Saturday, October 08, 2011

Greece in America

Tibor R. Machan

Most of us who are aware of world financial trends know that earlier this year thousands of Greeks took to the street and mercilessly engaged in destruction of property around Athens. They were upset about having to tighten their belts in the wake of the possibility that some of their entitlements will have to be cut and their retirement postponed past age 57. In short, they were upset that the freebies they had come to take for granted may have to be reduced, even completely cut. Few of them seemed to have a clue about how one cannot get blood out of a turnip. After decades of living off the work and incomes of other people and future generations -- via borrowed funds -- the gravy train is very likely to reach its termination point.

In much of Europe the attitudes of these Greeks is routine. They have welfare states in spades and few have ever warned them about the hazards of living in such systems. These last few years may finally have produced such a warning but only by creating hardship for those who have become completely dependent on the system. Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain are just the more drastic examples. But the entire continent is experiencing the consequences of decades of profligacy. Instead of testing a truly revolutionary alternative to socialism -- which of course crashed with the demise of the old USSR and its colonies -- namely a consistent free market, capitalist economic order (with a proper constitutional framework) -- what most Western European politicians chose to do is to turn toward socialism with a human face, of the democratic kind (i.e., without outright police state policies).

This has been a strategy adopted in America as well. Promoters of more and more entitlement programs and top down federal and state government economic regulations have been clamoring for America to become a so called compassionate system (and throwing around accusations that adversaries and critics of government profligacy are mean, lack heart, etc.). These and similar ways were meant to accommodate the moral and political sentiments of the former Soviet system. The only difference is that while the Soviets realized that their planned economy requires the police state and met their demise by applying police state policies, the Western welfare states try to square the circle by preaching compassion and kindness while enacting laws and regulations that in fact require a firm hand by the government.

So after it is becoming clear enough that no system can survive with the reckless economic policies of the welfare state, what is left? We see the answer on the streets of New York and elsewhere with the attacks on Wall Street. Just as the Germans turned upon Jews, whom they irrationally held responsible for their economic wows, the Wall Street protesters are scapegoating a segment of the American population that not only does not deserve this but may actually be the last hope of the American and even world economy. “We don’t much like our situation, so let’s pick on Wall Street traders and companies and blame them for it.” What these people are calling for is just a bit short of stringing up or liquidating the very people who are mostly hard at work trying to earn a living for themselves and their clients.

Yet given the mainly mindless commentaries on the Greek, Portuguese, and Italian economic situations, given how so very few mainstream observers pick the correct culprit -- namely, the welfare state and its coercive wealth redistribution and punishment of productivity -- it is not all that surprising that young Americans tend to turn on those who are managing to make it in this economy. They feel, having been so urged to feel, that they are owed a living -- they have gotten free education and most of them are still getting one (protesting vociferously every time tuition is raised) as an object lesson and now that this can no longer be sustained they are picking on precisely those who carry very little of the responsibility for their circumstances.

Why are so many surprised with this? Almost all of the teachers, from elementary to graduate schools, have preached the welfare statist mantra that we all have a right to be taken care of. So what is one to expect?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Obama the Wuss!

Tibor R. Machan

Here is why President Obama is a wuss. He has never shown much taste for the war on drugs yet he has done nothing to stop it. He could save a bundle of money (certainly vital in these times) and more importantly get people out of jail and prison who shouldn't be there if he urged its end. It would strengthen America’s reputation as a bona fide free country. It would embarrass the Republicans -- maybe even many Tea Party people -- by showing them up for the petty tyrants they are by backing this insane “war.”

Yet, what does Mr. Obama do? He lets the feds raid even medical marijuana clinics in California as a show of force. He misses showing up the Republicans up for their hypocrisy about state rights and federalism, two principles they keep championing in the abstract but betraying in practice in this case for sure.

Of course the main issue shouldn’t be one of showing up the other party for being hypocrites. The main thing should be getting rid of the despotic policy and here Obama could even count on his base, many of whom are supporters of people’s liberty to consume drugs of any kind, even those that may well harm them. (After all, a free citizen is one who may exercise his or her liberty by engaging in bad practices, like producing rotten works of art and worshipping false idols.)

Sadly while in some matters the current crop of Republicans are favoring human liberty, in others they do not. They keep rationalizing their war on drugs by reference to phony theories about how drug consumption is not a victimless crime after all since the perpetrators sometimes harm others under the influence. If that’s so, prosecute and punish them for violating the rights of others, not for being under the influence. (People can embark on violating the rights of others for hundreds of highly varied reasons which cannot and ought not to be the target of laws, only of education and persuasion -- that is the civilized way of dealing with people’s bad habits!)

The president is very fond of giving speeches and answering press conference question by stating what he wants people to do. You know, “Pass this bill,” which is actually an order and not becoming of the presiding officer of the government of a free country. But if he is so inclined, why not order the abolition of the villainous war on drugs? Go out and rally his team to do something worthwhile.

It seems that despite the widespread acknowledgement of the disaster of the country’s experience with alcohol prohibition, history is being repeated almost perfectly. What a shame that is. As a refugee from a Draconian tyranny, the so called communism (actually fascism) imposed on Eastern Europe and my original country, Hungary, I am truly disgusted and saddened by America’s drug war. Who do these people think they are to throw people in jail for taking huge risks with and even ruining their lives? (People take risks all the time, e.g., when they drive or go skiing, or … well anyone can fill in the rest of this sentence with but a minimum of thought and observation!)

A few years ago I made a friend from Bulgaria, a former commie country and one that still suffers much from that disastrous episode in its history. Yet places of entertainment in Sofia, the capital city, can stay open much longer than ones in America. That may not be very important to some folks but it does illustrate just how often Americans are willing to tolerate various tyrannical measures in their midst. Which allows its enemies to point a finger at how many people linger in prisons for various victimless crimes. It allows its detractors to discredit the country’s supposed exceptionalism.

For those of us who love liberty and used to love America for a system that was at least approximating the free society and had gotten rid of slavery, the most blatant contradiction of its free heritage, this situation is really distressing. Hopefully it will turn out to be yet another fading legacy of the governmental habit.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Prohibition hasn’t Ended

Tibor R. Machan

One of my grown children and I watched the first installment of Ken Burns’ new series, Prohibition. There was a lot of information, details one would know only if one studied the history closely but one matter came through clearly and accessibly. That is just how stupid or vicious the current supporters of the disgusting war on drugs are. I mean all the politicians, citizens, members of courts and so forth, people who appear to have learned absolutely nothing from the alcohol prohibition that made criminals out of millions of peaceful American citizens.

What a scandal and catastrophe! A country that has had a reputation throughout the globe for institutionalizing a mostly small and free federal government and for being on record championing liberty for the citizens of the entire globe is undeniably hypocritical and has been such for much of its history, at least in some of serious areas of American society. There was slavery, of course; and prohibition, and detention for Japanese Americans and now the insanity of placing thousands and thousands of citizens in jails and prisons for, well, nothing that could possibly be reasonably considered a violent crime.

Not only is this feature of the country unjust and devastating for all those who are its victims but it is a colossal public relations disaster. All along politicians in the country have laid claim to serving the principles of liberty only to oversee what is without any doubt a series of institutional assaults upon those principles in the public policies they have supported.

As a friend and I wrote several years ago, “The war on drugs received several major increases in funding during the 1980s, and the U.S. military is now heavily involved in drug-law enforcement. Despite these increased resources we are no closer to success with drug prohibition than socialism is at creating a ‘new economic man.’ The fact that a full array of illegal drugs is available for sale throughout the Federal prison system, the Pentagon, and in front of the Drug Enforcement Administration building in Washington, D.C., demonstrates that little has been accomplished.” Sadly it also demonstrates how little the supporters of the war on drugs have learned from the earlier prohibition.

But of course the most offensive feature of the war on drugs is how it violates the rights of all drug users and traders. Never mind that it may well be morally objectionable to use and trade many drugs. So can be pornography or various forms of imprudence, such as laziness and sloth. But such practices must not be banned in a free society. They need to be combated without resort of coercion since these are all peaceful and victimless.

Just who do these people think they are to impose their will on others when it comes to what they ought to put into their bodies and other personal failings? Oh, it is excused because some drug users and abusers undertake various tasks in the performance of which they might injure innocent bystanders. Yet this is a really feeble excuse--people who pursue perfectly decent tasks can harmfully impact others, such as drivers (who expose other drivers to lethal risks) and students or office workers (who can spread diseases). It is the violent acts that must be prohibited and punished, not the people with various conditions that may or may not lead them to such acts. (This is a point that can also be made vis-a-vis so called hate crimes. It is not the feeling of hate that must be banned or punished but actions that violate the rights of victims.)

Isn’t it about time to live up to the principles of the American political tradition, one that recognizes individuals rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Having such rights means, mainly, that they might be exercised in objectionable ways, just as having the right to freedom of speech and religion can be. But the stupid governmental habit keeps getting in the way of achieving a fully free society. Would be good idea to stop letting it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Ron Paul’s Foreign Policy Troubles

Tibor R. Machan

When he was recently booed by a lot of the audience in Tampa, Florida, for invoking the infamous blow-back doctrine, some of Representative and Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul’s defenders blamed those who did the booing. Yet at least one friendly commentator made mention of the fact that Dr. Paul has a tough road to hoe because the matter of explaining how to understand anti-Western/American terrorism is not simple, not susceptible to sound bites.

Is it a good idea to explain 9/11and other terrorist attacks on Western and especially American populations by reference to the fact that the West has inserted itself into many regions of the Muslim world without much popular support from those who live there? The idea is that because governments such as that of the US have indeed done this, there can be no complaint when those who live there carry out attacks on Westerners including hundreds of innocent people who had nothing at all to do with the foreign policy that perpetrated the insertions.

Consider that in most civilized societies if one protects one’s property against invasion, vandalism or loitering by setting up lethal booby traps, one will be prosecuted even if those who invade it are deemed to have trespassed, violated the owner’s rights. In a similar vein, even if American and Western countries have intruded on various Middle Eastern and Islamic states--via oil operations, military outposts, etc.--if these have not been lethal or have produced only moderate violations of the rights of local populations, the response--the blow back--of murdering 3000 innocent individuals (and countless others around the globe who probably had little to do with engineering the invasive policies) is way over the top. Put bluntly, the blow back would have to be no more severe than the invasion. There is no proportionality here and thus justice is not served.

Of course, things get complicated because many in the regions involved have been complicit in the West’s “invasions.” Lots of these have at one time and even recently welcomed Western oil companies into their countries so as to take advantage of Western technology in extracting oil there. Similarly, quite a few of the governments in those regions have asked for and welcomed military support, often with consent from at least a large portion of the population--think Saudi Arabia.

There are, of course, other complexities involved and to sort them all out would take an elaborate scholarly discussion, involving such disciplines as morality, history, geography, politics, economics and so forth. Yet since most people in Western, quasi-democratic societies are called upon to form judgments about these matters, it is safe to say that the simple idea that “we asked for 9/11 and other atrocities” is entirely unjustified, even if there is some small truth hiding in it.

Perhaps when it comes to Ron Paul’s foreign policy positions it would be helpful to know that they are importantly informed by the positions of the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and that the organization’s stance has been heavily influenced by the views of the late Professor Murray N. Rothbard, among others, famous or infamous for a principled anarcho-libertarian politics in terms of which all governments are criminal organizations. This is what Llewellyn Rockwell, president of the Mises Institute wrote about this recently:

“Every close observer of the events of those days knows full well that these crimes were acts of revenge for US policy in the Muslim world. The CIA and the 911 Commission said as much, the terrorists themselves proclaimed it, and Osama underscored the point by naming three issues in particular: US troops in Saudi Arabia, US sanctions against Iraq, and US funding of Israeli expansionism.”

It is all the West’s fault. They asked for it! As if the reactions from “the Muslim world” were quite rational, quite just instead of dastardly over the top! They were crimes for the likes of Rothbard’s followers only in the sense in which many unjust laws make just conduct criminal.

Now, Professor Rothbard, a brilliant economist -- check out his magnum opus, Man Economy and State (Princeton, N.J., Van Nostrand, 1962) -- was not just a WW I but also a WW II revisionist historian, a frequent critic of Western and especially American foreign policy positions during the Cold War, often favoring the Soviet as opposed to American stance. These positions at least indicate where someone who follows his lead would stand on such matters as dealing with anti-Western terrorists from the Middle East. They are merely responding to Amerca’s imperialism! Mr. Rockwell’s points confirm this.

In my own estimation, Professor Rothbard’s and his followers’ anarcho-libertarianism has inclined them to oppose everything that the American government does, in part because it is the closest of big governments and thus one that deserves the most concentrated opposition from champions of justice and anarchism. All governments are evil but those nearby are the greatest threats! So attacking them is the moral high road! At least, so seems to go the Rothbardian thesis that has most likely influenced Dr. Paul’s foreign policy position, the one rightly booed by many in Tampa for its crude anti-Western, anti-American outlook.