At The Daily Bell: Laws versus regulations

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Obama’s Utilitarian Foibles

Obama’s Utilitarian Foibles

November 20, 2013

Editorial By Tibor Machan

The utilitarian insists that the morally right way to act is to promote the greatest good for the greatest number (of people but perhaps of all sentient beings). This goes for public policy as well! The goal overrides any individual rights, so if to secure it some people’s rights to life, liberty and/or property need to be violated, so be it!

For example, if to provide health insurance for elderly folks it is necessary to coerce young people to purchase health insurance, then coerce them! Never mind their right to liberty and property. Those are irrelevant, even though they are supposed to be unalienable rights no one may violate, not in the American political tradition.

Here, then, is a clear example of how the Obama regime departs significantly, in its political philosophy and program, from the uniquely American framework. This framework supports securing the protection of individual rights as the primary job of government. Read the Declaration of Independence and see for yourself. That is indeed the central feature of the American Revolution, with its Bill of Rights and its Constitution.

Not only does that render the country one that’s free – under which all citizens may live as they choose provided they do not violate anyone’s rights – but is responsible for the great prosperity of the country, its freedom from arbitrary government intervention in people’s lives. Even the public good or interest does not permit it. While this may appear to be a restriction that stops the country from achieving utilitarian objectives, the very opposite is the result! That’s because free men and women make the most productive use of their liberty.

The idea is that human beings are by their very nature proactive. They think of ideas that they will implement and these are usually good ideas, ideas their fellows can make good use of. This is the essence of entrepreneurship. They don’t just daydream but think purposefully, which is to say their ideas can be marketed to others. Out of this process arises the bustling economy of a country and, indeed, of the world.

So long as men and women are free to think creatively and productively, they will make sure their work will have payoffs, either economic or personal or even charitable. This is how a free society works, creates products and services, and leads to high employment to boot.

But the likes of Obama & Co. want to step in and regiment how free men and women act and they believe or pretend to know what others should do to be productive. And that means, usually, that they misguide the economy. (The most notorious recent example of this was all those five-year plans Stalin and his gang unleashed upon Russia and its satellite states, which brought the Soviet Socialist system to its knees!)

But Mr. Obama & Co. fail or refuse to grasp any of this. Shame on them!
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Liberty & Productivity

Liberty and Productivity

November 13, 2013

Commentary by Tibor Machan

Statists routinely suggest their distrust of human initiative. This is why they keep advocating government stimuli instead of free markets.

In a free market, one which prohibits government intrusions, regulations and regimentation, it is understood that when men and women are free of such intrusions, they will most likely – though never certainly – engage in entrepreneurial initiative, the main result of which is productivity. No guarantee exists that free men and women will innovate and produce but that is most likely. Indeed, while slaves can be scared into work, free men and women will usually see the point of work and engage in it with gusto.

Statists, of course, deny this and claim that only if government creates artificial incentives or issues threats will citizens become productive. That is the basic theory behind stimulus packages, tax breaks, subsidies and so on.

But notice that all this omits the issue of why bureaucrats and politicians would be motivated to work. Why are they exceptions to the rule that statists assume, namely, a lethargic citizenry? How can we trust government agents to go to work, to produce, to innovate, etc., but not free men and women? Statists never address this as they advocate pushing citizens around, nudging them, stimulating them, etc. Who will nudge the nudgers?

At the heart of this issue lies a basic philosophical dispute: Are free men and women capable of initiative, of getting to think and work on their own or must they be dealt with like barnyard beasts that need to be driven to work by masters? Statists see people as such animals, incapable of innovation, of initiative, of creativity, so they need to be pushed around by bureaucrats and politicians. Yet this is completely inconsistent with the powers they grant to themselves. Why would only those running government possess the power to undertake productive, creative projects while the citizenry is deemed too passive?

Actually, a better way of understanding this is to realize that statists want to reserve to themselves the prerogative of spending resources on various projects – public works, they like to call them – and rob the rest of the citizenry of their resources to do as they judge sensible, prudent and wise.

In short, the statist wants to be in charge of what projects get to be undertaken, use everyone’s labor or property for these and not permit the rest of us to allocate our resources, including our labor, to projects of our own.
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Investment & Prudence

Investment and Prudence

October 30, 2013

Editorial By Tibor Machan

To be prudent amounts to making sure that one takes good care of oneself in all important areas of one’s life. Health, wealth, family, friendship, understanding, etc. are all in need of good care so that one will achieve and sustain one’s development as a human individual. It all begins with following the edict: “Know thyself!”

All those folks who make an effort to keep fit and to eat properly are embarking on elements of a prudent life. Unfortunately, the virtue of prudence has been undermined by the idea that everyone automatically or instinctively pursues his or her self-interest.

We all know the rhetorical question, “Isn’t everyone selfish?” Because of certain philosophical and related doctrines, the answer has been mainly that everyone is. In the discipline of economics, especially, scholars nearly uniformly hold the view that we all do whatever we do so as to please ourselves, to feel good. No room exists there for pure generosity or charity, for altruism, because in the final analysis everyone is driven to act to further his or her own wellbeing, or for carelessness, recklessness. If people do not achieve the goal of self-enhancement, it is primarily out of ignorance – they just don’t know what is in their best interest but they all intend to achieve it and even when they appear to be acting generously, charitably, helpfully and so on, in the end they do so because it gives them satisfaction, fulfills their own desires and serves their idea of what is best for them.

This is not prudence but what some have dubbed animal spirit. People are simply driven or motivated to be this way, instinctively, if you will. The virtue of prudence would operate quite differently.

One who practices it would be expected to make a choice to pursue what is in one’s best interest and one could fail also to do so. Practicing prudence is optional, not innately produced. Like other moral virtues, prudence requires choice. It is not automatic by any means. The reason it is thought to be so, however, has to do with the intellectual-philosophical belief that human conduct is exactly like the behavior of non-human beings, driven by the laws of motion!

Once this idea assumes prominence, there is no concern about people having to be prudent. They will always be, as a matter of their innate nature. What may indeed be needed is the opposite, social and peer pressure to be benevolent or kind, to adhere to the dictates of altruism, something that requires discipline and education and does not come naturally to people.

It would seem, however, that this idea that we are automatically selfish or self-interested or prudent doesn’t square with experience. Consider just how much self-destructiveness there is in the human world, how many projects end up hurting the very people who embark upon them. Can all that be explained by ignorance and error?

Or could it be, rather, that many, many human beings do not set out to benefit themselves, to pursue their self-interest? Could it be that human beings need to learn that they ought to serve their own wellbeing and that their conduct is often haphazard, unfocused, even outright self-destructive (as, for example, in the case of hard drug consumers, gamblers, romantic dreamers, fantasizers and the lazy)?

It seems that this latter is a distinct possibility if not outright probability. It is a matter of choice whether one is or is not going to be prudent, in other words. And once again, ordinary observation confirms this.

One can witness numerous human beings across the ages and the globe choosing to work to benefit themselves, as when they watch their diets or work out or obtain an education, and many others who do not and, instead, neglect their own best interest. Or, alternatively, they often act mindlessly, thoughtlessly, recklessly, etc.

The contention that they are really trying to advance their self-interest, to benefit themselves, seems to be one that stems from generalizing a prior conviction that everything in nature moves so as to advance forward. This is the idea that came from the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who learned it from Galileo who took it from classical physics.

Accordingly, acting prudently, in order to advance one’s wellbeing, could be a virtue just as the ancient philosopher Aristotle believed it to be. And when one deals with financial matters, careful investing would qualify as prudence, just as is working out at a gym, watching one’s diet, driving carefully, etc.
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Misunderstanding freedom of the press

Misunderstanding Freedom of the Press

October 10, 2013

Editorial By Tibor Machan

Katherine Rushton of The Daily Telegraph wrote a column trying to embarrass those in America, like Republican lawmaker Kieran Michael Lalor, who oppose bringing in Al Jazeera television on to the American television news market. Ms. Rushton feels such opposition is a kind of ethnic prejudice, not sound journalism. Dubbing Al Jazeera “Al Jihad,” such efforts may well be over the top but not necessarily.

Suppose Americans had opposed making room for Pravda and Izvestia in America or some Nazi or fascist broadcasters in the past. Would this prove them to be prejudiced, unfair, biased? I personally object to NPR (National Public Radio) and PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), not at all because I am prejudiced but precisely because I consider it dangerous to treat government funded and supported “journalism” and “entertainment” as if it were just like some private outfit such as HBO, The New York Times or Time magazine.

When governments fund news outfits, they go astray in several ways. They take money by force from citizens to support what those citizens may well not want supported! They enjoy a competitive advantage as against those who do not use taxpayers’ resources. And when it comes to Al Jazeera, there is no other government-owned – it is owned by the Qatari government(!) – service pretending to be journalists instead of propagandists. (Not everything on Al Jazeera has to be tainted by government bias for one to be justified in being suspicious of the content of its broadcasts.)

Frankly, even the venerable BBC is a misguided institution and its reputation rests mainly on its traditional commitment to straight newscasting, not on its official restraint. Ms. Rushton complained that “Meritocracy is all well and good for certain ethnic minorities.” But evidently not for those with Middle Eastern or Islamic ties.

Maybe not so. Maybe what bothered Kieran Michael Lalor has nothing to do with ethnic ties but with evident enough efforts by Al Jazeera to cast jihadists in a favorable light. I don’t know this for sure but if so, that would certainly justify skepticism about Al Jazeera’s credentials and a bona fide news-broadcasting organization. Whenever I check out Al Jazeera, I sense that jihad is treated with kid gloves.

Genuine freedom of the press has no government involvement of any kind. Competition among newspapers, broadcasters, magazines, etc. arises from the initiative of entrepreneurs! Otherwise we are back to Pravda and the like, which should not be treated as agents of a free market of newscasting.

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A Note on Taxation

I have found it sensible to characterize taxation as a form of extortion. This is what it was when monarchs claimed that they owned the realm and everyone who occupied a part of it had to pay them for the privilege of utilizing it. Monarchs–at least many of them–believed that they own the country they happen to rule (because, some argued, God appointed them the caretaker of it). So if you make use of any portion, you need to pay them (taxes). It was just a “fee” extracted in return for the privilege of dipping into the monarch’s property.

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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.

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