Saturday, August 03, 2013

Shopping in communism versus capitalism

Shopping in communism versus capitalism

Tibor R. Machan

       In a narrative portion of his latest (and characteristically riveting) novel the author has written the following sentence that prompts me to wag my finger at him a bit.  “Now it was a Western-style shopping mall stuffed with all the useless trinkets capitalism had to offer...” Daniel Silva, The English Girl (2013). The sentence reveals something very important about capitalism as well as Silva’s apparent failure to understand it.  

Silva was contrasting the Soviet style, drab, grey shopping center with the more recent type that have been springing up in Russia and the former Soviet bloc.  Yet instead of showing appreciation for the mall with its great variety of trinkets, which include both what he can consider useless and the useful kind, he appears to show disdain for it.  

It is precisely the fact that such malls include thousands of trinkets, some useful to some, some not, that makes capitalism so benevolent. Unlike the Soviet Union and its satellites, where only what the leadership deemed to be useful got featured in shopping malls (such as they were), in Western-style malls millions of different individual and family preferences are on display and for sale, aiming to satisfy the huge variety of tastes and preferences.

I recall many moons ago there was a fuss about the popularity of the Pet Rock!  It was -- may still be -- a trinket sold as a novelty item. I remember defending it from its disdainful, snooty critics, arguing that there may well be a few people for whom it would be suitable gift.  

Say your grandfather worked in a mine or quarry and now on his 80th birthday you want to get him something not quite useful but meaningful!  He has everything useful already, so you pick the Pet Rock for him.  It would make a nifty memento!  Might even bring tears to his eyes.

For millions of others it would indeed be a “useless trinket” but not for old granddad. And for every other item that author Silva may consider useless, there will be someone who finds it touching!

That is precisely what individualism implies. Something Marxists cannot appreciate since for them only what advances the revolution counts as useful. Individuals as such, with their idiosyncrasies, do not count for anything! And capitalism rejects this misanthropic doctrine, which is why the enormous variety of goods and services is part of it while under socialism and communism only what is proper for the revolution makes sense to produce!

          I wish Mr. Silva had indicated some of this as he derided those Western-style shopping malls.  Even if he cannot find something useful for himself in them, he can at least appreciate them as contemporary museums of possibilities.

Too Many Un-American Americans

Too Many Un-American Americans

Tibor R. Machan

I am not sure Senator Rand Paul’s political philosophy is all around sound but one portion has my support and should have everyone’s.  It is his consistent defense of the (George) Washingtonian idea of limited government as it pertains to America’s foreign and military policies.  This is especially true as it applies to his recent championing of withdrawing funding Egypt’s military.

Let us remember a simple yet revolutionary idea associated with America, indeed one that has made the country exceptional among all major and minor political associations.  This is the basic, natural right to individual liberty!  

In more or less complex renditions America has always been associated with the public philosophy that condemns one person’s using another for a purpose that this other doesn’t share.  Very, very rarely, in some great emergency only, is it permissible for a person to coerce another, even for the most noble of reasons (something John Stuart Mill demonstrated with his example of forcibly preventing someone from stepping on a collapsing bridge.)  That is why slavery was such a blemish in the history of this country, because it was the gravest of evils perpetrated, subjugating others to one’s own will without their consent!  It was hypocritical, vile, embarrassing, corrupting.  

No governmental policy that goes directly against the mandate by which government must operate -- “To secure the protection of individual rights!” -- is tolerable.  Sadly this uniquely novel American idea is now cast aside by the likes of President Obama and his team of petty tyrants. The notion that politicians, with their bureaucrats, ought to regiment the citizenry is all too often accepted by the citizenry itself, if only because the “public” educational system fails to teach what the American founders spelled out so clearly in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

Only if the idea of everyone’s fundamental right to liberty is recovered, will most of what ails us be addressed successfully.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Precise on Public Finance

A Precis on Public Finance

Tibor R. Machan

In a free country public finance pertains to how the proper tasks of government must be funded.  The first issue is what amounts to bona fide public finance.  Since the job of government is to secure the protection of the rights of the citizenry, public finance must deal with funding such protection.  Courts, the military, police, intelligence services, etc., etc., all of which concern securing the protection of our rights would need to be funded.  

Surprisingly, for those who base their public philosophy on tradition, such funding doesn’t require the extortionist policy of taxation (

In our time the doctrine of limited government -- severely limited, as per the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence -- is not favored by the mainstream discussants in the field of public finance and policy.  But remnants of it do make their appearance here and there.  For my purpose here what needs to be emphasized is that with proper limits on the scope of government, the cost of its functions, the amount of the national wealth required to fulfill its proper purpose, would be far less than what mainstream public finance experts claim.  The national debt, for example, would be miniscule compared to what it is now -- indeed, arguably there would be none except in public emergencies.

So, to put it bluntly: restrain government, its job and scope, and you have fixed the country’s financial woes.  This is no different in principle from how household finance needs to be managed.  Occasional emergencies may warrant borrowing funds, going into debt, but ordinarily staying within the limits of the household’s budget would be the right course.

The details would, of course, need to be worked out over time but the essentials are as I explain here.