Posts tagged BBC

Column on BBC & Capitalism

BBC’s Biased Coverage of Capitalism

Tibor R. Machan

On the BBC website an interview was featured recently with the famous orthodox Marxist, Eric Hobsbawm, who promptly denounced capitalism as if he had established definitively its inferiority as a political economic system. Is the BBC such an irresponsible news organization that it will feature Mr. Hobsbawm’s characterization of capitalism with no one who champions that system featured responding to him? (If you search, no such balanced presentation can be found on the BBC website.) Or is this happening because, after all, BBC is a state broadcast endeavor and has a big stake in discrediting a system that relies on private initiative?

From a Marxist perspective especially this conclusion is quite reasonable, since we are all supposed to be driven by economic motives and here is an instance that might just fit this idea perfectly. The BBC would be one of the casualties of capitalist inspired privatization! As a creature of the state it relies on confiscated resources for its operations and capitalism goes against that policy big time.

The question that was put to Mr. Hobsbawm by the BBC’s interviewer, had to do with capitalism and responsibility. That is, whether agents in a free market would be motivated to act responsibly and the answer Mr. Hobsbawm gave is “No.” Yet if people act irresponsibly in genuine free markets, this will soon be known and they would lose trust from fellow market agents. Only when governments protect market agents from the consequences of their behavior will they be able to persist in acting irresponsibly.

Moreover, if those who would regulate our economic conduct are, as they must be, human beings, why would they be virtuous while the we would not be? Why would they not use their monopolistic legal power to secure advantages for themselves, just as public choice theory (as per James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock) postulates?

What free market capitalism cannot offer, because it doesn’t control people, is compliance with all tenets of ethics. But neither can anyone else make such a promise and when they pretend they can, this invites the most insidious lack of ethics, namely, tyranny.

The bottom line here is that if you are interested in the nature of capitalism, don’t ask a Marxist but a champion of that system of political economy, such as Professor Richard Epstein (NYU) or Randy Barnett (Georgetown U.) or, yes, me! Then go and find some critics and contrast their different answers and let the audience assess which approach is more reasonable.

The BBC doesn’t appear to honor this approach, the only balanced one, when dealing with the nature of capitalism. Too bad. Failing to let a competent defense of that system be aired on BBC may even promote some major economic malpractice, including the appointment of all kinds of petty tyrants who presume to know how to run our economic affairs.

“As an economic system capitalism has nothing to do with responsibility,” says the Marxist sage, yet this is perverse, uninformed, given that trust and being responsible to fulfill one’s promises is essential to free market capitalism. Indeed, one reason that that system works pretty well when uncorrupted by state interference is that those who fail to be responsible do not flourish in it unless favored with privileges they haven’t earned.

As many have pointed out, the famous association between capitalism and the pursuit of self-interest is widely misunderstood. “Self-interest” in how capitalism operates means nothing more than that people are doing what they want (since they are free to do so). But what they want to do may be for their own or for someone else’s benefit; nothing in capitalist theory spells that out. Indeed, it is a strong feature–not without some problems–of capitalist economic theory that saying that people pursue their self-interest says nearly nothing about what they are likely to do. This is because in that theory self-interest is understood subjectively. Whatever one believes is in his or her interest is exactly what is; but this makes it perfectly reasonable that someone who wants to consume heroin or engage in innumerable other self-destructive activities (by common sense standards) is actually pursuing his or her self-interest.

In any case, the main point here is that the BBC seems not to care to practice responsible journalism even while asking Mr. Hobsbawm to comment on the relationship between responsibility and capitalism. How ironic.

Column on Cuba Awakes?

Cuba Awakes?

Tibor R. Machan

Cuba’s fate over the last half a century has been disastrous, although before that the island wasn’t a Caribbean paradise either. US government policies haven’t made it easier for Cubans to escape their misery since instead of opening up the routes of free trade, the US has mostly chosen to issue penalties against the country, never mind that Cuba has done little against the USA per se to deserve most of it.

The Cold War, of course, brought forth some insane policies from many participants. One of the worst was to harden loyalties to some really insane political economic ideas, if for no other reason than sheer spite. That is to be expected from a petty tyrant like Fidel Castro–whose system was about a far from socialism, let alone communism, as was Gaddafi’s. But that the US kept a policy of relentless exclusion of everything Cuban wherever it had any influence is a great shame. It is one thing to recognize a tyranny for what it is, quite another to adopt its policies tit for tat.

But all this seems to be winding down considerably now. The BBC reported back on December 20th, 2011, that Cuba is now expanding outright free market reforms across the country. Ironically, and tragically for Americans, all this is happening while in America the elites–including political leaders and their cheerleaders in the academy–are pushing for greater and greater statism on nearly all fronts. Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and the country’s current ruler, seems to realize that moving Cuba in the direction of a free market, capitalist economic system is good for Cubans. As the BBC reported, “His government plans to have up to 40% of the workforce employed by the non-state sector by 2016, compared with just 10% at the end of 2010.”

One reason Cuba didn’t immediately join the Soviet bloc countries in abandoning its ubiquitous socialist policies is that as an outpost of Soviet style socialism, it was too wedded to all that central planning and also simply too stubborn to make the right move. Nothing is as irrational as the ego of a dictator since service to the citizenry is not in his job description. But just as in personal relations holding a grudge is usually injurious to those who harbor that attitude, so it is with Cuba’s stubbornness. And it seems that Raul Castro has realized this and persuaded Fidel to give it up finally.

So reportedly “for the first time in decades people are allowed to buy and sell homes and cars and take out private business loans from banks.” (Sadly the term “allowed” is still appropriate as a way to characterize the relationship between government and the citizenry, just as in contemporary China! Maybe in time Cubans will begin to question how it is that their government sees itself as permitting them to do what they choose to do!) It looks like the entire country is following in the footsteps of barber shops and beauty salons which were recently removed from state control and handed to employees. As the BBC put it, they now “work for themselves”! Sadly, though, they are still following the lead of welfare states or mixed economies, wherein governments are regarded as proprietors instead of referees! (That is, by the way, where the modern welfare and, of course, socialist state demonstrates just how reactionary those systems are, following the pattern of monarchies wherein the king was taken to own the country, including the people in it!)

Anyway, I came to praise Cuba today, not to lament that its progress toward the free society is halting and incomplete. After all, there is no country anywhere which has gone completely free!

But the fact that Cuba is emerging from its socialist dark age should be cause for celebration. Maybe, as some have suggested, it will be the former Soviet bloc countries that will take over the leadership toward a genuinely free society, with others like the USA regressing toward more and more statism. Who knows, maybe even North Korea will in time come around.

Column on th BBC’s Sorry Journalism

The BBC’s Sorry Journalism

Tibor R. Machan

The BBC recently published the following in a report about the Republican primary contest in Iowa: “Correspondents say a Ron Paul victory in Iowa would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party as many of his views are seen as too libertarian and isolationist. Mr. Paul would order a $1 trillion (£641bn) spending cut, eliminating a number of government agencies, including the Department of Education. He also proposes returning the dollar to a gold standard and cutting all foreign aid, including to Israel….”

“At a recent campaign stop in Iowa a breast cancer survivor began crying after he told her insurance companies should not have to cover those who are already sick, Reuters news agency reports….”

This passage is worth some attention if only because those of us who have sympathies toward Representative Paul’s libertarian politics should not duck out when opponents target him for criticism, be it fair or not. Let me start with the last bit, the treatment of a crying breast cancer survivor as a kind of “gotcha” device versus Paul. (And incidentally, who are those correspondents who say that Paul’s “victory would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party”? Let’s have some names her, some attributions, by BBC!)

Now we all have hopes and wishes that people will be helpful to and supportive of us, especially when we suffer from maladies or hazardous conditions we had no role in bringing about. Casualties of acts of nature do often deserve our sympathy and even help, unless they have been negligent in taking precautionary measures, such as saving up for health insurance. Even in cases when one has been negligent, often others overlook this and tend to be considerate beyond the call of duty, as it were.

Representative Paul and other libertarians are often first in line with offering private support to such people. The citizens of the US are often first in lending a hand to those who have been hit with natural disasters, like a tsunami or earthquake, and the essence of generosity is precisely that, offering private support and aid to those in need.

What Paul and libertarians in general object to is the coerced support given to those in need by governments are expropriate resources from the citizenry, take a sizable chunk of it for administrative expenses, and distribute the funds according to the lights of the politicians and bureaucrats. This kind of forcible distribution of others’ money is what libertarians are against as a matter of principle and Ron Paul is no exception. This does not at all make him or libertarians callous, heartless, cruel or anything of the kind, however much many claim this about them, ones to whom it seems to come very naturally to confiscate other people’s resources and do with it as they think they should. (I explain this in some detail in my book, Generosity, Virtue in Civil Society [1998].)

As to the cuts supported by Ron Paul, I would urge those who are going to give the matter some thought to consider, once again, that these cuts are an effort to eliminate or at least reduce the forcible taking by some people of the resources that belong to others and to which they have no right whatever. All charitable, helpful acts must be voluntary otherwise they have no moral merit whatsoever. Yes, there are some spurious arguments claiming that out good behavior may, indeed must, be imposed upon us by wiser and more virtuous people than we are but it is just a ruse. No one can make other people moral except by example!

This also applied to foreign aid, be it to Israel or Mongolia. People abroad aren’t entitled to the property of Americans or anyone else who has not voluntarily given it to them. Israel is no exception!

Unfortunately this line of thinking is rarely if every presented to readers in an accurate way so they could consider it without bias. Instead journalists have a dogmatic commitment to the coercion involved in government support for the needy, failing to even mention that kind of thinking summarized above and making it appear that those who do share it are monsters.

Lost of people also mistakenly identify the coercive taking of people resources with Robin Hoodism but in fact Robin Hood took back from the tax takers what they forcibly took for the those whom they victimized. The proper approach to seeing people in need is to mount a serious, voluntary effort to secure support for them, starting with one’s own, not to advocate taking from them what belongs to them and what only they have the rightful authority to give away.

Now in a messy world it is very difficult to be principled and trying to be usually brings on the charge of being an ideologue, a blind adherent to simplistic ideas. But in fact it shows integrity, nothing less! And it is time that politicians show some of it because without integrity the game is up anyway–trust, honesty, responsibility and all such virtue go out the window, never mind simple, honest generosity.