Saturday, January 28, 2012

The bottom line on Obama-economics!

Tibor R. Machan

Economic fairness is impossible: an oxymoron. Since economic activities are inherently varied and often competitive and since one size doesn’t fit all and not everyone can win in a competition, no such thing as fairness is possible unless it simply means no one may be prevented from taking part. Certainly, however, the outcome will most likely be very different for different participants.

The sort of fairness and equality President Obama and his supporters are after maybe achieved around a family or fraternity dinner table or in a last will and testament where goods are being distributed among family members who each expect the fulfillment of an implied promise from elders to receive a “fair share” of the wealth left to them. “Fair” here makes sense since the idea is that no one is going to get much less or more than another. But no such expectation makes any sense throughout a country! The government owns nothing and can thus leave nothing to the citizenry without engaging in massive redistribution of wealth it doesn’t have any authority to distribute or redistribute.

When fairness is demanded, it implies that the government does have the authority to assign winners and losers in the economic sphere. As if we still lived in a monarchy awaiting the decision of the king as to who will be the beneficiary of his largess. All the subjects can hope they will receive a fair share of the wealth of the country.

But in a free country, with the principle of private property rights as the law of the land, the king or government has no business engaging in wealth distribution so the issue of fairness is entirely moot. It's a dream and where attempted, it leads to a police state. All that Mr. Obama needs to do to appreciate this is to read George Orwell's Animal Farm, a wonderful parable about what happens when equality is demanded and government tries to produce it. He might also check out the late Robert Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain example, from this book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1973) where he shows that when goodies are fairly distributed among people they will turn right around a rearrange it all so the “fair” distribution is completely upset.

Or if he wants real life cases from which to take lessons, Obama & Co. might remember the Soviet Union and investigate how things are panning out in that heavenly egalitarian country, North Korea. They could perhaps consider that in Cuba the rulers are finally realizing the futility of the socialist-egalitarian ideal and are making changes to turn the place into more and more of a free market system.

Still, there will always be those who want to level the economy. The main reason is the misguided conviction that we are, after all, in the same boat, just as are the children in a family. But the government isn’t like our parents who have made a promise to care for all their children. We aren’t the children of Mr. Obama and his administration! To try to serve us all with all the benefits that parents owe to their offspring would be futile and invites totalitarianism.

Parents, after all, own their resources and owe some of it to their children; this is not the case with governments and the citizenry. They don’t own anything at all without confiscating it. At most they may do this up to what is needed for administering the laws of the land--providing the citizenry with national defense and a sound legal system and its maintenance. Even some of this can be achieved without much government management. After all, who is the government but other citizens who have been hired to do a rather limited job in the country. It is up to the citizenry to secure for themselves economic growth, solvency, innovation, investment, etc. To attempt anything more would involve the government in tasks that free citizens aren’t entitled to.

Sadly Obama & Co. see the country as it if were some club or team where everyone is part of it and needs the same treatment as everyone else. But a country is not a club or a team--those are the results of free men and women coming together voluntarily for a great variety of purposes. The government of such free men and women must not get involved with what the clubs are embarking upon, be it business, athletics, education, entertainment or whatever else peaceful such folks will embark upon. Like the proverbial cop on the beat, the government isn’t there to pick the goals and tasks of those whom they serve in a limited capacity of securing their rights. It’s there to keep the peace, that is all!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

TSA & a Free Country: Are they Compatible?

Tibor R. Machan

Why does the TSA annoy so many of us? Not having the resources to do a survey, I resort here to what might be called educated speculation. I suspect it is because free men and women consider it invasive for government agents to order them around--pat them down, make them endure electronic surveillance, being ordered around by TSA agents, etc.--unless they give their permission.

Just because someone embarks upon air travel it doesn’t follow that such permission can be inferred, especially if the search is conducted by government agents. If a private carrier states up front that utilizing it will require submitting to various intrusions, there is a difference. People may require of visitors to their homes or business establishments to submit to certain reasonable precautionary measures, say, for hygienic or security purposes. That’s because their home belongs to them and they may impose conditions for accessing it to others even if these others do not quite understand the rationale behind the measures to which they are subjected. They can go elsewhere. But when government imposes such requirements, given the overwhelming force it wields and its monopolistic powers, certain due process provisions must be met. One cannot escape the government since it runs air traffic. Thus, not unless there is solid reason to suspect someone of misconduct or ill will may they be interfered with by the government. Otherwise the policy is arbitrary.

Interestingly, when Senator Rand Paul was subjected to the TSA’s measures on January 23, another issue, apart from due process, arose: the US Constitution disallows interference with the travel by a member of Congress. There is a bit of ambiguity about it, though. Among other things, if such an individual “breaches the peace,” the interference is warranted. Yet, what constitutes breaching of the peace? Simply embarking upon air travel surely does not. So the TSA hasn’t even the legal ability and thus the authority to detain someone like Senator Rand Paul. And arguably it should not have such authority when it comes to citizens who aren’t suspected of any crimes.

I was traveling recently and boarded a flight at Newark Airport in New Jersey and was subjected to the pat down, etc., procedure. I was informed that my right palm tested positive for a substance that had been instrumental in causing the Oklahoma City blast of several years ago. I wasn’t actually shown this, even though I asked, but I didn’t insist since I needed to catch my flight and there wasn’t much time left to do so. I didn’t carry with me any materials of the kind detected on my right palm--I was not checking bags and everything I had was put through the machinery at the security check. Despite this, I was physically patted down by some bloke, something I didn’t welcome but because of their power over me I couldn’t escape. Either I underwent the procedure or I was barred from boarding my flight.

What exactly counts as grounds for suspicion? No clue but maybe by setting off some instrument that’s calibrated some way to detect hazardous substances establishes sufficient grounds. Of course, different people can become suspicious for different reasons, based on their own experiences, knowledge, worries, etc. Risk assessment is certainly not an exact science. Much of it is based on input from experts who have different ways of weighing risks. Here, too, competition is needed to figure out what policy is best.

It is wisest not to forget that levels of fear and concern vary and that here, too, one size does not fit all. So what the TSA selects as decisive in how to measure risk may well be largely subjective. At most the best results will be an inter-subjective assessment. No wonder people feel very uneasy when they are subject to such a wishywashy system.

In this area, too, a competitive market is necessary so as to come up with results that are reasonable. Unfortunately when government manages airport security, this isn’t possible. Too many factors influence the managers and there is little hope for an objective determination or even of one that is at least plausible. Which means that policies will be debated forever and will result in policies that are arbitrary. That is the result of the tragedy of the commons in his area of concern. The king’s intuitions rule but no one can figure out whether they make sense!