Monday, September 09, 2013

Involuntary Servitude

Involuntary Servitude

Tibor R. Machan

I now have three grandchildren.  The latest, the young son and my own son and his wife, was born just a few days ago.  The other two, my oldest child’s, also boys, are now two and three years old.

I am reluctant to bring them into my political quarrels but it is impossible for me to divorce their lives from the ideas about individual rights that have occupied me for decades.  It is especially difficult to suppress my outrage at the fact that some of my colleagues in political philosophy hold views that literally consign my grandchildren into involuntary servitude without paying any heed to their own choices in the matter.  

That is what the likes of Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor, James Sterba, et al, have been arguing in philosophy books and journals for decades.  Just for being born, my grandchildren are supposed to owe others at least a substantial part of their lives -- their labor, their talents, their good fortune, etc. may legally be conscripted, or so these political thinkers at very prestigious universities argue.

Just consider that for having been born in a given country, the state -- the politicians and bureaucrats in the land -- embark upon confiscating and conscripting their lives, never mind whether they have agreed to this.  These erudite people, who teach at Harvard University, McGill, Notre Dame and elsewhere, contend that my grand kids do not have the full right to their life and liberty, not to mention property but must relinquish it so they and their preferred politicians and bureaucrats may use them as they judge fit.  This they do mainly by some sophistical argumentative tricks, such as the notion that being born ipso facto assigns part of one’s life to other people, never mind who they may be, whether they deserve it, whether permission was given to do such a thing.  

If this isn’t the same as slavery I don’t know what is.  No one asked the slave’s permission to be coerced to labor as told by the masters.  No one asked the slave whether his or her life is here for others to use and dispose of as the masters choose.

Some Pros and Cons of a Syrian Attack

Some Pros and Cons of a Syrian Attack

Tibor R. Machan

Why should one powerful nation attack another that is following intolerable policies -- e.g., gasing its own citizens? Some argue that this is because when others act violently toward innocent people, those who can prevent this from happening have an obligation to step in and help out.  We are, as Mr. Obama put it not long ago, “all in the same boat!”

But is this true? Do we have such an obligation?  The men and women who signed up to defend a country didn’t do this to fight for the citizens of other nations.  They signed up to defend their own nation.  For their leaders to lead them into a war that doesn’t involve national defense is malpractice.

But perhaps when the wrongs committed by the powerful nation are severe enough, the restraint against getting involved must be abandoned.  It is just inhuman to allow the powerful nation to carry on with its vile, murderous practices.

Yet when my neighbors -- two brothers, say -- are fighting, is it my duty to intervene, even if in support of the weaker brother?  Do I have the moral authority to do so?  After all, going to the aid to the weak brother isn’t costless and those who are going to pay (sometimes with their lives) must give their consent, which the citizens of the intervening country may well not have given.  

It is usually politicians who make these decisions and they aren’t footing the bills involved, let alone doing any of the fighting.  (The lives of those who are being made to pay require sustenance and resources and it must be up to them how they allocate what belongs to them, otherwise they aren’t sovereign citizens.)

Machan's Archives: Once Again it's Freedom's Fault

Machan’s Archives: Once Again, Freedom is at Fault

Tibor R. Machan
            "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance," was how John Philpot Curran put it.  Sure enough, but there is vigilance and there is vigilance and the sort I am familiar with is not what people usually think of when they hear the above truth.
          My own experience is that in a relatively free society such as ours, the vigilance required consist of unfailingly meeting arguments that aim to support the violation of human liberty with ones that show that the individual's right to liberty is indeed the supreme public good.
          I thought of this when I came across, a while back, a book by Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank and Duke University political scientist Philip J. Cook, The Winner-take-all Society (The Free Press, 1995).  The work argues that in our relatively free market system we sometimes encounter a phenomenon that’s disturbing to some, one whereby in many fields of work a few superstars take all the money, with the bulk of the rest bunched together fighting over the left over crumbs.  As they put it, "The incomes of the top 1 percent more than doubled in real terms between 1979 and 1989, a period during which the median income was roughly stable and in which bottom 20 percent of earners saw their incomes actually fall by 10 percent."  Because of this the authors recommend -- you guessed it -- a drastic expansion of the system of progressive taxation.  If Michael Jordan, Tom Brokaw, John Grisham, John Silber, Cyndy Crawford, Larry King, Sandra Bullock, Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Barbara Cartright, Ann Rice, Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwartzenegger take home so much of the available money in their respective professions, we must not allow this to happen.  We must make laws to take the money from them.  This will discourage such stardom and will help us redistribute their ill gotten gain to others whom we did not elect, by our choices in the free market, to receive our spending money.  You and I are not going to be allowed to give all this money to these folks, and the few others in their class, no.  Politicians and bureaucrats will be authorized, if these authors have their way, to check our choices, to correct our errors, to eliminate this egregious "market failure."
          Why it this regarded a market failure?  Well, because these folks aren't really more deserving than the others bunched below them.  Surely Rush Limbaugh's radio rap isn't much better than that of a much lower paid local talk show host.  Michael Jordan plays superbly, but not by so much as to justify all the endorsement contracts he receives.  Michael Jackson performs well, but ... well, we get the idea, don't we?
          I confess that some of this resonates with me a bit.  I am a small time writers, my 12 books haven't brought in enough to pay the paper on which they are printed, my columns earn me a pittance compared to what George Will gets, etc., etc.  I am envious, at times, of all those who live in the big cities and get exposure on the Sunday morning news programs.  Even in my field of philosophy, there are stars whose popularity -- manifest in their repeated appearance on the pages of not only the most prominent and prestigious scholarly journals of national magazines and Sunday book review supplements -- are way out of proportion to their talent and achievement.  They are where they are in large measure from bad habit, luck, knowing the right people, whatever, with their superior achievements probably accounting for a fraction of the rewards they reap, not just in money earned but in influence they manage to peddle.
          But so what?  How dare anyone suggest that this is something that others ought to check by the exercise of nothing other than coercive government intervention?  It is an outrage. 
          I don't know if the scholars who propose this are simply morally obtuse or actually envious of the fame and fortune of a few others in their filed, Nobel Prize winners Gary Becker or Milton Friedman in economics, for example.  It doesn't make any difference what motivates these people.  What is clear is that they are proposing yet another phony reason to increase the power of the state over the lives of citizens in a supposedly free society.
          It is perhaps worth noting that the complaint voiced by Frank and Cook applies to an era of American economic history that is hardly characterized by a national economic policy of laissez-faire.  Quite the contrary -- our national economic system has become more and more managed by government.  Regulation, taxation, nationalization of land, control of wages and labor relations, welfare, and the rest have never declined, either at the national or regional levels.  At most there has occasionally been some decrease in the rate of the expansion of government interference.  Even the current Republican House is not managing to reduce government interference and spending, only to stem the proposed increases in some very few areas.
          But even if it were true that a bona fide free market has seen the emergence of something akin to the winner-take-all society, so what?  If I wish to ogle two or three supermodels and thus increase their wealth beyond anything the rest in their profession earn, that is my business.  Pace Mr. Obama, it’s my earnings, my time, my good or ill fortune and these are for me to distribute to willing takers, not for the politicians and bureaucrats whose power Frank and Cook are so eager to rationalize.
          Let us not be taken in by this somewhat novel effort to increase even more the power of the state over our lives.  If some entertainers, CEOs, athletes or novelists are lucky enough to parley their talent into gigantic rewards, let it be.  If this will outrage us, we will remedy it somehow.  We will find peaceful, noncoercive ways that reverse the trend.  We do not need the remedy of the state, even if that were likely (which it isn't since those serving in government aren't noted for their success at establishing fairness anywhere, let alone in how money is spent by government). 
          Frank and Cook can, of course, do some good by letting us know of the trends they wrote about.  But their proposed remedy is wrong and should be rejected by anyone who has any concern for the quality of our society.  Liberty does require eternal vigilance, even in the fashion to paying close attention to sophists who would give ammunition to statists to increase their power over us.