Saturday, May 12, 2012
From Machan's Archives: Business Versus Business One of Karl Marx's less notable mistakes was his belief that people in the world of business would promote their self-interest. If by self-interest we include, as I believe we ought to, the most rational social-political principles in support of a sound human institution's flourishing, then clearly people in business, not to mention the wealthy, often act in a self-destructive manner. They promote policies that hurt them economically. Examples of such self-destructive business conduct are not hard to identify. Consider Ted Turner, the multi-billionaire mogul, who went to Congress some years ago and asked the politicians in Washington to "shove down the throats of" broadcasters a TV violence rating system, unless the broadcasters adopt one pronto. Or consider how New York City's wonder financier, Donald Trump, wanted legal action take against native Americans who were running gambling establishments, just because they are not forced to pay the taxes he has to pay. Furthermore, consider a decision of the U. S. Supreme Court some years back, followed by some state supreme court rulings, to refuse to place a cap on the amounts of punitive damage money that juries may award to plaintiffs who succeed in proving that some service or product has injured them. (I won't even bother with anti-capitalists like Warren Buffet and George Soros!) In each of these cases it is people in the business community who are advocating getting the government involved in the operations of the market place or to cut some slack for them from the processes of our system of justice. (What is a fine that fits the crime anyway?) Turner's advocacy of government censorship of broadcasting is perhaps the most disgusting of the three examples. Ted Turner, who is rumored to have admired the ideas of Ayn Rand earlier in his career, was actually promoting government's intrusion on freedom of expression. He wanted the First Amendment to be voided when it comes to broadcasting. He should, instead, advocate the extension of First Amendment protection to the entire broadcast industry. He should advocate repeal of the federal law that has established the Federal Communications Commission--earlier the Federal Radio Commission--so that broadcasters and cable television operators could be enjoying the same freedom of communication as do the printed media. Instead, perhaps to appease the left wing liberals with whom he has been so socially chummy, he is asking the state to tell broadcasters how to run their business, what to do about its content, etc. Trump, et al ought to be advocating the reduction of taxation on every front, including when it hurts their immediate, short term business objectives, but instead they cry "unfair" and ask government to hit up the few people who have managed to escape its thievery. Trump ought to use the example of native Americans to point out that taxation is blatantly unjust and it would be best to recognize this fact not only regarding native Americans but all of us who live in this country. But the wunderkind of New York, Atlantic City and Las Vegas seems to lack the integrity and is proceeding in a truly short sighted fashion. Those people in business who want the government to limit the punitive sums juries may award to injured parties evade that such a limitation would be rather arbitrary. No doubt some juries are willing to indulge their collective prejudices against corporations by awarding larger than reasonable punitive sums to victims of corporate malpractice. But the remedy for this is not to subvert the jury system but to embark on a program of giving business a better press, demonstrating to the public that the business bashing attitudes so typical of the liberals are wholly unjust and injurious to our society. The source of jury's prejudices need to be addressed, but not by trying to subvert the jury system. The short cut method taken by too many prominent people in business ultimately undermines the system under which businesses can flourish in a human community. Such an approach--which includes advocacy of protectionist legislation, begging for subsidies, government backed loans, and bailouts, as well as protection of businesses against competition from new entrepreneurs at home and abroad--is surely sabotaging the entire business community, even while it may give a few particular enterprises a temporary leg-up. That business people do not realize how dear a price they are paying for the relief government gives them indicates that they are no less savvy concerning the relationship between politics and business than are academic left wingers who advocate out and out socialism. Marx was wrong--people in business are in fact insufficiently self-interested!
Friday, May 11, 2012
A potpourri of Issues, Minor and not so much. Tibor R. Machan Justice Kennedy's observation that the mandate changes the relationship between government and the individual is doubtful since there really are quite a lot of actions that citizens are forced to take, like it or not. Jury duty, for one; sending one's kids to school, for another; submitting to TSA searches if one wants to utilize air traffic, for yet another. And, of course, there is a yearly visit to the USPS to mail off the funds the IRS extorts from the citizenry! Still, yet another step in this direction needs to be seriously resisted. Slippery slopes need not be succumbed to; freedom is too precious to lose because of a history of sloppy judicial reasoning. It's time to take a stand even if precedence makes it look unreasonable. “First priority” is redundant since priority means first “the reason is because/that” “different than/from” “lie versus lay down” “people that/who” “A neighborhood of working people” refers to what kind of neighborhood exactly? Some more language mangling: the use of "a couple..." not completed with "of"; Thus, I read: "...a couple examples..." This one is on the rise.
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Revisiting a Confusion about basic rights Tibor R. Machan In his book Basic Rights (Princeton, 1970), Henry Shue argued that there is no valid distinction between negative and positive rights; his argument has recently resurfaced among so called left libertarians (otherwise also known as bleeding heart libertarians), a neologism if there ever was one. (I am tempted to start an association of no-nonsense libertarians to oppose them!) The significance of the point needs to be stressed since if it were valid, it would pretty much consign everyone to the status of a serf or involuntary servant. If we are all by birth obligated to serve other people first and foremost--which is what the doctrine of positive rights or natural entitlements alleges--our sovereignty would be a myth. We would once again be viewed as belonging to others; maybe not the king or pharaoh or czar but to the majority of the people who are ruled by a few “at the top.” The point Shue made is that since negative rights would require being defended in a society for them to have any concrete significance and since providing a defense of them would be the delivery of a service, having the negative right to, say, liberty or life, implies having the positive right to the services of the police and a sundry legal authorities. And so the floodgates are opened: everyone must be made to pitch in to obtain this service, leaving it to some elite to administer such a system. But, not so then and not so now! First, having a negative right to liberty implies that others may not invade one, that a person may not be used against his or her will and not that the right must be defended. Of course, some will refuse to heed this fact and in the face of that it will be very useful to establish institutional protection of people’s natural rights to life, liberty, etc. But first one has to have the right, contrary to some contemporary sophistries about the matter (such as Cass Sunstein’s view that rights are granted by the government!). Then if violations are likely, predictable, etc., a means for protecting rights will most likely need to be found. For example, as the Declaration of Independence makes clear, governments are instituted to secure our rights but that may not be the only means available. (So if someone is powerful enough, no special agency would be required. One could just deter and fend off rights violators on one’s own or with members of one’s family, all, of course, in line with due process.) But more likely in an advanced civilized society some would be hired to provide rights protection. The ensuing obligation to provide the specifics would be a matter of compact or contract. So citizens would then have a contractual or constitutional right to have their basic rights protected. And how this would be realized is an open question, part of jurisprudence. The issue here is only that people have the rights and those rights are negative. Then when they hire those offering the service of providing protection, then they will have the (derivative, secondary, non-fundamental) right to be provided with the protection. It is not easy to know motivations for the obfuscation perpetrated by Shue and his current followers, including some who have the gall to call themselves libertarians; my guess is that once it looks like some basic positive rights--e.g., to be provided with rights protection--have been established, it is easy to move on to other positive rights, such as to health care, unemployment compensation, a good job, a nice home, and so on and so forth, the entire array of entitlements that welfare statists advocate and that impose involuntary servitude on those who are in the position to provide them. Thus what appears to be a case for a libertarian legal order has cleverly been turned upside down so as to support its opposite. It doesn’t wash, however.