Archive for July, 2012

The Allure of Mandates

The Allure of Mandates

Tibor R. Machan

Peter Coy of Bloomberg/Businessweek is an avid fan of mandates (see his “The Case for Way More Mandates” 7/9-7/15, 2012, p. 24). Which is to say he prefers forcing people to do what he thinks they should do rather than persuading them, kind of like what the USSR’s rulers practiced routinely. (To mandate presupposes the capacity to impose one’s will! And governments are usually powerful enough to accomplish that. It amounts to coercing others, nothing nicer!)

The major argument given for mandates such as Mr. Obama’s preferred way to get people to insure their health care is that, well, by getting a lot of people to be part of the system, the cost of it all will not be as high as otherwise. And this is true for a while. If a lot of people are forced to eat at the restaurant I prefer, prices will be lower there. Higher demand for any goods or services leads to lower prices, indeed.

But this applies mainly to demand that is forthcoming voluntarily, not from having been mandated. Conscripting customers and clients may appear to be economical but only for a bit. In time people start finding ways to dodge conscription, like the military draft or the policies of dictatorships or tyrannies. All the energy devoted to such draft–i.e., mandate–dodging and its prevention goes to waste and that itself will turn out to be very costly.

What is really disturbing is that some justices of the US Supreme Court buy into this obscene way of thinking. Justice Ginsburg did recently when she wrote: “People who don’t participate in this market are making it much more expensive for the people who do; that is, they will get, a good number of them will get services that they can’t afford at the point where they need them, and the result is that everybody else’s premiums get raised? It’s not your free choice just to do something for yourself. What you do is going to affect others, affect them in a major way.” In other words, if one doesn’t purchase health insurance, others who want to buy some will have to pay more than they would if one did so! And this applies to everything, so we may then assume that Justice Ginsburg prefers a market in which people are forced to make purchases of goods and services she would like to be cheaper than if people made them voluntarily.

Conscripting customers is what she is proposing and what cheerleaders of mandates, like Peter Coy of Bloomberg/Businessweek, advocate. At bottom this means that the choices of recalcitrant citizens will be sacrificed to Justice Ginsburg’s choices. Which is tyranny, plain and simple–some folks in society get to lord it over other folks. For a justice of the US Supreme Court to advocate such public policies is out and out treasonous, given that the USA is supposed to have a government devoted to securing the protection of the rights of its citizens even from mobs that would wish to violate those rights.

Respecting the rights of others can always be construed as something costly. Your private property rights in your home require me to walk around when I want to get to the other side of it! If you refused to clean my front yard, I will need to hire someone to do it. If an airline company doesn’t provide me with free air travel, I will need to purchase the service. If farm workers refuse to work without pay, those wanting their services will have fork out wages. And on and on it goes.

So the allure of mandating services from others has to be resisted in the process of respecting their rights. This is supposed to be elementary in a free society. And the laws of such a society must not yield to such allure, lest it violates, betrays the principles of liberty on which it is supposedly founded and the securing of which is its government’s central task!

It is true enough that mandating that citizens–who used to be “subjects” when their rights were ignored–serve others and the goals that others consider important (indeed, may even be important) has been the norm throughout human history. The ideas of individual rights, to one’s life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc., have only recently become prominent in considering how public policies are to be forged. Kings, pharaohs, czars, and others who insist that it’s their way or the highway never found the regime of individual rights appealing and still do not–just check the news from around the globe, including the country in which you live.

But as the saying goes, the price of liberty, that most precious feature of a just community, is eternal vigilance.

Another Plea for More Statism

Another Plea For More Statism!

Tibor R. Machan

I recently read Zadie Smith’s essay, “North West London Blues,” in The New York Review of Books, and found it an insulting, devious, and roundabout way of trying to justify statism. The quote from the late Tony Judt tells it all. Here is what he said:

“We have freed ourselves of the mid-20th century assumption–never universal but certainly widespread–that the state is likely to be the best solution to any given problem. We now need to liberate ourselves from the opposite notion: that the state is–by definition and always–the worst available option.”

Yes, finally humanity has made some spotty progress away from statism, from relying on government coercion to try to solve problems but of course those who love power–always for the greater good, naturally–are unhappy with this. Ms. Smith knows that respecting and protecting individual rights would be major obstacles to the statist ambition to do “for us” what she and her hero in this essay (Helen, the owner of a bookstore that seems to rely on state funding) believe “we really want but don’t know we do.”

By implication, since we don’t know it, we must be made–forced–to accept it from those like her and all the supposedly well intentioned petty tyrants who would dish it out with the aid of the power of government. OK, so at times some of us don’t know what is best for us; in that case, if it is important enough, we need to be convinced, not coerced. Anything more is a non-sequitur! Exactly why some group is privileged not just to know some of what is best for us but also to coerce us to follow their guidance is quite unclear (unless we are children or invalids and they are our parents or guardians).

Just because now and then some others among us know better how we should proceed it doesn’t follow at all that they may assume the role of our parents and disregard our own choices, be they wise or not. So long as what we choose to do doesn’t encroach upon anyone’s rights, we must not be intruded upon. We may be advised, implored, urged, nudged, and so forth but only when we consent will our compliance be justified, an instance of having seen the light and taken the proper course of action because of it. Statism is vicious paternalism, the treatment of the citizen as an infant. None of this means that everything the petty tyrants propose is silly or vile, only that they must leave it at proposing what they deem wise and just instead of imposing it.

Who are these folks anyway to take themselves as humanity’s drill sergeants? Yes, there might now and then be an emergency that justifies pushing others around a bit but it must never be allowed to become routine, the way of the world! That is the reactionary politics of feudalism, mercantilism, monarchism, and so forth, not the politics of free men and women.

The idea that Ms. Smith and her bookstore manager Helen are authorized somehow to compel us all to do what we should–be it reading books or promoting various left-liberal causes–is out and out misanthropic. What they may provide is education, advocacy, some imploring, but never any coercion however much they are convinced that we need their forceful direction. It never follows from the fact that someone knows what’s best for another that this other may be regimented in line with that knowledge. At most what follows is that advice may be given or a peaceful movement be initiated!

The best evidence of civilization is that people treat each other as in possession of the capacity to reason and then to take advantage of that capacity, rejecting all the temptation of the barbarians to compel one’s fellows to do as one deems right. Only defending against those who use coercion upon us justifies resorting to force, not even the superior knowledge of how we all ought to act.

Acceptable Selfishness?

Acceptable Selfishness?

Tibor R. Machan

A big debate among business ethics professionals–teachers, consultants, etc.–concerns who should be the beneficiary of business management, share (or stock) holders or so called stakeholders. Ordinarily it is the former who are owed service from managers since they were hired to provide service to them. It’s a matter of delivering on a promise, plain and simple, no different from when one hires other professionals, such as those providing health care or car repair. But in the academic world of business ethics there has been a major influence from all sorts of people who want business to become public service professionals. It is called the corporate social responsibility or stakeholder movement and the pitch is for business professionals to become public servants like bureaucrats are supposed to be. (But a bit of reading in public choice theory will clear up this matter!)

Somehow if people in the business world strive for profit, for prosperity, they are supposed to be failing to do the right thing. Not that they are not supposed to help make the firm prosper but that’s not supposed to be their primary professional purpose. That is what many in the business ethics academic community advocate. But contrast this with how many look upon the task of other professionals, especially artists or performers. A comment by the millionaire pop artists Paul McCartney bears on this issue directly. Here is what he is reported to have said:

“A lot of critics go: ‘Why is he doing an orchestral thing, or a children’s song, what’s gone wrong with him?’ But this is my life, so I’m doing these things for me. If other people like them, I am really happy, that is the ultimate. And if they don’t, well, you can’t please everyone. As an artist, you just keep plugging on.” (THE WEEK, June 23, 2012, page 10)

McCartney’s reasoning is generally not deemed to be objectionable, not just regarding what pop artists do but regarding artists as such. The most humble as well as the most ambitious artists are widely appreciated for doing their own thing, following their muse, etc. No one is talking about social responsibility when it comes to their work, although some of them do, of course, engage in charitable and philanthropic projects. But as far as their artistic works are concerned, it is taken to be a very selfish undertaking, done to fulfill a personal, private agenda and not to serve anyone else. It is mostly in totalitarian countries that artists are drafted into public service, like the Third Reich, North Korea or the former Soviet Union.

Why so when those in the business community are always hounded about serving society, humanity, the community, etc.? Why are the personal, private objectives of artists deserving of respect but if people in business pursue their own goals, they are accused of being selfish in that sneering way–how dare they serve their own interest?

Is all this just a kind of careless hypocrisy or does it indicate some sort of bifurcation in how we are supposed to live our lives? When we select a profession that pursues the creation of beauty, then it is just peachy to ignore the interest of others, but when we pursue our prosperity we are not doing the right thing. But why? What is wrong with serving our economic muse? After all, wealth creation–what I like to call wealth care–is quite as worthy a pursuit as, say, health care/creation, as in medicine (or education or in science), is it not?

When a dedicated composer or painter or novelist spends years on his or her artistic projects it is surely time that might have been spent on serving one’s fellows. Isn’t that so. Why is this not some kind of insidious selfishness? Why is it OK to be devoted to one’s artistic vision, never mind how much time and effort it may take–and thus take away from public service–whereas when one engages in economic improvements one is widely denounced? One is a profiteer and people organize huge marches–Occupy Wall Street, for example–to protest this. Why not descend upon Soho, museums, galleries and other centers of artistic pursuits and complain that these people are being selfish and cruel to their fellow human beings, the poor, the sick, the unfortunately who could benefit from work done for them instead of in service to the muse?

Go figure!

My Fourth of July Reflections

My Fourth of July Reflections

Tibor R. Machan

For some people the Fourth of July is the most important holiday in America. Sadly, not for all, especially not just now when most of the leadership of the country has made it clear that principles do not matter. What matters is what is expedient or practical, which is something very unstable.

Sadly there is an element to the Fourth that has always been a liability. It is that principles of politics, economics, ethics or any other practical field have been championed as if they were like principles of geometry, logic or mathematics, namely, timelessly true, certain beyond a shadow of a doubt. Like timeless laws of nature! And no practical principles can be like that since the future can always bring to light facts that could require modifying them. This was something the framers of the American system were well aware of, which is why they included the amendment provision in the constitution. This doesn’t mean principles do not exist only that they are always to be understood within the most up to date context of their subject matter.

Because the basic principles that are to be celebrated on the Fourth of July are derived from human nature, which remains stable over centuries on end, they are good guides to the way a human community should be framed or constituted. Human nature hasn’t changed for a very long time and so it can serve as a stable basis for how human communities are to be conceived and governed. Many aspects of human life change but human nature has remained stable, unchanging for centuries and so it can serve as the basis of a legal order, just as the American founders believed, based on their study of some of the great moral and political thinkers in human history.

If, however, the possibility of having to make some changes, amendments, alterations, or modifications on those principle is denied, their credibility suffers. No one can reasonably guarantee that those principles will never need some alteration and by promising that they won’t, they become vulnerable to valid skeptical doubts. And those who have not liked the principles of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights, all the statists who live in the country, can take advantage of this and even ridicule the idea of our finding such stable basic principles. By making the mistake of claiming that the principles are everlasting, they are put into jeopardy at the hands of their detractors and enemies.

Nor are the principles of the Declaration self-evident! It is made clear in the document itself that they are only held to be such, for purposes of making the declaration. Since they require demonstration and proof, they can only be held to be but are not in fact self-evident! Very few truths are self-evident and the Founders were aware of this–for example, the first principles of logic that Aristotle identified (since they are required to prove anything in need of being proven).

Misunderstanding this has also been used by detractors for purposes of discrediting the principles involved in the founding of the country. This despite the fact that the Declaration is quite clear about the matter: “We hold these truths to be self-evident” instead of “These truths are self-evident.”

Unfortunately, throughout the educational system of the country, from the elementary to the graduate levels, making this clear is difficult since strictly speaking the principles of the Declaration do not support government run educational institutions. Limited government is what those principles support and permitting government to run the bulk of the educational system expands the scope of government way beyond what it is limited to in the philosophy of the Declaration, the founding document of the country that states clearly that government is instituted so as to secure our individual rights!

It would be paradoxical for most educators to take seriously the idea of limited government since they are all complicit in expanding government’s reach into the lives of the citizenry. So the proper study of the meaning of the Declaration and thus the type of country this is supposed to be would invalidate the public or governmental educational system.

Which is one reason why there is no general understanding within the population of just what kind of political system the American founders produced. Most of these educators are, in fact statists, through and through, and within that framework they cannot make clear sense of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and, therefore, of what is really to be celebrated on the Fourth of July.