Tibor R. Machan
I read a lot of stuff, including editorials and commentaries in scientific
journals. Each time there’s a new administration, many of these
publications rev up their lobbying for support from the government for
whatever are their favorite projects.
So now Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, is going on record in the pages of Science News, which happily
gave him room to sound off, seeking “investment tax credits so that
companies have an incentive to invest in long-term energy research.” One
might have hoped that these incentives would be supplied by the market
place but now, Dr. Chu is reaching out for government support. If the
market fails to provide the incentive but Dr. Chu wishes it would, he
needs to advertise his services to market agents, not to government.
Actually, tax credits are simply ways to avoid being extorted the full
amount one would usually be. I do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to
dodge taxes, however it’s done, but Dr. Chu and his ilk aren’t tax rebels
and likely would not champion tax dodging or resistance for other
citizens. Only those doing his kind of important work supposedly qualify!
Some of the language in which Dr. Chu advances his case for tax credits is
also disturbing. He says “The government has got to allow” these! Why is
it self-evident to the likes of Dr. Chu that government is in the business
of allowing this and that? Government is our hired agent, at most, and no
one in such a position is authorized to about allowing us anything, giving
us permission. Citizens in a free country are not allowed this and that
by their government any more than are other professionals allowing their
clients to do this or that. Even my physician doesn’t allow me but makes
clear that some things I might do will help me while others may hurt.
Whether I carry on this or that way isn’t something I, as an adult, am
allowed by another adult.
Professor Donald Boudreaux, chair of economics at George Mason University,
noticed a similar tendency when he sent a letter to The Washington Post
recently critical of the phrase one columnist there used regarding why
Barrack Obama was elected. He notes that in an Op Ed piece in The Post
one Peter Funt “off-handedly mentions that Barack Obama was elected to
‘run the country’ (‘Tapped Out,’ November 29).” And as Professor
Boudreaux says, “This familiar phrase is nonsensical.”
Why is it nonsensical to speak of government as “allowing” this or that or
of the next president as elected to “run the country”? As I have already
hinted, that’s because governments and their officials, like the
President, aren’t monarchs who rule us but civil servants who are hired to
carry out some specific work for us for which they are well enough paid.
The fact that prominent people who write for major newspapers or get
interviewed by important magazines treat government as if it were in
charge of us all bodes ill for a free country.
It isn’t enough that thousands of politicians and bureaucrats suffer from
the delusion that when they enter government they get to rule others. But
there are thousands of citizens outside government who speak as if this
delusion were acceptable. Yes, often such talk is unselfconscious and
those speaking these ways do not seriously endorse the idea of government
as our parent or ruler. But the careless use of certain terms in the
language can have influence over how we think and act.
Given that for centuries on end governments did suffer from the delusion
that their officials legitimately ruled the population, that they were in
charge of the rest of us, it is especially important for respected people
in the country to discipline themselves when they speak about public
policies, public affairs. Such people tend to set the terms of discourse
in the country and by now they ought to know well and good that these
terms do not include “government allows” or “presidents run,” any more
than they include “your highness” or “your majesty.”
This country is not a monarchy and educated folks ought to remember this
whenever they sound off.