Archive for March, 2011

Scheduled Book World Appearance

It may be of some interest here that I have been asked to host C-Span’s *Book World/In Depth*, a three hour call-in program on Sunday, May 1, 2011, focusing on my 40+books, starting with *The Pseudo-Science of B. F. Skinner* (1973) and the latest, *Rebellion
in Print* (2011). I have been, since December, 1997, and still am, a
resident of Silverado Canyon, a professor at Chapman University (holding the
R. C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise), and a regular
columnist for the *OC Register* and a free lance writer over the years for
many other publications (e.g., *Free Inquiry* magazine, *Barron’s*, *The
Boston Globe*,*The New York Times,* *The LA Times,* *The Houston Chronicle*). I was one of the founders of *Reason* Magazine back in 1970 and have appeared on PBS, NPR, ABC-TV, Fox Business News and the late Bill Buckley’s *Firing Line*. I was smuggled out of communist Hungary in 1953 and have lived in America since 1956. My recent writings are stored at http://tibormachan.rationalreview.com/ & http://szatyor2693.wordpress.com/

Tibor R. Machan
TMachan@gmail.com

Column on Krugman, Academic Freedom and Phony Whining

Krugman, Academic Freedom & Phony Whining

Tibor R. Machan

In his column of March 28, 2011, Paul Krugman whines a good deal about how Republicans in Wisconsin are targeting scholars who may not like their opposition to public service union profligacy. No doubt, in these battles all sides can go overboard but let’s just face it, the Left has been dominant in higher education for decades on end, which is why, perhaps, I am not a professor at Princeton University while Dr. Krugman is, and why my columns and blogs are mostly marginalized and his appear on the pages of The New York Times. (But enough of sour grapes!)

First, opposing public service unions does not amount to opposing organized labor, certainly not of the kind that would take place in a free market where competition affords the opportunity to seek out firms not hit by union action. Public union members work for monopolies and there is no option but to do business with them all. That’s a major difference and cause of most of the problems faced in Wisconsin and elsewhere vis-a-vis public employees.

Another point to keep in mind is that Wisconsin’s and other states’ universities are tax funded and citizens who have to foot their cost cannot walk away and go elsewhere to buy their higher education from an alternative institution, not unless they are willing to be charged twice. Furthermore, college professors, like college students, enjoy academic freedom, not the full protection of the rights secured via the Fist Amendment to the US Constitution. University policy, in part dictated by public officials at the state level, trumps academic freedom (which is mainly a tradition or custom, not a legal guarantee). Politicians, who take themselves to be in charge of–or, euphemistically put, “responsible for”–higher education policy, have the legal authority to butt in anytime they can convince themselves that it is a matter of the public interest to do so. And that task is a very easy one for politicians and bureaucrats, don’t kind yourself. So when Wisconsin’s politicians scrutinize public university employees, including professors, in the public interest, there is no legal argument that can be made against this. They are ultimately in charge, something they would not be if they dealt with private educational institutions (which, more like churches, largely enjoy constitutional protection from such meddlers).

None of this should come as a surprise to Paul Krugman, an old hand in the education industry. (His professed shock with Wisconsin’s politicians is just about as authentic as was the shock of the police captain at the end of the movie Casablanca with the illegal gambling that had been going at Ricks!) Once you are near the centers of power, such as state and federal capitols, you will use whatever legal or near legal means you can deploy to hang on to your clout and to gain more and more of it. Your opponents will, of course, always holler “foul” as you make your moves but this is certainly just a ruse. No one should be fooled that Republicans and Democrats or any other mainstream political bunch do not try every trick in the book to undermine those on the other side.

Dr. Krugman himself is simply playing the game–charge your opponents with ill will and corruption even while you are guilty of these as well. Maybe he thinks no one can figure this out, him being such a well positioned public intellectual. Fact is, however, that Krugman is simply trying to keep and gain power for his team. It has nothing to do with overarching principles, not, especially, when you recall, also, that Dr, Krugman is a fierce defender of pragmatism and opposes all ideologies, including the ideology of remaining true to the principles of proper public conduct. Only amateurs would be bother with that!

We live in a dog-eat-dog political arena and very few people have the backbone to remain above the fray. By now anyone who reads his stuff should know that Dr. Krugman isn’t one of them.

Column on The Taxman (Extortionist) is Coming

The Taxer (Extortionist) is Coming

Tibor R. Machan

For most people taxation is a burden that’s accepted in large part because they know the alternative is worse. As a friend pointed out, it is like dealing with someone who holds you up in a back alley: “Your money or your life!” To put up a fight can be fatal and up to a point almost everyone can tolerate the loss. But as the economist Arthur Laffer observed, everyone has a point at which no further taxation can be lived with. Kind of like pain–we can all put up with some of it and will not succumb until the level is just too high. But it is never a good thing.

Now there are sadly some prominent folks who claim that this is all as it should be. As Justice Felix Frankfurter reported about Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “He did not have a curmudgeon’s feelings about his own taxes. A secretary who exclaimed, ‘Don’t you hate to pay taxes!’ was rebuked with the hot response, ‘No, young feller. I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.’” (Felix Frankfurter, Mr. Justice Holmes and the Supreme Court [New York: Atheneum, 1965; originally published by Harvard University Press, 1938, 1961, page 71]) But this is not right at all, despite Holmes’ gravitas.

Taxation was the charge the ruler levied on his subjects for being privileged to live and work within the realm that belonged to him (or her). Yes, kings and czars and pharaohs were thought of as the owners of the countries they ruled. So they extorted funds from everyone at the point of the gun or bayonet. It wasn’t a free exchange, as between, say, a dentist and a patient. Or even a client and a body guard. No, the king ruled–indeed by some accounts owned–the subjects and confiscated what he chose from them in property and labor, leaving them just enough to survive.

This is what Robin Hood was protesting, by the way, not great wealth. His rebellion was to take back what the taxer took and return it to those who were the victims of taxation. The process of taxation is no peaceful interaction whereby citizens are offered services by their government and pay for it voluntarily, the picture Holmes painted of it. No. Rulers extorted the funds and didn’t obtain them in peaceful ways.

Taxation, then, was on par with slavery and serfdom, not with free trade. Once the American idea–learned from the English philosopher John Locke and some predecessors–of natural individual rights to one’s life caught on, both serfdom and slavery started to crumble. They lost their moral foundation. And once it was demonstrated that everyone has the right to private property as well, the notion that the monarch owns the country also took a major hit. Sadly, however, all this wasn’t taken far enough. It was all a bit too revolutionary, to make it clear that no one owns anyone else, only ones own life and property. Probably in part because that’s the only way political thinkers could see their way through to funding the legal services governments were providing–the civilization that Homes was talking about. But that is a bad way to have handled the situation.

As it was realized a bit later, one has no right or isn’t entitled to another’s life even if one needs that life very much, as, for example, in fighting a war in defense of a country or for harvesting one’s crop. For a long time folks put up with conscription in the USA even though it violates the right to one’s life. So they also put up with taxation, even though it violates the right to one’s labor and property. But it need not be like that in either of those cases: one can pay people to fight or give them other benefits, and an army will arise quickly enough, especially provided the purpose is a just one, not imperialistic adventurism. And one can finance essential legal services without confiscating anyone’s private property, mainly by charging a fee for all economic transactions that need the protection of the law. Both these methods avoid coercion. One can avoid service in the military by paying others who are willing to take up arms for a just cause. And one can avoid paying the contract fee by simply relying on a handshake. But in the latter case, few would make that choice since they would be left very insecure in their commercial exchanges. It is best to enter into a binding contract and paying the fee to have it well protected in the law. Moreover, there is plain old human generosity which is far better than extortion any day!

Of course, the details would be very involved. Sadly no one is studying this since public finance is so intimately tied to the system of taxation. But just as the switch from conscription to a volunteer military wasn’t impossible, so is the switch from taxation to the contract fee system.

So taxation is by no means the best way to obtain funding for the legal system, quite the contrary, just as any other involuntary service isn’t the way to obtain the work of others. It is high time that this is realized and the extortionists sent on their way.

Column on Sample of Government-at-Work

A Sample of Government-at-Work

Tibor R. Machan

Where I live there’s no mail delivery. All USPS mail has to be picked up at the post office. And at the post office the address is, well, a P.O. Box with its number.

If one sends a piece of mail to the house address, the zip code must contain the post office box number at the end of the regular five digit number. And it is usually no problem to do this! Except, of course, with some government bureaus.

In particular, the Department of Motor Vehicles in California refuses to accept the additional numbers for the zip code. No matter how often one calls them about this, no matter how often one sends them messages from their web site, they refuse to add the extra numbers, so when they send citizens their license plates or any other official government mail, these often get returned “undeliverable.”

Now one would think there is no big problem with adding those extra numbers but for the 12 years I have lived where I do, I have tried and tried to get this accomplished with the DMV but to no avail. And when I explain this to the people at the post office, they say this is happening to everyone where I live and they cannot get things changed either. Multiply this by all those who live where mail needs to be fetched from post office boxes and you can fathom the situation.

Fortunately, when such mail is sent to homes in my canyon community, they often get rerouted to the post office anyway, as a matter of courtesy. But not always–especially when a new person or temp takes over handing of the mail. Then such materials, often pretty important, get sent back to the DMV. (This can include drivers licenses, fee notifications, tags and such, so it can be quite disruptive to people who experiences this bureaucratic snafu.)

I realize that this is hardly a major obstacle to the functioning of our republic. Nonetheless it is somewhat indicative of just the sort of malfeasance that governments often perpetrate. Since the management of more and more issues is being taken over by government–e.g., health insurance–one need not be a rocket scientist to imagine that these kinds of foibles will probably increase several fold in the future. And it all seems to be impervious to being remedied by even the most vigilant citizenship action. The DMV will not budge, the post office seems helpless and there seems to be nothing citizens can do to fix it.

Even apart from the general matter of the political flaw of government’s taking over so much of our social life, trying to manage everything for us–the hallmark of welfare statism–why is such elementary stuff not being dealt with competently? It should give supporters of the greater and greater involvement of the public authorities in our lives some pause when simple things will not be handled with even the most elementary competence.

Column on the Proper Promotion of Liberty

The Proper Promotion of Liberty

Tibor R. Machan

The policy of imposing liberal regimes around the globe has proven to be a disaster and no wonder. It is simply not feasible to coerce people to be free–the idea is an oxymoron.

It doesn’t follow, however, that countries that are largely committed, even if only rhetorically, to a regime of human liberty–one that follows the political principles of the Declaration of Independence–can do nothing to advance freedom outside their borders. Sure, this is nearly impossible if they are themselves only so-so committed to a free system, if their own legal order is a mixture between tyranny and liberty.

Those abroad who have a strong interest in maintaining their unjustified rule over a population–e.g., the likes of leaders in China, Libya, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.–can then point out whenever they are being criticized for their oppressive policies that there are similar ones where the criticism comes from. The hypocrisy of it all will be glaring and will tend to discredit the critic’s position even if, to the extent it stresses the values of human liberty, it contains merit. Indeed, in some cases such hypocritical criticism may undermine the very position in favor of liberty, having shown up the critic as inconsistent, wobbly about the ideals on which the criticism is based.

But still those in government responsible for forging foreign policy could, if they had their wits about them, stress that what they are promoting is a system of liberty, never mind the lapses within their own domestic policies. Even an occasional liar can advocate telling the truth if he admits to his failings at the same time.

Of course, those outside the government, who have no direct hand in embracing a mixed up political philosophy–like the one we find in most Western countries and which are often being shown up for the confusing idea they are by critics both at home and abroad–are not hampered by this problem of sounding hypocritical when they champion liberty. When members of the Atlas Foundation or the Cato Institute travel across the world teaching about human liberty to thousands who attend their seminars, they do not have to embrace any inconsistencies. They can make it abundantly clear that they oppose their own system’s ill advised attempts to combine free and tyrannical policies. Anyone who is in favor of liberty across the globe and realizes how self-defeating it is to try to advance this cause by means of force of arms can give their support to those private groups that are consistent advocates of the free system.

It is, of course, necessary to be well educated about the nature of such mixed systems and to learn how to identify the impact of the policies that reflect the principles of liberty versus those that violate it. When, for example, loose talk blames the free market for the recent financial fiasco, it is necessary to be able to rebut such nonsense, to show that (a) the financial mess had nothing to do with genuine libertarian policies and that (b) prolonged interventionism has produced the mess (e.g., the machinations of the Federal Reserve and the innumerable government regulatory agencies that have distorted the principles of liberty throughout the economy and produced perverse incentives). There are now many fine books and papers, by excellent scholars, making this case in both technical and lay language and some command of these will help make the case.

Even the government–or those in it who do favor liberty in consistent ways–can use some of the tools of diplomacy to advance the case for liberty abroad. Government officials need not blindly comply with the wishes of foreign officials as they honor their own corrupt systems and can, instead, make their contempt evident by various subtle means.

The cause of liberty merits the sustained exercise of the human capacity for ingenuity in teaching important lessons to those who need to learn them. None of this guarantees success, of course, but success is far more likely if the promotion of the free system is itself unmarred by inconsistency and hypocrisy.