Archive for August, 2012

The Logic of Entitlements

The Logic of Entitlement

Tibor R. Machan

So the other morning I woke up to the disturbing news from the Big Apple that some disgruntled ex-employee of the Empire State Building went on a shooting spree and killed someone, after which he was himself shot to death by police. No, I don’t know the details but even the sketchy story points up something about the logic of entitlement.
Remember that according to the proposed “second bill of rights,” one proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and championed by many very prominent people in the legal profession, such as President and former law professor Barack Obama and his favorite legal theorists, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein (who wrote a book trying to justify the basic right to employment, among other things), everyone has the right to a job. The United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights states this too, in Article 23: “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment….” This according to its supporters, is a basic right, comparable to the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution, such as the right to one’s life and liberty.

One implication of having a basic right is that anytime it is being threatened and no law enforcement officer is present to resist the threat, one is at least morally but often legally justified in resisting such a threat. So, for example, if one’s right to life is threatened, one may defend oneself and such defense can involve killing the perpetrator of the threat. The right to self defense arises from the right to one’s life and liberty.

If, now, one has the right to work and to protection against unemployment, one may be understood to take it that one is justified in defending oneself against the threat to take from one one’s job. If then one is fired from a job without proper cause, such as having committed a crime, one may be forgiven for taking it that one is justified in resisting this, in putting up self-defense when one’s job has been taken from one.

Being entitled to something–having proper title to something–confers upon one the right to defend against anyone who would deprive one of what one is entitled to. Usually the legal authorities take care of this but in the case of the perpetrator of the shooting at the Empire State Building on August 24th, 2012, it can be argued that if he was entitled to the job that was taken from him and if he lacked police protection against having the job taken from him, he could reasonably be understood to have the right to resist this, if need be violently.

Indeed, entitlements may be defended, logically speaking, with whatever force is needed to prevent being deprived of them. One may violently resist trespassers, burglars, robbers, kidnappers, etc. So in the understanding that follows the doctrine of basic entitlements, a doctrine widely preached by political theorists who hold that one is owed service from others, including being provided with employment, someone whose job is taken from him could well seem justified resisting this, including by means of whatever force is necessary to do so. And if one is resisted, that too could be understood to justify resistance.

A more sensible and civilized understanding sees jobs as the result of employment agreements between two willing parties and no one is entitled to have another give one a job. Yes, jobs are important and valuable but can only be had once both parties, employer and employee agree to work with each other on mutually satisfactory terms.

The Era of Procrustes

The Era of Procrustes

Tibor R. Machan

It used to be an ugly trait to be envious. Envy is when one holds that it would be best if everyone were equally badly off. If you are better off than I am, envy will incline me to want you to give up whatever it is that is advantageous and accept burdens up to the point where you are no better off than is anyone else. Makes little sense but there you go.

When I came to the USA I managed to get admitted to a college that mostly well to do students attended. For example, during the Christmas break a good many of them went off to St. Moritz and Veil to do some skiing, something I couldn’t do as a first generation immigrant. I took some job during the break while my mates were off doing all kinds of fun stuff.

Although I noticed this, I never felt even a smidgen of envy. Indeed, my feeling tended toward delight, knowing that in time I may well take similar vacations or, at least, my own offspring will be able to do so. And while I lived in a room in a house owned by a lady near the college, most of my classmates had far more impressive accommodations. And I thought, “Good for them–there is where I want to be in the future!” Not, “What horrors, they are doing better than I am,” at least in some basic respects.

Later in my education I ran across the myth of Procrustes. He was the fellow who invited guests to his abode only to cut them all down to one size so they could fit his bed. Over the years I found that Procrustes’ solution to differences among his guests was the same as that of a great many political theorists, including many who are now in charge of public policies in America and across the globe. One size needs to fit all! Anytime someone is a bit better off than others, this must be remedied by eliminating the difference. Equality is the operative ideal these days. Just watch all the fuss about Mitt Romney’s wealth.

Not everyone falls in line with this and here and there are some very formidable dissidents, among them George Orwell whose story Animal Farm teaches very valuable lessons about this destructive social philosophy. Making everyone equal, in economic or other matters, is mostly a failed mission and invites the worst of all inequalities, namely, inequality of political power. Those imposing the ideal of equality will be anything but equal to those on whom they impose their misconceived idealistic policies. Just think of the old Soviet Union.

Yet, despite his education, President Obama and his pals tend to be an avid egalitarians. They don’t even allow that some people may have worked hard enough to get ahead of others in wealth creation. For him no one could have achieved the advantages he or she enjoys.

Luckily we have reminders aplenty that this fanaticism about equality is totally misguided and dangerous to boot. The recent Olympic Games helps to see just how crazy egalitarianism is. And anyone who teaches in the various schools where young people are attempting to gain knowledge and are tested for how well their efforts have paid off cannot miss the fact that those who study hard tend to get farther than those who just hang out at school.

Sadly egalitarianism gains support from some pseudo science in our day, especially the kind that insists that no one has any power over his or her life, that our actions are all driven by impersonal forces. Despite the paradox involved in this kind of thinking–which, if true, would allow for no remedies of anything at all–a lot of people jump on the bandwagon and it gains enormous institutional support around the educational, psychological community.

But a good dosage of common sense alone should serve to repel that kind of support for egalitarianism. After all, the egalitarians who want to make changes in our institutions are clearly not buying it. They think they can certainly make a big difference. But if they can, so can we all.

Another Attempt to Bluff Us All

Another Attempt to Bluff Us All

Tibor R. Machan

Those aspiring to manage our lives, to take it over and run it according to their vision, never tire of trying to bluff us into letting down our guards. Now come Robert and Edward Skidelsky, in a book titled How Much is Enough? (Allen Lane, 2012), claiming that there’s just too much capitalism afoot and this must be contained. I assume by them and their pals. They urge us to re-examine economic growth “as an end in itself,” without any connection to “what a good life might look like.”

Who are these blokes kidding? First, most ordinary folks with solid academic jobs and are not writing widely promoted, prestigious books, could really use a solid dosage of economic growth these days. If they got that, they would know readily enough what a good life might look like–we do not need Skidelsky & Son to instruct everyone about such matters. Who are these philosopher king types to presume they have an answer for us all about something that is very closely tied to who and what we are as individuals and members of various families and communities of which this father and son team have very little of the necessary knowledge?

But of course beating up on an imaginary dominant consumerism and capitalism has a clear, not so hidden agenda motivating it. Supporters of the two have chimed in with even more nonsense than they produced in their book. Thus Larry Elliott in the UK newspaper The Guardian opined that we would all be so much better off if the stranglehold of “Anglo-Saxon capitalism” didn’t have us in its grip! What these people advise is that our lives be modified as follows: “Sprinkle in a bit of Keynesian liberalism and a pinch of social democracy, and the good society is within reach.”

Balderdash! Our lives are already fully ruled according to their vision. We have a bunch of Keynesian liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic–just recall the endless stimulus packages we’ve seen recently, following the Keynesian policies promoted by Professor Paul Krugman and his fellow statist tinkerers; consider the social democracy that’s been flooding Europe and the rest of the Western world (Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, etc., etc.).

The last thing we have around the globe is the boogie man of global capitalism. At most we have some cronyism running amuck everywhere, but certainly no capitalism, with its strict adherence to private property rights, freedom of contract, personal responsibility for one’s winnings and losses and no politicians determining who are the winners and losers.

As to the malarkey of having “too much” and the need to have this curtailed by yet another team of elitists eggheads, the idea has been around since Plato’s Republic (who didn’t really mean it anyway), and by now we should know better than to place our trust in these meddlers who would eagerly rule whatever realm they can dominate with their crackpot opinions.

Consider, finally, just who the the most widely respected “thinkers” of our area and of the past two centuries. It is not the champions of capitalism and economic growth but the social democrats and their ilk who have been governing most countries around the world since at least FDR’s New Deal but more likely since onset of swishy-washy welfare statism foisted upon us by the likes of Otto von Bismarck. While not himself a socialist, Bismarck certainly gave the idea of statism in matters of economic security, education, and the like a powerful boost. More to the point, there hasn’t been much of a bona fide capitalist culture or economy since Bismarck’s rule in Germany and even America came more under his influence than that of Adam Smith, not to mention Ludwig von Mises or Milton Friedman, as intimated by the Skidelsky father-son team.

Honest intellectual and political economic history is vital to an understanding of society but the sort being peddled by the social democratic left is a distortion of the truth for unabashed ideological purposes.

New Book by Machan

My just published short book: Revisiting the Objectivist/Subjectivist Debate, Addleton Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-1-935494-36-2, LCCN: 2012943287


If there is one philosophical question asked by most people, it is very probably about whether we human beings are capable of objective knowledge. Can we know reality as it actually is instead of some sort of distorted view of it, one imposed by our minds or culture or emotions or ethnic group and which in fact hides true reality from us? Many of us are concerned about how people ought to conduct themselves—how to act properly or rightly—and it nags us whether a true or objective answer is possible.

“Objective” here means grasping the way things truly are. Do the objects and principles of interest to us in ordinary or scientific investigations have what the physicist Max Planck called, somewhat hyperbolically, “absolute, universal validity, independently of all human agency.”[i] Or are we left only with “subjective” answers based on our feelings, mental dispositions such as wishes, hopes, fears or expectations or cultural predilections?

To put it somewhat differently, is it the subject’s contribution to the situation with which we end up and not knowledge of reality? Is our “knowledge” “affected by, or produced by the mind or a particular state of mind; of or resulting from the feelings or temperament of the subject, or person thinking; not objective; personal.”[ii] (“Relativism” is another way of labeling this position since under subjectivism one’s understanding of the world would be related to one’s personal identity and situation.)

Some have posed the challenge: “But how is it possible to believe that, even if there is an ‘objective’ reality, it can be revealed to us in some way that bypasses our senses and our neurochemistry?”

Immediately there is the loaded term “revealed” which the objectivist would be loath to use: nothing is revealed to human being, they must work to grasp it. And there is the other dubious notion, that in order to secure objective knowledge the mind’s reliance on the senses and on the brain’s neurochemistry is something to be bypassed. That is like thinking of the shovel while shoveling as if it were something to bypass in order to get pure shoveling. In fact the mind, via the brain, is like a shovel—it enables us to grasp objective reality, it isn’t some impediment but an instrument! (This fallacious thinking comes from failing to appreciate that in order to see clearly it wouldn’t do to get rid of one’s eyes. It is eyes that enable one to see in the first place! And the mind to know reality as it is.)


[i] Quoted in Manjit Kumar, Quantum, Einstein, Bohr, and the great Debate About the Nature of Reality (NY: W. W. Norton, 2008), p. 10. By this characterization Plank seems to side with Plato on the nature of objective truth and not all objectivists agree. The reason is that such a way of understanding objectivity makes that goal inherently unattainable—none of us can be expected to have checked out any claim to the end of time to make sure no modification was needed to get it right. Even objectivity must be understood contextually—it gives one the most up to date, not the final, version of the world.


How Can Obama Not Turn Our Backs on Failing Businesses?

How Can Obama Not Turn Our Backs on Failing Businesses?

Tibor R. Machan

During the rather brief and confusing discussion about bailing out automakers President Obama announced with his characteristic misplaced righteousness that we “will not turn our backs on one of America’s basic industries.” Of course Mr. Obama and his cheerleaders do not mean that they will dip into their resources and provide help nor do they mention that what he means is that he wouldn’t allow any American citizen to do so even if that seems a wise decision. In other words, in his typically collectivist thinking, he believed that his desire to bail out an industry with other people’s resources is virtuous and must be made public policy. Everyone else must be forced to follow suit.

Obama hasn’t the funds to bail out anyone, of course. In fact, neither does the United States of America, considering that the US Treasury is empty, running on promissory notes, the faith and hope that members of future generations will be productive enough for them to be ready to be robbed of their incomes and savings so as to fund what Mr. Obama believes is important to fund such, as bailouts for banks and car companies. And he proudly proclaims this to be a praiseworthy idea, him using our resources to fund his pet projects. And just when he wanted to capitalize on some minor rejuvenation in the auto industry, that industry started to falter again and cost taxpayers several billions dollars.

Like a monarch, Mr. Obama sees the country’s wealth to be his wealth. He has no respect for private property rights–all property belongs, as argued by his favorite political philosophers Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel (in their book The Myth of Ownership), to the country and is not the property of the citizens of the country!

Monarchs were under the impression–or delusion–that they were authorized by God to rule a country (and they still are in many regions of the globe). But that myth is slowly fading away. It has been replaced by the one that holds that all property belongs to the people, to everyone together. Never mind that this idea has been one of the most destructive economic notions in human political history. Never mind that it implies that working people everywhere belong to the state. It is in any case a disastrous notion.

For one it invites the tragedy of the commons, with everyone thinking he or she has unrestricted access to everything of value, with no need to pay for it, to replace it, to care for it–someone else will do it all. As Aristotle observed a very long time ago (yet few heeded his counsel), “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).

Which explains pretty well why Mr. Obama can treat the national wealth as if it grew on trees and didn’t need to be cared for. He is not turning his back on any of his favorite citizens because it isn’t really his back but ours and he seriously believes that he is authorized–not by God this time but by a collectivist philosophy–to use us and our labors to his heart’s content.

If there was one item over which the Cold War was fought it was individualism versus collectivism. Ronald Reagan and his supporters believed individualism won but they were wrong. Sadly the West was already too corrupted by collectivist ideas, such as the welfare state and communitarianism, so although the Soviet Union collapsed, the ideas which it tried to implement throughout the world are now in command of public affairs nearly everywhere.

This need not continue to be so but unless people wake up to just how insidious collectivist ideas are, they will, to quote a famous communist, Nikita Khrushchev, bury us all.