Monday, October 12, 2009

Why the Nobel for Obama?

Tibor R. Machan

OK, I will no longer try to resist the temptation to chime in on this one. I try not to jump on the bandwagon with every hot topic but this one bothers me because so many people feign mystification. What is the big deal here?

Back when F. A. Hayek received the prize in economic science, in 1974, the committee felt so uncomfortable about rewarding a champion of the free market that it split the prize between him and Gunnar Myrdal, and Swedish supporter of the welfare state. Over the years the prize in economic science has gone back and forth, with Chicago School people some and Keynesians or similar big government interventionists winning others. with a few technicians to break up the pattern. Clearly then whenever there is some chance of brouhaha about the prize, the committee has played it safe.

Perhaps with the Peace prize it is a little different, although it is hardly likely that it would be won by someone who helped bring down the Berlin Wall, given that however much the soft Left didn't like Stalin's system, socialism is still the ideal it is committed to realizing, somehow, even if it takes squaring the circle. Norway is, after all, a welfare state and no one likes to admit that as with so many mid-eastern countries, what sustains it is oil, not political economic wisdom.

Another way to stick it to capitalism--never mind that there isn't and hasn't been any evidence of that system in its unvarnished form in America--is to give some prize, any prize, to someone like Barack Obama, an avowed leftist who hasn't had a good thing to say about the distinctively American idea of applied free market economics. Even though Obama has himself held an adjunct professorship at the University of Chicago where the late Milton Friedman lead the Chicago School of free market economics, he was in the School of Law and probably never bothered to learn anything about how bad a mistake it is to entrust the economy to a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats. He is in fact a celebrity on the American political stage who is, since FDR, one of the few making no bones about liking statism, about trusting some people to micromanage the lives of others. Since the Nobel committee is firmly committed to that kind of system, it made perfectly good sense to give the peace prize to Obama, never mind how misnamed it was for him. (They already gave the economic science prize last year to a like-minded fellow, Professor Paul Krugman, a most enthusiastic champion of the political management of the economy.)

Sure, it is a bit gross to give out this prize to someone who hasn't done much for peace except to talk it up on and off but, hey, why be picky? After all, everyone in Europe and a whole lot of people in America are enamored of him, so giving Obama the prize is a gesture toward the Left without much substance or risk.

There was just one comment from someone about this that I found sensible. This was that Mr. Obama should have turned the prize down saying, "Get back to me later, once I have achieved some of what I want to in the direction of peace around the globe." Would have shown some class, me thinks. Alas, that might have been too much to ask for someone who seems to be fond of power the way Mr. Obama clearly is. Anyone whose solution to all the problems of a country amounts to nothing more subtle than through borrowed or printed--i. e., fake--money after it cannot be counted upon to show tact and subtlety. Yet this may not be feasible, actually. that is because there is a famous and highly influential moral philosophy that may have something to do with the award of the prize to Mr. Obama at this point of his presidency.

I am thinking of Immanuel Kant, the German thinker who argued, in the 18th century that what matters in moral matters is that one has a good will, nothing else. It is the thought that counts, in other words, since human beings have no effective impact on the world which is governed by the impersonal laws of nature. The only thing that is free is the will, which governs ineffectual intentions and nothing else. I don't know if the Nobel committee is staffed with Kantians but what happened here suggests it. The consequences of Mr. Obama's policies do not matter--all that matters is his his good intentions, period.

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