Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Palin Problem

Tibor R. Machan

I have always had problems voting. Not only have I been influenced by the likes of Professor Gordon Tullock about how ineffectual one's vote tends to be but I have very rarely found any candidate who articulates clear and unambiguous principles of liberty to which he or she is fully committed, which in my view is the only way to gain justified trust from voters.

Recently I expressed my dismay about Sarah Palin, based mainly on my inability to find any sound political principles articulated by her. I simply wasn't able to discover anything like a genuine American political philosophy or even ideology coming from the former Alaskan governor. When I pointed this out to a friend who considers her very promising, he listed for me a number of Palin's achievements which, he believes, should lead me to change my mind. Here is what he identified as indications of Palin's desirability for those who champion a fully free society:

* She sued the EPA for misusing the Endangered Species Act (no other governor has had the guts to do that)
* Advocated building nuclear power plants, clean coal and pipelines (all of them essential for energy independence and basic economic rationality)
* Came out against the punitive windfall tax on oil companies as a tax on investment.
* Approved of government subsidies only for market-proven alternative energies.
* Said publicly that global warming, even if true, is not anthropogenic.
* Spoke out forcefully and repeatedly in favor of free trade.
* Achieved 7% spending reduction as governor and instituted a hiring freeze.
* Vetoed half a billion of pork projects.
* Called for labor unions to ask permission from their members for political donations.
* Instituted an "ethics in government" reform which was opposed vigorously by the political establishment, left and right.
* Argued that adoption should be a state not a federal issue.
* Supported giving parents the right to opt out of school books they found offensive.
* Passed the most innovative energy bill of any state called the Alaska Gas Inducement Act including a 1715 mile gas pipeline to make available North Slope natural gas (currently being burnt) to the rest of the country.
* Advocated forcefully for drilling in ANWR and offshore waters.
* Opposed spousal benefits for same-sex couples, but vetoed bill denying benefits to gays as unconstitutional.
* Opposed setting up state boards on creationism despite her well-known views on creation.

Admittedly this is an impressive record of going against the current tied of relentless political correctness and bad piecemeal public policy. However, from the viewpoint of someone who believes in a very strict adherence to the principles of the American founding, those that restrict government to but on central task, namely, the securing of our basic (and derivative) individual rights, these achievements do not qualify someone as a dependable political candidate. To whit, there should be no EPA at all! Nuclear plants should be a private sector project, not something for government to mess with. Not only should there be no windfall taxes on oil companies and any tax on investments but the entire policy of extortion by taxation should be scrapped, just as another feudal institutions was, namely, serfdom. And so on and so forth. Every one of the policies listed above as Ms. Palin's achievements is, as far as someone who is committed to a fully free society is concerned, but a small and uncertain step in the right direction with no full commitment to the free society in sight.

Of course, we live in a world in which advocating the kind of society that is built on the principles of the Declaration of Independence is hardly going to open the door to a political career. Instead it will not even get one on Fox TV, let alone any other mainstream media outfit from which one might champion one's cause. But then so what? I have decided many moons ago to fight for a fully free society and not some compromise and half-way measure. At least some citizens must insist on the whole shebang, even if it be unrealistic and quite contrary to realpolitik. Others may well dedicate themselves to taking the small, gradual and admittedly needed steps toward such a socio-political system but one size doesn't fit all. There needs to be at least a substantial number of citizens who insist on nothing but the best, which is a country in which society, including science, the arts, the economy, and so forth, are totally divorced from government (the job of which must be restricted to protecting our rights, period) and on politicians who fight for this, nothing less.

Then, of course, there is Ms. Palin's very odd reported conviction that creationism is a position comparable to Darwinian evolutionary theory, which is blatantly false. She has said, "Teach both (evolution and intelligent design). You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both." As far as I am concerned, this is a regrettable aspect of the lady's education and renders her intelligence suspect. But, admittedly, this is not directly relevant--one could be a Moonie or Pentecostalist and still be loyal to the principles of a free society. So I mention the matter only to come clean with my own response to the lady.

Bottom line is that I will stick to working on the best society and its numerous often complicated features and keep championing these and let others take care of the intermediate task of identifying and supporting close-but-no-cigar folks to carry the torch for a second or third best system.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Good News

Tibor R. Machan

For a while now I have been concerned with the issue of whether any argument advanced in support of violating private property rights might just have something going for it. Some argue, for example, that since one's private property isn't always the result of one's own work and often even stems from plain old luck--as when the price on one's home rises because of market conditions one had no hand in--one's property rights cannot be inviolate, let alone inalienable. Others claim that when majorities decide, after widespread public consideration and discussion that someone's resources or wealth should be taken from them for some important project, this suffices to limit or even void the right to private property.

The second argument underlies the very recent ruling of New York State's Court of Appeals in support of the decision of the Empire State Development Corporation to condemn privately owned homes and small businesses so as to replace these with Mr. Bruce Ratner's "Atlantic Yards" project of 16 huge skyscrapers. The court didn't rule exactly as did the U. S. Supreme Court back in July 2005, in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, CT, which opened the door to take property simply to develop it better that how it is being used. The New York case backed the taking of private property because it is considered to be blighted. This is the "reasoning" of the lynch mob. And it is ominous because the very point of basic rights to one's life, liberty, property (or whatever is involved in governing one's own affairs--in other words, one's sovereignty) is to bar others from being intruders, no matter what. The point of rights is to secure for individual's their own realm of authority, wherein they and not others make choices, be these wise or not, prudent or not, generous or not. That is what it means to have jurisdiction over one's own life and the only way to intrude on it is first to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that one has violated someone else's rights and needs to pay for this with one's liberty or property. Having a bunch of other people decide about how important or sensible is one's use of one's belongings is no better, actually, than having them do this vis-a-vis one's life! You aren't living it as well as we believe you should, so we will take it over and direct it ourselves for far better purposes. What a crock this line of reasoning is!

As to the other line of argument, that, too, simply a gross non-sequitur. After all, no one has produced one's own liver, heart, eyes, or most other personal attributes, so are these now to be available for others to take? The fact that I came by my pretty face or sturdy heart with no effort by me confers absolutely no authority on others to deprive me of any of these. Yet somehow certain influential people make just such an allegation. It seems to me that it is nothing but sophistry since logic, reason, common sense or anything else that might support a conclusion gives this no credibility whatsoever. That kind of reasoning serves to support an atmosphere of arbitrary intrusion by everyone into the lives of all, a Hobbesian war of all against all, with just a bit of legalistic window dressing. Talk about an uncivilized society!

Unfortunately the American Founders, who learned their political philosophy from classical liberals--most especially John Locke--didn't manage to teach later Americans enough about the merits of the theory and principles underlying the founding documents of the country, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. And there were some conflicts between those principles and the widely championed ethics of "service to others" or altruism, which helped to undermine a free American society. Never mind that most people actually act as if they believed that helping others comes after one has taken decent care of oneself and one's loved ones. The rhetoric of morality has tended always to be altruistic since people attend to moral matters mostly when it concerns how other people ought to serve them! Yes, altruism gets much of its support from an insidious kind of narrow egoism: "Tell everyone to serve others since that will suggest to them to care for me!"

So there is a lack of solid ethical support for the ideals of individualism, and that weakens the support for individual rights. People consider standing up for those rights too selfish! And since this looks bad on their ethical CV, they do not put up a fight against those who would impose involuntary servitude on them, not at least until it may be too late.

Now we see the consequences: despite the superiority of the rights based free society when it's compared to all other types, Americans are slowly losing their liberty and letting a bunch of dubious arguments disarm them. It is not too late to turn this around but, sadly, the prospects are minimal, judging by how nearly all the professional thinkers in universities and colleges favor an anti-individualist, anti rights-based society, collectivist.