Archive for June, 2012

Machan’s Archives: Troubles with “Public” Resources

Machan’s Archives: Troubles with “Public” Resources

Tibor R. Machan

So some insist that street vendors around the country should be banned? Why? Because the majority of those doing business adjacent to the street want them to be. The issue has come up in most major cities, including New York, NY, and Santa Ana, California.

We are talking about public places, of course, where everyone is entitled to do his or her thing provided the local politicians or bureaucrats can be appeased and give their permission. (Why exactly do free men and women require the permission of such folks to do anything at all?)

In the 4th century B. C. Aristotle identified a very important principle of community life. He demonstrated the social value of the right to private property. This is how he summarized his case:

“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. Everyone 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)

This same idea was clarified by the late Professor Garrett Hardin, in his 1968 article, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in the prestigious magazine Science. Hardin gave the example of a common grazing area used by several owners of cattle to feed their livestock. Because there are no borders identifying what area belongs to which cattle owner, the commons tend to be overused, not because of what is commonly assumed, the greed of the cattle owners, but because each cattle owners want to achieve the best possible results, namely, feed the cattle as well as possible. The principle at issue has been very fruitfully applied to environmental problems and the conclusion has been drawn by many scholars that without extensive privatization of what are now treated as public properties — lakes, rivers, beaches, forests, and even the air mass — environmental problems will remain quite serious and the ecosystem will deteriorate.

Arguably, everyone knows that a problem exists with common ownership. Such ordinary phenomena as littering and the neglect of public parks and beaches, not to mention rentals properties, make the problem evident to us, even if we do not often reflect on the matter. The problem is that nothing much can be done about it without changing what is publicly owned to private property. And it is nearly inconceivable in some cases that valued resources can be subjected to privatization, never mind the issue of whether such a policy could be squared with the more prominent conceptions of justice that would trump the practical solutions proposed. Accordingly, even among those who are fully persuaded of the need for privatization, the political will and savvy to achieve the solution is lagging far behind the analysis that identified the solution.

Still, in this area, at least, such an identification has occurred. What would be required to carry on along the lines suggested by the tragedy of the commons insight is a theory of justice that squares with it. Libertarianism is the only such theory afoot and that alone indicates what the prospects for such developments are.

Since I have made the attempt to place on record a libertarian theory of justice*, I shall not dwell on that topic here. Instead I wish to provide another illustration of the tragedy of the commons with respect to public resources. In this case those resources will be less geographically and more economically telling. Still, recognizing the applicability of the analysis to this area, namely, public finance, we can perhaps consider the universality of some features of economic analysis. That might incline us to look upon the tragedy of the commons as more significant than has been thought for purposes of gleaning some insights about the nature of justice itself. Aristotle, for example, might be viewed in the passage above not as pointing to mere practical problems but also hinting at where the just solution might lie. If, furthermore, we consider the significance of “ought implies can” for a theory of justice, it could turn out that some currently popular theories, e.g., egalitarianism, will have to be seriously rethought.

The Treasury as the Commons.
What has not been widely noticed is that a tragedy of the commons exists, as well, in our national treasury. We have here what by law amounts to a common pool of resources from which members of the political community will try to extract as much as will best serve their purposes. Be it for purposes of artistic, educational, scientific, agricultural, athletic, medical, or general moral and social progress, the treasury stands to be dipped into by all citizens in a democratic society. And everyone has very sound reasons to try to dip into it — their goals are usually well enough thought out so they have confidence in their plans. They know that if they receive support from the treasury, they can further their goals. So they will do whatever they can to do just that, namely, extract from the commons as much for their purposes as is feasible.’

But, as both Aristotle and Professor Hardin knew, the commons are going to be exploited without regard to standards or limits: “that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.” Which explains, at least in part, why the treasuries of most Western democracies are being slowly depleted and deficits are growing without any sign of restraint. Greece, Spain, even Japan, Germany and Great Britain as well as the United States of America are all experiencing this, as are numerous other societies that make their treasuries available to the public to use for sheer private purposes. For how else can we construe education, scientific research, the building of athletic parks, the upkeep of beaches, forests and so forth than as the pursuit of special private goals by way of a common treasury?

Some might try to obscure this by claiming that all these goals involve a public dimension. Of course. So does nearly every private purpose–including the widely decried phenomenon of industrial activity that produces the negative public side-effect of pollution and contributes to the depletion of a quality environment. Private goals can have public benefits and costs. But their goal is to serve the specific objectives of some individuals.

When AIDS research is supported from the public treasury, the first beneficiaries of success would be those with AIDS, not those who haven’t contracted the disease. When theater groups gain support from the National Endowment for the Arts, there may be beneficiaries beyond those obtaining funding but they are still the ones who benefit directly, immediately. When milk producers gain a federal subsidy by having the price of milk fixed or their withholding of production compensated, the year the first to gain from this, not some wider public. And so on with thousands of other “public” projects — they are, actually, supporting private or special goals, first and foremost. One need only observe who lobbies for them. But because the treasury is public property, there is no way to rationally allocate what’s in there with rational budgetary constraints. Instead politicians embark on deficit spending — taking non-existing funds, ones not yet collected but only uncertainly anticipated, and funding the requests without restraint.

And there is no end in sight. Only when the country no longer has the credit-worthiness in the world community, so that its bonds will no longer be bought by hopeful lenders, will the Ponzi scheme be called to a screeching halt. We will have to declare bankruptcy and those of our citizens who had nothing at all to do with the enterprise will be left to hold the empty bag, namely, our grandchildren.

Road to Solutions
There is no quick and handy way to approach the problem of the tragedy of the commons. The suggestion of privatization and laissez-faire is too jarring to many people to take very seriously. Yet the problem itself seems quite intractable. Any effort to handle it by way of democratic or republican public policy seems to be a band aid, postponing a real solution for a while. Soon, however, the tragedy re-emerges because of the way that political organizations adjust — e.g., via lobbying and special interest pressure — to the obstacles placed before those who value such projects and will vigilantly pursue the way to fund them from the public treasury.

In the case of public finance, not unless the treasury stops allowing private projects to be funded from its coffers, confining itself to the support of constitutionally specified, bona fide public projects — the courts, the military, and police — will there be an end that avoids the perhaps greatest tragedy of the commons. To reach such a position of financial responsibility, governments will have to sell off all the unwisely held common assets — lands, parks, beaches, buildings, forests, lakes and such — to private, profit seeking parties. They will thus liberate members of our future generations from the tragedy that has been so irresponsibly placed upon them by means of the proliferation of the commons.

This by itself does not solve all problems that face us in the wake of the tragedy of the commons. The air and water masses of the globe aren’t easily privatizable, at least not for the time being. The way to discourage their abuse will have to be researched. It may be found in the law of personal injury and trespass. People who traverse the public realm will have to confine their conduct to what is peaceful, non-injurious, lest they find themselves charged with criminal assault and trespass. In any case, the acknowledgment of the tragedy of the commons will have to precede any serious research program that needs to be mounted in order to inch closer to a peaceful and just solution.

*See my book Libertarianism Defended (Ashgate, 2006), summarized in “Libertarian Justice,” Hoover Digest (No. 4, Fall, 2006): 220-224.

Obama’s Immigration Machinations

Obama’s Immigration Machinations

Tibor R. Machan

Not for a moment do I buy that President Obama has suddenly grasped the plight of illegal immigrant children. For one, he is on record declaring that the law ties his hands about the matter–that he cannot act unilaterally, or so he said in a widely available video from just a year or so ago. Somehow this is supposed to have changed and now his sense of justice, fairness and benevolence has kicked in and led him to reverse himself. (I thought it was Mitt Romney who wobbled on public policy matters!) No.

For Mr. Obama what would be the best clue to his approach to these matter is his repeated profession of pragmatism. Now in this case pragmatism would direct him to do whatever will improve his chance for reelection. If the pragmatism had to do with his having found a suitable means to help all those young illegal immigrants to finally get a solid foothold in the country they have come to consider their own, this executive decision could have been made many moons ago. Indeed, those young men and women could have been moved out of limbo a long time ago by Mr. Obama. There was no administrative reason for him to wait until now if there is none now.

The only sensible explanation is that the upcoming presidential contest is getting tighter than Obama & Co., had anticipated, so now it’s a good tactic for him to play to a pretty strong special interest group in the United States, namely, Hispanics and others whose goals involve becoming American citizens any way they can and all those who sympathize with them. That is a large chunk of voters! (I am one of those immigrants who had to jump through all the legal loops in order to become naturalized.)

Of course, we all feel for those who are in the state of limbo so many are whom Mr. Obama is favoring with his decision. And I don’t doubt that Mr. Obama, too, has feelings for them. People are often impelled to do what they choose to do by several motives. One or another of these may not suffice to lead them to reach a decision and to issue in decisive action. But I bet that combining some genuine feeling for the young illegals with the opportunistic interest in getting reelected pushed the president over to the side of ignoring his commitment to what he earlier thought the law required of him. He decided to ignore the nicety of involving Congress. He decided to overcome his aversion to executive decisions which he has expressed before when other presidents invoked them. And he went for what would serve his political interest or, maybe more appropriately put, his most important objective in his adult life, namely, to obtain and keep power over the American people. If at this point that required for him to make this inconsistent executive decision, so be it. Who is going to punish him for it?

Most ordinary voters do not focus much on Obama’s avowed pragmatism. They do not realize that this philosophy can be used to justify the most dubious methods for achieving one’s goals, provided those methods are successful. Nor do they know that the goals a pragmatist pursues need no justification at all. One can simply pick one’s goals based on anything at all, provided the goals are practically attainable. No one can know for sure if some method to reach desired ends will be successful since the future is not something we can know. But if it has a good chance of success, why not go for it? The saying that the end justifies the means applies here precisely.

So then what about the merits of the decision to grant legal status to the young people who were brought here? It’s not a bad idea except that it may make it tougher for some who are trying to gain legal status the required way. There are, after all, quotas in play in this–some limit to the number of those legalized will be in place. So merely being a good idea doesn’t qualify it as good policy. The rule of law has to play a role too, exactly what the president appears to have appreciated earlier but then tossed overboard in this current move.

So, bottom line: Mr. Obama is now grasping at straws to give his reelection a good chance. One may conclude, then, that seeking and keeping political power tops his list of priorities. Just what one may expect from someone without principles.

Jobs from Forced Charity

Jobs From Forced Charity–the Socialist way.

Tibor R. Machan

It appears, based on the economic philosophy he has been outlining in recent weeks, that President Obama believes that jobs based on economic transactions, exchanges, trade, and so forth, do not matter, have no significance. This has a very serious foundation, to which I will turn later in this short discussion.

Wealth creators produce jobs from engaging in such exchanges, mutually beneficial trade or commerce. If my neighbor hires my child to mow his lawn, he gets a mowed lawn and my child receive a few bucks in compensation. My child also may be said to be employed–in a small way. Thousands of such exchanges, from tiny to huge, constitute the free market. And they create wealth, various economic benefits and advantages, for all those engaged in them and this is also where jobs are born! People aim to prosper by improving on their lives through the upkeep of their household, their businesses, their health and fitness, their recreation, and so forth. All of these involve creating jobs. The wealth produced–incomes, return on investments, profits, and the like–enable people to go shopping for goods and services. And so it goes, around and around, wealth creation leading to job creation.

But our president finds wealth creation to be a low level economic objective, one may assume something selfish. Whereas job creation is worthy, especially if it isn’t linked to this depraved goal of becoming prosperous, wealthy.

What is left to create jobs? Government spending, that is what. Spending taxes taken from citizens on projects that do not make any private market agents rich, such as building up the infrastructure, giving away subsidies, paying out welfare, etc., and so forth. Now these are worthy ways of creating jobs since they come from handing out resources with no expectation of any returns. The investment in such public works isn’t marred by that dubious motive of private profit or income. No, it is handed out by the disinterested government and its public servants. It isn’t their own resources, anyway, so they can be free of any selfish involvement, any concern about getting benefits in return.

So for President Obama job creation can only involve giving away the resources of taxpayers, with no thought of reaping any profits in return. And the president is upset when he is called a socialist! Yet socialism is the political economy that, among other things, rejects profit making and endorses sharing the resources of a community–as Marx had put it, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This is by Marx’s and his followers’ light a noble way to manage resources, making them all public–collective–including, of course, human labor, the most important resource of them all.

All this follow from a serious viewpoint that challenges the American tradition of free market capitalism with its substantially individualist social philosophy. By the position implicit and often quite explicit in Mr. Obama’s economic policies and recommendations the society is like a huge ant colony, with everyone just a kind of cell in the whole organism. Marx called it an organic whole (or body), and it is the well being of this whole that is the objective of a government’s economic plan.

Private wealth takes away from this and thus is to be frowned upon. This is also why in socialist societies being a dissident amounts to being a traitor, someone who is deserting the team by working for an inappropriate end or goal, namely, his or her own economic flourishing.

If you look closely, we have with the Obama team a pretty straightforward return to the stakes of the Cold War. It was all about collectivism versus individualism and now this war had been brought home. As it stands, Obama & Co. are convinced they are on the right track. They interpret the American political tradition with an emphasis on some of its unfortunately worded collectivist elements–”to promote the general welfare,” for example. That tradition has never been hostile to communitarian goals, provided they are freely choose, with the full consent of those who pursue it. But Obama & Co. see it not as a part of the American tradition and not was voluntary but as mandatory–just read the works of Harvard University’s Michael Sandel who makes clear that we are all born with obligations to society, ones the government must enforce.

It can only be hoped that this toying with the reactionary idea that people are born to be involuntary servants of their communities is rejected and the revolutionary idea that the life on a person belongs to that person and if something is to be gained from it by others, it must be contributed freely.

Occupy Times (London) Interview

Subject: My interview for The Occupy Times of London

Subject: My interview for The Occupy Times of London
You’re not fan of ‘administrators’. Do you think we are heading down a
path towards even more administration & interference from technocratic
’experts’? Why are we beginning to accept this?

Well, there is a danger in using “we” here.  Many do accept such developments, in part because they hold that science–”techne”–is the answer to everything (a la the late B. F. Skinner) and the mantle of science is awfully impressive in the modern age; the humanities have failed to address the most important issues, such as what should be the values people ought to pursue, embrace; religion simply doesn’t convince the educated among us, etc.
You wrote in a recent article (which we’ll link to in the website version of the Occupied Times) that commerce has had a very bad press for hundreds, even thousands of years – tracing back anti-business sentiment to Plato, Aristotle and the Bible. Could you describe this a little for our readers.  Is it a legacy of this thinking why most anti-corruption protests like Occupy frequently blame ‘capitalism’ itself as the root of the problem? (which, by the way, is not the view of everyone taking part in these protests!) Who or what should we be blaming instead?

From the start commerce or business had been linked to soulless materialism, a value free approach, and thus has done battle with the more spiritualist views of human life.  (False alternatives in my view!) Still, living well has always been an attractive prospect.  So spirit and matter, as it were, have done battle and business/commerce has been on the materialist side of it and thus has lacked the respectability that those who demean doing well in life happen to have acquired over the centuries.  Intellectuals, today, are a kind of clergy who scoff at wealth, technological progress, economic growth, etc.  The Occupy people fashion themselves as today’s humanists and there isn’t enough solid intellectual, philosophical criticism of this (to my mind misguided) outlook.
The film and book, The Corporation, puts forward the thesis that corporations are psychopathic because they have a duty to their shareholders to make profit over and above all other concerns. This over-riding motivation means they are amoral as for them profit is more important than the human or environmental cost. Could you comment on this? We’re very interested to hear your thoughts on the morality of corporations…

Sadly this is very misguided.  Corporations are what people organize in order to prosper, economically, which is a very fine thing but because of some of what I said above, it has not gained respectability among the intellectuals, clergy, pundits.  Also, the general hostility that’s still very much part of our culture against freedom of choice–e.g., “ordinary people don’t handle freedom properly and need to be directed by politicians and educators, etc., etc.”–infects the attitude toward corporate commerce.  Yet, corporate commerce is very much part of life but it has acquired this reputation of being amoral, ethically deaf and dumb.  The false notion that the right ethics is altruism, a life of relentless self-sacrifice, supports this since commerce and its institutions are clearly aiming at creating wealth for their agents.
In the free-market, which you advocate, some Corporations have become all-powerful – putting small and medium sized companies out of business.  Is there a way to rein in their abuses of power? How can a free market work which is not dominated by ruthless corporations? Or is that just what will happen in part of the natural process. What in your view is the difference between commerce and business as practiced on a corporate multinational scale and trading carried out by small and medium sized local or national businesses and how can we even the playing field (or should we even try?)

When commerce has a bad reputation and is under constant legal, regulatory scrutiny (with the attitude that it is guilty before having been proven so), companies have to be huge to carry on, with especially large legal departments that can fend off the government regulators.  It is nothing natural–small people and large people are both people, after all! The notion of an even playing field is a false ideal.  It is a mistake to try to cut everyone to the same size.  (Here the best lesson comes from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in my view.)
If we are socialising the losses of banks and other companies, then currently we do not have a free-market. How would you best describe the global economy as it is characterised now with these enormous bail-outs and various other perks which are given to certain corporations (for example, I understand that in the US certain companies do not have to subscribe to Obama-care).

It is as my friend Tom G. Palmer points out, a humongous welfare state with its inevitably attendant tragedy of the commons on innumerable fronts.  With this sort of situation everyone seems to just want to beat everyone else to the various public treasuries (which tend to contain only borrowed monies now).
Do you think protectionism is ever justified (if for example, the government is attempting to protect small and medium sized businesses from competing multinationals which will bankrupt them).

Protectionism is cheating and can only be justified very rarely as a well-targeted retaliatory measure, and only temporarily.
Do you see a problem with corporate land grabbing, and the concentration of land ownership? (or do you think ‘land grabbing’ is loaded term for

If land is acquired honestly, if government doesn’t enter and pick winners and losers, there is no harm here.  Whatever is of value, people will wish to have some of it and so long as this is done on the up and up, objecting to it is prejudicial.
You say: “taxation is essentially a relic of feudalism”. Is there anything at all you would allow the state to tax? Some people believe land tax is a fairer tax as wealthy landowners own tracts of often undisclosed land and resources which they simply pass onto the next generation, whereas income tax penalises the entire population – even those who do not possess assets such as land.

I know of the Henry George position on this and have addressed it–no, it doesn’t have any justice in support of it.  Moreover, even if some land is owned undeserved, it is a non-sequitor to believe that this entitles others to confiscate it.  It should be adjudicated in a court of law, not by bureaucrats. The case against taxation is complex but ultimately taxation is extortionist. 

You describe Robin Hood as a hero of ‘repossession’. Are you a Robin Hood
economist? (Presumably those advocating the ‘Robin Hood’ tax should be cast more as the Sheriff of Nottingham – the FTT is a subject of heated debate in Occupy London by the way – could you share any thoughts on it.)

I do not know what Robin Hood economists are and suspect the term is used in its normal, misguided fashion here–i.e., “soc it to the rich.”
What measures do you think would start to solve this global crisis?

Well, I am a convinced libertarian. Ever since I was smuggled out of communist Hungary or shortly afterward I have championed the fully free society where no one gets to order anyone else about (apart from children an some invalids). I have debated the matter with innumerable statists and never found any of them convincing. I have written some 35 books on the topic and considered criticisms, objections galore, so freedom is my answer to most of the world’s human made problems.
What would you do if you were elected Prime Minister of Greece?

I would ask for people at the Mises Institute or the old Chicago School of economics to come in and help straighten out the mess.
What issues do you think Occupy should best focus on? Occupy seems to me too diverse, too unfocused, and too emotional to do any good other than perhaps call attention to some problems.  It isn’t the way to be civilized and productive.
If you had a banner to wave yourself at a financial protest, what would you paint on it?
”Assert yourselves but very thoughtfully!”

How would you encourage an anti-austerity protestor to embrace classical libertarianism?

I am not sure because it appears that so many of them refuse to see that one cannot get blood out of a turnip.  That is, ours and previous generations have demanded that governments drain the treasury completely and they do not appear to find it immoral to take from future generations, to take what isn’t theirs.  These folks, sadly, think there is some kind of bottomless well of wealth in every country.  Or they just believe that if money is needed, just rob the few who have been lucky and worked hard.  What can one do with such folks but protect oneself from them when they are around the corner.  Most of us learn from our parents to be frugal, thrifty and such but there are, sadly, millions who do not.  Who believe they have a right to everyone else’s savings and earnings.  Until they unlearn this futile doctrine, I think we are cooked!

I think you might be finding some common ground with the Occupy movement when you criticize the corporate bailouts: ‘we refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis’ is in the initial statement of Occupy London. Does that sound to you like a libertarian slogan?

Certainly bailouts are wrong,  But  people who are willing to soak the rich when they have run out of funds have no logical rights to complain about bailouts.  It is a Hobbesian world out there; it appears, with everyone getting what he or she can get.
Can you expand on what you mean by the global bailouts functioning as a ‘humongous welfare state’.

Welfare states practice the perverse Robin Hood doctrine.  You are entitled to get whatever you need, never mind your contribution to the commonwealth. It is not unwed mothers who soak the government for welfare but mostly businesses, farms, banks, etc., what with their subsidies and protectionist laws keeping others away from the free market!
Do you sympathise with the Occupy movement’s desire for transparency in government?

Of course I am for transparency.
You associate the “humanists” of Occupy with the intellectuals who “scoff at wealth” but isn’t the Occupy critique at heart a materialist one? – they don’t “scoff” at wealth, they want those of it who lack it to have more. And they say that the (undeniably extreme) distribution of wealth in our world which keeps building on itself due to compound interest and other factors is – somehow – improper. To criticism a distribution of wealth isn’t to criticise wealth per se, is it?

There is a lot of inconsistency about the views among those who have joined the Occupy movement. You say: “corporations are what people organize in order to prosper” but you’d presumably agree that there’s more than one-way to prosper? (the Mafia are fairly prosperous). Can you think of any examples in which the ‘urge to prosper’ manifested by a corporation has got out of hand? Of course I meant prosper peacefully!
If the only limit to economic action is the law (including, presumably, certain bits of necessary regulation – e.g. about pollutants), how do you protect the law & regulation from the business interests they’re meant to regulate?
Interesting but sadly the only answer I have is education. Also, let’s be clear that pollution and other negative externalities are the result of the lack of full protection of private property rights.
When corporations have the freedom to become as huge as they currently are they become immensely powerful and start lobbying government to change laws in their favour, so they can continue to prosper within in the law – but that law no longer works in the interests of the majority of the population. Could you comment on this? What is to protect the people against malicious and predatory corporations if not the government (although govt. doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of it at the moment..). For example GMO or products like bovine growth hormone might be associated with massive health risks, but governments allow corporations not to label foods incorporating them – how can the individual be protected?

Sadly those who have power will try to make it work for them, so the law and morality need to be widely enough implemented and taught to restrain them.  Government is always captured by the powerful in the land!

You criticize “the false notion that the right ethics is altruism” but the opposite of unrestrained profiteering doesn’t have to be “relentless self-sacrifice”. Can’t you imagine a criticism of corporate excesses and predatory practices coming from a place of pro-business, pro-prosperity, pro-capitalism?
Calling it “predatory” shows it really isn’t capitalist at all!  Predation is doing violence of people and their property.
You say “It is a mistake to try to cut everyone to the same size” – would you then oppose measures to break up ‘too-big-to-fail’ institutions – for example, those institutions (most of them banks) deemed ‘systemically important’?
Yes, if they got big peacefully, they must be left alone.  Just as very tall basketball players need to be kept within the rule, that is.  (No handicapping except when the fans demand it and that’s in a game, after all, not in life.)
A good example of a ‘human made problem’ in the world would be the BP oil spill. How might ‘freedom’ answer the problem of the Gulf of Mexico? As BP seems happy to simply pay a fine and disperse the oil as quickly as possible using a toxic product like corexit (incidentally manufactured by a company owned by Goldman Sachs).

The criminal law needs to be adjusted to the modern age and its technology!
Where do you stand on monopolies? How can we have a world in which small and medium sized businesses are able to prosper alongside corporations? Or would a totally free world mean they will inevitably go out of business as they cannot compete?

The Beatles were a monopoly, as was Elvis, for a while.  All successful endeavors tend to involve some monopolists.  Again, the issue isn’t size but peacefulness!

If the world is a “humongous welfare state” then why are so many people living in poverty? It wouldn’t seem to be a particularly ‘efficient’ welfare state. Do you see libertarianism as a way for people to escape poverty?
Welfare states pretend to serve the poor but in fact serve fat cats (who capture the government routinely)! If the governments acted like referees do at a game, staying out unless someone violates the rules, they would do the job for which liberal theorists like the American Founders supported them, “to secure our rights.”


You say: “they do not appear to find it immoral to take from future generations, to take what isn’t theirs” – I was wondering how you feel about nation debts, and the fact that future generations will be born pre-indebted?

Vile stuff, that’s how I “feel”.  (Really, what I take it to be true! Sadly they aren’t here to defend themselves.  It is also rank violation of the prohibition of “taxation without representation”.)

You speak of a “Hobbesian world” – with everyone out to get what they can. I worry that this sounds a slightly joy-free, unsympathetic world! Do you believe in the ultimate selfishness of mankind?

It doesn’t have to be this way!  But a great many people seem to find that to be desirable since they believe they will be among the powerful, the majority.  As to what is right, that would be a world in which individual rights are fully respected and competently protected. BTW, true selfishness, prudence, is healthy.  Check out what Socrates and Aristotle thought about promoting one’s true self-interest!  It is the rapacious sort that is vicious.

What would be your first step in campaigning against “protectionist laws”?

Education!  The minds of people ultimately fashion institutions, policies, and laws.

You mention, I think rightly, the importance of “education” – I was wondering, do you believe in state-funded education? (for anyone?)

I don’t believe that the state may get involved in anything apart from adjudicating disputes and protection of individual rights (including from foreign and domestic aggressors). No one has the moral or should have the political authority to rob Peter to supposedly benefit Paul, be it through education, medicine, the arts, and sciences, whatever.  Such aggressive policies underlie corruption, wielding of power of some over others.  (I do not believe economic “power” or wealth is aggressive if it is come by peacefully!)

Of systemically important institutions: “Yes, if they got big peacefully, they must be left alone.” I presume, left alone to fail as well to thrive? (but what if their failure causes a bigger collapse?)

Exactly.  None should be deemed too big to fail if the risks are assumed voluntarily.

You talk about businesses being left alone to “prosper peacefully” – what about arms companies? (or would you withdraw ‘morals’ from the field of economics, and leave it to ‘law’?)

Morality applies in all voluntary human affairs–whenever people do what they choose to do, their conduct it open to moral assessment, for better or worse.  Arms companies that trade with criminals are themselves criminal. Only trade with defensive customers is legitimate. It is like trading with murderers, child-molesters, rapists, robbers and the like–all criminal! 

You talk of fat cats who “capture the government routinely” – I wonder if you could give me any examples, from your experience, of this?

Huge drug companies have politicians they pay off, including bureaucrats in the FDA (food and drug administration).  This is what economists call “capturing the regulators” through a process of hiring them when they move back into the private sector. The education industry has many politicians seduced into thinking that universities, colleges and such may be funded from confiscated funds, funds obtained through the extortion process called taxation (which comes to us from feudal times when monarchs took “rent” from their subjects at gun point).

I wish to add that although there are numerous nuances one must add to the points I am making, answering your questions succinctly doesn’t make room for these.*  It must be left to the intelligence of people to translate the general points into subtle implications.

If there is no tax, where does the money come from for the state itself? For basic policing and for all the ‘adjudicating’ and ‘refereeing’ that the state needs to do to ensure that corporations and individuals all have their rights upheld and people still obey the law…

As a consistent libertarian I do not use the term “state” but “government” to label the institution established to protect individual rights (as per the American Declaration of Independence).  In any case, government or the administration and maintenance of law can be funded by a contract fee. [See] Since contracts need to be backed by law, a fee can be charged when they are entered into.  Of course, one would be free to rely on a handshake but no sane person would do this with major economic transactions. The funds raised this way would suffice to fund the kind of minimal government that a just society requires.

*This is why folks like me write big, unwieldy books! :-)

Constitutional Anomalies

Constitutional Anomalies

Tibor R. Machan

As a lay student of the law, it has always struck me odd that in the U. S. system the First Amendment to the constitution exempts the ministry and journalism from government regulation while it appears to accept the regulation by all levels of government of numerous professions and enterprises. In very general terms, this clearly amounts to a kind of unjust discrimination.

Why should people doing work at churches, ministries, newspapers, publishing houses, think tanks, universities and the like have their full–unalienable–right to liberty protected, including from governments across the board–federal, state, municipal, etc.–while other citizens who work in hospitals, factories, shops, corporate offices, etc., and so forth are subjected to onerous government regulations by some fellow citizens who have not gained the consent of these to be treated by them this way? What justifies this unequal protection of the law for millions of citizens who have done nothing illegal, who aren’t being punished or penalized for any malpractice?

Think of the widely accepted prohibition of prior restraint where journalists or authors are concerned. Why is this upheld while no such prohibition is in place when it comes to auto mechanics, engineers, farmers and hundreds of other professionals in our supposedly free country? This is clearly colossal injustice.

When I mention this concern to some of my mainstream colleagues in the law, their eyes tend to glaze over or roll, as if I were suggesting something truly absurd, even vicious. Yet all I am suggesting is that some citizens in this allegedly free country are treated without regard to what seems to be an elementary tenet of justice which is that without having done violence to anyone, none must be imposed upon, subjected to various burdens and expenses, ones that if they were to resist would land them in prison.

Consider, also, the practice of professional licensing, something a few others, too, have found to be anomalous in a free society. The late Milton Friedman was one of those who made no secret of his opposition to it. Such licensing is surely reminiscent of certain aspects of the doctrine of feudalism, where some members of a royal court impose their judgment on perfectly innocent citizens–well, in that system they would have been subjects–simply because they believe their judgment is superior to that of the citizens or God gave them the authority to do so.

Indeed, the entire institution of government regulation of anything is party to this anomaly. I want to cry out, “Who are these people anyway that they have the audacity to coerce others to be obeyed?” Aren’t we past the age of such rule of some by others in at least most Western societies?

From the moral point of view, only if one has consented to be ruled, governed, manhandled, etc.–as one consents to one’s dentist, doctor, personal trainer, coach, or dance instructor–is it permissible for these others to order one about. And, of course, children may be ordered by their parents in light of their dependent status, their legal immaturity. But once one has grown up, reached the age of maturity, such authority by others is supposed to have vanished and only if they have given their permission to be regulated, regimented by someone else, does such treatment of them become acceptable. (Some exceptions exist with incapacitated persons.)

Why is there no widespread outrage about these matters? Citizens are not supposed to be subjects and handled like serfs or involuntary servants? One would think in the supposed leader of the free world, the United States of America, more citizens would show their dismay about such matters.