Wednesday, September 22, 2010

State Fundamentalism

Tibor R. Machan

True, the idea came to me after having read many of Paul Krugman’s missives, both his columns in The New York Times and essays in such magazines as The New York Review of Books. In his often very polemical writings--for a Nobel Laureate he does seem to indulge in polemics more than do most other academics--he nearly always makes reference to market fundamentalism or market fundamentalists, alleging in the process that here in these United States free market capitalism is widely preferred among those thinking about economics and public policy. And that the free market is the status quot! It is all a crock but everyone has the right to speak his or her mind and that’s so even if one has but a small one.

In point of fact, in American there is probably much more a state fundamentalism afoot than any respect for the free market system. From labor to business, from farming to the sciences, from the arts to nearly every level of education professionals are always clamoring for the state, for government, to step in a fix and even run things. Yes, this is very true of business--major corporations are the country’s most eager welfare clients. Subsidies for this and that, protectionism here, price supports there; there simply is no end to how readily all these elements of our society rush to Congress or the President--or some political body at the local and state levels--so as to bring about health (or at least security) for their industry or firm.

Now, of course, this is just the nature of a mixed economy, which America is, as are all the Western developed countries. Except that no one ever makes the claim that Germany, France, Great Britain, or Australia is in the grip of market fundamentalism, which they are definitely not; but neither is the U. S. Yet the claim is made in many corners, including especially in the American academy. And the motivation for this transparent enough.

Although America’s economy is far from capitalist and American academics, even quite a few economists, are far from convinced that capitalism is a sound political economic system, the foes of capitalism are always worried that capitalism could break out all over in America, especially when the mixed economy has been the massive failure no one can reasonably deny. Under such circumstances foes of capitalism, people who love a controlled economy and would gladly do the controlling themselves, must find some way to make sure no one actually blames the mixed system for the failures, let alone those elements of the mixture that are anything but capitalist--e.g., the federal reserve system, the massive regulatory apparatus, the innumerable government officials charged to mange the economy (often actually called "czars"!). So why not do the old fashioned thing and mount a defense of statism by leading an attack on capitalism, the only innocent party to the fiasco.

These folks, let’s be clear about it, are state fundamentalists. They love government being in charge of the economy, and they are clearly hoping for a hand in this assignment. The more control the government has over the system, the more their Keynesian plans can be put into effect. As Keynes himself made clear, under a system of central planning, Keynesian measure are easy to implement: "[T]he theory of aggregated production, which is the point of the following book, nevertheless can be much easier adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state [einestotalen Staates] than the theory of production and distribution of a given production put forth under conditions of free competition and a large degree of laissez-faire." So why not nudge American toward totalitarianism and then implement the policies recommended by such Keynesians as Professor Krugman? Seems like it is reasonable to assume that this is a game plan of the state fundamentalists.

Bottom line: No market fundamentalism anywhere in sight here but plenty of state fundamentalism is in evidence. And unless the state fundamentalists’ fraudulent attacks on free market capitalism are promptly refuted, they may indeed pull off their scam and use the current problems which are the result of the mixed economy to advance their radical statist objectives. (BTW, Keynes himself was not a committed statist--he promoted statist measures only for the short run, unlike many of his epigone.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Politicians’ Criminal Minds

Tibor R. Machan

It may have been either Will Rogers or Mark Twain, I cannot now recall which of the two great American humorists it was, who said all politicians are criminals. But it makes no difference because when something is true, its source is not the main issue. Fact is, politicians are extortionists at heart since their forte is that they will allow you and me to live and work provided we fork out nearly half of what we earn or otherwise obtain honestly so they can then dispose of it as they see fit.

In our time, not entirely unlike in others, the main appeal politicians hold out for millions is that they join them in their resentful bashing of the rich. This is a successful ploy because in the past, of course, most riches came from conquest, from governments and their favorite minions sending out thugs to confiscate whatever they desired from those who had some. As the saying has it, behind every great fortune lies a great crime, including extortion via taxation! This is why Robin Hood became a hero to so many: he went out and recovered what the tax takers took by force and returned it to the rightful owners. (No, Robin Hood didn’t steal from the rich and give to the poor; he repossessed from the ruler and his vicious taxers!)

How can politicians live with the knowledge that they are what they are, confiscators, extortionists? Because they tell themselves the story so many tell themselves when they do the wrong thing--”The intended end justifies the means!” Nearly every criminal thinks this way and so do nearly all who perpetrate evil upon others. Some higher goal than what the victim seems to be pursuing motivates them. They are serving the public interest or God or the common good or the environment or science or culture--you name it, there are hundreds of candidates that make the politician feel at ease.

Criminals also have great goals that will be served by their loot and since their victims are well enough off, they have nothing to complain about. After all, isn’t it selfish to insist on trying to hold on to your own resources, your own time, indeed your own life? Prominent university professors spell this out for us--we are all selfish bastards if we hold on to our own and allocate it was we judge fit. No, they will determine to what end my and your life should be devoted and if we disagree, they will send the politician into the arena who will make laws that compel us all to comply with their noble vision. As Professor Peter Unger wrote in one of his “ethics” books, “On pain of living a life that's seriously immoral, a typical well-off person, like you and me, must give away most of her financially valuable assets, and much of her income, directing the funds to lessen efficiently the serious suffering of others.”

I personally know numerous such apologists for actions and politics that involve taking from people what is theirs so as to devote it to objectives the takers have failed to convince their victims to contribute to voluntarily. Never mind that--just like criminals, who cares about the rights of these victims when my noble goals are at stake?! And because there are at least some whose wealth was acquired through some shady dealings, one can rest easy in one’s conscience by telling oneself, well they are all guilty of graft and theft, why shouldn’t we then go after them in the same vein? With the likes of the famous French poet Charles Baudelair, who said that "Commerce is satanic, because it is the basest and vilest form of egoism. The spirit of every businessman is completely depraved" providing them the clear conscience they crave as they rob and steal and extort from us, why would politicians think any differently from criminals? In our day the leader of the citizenry has no hesitation about bashing the wealthy, insisting that robbing them of their lives and resources and liberty to dispose of these as they judge proper is perfectly honorable.

Until this attitude about people and their wealth--reminiscent of the days of serfdom and involuntary servitude--seriously abates, the dream of a genuine free country will remain, well, but a dream. The idea that when one is successful, or even simply lucky so far as amassing resources is concerned, others become authorized to forcibly remove one’s wealth and use it without one’s permission for their however desirable ends, is plainly barbaric. It amounts to subjugating others, actually enslaving them. And that has no place in civilized societies.
No Way Could I Support Republicans

Tibor R. Machan

Now and then I am subject to serious consternation about not being able to address concrete political issues, ones that occupy the attention of some many politicians and pundits. Do I hold a political position that is irrelevant to what is happening in the world?

Well, maybe I do at times. At least if we are talking about immediate relevance then my unwavering support for the fully free society isn’t helping very much, I admit. I wish that issues I am passionate about, some of which I have learned are absolutely vital to human community life, came up for decision in the body politic--issues such as whether government may regulate the professions, whether interstate commerce should be subject to government meddling, whether the war on drugs should continue and so forth and so on.

At times I have the impression that maybe there are practicing political allies out there somewhere, ones who are involved with current affairs, and at times it looks like these would be Republicans and especially conservative ones. That’s because strictly speaking if one were a bona fide American conservative, what one would be working hard to conserve is the principles of the American Founders, those laid out so well in the Declaration of Independence. After all, liberal democrats, so called, have mostly abandoned any loyalty to the ideals of the Declaration and they are only champions of the American political tradition when it helps to promote their populist agenda of forcible wealth redistribution (i.e., when they invoke the 16th Amendment which legalizes income extortion). The ACLU is a joke since it cherry picks whose constitutional rights it stands up for.

But no sooner to do I hold out just a bit of hope for the Republicans and conservatives, I am reminded of just what they love more than anything else, which is to coerce everyone to follow their moral prejudices.

Consider what they did about the U. S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy the other day. Finally there was chance to purge the legal system of this unjust policy, of making gays jump through all kinds of hoops so they may serve in the Army, Navy and Air Force of a supposedly free country. As it was reported at, “With the 56-43 vote, Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation [to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell].... Senate Democrats attached the repeal provision to the defense bill in the hopes that Republicans would hesitate to vote against legislation that included popular defense programs. But GOP legislators opposed the bill anyway, thwarting a key part of the Democrats' legislative agenda.”

I don’t give a hoot about the Democrats’ legislative agenda because it is mostly bent on robbing Peter to give out gifts to Paul. But I do consider it grossly unjust to bar gays from serving in the military, just as it would be to bar bakers, Catholics, tall people, or opera singers from doing so. What on earth does being gay have to do with military service? (In fact in ancient Greece it was widely believed that gays would make the finest soldiers!) What kind of Neanderthal mentality must these people have for making it their huge objective to stand in the way of gays who want to volunteer?

When this kind of news comes to my attention I have to hold my nose and just hope that in time there will be an opposition political party that will not be linked to such nonsense. Will that ever happen? I don’t know but I am not giving up working to that end. For when we reflect seriously on the principles American conservatives are supposed to be conserving, preserving, they are clearly such that they do not give the slightest support to gay bashing of any kind, any more than they support female or short people or farmer bashing.

We are all human beings with basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of our happiness. And while there are some neo-conservatives who do take issue with these ideals, thinking them to be pedestrian and shallow, any genuine American must consider them central to a just human community. In such a community no official discrimination against gays is tolerable, nor against anyone else who lives peacefully!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Property Rights and Law

Tibor R. Machan

Some have been demeaning the right to private property--which is very closely linked to America’s political tradition and if sufficiently discredited would also help destroy the country--because such a right is supposedly created by a legal system. If so, then of course, this right has no foundation apart from a decision by lawmakers. It rests on quicksand, in short!

As Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein have argued in their book The Cost of Rights, Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (W. W. Norton, 1999), “individual rights and freedoms depend fundamentally on vigorous state action” and “Statelessness means rightlessness.” Without government, without a state, without laws they insist that individual human rights do not exist. This is just what feudal systems and their kin rested on--monarchs granted privileges or rights. None exist apart from what the monarch grants--statelessness means being without rights. Natural rights, ones that supposedly rest on human nature and are independent of the will of any king, czar or legislature, are then a fabrication, just as Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel maintain about property rights in their book The Myth of Ownership (Oxfor UP, 2002).

Now there is a little bit of truth here. A legal system that rests on individual-- including private property--rights does need to protect as well as to elaborate and refine our natural rights. That is how having rights manages to be applied in a legal order. One’s right to life, for example, exists independently of the law but the law develops that right to have application in a great variety of contexts throughout a country, such as the airwaves, land, consumer goods, labor and so forth. It does this by way of a vigorously legal process--arguments at court, etc.

Yet it’s vital to keep in mind that human beings really to have a right to their lives--no one is authorized to kill them, to kidnap them, etc. And this is so also with their having a right to private property, which is to say to their liberty to acquire and hold valued items either through working on nature or dealing with fellow human beings.

This is somewhat analogous to engineering where principles underlie the plans and building processes that are, of course, detailed applications of those principles. These principles, not unlike principles of political economy, aren’t invented by the engineers, although they do develop and apply them in practice. They depend, in part, on the nature of the materials being used in the engineering process, on the terrain where building occurs, etc. That process is firmly guided by the nature of these materials, not invented by people as the rules of games like chess tend to be (although even there some relationship to an independent reality exists--the rules must be consistent).

Why would people argue against the natural ground for our human rights? Well, some may just find the idea of the nature of something problematic and if that idea is derived from Plato instead of, say, Aristotle, there are indeed problems with it. But apart from such esoteric philosophical issues, there really is nothing very mysterious about things having a nature. It is what they must be to be the kind of thing they are--happiness, truth, justice, apples, dogs, or whatever else, they all have their nature, what they must be to be what they are. In contrast to such accidental or incidental matters as their age or color or name, human beings as such must be capable of thinking, to be basically rational. That’s their nature and it is from this that we can derive their rights--being rational animals, human beings require a community in which they are free to think, to act on their thinking, etc. And their natural rights are what secures for them this requirement, this sphere of personal authority or sovereignty.

I do not wish to delve into this in detail--my book Individuals and Their Rights (Open Court, 1989) has done this--but it is important to remind people that their rights aren’t the inventions of politicians, not even majorities, but come from their human nature. That way we can check the power of governments, insist that they stick to the job of securing these rights instead of becoming unrestrained seats of sheer power from which “rights” may be granted or withheld willy-nilly!