Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Programming Director, WTOP Radio Washington, DC Dear Sir or Madam: A listener called your Talk Back line during today's 7am hour to exclaim that "national elections are occasions" in which "candidates and the American people talk to each other about what's important." Please. Enough with these panegyrics about democratic elections. These "occasions" might help to keep political power less concentrated and less dangerous than it would be otherwise, but they hardly promote constructive conversation between candidates and the general public. Such conversation requires candor. But each candidate is interested in winning office rather than in exploring the verities. He would deny the truth of the Pythagorean theorem if he sniffed the slightest political advantage in doing so. And his bevy of lieutenants - ever-present on television and radio talk shows - are selected not for their objectivity but for their skills at chicanery and equivocation. What Adam Smith observed in 1759 remains true today: "A true party-man hates and despises candor; and in reality there is no vice which could so effectually disqualify him for the trade of a party-man as that single virtue."* Sincerely, Donald J. Boudreaux Professor of Economics George Mason University Fairfax, VA 22030 * Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1976 ), p. 259.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
The Face of Egalitarianism Tibor R. Machan A few weeks ago they ran the famous Oxford v. Cambridge rowing race on the Thames but a fanatical egalitarian, Mr. Trenton Oldfield from Australia, ruined it for everyone by jumping in the river and blocking the race in the name of resisting the elitism of rowing! He was dubbed in the UK the “anarchist swimmer” and has mounted some other guerrilla strikes to make his point. Among other things he is urging cabbies to take well to do passengers on long detours and cleaners not to place toilet paper where they are expected to serve rich folks. Now some might dismiss this as a mere childish prank by a nutcase but this guy is a London School of Economics graduate. He seems to be taking the goal of leveling very seriously, although his project is incoherent and mostly destructive. (Is someone with a degree from LSE not well to do?) Still, if you are exhorted by the likes of President Obama or by LSE professors--among them, I believe a little while ago, John N. Gray, a former classical liberal who has turned into a post-modernist/Leftist in his latest incarnation--to rip off the rich, who can tell what limits if any there are to this agenda? After all, there are innumerable activities that well-enough to do people undertake that may, along egalitarian lines, be sabotaged. Of course, polo games will have to be attacked; fencing, too, as well as bridge tournaments. And, of course, there are the regattas of all sorts that are the stuff of entertainment and sport for well off folks around the globe. Fine restaurants would have to be on the list, as well, not to mention stores and clubs and car dealerships. (I hesitate to list more since it may encourage one of these SOBs to take up the task!) Actually, any game is fair to such equalizers since whenever one is playing, one might be serving humanity or the poor or the sick, instead. Anything goes, just as that famous philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend used to advocate about how to do science (in his book Against Method, for example). I have a host of emotions welling up when these people take write this material or to the streets or implore us all from university podiums with their insanity. Sure, there is the problem, too, that a river in most places is a public good everyone may use to his or her heart’s content. A private lake would be easier to protect from such terrorists. But never mind that for now. Simple common sense and civility will lead most people to refrain from expressing their political dreams by way of ruining events like that Oxbridge rowing regatta. But what can one expect when the head of the most powerful government in the world advocates the egalitarian project, suggests tax policy based on its aspirations, bashes the rich at every turn? Not that there is anything revolutionary about this; after all, throughout human history there have been philosophers and others who have promoted evil and aggression as the proper objective for people to pursue (the most famous of these being the Marquis de Sade, of course). Still, it is rare that one runs across the likes of Mr. Oldfield in clear public view in a society such as the UK, one who comes right out and identifies the philosophical source of the destructiveness being perpetrated. Come to think of it, though, maybe that is just what is needed--for these maniacs to come out of hiding and show exactly what their warped thinking actually leads to.