Saturday, July 14, 2012

The New York Times Meets Property Rights

The New York Times meets Property Rights

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last several years I have subscribed to The Sunday New York Times, mainly because it came with accessibility to its daily online editions.  I like to read the Op Ed pieces and editorials and chime in here and there with some sanity where the paper lays out its loony leftists ideology.  For example, I found it valuable to oppose the doctrine that people are entitled to a great variety of free goods and services, i.e., goods and services others must pay for.

When President Obama’s health insurance scheme became the subject of widespread public discussion, I was committed to pointing out how this was going to be yet another case of trying to rob Peter so as to benefit Paul, by whatever obscure criterion of eligibility.  I was targeting my points at Paul Krugman and others who served as Mr. Obama’s ideological cheerleaders.  But not just at Professor Krugman but at all those who promoted policies that would chip away at human liberty, in more or less Draconian ways.

Well, suddenly The New York Times no longer makes it possible for online readers to offer comments easily--to do so one must climb over several walls, email letters to the editor, etc., etc.  And reading the comments of other readers is no longer possible (or if it is then it is by no means as simple as it used to be).  In other words, The New York Times is making changes, most likely to save money or to avoid having to deal with contrarians among its online readers.  I don’t actually know what lies behind the changes but I do not like them.  

However, and this is a notion that the editors and publishers at The Times probably do not appreciate at all, the paper belongs to them and they have the authority--based on the right to private property--to institute the changes however much I and very probably a bunch of other readers do not like them.  We are not entitled to the provision of various services from The Times, such as accepting comments from readers, notifying us that the comments have appeared online, etc., and so forth.  The paper belongs to them not me and others whose desires are no longer being fulfilled as they used to be.  Something has changed at The Times and the publishers and editors there have the right to make the needed adjustments just as they see fit.  They do not owe me and others like me a platform for expressing our dismay with what appears in the pages of the paper.  Yes, we may wish for this very much.  We may even have become habituated to offering up our ideas for the editors and readers to ponder.  But that doesn’t entitle us one whit to being given room in the pages of The Times.

Only, the publishers and editors and most Op Ed contributors to the paper just don’t get it--they are exercising a right that they do not recognize for other people, such as those who do not want to contribute funds the Mr. Obama’s health care budget or who do not want to follow mandates to which they gave no consent! These editors and publishers just decided, unilaterally, to close me and thousands of others out from the forums they could continue to keep open to us all.  And they probably don’t even realize that this right, this authority they have to do so, is entirely inconsistent with their welfare statist public philosophy. 

No, I and others like me do not have a right to gain entrance to the pages of The New York Times, in print or online.  And the folks at The Times know this well and good and act accordingly.  They didn’t need my permission to shut me out.  It was their right to make that decision.  

Which is central to human freedom, based on the right to private property, a right The Times doesn’t much like and certainly doesn’t defend in its editorials.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What's the Fuss About those Uniforms?

What’s the Fuss About those Uniforms?

Tibor R. Machan

        Senate majority leader Reid expressed outrage about the fact that the uniforms American athletes were going to wear at the opening ceremonies for this summer’s Olympics in London, UK, were manufactured in China. No, he wasn’t complaining because the places where they were made employ minors or violate other standards of proper business.  No, he was fussing about the fact that making the uniforms was outsources.  And now it appears commitments have come forth from Ralph Lauren, who has the contract to produce the uniforms, that outsourcing the task of making the uniforms will be stopped.

        What insanity. Who makes such uniforms competently and least expensively?  That is the question, not where they are made.  Commerce isn’t about nationalism but about cutting good deals.  How many of us wear garments, use gadgets and devices, rely on various articles of clothing such as buttons and fabrics, accessories such as watches, glasses, and so forth, made who knows where by who knows whom? Why is this important if it doesn’t involve any kind of forced labor?

         Dissing Mr. Lauren for finding a manufacturer of the requisite uniforms in China or anywhere else where a good deal could be struck is vile.  That is just what he is supposed to do when he is contracted for a job like this one.  When domestic politics focuses on such perverse issues, how far are we from instigating trade warfare?  Senator Reid was sounding like the United States of America is at war with any nation in which there are firms that produce commodities that fulfill the needs of companies producing goods and services for American consumers?  Next Senator Reid will call for declaring war on any country that doesn’t fall in line with his standards of acceptable trading partnership. The Majority Leader went so far as to declare that the Olympic committee should "put [the uniforms] in a big pile and burn them." (And, by the way, this isn’t a partisan issue--several Republicans joined Senator Reid in expressing hostility to freedom of trade which made Mr. Lauren’s decision possible.)

         What kind of neanderthals are these people who want to take this “buy only American” to such extremes?  Not only is the idea absurd in the 21st century but it amounts to out and out bigotry.  What is wrong with foreign working people who can produce perfectly acceptable uniforms for American Olympic athletes?

          America is supposed to be a culture in which persons from every other culture are welcome to make contributions to science, athletics, fashion, etc., regardless of race or national origin.  So what’s with the Senate majority leader and other politicians who attempt to stir up bad blood based on an elementary cosmopolitan feature of commerce?  Lay off the bigotry already!  It is the source of the sentiments that used to lead to wars between countries.

The Open Secret to Affordability

The Open Secret to Affordability

Tibor R. Machan

For a little while I was mystified about what would make the health insurance scheme that’s at the heart of Obamacare affordable.  I was reading about the measure all around the Web and couldn’t find much information about this.  Why would this be affordable, compared to unaffordable alternatives?  

And then it hit me--and I felt ashamed for failing to grasp it right away.  Of course!  Anything you can get other people to pay for can easily become affordable!  If my kid wants me to buy her a new car, I would normally say “Sorry, I cannot afford it.”  For our family such a purchase is unaffordable, at least now.  And that’s the story with innumerable commodities and services available on the market--most of these are just unaffordable to a great many folks.  Why? Because they haven’t got the funds to buy them at the price sellers are willing to accept.  Ergo, all of this is unaffordable.

But suppose I manage to sell a manuscript to a publisher who is willing to pay me big bucks for it--yes, I am dreaming--or imagine any other good deal I can nail down; suddenly much of what my family would like to purchase turns out to have become affordable.  That would be the kosher way to come to afford what we want, namely, by increasing our resources through making good deals, being more productive, earning more funds than we did before, etc.

          But I was forgetting for a while an entirely different way stuff we want can become affordable.  We could steal or rob others of their funds and use these to increase our resources.  Much of what we want could become easily affordable by this means.  

          You can easily imagine some bank robber coming home after a heist and announcing at the dinner table that what his family couldn’t afford before has suddenly become affordable.  Maybe it would include health insurance, vacations, better furniture for the home, a new automobile, etc., etc.  Pronto--all this stuff has become affordable.

          And that is really the clue to what makes health insurance affordable under President Obama’s measure!  He has put together a system whereby a great many people who do not wish to purchase health insurance will be mandated to do so anyway.  This will bring down the price of health insurance, make it affordable to millions seeing that they no longer have to increase their own resources in order to come to afford it.  Instead, they can now legally dip into the pockets of others, perfect strangers whose generosity they cannot count on but who have some funds that can be taken from them, making the service affordable to those who would have to either do without or improve their economic situation in order to pay for it on their own.

          Not that this is anything new in the field of public finance--indeed, it is the routine.  But in most instance some kind of excuse, admittedly spurious, is offered why that approach is necessary.  

           I don’t know what one calls this approach to purchasing stuff in the field of public administration but I do have the words for it in ordinary English.  It is called robbing Peter for the benefit of Paul.  And that is at the heart of Mr. Obama’s health care program.  That is what the individual mandate is mostly about, namely, forcing those who don’t choose to purchase health insurance to part with the funds that it would take to pay for it.  Thus has something that was unaffordable for many people become affordable.  Easy as pie!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Socialism American Style

Socialism American Style

Tibor R. Machan

Mr. Milos Foreman is a renowned film director but not a good political economist. This is evident in his recent New York Times op-ed defense of Barack Obama from those who charge the president with being a socialist. (See his essay, “Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close” in the July 10th issue of the paper.)

When someone on the American political landscape is accused of being a socialist, the claim has little directly to do with Stalinism, a lot more with the kind of system they had in Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland and other Soviet colonies, namely the phony promise of cradle to grave security and relentless government meddling in people's lives (goulash communism). Call it Norman Thomas style socialism, the kind that so many academic socialist in the West champion.

The brutality known as Soviet style socialism comes later. It is not the first step. But we get a good clue about its approach in America when one understands the meaning of a term like "mandate." It means coerce, plain and simple!

In socialism mandates are everywhere--all must be forced to live the same way, pay for the same health care and insurance, fall in line with state policy in matters of nutrition, conservation, energy usage, environmental ethics, climate change, etc., etc. Clamping down on free speech is never the first step, nor is shutting down the free press and nationalizing media. Or even collectivizing, banks, factories and farms.  (But check out Caesar Chavez of Venezuela and how he is imposing a near Stalinist variety of socialism.)

When governments start believing and imposing their idea of how everyone ought to live, how and when people's resources ought to be utilized, it's a clear move toward the harsh version of socialism but not yet the same thing; first you get the Swedish and Norwegian varieties, “socialism with a human face.” North Korea’s kind is a good ways down the road, which has a lot to do with the culture and history of the particular country involved. But socialism it is, Mr. Foreman's sophistry to the contrary notwithstanding (this coming from a refugee from Hungarian communism/socialism, not unlike the sort Mr. Foreman left behind in Czechoslovakia).

There is variety in the different types of socialism proposed and implemented but there is a recognizable unifying central theme in every version of it that Mr. Obama and his ideological cohorts share: people are viewed as belonging to society, as part of a hive or herd that needs to be driven in one proper direction.  One size fits all!

The major obstacle to it all being individualism and the free market that is its economic corollary.  If you are bent on moving the country toward any kind of bona fide socialism, start with chipping away at its individualist elements, like the liberty of a citizen to purchase the health insurance he or she deems suitable! Or not to purchase any at all. (The fact that in many countries such measures are already present means only that moving away from the governmental habit is difficult, with innumerable specialist interests resisting it.)

Sure, the idea can be driven home more or less forcefully--in America it is government nudging and the oxymoronically named libertarian paternalism, that’s embraced by Mr Obama and his lieutenants, e.g., professors Cass Sunstein and Stephen Holmes.  Theirs are the prudent, gentle approaches to socialism preferred by the likes of American socialists such as the late Norma Thomas and Michael Harrington, not the gulags or concentration camps of Stalin’s communism and Hitler’s Nazism (e.g., national socialism).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Allure of Mandates

The Allure of Mandates

Tibor R. Machan

Peter Coy of Bloomberg/Businessweek is an avid fan of mandates (see his “The Case for Way More Mandates” 7/9-7/15, 2012, p. 24).  Which is to say he prefers forcing people to do what he thinks they should do rather than persuading them, kind of like what the USSR’s rulers practiced routinely.  (To mandate presupposes the capacity to impose one’s will!  And governments are usually powerful enough to accomplish that. It amounts to coercing others, nothing nicer!)

The major argument given for mandates such as Mr. Obama’s preferred way to get people to insure their health care is that, well, by getting a lot of people to be part of the system, the cost of it all will not be as high as otherwise.  And this is true for a while.  If a lot of people are forced to eat at the restaurant I prefer, prices will be lower there.  Higher demand for any goods or services leads to lower prices, indeed.

But this applies mainly to demand that is forthcoming voluntarily, not from having been mandated.  Conscripting customers and clients may appear to be economical but only for a bit.  In time people start finding ways to dodge conscription, like the military draft or the policies of dictatorships or tyrannies.  All the energy devoted to such draft--i.e., mandate--dodging and its prevention goes to waste and that itself will turn out to be very costly.

What is really disturbing is that some justices of the US Supreme Court buy into this obscene way of thinking.  Justice Ginsburg did recently when she wrote: “People who don’t participate in this market are making it much more expensive for the people who do; that is, they will get, a good number of them will get services that they can’t afford at the point where they need them, and the result is that everybody else’s premiums get raised? It’s not your free choice just to do something for yourself. What you do is going to affect others, affect them in a major way.” In other words, if one doesn’t purchase health insurance, others who want to buy some will have to pay more than they would if one did so!  And this applies to everything, so we may then assume that Justice Ginsburg prefers a market in which people are forced to make purchases of goods and services she would like to be cheaper than if people made them voluntarily.

Conscripting customers is what she is proposing and what cheerleaders of mandates, like Peter Coy of Bloomberg/Businessweek, advocate.  At bottom this means that the choices of recalcitrant citizens will be sacrificed to Justice Ginsburg’s choices.  Which is tyranny, plain and simple--some folks in society get to lord it over other folks.  For a justice of the US Supreme Court to advocate such public policies is out and out treasonous, given that the USA is supposed to have a government devoted to securing the protection of the rights of its citizens even from mobs that would wish to violate those rights.

Respecting the rights of others can always be construed as something costly.  Your private property rights in your home require me to walk around when I want to get to the other side of it!  If you refused to clean my front yard, I will need to hire someone to do it.  If an airline company doesn’t provide me with free air travel, I will need to purchase the service.  If farm workers refuse to work without pay, those wanting their services will have fork out wages.  And on and on it goes. 

So the allure of mandating services from others has to be resisted in the process of respecting their rights.  This is supposed to be elementary in a free society.  And the laws of such a society must not yield to such allure, lest it violates, betrays the principles of liberty on which it is supposedly founded and the securing of which is its government’s central task!

It is true enough that mandating that citizens--who used to be “subjects” when their rights were ignored--serve others and the goals that others consider important (indeed, may even be important) has been the norm throughout human history.  The ideas of individual rights, to one’s life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc., have only recently become prominent in considering how public policies are to be forged.  Kings, pharaohs, czars, and others who insist that it’s their way or the highway never found the regime of individual rights appealing and still do not--just check the news from around the globe, including the country in which you live. 

But as the saying goes, the price of liberty, that most precious feature of a just community, is eternal vigilance.