsible conduct and the possibility of giving credit as well as blame where these are properly due. Freedom does encourage more prosperity and the growth of knowledge and expansion of culture, encouraging the purging of the useless and unwanted from our midst. Still, what is most important about freedom is that free men and women can more
fully than in other types of societies aspire to live morally good lives, to flourish as human individuals, however exactly that’s to be understood.
Can Eminent Domain be Justified?

Tibor R. Machan

Among those of us who prize the protection of inidividual liberty as the primary public good, never to be sacrificed, the issue of eminent domain is troublesome. The reason is the same as with subpoenas. They both seem, on first sight, to be violations of our unalienable rights--to property, to liberty. So what gives?

Arguably, however, when one chooses to be a citizen of a country, remains their voluntarily, one willingly signs up for some provisions, as a matter of one's own free choice. For example, when in the course of the pursuit of justice--say, a criminal trial--one's special, unique testimony is required, something that cannot be obtained without one's services, one owes that testimony. It's part and parcel of being a citizen of a
functioning free legal order without which the system breaks down and justice cannot be pursued.

Similarly, if there is absolutely no other way to obtain facilities, for example, land for conducting trials, police services, imprisonment of criminals, etc.--no places are for sale, there is no unowned space and so forth--then "taking"
private property for the minimal public use or functions is justified because this, too, is indispensable in the pursuit of justice, which is what citizenship is about.

But doesn't this give away the ball game? Aren't there thousands of other needs that can only be satisfied by taking stuff from people, from conscripting their labor?

No. The millions of things people want and even need in society can be bought. They are obtainable through voluntary exchange, even if at times for a high price. But one's unique testimony in the pursuit of justice--say, because one is the only person who witnessed a crime or has expertise about some relevant subject--cannot be obtained that way. Also, if there simply is no place to build a court house without requisitioning someone's private
property, obtaining this is part and parcel of having consented to be governed.

Yes, matters are complicated sometimes for those of us who prize liberty above all. Yet what at times appear to be coercive measures, such as subpoenas and eminent domain, are in fact a feature of prizing liberty. Without them liberty would die. That is what some conservatives mean when they talk of ordered liberty, a free country that is civilized rather than

Some champions of liberty dispute this, claiming that unless providing a place for public facilities is voluntary at the time they are needed, they amount to coercion. But this is a mistake--it is akin to thinking that when someone collects on a debt
one has freely assumed that amounts to expropriation of property. A taking for a bona fide, very limited, public use is something one volunteers to accept, if all other ways of obtaining
the property fail, just in beinjg a citizen of a free society in which government--or indeed any legal order--is instituted to secure our rights. (Even the so called anarchist libertarian
will require such taking in order to deal with court proceedings and defensive police or military policies, should no one at the time volunteer to part with property required for this purpose.)

When John Locke spelled out why government is required to protect individual rights, it was clear to him and to all those who followed his reasoning that certain means are necessary to achieve the goal of such protection. That's why he and classical liberals henceforth advocated strictly limited government. Yes, it is government, but it is strictly limited, something those who prize individual rigthts and their protection cannot do without however much they may wish to pretend it is possible.