Monday, February 09, 2009

Saying No to FDR's Version of Liberty

Tibor R. Machan

One of my colleagues at Chapman University reported to me how much he favors the following sentiment expressed by FDR: "I am not for a return to that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few." What kind of liberty was FDR talking about? Presumably the kind of liberty that would prohibit anyone from interfering with the actions of others unless those others endeavored to coerce their fellows, unless they violated their basic rights to life, liberty, and property. Such as system does make it possible for some to rise above others, provided they do not use force or fraud in the process.

A system wherein such rights are diligently protected is often attacked on the grounds that some people might be employed by other people who then could give them directions, who could "regiment them." Remember that whenever you hire someone who willingly accepts your terms of employment and whose terms you accept, you can given them directions or "regiment" them. Think of your gardener, barber, auto mechanic, house cleaner, employee at your firm, cashier at your grocery store, etc., and so forth. All these people voluntarily accept being directed by you as to what they will do to satisfy their terms of employment.

And, yes, among them there will be some who accept your terms reluctantly, believing that the terms could be different, more favorable to them, less favorable to you and so forth. And some of them will be unable to act on their reluctance because they lack resources just yet needed for them to gain different, more favorable employment.

I certainly recall when I was a new refugee in the USA and took my first job as a movie house usher in Philadelphia where I worked daily in that capacity, pretty much not liking what I did (e.g., watching the same movie fifty times or so before a new one took its place while telling people to quiet down and helping them find a seat in the crowded theater). Then I was a short order cook, not the greatest job one could have, then a bus boy, and then, once I acquired some skills, a draftsman at a famous air conditioning company, etc., etc., until I finally reached the kind of work I found fulfilling, namely, teaching philosophy. Many, many folks I know and millions I don't have gone through a roughly similar process in order to get to do the work they preferred doing, for folks they wanted to work for or, perhaps, to establish a firm they could run and where they would employ others who found the work they could do there promising.

By FDR's edict, all these folks, including I, would need to abandon their liberty to work for others, "the privileged few," who may themselves have risen through the ranks akin to the way I and millions of others did. Sure, some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths but to keep the spoon there they, too, needed to find work that others wanted from them--if they were heads of huge companies, they needed to steer the firm successfully (unless they got protection from the government against competitors!).

The bottom line is that FDR's sentiments are utopian and fascistic on top of that--he would probably want to be the one who would rearrange the economy so that the privileged few would get demoted and some others would take their place. Or if he aimed to eliminate all privileges and inequalities of economic status, he would have to employ a humongous police force to make sure that no one rises above anyone else--no basketball player better his or her fellow players in the eyes of the paying public, no movie star manages to rake in more income than another, no professor would get his books published by a house that's better than those that publish his or her fellow academics'. This would be a police state! That is just what it appears FDR favored, seeing that he admired, of all people, Mussolini!

So thanks but no thanks to FDR for his revised--actually perverted--idea of human liberty. The privileges that are objectionable have always tended to come from governments favoring some firms with protection against competition, domestic or foreign, starting with the monarchs who bestowed limited liability upon companies they permitted to be formed so they could gain taxes from them even as they acted destructively. So, yes, some firms need to have their privileges discontinued and they need to enter the free market place where they would compete on the basis of their achievements instead of of being the darlings of politicians and bureaucrats. That kind of reform is justified. But FDR's proposal is perverse and unbecoming of a genuine free country.

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