Saturday, February 05, 2011

Forcing Us to Do what We Choose not to do

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last couple of years many conservatives have argued against President Obama’s health care program on the grounds that it unconstitutionally forces citizens to purchase something they may not want. Imposing this kind of force conduct, they have argued, violates the right of a citizen to refrain from doing something, the right to liberty or to freedom of choice. Generally this may well be a sound objection although I am doubtful about its violation of the U. S. Constitution.

In response, defenders of Mr. Obama’s health care project tend to point to the fact that state governments require citizens to purchase car insurance. That comparison, however, is fallacious: one only needs to buy such insurance if one drives on public roads and driving on such roads is not deemed to be a basic right but a privilege since government owns the roads. This seems to be a legal distinction with some teeth to it. Mr. Obama’s program requires one to purchase health insurance no matter what, just as a matter of one’s citizenship. And car insurance, some have pointed out, serves to protect fellow travelers and is thus not, like requiring one to buy health insurance, a paternalistic policy.

But there is another measure many conservatives fully embrace that compares with making people buy health insurance: making them check on the citizenship of prospective employees. In their vigilance against illegal immigration, many conservatives insist that those who employ people may be forced to check on whether those they plan to hire are in America legally.

Now this seems to be a clear case of forcing such employers to do something they may not want to do. It is also outsourcing a line of professional work to non-professionals. Checking on the legal status of prospective employees is detective work and should only be performed by authorized agents of the law, not by private citizens. Yes, in some cases one citizen may even arrest another, but usually only in special circumstances, such as when illegal conduct is clearly evident and not something one needs to detect through the scrutiny of someone else’s legal status.

In any case, forcing citizens to engage in law enforcement is not very different from forcing them to purchase insurance. In both cases citizens are required to perform something they may well not choose to perform. One may even regard this as imposing upon citizens involuntary servitude or force labor.

Of course, here too there is plenty of precedence. When the government forces employers to collect taxes from those they employ, that is forced labor as well. The collecting of the income tax throughout the year, the requirement that this be accurately and promptly reported to the IRS, are no less forcing people to do something they do not choose to do than is forcing them to buy health insurance.

It is thus a bit hypocritical of many Americans to be outraged with Mr. Obama’s and the Democrats’ health care law. If one consistently opposed making people do things they do not choose to do, many measures of municipal, county, state and federal governments would have to be declared wrong and maybe unconstitutional.

We live in a mixed system. There are elements of socialism, fascism, communism, capitalism, libertarianism and other regimes the American legal system includes. Cherry picking some and insisting that one is doing so as a matter of principled adherence to the U. S. Constitution may not be very credible. If one is going to object to governmental regimentation, to forcing people to act in ways they to not choose to (apart from abstaining from violating the rights of fellow citizens), it would have to begin with numerous measures way before getting to Mr. Obama’s health care policy.

As with the objection to restricting corporate contributions to political campaigns--based not on what this should be based on, namely, the violation of private property rights but on its alleged curtailment of freedom of speech--the objection to Obama care is a bit forced. People are made to do so many things by their various governments that to protest making them buy health insurance because this involves making them do something they don’t choose to do simply isn’t credible.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Democracy Wont Help Egypt

Tibor R. Machan

Even without being a Egyptologist I can say with reasonable certainty that it will not help to solve Egypt’s problems to make it into an unlimited democracy. What we are likely to get is Lebanon with the heavy hand of Hamas in charge there. In Egypt it looks like the Brotherhood is ready to jump into the position Hamas occupies in Lebanon.

In any case, in none of the discussions about what lies ahead for Egypt is there ever any mention of ushering in a limited--or bona fide liberal--democracy, with a constitution that would restrain all sides and leave the citizenry in peace to attend to its own affairs. Such pluralism isn’t very likely to take center stage in that country.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak became a virtual dictator after the assassination of the previous president Anwar Sadat, with hardly any credible and sensible resistance from the population and it’s only now, that a bunch of young people appear to be upset enough with the culture he has been heading up, that his his rule is seriously questioned. Nothing much that’s rational is evident in the current developments apart from the simple insistence on the part of a great many Egyptians that they’ve had it up to here with being ruled by Mubarek team.

Now this is not so surprising when one realizes that none of the leaders around the globe, including American presidents, nor indeed many intellectuals in Egypt itself, have made a serious pitch for Egypt adopting constitutional reforms that respect individual rights. That’s not the same thing as promoting the vague idea of democracy, which as history shows, has not managed to be a bulwark against tyranny, not in Western or Eastern Europe, not in Latin America, not even in the United States of America where nearly all the good ideas failed to get democratic support or bad ones got swept aside democratically. The American civil war was no triumph of democracy, nor the New Deal, nor again all the oppressive federal measures that are burdening the country, keeping its economy hostage to populist and egalitarian notions.

Very probably the reason the U.S.A. hasn’t gone under yet is that some of its better features gained solid momentum and despite the absence of sustained political and judicial support for them these are continuing to be fairly dominant--relatively free and competitive markets, civil liberties, private property rights, freedom of religion and speech, due process, etc. But they are all gradually being replaced with the widely championed ideology of activist citizens in higher education and media, people working in the most prestigious and invincible institutions in society, who not very surprisingly want to regiment us all into compliance with a vision of full equality. (The cautionary tale about this was written by George Orwell, in his brilliant fable, Animal Farm, who was anything but a Tea Party type but, rather, a rare sensible Leftist!)

When the mobs in Egypt, who have been treated as a bunch of unruly children by Mubarek’s regime, finally couldn’t take it any more and stood up to the dictator, there is little reason to think they would become a civilized citizenry that renounces the temptation to rule others once they gain power. Their call for democracy appears to have little to do with the kind of constitutional system that America’s founders favored. Even their call for freedom seems mostly to be about being free to rule instead of being ruled.

At the personal level my fear is that those expatriates from Egypt who in the last few years decided to return in the hopes that their country would move closer to a liberal democratic model are now packing their bags again, headed back to some more stable region of the globe so as to save their necks from chaos. I know a few such people and can only empathize with their disappointment.

True self-government isn’t the sort of democracy we have seen in the Weimar Republic, in Lebanon, in Venezuela, and being widely demanded now in Egypt. It is, instead, a polity that upholds the rights of individuals not simply to take part in the vote but to live as they choose in peace with their fellows.