Archive for January, 2010

Column on Anti-Abortion Murder or Not

Anti-Abortion Murder or Not

Tibor R. Machan

In Wichita a trial is under way in which Scott Roeder is charged with the murder of Dr. George R. Tiller. No disputing the charge that he did the killing and the only issue up for debate is wether the killing was murder or justifiable homicide.

The main line of argument in defense of Mr. Roeder is that Dr. Tiller murdered children–60,000 of them as reported in The New York Times–and his killing was the only way to prevent further such murders. As The Times reports, “’George Tiller shed the blood of 60,000 innocent children,’ Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, told reporters. Mr. Terry … said that he was neither condoning nor condemning Mr. Roeder’s actions, but that people should remember the children.”

So, then, the defense relies on the view that if there is injustice in a country, if the laws permit unjust acts to be committed, then citizens who want to remedy this may take the remedy they believe in into their own hands. I, for example, believe that taxation in official extortion by the government and all those who facilitate this extortion are engage in unjust acts. By the reasoning of the Roeder defense team, I would be legally justified in taking into my own hands the effort to remedy the injustice being committed by those complicit in taxation. If I felt the way to stop them all would be to blow up their office buildings or inflict serious injuries on tax collectors, I would have the legal authority to do this, according to the argument in support of Mr. Roeder.

Never mind for now that the belief that abortion amounts to homicide, let alone to murder, is if not out and out false then at least highly debatable. A human being is supposed to be rational animal and prior to a certain point of the development of the fetus only a potential human being exists since no cerebral cortex is present to make rationality possible. (The case becomes different with so called partial birth abortions–some of these may be homicide and even murder, some of them self-defense. The matter is not amenable to a simple discussion but even her taking the law into one’s hands is impermissible.) The notion of an unborn child is a virtual oxymoron when most abortions occur–no child exists then.

But one need not enter the abortion controversy fully to consider Mr. Roeder a murderer. This is because in a civilized society even someone who has murdered another may only be punished by following due process–by being arrested, brought to trial, convicted, and then sentenced to a particular punishment. Citizens only very rarely may avoid this process and take the law into their own hands and even then they need to follow some due process measures, such as making a citizen’s arrest and bringing the alleged culprit to the legal system for prosecution. This is the crucial issue for even those who do agree that Dr. Tiller was guilty of injustices and needed to be brought to justice.

If you add to this the difficulties widely recognized about construing ordinary abortions as homicide, let alone murder, then what Mr. Roeder did cannot be legally excused. No one has assigned him the job of administering justice in the state of Kansas. As I noted already, someone who considers taxation outright extortion, as I do, still must proceed by following due process in the effort to stop the policy. There are circumstances, of course, when the government’s failure to administer justice can serve as a justification for “taking the law into one’s own hands,” but these circumstances must come very close to those of totalitarian tyrannies where other methods of making changes in the legal system are completely unavailable. And when the matter is so thoroughly fraught with disputable allegations on all sides as is abortion, then going slow on how to make the needed changes, assuming they are needed, is especially necessary.

The reason there are courts of law and trials in a civilized country is that great care must be taken when someone is charged with an legally codified injustice and may be convicted by taking his or her liberty and even life. A carefully laid out system, honed by years and years of legal precedence, serves the purpose of not turning the process into back alley jurisprudence. So even if the defense offered up by Mr. Roeder is plausible, it is unreasonable even if one grants that abortion is itself something highly debatable. Its debatability is due in part to the fact that the determination of the exact beginning of a human being–which is what the issue is in abortion, not whether human life is involved, which is very ambiguous–is a serious problem. This is no geometry, after all, but biology and ethics. One must not demand the same precision here as one can in that other, more formal, discipline, something against which Aristotle had warned some 2500 years ago.

Column on Why The First Amendment?

Why the First Amendment?

Tibor R. Machan

It has puzzled me for some time why campaign contribution is considered a First Amendment constitutional issue. If I write out a check to some candidate, I am not talking, writing an essay, carrying some poster in a parade or anything that could be construed as speech or writing, so the freedom to speak or write is moot in this context. What I am doing is making use of my own money or resources and that, of course, in a bone fide free country everyone has the right to do. Like sending money to the Red Cross or Haiti’s earthquake victims. This should all be considered under the protection to the right to private property. My money, therefore my decision how it will be used. Unless I use the money to violate someone’s rights, there can be no objection to my use of it.

Suppose, now that I have started a company and others are voting stockholders in it and we have decided, by following faithfully the legal bylaws, to spend some of our resources on supporting some political measure or candidate. Why should this be anyone’s business other than those whose funds are being used? Why, moreover, is this thought to be a first amendment issue? It has nothing to do with religious freedom, with writing editorials or books, or pamphlets that express some viewpoint. It is giving what belongs to us, the corporation–that is to say, a bunch of incorporated free citizens citizens with full rights recorded in the Constitution–to the organization. And free men and women may not be barred from doing this.

I have heard it exclaimed that corporations are not individuals with rights. But why not? Corporations are established and maintained by individuals with rights, no different from teams or orchestras. I always think of these when this issue is raised–surely those groups are composed of individuals with rights and thus when they make a collective decision voluntarily, they are exercising their individual rights. Can’t see why not. And if we have some resources we have pooled among ourselves with which to conduct business and decide that some of the funds should be spent on making a contribution to some cause, political or otherwise, who in earth could have any just authority to stop us? No one.

And all this is a matter of property rights, like my giving my car to some group soliciting such “in kind” contributions (as many now are). Or giving it to some friend. When I do this I am exercising my right to private property–doing what I choose to do with what belongs to me. And if I am part of a large group like a corporation, with all kinds of internal rules establishing how decisions about using and disposing the company’s funds must be made, and these rules are followed, why would anyone from the outside get to have a say about where our funds may or may not go (so long as the recipient is no outlaw)?

All the fuss about the various US Supreme and other court rulings pertaining to campaign contributions would, I believe, subside once the matter were put into the right framework, namely, the exercise of the right to private property. It is not about free speech but about freedom to use what belongs to one as he or she–or they– see fit.

Maybe the reason this approach has been so widely ignored is that people who favor the freedom to be able to spend one’s money how one wishes to do it lack confidence these days in the Constitutional status of the right to private property, a right only mentioned in the Fifth Amendment and implicit in several others that prohibit government to embark upon various intrusive policies–unreasonable searches and seizures or the like. Sadly only the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution amounts to a flat out, nearly unambiguous statement of individual rights, comparable to what is found in the non-legal Declaration of Independence. So in order to secure the right of private property despite its neglect in the U. S Constitution, supporters have decided to try to convert the First Amendment to one that defends private property rights. But this tactic has proven to be muddled and confusing and, ultimately, disingenuous.

Column on Tennis and Luck

Tennis & Luck

Tibor R. Machan

Being an avid tennis fan, it has irked me that Woody Allen appears to believe that whether you win or lose a match is a matter of luck. That seems to have been his viewpoint in the movie he made a few years ago, appropriately titled Match Point. Then more recently he wrote and directed Whatever Works, starring Larry Davis, which seems also to drive home the notion that there is not much point in approaching one’s life by way of a sensible plan. No it is all pretty much random circumstances and the pragmatic attitude of, well, “whatever works” that’s going to determine how things go for a person. And one need not gather the message from his movies alone–after all, these are works of fiction and maybe Woody thinks the idea has artistic merit, true or not. So as not to leave any doubt about it, in several interviews Woody has reinforced the impression one gets from his films.

Although I find nearly every work of his intelligent and stimulating, I also consider this positions he appears to be driving home to his audiences quite mistaken. And watching the matches at the Australian Open, as I have been doing these last few days, and many of them at the U. S. Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the other tournaments I try to catch year after year suggest quite strongly that Woody is wrong about how tennis matches are won, at least the majority of the time.

There is one piece of evidence for this that shows in nearly every game played by the lineup of extraordinarily talented and hard working tennis players one sees watching these matches. This is that whenever luck does appear to play a role in winning a point, the beneficiary of this luck makes a gesture of apology, saying in effect, “I am sorry that I got you by sheer luck instead of as I would have liked, namely, my better play.” Why would one make such a gesture if it is all a matter of luck? If every point is won by chance, not through concentration, training and skill, why single out the points won accidentally, so to speak, for mention? If it is all equally a matter of luck or chance, no such mention makes sense.

No one in his right mind can hold that luck or chance play not significant role in how well or badly one comes off in one’s life. These certainly factor in and to deny that amounts to sticking one’s head in the sand. For those who believe that we are all simply driven by impersonal forces to either succeed or fail in our endeavors, the Woody Allen thesis would come in handy. It’s all just que sera, sera. Never mind how insulting this is to all those who work their butts off to get ahead and whose efforts then seems to pay off. Never mind that even the observation that it’s all chance or luck loses merit, even if true, since one’s making it becomes also just a matter of chance of luck, not paying attention and having figured things out carefully, correctly. And never mind how destructive it can be for people to come to believe this idea, possibly leading them to give up on trying, on learning, on training and so forth since by the tenets of the thesis none of that matters, it is all an illusion.

So this is why I revisit and try to make an effort on and off to suggest elements of life that refute this viewpoint, attempting to counter it in my small ways, so that I contribute something to the task of spreading the notion that it does matter a great deal whether one pays attention, exerts effort and so on as one goes about pursuing the goals one has chosen to pursue in one’s life.

Column on Choice & Rights

Choice and Rights

Tibor R. Machan

It’s about who is to choose! Our rights identify the realm of our choices, where we and not others get to decide about how things go. When rights are violated, the violator deprives the rights holder of his or her proper, morally justified authority to chose.

So often both defenders and critics of private property rights get this wrong. They contend that property rights are mostly about who gets to have something. And while that’s part of it, the more important matter is who gets to choose what happens to something.

If the politicians and bureaucrats extort 40% of my earnings I do not get to decided what happens to this. I might have squandered it, yes, just as that enemy of private property rights Karl Marx argued. But I could also have done something else, such as sent part of it to a charity, contributed it to some innovation, stashed it away so my kids might get it when they grow up, or sent it to a political candidate I support. But this is just what the confiscators of my resources prohibit me from doing. They want to destroy my proper authority to use my resources and use it themselves.

Check me out. In all cases of taxation what happens is that the taxed lose the opportunity to allocate the resources that belong to them and those who tax gain this opportunity without any consent from the taxed. But why should they? Democracy doesn’t justify such confiscation, nor does being some monarch or bureaucrat or whatever, only our permission would. We are supposedly equal in having rights, including private property rights. No one else may, therefore, take what is mine or yours or anyone’s and start deciding what happens to it however good intentioned that tax-taker might be, however noble are that tax-taker’s goals. This is why it is so important to understand that private property rights are about our choices to do one thing, another, or yet another, not primarily about having wealth, about greed or such.

But that is just what the enemies of private property rights, starting with Marx, cannot stomach–our having the opportunity to use and dispose our labor and its results. They want it! This despite all that talk about how labor belongs to the laborer. No, that is not what the taxers believe. They believe, and many of them have actually said this, that your time and labor and skills belong to society! And they, of course, must be the representatives of the people, of society.

But that is a ruse, just as when kings claimed that they are the representatives of society or God or History. No, these folks represent only themselves and when they tax you and me and the rest and deprive us of the choices our rights entail, they are extortionists, thieves, or robbers. But most of all they remove from us the opportunity to exercise free choice with what belongs to us.

Some have tried to refute these points by the fairy tale that all wealth belongs to society, the people, or even the government. Again, these are lies. Sure, our resources are acquired with a lot of support from and cooperation with others, including the lawmakers who enacted sound principles way before we were born. But that’s all irrelevant. Artist, too, paint with colors that have existed way before they started to use them but these colors, once made into pictures, become theirs and no one else has the authority to intrude on what they do with it, not unless it involves the violation of another’s rights somehow.

It is best that whenever politicians and their cheerleaders speak “for us” it is recognized that they are speaking only for themselves and all that talk of “we” or “the people” or “Americans” or “humanity” is meant to disguise this fact. It’s time they are stopped in carrying out this gross deception. If not, they will continue to shut off our choices in life and imposing theirs on us all.

Column on Business versus Business

Business Versus Business

Tibor R. Machan

One can think of business as a profession, like medicine or engineering, and ask whether it is worthwhile or valuable. Should people in their communities welcome business or not? Or one can think of business as the collection of commercial institutions, such as the banks, corporations, shops, and so forth that are active in one’s community.

It is one thing to oppose the former, quite another to be critical of the latter. One may well find business valuable as an institution in a human community, something to be embraced and supported, even as one considers the great majority of existing businesses guilty of innumerable types of malpractice. The same can be so with any other endeavor, such as medicine or entertainment or farming. While as properly understood all of those could be assets in a human community, their actual manifestation at any period of time could also be highly lamentable.

In America, just as elsewhere in the world, it is arguable that too many businesses are engaged in malpractice even while the institution of business, sans the malpractice, is something very much to be prized and in considerable need. The malpractice I am referring to involves mainly getting into bed with politicians and bureaucrats whereby too many businesses are actually attempting to subvert the very nature of their profession. These outfits run to Washington and other centers of political power to gain favor against their domestic and foreign competitors and thus flagrantly betray the institution of business. Of course this is not too difficult to understand, even to excuse, given that government has become thoroughly corrupt by involving itself by picking winners and losers, in favoring various businesses and disfavoring others, with special legislation, regulation and other policies that undermine free and open competition in the market place.

Consider as an analogy professional sports. If the organizations that administers the rules of a given sport were to have established as a routine practice favoring certain teams over others, if referees and umpires took bribes as a matter of course, it would be no surprise that the various teams would try to outdo each other with their offer of bribes to these officials. Or if a judge in some criminal jurisdiction established a record of corruptibility, it would be no surprise if litigants tried to approach their case not with good arguments, not with facility with the law but by way of coming up with the most attractive bribe for the judge. Those making use of bribes would, of course, be complicit in the corruption of the system but the main fault would lie with those in the administration who make a practice of selling out, of in effect betraying their oath of office.

When Bill Gates’s Microsoft Corporation was being hounded by the Department of Justice for allegedly violating antitrust laws–supposedly by means, for example, of bundling its products, something that should never be deemed objectionable let alone illegal–he was reportedly advised that his practice of staying away from Washington, of refusing to fund politicians running for election, was the source of how he was being treated. In time Gates learned his lesson and began to game the system. Instead of remaining independent of politics and relying mainly on technological and market savvy, he followed the practices of his competitors by supporting politicians of both major parties running for office. By now, of course, Microsoft Corporation is there with all the others who take part in what some call crony capitalism or what is simply the corruption of capitalism. (If the sport of tennis were administrated similarly, would we call it crony tennis or simply corrupt tennis?)

One can be an enthusiastic supporter of business as an upstanding institution in a human community but at the same time be vehemently critical of how actual firms are being managed vis-a-vis their ties with politics. But the main source of the problem is how the system of government in a society makes it not just possible but nearly imperative for people in business to become corrupt so as to be able to survive and prosper.