Monday, December 17, 2007


[This column, posted at on December 10, 2007, generated a discussion that may be of interest to some folks not familiar with that site, one that's accessible to anyone, by the way.]

Ron Paul, the Texas Republican House member, is undoubtedly the most committed libertarian among all the presidential hopefuls. "Dr. No," as he is sometimes called, opposes virtually all government spending and other forms of oppression. He believes that many of the laws passed by Congress aren't authorized by the Constitution - a document he believes is sound because of its support of the free society and a limited federal government - and could only be passed by state political bodies, not by the feds. Paul is pro-life, but instead of wanting to outlaw abortion - a dubious libertarian idea in my book - he wants the issue of whether there is a right to have an abortion to be dealt with at the state level.... [the full column appears below, dated December 10, 2007]

1. 12/10/2007 - 20:46:6PM
BY: Tannim
Tibor writes well as usual, but he does not explain why he finds Dr. Paul's non-interventionism to be disturbing, as he puts it. Sure, he may not be totally libertarian on everything, but this isn't a libertarian purist contest, it's a race for President of the United States! I tend to agree with Dr. Paul on most everything (except abortion, but for unusual reasons), and he's a Presidential candidate I can feel proud to vote for. I cannot say the same for ANY of the others in the GOP, and NONE of the Democrats.

2. 12/10/2007 - 21:18:31PM
BY: Eric
This article is quite ridiculous. Ron Paul has never said that "killing 3,000 people is OK". Pointing out that terrorists attacked America because of US involvement in the Middle East does not mean that the terrorist acts were morally or legally justified.

3. 12/11/2007 - 0:58:40AM
BY: Greg Lippold
"To a libertarian, for whom the right of an individual to his or her life is a core principle of community life, thinking that killing 3,000 people is OK - because Americans went to Saudi Arabia and other places "there" - is quite disturbing." Mr. MACHAN this is a load of crap. Sounds like something MSM would come up with.

4. 12/11/2007 - 13:10:39PM
BY: joan green
I agree with Ron Paul in the way that he views the Constitution, and the many ways that the present administration has violated their power of office. My vote is for Ron Paul....and if I had a "trillion" votes, they would all be for Ron Paul for President in 2008!

5. 12/11/2007 - 17:34:8PM
BY: texpat
This is such a careless misrepresentation of Ron Paul's position that I can only hope Tibor Machan's article was edited without him reviewing it. If not, it lowers my esteem for Mr. Machan.

Ron Paul had no problem going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, given their involvement in 9/11. What he does have a problem with is still being there, six years later, and invading Iraq, a country that had not attacked us.

Furthermore, Ron Paul never said that the 9/11 attacks were justified. His blowback theory merely explains the motivation for those attacks, and it makes far more sense than imbecilic explanations such as "they hate us because we're free".

6. 12/12/2007 - 5:54:20AM
BY: Tibor Machan
The blowback theory exculpates bin Laden & Co. It is offered as an explanation for 9/11. If I kick you and then this is explained by reference to your behavior as something that provoked the kick, clearly I am left blameless. Sure, Paul was producing a sound bite but he ought to have qualified it with "our being there has contributed to bin Laden & Co.'s anger but the murder of 3000 innocents was totally unjustified in response ot that."

7. 12/12/2007 - 10:30:52AM
BY: Greg Lippold
Mr. Machan I enjoy your articles and look forward to your views. Plain and simple, you are turning a fart into global warming. The ability to entertain the concept of blow back does not prove guilt or innocence, it does not even provide an excuse. It's like raising kids, when big brother hits little brother. Now for pay back little brother blows up big brothers bedroom. Do you really think those parents are going to let little brother off the hook? Check out Mr. Pauls voting record on these two wars and you'll get a better idea where he is coming from because Mr. Paul did vote differently on these two issues.

8. 12/12/2007 - 17:59:2PM
BY: Henry Pierson
While I usually agree with Prof. Machan, in this case it is clear that the “blowback theory” that Ron Paul has advocated does not exculpate bin Laden and Co. as the good professor suggests. Neither do I believe that Ron Paul’s position on the matter is indicative of such beliefs. My perception of Mr. Paul’s view is that he believes, were it not for our misplaced foreign policy, the attacks on our country and people would likely not have occurred. I tend to agree.

Great metaphor, Mr. Lippold.

9. 12/13/2007 - 17:51:22PM
BY: Tibor Machan
Sadly when someone EXPLAINS a criminal act, it is to exculpate the perpetrator. Just consider whye defense attorneys love to bing up psychology when they discusse why their client committed a crime--if the client's background, mental state, cultural practices or such serves to EXPLAIN the criminal conduct, the jury is urged not to hold the defendant responsible. What is responsible is one of these factors, not the defendant. Just as with bin Laden, what is responsible is not bin Laden but the fact that "we are there."

10. 12/13/2007 - 20:48:45PM
BY: Greg Lippold
Mr. Machan your statement, "Sadly when someone EXPLAINS a criminal act, it is to exculpate the perpetrator." I say no, not always, sometimes it is to point the finger in the right direction. Mr. Pauls voting recored speaks for itself. I do not adhere to this Chris Wallace school of thought of putting words in Mr. Pauls mouth. We do a great diservice to all parents that have a son or daughter in these two wars when we twist the facts. It is easy to find fault with Mr. Paul, he is only humane, but on this issue his voting record is very clear.

11. 12/14/2007 - 12:22:4PM
BY: Tibor Machan
I never put any words in Paul's mouth but I do draw implications from what he said, which was that 9/11 happened "because we are there." Those are his words. And what I say about an explanation functioning as a exculpation when it comes to otherwise criminal acts is a plain, demonstrable fact.

12. 12/14/2007 - 17:32:3PM
BY: MetaCynic
Few if any crimes occur in a vacuum. Although an individual must wilfully act to commit a crime, perhaps only a psychopath will do so outside a social, economic or political context. To understand the context is not to exculpate the act. For example, children who grow up in single parent households are much more likely to become violent, self destructive and generally dysfunctional adults than those who grow up in two parent households. No one should condone criminal behavior because the perpetrator grew up without a father, but neither should we support values and policies which produce single parent households. Such values and policies will ultimately elevate the social pathology level thus leading to the possibility that even we will become crime victims.

Ron Paul's observation that foreign intervention produces unpleasant, unexpected consequences is nothing more than placing a blowback crime, such as 9/11, within its context. He urges us to not support a foreign policy that brutalizes other countries because this will greatly increase the likelihood that innocent Americans will become crime victims. I fail to see why such a warning can be interpreted as exculpating the 9/11 perpetrators.

13. 12/14/2007 - 23:49:13PM
BY: Kerk93
Mr Machan, It appears that you have missed a fundamental premise to human action. That premise-with deference to von Mises-is that all humans act to maximize their satisfaction. I am unaware of a group-throughout history-who willingly acted for their subversion. Dr. Paul is quite accurate in his assertion that they attacked us because we were "over there."

His words should only be taken for their basic meaning. After all, words have specific meaning. Words and numbers are characters invented to convey a specific meaning. These characters and numbers are how we convery our specific values to one another.

You have inferred something from his speech that may or may not be true. How do you, based on logic or reason, know that he meant anything more than what he said?

Perhaps, he was simply stating they were enraged because we were over there? This is nearly the exact cause/effect relationship that Adam Smith noted back in the 1770s.

Is that not a logical explanation for their actions?

A much more illogical explanation is that they hate us because of our freedoms.

In the vast eras of human history, I am confounded to find any sect that has ever fought to be oppressed. Quite the contrary, people have fought-throughout history-because they are oppressed.

When one realizes that the system of governance guaranteed by our Constitution is a republican form, the premises of spreading democracy to the rest of the world become all the more paradoxical.

14. 12/15/2007 - 8:22:19AM
BY: Tibor Machan
I am not a believer in the economic man analysis of human action--my criticism of von Mises may be found in my book, Capitalism and Individualism, Reframing the Argument for the Free Society (St. Martin's Press, 1990). We do not always act to promote our own interest, although we ought to more often than we do! In any case, when Dr. Paul said 9/11 occurred because "we are there," he provided an unqualified explanation and such an explanation implies an exculpation of the actors, as I have explained before (on the model of how explaining criminal conduct exculpates the accused agent).

15. 12/16/2007 - 19:53:31PM
BY: Aaron
I find Mr. Machan's position in regard to Dr. Paul's blowback explanation very disturbing. Mr Machan seems to be saying that because we were attacked we are therefore blameless. It is Machan and not Paul who is exculpating and in a very bizarre way. In essence he is saying that if you provoke (attack) someone you are blameless if they retaliate beyond simple self defense. If that is the case, then appling Machan's logic, he is the one exculpating Bin Laden, as we responded to his provocation beyond simple self defense.

Obviously this in nonsense, and anyone who listens to what Dr. Paul says cannot honestly believe that he feels any sympathy toward Bin Laden or his tactics.

16. 12/16/2007 - 23:40:34PM
BY: Tibor Machan
I am told that "Mr Machan seems to be saying that because we were attacked we are therefore blameless. It is Machan and not Paul who is exculpating and in a very bizarre way. In essence he is saying that if you provoke (attack) someone you are blameless if they retaliate beyond simple self defense. If that is the case, then appling [sic] Machan's logic, he is the one exculpating Bin Laden, as we responded to his provocation beyond simple self defense." Well, am I saying it or am I seem to be saying it, whatever that can mean. In fact I nevere said that
bin Laden is blamesless or even that the American government is blameless. I have been stressing that Dr. Paul should have qualified his claim that 9/11 happened "because we are there." He should have said that our being there has possibly contributed to bin Laden & Co.'s anger but that anger has deep historical and religious origins that have nothing to do with how the American government acts--just check out Islamic Imperialism by Efraim Karsh (Yale, 2006).

17. 12/17/2007 - 0:37:38AM
BY: Denny Jackson
I'll take von Mises any day against Machan, and I'll take Ron Paul any day against him too. Machan's patently absurd accusation that Dr. Paul is excusing the terrorists of all blame when he points out the reason for their action -- whether reasonable or not -- is barely worthy of a response. Does Mr. Machan really think that we would have been attacked if the US government had been minding its own business and not been in the Middle East attacking Muslim nations? Frankly I don't find their response all that unreasonable myself. Criminal, yes, but not unreasonable.

I find it telling that Mr. Machan seems to have little concern for constitutional constraints on the actions of the federal government, nor seemingly any concept of limits to jurisdiction. At least he did not mention them. Libertarians know where their limits are and respect them. Statists think there are none other than what are determined by the extent of state power and blame others for defending themselves against their aggression.

18. 12/17/2007 - 8:32:20AM
BY: Tibor Machan
In fact, of course, Machan has been writing steadily against the Iraq war from before it started. It would help one who posts on my views to actually know those views. See for how steadily, consistently I have protested the war and argued that a free country has no business doing what the American government has been doing. But the dicussion here is about what Dr. Paul said and might have said regarding responsibility for 9/11, not about the war.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Who Fires or Lays you Off?

Tibor R. Machan

During economic downturns many people become hostile toward their employers, thinking whatever hardship they suffer is their fault. In fact, however, the responsibility lies with customers, consumers, and a host of other economic agents, rarely if ever with one’s employers.

I work for a university and have indeed done so for most of my career after I left graduate school, having earned my entry ticket, the PhD degree, which is what one usually needs to go on the market for a teaching position at colleges and universities. Much of this industry, of course, is bizarre. People are paid in most places from funds extorted from citizens via taxes, so there is hardly a genuine free market in play.

I did, however, work outside of the academy for nearly a decade, prior to entering college, where I was subject to market forces. Which is to say, when I lost my job a Carrier Air Conditioning, for example, or at the architectural drafting firm where I worked afterwards, I was let go because the number of those directly or indirectly seeking to buy my skills significantly diminished.

Yes, my pink slips were given to me by my bosses but they were only telling me what they were told by their own potential customers: “We do not want what you and Machan and the rest in your company would like to sell us. Or we want much less of it than before. Or we want to buy it from some other provider. Or we found something else we want to spend our money on instead of what you have to offer us. And so forth.”

Sometimes, as seems to be the situation now in my region of the world, many potential customers are in a belt-tightening frame of mind. For a while they may have extended themselves, gone out to buy what they wanted even beyond their means, and now it has downed on them that this could have severe consequences. So they decided to withdraw from the market place, or to go there more infrequently than before.

In the case of the housing market, for example, many people went in over the heads big time. They and their lenders took big risks, borrowed and lent much more than was reasonable given their economic circumstances. And this has resulted in widespread defaults and unless some kind of successful restructure could be arranged, it may even have led to having to give up one’s home. When such things happen with great numbers of people, then the economy undergoes a recession, at least if this happens over a prolonged period of time. But, except for when the government muscles in and causes all kinds of distortions instead of leaving people in the marketplace to sort things out, this is all nothing more mysterious than folks, as economic agents, acting somewhat wildly and then trying to take steps to rectify matters.

Yes, and there can be some malfeasance in play throughout the market which contributes to such situations, just as when the market is doing extraordinarily well. People hustle and others are all too willing to play along, take advantage. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of selling something for much more than it was bought for even if doing so could be quite unreasonable? Much of what is called “the economy” is you and me and the rest of us, sadly often unthinking, human beings. It is not all a matter of malice but it is often plain old negligence. And there are consequences. Among those are widespread layoffs and firings.

But don’t blame the managers of firms for this. Sure, they can be more or less sensitive to the situation, handle it crassly or with consideration. But those are relatively minor matters when the major issues is the fact that one’s job is no longer wanted by the potential customers.

Unfortunately, as in so many cases, people blame the messenger, the one who hands out the pink slips, and forget that it is mostly due to potential buyers, like you and me, deciding to withdraw from the market for a while. Such, in some cases rather unfortunately, is economics.