Friday, May 25, 2012
Machan’s Archives: Did '96 Bill Force People to Work? Tibor R. Machan As The New York Times would put it, when in 1996 “President Bill Clinton delivered on his pledge to ‘end welfare as we know it’...he signed into law a bill forcing recipients to work and imposing a five-year limit on cash assistance.” Back then this supposedly cruel deed was one “Hillary Rodham Clinton supported.” The Times says that “some accused the Clintons of throwing vulnerable families to the winds in pursuit of centrist votes as Mr. Clinton headed into the final stages of his re-election campaign.” Now just consider the way The Times words all this. By ending parts of the welfare state, the bill amounted to “forcing recipients to work, etc.” That is like claiming that when one no longer provides support to certain people who become accustomed to getting it, one is “forcing them to fend for themselves.” In fact, of course, it was the government that was forcing all those it taxes to support the recipients in the first place and with the bill in 1996 it finally lessened the load on them. Taxation is what amounts to deploying force against people. Welfare is a form of coercive support. But support should never be coerced but provided only voluntarily by fellow citizens to those who are in need of it. But for The New York Times--and this is in a news report, not an editorial opinion--withdrawing some of this forced transfer counts as forcing people to work! But nothing forces anyone to work other than the fact that one needs to earn a living, needs to feed and clothe oneself. It is, to put it bluntly, reality that applies the force. It wasn’t Bill Clinton, Congress, or the supportive First Lady. Here is a good case of journalistic bias which is disguised within a so called straight news report. By wording the “report” as The New York Times did, the newspaper’s editors and writers tried to make it appear that those who aimed for the contraction of the massive welfare system were perpetrating some kind of oppressive action against welfare recipients. But just isn't so. In the welfare system it is politicians and bureaucrats who are forcibly confiscating funds from citizens, by means of taxation, in behalf of prospective welfare recipients. It may well be true that these welfare recipients are in need of help but what they ought to do is solicit the help, not take part in extorting it, from other people. It is not charity or generosity when government agents zoom down upon us every year on April 15th or so, and forcibly take from us what is no one else’s resource but our own. If we decide to send some of these resources to needy people, that’s charity, that’s generosity, that’s kindness. But if Congress and the President of the United States hand over the loot they have taken, to welfare recipients, that’s something entirely different--forcible confiscation and redistribution, that what. Some people tend to think of Robin Hood when they consider the nature of the welfare state but they are mistaken in doing so. What Robin Hood did was to retake resources confiscated in taxes from those who took them and return these to the victims. That part of the legend is rarely acknowledged. Thus, the government is anything but akin to Robin Hood, quite the opposite--it is the culprit or villain in the legend. This is something The New York Times might have reported instead of insisting on making it appear that in 1996 Bill Clinton & Co., including the supportive Hillary Rodham Clinton, set out to oppress welfare recipients. Granted, the entire policy may have been a scam to gain Bill Clinton support from American voters who believed that the welfare state needs to be cut back, perhaps even abolished. Given Mrs. Clinton’s belief in “a commander-in-chief of the economy,” I have little doubt that she has no principled objection to such a state and is probably bent on expanding it now that she believes most Americans no longer find much wrong with coercive wealth redistribution. What The Times ought to have done is gone on record, on the editorial page, arguing that such coercive redistribution is just fine so far as it is concerned, not try to hoodwink readers in a news story into thinking that the force is applied by those who want to cut back welfare rather than those who support it.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
A very Short Note on the Facebook Mess Tibor R. Machan Why is this Facebook stuff everyone's concern? Looks like the marketplace is working here just as it should, quite unpredictably, with unknown winners and losers on the horizon. Is investing now supposed to be a sure thing? Incredible. Investing means taking risks since what one is banking on is other people's upcoming, yet unknown decisions and that's naturally uncertain. All this pining for a sure thing just gives the politicians an excuse to butt in (even though they have no guarantees to offer either).
Seattle, America’s Europe? Tibor R. Machan On a recent trip to Seattle, which I visit on and off quite a lot, I found the place to have just the kind of feel I have experienced in Stockholm and Oslo and in cities, big and small, throughout Austria and Switzerland. The main places in the city are very clean, with a lot of public facilities spic-and-span that few in fact seem to use. It is the kind of place that appears to be ruled by people with taste and class, at the expense of everyone who lives there as well as outside the central regions. And of course green rules, except that the city seems to have a greater percentage of cigarette smokers than any other I have visited recently, including New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and even New Orleans. (Maybe it has to do with how a good smoke goes hand and hand with a fine, dark cup of coffee, such as is sold in zillions of Seattle's coffee shops.) It is not unlike Switzerland and many other places throughout Europe, where the trains run exactly on time but are not actually occupied very much now (since people seem to prefer using private cars on roadways they know they can leave when it suits them so as to take minor or major detours, do a bit of shopping, visit grandma, etc., that cannot be done while using public transportation). It doesn’t appear that there is much fuss about being taxed to fund all the public facilities, apart from the broad concerns about governments going broke everywhere, borrowing billions from future generations the members of which aren’t casting votes about how the money they will be forced to give up is spent. I was especially struck by how similar the towns look, on the way to or from the airport on the train route, to ones in such places as Hamburg and Amsterdam. (I rode the train at about 7 AM on a weekday and there were no passengers to speak up along for the ride.) Of course, I was looking at the homes and commercial facilities from the outside and do not have detailed data on what the various places of residence and business look like inside. (Often some areas that look run down to casual observers turn out to be extremely well kept on the inside, something I discovered on a visit to various Chicago suburbs a while ago.) Anyone familiar with the phenomenon of the tragedy of the commons will very likely realize how it is evident throughout some of the most attractive places around the world--Santiago, Chile; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway and the rest. Because governments can always float bonds and finance the projects of their leaders with debt and money printed for them, there is rank and massive profligacy afoot in these places. Another reason this can go on is that in certain parts of the country, indeed the world, citizens are quite happy to assume debts they are not ever likely to be called upon to pay back. Shops, restaurants, hotels and such are nicely designed and built as a testimony to the good taste of the planners. Never mind that in time there will have to be some kind of adjustment so that those who come up with the services that make all this feasible can be compensated (so they can feed and clothe themselves). The resources for the time being come from tax revenues and borrowed funds, so few care much about the burdens created, the cost that must in the end be covered by the citizenry. Sure, there are always a few who speak out and protest the profligacy but too often they are regarded as party poopers, spoilers of the fun so many are looking forward to. The fact that most of the expenditures are carried out on the backs of millions who do not live in the places that are being spiffied up so nicely, people who work in rural areas--in plants and factories, on docks and farms and other areas where the hard work that earns some real funds is being done--doesn’t bother the ambitious planners in whose minds these beautiful downtowns around the world, including in Seattle and other parts the beautiful people like so very much live, are conceived. The dreamers basically think, “These are such nice ideas that it would be a shame not to make a try at implementing them, never mind the ultimate cost to millions who have to give up their own plans in consequence.” It is all in support of our communities, after all, right? And elites know best what is worth being built, right, never mind who must pay in the end, right? (Kind of like in contemporary Red China where so much of what is being displayed is aimed for the foreign visitor, mostly at the expense of the millions living rather poorly in the hinterlands.)
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Machan's Archives: Sandel's Distortions Tibor R. Machan Some people lie without any hesitation. To bring lies to print, however, you need more than liars--you need editors who want the lies to circulate, good and hard. Harvard University political theorist Michael J. Sandel is well know as a critic of the American political tradition of individualism, not so much by forthrightly disagreeing with its principles but, more often, by caricaturing what they actually are. He is a well published professor, with numerous scholarly books and papers to his credit. In recent years he has gone pop, though, with appearances on various television programs and articles in popular magazines. Sandel is renown for misconstruing individualism as nothing but some fanciful vision that champions isolation, social alienation, and some sort of artificial self-sufficiency that can do without friendship, family, and community. If you think I am exaggerating, let me quote from one of Sandel's recent articles in The Atlantic, which is itself an excerpt from his latest book, Democracy's Discontents. Here is one thing he tells the reader, this famous, well positioned scholar of political theory: "The traditional Republicans are uncritical advocates of the free market, free trade and the global economy and at the same time they pose as advocates of community and family values. But it is precisely unfettered markets which are now most responsible for the breakdown of community and traditional values. Walmart, not big government, is responsible for the demise of Main Street across America. But most Republicans won't face up to that contradiction." This passage contains so much distortion that it is difficult to pick which to expose in a brief commentary. But let's try. Traditional Republicans have never been uncritical champions of free markets. From Lincoln to Gingrich, all have agreed to massive government intrusions on the economy, advocated innumerable favors for big business, would not think of abolishing farm subsidies or repealing the interstate commerce clause of the US Constitution. Traditional Republicans have often been complicit in protectionism, even while giving some lip service to free trade. This was true with Reagan and Bush and is still true with many Republican members of Congress. There is no such system as an "unfettered market" anywhere in sight, in any goods or services trading in this country--government regulations from those enacted by city councils all the way to the federal government make sure of that fact and Professor Sandel knows this very well. Finally, the reason that Walmarts, Targets, etc. are overrunning the United States of American and every other nation is only partly a function of some efficiency they provide. Another reason is that small businesses are unable to cope with the thousands and thousands of government regulations. They haven't the capital to fund teams of attorneys to figure out what they may and may not do or mount law suits in case they are found to be in violation of some of the millions of rules governments have decided they must live by. Professor Sandel knows all this, of course, but he is not after offering some kind of objective understanding of American commercial or political life. He, like so many of his left-communitarian cohorts, wants, instead, to create an impression about the polity of liberty. Never mind that he needs to engage in massive distortions in order to achieve this, starting with maintaining the myth that America is true to its free market ideas laid out in the Declaration of Independence. But Sandel does not care about truth, only about his utopian communitarian vision. For the sake of realizing the dream of a well regimented collectivist society, in which the community they think all ought to be made a part of will be imposed on everyone, like it or not, they are willing to commit any kind of intellectual malfeasance. And it seems his cohorts have enough manuscript readers at the presses which publish them not to be called on the carpet for doing so. Maybe what Professor Sandel ought to do is team up with Oliver Stone and pen some fictional accounts of American economic and political history.