Archive for October, 2011

Column on Abusing the Social Contract

Abusing the Social Contract

Tibor R. Machan

At the outset it needs to be noted that whatever is called the social contract, it is not actually a contract which is “an agreement entered into by two or more parties with the serious intention of creating a legal obligation or obligations, which may or may not have elements in writing. Contracts can also be formed orally (parol contracts). The remedy at law for breach of contract is usually ‘damages’ or monetary compensation. In equity, the remedy can be specific performance of the contract or an injunction.”

So then, contracts are legal instruments, means by which legally backed agreements are recorded and used to settle disputes about the parties’ obligations. The idea of a so called social contract is, actually, an oxymoron since most social acts aren’t legal ones. A better term for what is usually meant by “social contract” would be social compact, an plain agreement of some kind.

The idea has been around for centuries. Even Socrates touched on it in Plato’s Republic, but it gained prominence mainly in the writings of the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes used the device of an imaginary social compact that everyone in society would enter into. The purpose of it is to come up with the most sensible principles of social organization. What if we all got together and reached an agreement about what principles should govern the way we live in a society? What, indeed, would everyone agree to if they had a chance to take part in such an event?

In Hobbes the social compact or contract had been the central device for identifying the principles of justice. No other edicts would be drawn upon, although implicitly the device assumes that participants would all be reasonable, rational people who are pursuing their self-interest. The result of the establishment of such a compact would be a system of principles and laws that would aim to secure peace and prosperity. Everyone can easily be imagined to sign on because such a system would be in everyone’s interest.

Hobbes also imagined that such a system would need an enforcer, a nearly absolute monarch, so as to keep people from breaching the agreement they entered into when they felt like they could get away with this. The powerful monarch or government would dissuade them from breaking the law. But if the near-absolute monarch turned out to be a serious threat to the lives of the citizenry, they could resist and depose such a ruler.

This idea, by the way, found its way into the Declaration of Independence. Here is how it’s put there: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

In the writings of the grandparent of the American political tradition, John Locke, the idea changes somewhat because Locke believed that the principles of justice are derivable from human nature and agreement is only necessary for selecting who would secure or protect those principles. So, in effect, the social compact creates the means by which just law is to be protected. The governing body is created by the compact, not the principles of government! And for Locke this isn’t only hypothetical but quite literal. It is why the Declaration talks of the consent of the governed, something that Hobbes’ theory doesn’t require except hypothetically.

The idea made its appearance in the works of Immanuel Kant, too, although in a rather convoluted fashion and, more recently, in the work of John Rawls’s, the most prominent political philosopher in the 20th century whose book A Theory of Justice (Harvard, 1971) invokes, once again, an imaginary social compact. Everyone supposedly enters into this “behind a veil of ignorance,” meaning, without knowing who one will be in the country established by it. (That is one way that such a system would be a fair one, which was a very important goal for Rawls.)

Social compact/contract theories are appealing for being anti-elitist, for not invoking the idea of a natural ruler, political elite or aristocracy. They are, however, also too committed to the ideal of majority rule, as if gaining the hypothetical consent of the people justified all kinds of oppressive measures against individuals. Moreover, such theories leave it quite undecided who is authorized to implement and maintain them.

Just as, for example, Massachusetts politician Elizabeth Warren recently declared that taking private property is justified by some alleged social contract and authorizes her and other politicians to do this taking in the name of this contract, so many others who make use of the idea deploy it for the sake of making riding roughshod over the citizenry by some large number of them palatable. As she put it, “part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that [what you have earned] and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

But this is a non-sequitor–no such contract has established Warren’s or anyone else’s authority to violate the basic individual rights of citizens of a free country. And even if it had, no one has consented to Warren or anyone else doing any taking in the name of society! No one can agree to violating rights, especially other people’s, which one has by nature.

Column on Warren’s Non-Sequitor

Warren’s Non-Sequitor

Tibor R. Machan

So Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts candidate for the US Senate, says “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” And so she is said to reject that it is possible for Americans to become wealthy “in isolation.” (As if someone defended that silly idea!)

So she sounds off about this, with evident righteousness, as follows: “You built a factory out there? Good for you,… But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.” And she goes on to declare, “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

First of all, nothing at all follows from any of this about how Ms. Warrant has any authority at all to rearrange the world her way. My nose and ears and kidneys and eyes weren’t created on my own but none of that implies for a second that Elizabeth Warren is entitled to start invading my body and decide how its parts ought to be used. Nor even that my parents actually own me!

Of course, property rights start simple enough and then become complex. But that is just why a free country has a law of property instead of Ms. Warren as a tyrant who orders us all to do as she wishes.

It is necessary to be careful about how property is properly allocated, with close attention to original and subsequent creation, with what has been voluntarily shared, given away, earned through work and exchange, etc. Why?

Well, from the time of Aristotle it has been clear to quite a few political theorists and economists that common ownership sucks. As the ancient Greek sage put the point:

“That all persons call the same thing mine in the sense in which each does so may be a fine thing, but it is impracticable; or if the words are taken in the other sense, such a unity in no way conduces to harmony. And there is another objection to the proposal. For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few.” (Politics, 1262a30-37).

Then there was Thucydides on the commons, noting that “[T]hey devote a very small fraction of the time to the consideration of any public object, most of it to the prosecution of their own objects. Meanwhile, each fancies that no harm will come to his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look after this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays.” (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, bk. I, sec. 141).

So John Locke came along who didn’t even deny that to start with property is commonly owned but that it is best to create a system of private property so that property will be taken good care off and because those who work hard to improve it are justified in benefiting from it and make use of it as they see fit.

So not only is Ms. Warren way off with her idea that the state gets to decide what happens to property and that there is some kind of unwritten–i.e., not consented to–social contract that obligates us all to give to the state. But it is a wasteful and bad idea, as the Soviets and other socialists who disallow private property in their realm, have found out to everyone’s despair.

But of course it is not going to be easy to get agreement to statist redistribution policies if all this is admitted. So Warren needs to attempt the impossible and show that she, not you and I, get to say what happens to what we own because how we obtained it involved other people! Again, it doesn’t follow!

Machan’s Archives: Disputing Postivie Rights

Machan’s Archives: Disputing Positive Rights

Tibor R. Machan*

An influential idea in contemporary political philosophy is positive rights. It has been advanced by political thinkers on both the Right and the Left. In contrast to the theory of basic natural rights that John Locke developed, in terms of which every individual must be left free from the uninvited interventions of other persons, positive rights require us to provide resources and services to others who are in serious need. Champions of natural rights consider positive rights as imposing involuntary servitude on us, by requiring that people be forced to provide services and benefits for others. Positive rights theorists claim, however, that these resources or services are due others, they are owed them. Positive rights arguably gave rise to the doctrine of entitlements among those involved in forging public policy.

Positive rights also check the principles of a fully free economy as understood in the classical liberal tradition of political economy. If people have such rights, one has no basis for refusing resources or services to them if they seriously need them. That implies that what people have in their possession may very well belong to others, including some of “their” skills, marketable attributes (e.g., good looks or talents). They could then be required by law—or, as the negative rights champions would have it, be conscripted or coerced—to serve the needs and wants of various other people regardless of their own choices. It is the government in a society that would secure the fulfillment of the obligations that arise from the existence of positive rights (that is, entitlements), either by means of direct performance (as when health care professionals would be mandated to provide their services to those who need them) or indirectly (as when government taxes the citizenry, usually along progressive lines, so as to provide resources or services for those who have a positive right or are entitled to them).

Furthermore, the doctrine of positive rights helps establish the case for government regulations, including of businesses. While negative rights proponents may construe such regulations as a type of prior restraint, supporters of positive rights tend to argue that others have a right to be provided with safety and risk prevention at that need to be paid for by those who have the resources to do so. The customary idea of free trade is, thus, rejected, at least to the extent that some significant portion of what is ordinarily taken to be one’s wealth is not one’s own to allocate as one sees fit. (This matter surfaces during efforts to cut taxes—are the taxes the property of taxpayers or that of governments and simply held by taxpayers or citizens?)

Some argue that all rights are in fact positive rights.[1] This is because the means of protecting all rights would have to be the provision of government services that would secure or protect them, services that amount to a performance of certain sorts of actions (e.g., the police answering calls, judges ruling on conflicting claims, the military defending the country against attacks).

Some others, such as James P. Sterba, have maintained that positive rights exist because the possession of negative rights, by the very poor or unfortunate, entails or implies them. Sterba argues that “a libertarian ideal of liberty leads to a right to welfare.”[2] That is because negative rights themselves are supported by the claim that without such rights no effort to live well is possible, if some cannot live well anyway, and only if others provide them with resources will they manage to make the effort to live well, then surely they do have a right to those resources, a right that is positive now, not negative.[3]

There are certain insurmountable problems with all these views. Shue, Holmes and Sunstein, who believe that we have positive rights to the services of the state and, thus, to the earnings of taxpayers who must pay for these services, fail to show that any right to being provided with protection exists without a prior negative right to liberty which one exercises so as to elect to have it protected and then delegates to an agency, such as government or a body guard, to do the protection for oneself. They ignore the “consent of the governed” provision in the establishment of government and so they treat that institutions as unproblematic or explainable by reference to positive rights. Yet, as negative rights theorists maintain, it is through the exercise of negative rights—say, the right to enter into a contract or form a compact—that some derivative positive rights are created.[4]

Yet, to obtain protection for something presupposes that one has the right to liberty to take such actions that will produce it. This right amounts to voluntarily combining with others for the purpose of gaining self-protection by establishing a government or similar authority that may act to protect rights because that authority has be freely delegated to it by rights possessors. That original right, however, is a negative one, requiring that others abstain from intervening in one’s affairs.

So, the services of government, according to negative rights theorists, are something people must freely choose to obtain, by their consent to be governed, and they do not have a natural right to those services prior to having freely established such a rights protecting institution.

Sterba, in turn, makes the mistake of generalizing into a principle of law what amounts to a rare moral emergency case⚊namely, when some innocent people are totally helpless and should obtain resources by stealing them. Pace Sterba, those extraordinary circumstances do not generate any rights for people, although those who attempt to meet them by way of stealing might very well be forgiven because of their very limited options.

The doctrine of positive rights has an appeal to those who are faced with the theory of government that guides American law and politics. This theory is a source of promise to their efforts to elevate what people badly need to what they have rights to. America was founded on a theory that every individual human being has the unalienable right to, among other things, life, liberty and property. These rights that John Locke first identified—following several centuries of political and legal thinking during which various theorists have begun to identify them more or less precisely—are, as noted already, negative. Those political theorists who consider it important to retain some elements of the political outlook which Locke’s position displaced, namely, the view that people belonged to the country—were, in fact, subjects of the country’s head, the king, not sovereign citizens—found a way to use the concept of human—but now positive, not negative—rights to advance their position.[5] They appropriated some elements of the concept of negative human individual rights and attached it to the idea of needs or important values that people often have so as to manage to secure what others might provide for them. That element is that if one has rights, one is not just authorized to but in fact ought to secure their protection. As the U. S. Declaration of Independence so succinctly put it, it is “to secure these rights [that] governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Now if we also have positive rights, then governments would also have the task to secure them, namely, the performance by us of those actions that will provide what others have a positive right to.

Probably the most serious problem of positive rights arises from how they compare with how negative rights are understood in the Lockean natural rights classical liberal tradition. In that framework a conflict of (justified, true) rights claims cannot exist. In this political framework when a claim is made as to someone’s having a basic (not, however, legal) right, this claim may be checked for whether it is true by reference to a correct understanding of human nature. That such an understanding is possible is itself a controversial issue that need not concern us for now.[6]

Why is the Lockean approach to rights superior to the positive rights approach? Because the natural rights position understands human nature to rest on our correct grasp of an aspect of reality. With the understanding of human nature and the character of human social life we discover that morality and politics have emerged as uniquely human concerns in reality. For example, we learn by the use of our reason, as Locke puts it, that men and women ought to strive to succeed in their lives but face avoidable threats from others who refuse to accept mutually supportive conditions for striving. In this light we need to answer a question concerning ourselves, namely, “How we ought to live?” This is because human beings lack the instinctual, innate or hard wired information that will just take care of their living for them, that will secure their successful living automatically. Furthermore, given our social nature, which Lockeans and other classical liberals and libertarians by no means reject[7]—pace the claims of Taylor and other communitarians who claim that this tradition assume an atomistic idea of human nature[8]—we need to answer the question “How should we organize ourselves in communities?”

As per the Lockean negative rights framework, in both these human normative spheres, ethics and politics, we are still, as in the sciences, dealing with reali­ty, albeit a special dimension of it. So here, just as anywhere else—say in economics and biology—no conflict is tolerable between true claims.[9]

Furthermore, the natural rights classical liberal tradition identifies the rights, for example, to life, liberty and property as basic for human community organization but not, however, for human life at the personal, non-political level.[10] No concern with rights can arise on a desert island for Robinson Crusoe. Only among strangers, in larger communities, does the issue of how we ought to treat one another become pre-eminent and thus of great significance for political and legal purposes.

None of this holds for positive rights. The very fact of scarcity introduces inherent conflicts between allegedly true positive rights claims. And, of course, for those who accept both negative and positive rights as basic to human community life, the conflicts multiply. For example, the negative right of a doctor to liberty is inherently in conflict with the positive right of a patient to health care. So, a serious problem of positive rights theories is that positive rights are unable to function as fundamental criteria of political justice, criteria that serve to assess the merits of claims citizens make concerning their range of authority in society. Instead, with positive rights, since they are in mutual conflict and since they also conflict with other rights many positive rights theorists accept as having at least some standing, there cannot be the rule of law, only the rule of rulers who will decide which of the inherently conflict rights will be protected. This way the whole point of rights as fundamental to a political society is lost and we are back to the arbitrary rule of government, be it monarchic, democratic or whatever.

Any bona fide political system must be organized in large measure so as to protect the rights to life, liberty and, in the practical aspect of both of these, the right to private property.[11] Thus any political rights—to be free to engage in decision making vis-a-vis political matters—must not violate those basic rights. Political rights include the right to vote, serve in government, take part in the organization of political campaigns, etc. Practically speaking, the exercise of one’s political rights may have an impact on who governs, various internal rules of government, and the organization of political processes. But there is no political right within the negative rights framework to override anyone’s right to life, liberty or property. Any evidence of some community’s legal system overriding these rights is ipso facto evidence of the corruption of that system from a bona fide civil polity into one of arbitrary (even if majority) rule. Indeed, one of the failings of contemporary conservative legal theory is not to appreciate the intimate connection between Lockean individualism and democracy. Because of this, many think democracy may trump our basic rights.

The main reason that the American founders established a government that was to secure our rights is that they agreed with Locke and a few others throughout human history that justice requires that communities fit human beings as moral agents, with their personal responsibility to govern their own lives. This is perhaps clearest when we notice their strong emphasis on the right to religious liberty. Worship has always been closely associated with morality and to argue that worship must be freely carried out, not coerced (as per, for example, the Holy Inquisition), strongly suggests a general belief in the justice of removing coercion from morality.

The founders also thought that the only chance of government by law, and thus justice, is the institution of a constitution that contains the criteria for justice, namely, basic rights that are coherent and consistent, that apply to all and can be protected for all.

With the introduction of the conceptual contrivance known as positive rights, it turns out to be in principle impossible for government to govern by a set of consistent standards, standards that had been provided with reasonable completeness by the theory of individual rights. Positive rights must be in inherent conflict. And they conflict, most of all, with our basic negative rights to life, liberty and property.

In the last analysis, the doctrine of positive rights leaves government free to impose its arbitrary standards of government—one day it is to help AIDS research, the next to foster the arts by supporting Public Broadcasting Service, yet another day the provision of our national interest[12] in oil in the Middle East and then the next day it is to solve the problem of immoderate smoking habits among the citizenry. No standards of restrain apply—indeed, as in a fascistic system, anything goes the leaders think is important. The only difference is that the leaders still abide some modicum of democracy.

As we judge communities across the globe, we must keep in mind that what is comparatively best is not always the best that is in fact possible. Thus we can affirm the greater merits of certain political communities or countries despite their evident violation of basic rights. Just as in personal assault cases we can distinguish between major and minor cases, as well as those in between, we can also tell when communities rest on principles that render those systems entirely corrupt, those that simply are confused and messy, and those that come reasonably near to meeting the standards of basic human rights. In a formal way we already apply this method of judging communities, even if not for all purposes. We should go much farther and apply it more strictly and substantively, including as we appraise our own country’s laws.

The doctrine of positive rights is seriously, probably fatally, flawed. With its abandonment a more promising idea may gain currency. This is that instead of positive rights, there are values some are in dire need of and some of those who can relieve them may have the moral responsibility to do so, one they ought freely to choose to carry out. Without the impossible dream of everyone have the right to such relief, as an enforceable obligation from others, this more promising albeit non-utopian view will gain greater impact, thereby fostering the solution of problems that the advocates of positive rights only pretend to tackle, however benign their intentions may be.

Endnotes:

*R. C. Hoiles Chair, Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University, Orange, CA 92866.

[1] Among them are Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), Henry Shue, Basic Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), and Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein, The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999).

[2] James P. Sterba, “Progress in Reconciliation: Evidence from the Right and the Left,” Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 28 (Fall 1997), p. 102. It might be worth pointing out that there is nothing at all that is “Right” about libertarianism. The Right is conservative, even reactionary, and has traditionally rejected many of the tenets of classical liberalism or libertarianism, even its principled adherence to the right to private property and free trade. One need but think of Pat Buchanan’s vociferous opposition to free trade to confirm this point or, if one wants more respectable evidence, of Edmund Burke’s and other conservatives’ (e.g., Russell Kirk’s) criticism of individualism, a central feature of the libertarianism at issue here. Indeed, by some accounts libertarianism is Left because it is close to Enlightenment ideas that champion reason and science.

[3] There are many approaches taken to defending the libertarian stance. Some that are advance mainly by economists do not involve rights, only the overall efficiency of free institutions. Others take rights as a starting point, while yet others rest negative rights on prior ethical theory about the responsibility to strive for excellence. Sterba has argued against those libertarians who take either liberty or the right to liberty as crucial in their positions. Others have argued against negative rights that they rest on shaky foundations and thus cannot be justified. For example, Adrian Bardon, “From Nozick to Welfare Rights,” Critical Review, Vol. 14, No. 4 (2000), pp. 481-501, rejects what he takes to be the two important arguments for property rights, based on autonomy (or respect) and on desert, respectively, he finds in Robert Nozick. The natural rights position relies on neither of these but on the unique identity and sovereignty of human beings that makes them unavoidable for involuntary servitude or public use and on their nature as free and morally responsible, thus in need of the moral space Nozick mentions so as to make decisions about right and wrong conduct. If there is any ground for respect, it lies in the fact that one’s humanity imposes on everyone the task of making life supporting decisions. If there is any desert, it comes from the routine but not necessary requirement that assets and resources one owns need to be allocated effectively, productively. Yet, initial assets—talent, beauty, inherited wealth—need not be deserved, only be a part of one’s identity as the individual person one is. It is one’s right to one’s life that justifies others’ obligation not to intrude on one, not that one has earned special moral respect or deserved the property one happens to have. This should be evident from the fact that it is absurd to think that one deserves one’s life, as if one had struggled to be born is now rewarded with freedom for having done so.

[4] For how children’s positive rights emerge, see Tibor R. Machan, “Between Parents and Children,” Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 23 (Winter, 1992), pp. 16-22.

[5] For the most thorough theorist now arguing for the idea that we belong to—and are not only members of—our communities, see Charles Taylor, Philosophy and the Human Sciences (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 187-210. This belonging is akin to the way the heart, liver or nose is a part of the body and isn’t a member of it; so, by this account, human individuals are a part of society, not free members who may elect to cancel their membership.

[6] The skepticism here, as in many other cases, stems mainly from a wholly unrealistic conception of what it takes to know something. With the idea that when we know something we have the clearest, most self-consistent, and most complete conceptualization possible to date of what it is we supposedly know—in contrast to the idea that when we know something we have a final, perfect, understanding of it—the most serious and destructive kind of skepticism does not arise. I discuss this in Tibor R. Machan, “Epistemology and Moral Knowledge,” The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 36 (1982), pp. 23-49.

[7] I discuss the mistake Taylor and other communitarians make in such an ascription of atomism to the classical liberal, libertarian school in Tibor R. Machan, Classical Individualism (London: Routledge, 1998) and Generosity; Virtue in Civil Society (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1998)

[8] Op. cit., Taylor, Philosophy and the Human Sciences; Amitai Etzioni, The Spirit of Community (New York: Crown Publishing Co., 1993); Robert Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985), and Thomas A. Spragens, The Irony of Liberal Reason (Chicago: University of Chicagor Press, 1982). For a critical examination of the misattribution of atomism to classical liberal and libertarian politics, see Aeon Skoble, “Another Carica­ture of Libertarianism,” Reason Papers, No. 17 (1992), pp. 107-112.

[9] True ethical and political—including basic rights—claims are no less factual and thus no less in need of conforming to the criteria of consistency and coherence as those in the natural sciences. The reason is ultimately metaphysical, in the last analysis, justified in Aristotle’s defense of the Law of Non-Contradiction, a defense that still stands and the challenge of which is unavoidably self-defeating. For the details of this line of defense of the Lockean rights stance, see Tibor R. Machan, Individuals and Their Rights (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., Inc., 1989).

[10] This conflicts with Taylor’s claim to the contrary. Taylor says the following about the Lockean position, something quite wrong in light of Locke’s own reference to a law of nature—namely, ethics that our reasoning faculty can grasp “if we but consult it”—that is prior to and required for the conceptualization of negative rights:

Theories which assert the primacy of rights are those which take as the fundamental, or at least a fundamental, principle of their political theory the ascription of certain rights to individuals which deny the same status to a principle of belonging or obligation, that is a principle which states our obligation as men to belong to or sustain society, or a society of a certain type, or to obey authority or an authority of a certain type. (p. 188)

[11] See Tibor R. Machan, The Right to Private Property (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2002).

[12] In contrast to national security, which is but a generalization from the individual security from negative rights violations that citizens may elect to obtain via government.

Column on Greece in America

Greece in America

Tibor R. Machan

Most of us who are aware of world financial trends know that earlier this year thousands of Greeks took to the street and mercilessly engaged in destruction of property around Athens. They were upset about having to tighten their belts in the wake of the possibility that some of their entitlements will have to be cut and their retirement postponed past age 57. In short, they were upset that the freebies they had come to take for granted may have to be reduced, even completely cut. Few of them seemed to have a clue about how one cannot get blood out of a turnip. After decades of living off the work and incomes of other people and future generations — via borrowed funds — the gravy train is very likely to reach its termination point.

In much of Europe the attitudes of these Greeks is routine. They have welfare states in spades and few have ever warned them about the hazards of living in such systems. These last few years may finally have produced such a warning but only by creating hardship for those who have become completely dependent on the system. Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain are just the more drastic examples. But the entire continent is experiencing the consequences of decades of profligacy. Instead of testing a truly revolutionary alternative to socialism — which of course crashed with the demise of the old USSR and its colonies — namely a consistent free market, capitalist economic order (with a proper constitutional framework) — what most Western European politicians chose to do is to turn toward socialism with a human face, of the democratic kind (i.e., without outright police state policies).

This has been a strategy adopted in America as well. Promoters of more and more entitlement programs and top down federal and state government economic regulations have been clamoring for America to become a so called compassionate system (and throwing around accusations that adversaries and critics of government profligacy are mean, lack heart, etc.). These and similar ways were meant to accommodate the moral and political sentiments of the former Soviet system. The only difference is that while the Soviets realized that their planned economy requires the police state and met their demise by applying police state policies, the Western welfare states try to square the circle by preaching compassion and kindness while enacting laws and regulations that in fact require a firm hand by the government.

So after it is becoming clear enough that no system can survive with the reckless economic policies of the welfare state, what is left? We see the answer on the streets of New York and elsewhere with the attacks on Wall Street. Just as the Germans turned upon Jews, whom they irrationally held responsible for their economic wows, the Wall Street protesters are scapegoating a segment of the American population that not only does not deserve this but may actually be the last hope of the American and even world economy. “We don’t much like our situation, so let’s pick on Wall Street traders and companies and blame them for it.” What these people are calling for is just a bit short of stringing up or liquidating the very people who are mostly hard at work trying to earn a living for themselves and their clients.

Yet given the mainly mindless commentaries on the Greek, Portuguese, and Italian economic situations, given how so very few mainstream observers pick the correct culprit — namely, the welfare state and its coercive wealth redistribution and punishment of productivity — it is not all that surprising that young Americans tend to turn on those who are managing to make it in this economy. They feel, having been so urged to feel, that they are owed a living — they have gotten free education and most of them are still getting one (protesting vociferously every time tuition is raised) as an object lesson and now that this can no longer be sustained they are picking on precisely those who carry very little of the responsibility for their circumstances.

Why are so many surprised with this? Almost all of the teachers, from elementary to graduate schools, have preached the welfare statist mantra that we all have a right to be taken care of. So what is one to expect?

Column on Obama the Wuss

Obama the Wuss!

Tibor R. Machan

Here is why President Obama is a wuss. He has never shown much taste for the war on drugs yet he has done nothing to stop it. He could save a bundle of money (certainly vital in these times) and more importantly get people out of jail and prison who shouldn’t be there if he urged its end. It would strengthen America’s reputation as a bona fide free country. It would embarrass the Republicans — maybe even many Tea Party people — by showing them up for the petty tyrants they are by backing this insane “war.”

Yet, what does Mr. Obama do? He lets the feds raid even medical marijuana clinics in California as a show of force. He misses showing up the Republicans up for their hypocrisy about state rights and federalism, two principles they keep championing in the abstract but betraying in practice in this case for sure.

Of course the main issue shouldn’t be one of showing up the other party for being hypocrites. The main thing should be getting rid of the despotic policy and here Obama could even count on his base, many of whom are supporters of people’s liberty to consume drugs of any kind, even those that may well harm them. (After all, a free citizen is one who may exercise his or her liberty by engaging in bad practices, like producing rotten works of art and worshipping false idols.)

Sadly while in some matters the current crop of Republicans are favoring human liberty, in others they do not. They keep rationalizing their war on drugs by reference to phony theories about how drug consumption is not a victimless crime after all since the perpetrators sometimes harm others under the influence. If that’s so, prosecute and punish them for violating the rights of others, not for being under the influence. (People can embark on violating the rights of others for hundreds of highly varied reasons which cannot and ought not to be the target of laws, only of education and persuasion — that is the civilized way of dealing with people’s bad habits!)

The president is very fond of giving speeches and answering press conference question by stating what he wants people to do. You know, “Pass this bill,” which is actually an order and not becoming of the presiding officer of the government of a free country. But if he is so inclined, why not order the abolition of the villainous war on drugs? Go out and rally his team to do something worthwhile.

It seems that despite the widespread acknowledgement of the disaster of the country’s experience with alcohol prohibition, history is being repeated almost perfectly. What a shame that is. As a refugee from a Draconian tyranny, the so called communism (actually fascism) imposed on Eastern Europe and my original country, Hungary, I am truly disgusted and saddened by America’s drug war. Who do these people think they are to throw people in jail for taking huge risks with and even ruining their lives? (People take risks all the time, e.g., when they drive or go skiing, or … well anyone can fill in the rest of this sentence with but a minimum of thought and observation!)

A few years ago I made a friend from Bulgaria, a former commie country and one that still suffers much from that disastrous episode in its history. Yet places of entertainment in Sofia, the capital city, can stay open much longer than ones in America. That may not be very important to some folks but it does illustrate just how often Americans are willing to tolerate various tyrannical measures in their midst. Which allows its enemies to point a finger at how many people linger in prisons for various victimless crimes. It allows its detractors to discredit the country’s supposed exceptionalism.

For those of us who love liberty and used to love America for a system that was at least approximating the free society and had gotten rid of slavery, the most blatant contradiction of its free heritage, this situation is really distressing. Hopefully it will turn out to be yet another fading legacy of the governmental habit.

Obama the Wuss!

Tibor R. Machan

Here is why President Obama is a wuss. He has never shown much taste for the war on drugs yet he has done nothing to stop it. He could save a bundle of money (certainly vital in these times) and more importantly get people out of jail and prison who shouldn’t be there if he urged its end. It would strengthen America’s reputation as a bona fide free country. It would embarrass the Republicans — maybe even many Tea Party people — by showing them up for the petty tyrants they are by backing this insane “war.”

Yet, what does Mr. Obama do? He lets the feds raid even medical marijuana clinics in California as a show of force. He misses showing up the Republicans up for their hypocrisy about state rights and federalism, two principles they keep championing in the abstract but betraying in practice in this case for sure.

Of course the main issue shouldn’t be one of showing up the other party for being hypocrites. The main thing should be getting rid of the despotic policy and here Obama could even count on his base, many of whom are supporters of people’s liberty to consume drugs of any kind, even those that may well harm them. (After all, a free citizen is one who may exercise his or her liberty by engaging in bad practices, like producing rotten works of art and worshipping false idols.)

Sadly while in some matters the current crop of Republicans are favoring human liberty, in others they do not. They keep rationalizing their war on drugs by reference to phony theories about how drug consumption is not a victimless crime after all since the perpetrators sometimes harm others under the influence. If that’s so, prosecute and punish them for violating the rights of others, not for being under the influence. (People can embark on violating the rights of others for hundreds of highly varied reasons which cannot and ought not to be the target of laws, only of education and persuasion — that is the civilized way of dealing with people’s bad habits!)

The president is very fond of giving speeches and answering press conference question by stating what he wants people to do. You know, “Pass this bill,” which is actually an order and not becoming of the presiding officer of the government of a free country. But if he is so inclined, why not order the abolition of the villainous war on drugs? Go out and rally his team to do something worthwhile.

It seems that despite the widespread acknowledgement of the disaster of the country’s experience with alcohol prohibition, history is being repeated almost perfectly. What a shame that is. As a refugee from a Draconian tyranny, the so called communism (actually fascism) imposed on Eastern Europe and my original country, Hungary, I am truly disgusted and saddened by America’s drug war. Who do these people think they are to throw people in jail for taking huge risks with and even ruining their lives? (People take risks all the time, e.g., when they drive or go skiing, or … well anyone can fill in the rest of this sentence with but a minimum of thought and observation!)

A few years ago I made a friend from Bulgaria, a former commie country and one that still suffers much from that disastrous episode in its history. Yet places of entertainment in Sofia, the capital city, can stay open much longer than ones in America. That may not be very important to some folks but it does illustrate just how often Americans are willing to tolerate various tyrannical measures in their midst. Which allows its enemies to point a finger at how many people linger in prisons for various victimless crimes. It allows its detractors to discredit the country’s supposed exceptionalism.

For those of us who love liberty and used to love America for a system that was at least approximating the free society and had gotten rid of slavery, the most blatant contradiction of its free heritage, this situation is really distressing. Hopefully it will turn out to be yet another fading legacy of the governmental habit.