Saturday, December 31, 2011

So what’s Wrong with That?

Tibor R. Machan

So there is now concern by some so called journalists that “in his 1987 manifesto ‘Freedom Under Siege: The U.S. Constitution after 200-Plus Years,’ Presidential hopeful Ron Paul wrote that AIDS patients were victims of their own lifestyle, questioned the rights of minorities and argued that people who are sexually harassed at work should quit their jobs.” Of these only the last could be objected to on rational grounds and only if the harassment involved coercion. Thus if some colleague happened to place an objectionable picture on his office wall, a picture that others do not have to look at and can easily avoid, that would be a matter of office privacy unless the firm had a policy against it. There is no universal right to be free of annoying colleagues.

Arguably, though probably not in all cases, AIDS patients did invite their illness through risky activities they choose to engage in. At most Paul was exaggerating: some AIDS patients become infected from blood transfusions for which a hospital or medical office, not the patients, in responsible. In most instances it is probably true that AIDS patients are more like those who experience motorcycle or mountain climbing mishaps; they took on risks that landed them in medical trouble, something we all do now and then as we move through a risk infested life.

As to “the rights of minorities,” Paul is entirely correct. Minorities as a group have no rights. No group has rights, only individuals do. Members of minorities do, of course, have rights and when these are violated, it is the function of the government of a free society to secure them, just as the Declaration of Independence makes clear. Arguably no one has the right to have government mandate affirmative action in his or her behalf. Such a policy needs to be achieved by way of employment contracts, not legislation. More to the point, the whole matter of such mandates is open to serious dispute and should be perfectly acceptable as a subject of political debate.

These complaints against Ron Paul demonstrate a total failure to understand what democratic politics is about, namely, debating public policy. No such policy is sacrosanct apart from the commitment to the philosophy of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights and to constant debate. Just as many liberal democrats disagree with the War on Drugs and free trade measures and are willing to challenge these in public discussions, so libertarians have their list of public policies they want to challenge and change.

Reporters who express shock with Ron Paul’s positions should realize that in a democracy innumerable matters are up for debate, including the right to an abortion, to assisted suicide, minimum wage laws, undeclared wars in Libya or elsewhere. Ron Paul, just as any other candidate, may be open to criticism for the side he takes on any of these issues but it is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of political debate to consider simply holding views with which others disagree as something objectionable. What do these people want, anyway? Do they expect that elections will be about what spices should one use when baking a turkey or colors to decorate one’s garden?

The pretended outrage with Paul’s positions of several decade ago also fails to allow for any nuance in his libertarian stance, or indeed for some change in his political views. Why is this objectionable about Paul but not about Romney or Gingrich? It shouldn’t be about anyone who has a long time ago professed to hold views that he or she no longer considers sound. It is especially hypocritical to object when so many journalists are rank radical pragmatists, like Paul Krugman and President Obama, people who proudly reject principled thinking about anything.

Moreover, when journalists get into the fray and start championing the views of some of the candidates they cover, there is no longer any integrity to what they are doing; indeed, their journalism is seriously corrupted. This is why so many in America have a negative attitude toward the media--to many of these folks put themselves up high as if someone appointed judges and juries of public debate. They should, instead, keep their political opinions to themselves as they carry out their work, just as doctors, teachers, and others should.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sobbing for Dictators!

Tibor R. Machan

As the BBC reported, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was provided with mass marches throughout the country in mourning of his recent death. As the thousands were shown on TV, they did what is routine on such occasions in countries with absolute rulers. The people gyrate and undulate and holler, supposedly expressing their earnest grief, although it is remarkable that no tears were in evidence from any participants.

These sort of mass exhibitions are not confined to mourning. They also occur during what are supposed to be celebrations of anniversaries, holidays, etc. Because North Korean officials forbid any visits from foreign journalists, it is difficult to get reliable information from the country, including about these mass events. When television footage is shown outside the country, reporters only have the pictures produced by the lackeys of the regime inside.

One way to obtain reasonably accurate news of what is happening is to consult with refugees who have taken part in these kinds of demonstrations in the past. Since, however, such refugees are mostly highly critical of the regime and the rulers, it can be claimed that they will be biased and that they have a stake in giving false reports.

I was personally part of such demonstration during the era of Joseph Stalin, when he cam to visit Budapest in the early 1950s. Thousands of young people were take out of school and ordered to join the mass demonstrations that Hungary’s puppet government was required to organize for the Soviet dictator. We were ordered to get into our Young Pioneer uniforms -- white shirt with red scarves -- and gather at Budapest’s Hero's Plaza and shout at the top of our voices “Our Dear Father Stalin” for as long as the parade lasted (except when a speech was given). And at the end we were all counted up so the officials could divide those of us who attended from those who were absent since the latter would be penalized, mainly by docking their grades in school. What happened to adults I do not know although we heard that they were often physically beaten for missing such demonstrations.

The inference that all of this was a charade is impossible to avoid. No kid I knew wanted to be there for most of a weekend’s day; very few I was aware of wanted to exhibit joy at Stalin’s presence in the country. It was all done out of fear except perhaps by a very small percentage of dedicated communists. (And by the way, the political system of communism was itself betrayed at these events and throughout the history of these Soviet puppet regimes since such a system would not have a dictator but would be a massive commune! That’s true for North Korea, Cuba and any other such society.)

The dishonesty surrounding all of this is well illustrated by the terms being applied to the rulers, such as “Supreme Leader” and “Our Dear Father,” let alone by the utterly artificial expression of emotions, good or bad. There are -- and have always been -- quite a few societies in which the population is coerced into various gestures shown at mass demonstrations, for example for the rulers and the regime or against foreign critics. It is something of a mystery to me how so many people can be induced to take part in these dishonest mass gestures and, indeed, in decades of compliance with the ruler’s orders. For us the biggest incentive was that in our midst there were always people who were lurking about taking down information about those of us who showed any sort of reluctance or rebellion so they could gain favor by making their reports. Since these regimes do not only punish the non-compliant or rebellious but also members of their extended families and friends, the show of resistance wouldn’t only have bad consequences for the perpetrators but many others and hardly anyone wanted to be the cause of such grief and gross injustice.

Making friends with people who rule these countries, as some suggest, is out of the question for anyone with even an ounce of decency. If one must deal with them, as diplomats often do, they have to be treated with utter formality so that no propaganda gains could be gotten for them from such associations.

Indeed, it seems to me that one line of education for diplomats who are required to deal with these dastards would be to learn just how most effectively refuse to show any kind of sanction of the ruler and their regimes while not encouraging the brutalization of their population.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The BBC’s Sorry Journalism

Tibor R. Machan

The BBC recently published the following in a report about the Republican primary contest in Iowa: “Correspondents say a Ron Paul victory in Iowa would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party as many of his views are seen as too libertarian and isolationist. Mr. Paul would order a $1 trillion (£641bn) spending cut, eliminating a number of government agencies, including the Department of Education. He also proposes returning the dollar to a gold standard and cutting all foreign aid, including to Israel....”

“At a recent campaign stop in Iowa a breast cancer survivor began crying after he told her insurance companies should not have to cover those who are already sick, Reuters news agency reports….”

This passage is worth some attention if only because those of us who have sympathies toward Representative Paul’s libertarian politics should not duck out when opponents target him for criticism, be it fair or not. Let me start with the last bit, the treatment of a crying breast cancer survivor as a kind of “gotcha” device versus Paul. (And incidentally, who are those correspondents who say that Paul’s “victory would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party”? Let’s have some names her, some attributions, by BBC!)

Now we all have hopes and wishes that people will be helpful to and supportive of us, especially when we suffer from maladies or hazardous conditions we had no role in bringing about. Casualties of acts of nature do often deserve our sympathy and even help, unless they have been negligent in taking precautionary measures, such as saving up for health insurance. Even in cases when one has been negligent, often others overlook this and tend to be considerate beyond the call of duty, as it were.

Representative Paul and other libertarians are often first in line with offering private support to such people. The citizens of the US are often first in lending a hand to those who have been hit with natural disasters, like a tsunami or earthquake, and the essence of generosity is precisely that, offering private support and aid to those in need.

What Paul and libertarians in general object to is the coerced support given to those in need by governments are expropriate resources from the citizenry, take a sizable chunk of it for administrative expenses, and distribute the funds according to the lights of the politicians and bureaucrats. This kind of forcible distribution of others’ money is what libertarians are against as a matter of principle and Ron Paul is no exception. This does not at all make him or libertarians callous, heartless, cruel or anything of the kind, however much many claim this about them, ones to whom it seems to come very naturally to confiscate other people’s resources and do with it as they think they should. (I explain this in some detail in my book, Generosity, Virtue in Civil Society [1998].)

As to the cuts supported by Ron Paul, I would urge those who are going to give the matter some thought to consider, once again, that these cuts are an effort to eliminate or at least reduce the forcible taking by some people of the resources that belong to others and to which they have no right whatever. All charitable, helpful acts must be voluntary otherwise they have no moral merit whatsoever. Yes, there are some spurious arguments claiming that out good behavior may, indeed must, be imposed upon us by wiser and more virtuous people than we are but it is just a ruse. No one can make other people moral except by example!

This also applied to foreign aid, be it to Israel or Mongolia. People abroad aren’t entitled to the property of Americans or anyone else who has not voluntarily given it to them. Israel is no exception!

Unfortunately this line of thinking is rarely if every presented to readers in an accurate way so they could consider it without bias. Instead journalists have a dogmatic commitment to the coercion involved in government support for the needy, failing to even mention that kind of thinking summarized above and making it appear that those who do share it are monsters.

Lost of people also mistakenly identify the coercive taking of people resources with Robin Hoodism but in fact Robin Hood took back from the tax takers what they forcibly took for the those whom they victimized. The proper approach to seeing people in need is to mount a serious, voluntary effort to secure support for them, starting with one’s own, not to advocate taking from them what belongs to them and what only they have the rightful authority to give away.

Now in a messy world it is very difficult to be principled and trying to be usually brings on the charge of being an ideologue, a blind adherent to simplistic ideas. But in fact it shows integrity, nothing less! And it is time that politicians show some of it because without integrity the game is up anyway--trust, honesty, responsibility and all such virtue go out the window, never mind simple, honest generosity.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Machan’s Archives: Libertarianism and Americanism

Tibor R. Machan

Given that in the main the American political system is still the closest to protecting varieties of individual liberty—regarding speech, commerce, religion, due process, etc.—most of those who peddle political ideas want to hitch their wagon to the ideas of the American Founders. Socialists, conservatives, populists, agrarians and even communists have laid claim to being the proper carriers of the American political flag. Libertarians, of course, are no different. They hold that it is their political philosophy that most fully realizes the vision first put into practice by the American Founders and Framers. And with their current role in America's political life, it would be useful to see if they or the others are right.

Why would a socialist think the same thing? Or a conservative or populist, let alone a communist?

Socialists tend to believe that the American Founders advocated egalitarianism, first and foremost. They focus on the paramount idea in that document that “all men are created equal.” Conservatives, in turn, consider their position to be validated by the Founders and Framers in light of how they derived their political theory from a study of history and the thoughts of numerous influential political philosophers and theorists. This confirms the conservative notion that to do nation building properly, one must consult tradition, history and custom, not concoct ideas and ideals de novo. Populists, of course, focus on the democratic elements of the American political tradition, those that relate to how every citizen has a right to influence public policy. Never mind the limits imposed by, say, the Bill of Rights. What counts is mass participation, the “will of the people.” Agrarians will insist that Jefferson & Co., were mostly promoting the special interest of the landed gentry. And communists will argue that the American system is simply a historical precursor to the ideal community in which a nation becomes a family of equals.

Libertarians, however, point out that the Founders had a more realistic but also optimistic view of human community life than these other advocates do. They hold that listing the basic unalienable rights of every human being serves as a clear reminder of the radical insight that no one has the proper authority to impose his or her agenda upon others however much these others may mismanage their lives, even threaten some desirable features of culture. The political task is to secure the basic rights of all citizens. Everything else must be achieved without resort to the main instrument of public policy, namely, coercive force. As the libertarian insists, initiating force against others even for purposes that are quite admirable just cannot be reconciled with a proper standard of justice. That standard, which is actually the first ingredient of civilized life, is to interact with one’s fellows voluntarily, even as one disagrees with them, even if they are recalcitrant, even if they act indecently themselves but they remain peaceful, respect for of the rights of others.

The idea that reference to all human beings being equal should usher in socialism is countered by the recognition that the equality referred to in the Declaration is about the equal possession of the unalienable rights all of us have, not about health, welfare, good looks, and other admittedly valued matters. And only libertarianism acknowledges this strict limitation of the Founders’ and Framers’ “egalitarianism.”

Some features of the original American political ideas and ideals are clearly improved upon in libertarianism; abolition of any form of involuntary servitude, for example, including taxation, the military draft, the war on drugs or alcohol and other types of compulsion citizens are supposed to be subjected to just as may be subjects of a monarchy. As the libertarian sees it, some of these elements of the original American system are the unfortunate reactionary residue from prerevolutionary times and not consistent with the fundamental principles laid out in the Declaration, especially the idea of everyone’s unalienable individual rights.

So, I submit, libertarians are indeed the faithful students of the American political tradition, one’s who learned well from their elders and went on to improve on what they have so learned.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Property Rights and the Free Press

Tibor R. Machan

Not as if the point hasn’t been made often by now, but repeating it may be of some benefit: without a firm protection of the right to private property, the rights to freedom of speech, press, religious worship, etc., are under constant threat.

The most recent demonstration of this is happening in Argentina, although Venezuela has served as a recent case in point also. As reported by the BBC, “Argentina's government wins control of newsprint supplies, amid a long-running feud between the president and a major media group...” It appears that the legislature caved in to pressure from the president of Argentina and basically nationalized all the supplied that are needed to run an independent press. As the BBC put it, “The legislation, which passed in the lower house last week, says the production, sale and distribution of newsprint is of national interest.”

Of course, even if true, nothing follows about how the government ought to wrest control of the “production, sale and distribution of newsprint.” If anything, if it is true and “the production, sale and distribution of newsprint” is in the national interest--allowing that this means that it is generally an important part of the society--it is least secure when government takes control of these matters. The same principle holds for education--its importance by no stretch of the imagination justifies placing it under government jurisdiction.

What too many folks do not grasp is that governments are agencies run by some members of a society and it is most unwise to put these members in control of nearly anything, let alone the dissemination of knowledge and information. If there is a solid enough constitution in place, firmly upheld, perhaps the protection of individual rights might be placed in the hands of the government, provided the government can be kept impartial as it adjudicates disputes, protects rights, etc. But that itself is called into serious question by examples such as the Argentinian case, where instead of protecting property rights, and thus the right to freedom of the press, government is the main violator of them.

Ironically, it is those on the political Left who are most hostile to private property rights. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels made this clear in The Communist Manifesto where they declared that the very first task of socialists is to abolish private property rights. Yet it is just such cantankerous folks as communists who most need the protection of their private property rights, otherwise their many opponents will have no trouble invading their spheres from which they are mounting their challenge to the status quo. (This itself suggests quite strongly that the Left’s political viewpoint is quite confused!)

All this also calls to mind how fiercely some of the Left’s most prominent platforms decry the claim that America is in any way exceptional. Yet it really is, as exemplified in the now sadly fading American tradition of serious respect and legal protection of the right to private property.

In its eagerness to undermine free market capitalism, the Left is willing to sacrifice its major bulwark against those who would oppress it. But it just will not work--without the protection of private property rights, there is no freedom of the press and no effective political freedom either, the freedom needed to institute change in society’s political institutions which the Left is so hell bent on doing.

Of course, much of this is relatively novel in the annals of politics across human history and the globe. The more usual state of affairs is that which we now see in Argentina and many other countries where dissent is eagerly being suppressed by the thugs who rule. Perhaps in time the vitality of the right to private property for all kinds of human endeavors--economic, educational, religious, scientific, journalistic, etc., etc.--will be widely recognized. But as with freedom on all fronts, that requires eternal vigilance.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ideological Thinking Revisited

Tibor R. Machan

Following the December 15th Republican “debate,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote once again about the evils of ideological thinking.

Krugman began piece by criticizing Mitt Romney for his repeated vacillations about which public policies he supports, which he opposes, a problem Romney has been plagued by most of his political life. But Krugman didn’t do what follows form this, namely, praise Romney for being a pragmatist, for his agility and flexibility. No, he decried the former Massachusetts's Governor’s various views. And then he moved on to a more familiar target, one he has been shooting at every chance he gets. This is Representative Ron Paul’s integrity and consistency. Calling it ideological thinking, Krugman considers this a far great failing than anything he could find with Romney.

As Krugman summarizes all this, “In a way, that makes sense. Romney isn't trusted because he's seen as someone who cynically takes whatever positions he thinks will advance his career - a charge that sticks because it's true. Paul, by contrast, has been highly consistent. I bet you won't find video clips from a few years back in which he says the opposite of what he's saying now. Unfortunately, Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology's wrongness.”

Ignore, please, for the moment that Krugman is every bit as ideological as would be anyone who tries to make sense of political economy, just one field of study that tries to learn generalities from the past so as to prepare for the future. The way this is done is by the identification of certain principles and then implementing them with the expectation that bad results will be avoided and good ones fostered. There really is no practical field, such as farming, medicine, engineering, child raising, and so forth, that can carry forth without this approach. Call it theoretical or ideological thought, no one who even dabbles in them can avoid them.

Ron Paul’s theoretical guidance comes from a certain school of free market economics, laid out by the likes of Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. (Other free market schools are those of Milton Friedman--the Chicago School--and those of James Buchanan--the Virginia School.) Massive volumes lay out these positions, in more or less technical ways, as they do the positions of Paul Krugman and his idol, John Maynard Keynes. It is routine in the social sciences for up and coming scholars and researchers to hitch their wagon to some earlier leader in their field. Just check out sociology or anthropology--they all follow this pattern. Krugman is no exception--he has hitched his wagon to Keynes and follows Keynes’ pragmatic, erratic economic thought. It happens to accommodate his hostility to principles. It doesn’t demand any integrity in one’s thinking; only expediency counts.

Because we are talking here about how political economy should be approached, or if you will macroeconomic theory, the impact of unprincipled thinking is quite remote. It is difficult to tell which results of such a mishmash political-economic thinking come from which ideas--as I have argued before, it is like getting food poisoning or, alternatively, health benefits from a smorgasbord meal which contains many diverse ingredients. But if you consider some areas of concern that are more immediately relevant to one’s life, the unprincipled approach shows its damage right away.

For example, it is generally understood that people with certain medical maladies should stick to a certain diet--think of diabetics. In engineering, medicine, nutrition, farming and the rest the practitioners learn their general principles and implement them in the course of their practice. Or consider morality; it is pretty much the case that lying and cheating ought to be avoided. Eve more drastically, deploying coercion in sexual relations is not just immoral but outright criminal. Everyone must, therefore, practice consensual sex so that rape, for example, is never acceptable. That is the principle of the thing, no exception.

Yet by Krugman’s lights to prohibit rape in all cases, as a matter of one’s ideology, is a serious flaw in one’s character, just as sticking to free market economic analysis is supposed to be in Ron Paul’s thought. As Krugman says, “Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology's wrongness,” but the only case he offers to illustrate the alleged wrongness is that Paul and his allies have warned about inflation for years and yet we are not seeing inflation break out all over. (Of course, there are those, rather more subtle economists, who see it break out in numerous hidden way--like postponing the destruction of the value of money for a while, kicking the can down the road to confront the mess later, e.g., by our grand children.) In other words, inflation can be prevented in various clever ways but not without eventual dire consequences. So here, too, Krugman is off.

What Paul insists on is consistency in one’s economic theorizing, something that every bona fide science insists upon. Pseudo-sciences like astrology and tarot reading don’t, with the result that they accomplish nothing useful at all. Most of Krugman’s ad hoc economics is like that--fancy footwork without any useful wisdom in its wake.

The ideology that Krugman follows despite denying it--just as many pragmatists deny that they firmly stick to some ideas--is the economic philosophy of coercion, of the state’s regimenting economic agents at nearly every turn. At no time will coercion as such be frowned upon by Krugman--it would be ideological to do so, in his view.

But the issue isn’t whether ideology is admissible but which ideology is sound, which bogus.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fetal Rights: Implication of a Supposed Ought
[from Liberty Magazine, July 1989, pp. 51-52]

Tibor R. Machan

When back in 1973 I edited The Libertarian Alternative (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1973), the libertarian political outlook wasn’t well known and “libertarian” certainly was no household word as it is today, what with prominent media figures identifying their own position by that term. Several presidential hopefuls have stopped being coy and now openly describe their own politics as libertarian--e.g., Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox Business News’ daily “FreedomWatch” program, as well as John Stossel of that same outlet’s weekly “Stossel” program make no bones about their championing libertarianism.

Now all of this is very welcome to those who hold that the fully free, libertarian polity is superior to all other live options advocated by political thinkers. There is, however, one small fly in the ointment. Among those I mentioned above several are "pro-life," so called, in the debate about whether one of the liberties citizens have a right to is obtaining abortions. Ron Paul and Andrew Napolitano are both of this school, holding that abortion is the killing of a human being. One may assume that they would both accord full legal protection to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses, seeing that as they see it, these all have the right to life just as any other human being does. Maybe they would qualify this just a bit by noting that the homicide involved would be akin to infanticide, not the killing of an adult. But just as infanticide is one variety of homicide, so could abortion be.

Several decades ago, when libertarianism was not yet discussed on news programs I aired some concerns with the position held by Representative Paul and Judge Napolitano on the abortion topic. It sparked some response from some who embraced the position--e.g., certain prominent members of the organization Libertarians for Life--but it certainly cause little stir even among the participants of the then budding libertarian movement. At this time, however, it may be worth revisiting the issue and seeing how it might be dealt with by those who embrace the Paul/Napolitano viewpoint. For this reason I want to once again publish the piece in which I aired my concerns, this time on line. (The original article was published in Liberty Magazine and a response was penned by Edwin Viaira, “Fetal Rights: Enforceable in Principle” at Libertarians for Life [1996]. Although Vieira stated in that essay that the argument I advanced is “one frequently used,” he cited no other literature in which it is presented. I myself know of none.)

So then here is the essay as originally published in Liberty Magazine:

Among the many issues considered in connection with the abortion controversy, there is one that has, unfortunately, received little attention. To wit, if the “pro-life” position is roughly right—that is, if human conception entails a serious right to life for the conceptus—then certain radical legal consequences follow. If zygotes, embryos, and fetuses have a right to life comparable to infants and adults, then miscarriages or spontaneous abortions must become subjects of extensive and constant police scrutiny.

Every state has some public policy regarding police investigation of unexplained deaths and homicides. (See Wayne R. LaFave & Gerold H. Israel, Criminal Procedure [St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1985], Chapter 1.) The authorities must determine that there are no reasonable grounds for suspecting murder or some other variety of illegal killing. In addition, if a fetus or zygote has a right to life, it follows that any activity on the part of the pregnant woman (or even a companion or stranger) that might result in a miscarriage (say, arising from some sport or a minor traffic mishap) could constitute negligent homicide. (See Criminal Law 21 Am Jur 2nd Par. 132; Model Penal Code Article 210, Section 210.1 & 210.4 Criminal and negligent homicide [1962]; Commonweath v. Nelansky, 55 N.E. 2nd 902 [MA. 1944].

In the death of an adult or even a child, the public accessibility of the deceased makes it relatively easy to determine whether foul play can reasonably be assumed. Innumerable forensic methods and devices exist for this purpose. Simply checking the body will usually provide investigators with sufficient information to determine whether there are grounds for suspecting a crime. Often, there are members of the public well-acquainted with the deceased, and these friends, family and neighbors can testify to suspicious circumstances, history, and the like. The same situation, however, does not apply in the case of deceased zygotes.

Whatever it is that is created at conception—whether it is something that is human or something that is only potentially human—it is often not known to exist until long after conception. Women do not know that they are pregnant immediately after they have conceived. The plain fact is that “unborn children” are hidden for several weeks from the kind of public exposure that even babies enjoy. In advanced civilizations, many of these unborn are monitored by physicians, but this usually occurs only after they have lived and been vulnerable to mistreatment for several weeks. This alone seems to violate the “ought implies can” provision of ethics, which states that if someone is required to act in a particular way, it must be possible for that person to carry out the responsibility. The veil of ignorance that surrounds the early stages of pregnancy causes many problems unforeseen by the advocates of fetal rights.

Even if immediate knowledge of conception were possible for a pregnant woman, the situation would be the same. What is required is public knowledge, as well as private knowledge. It is the rights-protecting authorities who must be able to know of the existence of the embryo, zygote or fetus in order to protect their rights. This requirement is not easy to meet.

Of course, one could imagine the following: At the moment of any possible conception—that is, whenever heterosexual intercourse takes place between fertile parties—an extensive machinery of examination, registration and supervision of possible pregnancies could be generated. Every woman would have the constant duty to check whether she is pregnant. If the answer is in the affirmative, the woman would immediately have to register the conception of the new human being. She would then have to submit to constant inspection and supervision, so as not to permit the possibility of a neglectful miscarriage—for example, from sports, recreation, work, or play, or any of a number of other activities.

This kind of “solution,” however, conflicts with the existence of the rights of persons to not have their lives unreasonably scrutinized by authorities—or, as the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution puts it, “against unreasonable searches.” The threat to the rights of possible parents would be enormous—indeed, to do their duty, governments must violate human rights on numerous fronts. A veritable police state would have to be established so as to uphold ordinary justice.

This extraordinary extension of state power can also be considered a violation of the “ought implies can” provision, although in a somewhat complicated sense. Ought implies can not only in a physical sense, but also in a moral sense: a moral obligation must not require immoral acts. Rights must be compossible—the human right of a fetus cannot contradict the equally basic human right of anyone else (although some prima facia rights theories allow for the ranking of human rights). Accordingly, even if all pregnancies could be detected immediately upon conception, the institutional arrangements required for this would involve extensive rights violations and, thus, make discovery of negligence and other criminal conduct during pregnancy morally impossible.

A legal policy consistent with the idea that the human being is formed at conception could not be carried out in a society that respects the sovereignty of all of its citizens, including pregnant women. If a law is unenforceable in principle, it is inoperative. This, in turn, suggests that the “pro-life” position implies a set of legal consequences that are impossible in the very society that supposedly recognizes the rights of its citizens in all cases other than the unborn. If we add to these considerations the possibility that some alternative theory of when a human being comes into existence makes better sense and does not imply a widespread official violation of individual rights, then the case against the “pro-life” position seems very strong indeed. Before it could even be considered sound, it would have to be shown that the widespread intrusion into the lives of persons as discussed here is not implied by the “pro-life” doctrine.

The normal respect for and protection of individual rights cannot be extended to the being that is created by conception—not, at least, without an absurd invasion of the rights of adult human individuals.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Capitalism & Socialism Rightly Understood

Tibor R. Machan

In a recent Op Ed for The New York Times, Professor Gar Arperovitz of the University of Maryland, who teaches political economy there, has written that “something different [from what OWS wants] has been quietly brewing in recent decades: more and more Americans are involved in co-ops, worker-owned companies and other alternatives to the traditional capitalist model. We may, in fact, be moving toward a hybrid system, something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism, without anyone even noticing.”

Well, this comment shows, among other things, a profound misunderstanding of both capitalism and socialism. In the formers system there is no prohibition of pockets of communitarian associations, kibbutzes, communes, cooperatives, and so forth. This is a point made emphatically by one of the 20th century’s foremost philosophical defenders of capitalism--or, as he put it, “capitalist acts between consenting adults”--the late professor Robert Nozick, in his famous book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Basic Books 1973).

Nozick pointed out that in the libertarian system he presented in his book there is every chance to experiment with a great variety of human associations--he called the “utopias”--provided these do not sanction the coercion of some people by others. And since the kind of associations that “worker owned companies” are need by no stretch of the imagination involve any kind of coercion, they are entirely compatible with capitalism wherein the major element is freedom of association, not the pursuit of any particular goal (including profit).

It is odd that Professor Alperovitz would not be up front about this. Is he perhaps intent on misrepresenting the nature of a capitalist political economy, making it appear to be something it isn’t, namely, limited to promoting only certain types of human associations such as business firms? What about the thousands of churches in the semi-capitalist system of America which are on record promoting various spiritual goals? What about the Amish, the Moonies, the Roman Catholics, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and many others, including clubs, fraternal organizations, and so forth, that have nothing to do with seeking the ends that most business enterprises seek? All these are fully compatible with the basic principles of capitalism but not so much with socialism. None of these are permitted in countries like North Korea or Cuba, let alone in the former Soviet Union which attempted to implement socialism, namely, the state ownership of the major means of production and the total abolition of the right to private property, a right that indeed facilitates the variety of ways people may freely associate with one another.

Professor Alperovitz is a teacher of political economy so he must certainly know about the point Nozick made and about how a near-capitalist society such as the United States of America and many other Western countries are hospitable to, indeed promote, the great variety of communal associations he misleadingly identifies as socialist? Why would he do this?

If Professor Alperovitz wants to defend socialism or some hybrid of true capitalism and true socialism--whatever that might be--he should do this up front. He should acknowledge that socialism involves state coercion, especially on the economic front, and capitalism doesn’t. The various non-economic human associations he misidentifies as socialist do not involve coercion, which makes them fit within a capitalist but not within a socialist political economy.

But I guess Professor Alperovitz isn’t really willing to put his money where his mouth is, to come out four square for a genuine socialist/capitalist hybrid. He is, instead, defending something no bona fide capitalist or libertarian--e.g., Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray N. Rothbard, Ron Paul et al.--opposes. Every one of these champions of capitalism accepts that in a genuine free country there can be innumerable human groupings and these include worker owned firms and farms.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Are Societies Owned?

Tibor R. Machan

Libertarians tend to view taxation as unjustified. It is something associated with statism, a kind of coercive institution that expropriates resources from members of society rather than securing the resources voluntarily. Statists, however, criticize the libertarian view, claiming that in a way taxation is voluntary, only apparently not so. Such defenders of statism as Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, in their book The Myth of Ownership,[1] have made this case and they have done so along lines worth some attention here.

Assume you wish to sell antiques, so you rent space in a building owned by someone and agree that whenever you make a sale, some of what you fetch goes to the owner. Craig Duncan claims this is analogous to the nature of taxation. The country is like the building. “The building’s owner … charges vendors a percentage of their sales intake—say, 20 percent—as payment for the opportunity to sell from one of the building’s stalls…. The owner is not stealing [the vendor’s] money when he demands this sum from [the vendor].”[2] According to Duncan it is by comparison to this kind of situation that taxation ought to be understood, not, as I and other libertarians argue, as extortion by some members of society (the government) of the rest who live and work there or, as Nozick claimed, as something on par with forced labor.[3]

But the analogy is a bad one. No one owns a free society. No one who lives in a free society is provided with the opportunity to strike up a deal with some owner of that society or to choose, from among different owners of societies, in which he or she might live and work.

Instead, people would be born into a free society where others, including their parents, relatives, or guardians, own homes, places of work and so on. Other people—the government—would not have the authority to coerce them into paying them “taxes” and to put them in jail if they refuse to pay up, with no chance of bargaining about the percentage, of whether to pay a flat fee (whether they win or lose in their various commercial endeavors), a percentage of some possible take and so forth.

All of these latter options are, however, possible when an antique seller rents a stall from someone who owns a building where customers may seek out vendors. But free societies, unlike the place where an antique vendor may or may not rent a stall, are not anyone’s property.

Professor Duncan does, however, correctly describe societies that are not free. In a feudal system, for example, the king or tsar or other monarch owns the society. In a dictatorship the dictator is the owner. In fascist societies the leader in effect owns the society. And in democracies that aren’t governed by a constitution that protects individual rights the majority owns the society. These owners then charge a rent from those they permit to live and work on their property.

That kind of system is, indeed, the natural home of the institution of taxation. Such societies are also the natural home of serfdom, where others than those who own it live and work only when permitted to do so. They have no rights other than those granted at the discretion of the owners. Both serfdom and taxation arise naturally in societies that are owned by someone.

In free societies, however, no one owns the society. Individual citizens may or may not own all kinds of things in such free societies—land, apartments, family homes, farms, factories, and innumerable other items that may be found before human beings have expropriated them from the wilds or what has been produced by or traded back and forth among the free citizenry.

Of course, in complex, developed free societies the citizenry will most likely have instituted a legal order or government, based on the principles of freedom—individual rights to life, liberty and property, for example. And they will probably have instituted some means by which those administering such a system will be paid for their work—user fees, shares of wealth owned, a flat sum, or something more novel and unheard of (e.g., contract fees). Citizens can come together, roughly along lines of how the original American colonists came together, and establish a legal order or government that will be empowered, without violating anyone’s rights, to provide for a clear definition, elaboration, and defense of everyone’s rights. Then, once such a group of citizens has come together and instituted a government with just powers—powers that do not violate but protect individual rights—the proper funding of the work of such a government can be spelled out.

What is crucial here is that such funding must occur voluntarily, namely, as the kind of funding that does not violate anyone’s rights. Unlike the case Professor Duncan gives us, where someone has prior ownership over the various items in society that can be owned, in a free society ownership is achieved through various types of free action. This includes coming upon something unowned and appropriating it—land, trees, lakes, whatever—or being given in trade various things by others or, again, being born into the world with various assets or attributes that may well be used to create wealth through production, use or exchange.

A truly free society, then, does not belong to anyone but is a region wherein individuals are free to come to own things. It is one within which those who live there are free to embark on actions that involve, among other things, the acquisition of property. That is part of being free, not being coerced by others to give up what one has peacefully acquired, not be prohibited by others from embarking on various actions, including peaceful acquisition (including production and trade).

In short, a free society is based on principles of individual rights, not on having gained permission from prior owners of the society on analogy with how a renter of a stall in an antique mall comes into possession of that stall. In free societies ownership is a right everyone has by his or her nature as a human being and it isn’t granted as a privilege by a prior owner, ad infinitum.
[1] Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, The Myth of Ownership (London: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[2] Craig Duncan & Tibor R. Machan, Libertarianism, For and Against (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 46.

[3] Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974).
Needing Doesn’t Justify Stealing

Tibor R. Machan

What one needs depends on one’s goals. And much of the time what one needs to pursue various goals is produced by other people, including some rather important stuff or services. Nonetheless, among genuine free men and women whatever it is that one needs may only be obtained voluntarily, not by coercion. Even if the need is great.

Yes, now and then one’s needs can be urgent and great, as when one must get the services of a surgeon lest one lose the use of a limb. Yet, one isn’t by any stretch of the imagination authorized, morally, and should not be legally, to conscript those who can provide the necessary service. That would make slaves of those professionals! And no one is justified in enslaving anyone, however urgent one’s needs may be.

One would think these are elementary matters in a society that has experienced slavery or involuntary servitude and finally abolished it. But no. I recently objected to the first class mail monopoly that the US Postal Service enjoys, as a Constitutional grant in fact, and someone commented that people often need first class mail, so surely it must be provided to them.

Doesn’t follow at all. We often need things quite badly that others can supply but they and their labor doesn’t belong to us so we must obtain them voluntarily. And that has proven to be a very workable arrangement, much more so than have coercive alternatives. Why then do people often support the idea that it is OK to conscript other people’s work?

Maybe one reason is the regrettable precedent of taxation. For a while even in the USA, a supposedly shining example of a polity of human liberty, the military draft was legally accepted, tolerated. And of course for centuries on end coercion was routinely used by the powerful to obtain what the less powerful produced. Today it is quite common to have major political and academic figures chiming in favoring robbing the rich because, well, they have what others want from them. The idea that it belongs to them and thus must be obtained without resort to the violation of their basic rights doesn’t even come up. It’s just wished away, silently, as if it should be forgotten in the face of the needs of others. But then, of course, at one time these needs were used to justify chattel slavery and servitude to the ruler. It is not an accident that the Southern social theorist George Fitzhugh considered and favored slavery as a quintessentially socialist institution.

But just because an older generation got wise about these matters it doesn’t follow that we inherited this wisdom. Many of us are perfectly willing to forget what we should have learned from history, including that no matter how precious our goals may be, conscripting others to serve them is morally and should be legally prohibited. So the president of the USA, shamefully, is advocating robbing the rich so as to help him carry on with public policies that he prefers but cannot find sufficient support for.

At this point, of course, it isn’t very simple to sell the public on the idea that the rich must become slaves, so various theories are rolled out that maintain that the rich owe it to us, so taking it from them is just fine. That is the thesis candidate Elizabeth Warren was airing when she was campaigning for a Massachusetts Senate seat. And she wasn’t the only one. Such thinkers as NYU professors Thomas Nagel and Liam Murphy, Harvard Law School’s Cass Sunstein, and others have been making some amazingly spurious arguments that support the notion that all wealth really belongs to the government instead of individual citizens. Sunstein has also been peddling the incredible idea that all rights are grants from government, an idea directly opposed to the American tradition of individual rights (developed mainly by John Locke). Nagel and Murphy wrote a little volume The Myth of Ownership, for (of course) Oxford University Press back in 2002, which would, if it had any merit, clear the way to the government taking from us whatever it wants.

You need to realize, though, that government is nothing more than some people who are hired by others for specific, limited purposes; indeed their proper purpose is to protect or secure the rights of the citizenry, their natural rights! But that is, sadly, still an unfamiliar idea in many circles that stick to the reactionary notion that you and I and our belongings aren’t really ours but were granted to us provisionally by those other people, the government. How they came to have such authority is of course a complete myth. Let’s get past it already and carry on with the American revolutionary idea that citizens are the sovereigns, not the state.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Scientism versus Liberty

Tibor R. Machan

The steady but slow march toward liberty has for some time come up against the appeal of scientism. This is the idea that everything in nature behaves just like matter-in-motion. So people, too, move only when moved by stuff around--or within--them, never on their own initiative. (The only but sadly unacknowledged exception is the scientists who advocate scientism.)

No sooner did philosophers make room for the idea of self-causation, the idea that some (few) things in nature are capable of causing their own movement (have the capacity for initiative, to be first causes), social scientists vetoed it since it appeared to them to exclude the scientific method in their study of human behavior. So what took the place of initiative was mechanical motion. We do what we do because we are forced by our environment or hard wiring to do it.

In political morality and political philosophy the implications turned out to be devastating. The very thing that makes people different in the world, namely, their capacity to take the initiative, was slowly eliminated, denied. Never mind that the denying itself exhibits such initiative. That went unnoticed. Instead the urgency to make people subject to the machinations of social science and technology lead many thinkers to declare people just complicated machines, complex billiard balls being pushed around by the cue ball (that’s under the control of the technocrats, no one else).

This urgency also led to the re-empowerment of governments. They use to get their warrant for using power over us mainly from divine authority; but then science took its place. The small gain made in support of human freedom, the liberty of ordinary men and women to govern themselves, was this way quickly undermined (except, of course, for the rulers who claimed for themselves the very liberty they denied to the rest of us).

Sure, for a bit the ideas of human liberty and sovereignty triumphed but not for long. The champions of the nanny state, welfare state, fascism, socialism, communism and such all preferred it if human beings could be regarded as passive and in need of being pushed around. (Just think of the Keynesian stimulus device that is advocated as the way to make us all go to work! Never mind entrepreneurship!)

Is the philosophical base of this reductionism and scientism sound? Well, it is certainly not consistent with the belief that government officials have the capacity to get us all moving. They are people, after all, so how come they have this capacity but the rest of us don’t? So then where is the problem?

Let me drag out once again one of my favorite observations from a psychologist, Professor Bannister of the UK, who noted that “... the psychologist cannot present a picture of man which patently contradicts his behavior in presenting that picture.” In Borger & Cioffi/Bannister, eds., Explanation in the Behavioural Sciences (Cambridge UP, 1970), p. 417. But, unfortunately, noting this is not enough. How would we be capable of being first causes in nature, of taking the initiative and thus for doing without the prompters that statists so eagerly volunteer to be? Wouldn’t that be odd?

The problem lies with the widely embraced but impoverished idea of causation. As if all causes were of the same type, mechanical, the kind witnessed on the pool table. But this makes no room for the kind of causation evident in biology, psychology, economics, ethics and politics where individual entities, in this case people, produce things and make things happen. That kind of causation is every bit as much part of the natural world as is the limited, mechanical kind.

If one remembers that things have the causal capacities their nature makes possible and then also recalls that our causal capacity is based on the kind of consciousness we have, a faculty that doesn’t work automatically but needs to be put into gear by the individual person, then the mystery of sovereignty and initiative can begin to be solved.

We are indeed in need of freedom from interference so we can live our lives productively and creatively. The full story is a pretty complex one but this is the gist of it. Unless it is understood and integrated with our private and public affairs and policies, we are going to have a mismanaged society all around us.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Who Needs Austerity when some Are Rich

Tibor R. Machan

Portugal is broke but austerity measures there are protested persistently. Greece is in the same fix. And indeed in America, too, the Occupy Wall Street crowd appears to believe that if even a few folks are doing very well, no one need tighten his belt since all that’s needed is to rip off those well off and force them to continue to work hard.

The math is, of course, terribly off -- even if all the wealthy were raided for their resources, it would do very little to improve the situation of the vast numbers of those who need to cut back on their spending (including, especially, governments). It’s like a pyramid shaped storage of stuff, taking from the top and distributing it below isn’t going to create abundance. What is required for that is overall productivity, nothing less.

But these days millions of people, especially their politicians and academic agitators, hold the insane idea that wealth is collectively owned, sort of like in a family or commune. No private property is recognized so whatever anyone owns, everyone else owns as well. So if you have been profligate for years and now can’t pay your bills, never mind; there are those others with some money stashed away which can be confiscated because, well, it belongs to everyone. Never mind that it is just that kind of thinking and behavior that leads to widespread poverty, a direct result of the tragedy of the commons.

I have recounted this episode of my life before but it is relevant here again: At about 12 I was being lectured by a good communist teacher in my elementary school in Budapest about how we should all live by the Marxist idea, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” (taken from his famous essay, “Critique of the Gotha Programme”). I asked the teacher how would this work if my friend and I both started with a few bucks and I spent it on booze and he on wood. Once he made a nice little table, I'll simply drink myself under it, so would he have to help me out, would his table be my table, as well? And this landed me in hot water. (Both the Nazis and Commies dealt severely with students who asked the wrong questions, what today would be called politically incorrect ones!)

The idea now is that so long as other people are productive and lucky, the rest of us need not fret since we can always dip into their stuff and conscript them to work for us. But since the math in this “solution” sucks, it leaves everyone without sufficient wealth and, moreover, tends to discourage people from trying to increase theirs. Marx knew that this would happen so he envisioned communism as the society in which everyone became a "new man" and would automatically work for the commonwealth, the public interest (is how it is called now). With self-interest having been erased from the human race, no one would mind being poor, having to cope with austerity.

Sadly, the Occupy Wall Street people and others of similar attitude around the globe haven’t experienced this necessary alteration of human nature, whereby no one cares about himself and his intimates but only about the society as a whole. (Not that that would work out but at least people might put up with it more compliantly.) They are very much concerned mainly with their own and their loved ones’ well being. Certainly they care nothing about the well being of those who are productive, especially on Wall Street. Instead they hold the view that other people must all become fierce altruists while they themselves can remain self-indulgent. (At least that is how they behave, so I think it is fair to attribute that line of thinking to them.)

That there are free loaders among us is no news, nor a tragedy. What is, however, really disgusting is how many erudite people throughout academia, governments, and the media egg them on in their pathetic misconceptions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Tibor R. Machan*

Much consternation is spent on income and related inequality. Or call it unequal advantages in life. As if it were some kind of moral or political imperative that we must all enjoy equal benefits and burdens, though few will say why that would be a good thing or why it is right to aim for it, considering that throughout nature inequality is clearly the norm.

Isaiah Berlin is supposed to have stated that equality is a virtual axiomatic norm of social-political life, so Amartya Sen, the Harvard Nobel Laureate in economic science tells us in his book The Idea of Justice (2009). Professor Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago Laws School and Philosophy Department also adheres to this idea. Indeed, it is widely embraced by philosophers at the top schools everywhere. It has made its appearance in political history mainly in the writings of the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Yet, as hard as I have tried to locate an argument for the idea, I haven’t been able to find any. Even as a matter of moral intuition, something many contemporary thinkers in ethics favor, it doesn’t appear to be plausible that people everyone ought to be enjoying the same conditions of life and that when they don’t, it becomes a political and legal imperative to rearrange things so that they will. It was the late Robert Nozick who in his famous book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1973) advanced an argument against the intuitive power of egalitarianism. He did this with his famous Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment in which we are all equally well off but then many of us decide to contribute some of our resources to Wilt so we can see him play his fabulous basketball game, which immediately upsets the supposedly desirable equality among us all since, of course, Wilt will be but the rest of us will not be very rich. So this will require constant readjustment, wealth redistribution, by the government which will of course have to be very powerful, much more so that the rest of us, and this once again shows that inequality is unavoidable.

Of course, we have different kinds of equality before us and some do appear to be imperative, such as equal protection of our rights in the legal system. But this is about a procedural matters, not about results. But perhaps the fact of our humanity alone supports the equality that egalitarians promote? Yet while people are alike in all of them being human, this itself goes hand in hand with immense legitimate diversity and inquality among us.

Just take a peak around you and confirm the plain fact that inequality is everywhere--in talents, beauty, athletic prowess, luck (good and bad), etc., etc. And there is, of course, that fact of the widespread inequality of wealth enjoyed by us, the inequality that appears to annoy so many people. I am not convinced it really is since we all live with it day in and out everywhere and peace still prevails among most of us. No doubt there are people who are heavily beset with envy and for them all inequality of advantage justifies massive political efforts to even things out. (Consider Occupy Wall Street as a case in point!)

Of course in some areas equality is imperative, if only to make things more interesting. For example, in foot races and such the competitors all start at the same point--none is supposed to enjoy an unequal advantage, at least not in their initial positioning. (Yet even there, some start with a good night’s sleep behind them, others with nerves having kept them awake all night long.) The oft mentioned “level playing field” is a myth, too, since while the field may be level in some cases, much else isn’t.

In life, including human affairs, inequality is routine. What matters is that whatever inequality exists not be the result of violence, if coercion. If my fellow marathon runners are unequal in their readiness for the race, so be it. But if they try to undermine the readiness of their competitors by spiking their breakfast or water bottles or tripping them up during the race, that’s where things become intolerable. Similarly with wealth. If you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffet but got there peacefully, without using force against those who didn’t, such is life and upsetting it merely increases the coercive power of some people (thus introducing the most insidious form of inequality among human beings).

So unlike in the wilds where many animals rule others by means of physical strength and brutality, in human society advantages are to be gained and kept without resorting to force or fraud. Once those are ejected from the sphere, the outcome cannot be objectionable other than as a matter of a wish or hope. Even those would be unbecoming, which is why envy is a vice, not some admirable sentiment toward those who are well off.

*Tibor Machan is the author of Equality, So Badly Misunderstood (2010).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My 11-12-11 lecture at the Adam Smith Forum in Moscow, Russia:
Is The US Government Anti-Monopoly?

Tibor R. Machan

So you may have heard that the US Federal Government is opposed to monopolies and that is why the Department of Justice has its various rules against them. All those antitrust provisions are supposed to keep competition going and prevent any business from becoming the only one around to serve customers. Right, you have heard this -- I certainly have.

Only it isn’t true. The federal government is in fact dedicated to preventing competition one place where it could come in very handy. This is in the service of delivering first class mail! No one else is permitted by the government to do this apart from the United States Postal Service. So when one finds that this service doesn’t quite manage to suit one’s postal needs, there isn’t a thing to be done about it apart from hiring a helicopter and paying thousands of dollars to get some letter delivered. But, oops, even that is unavailable since if you were to start such a helicopter service, it would be illegal! The USPS simply forbids anyone else from providing first class mail service to us, period. No, Fed Ex or UPS isn’t allowed -- they may only serve us with parcel and not with first class deliveries.

And the USPS’s monopoly isn’t a very nice one either. (Of course, some of the personnel can be friendly but even the most generous of them follow the rules in ways a German soldier from the Third Reich could be proud of. For example, when I recently asked my postal clerks to please place my accumulated first class mail -- while I was on a week long trip -- into one of the boxes where they put parcels for customers to pick up, they said “No way! That is forbidden by the rules.” Why? Well, they had no idea why -- it’s just what the rules state, period, and you must live with it.

Yet what exactly is supposed to be the horror of monopolies? That they will refuse to allow for variety in the delivery of their services or products. Everyone must live with what the monopolists demand! That is why they must be broken up by the trust busters! Or so the story goes, never mind that the government’s most visible monopoly, the USPS, demands exactly that from us.

So the real story is that the US postal service, provided to us by the federal trust busters, is full of tedious unyielding rules no one may escape. Our post office, in particular, is open between 8AM and 4PM M-F and 10AM and 12AM on Saturday and if a resident who must pick up the mail there is unable to go to the office during these hours, that’s just too damned bad. No adjustment is allowed! This is exactly what we are told that monopolists would do if not broken up by the feds. But in the case of the USPS no other service is permitted by law to help with first class mail. The clerks at the local post office being such good soldiers will not go against their rules and will not place the mail into the boxes which normally contain only parcels so as to serve customers. Oh, but I forget -- government agencies do not have customers, only subjects! Like monarchs used to. They must all bend to the will of the rulers and the USPS is but an extension of the ruling government, certainly not ready to help out customers who might not be able to bend to its rules!

But you heard it everywhere -- the US government is opposed to nasty, dastardly monopolies. Just another lie the government tells us. But at least there is some justice in the world: the USPS is bust, bankrupt, unable to pay its bills. And given its unaccommodating service to some of us, this isn’t very surprising.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From Russia with Trepidations

Tibor R. Machan

The invitation was just too nice to turn down despite my increasing reluctance to do very long trips. (I did some such a while back, like twice to New Zealand and twice to Cape Town.) Back and knee troubles tend to impede such ventures these days. But my hosts in Moscow were very pleasant from the start and expressed very serious interest in what I might have to say (about social “contract” theories and Adam Smith and morality) and treated me like a VIP once I arrived. So despite the brevity of the visit, only five days there, I went and found it mostly rewarding. The visit was sweetened by superb accommodations for the trip itself and the stay.

The first thing that struck me -- and all I can report is that, since five days in not enough time to dig into a place -- is just how vast and busy Moscow is. People crowded every place, with the Metro and the immense avenues filled with them.

Much still reminded me of when the Soviets were occupying Budapest in the 1950s, including the “service” I received at the state owned hotel (where you are treated as you would be at the DMV here). Folks are often sullen, especially in service industries where they seem to feel like indentured servants instead of employees and where they show zero courtesy to customers. (This harks back to the good old days of Soviet Russia where the members of the working classes seemed to be the least happy bunch in society.)

The cultural offerings are a varied lot indeed, with everything from what recalls village life in Russia and elsewhere to cosmopolitan London or Milan. Do not expect people to speak even a word of English, not like everywhere else in Europe, outside of fashionable shops. But the signs around town do tend to be multilingual. Something that struck me is just how replete the place is with iPhones and iPads and electronic gadgets in general, even in the middle of the most dilapidated regions of the city.

The best thing about my hotel was the elevator (or lift). It worked great and came to your floor in seconds. But there were no amenities like a gym or pool or even a shop for trinkets. The one shop, selling designer clothing, was nearly always closed despite the signs that announced the hours it was to be open.

What was very welcome is just how intensely interested members of my audience -- students and faculty alike -- were in the topics I covered and how ready they were to explore arguments and take issue with them. Much better than at home, in my classes here at Chapman University (where it takes about two years for students to warm up to what they are supposedly there for). Of course, members of the audiences in Moscow came of their own accord, whereas students in many of my classes at Chapman are required to take the course they take from me and, sadly, do not connect their choice to major in business with the course they must then take from me. (A lot of them, no doubt, would just like to get the passing grade, never mind doing work in the subject. Only after a few terms in college do they begin to make the connection, probably because after having been forced into primary and secondary schools, they look upon college as a kind of liberation!)

From what I gathered in my discussion with my hosts and members of my audiences, Russia is understood by many people as in the grips of crony capitalism. There was little hope shown among those I met for changing this soon although most are aware of the bad end it will lead to.

Corruption is rife; the legal authorities are the farthest thing from upholding any sensible idea of the rule of law but tend, in the main, to be in the pockets of some special interest group. I know a lot of people who champion what they call anarchism and anarcho-capitalism, but what the anarchism in Moscow appears to many classical liberals and libertarians there has nothing at all with the political economy of capitalism, quite the contrary. Government is directly involved in calling winner and losers in the economic realm. Bribery appears to be routine. Arbitrary regulations of business as well.

All this was supplemented, sadly, with the grayest five days I have ever spent since I left Fredonia, NY, where I taught for some ten years and where we called the sun a purely theoretical entity.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What about the Cain Fracas?

Tibor R. Machan

I am not a devoted supporter of Herman Cain although I do find him an appealing person, someone who seems to be a straight shooter when it comes to discussing the issues facing candidates these days. But I have not committed to him in part because there are others among the Republican lineup whose views I consider much better, e.g., Gary Johnson and Ron Paul.

But the current problems Cain faces seem to warrant a few observations about the matter of the onus of proof when it comes to such “He said, she said” situations. Plainly put, Cain is accused of having harassed some women some years ago who, however, let the matter go for one or another reason. No charges have ever been filed, from what the news reports say. In one case someone who complained quit her job and received severance pay that appears to have been based on the organization’s wish not to deal with the situation any further than that. Over the years none of the women have pursued any grievance procedures until very recently when several have made claims of having been groped and such by Cain, claims that have not been proven true beyond any reasonable doubt beyond some friends of the woman saying they heard them before.

Given that Mr. Cain appears to me, from his various public presentations and discussions, to be a decent and bright enough individual, given that his candidacy is likely to pose a serious obstacle to Mr. Obama’s smooth reelection in 2012, and given the unprincipled conduct of many who support Mr. Obama--they proudly assert that they are pragmatists (who do not hold to any principles at all, thinking them all unfounded and unsupportable)--I admit to favoring Cain’s side in this controversy. “Show me,” as the state motto of Missouri states! Or “where is the beef?” And consider some of the dubious sources involved in the charges, nearly all of them in the Obama camp.

But aside from my own sentiments, there is the more important issue of who has the onus of proof here and what would such proof have to amount to in order for it to be compelling. Eye witnesses who can reasonably be taken to be impartial would work. Some kind of correspondence, emails or notes, telephone messages, etc. could strengthen the case against Mr. Cain but there are no such things in evidence here. It seems quite obviously no more than a case of some people who can reasonably be assumed to be opposed to Mr. Cain’s politics and candidacy making unsubstantiated claims that Mr. Cain had behaved in ways that amount to sexual harassment.

So what is one who has some interest in this matter to believe? Based on the tradition of due process in American criminal law and the common sense idea that when people come forth with damaging claims against others they need to make a good case in order to be taken seriously, the sensible attitude now is to leave Mr. Cain to his campaigning activities and ignore those who keep harassing him with unfounded accusations. Never mind public opinion, which is very largely driven by partisanship in the face of no solid evidence in sight. If such evidence were to emerge, one’s views may need to be updated. But not before then. For the time being Mr. Herman Cain ought not to be regarded as being guilty of any wrongdoing of the kind he is being accused of by the women, anonymous or not.

Is my suspicion that some of this is motivated by politics unreasonable? May there be some echoes of the Clarence Thomas hearings here as well--meaning that the prospect of an intelligent, likable black conservative political figure irritates liberal democrats so much that at least some of them, the more opportunistic, pragmatic types, would be willing to resort to dirty tricks to discredit such an individual? You bet you! But this is not very much more than speculation, an at least not uneducated guess.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Machan’s Archives: Imperialism, Left and Right

Tibor R. Machan

No, I am not talking about foreign policy. My concern is with how both Left and Right seem to have their straight jackets into which they want everyone to be strapped, like it or not. It is disturbing in part because a high point of the American way of life has always been the 'live and let live' principle. And the USA, with its substantial commitment to the principle of private property rights, has managed to live up to that idea quite well.

Just consider religion--in America there are no serious religious wars because the faithful of each religion are able to conduct their affairs in peace, undisturbed by others with whom they disagree. Consider how different this is from, say, Jerusalem, where the faithful of several religions are constantly bickering about who should rule the turf. Here, in contrast, the public square is secular and the faithful are free to assemble where they will, on private property, and carry on just as their doctrine requires.

But there are some exceptions, unfortunately. Too many among the religious right have it in big time against gays now, so whenever gays get various concessions from the legal authorities, they are attacked. So long as there is a public component to being gay, gays have to contend with the political clout of the religious right. And since the state has for centuries made it its business to treat marriage as its preserve, issuing licenses and conferring rites on those who would marry, there is no peace for the unusual, unorthodox, or odd. It is a bit like interracial marriages used to be, namely, a province of state regulation, so voters could make their desires, prejudices, hates, loves felt on the topic. That is pretty much what happens whenever something that ought to be private, a matter of voluntary consent, is invaded by government. In dictatorships the big Kahuna says how it goes and in democracies it becomes an invitation to various hordes of people meddling in the affairs of others.

The environmentalist Left is, of course, no different. Just notice how quickly they get into the fray where public spheres such as roads or parks or coastal regions are concerned. For them SUVs, for example, are virtually open targets. Many feel no compunction expressing their hate for people who own SUVs and initiating legal actions of one or another kind against the vehicles, urging the government to cut them down to the size they feel they should be, never mind what the actual SUV owners wants. No live and let live here either, no way Jose. The religion here is not a traditional one but more recent, fueled from within the religion and academic discipline of ecology. And environmentalists, not unlike those from the Christian right, have acquired sacred texts of their own in terms of which what they dislike can be condemned with a tone of moral righteousness. They invoke what they refer to as 'the Gaia hypothesis.' According to this doctrine, which is accepted by more and more environmentalists, 'all of life on earth can be seen as whole that is more than the sum of its parts, this whole being like a huge super-lifeform . . . (after the name for the ancient Greek goddess of the earth).'

Why is this a Left wing movement? Because it preaches, as does Socialism, that human beings are part of a large organism ' in their own words, 'that the earth is alive and that we are part of it.' Socialism confines this collectivism to people, either in some nation (for the national socialists) or the globe (for international socialists). We might call environmentalists geological socialists. They argue that 'Living systems have a tendency to keep themselves in balance but also to adapt and evolve over time.' They go on to claim that 'scientists have found that the earth also has these tendencies, with feedback mechanisms to 'keep in balance' the temperature and oxygen levels of the atmosphere, just as our bodies maintain the temperature and oxygen levels in our arteries.'

Once you have elected yourself as the spokesperson for such a viewpoint, where you speak for Earth, just as when you speak for God, the move toward the missionary--indeed, the holy warrior--role is a very easy one to make. After all, the rest of us are by these doctrines deemed to be anything but sovereign citizens. We are all parts of and thus must owe allegiance to the Whole! Anything you do or I do immediately comes under the supervision of the protectors of the holy--or this time scientific--mission.

It's a ruse, that's what it is, of course. Environmentalists are no better positioned to know what amounts to the proper harmony of all of nature, including what kind of cars other people should purchase and drive, than are those of the Christian Right qualified to tell how reality should be ordered, including who should or should not be married. In any case, it's none of their business. Even if there is some insight or wisdom to be imparted on the various topics from these groups, there is certainly no justification for imposing such wisdom--after all, all those speaking on the topic are just parts of the whole, even from their own perspective, as are you and I.

I suggest that we be very, very careful about letting folks get away with claiming to be the authoritative representatives of either God or Nature. They are too often up to something invasive, intrusive, and aggressive when they see themselves in that light.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Machan's Archives: Equality or diversity? Which one do Leftists want?
You can’t have both

by Tibor R. Machan

For the last couple or so decades the universities and colleges where I have taught–and by all accounts, most of them in the USA–have had two mutually exclusive social objectives. (Yes, Virginia, higher education is now mostly embarked upon pursuing social policies, not so much educating students.) These two are equality and diversity.

On the one hand there is a big push toward eliminating any kind of inequality in the way students are being regarded and treated. Everyone is equal, just as Barrack Obama’s Vice President Joseph Biden insisted in one of his rallying cries. As he put it in the course of a moving eulogy for his mother (according to the Associated Press), “My mother’s creed is the American creed: No one is better than you,” he said. “Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you. My parents taught us to live our faith, and to treasure our families. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough.”

Of course Mr. Biden didn’t mean we are all equal today or will be tomorrow. What he meant is that in a rightly ordered world, one ruled by him and his associates, there would be total equality among human beings, on the model of, say, ants in their colony (excepting the chief ant, of course, just as this would be and has been the case with any large scale egalitarian experiment). I am not exaggerating. Just go and read Vice President Biden’s comment in full (here) and check out the many very prominently published books on the issue denouncing such dastardly inequalities, among others, as being more beautiful than someone else. Take, for example, Naomi Wolff’s The Beauty Myth from the 1980s and the recently published work of Deborah L. Rhode, The Beauty Bias (2010).

But at the same time that the push for full equality among people is carried out with official support, we also find widespread academic support for the idea of diversity –an idea that assumes, of course, that people aren’t the same at all but quite different–so our various prominent institutions must be inclusive of widely different people.

The differences at issue tend, of course, to be controversial. Some support ideological or philosophical or religious differences, so that those with different ideas, faiths, convictions and the like need all to be included. Some focus upon diversity in racial or ethnic or gender membership. Some stress differences in socio-economic status.

Whatever is the sort of diversity being considered, it is evident beyond any reasonable doubt that people are not equal by a long shot and their unequal status needs to be taken account of in how the relevant institutions–universities, high schools, clubs, corporations, etc.–are being managed, administered or governed. This is not merely a fact of life but a celebrated fact of life, given how so much of educational policy and administration is devoted to doing it justice.

One need but take account of the demographics of the United States of America, let alone the globe, in order to apprehend the underlying basis of this fact. People are not only of the same species, homo sapiens, but are at the same time individuals and members of innumerable special groups, most of them entirely legitimate (unlike, say, membership in the Ku Klux Klan or the Mafia). As a favorite social philosopher of mine, Steve Martin the very inventive and funny actor and writer, put it in the novel, The Pleasure of My Company, “People, I thought. These are people. Their general uniformity was interrupted only by their individual variety.”

So, on the one hand the objective is supposed to be, as VP Biden suggests, to erase all differences and render everyone equal in all important respects. On the other hand, as much of educational administrative policy suggests, diversity is to be celebrated, and the homogeneity that would be part and parcel of an egalitarian world, is to be rejected.

So then which will it be? An acknowledgment of benign human diversity or an insistence of homogenization so as to fulfill the egalitarian dream? There is no doubt about it for me: diversity is not just a fact of human life but a highly welcome one at that.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Markets aren’t Zero Sum Games

Tibor R. Machan

The more I read about “Occupy Wall Street,” including the pundits who apologize for it, the more I find that people still believe that market exchanges are zero-sum games wherein for someone to gain, someone must lose. But this is plain bunk, as economists since Adam Smith have shown conclusively.

But consider--is a marathon race a zero-sum game? Does someone’s running really fast make all others run slow? Clearly not. How fast the winner runs doesn’t slow down or speed up the losers. When a person buys a watch at the mall, both the merchant and the costumer are getting what they want from the other, no one is being ripped off. And the same applies to all honest deals on Wall Street. I buy some shares in a company and it is doing well with its products or services and so the monetary value of the shares increases. Those who didn’t buy these shares do not make the gains I did but not because I prevented them from doing so, only because the purchasing public didn’t want the services or products of the companies in which they bought shares, unlike in the case of my choice of company.

Like marathon races, market processes do not involve what happens in a boxing ring--no one is knocked out so that another may be triumphant. Yet it seems nearly all those who sympathize with the people marching in the Occupy Wall Street parades, as well as the people who speak up for them in their midst, fail to see the difference.

Put bluntly, Bill Gates billions do not make me or anyone else poor. In fact, his billions make it possible for a lot of folks to improve on their economic circumstances. Bill goes out and buys a lot of stuff or just gives his money away in Africa and people will then go out and maker standard purchases with these funds. No one has lost anything, not a dime.

All the wealthy folks in my neighborhood who live on lakes in fancy homes and have yachts and Bentleys aren’t making anyone poor. So resenting them is nothing but sheer envy, a filthy vice! Like hating someone with a great voice when one cannot carry a tune! Or a tall basketball star when one is too short to play the game.

We are often very different from one another--indeed we are all individuals and then gather into groups--and some of this means that what we have stuff and opportunities that others do not, whether they badly want it and even need it. But those who have it aren’t guilty of any wrongdoing except in the fantasy world of egalitarians which is, being a fantasy world, a distortion of the real world in which problems need to be solved. This is, however, a welcome thing to most of us who give it but even a little thought. After all, since you aren’t like me, you will want different stuff from what I will and that way we can trade quite fruitfully, with both of us ahead once the trade is done. Yes, sometimes the market value of what you get from the trade is much lower than of that which I get from it. But so what? If I badly want to have your worn out gloves and am willing to give you my fabulous sunglasses for them, some will see this as a huge rip off but who are they to tell? In most cases they wouldn’t know and in any case they have no business butting in. (They may offer some advice but that’s all.)

Ever since I arrived on these shores many, many moons ago, I have had zero sympathy for people who insisted that we should all enjoy equal wealth, equal advantages, etc. Why? No reason. Maybe what such folks missed out in their education is the study of Orwell’s Animal Farm, Vonegut’s Harrison Bergeron, and Rand’s Anthem. I see get thee back to the classroom and off the streets, especially Wall Street.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Column on Dyson's Nonsense

Tibor R. Machan

In a recent review essay Freeman Dyson flatly asserts that “social justice demands equality. Fair reward for enterprise and achievement demands inequality.” Well, neither of these is true but for soundbites in a publication like The New York Review of Books one could do much worse. Social justice is neither social, nor just. It is an excuse for some people to run everyone else’s life.

But Dyson doesn’t stop there and adds this:

Advocates on both sides of the debate have tended to take extreme positions. Numerous utopian communities have been founded to put egalitarian principles into practice. Few of them have lasted longer than one generation. Children have a regrettable tendency to rebel against their parents’ dreams. Meanwhile, advocates of extreme free market capitalism have been preaching the gospel of greed. They glorify greed as the driving force that creates new industries and in the end will make everyone wealthy. Unfortunately in many parts of the world where free market capitalism prevails, the rich are growing richer and the poor are growing poorer. [“The Case for Far-Out Possibilities,” Freeman Dyson, NYRB, 11/10/11, p. 27]

Much of this is simply wrong--no free market capitalist champion preaches any gospel of greed. The closest may be some economists who claim that each of us is motivated to make out well in life, a point so broad that it can mean nearly anything. As Milton Friedman put it, “. . . every individual serves his own private interest . . . . The great Saints of history have served their 'private interest' just as the most money grubbing miser has served his interest. The private interest is whatever it is that drives an individual.” ["The Line We Dare Not Cross," Encounter, 11/76:11] So being “greedy” is merely to want to do something, anything, one likes. Self-interest is just having some interest, some goals, never mind what they are. No gospel of greed here, none!

Will freedom produce industries? Well, that and also art and athletics and family life and whatever free men and women choose to pursue. Again, nothing here that should offend any sensibilities.

Does free market capitalism prevail anywhere? Not by a long shot. At best we have some welfare states, mixed economies that include a few elements of capitalism, such a moderate protection of the right to private property and some, fewer and fewer, voluntary contracts, in the midst of innumerable socialist features and fascistic political powers. And where capitalism has made some inroads, the poor are definitely not getting poorer but growing rich, though perhaps not as rapidly as those who focus mostly on wealth care.

So why then is a famous public intellectual saying such misleading things? Maybe because his fame comes from doing work in physics, not in political economy. And maybe also because the common sense account of making it rich still owes too much to the times when that goal was pursued through pilfering, murdering, robbing and otherwise depriving others of what they have. In short, for most of the history gaining wealth was a zero sum game, not the win win situation that modern economists have found far more productive. Peace, not ripping people off, is the road to riches.

Dyson is of course saying all this nonsense in a publication that tries every which way to discredit human economic liberty. He promotes some kind of middle way, between liberty and slavery, at least in the realm of economics. But it makes no sense. It rests on obsolete theory about what gets people to create and produce wealth and ignorance about economic history and reality.

Maybe Dr. Dyson should return to physics and leave economics be. Although quite a few so called economists get it wrong just as he does, especially the Keynesians who believe that one can make something out of nothing. That confusing idea ought to be offensive a physicist for sure.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Wall Street’s Lack of Focus

Tibor R. Machan

Rolling Stone magazine ran a piece recently arguing that what OWS is doing doesn’t amount to attacks on money or banking but is aimed at corruption. While this is a spin that may work for some folks, it doesn’t sound credible for me.

When someone, some organization or an institution is charged with corruption, this is a serious matter. It is comparable to accusing some people of malpractice in medicine, education, engineering or the like. And such a charge requires specific proof in order to make it credible. Otherwise is it irresponsible.

All the while OWS has been afoot, however, no specific accusations have been laid out by the participants or leaders or supporters. It is all vague and unfocused. It is much more like scapegoating those on Wall Street, given that the group doesn’t bother to be specific and fails, moreover, to go after the main culprits, for example those in Washington who urged the banks to make borrowing easy. In 1992 Bill Clinton’s administration did, in fact, implore banks to do just that, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for example. So why are these not the targets of OWS?

Of course there is another little thing that’s odious about OWS. This is the use of the term “occupy.” That term is used to refer to what huge, imperialist countries do with some of their neighbors, namely, send in troops to occupy them, to run roughshod over them, and to raid and pilfer them good and hard. Is this what OWS is proposing to do with the firms that are located on Wall Street or associated with them? Are they going to invade these just as Hitler did some of Germany’s neighbors and Stalin did with the Soviet Union’s? I do not believe this is any kind of an attractive image or even analogy. It easily makes OWS out to be aggressors.

There is no doubt that OWS folks can list numerous general failings that have occurred on Wall Street, plenty of misdeeds that have been perpetrated thereabouts, usually with the support of Washington’s politicians and bureaucrats. Yet there doesn’t appear to be much recognition of this within the ranks of the OWS folks. When they are interviewed they tend to lash out imprecisely, even blindly, and mostly at those in American society who are doing reasonably well, economically. The strategy seems to be to garner the sadly widespread prejudice around the country directed at those in the business community. In other words, OWS appears to be but a current version of the age old mentality and practice of business bashing. This is what fueled much of what the Third Reich was all about, including the deadly anti-Semitism evidenced during that era. While OWS doesn’t show direct hostility to Jews, it does appear to pick on those within the business community, giving the clearly guilty politicians a pass at the same time.

Of course there are other problems with many who join OWS, not the least of which is the mentality most of them share about how they are entitled to free goods and services from others in American society. Protesting tuition at higher educational institutions is but a more glaring symptom of this, the belief that others must be forced to pay for the education of young protesters. Why exactly? (Here one failing of the media covering OWS becomes quite evident since hardly any journalists pose the challenging question to protesters about why other people’s resources ought to be confiscated so as to support them?) And if the purpose of some protesters is to complain about unemployment and general economic malaise, wouldn’t it be imperative that they actually figure out who is mostly responsible for these, what policies have produced them? And shouldn’t members of the media press the issue with them when they are being interviewed?

Or is OWS simply a noisy lament with nothing better than ignorance backing it, a kind of shaking one’s fist at the sky when one’s picnic has been rained out? Which isn’t a very useful thing and certainly points at no one who may be guilty of anything at all.