Column on Saying no to FDR

Saying No to FDR’s Version of Liberty

Tibor R. Machan

One of my colleagues at Chapman University reported to me how much he
favors the following sentiment expressed by FDR: "I am not for a return to
that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were
gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few." What kind of
liberty was FDR talking about? Presumably the kind of liberty that would
prohibit anyone from interfering with the actions of others unless those
others endeavored to coerce their fellows, unless they violated their
basic rights to life, liberty, and property. Such as system does make it
possible for some to rise above others, provided they do not use force or
fraud in the process.

A system wherein such rights are diligently protected is often attacked on
the grounds that some people might be employed by other people who then
could give them directions, who could "regiment them." Remember that
whenever you hire someone who willingly accepts your terms of employment
and whose terms you accept, you can given them directions or "regiment"
them. Think of your gardener, barber, auto mechanic, house cleaner,
employee at your firm, cashier at your grocery store, etc., and so forth.
All these people voluntarily accept being directed by you as to what they
will do to satisfy their terms of employment.

And, yes, among them there will be some who accept your terms reluctantly,
believing that the terms could be different, more favorable to them, less
favorable to you and so forth. And some of them will be unable to act on
their reluctance because they lack resources just yet needed for them to
gain different, more favorable employment.

I certainly recall when I was a new refugee in the USA and took my first
job as a movie house usher in Philadelphia where I worked daily in that
capacity, pretty much not liking what I did (e.g., watching the same movie
fifty times or so before a new one took its place while telling people to
quiet down and helping them find a seat in the crowded theater). Then I
was a short order cook, not the greatest job one could have, then a bus
boy, and then, once I acquired some skills, a draftsman at a famous air
conditioning company, etc., etc., until I finally reached the kind of work
I found fulfilling, namely, teaching philosophy. Many, many folks I know
and millions I don’t have gone through a roughly similar process in order
to get to do the work they preferred doing, for folks they wanted to work
for or, perhaps, to establish a firm they could run and where they would
employ others who found the work they could do there promising.

By FDR’s edict, all these folks, including I, would need to abandon their
liberty to work for others, "the privileged few," who may themselves have
risen through the ranks akin to the way I and millions of others did.
Sure, some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths but to keep
the spoon there they, too, needed to find work that others wanted from
them–if they were heads of huge companies, they needed to steer the firm
successfully (unless they got protection from the government against
competitors!).

The bottom line is that FDR’s sentiments are utopian and fascistic on top
of that–he would probably want to be the one who would rearrange the
economy so that the privileged few would get demoted and some others would
take their place. Or if he aimed to eliminate all privileges and
inequalities of economic status, he would have to employ a humongous
police force to make sure that no one rises above anyone else–no
basketball player better his or her fellow players in the eyes of the
paying public, no movie star manages to rake in more income than another,
no professor would get his books published by a house that’s better than
those that publish his or her fellow academics’. This would be a police
state! That is just what it appears FDR favored, seeing that he admired,
of all people, Mussolini!

So thanks but no thanks to FDR for his revised–actually perverted–idea
of human liberty. The privileges that are objectionable have always tended
to come from governments favoring some firms with protection against
competition, domestic or foreign, starting with the monarchs who bestowed
limited liability upon companies they permitted to be formed so they could
gain taxes from them even as they acted destructively. So, yes, some firms
need to have their privileges discontinued and they need to enter the free
market place where they would compete on the basis of their achievements
instead of of being the darlings of politicians and bureaucrats. That kind
of reform is justified. But FDR’s proposal is perverse and unbecoming of a
genuine free country.

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