Thursday, August 09, 2007

Globalization Galore

Tibor R. Machan

Globalization is but the recognition that some elements of human life are universal. Multiculturalism recognizes, in contrast, that many elements of human life are diverse, even highly individual. There is no way to escape this, given human nature. We have much in common among us but we also differ in innumerable respects. There are also innumerable features shared by just some people, not others, such as members of ethnic groups, religions, practitioners of the various arts, and so forth.

The debate about globalization concern what it is that can reasonably be expected to be universalized, what cannot be subject to universalization. In particular, are certain economic principles such that human beings everywhere and at any time ought to be observant of them?

Those supporting economic globalization hold, as I do, that some principles of economics are appropriate for any human community simply because it is a human community. Thus, for example, any human community’s legal infrastructure needs to protect the right to private property, the right to free trade, the right to freedom of contract, etc. Which, in plain language, means that everywhere people ought to be free to obtain and hold valued items; they ought to be able to exchange these voluntarily among one another, and they ought to be free to come to terms of trade without being coerced to accept ones with which they disagree. The idea is, of course, that such economic principles are suitable or fitting for human community life because of human nature itself, never mind variations in culture, religion, art, and so forth.

Now this kind of universalization is well known in many other areas of human life. Medicine, science, fitness, dealing with emergencies, and judging athletic prowess all approximate a kind of globalization. There is no Pakistani medicine versus Indian medicine, even if some practices are more prevalent in one of the countries than in the other; there is no Afghan chemistry versus Canadian chemistry; at events such as Wimbledon or the Olympics the measure of success is universal, independent of the place from which an athlete hails, even if the uniforms and hair styles different among them. Cuisine is highly diverse, yet the need for balanced nourishment is universal. Fitness, too, tends to be something all people require, albeit they different how they will obtain it—through hiking, jogging, attending gym sessions or yoga.

Not that all this is agreed to by everyone, quite the contrary. Some people insist that different cultures may embrace different economic principles, even if these are in violation of the principles of a free market. Some think that Cuba is fine practicing socialism, as may be North Korea or Venezuela. The argument here is about whether such a system does or does not violate basic principles of human community life and, of course, defenders of what has come to be called economic globalization argue that such systems as socialism, communism, fascism and the like do in fact violate such basic principles. Actually, most socialists or communists, etc., also defend globalization of their own principles of economic organization. Only some claim that capitalism is sound for one human community, while socialism for another, except for strategic purposes.

I was traveling in places this summer where I could not say I was on familiar terrain. Indeed, the ways people dressed, played, sang, and ate were utterly different from what I am used to living in Southern California. Yet, when some emergency occurred in, say, Baku, Azerbaijan, or Tbilisi, Georgia, the common means of warning those nearby was, of course, the piercing siren! Once again, globalization is in evidence and no one could reasonably object.

In the area of economic globalization the problem isn’t really globalization as such but what are the principles of economic life that are to be global in the first place. For those of us who insist that freedom is a necessary condition of human community life, that coercion must be excluded from human relationships, the principles of the free market system are the natural candidates for globalization. We consider those who object to this advocates of coercive human relationships and find that to be seriously misguided. And, we think, for eminently good reasons.
Accidental Environmentalism

Tibor R. Machan

Environmentalists tend to believe that the best way to achieve their ends
is to empower governments to command us all to act as environmentalist
would want us to act. Stop using SUVs, save endangered species, preserve
wetlands, recycle, etc., and so forth.

But this is not a reliable way to deal with environmental problems. Yes,
at some particular time a government may make just the laws and issue the
regulations environmentalist want (although even at their most
conscientious this may fail since environmentalists are not exactly sure
what policies will do the environment the most good, what standards should
be deployed, how to prioritize, etc.). But governments, be they mostly
democratic or more dictatorial, tend to follow fashion. This year it may
be environmentalism but next it will be traffic gridlocks, the following
some health concern, and after that who knows what will take center stage. And all
along, of course, there are the innumerable special interest projects that drive
the politicians’ agenda.

If, however, individuals have something to gain from acting prudently in
their lives, from conserving, preserving, saving, being frugal, having
restraint and so forth, there could well be environmentalism afoot without
folks even knowing they are falling in line with the movement. Some of us
travel a lot, for example, and stay at hotels or motels where efforts are
being made to cut back on the use of amenities. Instead of replacing
towels each day, they are now often reused, with the establishment’s
urgings and with full consent of the guests who don’t mind very much using
the same sheets and pillow cases for several days, so long as in case of
special need they can be accommodated. I have noticed that hot water is
sometimes shut off in the wee hours of the morning, something that can
actually inconvenience certain guests—but then they can go elsewhere,
should it matter to them a lot.

When private property rights are strictly identified and protected, there
is actual economic value in being environmentally prudent. Just as one
may not dump one’s trash on the property of one’s neighbor, other kinds
of pollution, once clearly identified, can also be curtailed and the
overall affect is to make the environment more pristine, user friendly.

Of course such unintended environmentalism rests in large measure on the
belief that people are not intentionally reckless, at least not when the
cost has to be borne by them and if they try to escape it they will be
held accountable. This goes for small estates to massive industrial
firms. Yet, sadly, too many avid environmentalists work toward undermining
the system of private property rights, a system that could be their best
friend. One need but recall the conditions in the Soviet bloc
countries—and, indeed, notice those in some of the states that still
haven’t recovered from their Soviet era mismanagement—to learn how the
tragedy of the commons ruins the environment in many places around the
globe. What happened in most of these places is that some grand, national
plan to promote industrialization overshadowed even the slightest efforts
by citizens to care for their environment. They had no say over the
matter—it was all dealt with from above.

In the approximately free world, in contrast, two things have contributed
to relatively sound environmental policies: the greater respect and
protection afforded to private property rights and the greater wealth, by
far, of the citizenry that can afford to be picky about the environment.
Poor countries, the ones suffering from central government mismanagement,
fail to be heedful of this and their environment is, thus, in pretty lousy

One thing too many environmentalists don’t welcome about this lesson is
that it leaves matters to local control, all the way down to individual
citizens being free to decide how to deal with the environment. Like all
utopian dreamers, these environmentalists trust some superior agency. And
that is how they tend to defeat their very own professed objectives.
Armenian Impressions

Tibor R. Machan

Tsakhkadzor, Armenia. This winter sports complex has some of the most impressive terrain for winter athletics outside of New Zealand and Switzerland. Except that it is nearly in total tatters. Apart from some recently installed modern structures, this mountain city is merely a shadow of what it could be.

While giving my lectures to about 25 young people in this (for me) remote part of the globe, I had one recurring thought, albeit mostly a fantasy: Import as many Swiss here as there are Armenians living in the region, let them take over every aspect of social and economic life and see the place transformed into, well, a replica of Switzerland. Yes, the basic ingredients are all here. Stunning mountains and rapids cutting across them all; weather that has all the variety of what is available in Austria or Switzerland. But—and this is a really big “but”—there is no infrastructure and development whatsoever comparable to that you get in those European countries far to the west of the country.

I was driven to Tsekhkadzor by car—well, by two cars, actually; one took me to the border between Georgia and Armenia, the other to the sports town itself. That’s because taking a car across this border amounts to a bureaucratic nightmare. Even doing it as we had to—namely, walking across the bridge that connects the two countries—amounted to a truly annoying experience. The guards who stood about the shacks where passports and visas are being examined cared not a wit about facilitating the traffic. They were every bit like the border guards used to be in the old Communist countries—in the Soviet era Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary or Albania. They treated us all as if the last thing on earth they wanted to do is to have to provide the service they are officially there to provide, which is to enable folks to move between the two countries.

Of course, the roads on which one travels inside Armenia are a disaster. Potholes everywhere, the size of small craters; cattle and sheep blocking traffic throughout the journey, trash by the roadside, you name it. And there are virtually no facilities—no places to eat, to stop to rest, nothing except a few dilapidated buildings that threaten to collapse as one makes use of them.

Armenia was part of that wondrous experiment with Soviet socialism but even then it got to short end of the stick, judging by how it looks now. Its current wows are too complicated to even hint at here. Yet the countryside is often stunning, if only one ignores the parts human beings have added to it all.

And talk about pollution! If only some of our Western environmentalist could take a few lessons from how an essentially state managed country deals with waste and soot! They might start becoming more sensible about trusting government to solve environmental problems. The tragedy of the commons stares one in the face everywhere.

Yet, yet, the young people who sat around the conference room where we discussed elements of classical liberalism and libertarianism were bright and surprisingly interested in how a free system of law and public policy would approach the problems faced in human community life. Their questions, objections, speculations, and such were every bit if not more intelligent than those of their Western university mates.

For most of them, of course, the idea that individuals are sovereign, not the government or state, was radical; its implications even more so. But they understood, often from elementary personal examples, what it means to take charge of one’s life and to deal with other people with the full recognition that they, too, are in charge of theirs. They were initially incredulous about the classical liberal demythologization of states and governments but once they grasped that those were all but human being posing as superior to the rest, they got it pretty quickly.

Still, I left the region without being able to shake that fantasy, of importing a few million Swiss and letting them loose on Armenia. That would turn out to be some country!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ron Paul isn’t being Censored

Tibor R. Machan

Some of the folks who are eager supporters of Representative Ron Paul as
the Republican presidential nominee are sadly misspeaking themselves these
days. On the Free Market News Network web site the question of whether
Paul is being censored by mainstream media has been posed, as one of the
site’s polls, and the overwhelming majority has answered “Yes”. But this
is very confused.

All that the mainstream media can do to Paul is to ignore him, maybe to
distort his views or perhaps fail to report on the level of his support
among American voters. But only the government can censor someone! Only
the government has the power to legally silence Ron Paul or anyone else.
Big media may have clout but it has no legalized use of weapons with which
to silence someone.

In the past this mistake has been made by many, both Left and Right. I
recall a while back when Harvard’s celebrity law professor Alan M.
Dershowitz was hired by the producers of the movie The Pope Must Die to
sue NBC, ABC, and CBS for these networks' refusals to run advertisements
for the movie that the networks supposedly considered inappropriate for television
broadcast. Prof. Derschewitz made some rather provocative claims in connection
with this suit in a television broadcast and at a news conference and, judging by these
claims, the title of an earlier book of his, Chutzpah, seems to be entirely justified.

In that case, Mr. Derschewitz construed the refusal of the three networks
to run the television ad for the movie The Pope Must Die as censorship.
And he got on television to say so. He claimed that censorship, “whether
public or private, endangers the marketplace of ideas.”

Now neither Dershowitz nor Paul has been censored, actually, because
neither has been forced by the government to desist from voicing an
opinion or stating some fact. Being rejected for coverage by the major
networks does not constitute censorship any more than does being ignored
by the major media.

Perhaps, however, there is value in such language for polemical purposes,
even if it is not strictly speaking accurate. Maybe both Derschewitz and
the supporters of Ron Paul are merely trying to stress the infelicity, the
unprofessional conduct of those they accuse of engaging in censorship.
Perhaps that is all that’s going on here.

In the case of Ron Paul, however, one must be very careful not to
undermine his credibility. Consistency and integrity are his central
widely recognizable virtues in the contest for nomination, something his
rivals all lack. On other matters he is unfortunately quite unpopular.
So, he should insist on these virtues even when they take away some of the
bite of his complaint against the mainstream media. If he lets go of them,
he will join the rest of the politicians who are willing to prevaricate in
order to gain favor with—or sympathy from—the public.

In brief, then, only governments censor, never private sector agents, no
matter how wrong they act otherwise. Refusing to report on Representative
Paul’s views and support is, indeed, journalistic malpractice. But it
isn’t censorship. For libertarians, who want no government interference in
peaceful conduct even when it is wrongheaded, this distinction must remain
vital even as they do battle with various forces in the culture who want
to silence them. They have to find some other means by which to indict
such forces not by falsely charging them with attempting to censor their
preferred candidate for U. S. president.

Now Ron Paul himself may never have indicted mainstream media for allegedly
censoring him—it is only his supporters who have made that charge. Then
they should realize that they are not being very helpful. And perhaps
Representative Paul could point this out to them and reign in their
misguided zeal. No one is responsible for the actions of those who support
him but one could do worse than help such folks get it right about just
what the mainstream media is doing wrong. It is not censoring Ron Paul but
failing to do its job right.
Freedom, Development & Fascism

Tibor R. Machan

Now and then I read that freedom—protection of the unalienable rights to private property, freedom trade, free speech, etc.—are not needed for economic development because in some countries, such as Singapore, there is ample and vigorous economic development under a substantially fascist regime, one that does not protect individual rights—especially the right to freedom of speech and press. And technically in some countries, even in the USA, plenty of economic growth can co-exist with serious government interventionism.

Does this not conflict with the libertarian notion that freedom is indivisible? If all kinds of good things can come from governmental tyrannies, petty or Draconian, why bother about freedom? Why not just worry about whether the government properly manages the economy?

It is true enough that in some countries a substantially tyrannical state has managed to generate good numbers in the economic realm. Yet is that the whole story? Isn’t it rather that where free markets are at least permitted to operate, there is likely to be economic development? Yes, that isn’t exactly what free markets are supposed to amount to—namely, conditions that governments permit to prevail. But as with parents who provide considerable room for their children’s personal responsibility to flourish, without fully letting go of their ultimate authority, so such countries do mimic freedom sufficiently to produce results that are close to what would occur within a fully free society.

Back when Chili was run by general Pinochet, it was the most successful economy in Latin America. No one could argue that the country was free, certainly not by libertarian standards. Yet when Pinochet consulted with the Chicago boys who advised him to stop interfering with the market, to allow trade to proceed unimpeded, the result was something close to a free market system and led, not unexpectedly, to healthy economic developments.

There is no doubt that the conditions of a fully free society can be approximated in countries that are ruled by people who recognize that micromanaging people is counterproductive. It was the philosopher Baruch Spinoza who started to speculate along these lines, insisting that a powerful government would do far better to ease up on dictating how the people should live. Recognizing what later became the essence of public choice theory—for which James Buchanan received the Nobel Prize in economics—Spinoza began to challenge the ideas of such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes who believed that a healthy country needs a hands on dictator. On the contrary, what works much better is when the people themselves are in substantial charge of their lives. (Spinoza, by the way, applied this notion to freedom of religion and speech, as well! But he hadn’t yet defended the Lockean notion that individual actually have the right to be free, only that letting them be free is sound public policy.)

So, then, what about the idea that dictatorship or substantial governmental intervention in the lives of citizens need not stymie economic growth and other desirable developments in a country? Sure, that’s right, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The policies of such a government must approximate those of a fully free country, especially as far as how the economy is governed.

It also needs to be noted in this connection that freedom is not a guarantee of all things turning out well in the world. Free men and women can go wrong on numerous fronts. The point of freedom isn’t merely to encourage success on various fronts in a society but to place governance into the hands in which it belongs, the sovereign individual in voluntary cooperation with his and her fellow individuals. In the long run, of course, this is far more likely to produce the good things we all tend to want from community life. But the issue is, first and foremost, that such community life be voluntary, not coerced.

As Abraham Lincoln noted about the American system, it ".....[h]as a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwined itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle “Liberty for all”—the principle that clears the path to all—gives hope to all—and, by consequences, enterprise, and industry to all."