Friday, August 24, 2012

The Logic of Entitlement

The Logic of Entitlement

Tibor R. Machan

So the other morning I woke up to the disturbing news from the Big Apple that some disgruntled ex-employee of the Empire State Building went on a shooting spree and killed someone, after which he was himself shot to death by police.  No, I don’t know the details but even the sketchy story points up something about the logic of entitlement.

Remember that according to the proposed “second bill of rights,” one proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and championed by many very prominent people in the legal profession, such as President and former law professor Barack Obama and his favorite legal theorists, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein (who wrote a book trying to justify the basic right to employment, among other things), everyone has the right to a job.  The United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights states this too, in Article 23: “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment....”  This according to its supporters, is a basic right, comparable to the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution, such as the right to one’s life and liberty.

One implication of having a basic right is that anytime it is being threatened and no law enforcement officer is present to resist the threat, one is at least morally but often legally justified in resisting such a threat.  So, for example, if one’s right to life is threatened, one may defend oneself and such defense can involve killing the perpetrator of the threat.  The right to self defense arises from the right to one’s life and liberty.

If, now, one has the right to work and to protection against unemployment, one may be understood to take it that one is justified in defending oneself against the threat to take from one one’s job.  If then one is fired from a job without proper cause, such as having committed a crime, one may be forgiven for taking it that one is justified in resisting this, in putting up self-defense when one’s job has been taken from one.

Indeed, being entitled to something--having proper title to something--confers upon one the right to defend against anyone who would deprive one of what one is entitled to.  Usually the legal authorities take care of this but in the case of the perpetrator of the shooting at the Empire State Building on August 24th, 2012, it can be argued that he was entitled to the job that was taken from him and lacking police protection against having one’s job taken from one could reasonably understand that he could resist this, if need be violently.

Indeed, entitlements may be defended, logically speaking, with whatever force is needed to prevent being deprived of them. One may violently resist trespassers, burglars, robbers, kidnappers, etc.  So in the understanding that follows the doctrine of basic entitlements, a doctrine widely preached by political theorists who hold that one is owed service from others, including being provided with employment, someone whose job is taken from him is justified to resisting this, including by means of force. QED

A more sensible and civilized understanding sees jobs as the result of employment agreements between two willing parties and no one is entitle to have another give one a job.  Yes, jobs are important and valuable but can only be had once both parties, employer and employee agree to work with each other.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Era of Procrustes

The Era of Procrustes

Tibor R. Machan

It used to be an ugly trait to be envious.  Envy is when one holds that it would be best if everyone were equally badly off.  If you are better off than I am, envy will incline me to want you to give up whatever it is that is advantageous and accept burdens up to the point where you are no better off than is anyone else.  Makes little sense but there you go.

When I came to the USA I managed to get admitted to a college that mostly well to do students attended. For example, during the Christmas break a good many of them went off to St. Moritz and Veil to do some skiing, something I couldn’t do as a first generation immigrant.  I took some job during the break while my mates were off doing all kinds of fun stuff.

Although I noticed this, I never felt even a smidgen of envy.  Indeed, my feeling tended toward delight, knowing that in time I may well take similar vacations or, at least, my own offspring will be able to do so.  And while I lived in a room in a house owned by a lady near the college, most of my classmates had far more impressive accommodations.  And I thought, “Good for them--there is where I want to be in the future!”  Not, “What horrors, they are doing better than I am,” at least in some basic respects.

Later in my education I ran across the myth of Procrustes.  He was the fellow who invited guests to his abode only to cut them all down to one size so they could fit his bed.  Over the years I found that Procrustes’ solution to differences among his guests was the same as that of a great many political theorists, including many who are now in charge of public policies in America and across the globe.  One size needs to fit all!  Anytime someone is a bit better off than others, this must be remedied by eliminating the difference.  Equality is the operative ideal these days. Just watch all the fuss about Mitt Romney’s wealth.

Not everyone falls in line with this and here and there are some very formidable dissidents, among them George Orwell whose story Animal Farm teaches very valuable lessons about this destructive social philosophy.  Making everyone equal, in economic or other matters, is mostly a failed mission and invites the worst of all inequalities, namely, inequality of political power.  Those imposing the ideal of equality will be anything but equal to those on whom they impose their misconceived idealistic policies.  Just think of the old Soviet Union.

Yet, despite his education, President Obama and his pals tend to be an avid egalitarians.  They don’t even allow that some people may have worked hard enough to get ahead of others in wealth creation.  For him no one could have achieved the advantages he or she enjoys.

Luckily we have reminders aplenty that this fanaticism about equality is totally misguided and dangerous to boot.  The recent Olympic Games helps to see just how crazy egalitarianism is.  And anyone who teaches in the various schools where young people are attempting to gain knowledge and are tested for how well their efforts have paid off cannot miss the fact that those who study hard tend to get farther than those who just hang out at school.

Sadly egalitarianism gains support from some pseudo science in our day, especially the kind that insists that no one has any power over his or her life, that our actions are all driven by impersonal forces.  Despite the paradox involved in this kind of thinking--which, if true, would allow for no remedies of anything at all--a lot of people jump on the bandwagon and it gains enormous institutional support around the educational, psychological community.

But a good dosage of common sense alone should serve to repel that kind of support for egalitarianism. After all, the egalitarians who want to make changes in our institutions are clearly not buying it.  They think they can certainly make a big difference.  But if they can, so can we all.