Saturday, December 11, 2010

Disgusting Rich Bashing

Tibor R. Machan

There are many welcome developments in America in our time, mainly in the media. Certainly Judge Andrew Napolitano’s and John Stossel’s Fox Business Network TV programs are quite unprecedented in their principled libertarian commentaries. The way Reason Magazine’s staff is all over the place on line, in print, and on television is gratifying (especially to someone like me who was one of those who were instrumental in making the magazine a regular monthly publication in 1970). There are numerous wonderful blogs where the Left and Right have met their serious critics, such as GMU’s economists’ Cafe Hayek.

Nonetheless the vehemence with which the likes of Nancy Pelosi and a bunch of her fellow Democrats in Congress voice the nastiest line of class warfare rhetoric--so much so that even President Obama can at times sound like a moderate man of the Center--is also quite unprecedented, at least in my memory. (Of course, there have been periods in American political history when these kinds of populist and near-communist sentiments flourished but I wasn’t around then to be upset by them. And in some eras we can find critics of statism, such as H. L. Mencken, every bit as emphatic and entertaining as, say, P. J. O’Rourke is today.)

Still, for my taste the current crowd takes the cake. The unabashed demagoguery forthcoming from the likes of Pelosi, Bernie Sanders and their cheerleaders of envy in the media and academy is for me very difficult to stomach. As is the way many in the media cover their blather as if it was just a tad different in content from, say, that of Bill Clinton’s when in fact it is out and out advocacy of tyrannical socialism.

Why is this so upsetting now? Because these people carry on as if there had never been a Soviet Union and the catastrophic meltdown of its type of statist economics, one that embraced to the fullest the sort of government interventionism that our current enthusiastic rich-bashers advocate. Before this, some modicum of excuse may have been possible for buying into the zero-sum type thinking that generates hatred for the rich (although even there anyone familiar with the works of von Mises, et al., could tell that what the Soviets were attempting hadn’t a ghost of a chance succeeding). Prior to the world-wide spectacle of socialism’s fatal failure in the Soviet bloc most people might be forgiven for confusing the wealth-creation under a substantially capitalist, free market economic arena with how wealth had been obtained for centuries on end, namely via military conquest, pillaging, murder, and other forms of brutal human-on-human violence.

But that was when the memory of how riches had been garnered for too many people who had them was all tainted with the primitivism of mercantilist economics and worse. That was mostly after the likes of Adam Smith pointed out that trade was a superior approach to wealth creation to what had been routine in the ancient and even later times, namely, coercive force. This lesson may understandably have taken a bit of time to sink in but once the Soviet debacle occurred, there could be no excuse for thinking that when people are wealthy--yes, indeed, very, very wealthy--this came about because they robbed others. No sane person could think now that the likes of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg make their riches by depriving millions of others of theirs. (This despite the fact that neither of these beneficiaries of capitalism speaks up about the matter often enough!)

So there is no excuse for rich-bashing, none. And I don’t even believe, as some good friends of mine do, that this is all about envy since the nastiest rich-bashing comes from people who are by no stretch of the imagination poor. The best explanation to my way of thinking is that these people are demagogues, trying to cash in on the gullibility of many Americans who are hurting and in desperation and ignorance--they are busy with their ordinary lives--engage in scapegoating instead of seeking clear understanding about economics and, in particular, the current financial fiasco.

Why would they resort to this? Because they have indeed run out of sound arguments for acting like the petty tyrants they are and now can only depend for gaining and keeping power on playing to the worst tendencies of human social thinking, the tendency of too many of us to blame someone, anyone, for what the very people have perpetrated whom they have sent to Washington to do good! Under such circumstances it will probably take many more sensible and articulate media folks like Napolitano and Stossel to counter this hysteria about the rich, giving way to a civilized attitude of live and let live among people occupying the great variety of economic positions one can reasonably expect in a free society.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Law & Our Democracy

Tibor R. Machan

One clear thing about the WikiLeaks affair is that outfits like The New York Times are showing their hypocrisy by failing to vigorously defend WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange’s actions. Wasn’t it The Times that published Daniel Ellsberg’s stolen Pentagon Papers and insisted that this was a valid exercise of its First Amendment Rights and that Ellsberg was a hero? And sure, there is a distinction between taking the papers and publishing them but it seems to me rather cowardly to hide behind that.

But the more serious and general issues is whether laws enacted in a kind of corrupted democracy such as the United States of America are actually morally binding on the citizenry. A good clue comes from the U. S. Supreme Court: “The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the Courts. One's right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” [U. S. Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)]

Sadly, this purposes has since been completely abandoned by that same court, most recently when it basically abolished the Fifth Amendment’s protection of the right to private property in the July 2005 ruling in City of New London, CT v. Kelo. Once democracy has become so bloated in its reach that no principles are safe from the mob, why exactly should citizens follow so called laws made democratically? They aren’t really laws by then but merely rules laid down by those who have nearly unlimited power.

When as a 14 year old I lived in Budapest under the rule of the “democratic republic” of Hungary--which was but a ruse disguising sheer Soviet style power--my family repeatedly violated “the law,” which is to say we defied the rules the communist--in fact, fascist--regime tried to impose on us all. We hid fugitives from Hungarian prisons and helped them escape to the West. We smuggled merchandise into Hungary with the help of athletes who were permitted to travel abroad (so as to show off how great communist athletes are). And most importantly I myself joined a group of adults who chose to violate the “law” that made it criminal to leave the country for nearly anyone not part of or favored by the ruling elite.

We made it across the border, after an arduous trip from the capitol to the Western border where border guards had been paid off by American agents so they wouldn’t stand too firmly in the way of those trying to escape. All of this was “illegal.” And no one in our group had the slightest compunction about our “illegal” conduct but felt enormous relief and even pride upon completing our journey. So, yes, we violated so called laws which weren’t anything more than the rules of a tyrannical regime. And throughout human history and around the globe back then and even now, thousands are routinely engaged in this kind of illegal conduct. And they darned well have every basic right to do so and those championing obedience of the law in these kinds of cases are full of it.

But, you say, America is a democracy and its laws are indeed binding on all of its citizens. No, that is wrong, since this democracy is now way out of control; it has repeatedly overstepped the limitations of a valid constitution. America is now a vastly illiberal democracy, one in which the majority and those allegedly representing it are perpetrating innumerable tyrannical measures, imposing rules that have no business being part of a free country. Just consider the policies vis-a-vis the consumption of “illicit” drugs!

How dare these people impose their idea of “illicit” on anyone else? Who are they, anyway? And what about the innumerable petty tyrannies of government regulations--issuing completely unjustly from federal, state, county, to municipal rulers? All these are forms of prior restraint, imposing penalties, at times jail sentences, on people who have no committed any violations of any rights but merely are deemed by bureaucrats and their bosses, politicians, capable of doing so! How is that for justice--penalizing people because they might become criminals? That policy would have us all in prison.

No, I am not impressed at all by the claim that people are violating “the law” when that law happens to be grossly unjust, enacted in violation of the basic law of the land. Obedience, compliance, is only warranted because it will serve to avoid prosecution and incarceration.

No one is obliged to be suicidal in his or her comportment toward a government that is either out and out totalitarian or only a democratic, mostly petty, tyranny. With governments like that citizens are only obliged to be prudent and crafty, except when it comes to valid provisions of the criminal law.