Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Western Elites?

Tibor R. Machan

Some avid supporters of the free market write a great deal about Western Elites who, among other things, want to impose democracy on the Middle East and are bent on controlling the world’s financial institutions and doings. Since no person or institution is named, at least so far as I am aware, where these Western Elites are mentioned, I am unable to figure out who are these people, what their broader philosophy or ideology amounts to, why they are doing the things they are doing, including attempting to impose democracy on the people of the Middle East and to control the world's financial affairs.

Nor, come to think of it, am I provided with enough information to learn what the people who make these points about Western Elites actually believe other than their broad commitment to the free market (of which, of course, there is no example anywhere on the globe).

The place where the missives making these references to Western Elites are made is a Web Site where some of my columns supportive of the fully free, libertarian polity are featured. These columns appear on my own websites and on some others, including in some newspapers and magazines. And those who edit the web site where the talk of Western Elites is so prominent have been very kind to me and have always published the columns they have chosen to feature without asking for revisions. (I have also been interviewed by them and all my answers to their questions have been faithfully included in the published interviews.)

I am not interested in getting involved in some kind of cat fight with anyone, especially not with folks who publish many valuable essays about financial issues, specifically about the U. S. Federal Reserve Bank and the banking system of many Western countries. But I am concerned about the fact that these references to Western Elites are so frequent and yet so vague. I am unable to check out for myself what these Western Elites say or think or write. Where are their works published, in what newspapers, blogs, magazines, and books can one find their positions laid out? From reading the discussions where the Western Elites are mentioned--just as “Western Elites”--I cannot go an research the positions of these folks, see if they ever answer the criticism leveled at them, etc.

This disturbs me somewhat because even in short discussions of other people’s views it would be appropriate to indicate what exactly those views are, how they are put by the very people who hold them (instead of by their critics). When some people’s ideas are discussed, it is always helpful to have at least a few direct quotes from the horse’s mouth--some primary as opposed to secondary references. This is why in scholarly treatments one offers footnotes or end notes or other indicators so that readers are able to follow up on the discussion and make sure they are grasping the positions being examined. It also enhances trust.

Of course, columns cannot produces all this--few would want to read a usual column with a bunch of notes at the end--yet even there a name or two could steer the reader in the right direction for purposes of more detailed study. So, I am hoping that the sentiments expressed in this brief missive will reach those who discuss the Western Elites--people who are evidently not friends of liberty, nor of ordinary and unsuspecting folks around the globe--and that they will help out readers of their essays with a few specifics that can be used by them to do one’s own research. I think this isn’t too much to ask for.

One may point out here that I, too, am failing to mention names here but I am not accusing anyone of being bent on imposing anything on anyone or belonging to some elite and, moreover, the folks who are making reference to Western Elites will probably know who they are if they read this missive and could help me out without at this point being named.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Revisiting Public Service Labor Unions

Tibor R. Machan

When one criticizes public service unions this doesn’t imply at all that one is critical of labor unions per se. Because public service is mostly monopolistic--only one first class postal service, only one Medicaid, only one DMV and road system, only one school system--and funded from taxes which are not voluntary, public service labor unions are themselves basically legally protected monopolies. If the teachers at the local elementary school demand something and the parents do not want to meet those demands, the parents have nowhere else to go to get their children educated unless they accept having to pay double--the taxes that go to the elementary school and the tuition that pays for a private alternative.

In contrast, if Toyota’s auto workers demand something from the company and costumers don’t believe they should receive it (for whatever reason), they can go to Ford or VW and not have to keep buying cars from Toyota. This is a huge difference. This is what permits public service labor unions to hold their costumers over a barrel--public school teachers will continue to be paid even if the parents of their pupils no longer want to deal with them. This is why some citizens are complaining about public service unions in particular, not about unionized labor in the private sector. And this is also why public service laborers are able to pull down such hefty pensions--there is no one else offering their service so their terms have to be met.

But from all appearances the members of the public service unions throughout the country, most visibly now in Wisconsin, speak as if they were members of plain old labor unions, comparable to unionized workers in the private, competitive market place (e.g., auto workers). This is an understandable tactic. Most Americans who give the matter any thought at all see unionization as a right all working people have. Not too many may exercise this right these days, admittedly, but they have it, just as you and I have the right to sing in our showers or travel to France even if we do not choose to do so.

So if the controversy were about whether Wisconsin’s and other states’ public union workers should have their right to be members of a labor union legally protected, they would be supported by most Americans. The fact is, however, that public service union members aren’t at all like private sector union members. They enjoy a legally protected monopoly. And that is a violation of the rights of their customers who have nowhere else to go to obtain the service that the public service unions provide.

Maybe a comparison will help to grasp the point. Imagine that those who work at the Department of Motor Vehicles in some state decide they want longer vacations or more pay or better retirement benefits. If they do not receive these, they threaten to walk of their jobs. (In many places throughout the country they are legally forbidden from doing this, precisely because they are so different from private sector union workers.) Drivers in those states have no alternative but to deal with the DMV so the workers there will receive what they demand. There is no other option. The option of banning strikes is for most people in the country a pretty harsh, out and out un-American measure!

Clearly the relationship between public service union members and those for whom they provide their service and the relationship between private sector union members and their costumers is entirely different. But if this is acknowledged, citizens may come to view the position of the public service union members, as well as the benefits they have managed to obtain in their collective bargaining with their public agencies, very differently from how they view it while thinking the two are alike.

Not even the news agencies that report on the current conflicts in Wisconsin (and very possibly in neighboring states) appear to appreciate the difference between public service and private sector unionization. Yet this is a vital fact and understanding it would change dramatically how the vast majority of citizens are perceiving the current controversy.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Censorship or Editorial Judgment?

Tibor R. Machan

The term “censorship” has apparently been quite corrupted. Watching a recent prime time broadcast of a number of recent Saturday Night Live shows I noticed now often those who discuss the program kept referring to the NBC quality control folks as "censors." As I see it, that's like calling a parent a censor for insisting that no pornography is watched on the home TV set. As a metaphor it might do but literally it is wrong.

Censorship is, strictly speaking, when a government (or some agent of it) bans the private showing of some program, like SNL. But when the producers of the show refuse to go along with the writers on what is to be broadcast, that’s not censorship.

I write a lot of columns and now and then--very rarely I admit--an editor of a blog or newspaper who uses these will ask me to revise a sentence or change a word or two in my initial draft, which I then either do or substitute another column.

The editor isn’t censoring me or my column but applying a standard to the material being published in the forum, one the editor is responsible to make as good as it can be (within all kinds of limitations).

So, if the producers or owners of SNL refuse to allow some skit to get on the air, claiming that it is too vulgar or offensive, this too amounts to nothing more than what editors and publishers have the full authority to do.

Now all this should be crystal clear except it is become obscured by the gradual invasion of the private realm by public authorities. Television, especially, is the victim of this because of the official fiction that the broadcast airwaves are public property. Indeed, in 1927 the US Senate, by an act of declaration, nationalized the airwaves. (This was done allegedly so as to help solve a problem faced by the Navy which didn’t like what it regarded the anarchy that prevailed in the electromagnetic spectrum and asked Congress to accommodate it, which Congress did by nationalizing the electromagnetic spectrum, something various experts have called the lazy way.)

Once something is public, in a democracy it is exposed to the dictatorship of the voting and represented majority, never mind any individual rights to liberty or property. So who really can tell who in the last analysis has the proper authority to apply quality control on “public” television?

Of course, these days there are politicians who have no compunction contemplating genuine censorship. Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia recently chimed in about this. And he was directing his censorial inclinations not at some iffy entertainment show but at two cable news networks, Fox-TV and MSNBC-TV. As the Senator put it, “I’m tired of the right and the left.... There’s a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to Fox and to MSNBC, ‘Out. Off. End. Goodbye.’” And he added, “It would be a big favor to political discourse; to our ability to do our work here in Congress; and to the American people, to be able to talk with each other and have some faith in their government and, more importantly, in their future.” So the Senator's being tired of something justifies such censorial impulses?

Just observe how those in charge of public facilities like parks, forests, beaches, roads, sidewalks, and so forth eagerly intrude on the activities of citizens making use of these. Merchants whose shops open onto the sidewalk, for example, are forbidden to have a smoking section even on the premises that aren’t public because, as the legalese has it, they are “affected with the public interest.” Never mind that by this line of reasoning all those newspapers sold at kiosks and in boxes on street corners could be subject to censorship. (I assume there is some kind of loophole that makes it possible to escape this--for the time being!)

It used to be conservatives who were willing to refuse to conserve the principles of the Founders when it came to pornography or other things of which they disapproved but you can see that this is not so any longer--Senator Jay Rockefeller is a liberal of high standing!

The statist impulse needs constant resistance and opposition, from anyone eager to impose his or her standards on us all. And the recent US Supreme Court ruling protecting the free speech rights of that church that demonstrated at the funerals of American soldiers was a good example of such resistance and opposition. Those people are a despicable bunch, yes, but their rights need protection.