Archive for July, 2013

A Precis on Public Finance

A Precis on Public Finance

Tibor R. Machan

In a free country public finance pertains to how the proper tasks of government must be funded. The first issue is what amounts to bona fide public finance. Since the job of government is to secure the protection of the rights of the citizenry, public finance must deal with funding such protection. Courts, the military, police, intelligence services, etc., etc., all of which concern securing the protection of our rights would need to be funded.

Surprisingly, for those who base their public philosophy on tradition, such funding doesn’t require the extortionist policy of taxation (http://philpapers.org/rec/MACNTW).

In our time the doctrine of limited government — severely limited, as per the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence — is not favored by the mainstream discussants in the field of public finance and policy. But remnants of it do make their appearance here and there. For my purpose here what needs to be emphasized is that with proper limits on the scope of government, the cost of its functions, the amount of the national wealth required to fulfill its proper purpose, would be far less than what mainstream public finance experts claim. The national debt, for example, would be miniscule compared to what it is now — indeed, arguably there would be none except in public emergencies.

So, to put it bluntly: restrain government, its job and scope, and you have fixed the country’s financial woes. This is no different in principle from how household finance needs to be managed. Occasional emergencies may warrant borrowing funds, going into debt, but ordinarily staying within the limits of the household’s budget would be the right course.

The details would, of course, need to be worked out over time but the essentials are as I explain here.

My Rich Society: Novels, etc.

My Rich Society: Novels, etc.

Tibor R. Machan

I read several novels at once — well, side by side. At least four of them.

In a way they provide me with a highly varied social life, as if I dined with different groups of people on different occasions, breakfast with a collection of W. Somerset Maugham characters, lunch with a group assembled by Philip Kerr and Daniel Silva, and so forth. All these people live their stories in these novels and I feel like I visit with them as I read the books, a bit here, a bit there. Quite fascinating bunch, in different locations, at different historical periods, bring to my table different skills and talents. Often the novel’s locations are those I have visited in the past but now I don’t need to go through airports and train stations but draw on memories and the novelists’ imaginative descriptions.

i discovered this way of enriching my social life some time ago and continued the practice once its benefits became evident to me. It’s as if I had a pretty large selection of friends and acquaintances with whom I can spend time and whose experiences I can draw on as I live my relatively solitary life now. Aside from the nearby members of my family and a few local and spread out friends, I have all these fictional characters whose lives I share. There is tragedy, comedy, ordinary drama, political and military intrigue, history and adventure, what have you! Rome, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Budapest, San Francisco, and many more unfold before me with the help of the authors whose works I read.

Every day I have some time to spend with others, most of these others come out of the novels. I am told that it is actually good for my aging mind to be tuned in to such a variety of people and events and all of what they bring into my life.

It is also quite realistic since if I did have a wide circle of people with whom I spent time, they, too, would provide this kind of variety. There is, of course, what DVR technology makes possible, namely, recording a bunch of shows, programs, movies, etc. and watching parts of these when one has time to do so. Because it is possible to watch a bit and then pause to watch something else. And once one has had one’s fill of fiction, one can check out the news and some documentary — I am especially fond of wildlife and travel programs but because I don’t have the time to watch for the entire length of the recording, I can stop midway through and return later.

I think you get the point. Maybe my way fits you too. There are lots of options to select from.

Machan’s Archives” Without A Proper Plan!

Machan’s Archives: Without a proper plan

Tibor R. Machan

A vital difference between champions of the fully free society (or libertarianism) and others who are concerned with political economic matters is that the former really do not approve of imposing any kind of agenda on the lives of others no matter how desirable it would be. Not even universal education, let alone universal health care, is deemed important enough for libertarians to assume power over other people — e.g., the parents of children, those with ailing elderly in their homes, etc. Unless there really is negligence involved, such that someone is failing to fulfill a legal obligation to feed his or her children, the government simply has no role. Furthermore, those who really accept the imperative to respect the rights of everyone to live as they choose provided no one’s rights are being violated, may not force others to do the right thing in, say, abstaining from racial or gender discrimination at the workplace, just as this is something one may not impose on others in their personal lives.

This full commitment to human liberty is really quite an unusual and often difficult stance to uphold. Yet it is at the heart of the difference between what a free and what an authoritarian or totalitarian society is about. Just as no one may force others to go to a certain church, regardless of how sincerely and devoutly one holds to one’s religious faith, neither may these other practices that to many appear to be elementary decency be imposed on other persons. Just as no one may impose on others what they must read, so others must not be forced to do all kinds of things that are deemed to be just and proper. Just as in one’s personal life one must be free to choose with whom one will or will not associate, the same holds for one’s professional associations. (There are some intricacies here that can make it appear that one isn’t free to avoid others with whom one doesn’t want to fraternize — as when one joins a club that has a non-discriminatory policy — but those are complications that would need to be discussed elsewhere.)

Many decent people recoil in disgust from these elements of a free society while they accept others which are very similar. They do not mind that freedom implies that people can read or write whatever they please, however immoral it may be; yet they refuse to accept that one has a basic — and should have a legal — right to adopt highly objectionable policies at the factory or office that one owns. They see nothing odd about people refusing to accept someone into their family who does not share their religious or even political convictions while they consider it impermissible that they may refuse to hire such people even if this is a fully disclosed condition for employment.

The realm of the private is far broader in a free society than most people realize, so private choices and preferences have a greater scope. Which can be a very benign influence over the society as well as introduce some not very admirable ones. This, however, is the implication of taking the right to liberty really seriously instead of cherry picking liberties that one likes and are uncontroversial.

A truly free country leaves it to its citizens to plan their lives, for better or for worse, and refuses to permit the imposition of plans on them even by the most wise and smart among us. If one has plans for others, regardless how worthy they may be, these must be promoted without coercion, by voluntary means. That is indeed the mark of civilization — human relations must at all level adhere to the principle of free association and avoid treating people as if they may be included in the plans of others without their willing participation. However cumbersome this may appear, it is still the basic imperative of a free society.

Those who understand this and advocate it may themselves find some of the implications very distasteful. That people may indulge their anti-Semitic, racist, male chauvinist and similar objectionable attitudes is not something that is easy to accept. But if one is going to be serious about trying to build a just and free society, accepting it all is simply unavoidable, just as it is in the sphere of free speech or expression wherein extensive materials are deemed legally protected even when they are distasteful, insulting, offensive, and otherwise morally objectionable. Freedom is risky but worth defending in any case. One needs to make clear that when it is defended one is not also defending what it’s used for, just like defending the free press doesn’t imply that everything produced by the press — or by artists, authors, journalists, etc. — is worthwhile. Freedom is a superior value even if acting freely can be morally odious.

A Friend’s Zimmerman/Martin Reflections

A Friend’s Zimmerman/Martin Reflections

Tibor R. Machan

Over these last few days I have sat reading and listening to many comments about the Zimmerman episode but could only shake my head mostly in disbelief–has the country gone crazy?

And then today a friend from way back–we served in the US Air Force together some 50 years ago–sent me the following which I believe is exactly on the money. So I asked his permission to share it and here it is:

“I guess that it’s my old age. I am imagining that most, if not all, commentary in the media, particularly the President, report and react to the Zimmerman-Martin trial as if Zimmerman had seen an unknown young “unarmed” black, not white, teenager, in his neighborhood, walked up to him without provocation, shot him dead, and a white jury said he was not guilty of any crime.

“The jury mistakenly took the allegations that a young black, not white, unarmed teenager was drawing blood from Zimmerman by bashing his head against the concrete while Zimmerman yelled for help, as fact, when, of course, those allegations were made by white people so they must have been lies, therefore, we won’t mention them in our rants about injustice and the necessity to break-in and rob stores to retaliate for a prejudicial system.

“No,. . . as the President points out, black people are not “naive” about statistics showing the extraordinary preponderance of young black men committing a full range of crimes including murder well above the percent of their population numbers compared with white peers. Is a better word “denial”?

“To remove the fear many whites demonstrate when in the presence of young black men in circumstances specified by the President, they are going to have to earn the removal of that fear by a statistical change in behavior. No amount of “education” or any other fix will ever remove it.

“But, not to worry, this is all happening in my imagination.”

Machan’s Archives: Fourth of July Reflections

Machan’s Archives: 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.