Thursday, August 16, 2012

Another Attempt to Bluff Us All

Another Attempt to Bluff Us All

Tibor R. Machan

Those aspiring to manage our lives, to take it over and run it according to their vision, never tire of trying to bluff us into letting down our guards.  Now come Robert and Edward Skidelsky, in a book titled How Much is Enough? (Allen Lane, 2012), claiming that there’s just too much capitalism afoot and this must be contained.  I assume by them and their pals.  They urge us to re-examine economic growth “as an end in itself,” without any connection to “what a good life might look like.”

Who are these blokes kidding? First, most ordinary folks with solid academic jobs and are not writing widely promoted, prestigious books, could really use a solid dosage of economic growth these days.  If they got that, they would know readily enough what a good life might look like--we do not need Skidelsky & Son to instruct everyone about such matters.  Who are these philosopher king types to presume they have an answer for us all about something that is very closely tied to who and what we are as individuals and members of various families and communities of which this father and son team have very little of the necessary knowledge?  

But of course beating up on an imaginary dominant consumerism and capitalism has a clear, not so hidden agenda motivating it.  Supporters of the two have chimed in with even more nonsense than they produced in their book.  Thus Larry Elliott in the UK newspaper The Guardian opined that we would all be so much better off if the stranglehold of “Anglo-Saxon capitalism” didn’t have us in its grip!  What these people advise is that our lives be modified as follows: “Sprinkle in a bit of Keynesian liberalism and a pinch of social democracy, and the good society is within reach.”

Balderdash!  Our lives are already fully ruled according to their vision.  We have a bunch of Keynesian liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic--just recall the endless stimulus packages we’ve seen recently, following the Keynesian policies promoted by Professor Paul Krugman and his fellow statist tinkerers; consider the social democracy that’s been flooding Europe and the rest of the Western world (Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, etc., etc.).  

The last thing we have around the globe is the boogie man of global capitalism.  At most we have some cronyism running amuck everywhere, but certainly no capitalism, with its strict adherence to private property rights, freedom of contract, personal responsibility for one’s winnings and losses and no politicians determining who are the winners and losers.  

As to the malarkey of having “too much” and the need to have this curtailed by yet another team of elitists eggheads, the idea has been around since Plato’s Republic (who didn’t really mean it anyway), and by now we should know better than to place our trust in these meddlers who would eagerly rule whatever realm they can dominate with their crackpot opinions.

Consider, finally, just who the the most widely respected “thinkers” of our area and of the past two centuries.  It is not the champions of capitalism and economic growth but the social democrats and their ilk who have been governing most countries around the world since at least FDR’s New Deal but more likely since onset of swishy-washy welfare statism foisted upon us by the likes of Otto von Bismarck. While not himself a socialist, Bismarck certainly gave the idea of statism in matters of economic security, education, and the like a powerful boost.  More to the point, there hasn’t been much of a bona fide capitalist culture or economy since Bismarck’s rule in Germany and even America came more under his influence than that of Adam Smith, not to mention Ludwig von Mises or Milton Friedman, as intimated by the Skidelsky father-son team.

Honest intellectual and political economic history is vital to an understanding of society but the sort being peddled by the social democratic left is a distortion of the truth for unabashed ideological purposes.   

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New Book by Machan

My just published short book: Revisiting the Objectivist/Subjectivist Debate, Addleton Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-1-935494-36-2, LCCN: 2012943287

If there is one philosophical question asked by most people, it is very probably about whether we human beings are capable of objective knowledge. Can we know reality as it actually is instead of some sort of distorted view of it, one imposed by our minds or culture or emotions or ethnic group and which in fact hides true reality from us? Many of us are concerned about how people ought to conduct themselves—how to act properly or rightly—and it nags us whether a true or objective answer is possible.
“Objective” here means grasping the way things truly are. Do the objects and principles of interest to us in ordinary or scientific investigations have what the physicist Max Planck called, somewhat hyperbolically, “absolute, universal validity, independently of all human agency.”[i] Or are we left only with “subjective” answers based on our feelings, mental dispositions such as wishes, hopes, fears or expectations or cultural predilections?
To put it somewhat differently, is it the subject’s contribution to the situation with which we end up and not knowledge of reality?  Is our “knowledge” “affected by, or produced by the mind or a particular state of mind; of or resulting from the feelings or temperament of the subject, or person thinking; not objective; personal.”[ii]  (“Relativism” is another way of labeling this position since under subjectivism one’s understanding of the world would be related to one’s personal identity and situation.)
Some have posed the challenge: “But how is it possible to believe that, even if there is an ‘objective’ reality, it can be revealed to us in some way that bypasses our senses and our neurochemistry?”
Immediately there is the loaded term “revealed” which the objectivist would be loath to use: nothing is revealed to human being, they must work to grasp it.  And there is the other dubious notion, that in order to secure objective knowledge the mind’s reliance on the senses and on the brain’s neurochemistry is something to be bypassed.  That is like thinking of the shovel while shoveling as if it were something to bypass in order to get pure shoveling.  In fact the mind, via the brain, is like a shovel—it enables us to grasp objective reality, it isn’t some impediment but an instrument!  (This fallacious thinking comes from failing to appreciate that in order to see clearly it wouldn’t do to get rid of one’s eyes. It is eyes that enable one to see in the first place! And the mind to know reality as it is.)

[i] Quoted in Manjit Kumar, Quantum, Einstein, Bohr, and the great Debate About the Nature of Reality (NY: W. W. Norton, 2008), p.  10. By this characterization Plank seems to side with Plato on the nature of objective truth and not all objectivists agree.  The reason is that such a way of understanding objectivity makes that goal inherently unattainable—none of us can be expected to have checked out any claim to the end of time to make sure no modification was needed to get it right.  Even objectivity must be understood contextually—it gives one the most up to date, not the final, version of the world.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Can Obama Not Turn Our Backs on Failing Firms?

How Can Obama Not Turn Our Backs on Failing Businesses?   

Tibor R. Machan

During the rather brief and confusing discussion about bailing out automakers President Obama announced with his characteristic misplaced righteousness that we “will not turn our backs on one of America’s basic industries.”  Of course Mr. Obama and his cheerleaders do not mean that they will dip into their resources and provide help nor do they mention that what he means is that he wouldn’t allow any American citizen to do so even if that seems a wise decision.  In other words, in his typically collectivist thinking, he believed that his desire to bail out an industry with other people’s resources is virtuous and must be made public policy.  Everyone else must be forced to follow suit.  

Obama hasn’t the funds to bail out anyone, of course.  In fact, neither does the United States of America, considering that the US Treasury is empty, running on promissory notes, the faith and hope that members of future generations will be productive enough for them to be ready to be robbed of their incomes and savings so as to fund what Mr. Obama believes is important to fund such, as bailouts for banks and car companies.   And he proudly proclaims this to be a praiseworthy idea, him using our resources to fund his pet projects. And just when he wanted to capitalize on some minor rejuvenation in the auto industry, that industry started to falter again and cost taxpayers several billions dollars.  

Like a monarch, Mr. Obama sees the country’s wealth to be his wealth.  He has no respect for private property rights--all property belongs, as argued by his favorite political philosophers Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel (in their book The Myth of Ownership), to the country and is not the property of the citizens of the country!

Monarchs were under the impression--or delusion--that they were authorized by God to rule a country (and they still are in many regions of the globe).  But that myth is slowly fading away.  It has been replaced by the one that holds that all property belongs to the people, to everyone together.  Never mind that this idea has been one of the most destructive economic notions in human political history.  Never mind that it implies that working people everywhere belong to the state.  It is in any case a disastrous notion.

For one it invites the tragedy of the commons, with everyone thinking he or she has unrestricted access to everything of value, with no need to pay for it, to replace it, to care for it--someone else will do it all.  As Aristotle observed a very long time ago (yet few heeded his counsel), “For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.  Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual.  For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few." (Politics, 1262a30-37).

Which explains pretty well why Mr. Obama can treat the national wealth as if it grew on trees and didn’t need to be cared for.  He is not turning his back on any of his favorite citizens because it isn’t really his back but ours and he seriously believes that he is authorized--not by God this time but by a collectivist philosophy--to use us and our labors to his heart’s content.

If there was one item over which the Cold War was fought it was individualism versus collectivism.  Ronald Reagan and his supporters believed individualism won but they were wrong.  Sadly the West was already too corrupted by collectivist ideas, such as the welfare state and communitarianism, so although the Soviet Union collapsed, the ideas which it tried to implement throughout the world are now in command of public affairs nearly everywhere.  

          This need not continue to be so but unless people wake up to just how insidious the collectivist idea is, it will, to quote a famous communist, Nikita Khrushchev, bury us all.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Olympics and Politics

The Olympics and Politics

Tibor R. Machan

Strictly speaking sports and politics should be separate, just as should be religion and politics.  Of course folks with strong religious convictions will often be guided by them as they make political choices.  So people who hold to the pro-life or pro-choice position on abortion will choose candidates and policies accordingly, although they could just as easily be guided by their convictions apart from their link to their faith.  In other words, whatever is one’s source of values will make a difference to how one aligns oneself in public policies. But the best option is to keep one’s personal values at home.  And rooting for people on political grounds pretty much corrupts athletics.

The substance of athletics is performance, never mind why one wants to perform well in some event.  Yet there are some political lessons to be learned from competitive athletics.  One is just how irrational is egalitarianism, the view that the best social arrangement is where everyone enjoys equal advantages and disadvantages in life--the same income, the same health insurance, the same emotional state, etc.--with no one better or worse off than anyone else.  This is the egalitarian doctrine that motivates a great many political theorists.  

The most extreme version of this idea was advocated by Jean Jacques Rousseau who thought it is a natural and proper state of human society, one toward which every actual society should strive.  In our time President Obama has been a vocal advocate of egalitarianism, so much so that he thinks public policy should be guided by it, at least when it comes to what he considers important matters like securing health insurance for everyone, at least in the country of which he is president, or “distributing” income.

The best fictional criticism of egalitarianism occurs in George Orwell’s short novel, Animal Farm.  Another fictional scrutiny of the system may be found in Kurt Vonnegut's story, Harrison Bergeron which treats the two sides of the debate quite evenhandedly but ultimately reveals just how egalitarianism distorts human affairs.

The Olympic Games come in very handy for those of us who find egalitarianism morally and politically intolerable.  The Games show how little appeal there is to forcing everyone into the same mold, how much violence and coercion it would--and where attempted does--take to even toy with bringing about an egalitarian society.

The only place where equality has a decisive role in human social affairs is when it comes to protecting everyone’s basic rights.  This is the way the Declaration of Independence finds room for equality.  Once everyone’s basic rights are secure, from that point on no room exists for equalization in a just human community.

Sure, there can be special areas where equality can be of value, for example in the application of standards and rules, as shown in athletics.  But even there equality will apply in highly diverse ways--one way in the classroom, another in the legal system, and yet another at a beauty contest.  General equality belongs only in the protection of individual rights, period.

Elsewhere it is just as it’s illustrated by the Olympic Games, with variety and differences breaking out all over.  As long as these are peacefully obtained, as long as ranking comes about without corruption, there is nothing objectionable about inequalities in human affairs.  Furthermore, attempting to make things equal achieves the exact opposite since those doing the attempting will enjoy the worst kind of inequality, namely, power over their fellows as they try to manipulate everyone to be equal.

Just as elsewhere in most of nature, in human affairs, too, inequality is the norm.  But since human beings are free to establish various rules in their societies, they have the option, which they ought to exercise, to preclude all coercion from human interactions.  Beyond that, it is futile to try to exclude inequalities in human affairs.  

It is not inequality that needs to be abolished but coercive force.  With that achieved, at least substantially, let diversity and difference be the norm.  As that old saying goes, “Vive la difference.”  Any serious examination of the prospects of an egalitarians polity should reveal just how insidious the idea is.  Just consider requiring that all outcomes of the Olympic Games be equal!