Archive for August, 2012

The Olympics and Politics

The Olympics and Politics

Tibor R. Machan

Strictly speaking sports and politics should be separate, just as should be religion and politics. Of course folks with strong religious convictions will often be guided by them as they make political choices. So people who hold to the pro-life or pro-choice position on abortion will choose candidates and policies accordingly, although they could just as easily be guided by their convictions apart from their link to their faith. In other words, whatever is one’s source of values will make a difference to how one aligns oneself in public policies. But the best option is to keep one’s personal values at home. And rooting for people on political grounds pretty much corrupts athletics.

The substance of athletics is performance, never mind why one wants to perform well in some event. Yet there are some political lessons to be learned from competitive athletics. One is just how irrational is egalitarianism, the view that the best social arrangement is where everyone enjoys equal advantages and disadvantages in life–the same income, the same health insurance, the same emotional state, etc.–with no one better or worse off than anyone else. This is the egalitarian doctrine that motivates a great many political theorists.

The most extreme version of this idea was advocated by Jean Jacques Rousseau who thought it is a natural and proper state of human society, one toward which every actual society should strive. In our time President Obama has been a vocal advocate of egalitarianism, so much so that he thinks public policy should be guided by it, at least when it comes to what he considers important matters like securing health insurance for everyone, at least in the country of which he is president, or “distributing” income.

The best fictional criticism of egalitarianism occurs in George Orwell’s short novel, Animal Farm. Another fictional scrutiny of the system may be found in Kurt Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron which treats the two sides of the debate quite evenhandedly but ultimately reveals just how egalitarianism distorts human affairs.

The Olympic Games come in very handy for those of us who find egalitarianism morally and politically intolerable. The Games show how little appeal there is to forcing everyone into the same mold, how much violence and coercion it would–and where attempted does–take to even toy with bringing about an egalitarian society.

The only place where equality has a decisive role in human social affairs is when it comes to protecting everyone’s basic rights. This is the way the Declaration of Independence finds room for equality. Once everyone’s basic rights are secure, from that point on no room exists for equalization in a just human community.

Sure, there can be special areas where equality can be of value, for example in the application of standards and rules, as shown in athletics. But even there equality will apply in highly diverse ways–one way in the classroom, another in the legal system, and yet another at a beauty contest. General equality belongs only in the protection of individual rights, period.

Elsewhere it is just as it’s illustrated by the Olympic Games, with variety and differences breaking out all over. As long as these are peacefully obtained, as long as ranking comes about without corruption, there is nothing objectionable about inequalities in human affairs. Furthermore, attempting to make things equal achieves the exact opposite since those doing the attempting will enjoy the worst kind of inequality, namely, power over their fellows as they try to manipulate everyone to be equal.

Just as elsewhere in most of nature, in human affairs, too, inequality is the norm. But since human beings are free to establish various rules in their societies, they have the option, which they ought to exercise, to preclude all coercion from human interactions. Beyond that, it is futile to try to exclude inequalities in human affairs.

It is not inequality that needs to be abolished but coercive force. With that achieved, at least substantially, let diversity and difference be the norm. As that old saying goes, “Vive la difference.” Any serious examination of the prospects of an egalitarians polity should reveal just how insidious the idea is. Just consider requiring that all outcomes of the Olympic Games be equal!

A brief interview about “positive rights” (entitlements)

Brief Interview report on Paprika Politik (Hungary)

“Another form of slavery” – Tibor Machan on Statism
By Travis LaCouter

In a recent interview, Tibor Machan, a Professor of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at Chapman University in California, attacked the scope and ends of the modern European welfare state. Decrying the coercive power of government as unproductive and immoral, Machan instead expressed an abiding faith in the dynamic and organic interaction of free people in an open society.
Speaking at the Common Sense Society’s recent Summer Leadership Academy, Machan encouraged Hungarians to promote private enterprise and trust in their own entrepreneurial capacities, despite their history of communist rule. Even after the regime change, an over-arching culture of defeatism and government-dependence remained in Hungary, leading people to look to the State to confront the most important tasks facing the country. But government does not, qua government, possess the tools necessary to better confront complex, important projects. The free market should be allowed to meet the large challenges facing a society because individual people know better than Budapest bureaucrats how to solve the practical problems in their own lives. Plus, when the free market fails, the consequences are far less harmful and more quickly corrected than when political systems fail.
Not only is the welfare state inefficient at delivering goods and services, but it is fundamentally immoral, Machan has argued. A government that promises and promotes entitlements is implicitly creating a class of people who must provide for that entitlement; such a system, built on “human engineering and incentives,” is a subtle form of modern-day serfdom, according to the professor. Similarly, subsidies are “theft,” in that they “take other people’s resources and give them to someone else without their consent.” Even if the government’s ends were arguably benevolent, as they often are, every major “school of morality” teaches that the right thing, to truly be virtuous, must be chosen freely. Statism in pursuit of virtue is a contradiction in terms, since it compels what must necessarily be a free act.
Still, government control is not an altogether surprising phenomenon. Faced with adversity, uncertainty, and self-doubt, people tend to look to a strong-leader for protection. Government serves as the ultimate strong-leader, using the coercive power of the State to impose an inflexible worldview upon its citizens. At its best, an all-powerful government can provide a temporary minimal standard of comfort for its citizens, but it does so at the expense of their liberty and creative capacities; and too often such a system turns quickly to tyranny.

Instead of this “detestable” model of government that “treats people like imbeciles,” Machan says lovers of liberty should celebrate the “innovative [and] agile” nature of human beings left to their own devices. Standards of living, life expectancy, technology, and basic safety have all improved by leaps and bounds throughout history thanks, Machan says, to the innovation and self-improvement of free people. The government’s proper role is simply to ensure law and order, so that free people are left to create, innovate, trade, and build.
That is why Professor Machan travels the world educating young people about the ideas of liberty and free enterprise. People have to be taught to “trust in their freedom.”
Economic liberty is not a question of partisan politics, then, but one of fundamental human decency: Will people stand up and have confidence in their own creative, productive powers or will they be cowed into submission by over-reaching government planners who seek to control their lives? Professor Machan is ultimately optimistic about the future, but offered a stark warning to every attentive citizen. “[T]here is one very important thing that you have to keep in mind. If you ever give up liberty, you give up your whole life.”

Travis LaCouter is the Managing Editor of Paprika Politik.