Obama Butts in Again
Tibor R. Machan
I am puzzled that there is hardly any mention in the press — columns, editorials, etc. — about Mr. Obama’s executive intrusion in the employment relation. He wants to have overtime pay be higher than it is. He seems to think it is the task of the president to dictate terms of trade between employers and employees. But it isn’t, not in a free country. But I suppose “free country” is no longer applicable to the American economy. It has become a fascist system, where the political executive dictates the terms of economic relations. And very few of us appear to mind this.
I am organizing a panel at my university the topic of which is “Entrepreneurship in a Mixed Economy.” The idea is, of course, that when politicians and bureaucrats command the terms of trade among the millions of citizens who take part in market transactions, the normal signals that guide the decisions of entrepreneurs get distorted. What is supposed to be a place wherein the agents carry out their work is not free but managed by a special group of citizens. Why?
Presumably these citizens have superior knowledge and great measures of virtue than their fellows, over whom they have gained legally backed power. They are the regulators and just what qualifies them as superiors to the rest of us is a mystery.
This is one of the features of a mixed economy. The arrogance of it is staggering, although historically it is common — kings, pharaohs, caesars, politburos and such have been butting in the economic affairs of men and women from time immemorial. It is this set-up that was supposed to be abolished by the classical liberal — remember “liberal” means “free” — political-social movement.
Ultimately the only way to combat this reactionary trend led by Mr. Obama & Co., is with the convictions of the citizenry.
The Logic of Equalization
Tibor R. Machan
This morning my TV news station reported on how the Federal Communications Commission drafted an order to visit broadcast newsrooms and make sure they treated newsitems fairly, that they make balanced presentations of the pros and cons on various public policies. The order was, however, quickly rescinded. It was just a bit to draconian a way for the government of supposedly free country, with an explicit first amendment protecting the freedom of the press, to behave.
But it is a logical development given the Obama administration’s commitment to egalitarianism. Such a commitment can have drastic implications for anything touched by government — universities, museums, secondary education, etc. The legal, constitutional foundation for this policy is simple: “Equal protection under the law.” But the law was conceived in the American political/legal tradition as limited to public affairs. But the wider that public sphere grows, the more it gobbles up everything else, including most social and private matters in society.
In 1927 the Federal Government nationalized the electromagnetic spectrum, the highway on which radio and TV signals travel. The excuse was that the Navy needed access to the “highway” and so there would be an exception of the separation of the public and private realms. Radio and TV networks are, therefore, now largely part of the public sector! Which explains all those public service announcements and rules imposed on radio and television services.
Because of the strong tradition of freedom of the press in the USA, this mixture of business and government could be tolerated for a while but in the end it turned out to bode very badly for human liberty. The slight union that was established with all those public/private enterprises has now grown to a huge bundle. Soon newspapers might be placed under state supervision merely because they are sold on public sidewalks!
When liberty is compromised it soon becomes secondary and no principled defense of it can be provided — even serious defenders of freedom (e.g., people at the Reason Foundation) will yield to utilitarian justifications for supposedly temporary suspensions of it!
Unless freedom is a matter of principle, it is on shaky grounds in the law and public policy and evidence for this is all around us.
The New York Times is Wrong Again
Tibor R. Machan
Here is the opening salvo in The New York Times of a lengthy piece on Rand Paul. And it is dead wrong: “As Rand Paul test-markets a presidential candidacy and tries to broaden his appeal, he is also trying to take libertarianism, an ideology long on the fringes of American politics, into the mainstream.”
The fact is that the libertarianism was the gist of the philosophical foundation of the American political system. Natural individual rights! Limited constitutional government! Free market! Due process of law!
All these were there at the start and libertarianism is simply restoring them to prominence. But of course The New York Times care nothing for historical accuracy. It wishes, evidently, to demean the ideas both the American founders and libertarianism champion. No wonder, since The Times loves big government, extensive interventionism, both domestic and international.
It is also quite evident that The Times has a very distorted view of its own readership, as if they had no other sources of historical information aside from that of the editors of The Times. What was central to the founders is, to The Times, fringe!
Shame on them!
You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
January 22, 2014
Editorial By Tibor Machan
In 1973 I edited The Libertarian Alternative*, published by the obscure but up and coming firm Nelson Hall. The book contained a wide selection of essays from the likes of Murray Rothbard, Nathaniel Branden, John Hospers, et al. Back then I didn’t keep track of whether this was some kind of breakthrough but other than John Hospers’s Libertarianism, there were very few works in print using the term “libertarianism” in their title.
Not that libertarianism hasn’t been around by then but it certainly wasn’t a household word. Today, in 2014, however, the label is common enough, at least among those who support a fully free society of, as the Reason Magazine logo has it, “free minds and free markets.” (This was the title of an article by the late great Edith Efron, published in Reason, and when I was still closely involved with the publication I recommended it as our logo on our cover page.)
Of course, the term is now very familiar at least among pundits and politicians, public policy wonks and students of political theory. Just how far the idea has come may be appreciated from the fact that it is now commonly used by the likes of John Stossel on Fox’s program by that name, “Stossel,” and on their recently inaugurated “The Independents.” Until recently it was still something of a novelty to use the term but not anymore.
On Fox Saturday morning news roundtable program “Forbes on Fox” in mid-December, prominent pundit Juan Williams and his colleagues were discussing the NSA’s surveillance policies and some were properly critical of the widespread use of snooping, something that Williams defended but not without first saying, “I am a libertarian” when it comes to such issues. Of course, the claim is highly contentious since libertarianism pretty much rules out such government policies and commentators such as Judge Andrew Napolitano would argue very persuasively that they are contrary to the US Constitution as well.
My point here is rather minor yet still noteworthy: A formerly welfare statist Washington pundit is now claiming, on a popular television news program, that he is a libertarian. Five years ago that would have been unthinkable.
Words aren’t everything but they do indicate trends and it looks to me, at least, that libertarianism has now become a household word. You have come a long way, baby, as the saying goes!
*Later, in 1983, I put together The Libertarian Reader, published by Rowman and Littlefield (a title that was used later by Cato Institute’s David Boaz for a collection of essays he edited, without acknowledging the precedence, of course).
Consumerism and Christmas
Tibor R. Machan
You all may recall that after 9/11 Osama bin Laden explained his
orchestration of the terrorist deed that murdered some 3000 innocent human beings as payback for America’s materialism. (His anti-materialist rant is routine – a good discussion of his views may be found here. [
Yet as the writer of the above piece notes, anti-materialism is a common theme among most religions. Sure, the idea that human life is about preparation for an after-life — a spiritual life superior to the mundane one we can lead here on Earth — is central to religions.
In the West, however, many religions have made peace with the mundane elements of human existence so there tends to be a less avid denunciation of materialism, which is how the idea of being seriously concerned with living prosperously here on Earth is usually designated. After all, the Christian God is both human and divine (in the person of Jesus). Destruction of life is generally deemed to be a sin for Christians, whereas, as bin Laden has noted, the love of death is central in his version of Islam. As one account has it, “This originated at the Battle of Qadisiyya in the year 636, when the commander of the Muslim forces, Khalid ibn Al-Walid, sent an emissary with a message from Caliph Abu Bakr to the Persian commander, Khosru. The message stated: ‘You [Khosru and his people] should convert to Islam, and then you will be safe, for if you don’t, you should know that I have come to you with an army of men that love death, as you love life’.” This account is widely recited in contemporary Muslim literature.
Yet despite the Western theological tradition’s more friendly attitude toward the mundane, nearly every Christmas leaders of Christian denominations tend to revert to the original, anti-life doctrines by condemning commercialism. The latest Pope followed the previous one by lamenting the “materialist” approach to celebrating Christmas. They referred to “the dead-end streets of consumerism,” according to newspaper reports, chiding people everywhere for what the report calls “being caught up with consumerist pursuits.”
Ironically, the Pope issued his proclamations from St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. If you have ever visited the Vatican, as I and millions of others have, you would know it to be one of the West’s, if not the world’s, most opulent places. And as to consumerism, the gift shop dominates the entrance to the Vatican, where one is invited to spend great sums of money on various small or sizable trinkets. Commerce flourishes there, believe me, as the Vatican cashes in on the desire of many of the visitors to take away some reminder of their having been to that historically and theologically significant place.
Of course, even apart from the Vatican, the Roman Catholic Church, as well as others within Christianity, often excel in ostentatious display of riches – one need but go to high mass on Christmas Eve to witness this.
And why not? That is how human beings tend to celebrate what they value highly, by honoring the occasion with gift-giving. And gift-giving necessarily involves commerce – most of us aren’t skilled at the crafts that it takes to create the various gifts we wish to bestow upon those we love and cherish. I personally bought airline tickets for some of my family members and a computer for another, in part because I have no airplane in which to fly them where they would like to go and no factory and expertise to make a modern, up-to-date computer. To obtain these gifts, I rely, as do billions of others, on commerce.
So why then would Popes besmirch consumerism and commerce? Beats me. (And remember, also, that “materialism” is ultimately a nonsense term – nothing we purchase is simply material but embodies the creative intelligence – indeed the creative spirit – of many human beings!)
So, I urge all Popes to change their message and to have a more generous understanding of all who make use of commerce in our celebration of Christmas!