Saturday, December 04, 2010

Introduction [to Tibor Machan's new book, Equality, So Badly Misunderstood]:

A supreme achievement of certain thinkers of the modern era has been to challenge and ultimately overturn the idea that some human beings are innately morally or politically superior to others and so they may rule these others as they judge fit. That idea spawned some of the worst practices and institutions among people over the centuries. It was in time invalidated by the plain enough fact that members of the human species were equal in one central respect, namely, their humanity.

However, serious fallout from this welcome development has also occurred. This is the popularity of the view, especially among political and legal philosophers as well as some prominent political economists, namely, that all changeable human inequality is unjust and is to be banished, that individuality itself is something insidious since when one pays heed to it, quite evidently people are quite different individuals from one another. This latter idea, let’s call it bloated equality, has helped, paradoxically, to reintroduce the former political and even moral inequality, which had been nearly totally dis- credited in much of the developed world. This is because in the effort to ban most of the inequality in human communities, those who carry out the ban must be vastly more unequal in the power they hold over others than those they endeavor to make equal. And while their unequal power isn’t being justified on grounds of birthright, the supposed imperative to equalize us all turns out to be insidious and manages to reap the same havoc with justice that the myth of innate inequality did that had been largely abolished. This in the face of the fact that many champions of such egalitarianism have tried to convince us all that justice itself demands their program, the equalization of all, especially in economic matters.

One clear example of public policy influenced by the imperative to establish the bloated conception of political equality came through in the 2009 debate about government guaranteed health care (or insurance) in the United States of America. Such a system is approximated in many other countries across the globe and debate is raging about just how wise and efficient it is. Whether justice requires it, however, is often deemed moot.
Many, especially those who joined US President Barack Obama and his administration, believe in economic equality as they seek to establish a system of government-provided universal health care for American citizens (especially the “public option”). In doing this they clearly take it as a given that the resources required so as to establish their policy may be secured by means of massive taxation and by borrowing against future taxes the payers of which would not even have been born when the policy would begin to be implemented.

So, among other dubious results, this egalitarian effort imposes burdens on yet unborn citizens, thus violating a precious principle of classical liberal politics, one that helped set off the American Revolution in fact, namely, that there must not be taxation without representation. Furthermore the policy includes the Draconian measure of legally requiring citizens to obtain health insurance, surely a measure that would render those who would enforce this far more powerful than those who would choose to abstain. Also, such egalitarian projects are based on the policy of massive wealth redistribution and on the conscription of people’s labor that’s needed to produce the wealth to be redistributed.

But these are just some insidious, unjust results, of the effort to seek substantial economic and social equality among citizens in a human community. The injustice stems from making use of individual human beings against their will, without their consent, and thus from unjustly imposing on them what amounts to involuntary servitude. In this work many more examples of such results will be discussed, along with various arguments and other considerations involved in the issue. It will go some way toward establishing that egalitarianism of the sort that underlies such efforts is badly misguided and, when implemented, it is out and out unjust.

What I will be insisting on defending is the idea that there is no justification for the belief that enforcing economic or any other type of substantive equality among members of human communities is a moral or political—and should be a legal—imperative. No basis exists for this view that, sadly, is widely held in our time.

According to Harvard University Nobel Laureate Amartya K. Sen, the debate over the importance of equality in social and political philosophy is over.

"We are all egalitarians now, because every plausibly defendable ethical theory of social arrangement tends to demand equality in some ‘space,’ requiring equal treatment of individuals in some significant respect—in terms of some variable that is important in that particular theory. The ‘space’ that is invoked does differ from theory to theory. For example, ‘libertarians’ are concerned with equal liberties; ‘economic egalitarians’ argue for equal incomes or wealth; utilitarians insist on equal weight on everyone’s utilities in a consequential maximand, and so on . . . What really distinguishes the different approaches is the variation in their respective answers to the question ‘equality of what?’"

Yet this observation by Sen is about political economy, a very fluid area of human life, so it doesn’t indicate what is most important to most people but what people engaged in discussing public affairs believe. Your neighbor and the watchmaker at the mall aren’t much interested in substantive (e.g., economic) equality. It is mostly when they turn their minds to public affairs such as voting, redistricting, jury duty, and government service that equality starts to matter to them.

More likely, what concerns a great many people is how to be decent and just in their lives not whether people are equal in even the minimal respect of protection for their rights. That may matter, in fact, but isn’t of much concern to most people.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Leak embarrassments

Tibor R. Machan

My newspaper carried the AP headline the other day, “U.S. cuts access to files after leak embarrassment,” and the body of the article reports that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks is now on a most wanted list in Europe.

I do not have the time or even the curiosity to figure out if the leaks contain anything that would be criminal to steal--such as genuine national or military secrets--but I am told they do not and I also recall that when Daniel Ellsberg sent similar materials to The New York Times many moons ago, which The Times then published, a great many people in the American media defended him despite the fact that those at the Pentagon who were responsible for the material were very upset with him and with The Times about revealing stuff to the world they would just as soon have kept secret. There was a big brouhaha about this back then and my recollection is that many people, especially on the political Left including liberals and critics of the administration, defended Ellsberg and The Times. “How dare anyone try to stop this good man from telling us what we all had a right to know?” was the mantra then.

Today, however, I hear nothing much other than, gasp, on Fox TV, in defense of Julian Assange despite the fact that most of what he has put out there for us to check if we’d like to is by all reports quite innocuous and, in any case, ought to be available for us to find out about in this new era of government transparency. Indeed, all the materials WikiLeaks revealed seem to be no more than simply embarrassing and probably have no business being secret. Transparency, I was made to understand when the Obama administration took office, would be the order of the day, not secrecy. Yet didn’t the president go on record condemning the WikiLeaks revelations? Curious.

I am not sure just what makes something an “important diplomatic message” but the number of individuals, the AP article reported, who are permitted to read them will soon be “significantly reduced.” Is this really right? Unless it is shown that people are put in harm’s way it seems to me nothing coming out of the government of a free country should be kept hidden. How can the citizenry judge the conduct and ideas of members of the administration, the president and his team and all those in Congress who support them, without having access to their work? Must I trust these folks just for the asking? Are people in governments all that trustworthy?

My strong impression is that free men and women must never trust those in government very much, given that such folks have immense power and unless they and their works are watched carefully they are likely to abuse it--to quote the famous English political theorist Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

So there is good reason to applaud WikiLeaks’ efforts to inform us about how the governments of the world go about their business. The excuse that such knowledge may be embarrassing seems to me quite irrelevant since governments simply ought not to engage in conduct that embarrasses them. It is no fault of a news reporter that the transparency that he or she achieves has that effect. If the citizens have the right to know, to avoid embarrassment requires acting decently in the course of doing government’s work. If other countries rely on secrecy to do business with the American government maybe it is high time this stops and they, too, confront the reality that the people they supposedly represent in diplomatic negotiations have the right to know.

Had WikiLeaks stolen a bunch of private information, say from banks or doctors’ offices and computers, the charge that it was acting criminally would be credible. But since the information it is letting everyone have bears on public affairs, I do not see that any breach of privacy is involved. Embarrassing just doesn’t matter here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Too politicized to fail!

Tibor R. Machan

It may now be assumed that the only people allowed to fail in the world are athletes and some gamblers. Businesses are not.

In Ireland, for instance, banks made bad loans and thus lost a lot of dough but no, they were not allowed to go under by the government and by its European pals. Why? Because economic failure is, well, not nice. People do not expect it and politicians couldn’t hide from the responsibility for it.

Now on top of it all this is all being blamed on Ireland’s flirtation with free market economics. The country’s government lifted some regulations so as to give support to a more vigorous financial market but when the results came in--namely, that some folks who undertook business ventures ended up losing money--well they were not allowed.

Those who blamed free market economics for this are clearly economic imbeciles. The free market is a place in which both winning and losing are possible and in either case the government must stay out of the game, just as in most sports the referees don’t bail out those who lose unless they are corrupt. If Ireland did in fact have a free market economy, however extensively or minimally controlled or regulated by the government, banks would not be bailed out but left to lose if that is how they ran their business or if luck didn’t favor them.

But once again something that is completely antithetical to the nature of a free society and market is said by foes of the these to be a part of them. And very few people who must know better jump up and protest this. On Judge Andrew Napolitano’s FOX Business News program, Freedom Watch, one member of his panel recently kept repeating the mantra about how the free market is responsible of Ireland’s woes. More regulations are needed, she kept saying, more government controls. Yet even if the free market is not, as it certainly isn’t, a perfect system of economic relationships, compared to governments across the globe and throughout history it is a marvel of virtue and efficiency!

Every government, as H. L. Mencken made it his business to constantly remind his readers, is corrupt. Why? Well, because every known one of them extorts its funds from people many of whom have not given their consent to have their resources confiscated by anyone. The consent of the governed--now there is a revolutionary idea! And it doesn’t mean the consent of most of the governed but all of those who are being governed. People aren’t ants or termites, so they must not be lumped together and dealt with as a collective. Whatever collective people may be part of they must join voluntarily not be conscripted to.

I don’t know why it is so important for so many commentators to pretend that when bad laws make bad economics possible it must have been the free market that did it. Why are those people so hostile to human freedom? Why do they insist that governments know best and their control of economic affairs is wise and virtuous? It is what Hayek called their fatal conceit, a flawed self-aggrandized vision of themselves as superior to all those they embark upon controlling.

Trouble is that for so much of human history there was not even any serious thought of an alternative to top down rule in societies. The little protest against such rule that had been voiced by a few was quickly squashed.

Just think how even in this supposedly free country public education is in charge of informing young people of the nature of politics! Surely this is virtually handing to the most biased and corrupt faction of society the ultimate responsibility of guiding the population into adult citizenship. Consider, also, that in no public finance studies is there any mention of privatizing the funding of the legal order! Never mind actually treating the idea respectfully but it isn’t even considered. There is more attention paid among public finance academics to the methods used under dictatorships and tyrannies--e.g., the much adored John Maynard Keynes did this--than those that would be under a fully free system! This is a most insidious feature of the governmental habit.

That, as far as I can assess, is the core corruption of the system, not a few judges taking bribes and politicians purchasing the support of some voters with the resources they have extorted from other members of the electorate! That’s peanuts compared to the massive indoctrination campaign perpetrated via the public education system, from kindergarten to grad school!!

Banks and companies that cannot cope with the market ought never be bailed out, certainly not by governments. The idea undermines the principles of a free country, the notion of equality under the law. Those who back such an idea are foes of human liberty, certainly not friends of it.

It is time that the population of countries in which such ruses are carried out get wind of what is happening and do something serious and lasting about it.