“Another form of slavery” – Tibor Machan on Statism
By Travis LaCouter
In a recent interview, Tibor Machan, a Professor of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at Chapman University in California, attacked the scope and ends of the modern European welfare state. Decrying the coercive power of government as unproductive and immoral, Machan instead expressed an abiding faith in the dynamic and organic interaction of free people in an open society.
Speaking at the Common Sense Society’s recent Summer Leadership Academy, Machan encouraged Hungarians to promote private enterprise and trust in their own entrepreneurial capacities, despite their history of communist rule. Even after the regime change, an over-arching culture of defeatism and government-dependence remained in Hungary, leading people to look to the State to confront the most important tasks facing the country. But government does not, qua government, possess the tools necessary to better confront complex, important projects. The free market should be allowed to meet the large challenges facing a society because individual people know better than Budapest bureaucrats how to solve the practical problems in their own lives. Plus, when the free market fails, the consequences are far less harmful and more quickly corrected than when political systems fail.
Not only is the welfare state inefficient at delivering goods and services, but it is fundamentally immoral, Machan has argued. A government that promises and promotes entitlements is implicitly creating a class of people who must provide for that entitlement; such a system, built on “human engineering and incentives,” is a subtle form of modern-day serfdom, according to the professor. Similarly, subsidies are “theft,” in that they “take other people’s resources and give them to someone else without their consent.” Even if the government’s ends were arguably benevolent, as they often are, every major “school of morality” teaches that the right thing, to truly be virtuous, must be chosen freely. Statism in pursuit of virtue is a contradiction in terms, since it compels what must necessarily be a free act.
Still, government control is not an altogether surprising phenomenon. Faced with adversity, uncertainty, and self-doubt, people tend to look to a strong-leader for protection. Government serves as the ultimate strong-leader, using the coercive power of the State to impose an inflexible worldview upon its citizens. At its best, an all-powerful government can provide a temporary minimal standard of comfort for its citizens, but it does so at the expense of their liberty and creative capacities; and too often such a system turns quickly to tyranny.
Instead of this “detestable” model of government that “treats people like imbeciles,” Machan says lovers of liberty should celebrate the “innovative [and] agile” nature of human beings left to their own devices. Standards of living, life expectancy, technology, and basic safety have all improved by leaps and bounds throughout history thanks, Machan says, to the innovation and self-improvement of free people. The government’s proper role is simply to ensure law and order, so that free people are left to create, innovate, trade, and build.
That is why Professor Machan travels the world educating young people about the ideas of liberty and free enterprise. People have to be taught to “trust in their freedom.”
Economic liberty is not a question of partisan politics, then, but one of fundamental human decency: Will people stand up and have confidence in their own creative, productive powers or will they be cowed into submission by over-reaching government planners who seek to control their lives? Professor Machan is ultimately optimistic about the future, but offered a stark warning to every attentive citizen. “[T]here is one very important thing that you have to keep in mind. If you ever give up liberty, you give up your whole life.”
Travis LaCouter is the Managing Editor of Paprika Politik.