Posts tagged democracy
Tibor R. Machan
A while back I got caught up in a fracas about using the term “capitalism” to mean the free market, fully voluntary system of economic relations. It didn’t surprise me since I am aware that complicated matters often need to be discussed, well, in complicated ways so when one just refers to some system as “capitalist” or “democratic” or “socialist” or “libertarian,” one is likely to start a dispute as to just what the term is to mean in the language in which such issues are to be discussed.
For most of my life and career, much of it entangled in writing about political economy, I have taken “capitalism” to mean just that, the free market, fully voluntary system of economic relations. No such system has ever existed, of course, and yet the term is often used to refer to certain extant economies, such as those of England, America, Australia, Hong Kong (prior to its return to China), and so forth. Some even call today’s version of “communist” China a capitalist country. And with a bit of generosity this is no big problem. Such uses of “capitalist” or “capitalism” amount to indicating some of the most basic and distinctive features of a country’s economic order without at all implying that the country is adhering thoroughly to the principles of capitalism as a fully developed, consistently implemented economic order conceived by those who champion it without compromise.
I like to compare this to using the term “marriage,” since most marriages do not at all conform to the version of that institution that one has in mind in one’s most romantic imaginings. Yet, we use “marriage” or “married” without constantly having to qualify it with such terms as “more or less,” “troubled,” “half ass” or the like. We just say, “Harry and Susie are married,” realizing that what that amounts to it in their case may not be the pure thing of romance novels.
There is a problem, however, since unlike most uses of “marriage” or “married,” “capitalism” or “capitalist” rarely occur in nonpartisan contexts. Those using the terms are usually either critics or champions. And the critics will mostly zero in on what they regard as the liabilities of capitalism while the champions on the assets, not bothering to make very clear what is the central or core aspect of the system. Even when one spells it out, however, there will be those who will look for a chance to besmirch capitalism and those who will admit to no possible problems with it at all.
I am not going to clear all this up here but I would recommend, strongly, that when such terms are used, a bit of time and space be reserved to offering some details, some qualifiers, such as “I do not have in mind state or crony or similar version of capitalism but the unsullied sort we find in such advocates as Ludwig von Mises or Ayn Rand.” Sure, this may not pacify the determined critic and such a person is likely to associate capitalism with all kinds of features that no one who is honest would claim is a part of it. Thus, in a recent letter to me, in response to a column I wrote, someone insisted that capitalism must involve massive theft by the rich! And this zero sum idea about capitalism is evident in many discussions even though it is all wrong.
Of course, one can do a similar thing with all systems one does not favor, such as socialism or communism, and focus only on, say, the Soviet or North Korean version, not admitting that some forms may be rather mild and peaceful, such as the kind that we find in many a kibbutz or commune. Not that these will have escaped all the liabilities of a system in which the means of production are publicly owned but they may have managed to deal with them less harshly than the Soviets did when they collectivized Russia’s farms.
Most of us do not have the time to discuss even the most important issues in full so that we do take care to cover all crucial elements and avert most honest misunderstandings. But it may be worth giving it a try if it is likely to secure a civilized discussion instead of what turns out to amount to a mere slinging of political ad hominems.
The Democratic Ideal
Tibor R. Machan
Democracy is a process by which some decisions are made and in the context of politics it means the kind of system that depends upon the participation of the citizenry for certain purposes. What grounds democracy as a just mode of political decision-making is that citizens have the ultimate authority concerning certain matters in the polis. And the reason they do have this ultimate authority is that they are, as adults, equal in their status vis-à-vis the stake they have in their political institutions, their laws, public policies, foreign relations, etc. That they have this equal status hinges on certain extra or pre-political matters, to be discerned by way of reflection upon human nature and proper human relations. For now I’ll simply note that as I understand political matters, they arise from the moral fact that each individual adult human being has as his or her task in life to live it rationally, to flourish as a rational animal. Since this task for adults can only be achieved if they are not subject to another’s will―in which case it is that other’s rational choice that would be the ruling principle of one’s life—in communities human beings must be sovereign. From this it follows that they must have a say in their own political fate, ergo, democracy.
In any case, democracy is derivative of what human beings are taken to be as they find themselves within a community that aims at justice, a polity. From the Hobbesian framework, democracy is recommended because all of us are nothing but bits of matter- in-motion and thus lack any significant, fundamental differentiating attributes. Even our human nature is but nominal, a status in the world established by means of the human intellect’s response to the motions that affect the brain, a response itself motivated by the drive for self-preservation or keeping in continued motion in part by naming groups of impulses affecting the brain. We make the categories, create them by naming our sensory input as we will.1 So the reason for democracy a la the Hobbesian view is that nothing justifies differentiating some people from others (indeed, if one were to be fully consistent, anything from anything else, at the metaphysical, fundamental level of being.) A somewhat different reason for democracy arises from the Lockean view, one closer to what I sketched above as my own. For Locke, at least when we turn to his political treatise, we are all equal and independent in the state of nature, i.e., prior to the formation or apart from civil society or the polis. Adult human beings begin, never mind the precise point of reaching adulthood, as equally embarking on a human life, one that is to be governed by the laws of nature, which is reason, if one but consult it. In other words, we are all moral agents having to live up to our moral responsibilities or duties, and in this we are all alike. So we are all endowed with natural rights, which spell out for each of us a sphere of sovereignty or personal authority or jurisdiction. There are no natural masters or natural slaves (although there may be borderline cases of defective or crucially incapacitated persons). If this is kept in clear focus, one will realize that a human community starts with no one superior or inferior regarding the issue of the authority to make law and to govern. Thus, democracy.
But democracy is a process, morally required by the right to take part in deciding or to give consent. It is in fact our natural right to person and estate that lies behind the right to be part of the decision-making process involved in politics. It is not a process that is applicable to everything one might want to influence, however. There is a proper sphere of democracy.
Clearly there are those who propose that democracy is unlimited-only the fact that people will things to be one way or another matters. Some interpreters of Locke have claimed this—e. g., Wilmore Kendall and his followers—as well as some conservatives, e. g., Robert Bork. Thus they argue that once human beings are no longer in a state of nature, they have in effect adopted democracy as a decision-making process regarding whatever comes up for public discussion, whatever a sizable number of them want to subject to this process.
Yet this seems to me to be wrong, whatever the proper interpretation of Locke might be and I would dispute that Locke can be coherently interpreted this way. For in Locke the justification for government lies in the need for the protection of natural rights, a protection not easily obtained (except by the strong) in the state of nature. (And the state of nature need not be a source of much intellectual consternation—it refers to a circumstance not governed by due process or the rule of law, one that we may even encounter in a back alley or away from civilization where we can be easy prey for thugs. In the classic movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, it was the situation prior to when John Wayne enabled Jimmy Stuart to establish law and order. In actual life it is the situation one may face in the middle of the Mojave Desert or in any inner city park where law enforcement is nearly nothing.)
So Locke sees the protection of everyone’s natural rights as the proper purpose of government. Since establishing, maintaining and protecting government is itself a form of human activity that can be done well or badly, it must be guided by the principles of natural rights-its creation, development and operations may not encroach upon those rights, lest its proper purpose is undermined. Perhaps the best way to understand this is by recalling the common sense notion that even the securing of highly valued goals does not justify the employment of immoral means.
Quite a part from Locke, in any case, unless democracy is itself guided by norms-unless the people express and implement their will as they should and not as they should not-it becomes self-defeating. Not only is there the problem that such a process is in violation of the rights of innocents who would be made victims of the use of arbitrary force. Unlimited democracy, furthermore, can undo democracy itself. If democracy, for example, is applied too broadly, it is bent upon defeating its very purpose, the goal that justifies its employment. To provide a hint via a possible result of the democratic process, suppose that we democratically vote to exclude some people from the voting process. This is a legacy of some state governments in the United States of America, as well as the efforts of the federal government. When the possibility of voting is linked to property ownership or some other condition, the democratic process is weakened. It also occurs when the federal government focuses on what has come to be called inclusiveness so that, for the sake of including into the governing process members of some minority groups, it is decided that other members should be given lower representation. Such group inclusiveness undermines the natural rights of individuals to take part in the political process, a right that derives from their right to liberty of association. Yet the underlying justification for democracy is that individuals have the right to consent to their government. In other words, if the democratic process can justifiably produce governmental measures that violate the natural rights of individuals, this undermines the capacity of these individuals to be full, equally free participants in the democratic process.
Other kinds of cases abound. If by the democratic process the rights to life, liberty or property could justifiably be abrogated or violated, those taking part in the process no longer can act freely and independently. The majority can threaten their free judgments. It can enact measures that will authorize vindictive official actions against the minority, something that inevitably leads to the undermining of democracy. That is just why the “democracies” of Eastern Europe were a complete farce despite the great numbers of participants in the actual electoral process. Thus parties, however, had no liberty to vote as they wanted, for whom they wanted.
If when I vote I know that voting my conscience will result in having my sovereignty undermined, leading to my partial enslavement or involuntary servitude, I will not likely vote my conscience. I will act like the victim of the mugger who is told, “You r money or your life!” When I hand over my money I do it under compulsion not by choice. (It is a myth that we always have a choice, for a choice that is set out by others regarding one’s life, that robs one of one’s life and takes away the prospects of a self-governed future, is no choice.) If a democratic process allows the similar act on the part of the majority, the members of the minority will vote-voice their judgment, indicate their preferences-under severe constraint. No true majority will can emerge under the circumstances.
We can extend this analysis now to the realm of contemporary politics in Western democracies. Let’s focus on the general situation in the United States of America today.
Whenever public programs are being cut, those who have their benefits reduced offer cries of need and those who feel for them cries of compassion. Yet whenever public programs are proposed, which also cuts out the benefits of those who need to pay for i t from higher taxes, it is contended that this is just the result of social life. After all, “we” have decided to fund social security, unemployment compensation, the national parks, public broadcasting, or whatnot, haven’t we? So it is no objection to this that some of us suffer losses, that some of us now have to forego benefits, experience reduced income which can lead to reduced quality of education, recreation, home life, dental care, transportation safety, cultural enrichment, and so forth. None of this is supposed to matter because “we” have decided to tax ourselves higher to fund all those public programs.2 Why is it that it is OK to violate the individual rights to liberty and property of millions of people when the lot of us decide to do this but not OK to reduce the benefits of people when a somewhat differently configured lot of us decided to do that? Why may the choices of some individuals be ignored and thwarted by democratic decision making but not that of others trumped by the same process? The fact is that most people who talk of and like democracy in the context of the currently bloated understanding, they do so only when it supports their agenda. It is fine to use democracy to rob the rich-it makes it valid public policy instead of theft. But if the poor are the targets than suddenly democracy is invalid.
Indeed, the reason is, as suggested earlier, that democracy is never enough. There must always be some specification of the goals for which democracy is appropriate. It isn’t enough to have a democratic process-it can lead to results of widely different quality. Sometimes the majority does right, sometimes wrong. And the task of political theory is, in part, to identify those areas of public life that should be subject to democratic decision making.
What are those areas? And why are they the ones?
Whether alone, or with one’s fellows, a human being may not do some things to other human beings. Especially no one may take over another’s life. This is so whether that other’s life is fortunate, well to do, talented, accomplished, and beautiful, accepted by others and freely granted benefits. In short, neither those who are fortunate—let alone those who are accomplished—nor those lacking in good fortune, are available for others to be used when permission hasn’t been granted, when consent is not given. In either kind of ca se, no one or group may take over another’s life-it amounts to the kind of crime classified, variously, as theft, robbery, assault, kidnapping, murder, battery, rape, and other forms of aggression. And the fact that the numbers of those who do such thing s is increased and even constitute a majority of those concerned makes no difference. Nor does the fact that some procedure has been followed as these policies are instituted, for lacking the consent, tacit or at least implicit, of those who are to be deprived, makes any such process invalid, unjust, undue.
It is wrong to steal on one’s own as well as with the support of millions. It is wrong to enslave, to place others into servitude when they refuse, etc., no matter whether one is in the minority or the majority.
Nor can majorities authorize certain people, such as their political representatives, to carry out such deeds, even if they do it indirectly, by threatening those whom they would rob, steal from, kidnap, assault or whatever with aggressive enforcement at the hands of the police. It is wrong, then, even for the government of a representative democracy or republic to carry out such deeds. Having done it with democratic “authorization” makes it no more right than if no such authorization had taken place. There i s simply no moral authority for anyone to delegate to another such powers since one hasn’t got them in the first place. If my friends and I enact an elaborate process, surrounded with pomp and circumstances, ritual and ornamentation, to commence kidnapping your children or confiscating your wealth, all this is morally and politically trumped by the fact that your consent to the process has been lacking. Unless you are a criminal, who has by his or her crime in effect tacitly agreed to accept our forcible (self-protective) response, you may not be intruded upon.3 Most of this is admitted by all the parties to the debate. This is why even when the people elect certain political representatives (for example, conservative Republicans), others (for example, liberal Democrats), often claim that what results, in terms of legislation, is wrong and should not have been done. They maintain this in various political forums that are supposedly the spheres of democratic decision making. So they evidently think t hat what the democratic process produces is not decisive as to what ought to be done. Even if a law passes, critics will call it wrong-heartless, unkind, lacking in compassion. Even supporters of legal positivism, who discount any moral dimension of the legislative process, such as the obligation to be guided by natural or divine law, will protest democratic attacks upon values other than democracy.4 Because no one simply accepts the answer to a challenge of a democratically arrived at result which the y find morally abhorrent that, well, it was brought about by way of the democratic process-”we” did it, so it’s OK, a matter of society’s collective will. (Even in criminal trials, the mini-democracy of jury verdict is governed by firm provisions of due process and with opportunities of appeal.)
It is, then, no valid answer to those who protest the taking of their life-time, income, good fortune or whatever by way of majority vote that, well, this is OK since it is done democratically. The violation of the rights of individuals is no less justified by democracy than is collective callousness. This raises the problem of how to be kind, compassionate, generous, and helpful to those in genuine need without violating the rights of individuals to their life, liberty and property? The answer is actually quite simple: Do it, promote it, and exhibit it by your own conduct! When members of a society learn that moral principles cannot justly be violated by the democratic process, so they may not violate anyone’s rights with the excuse that “we” did it so it’s OK, they learn, also, that when the right thing must be done, it has to be done by choice, free of coercion. So the help that the poor and needy should be given must be given at the initiative of the free citizen—via charity, generosity, philanthropy, and, yes, the facilitation of productive opportunity.
Interview with Tibor R. Machan (August 4, 2000) in preparation for John Stossel’s ABC-TV special, “John Stossel Goes to Washington.”
So, the sign outside the IRS says taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.
That’s just false . . . taxation is essentially a relic of feudalism. It is the rent that kings took for allowing the serfs and others to work the land that the kings owned. But we don’t have a monarchy any longer. People shouldn’t have to pay to be able to work and to be able to own land. This [is] just the relic of feudalism. It’s like extending serfdom into a free Republic.
INTERVIEWER #1 But it’s not feudalism. We’re a democracy, we vote for this.
TIBOR MACHAN Well, there are inconsistencies in our free democracy, unfortunately. There used to be a draft, which shouldn’t have been there. There used to be slavery. There is still taxation.
INTERVIEWER #1 We’re a democracy the majority vote for politicians, who pass the tax.
TIBOR MACHAN The fact is that a majority should have very limited power over the rest of us . . . majorities in a free society get to elect officials to administer the law but they do not get to make the law because that would mean that they [would rule] over the minority and they’re not supposed to do that. We’re each supposed to have our rights, unalienable rights …they’re unalienable even by a majority.
INTERVIEWER #1 But we’ve, again, voted for it, it’s not forced on us. The majority gets good things done.
TIBOR MACHAN Now, look, a lynch mob votes right? And yet, it violates due process [, no]? If you extend that principle to democracy in general, you realize what’s happening is that people who happened to be a little bit more numerous than the rest force the rest to comply, which is not consistent with the idea of the consent of the governed.
INTERVIEWER #1 But it’s democracy.
TIBOR MACHAN Democracy is not sacrosanct. There is such a thing as democratic fascism; there can be democratic totalitarianism. The founders were terribly afraid of democracy as a form of tyranny. I mean if you realized that you could, if you believed in democracy being that bloated, vote for what haircuts we must all get, democratically, you could vote [for our] ties democratically, you could vote everything, [even] marriages democratically. We ought to restrict democracy to very limited functions, namely the selection of the officials who administer the law. That’s why we call it “an administration.”
INTERVIEWER #1 Where do you get these ideas?
TIBOR MACHAN You think about them. You figure them out. You read history, you read philosophy, you read politics and you think through these issues and you also apply some common sense.
INTERVIEWER #1 But I’m also leading you to talk about the founders and James Madison saying the government powers would be few and defined.
TIBOR MACHAN Exactly.
INTERVIEWER #1 In that sense, where do you get these ideas?
TIBOR MACHAN Well these are radical ideas. People forget that the United States of America was the result of a radical revolution, which had not been officially announced anywhere else in the world to which the world still looks with some measure of amazement and admiration and it’s an unusual idea because almost throughout human history, there’s always been some gang that took over and allowed some people to speak their rationalizations for that conquest. Finally, with the American Revolution, some ordinary folks who thought about things, decided that maybe it’s individuals who matter in society, not kings, not classes, not ethnic groups, not races or anything. Even that wasn’t consistently applied and we have, as a result, taxation [and had slavery].
INTERVIEWER #1 James Madison said the powers of the government should be few and defined.
TIBOR MACHAN Exactly.
INTERVIEWER #1 What would the founders think of America today?
TIBOR MACHAN That’s speculation, I don’t know maybe they would be crazy and like it. Who knows? Now my view is that they should not like it and they’d be turning over in their graves because what they said was is that “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” That means rights that cannot be abrogated, may not be violated, not by majorities, not by kings, not by your local sheriff, not by the vice squad, by nobody. Now, if they really meant this stuff, what else could they do but abhor what’s going on right now?
INTERVIEWER # 1 Abhor what?
TIBOR MACHAN Abhor for example the drug war, all of the limitations on individual liberty and that we have regulations, prior restraint; you know the press [and clergy are] the only professions [that’s] actually discriminated in favor of [so that those] profession[als] have freedom, almost maximum freedom. But other professionals don’t. They can be intruded upon before they do anything wrong, before anybody has violated anybody’s rights, committed any crime; there’s a bunch of bureaucrats sitting over them and badgering them and making them uphold certain standards that they believe these people should uphold but maybe the people have better idea but they’re never allowed to put them into practice.
INTERVIEWER # 1 America is the land of the free. You make it sound like a tyranny.
TIBOR MACHAN It’s becoming a tyranny. It’s always been compromised on that score. There was slavery, certainly a lot of people realize that that wasn’t consistent with the Declaration’s philosophy–individual rights, unalienable rights and slavery? Give me a break. The fact is that America has never been fully consistent with its own declared political philosophy. Lincoln, for example, tried to make an adjustment — at least his rhetoric was that he was liberating the slaves to put America more in line with its own declared political philosophy. Unlike many other societies, where correctives come in from outside, in America, the corrective standards were always there. They just hadn’t been fully applied.
INTERVIEWER # 1 All right, we got rid of slavery. It’s not a tyranny any more.
TIBOR MACHAN Well it’s not a tyranny in that respect. It’s not a full scale tyranny but there are plenty of petty tyrannies around — almost all of the government regulatory devices are petty tyrannies, not Draconian like Stalin’s or a Hitler’s but they are significant and they erode individual liberty and they impose an enormous cost on our lives.
INTERVIEWER # 1 When you were a kid, the government picked your profession.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s because I lived in Hungary and there was a totalitarian system afoot there.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But so what happened to you and how can you call America a tyranny?
TIBOR MACHAN Well it’s because I insist upon a fully consistent free society. It’s kind of like in personal lives, just because you lie a couple of times that doesn’t mean that you are an out and out liar but you do lie. It’d be [better] if you didn’t. Similarly, the United States is a relatively free society compared to previous countries in history and around the globe but it could always use some improvement and what I’m advocating is greater and greater improvement. If nobody does that, then it’s going to slide into a really serious tyranny.
INTERVIEWER # 1 We need these rules or we’d have anarchy?
TIBOR MACHAN No, we wouldn’t have anarchy; we’d have the rule of law, which protects individual rights. Individual rights don’t mean anarchy. It means people get to do what they choose to do, so long as they do not violate other people’s right. Nobody gets in there and messes with them until it’s been demonstrated in [a] court of law that they have violated someone’s rights.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Unless you directly hurt someone.
TIBOR MACHAN Yes. You can directly or indirectly hurt someone; there are cases where you indirectly hurt someone through embezzlement, through fraud, through all sorts of subtle coercive means. A just system isn’t like a geometrical structure. There are subtleties, there are gray areas but the default position ought to be individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
INTERVIEWER # 1 I mean government is now approaching 40 percent of the economy. So what? People don’t seem to mind. What have we lost?
TIBOR MACHAN People don’t mind a lot of things. Sometimes, people don’t mind being abused by their spouses either. Sometimes people don’t mind when their parents are violent and nasty. That doesn’t make it right just because people don’t protest; it doesn’t mean that all of us have to be blind to these arrogations of individual rights.
INTERVIEWER # 1 People aren’t being abused by their government the way people are abused by a spouse.
TIBOR MACHAN Actually, they are. I mean a great many people in business are suffering tremendously, they can hardly get going. Enterprises cannot get off the ground because they already have so many expenses imposed by various regulations at the municipal, county, state (and) federal levels; who knows the UN is going to come in next.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But people like this. It’s kind of like government is Robin Hood. It takes from the people who can afford it and gives to the needy.
TIBOR MACHAN Actually Robin Hood took from the people who stole by means of taxation; they didn’t get rich like Bill Gates did, by means of production and invention. The bulk of the rich back then got rich by taxing a bunch of poor people and Robin Hood took back the taxes. People forget about that.
INTERVIEWER # 1 So, Robin Hood was stealing from the government?
TIBOR MACHAN Exactly.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But you tell me that, it’s like Robin Hood, the government’s great. You take from the people, who can afford it and use the money to help the poor.
TIBOR MACHAN First of all, that’s not generous, that’s not compassionate, that’s not kind, and that just is sheer robbery. The rich are always [unjustly] bad-mouthed. I mean after all, they’re human begins too. Just the other day, I read Al Gore saying, the people versus the rich as if the rich were some sort of virus. These are human beings, who –maybe through luck, maybe through effort — [made] a good life for themselves. So, why [are] they punished for this? I don’t get it. Robin Hood “stole” from members of the upper classes who lived off taxes that were taken from the poor people, who worked the land, who had to pay the taxes in order to survive on that land because the land didn’t belong to them, it belonged to the king and to the noblemen to whom the king bequeathed the land. Robin Hood said, “Wait a minute, this is robbery. This is not rent. We want it back.”
INTERVIEWER # 1 It sounds like you’re saying Robin Hood stole from the government.
TIBOR MACHAN No, he didn’t steal from the government, he repossessed from those to whom the government doled out the money that it extorted, took in taxes.
INTERVIEWER # 1 The government and the cronies of government.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s right. Exactly. Robin Hood was like me going to the United States Treasury and taking a great deal money from there and giving it back to the taxpayers. That’s what Robin Hood did. Robin Hood didn’t go to the rich, who happened to have worked hard and got rich and then said. “Well these guys are rich, [so] let’s give a few dollars to the poor.” That’s not what Robin Hood did. Robin was fighting injustice and the injustice was taxation.
INTERVIEWER # 1 [But] people like it that we have a safety net.
TIBOR MACHAN Look, some people like a lot of bad things. That doesn’t make it right.
INTERVIEWER # 1 The poor, poor people need the help.
TIBOR MACHAN Well, they should ask for it and we should give it to them of our own free will and not have a gun to our head and do the right thing because we are forced to do the right thing. That doesn’t make it right. We don’t get any credit for that. That’s coerced “virtue” which makes it no virtue at all.
INTERVIEWER # 1 [Isn't] government [needed since] not enough good people would give to charity to help the people [in need]?
TIBOR MACHAN That’s a crock. That is a complete lie — the fact is that there have always been plenty of people in a free society who volunteer to give to those who need it. They don’t do it the kind of indiscriminate reckless way in which government is doing [it]. Government came in not to substitute for a drying up of private charity. Government came in because it didn’t like the standards by which the distribution occurred from those private charities.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But there weren’t enough private charities to help enough of the poor people. We needed government to fill the gaps.
TIBOR MACHAN I don’t agree. I mean historically, that’s wrong. And moreover, government is not filling any gaps. Despite the massive welfare state, the same complaints occur year after year that there are the homeless; there are the poor children, the needy old, the needy sick, the needy farmers, the needy artists. If the government is so good at this, why is it failing all the time for all these folks?
INTERVIEWER # 1 Public housing sounds so reasonable. Poor people, who can’t afford it, need help and they get it.
TIBOR MACHAN Yeah, they sure need that public housing right? There are the homes for the dregs of humanity, public housing. They’re a disgrace; they’re the most embarrassing things that government has ever done. Just look at them.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But they house people who need help.
TIBOR MACHAN Yeah, usually, they house people by wiping out a bunch of low cost housing that were probably much better. In fact, there’s been a lot of chronicling of’ this, how government displaces perfectly good but perhaps not as monumental type housing that the government creates. Besides, this is now been an embarrassment. Most people recognize — even Democrats, like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, complain about this element of the welfare state. This is not really something that even the defenders of the welfare state parade around saying we did a wonderful thing.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But where would those people live? How would they get homes?
TIBOR MACHAN For one thing, most of those people would now be employed if there weren’t the kind of heavy taxation there is. Taxes cost the society a trillion dollars every year [just] to administer them. That means paying for the IRS, for the lawyers, for the CPAs, for all of these people involved in this scam, [it] is eating up incredible productive resources in every society. These people would be getting better jobs and they wouldn’t have to live in these wretched conditions for which the government comes in like a big savior and from which then it “rescues” them.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Taxation can’t cost a trillion I’m sure it’s billions but that would be like most of the money going to the process.
TIBOR MACHAN But this is [the system of] taxation, it’s not the taxes, it’s the expenses involved in running the tax system, in addition to the budget. When you take things from people, when you rob them, when you loot them, they obviously have to make adjustments. They now either get dejected and no longer work as hard as they used to or they have to substitute for things that they could have purchased or could have invested in better insurance policies, better education for their kids better tires for their cars. They now have to do some extra work or maybe do without. The consequences of these substitutions are very difficult to detect whereas a politician’s achievement — of a new monument or a new sports arena in Boston –is always very nice to point to and the cameras can go down there and take the picture and say triumphantly: “Public works work.” But when they take [the taxes], there is no way to trace this except by imagination and by some thoughtfulness and by asking the people what they might have done with the money that they could have kept rather than have had to do without.
INTERVIEWER # 1 There’s no way to trace what exactly?
TIBOR MACHAN The consequences of depravation. I mean if somebody comes and robs your house, and you now don’t have certain things, exactly what you will do depends on many circumstances. You may say, OK, I’ll buy another TV set [since] I lost this one. But you might say, “OK, I won’t watch TV for another year and then I’ll substitute it.” You may decide, “I am going to spend the money that I might have spent on a new tire or a better health insurance policy on the new TV.” That’s why it’s so difficult to trace this.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But we can see the public housing project or the monument?
TIBOR MACHAN That’s exactly right.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But we can’t see what people would have created if they hadn’t been taxed to build the monument?
TIBOR MACHAN Exactly, that’s precisely the thing. A famous French economist, Frederick Bastiat once wrote an essay, “What is seen and what is not seen.” It addresses this issue directly.
INTERVIEWER # 1 People might have cured cancer, cured AIDS.
TIBOR MACHAN Exactly
INTERVIEWER #1 Invented a new … machine [or] I don’t know what…
TIBOR MACHAN OK, you’re driving to the point where you begin to see that this is the politician’s substituting their judgment for our judgment. Exactly what gives them that right?
INTERVIEWER #1 We elected them to do that.
TIBOR MACHAN What is the “we”? I mean some people elected.
INTERVIEWER #1 The majority that voted.
TIBOR MACHAN So why don’t they hire them as their investment advisors and leave the rest of us alone to do our own investing? This idea that voting should cover everything is ridiculous. We already covered that.
INTERVIEWER #1 Well that’s good to keep covering it a lot. Cause it sounds good. [What about] voting …
TIBOR MACHAN But voting doesn’t sound good. We all know the example that’s usually used as a reductio ad absurdum for voting, the lynch mob. Clearly, a majority wants to hang the guy but we say it’s wrong because it has not gone through the process that demonstrates that the hanging is deserved.
INTERVIEWER #1 Government job training. Picture that if you will. Don’t we need this?
TIBOR MACHAN It’s one thing to talk about need. I mean I may very well need a car, a new VCR or a better health insurance policy. But I am not justified to go over to my next-door neighbor and hold him up because I need these things. I have to ask his permission or borrow the money. Government takes it. It comes, puts a gun to your head and says, if you don’t give it, we’ll send you to jail.
INTERVIEWER # 1 And spends it on the good for the greatest number things like job training.
TIBOR MACHAN But even if it did that, which is a crock, it doesn’t do it properly. It doesn’t do it through the consent of those from whom it takes. It robs.
INTERVIEWER # 1 What about Americorps — young people getting involved helping others.
TIBOR MACHAN If they do it voluntarily, at no expense to people who did not volunteer, this is a wonderful thing. But if other people are taxed in order to make this possible, this is not a wonderful thing.
INTERVIEWER # 1 You’re making government sound like tyranny. All these laws are passed with good intentions. This is to help people.
TIBOR MACHAN If a person goes out and robs his neighbor, it could very well be with very good intentions. He may want to put his child through a better schooling experience. He may want to buy something that is important for the family. That doesn’t justify the robbery. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be as I said, Draconian. It could very well be just minor chipping away at another person ‘s life. A lot of times people don’t protest these things because they got better things to do than worry about the loss of a few pennies for this and a few pennies for that. But in the end, it ends up to be 40 percent or more of their entire wealth or income. So, sure, they don’t protest. It’s like if I keep bumping into you as I pass you on the road, you’re not going to sue me. It would take something greater than that. But doesn’t make my bumping into you something admirable. No, even if I’m in a hurry, I ought to be more careful. Government does [all of] these little bitty [evil] things — granting we don’t have concentration camps (although our prisons with all those drug criminals in it, do very much look like concentration camps). That is pretty Draconian, by the way. So, America doesn’t come off squeaky clean when it comes to [serious] tyranny either. Many of those people are totally innocent of any violation of anybody’s right and yet they are in jail sometimes longer than people who are in jail for serious crimes.
INTERVIEWER # 1 [But] let’s say you want to feed [and] save the spotted owl or feed poor people.
TIBOR MACHAN There are plenty of opportunities for people to invest in those private organizations that do that. There are wildlife associations, there’s Nature Conservancy, and there are all sorts of organizations that do these things.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But it’s all disorganized.
TIBOR MACHAN So what? A free society is disorganized. That’s what freedom means. You don’t get to regiment people.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Sounds like chaos?
TIBOR MACHAN No, it’s not chaos, it’s just not regimented. It’s what a free society is expected to be: lots of people doing different things depending upon their abilities, their talents, their opportunities and yet, not stepping on each other while they doing so. That’s where lawfulness comes in, not by regimenting them, [which is] not lawfulness, that’s dictatorship. Many people claim that the reason that the government does all these nice things is that people in a free society wouldn’t do it and hadn’t done it, OK? [No] in fact, the only reason that the government does it is that the people didn’t do it their [the government's] way. The people who are in the bureaucracies [and their supporters] want to impose various standards that suit their particular preferences but not the preferences of the [regulated].
INTERVIEWER # 1 But maybe they know better. They’re the experts who studied this.
TIBOR MACHAN But this is a myth, why would the people in Washington know things better what happens in Wyoming? Where’s that come from? I don ‘t get it.
INTERVIEWER # 1 They’re smarter. They’ve studied. They specialize. They know what’s best for the whole country.
TIBOR MACHAN Now we have this old doctrine that there is a class of people who somehow by nature deserve [to] rule because they know better by blood or by inheritance or what? Those guys are [essentially] the same blokes that we are. They have no right to run roughshod over us anymore than we do over them. They should go home and do their own business.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But we keep inviting them to do more.
TIBOR MACHAN Some of us do, I don’t. They should respect my freedom not to get them involved in my life unless I consent.
INTERVIEWER # 1 The voters keep inviting them to do more.
TIBOR MACHAN But they shouldn’t have that right to vote on those things any more than they should have a right to vote on who gets hanged.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Any other examples besides lynching?
TIBOR MACHAN People make all kinds of rules. For example, where I must live — some group has decided that no one can go into the National Forest because some toads are endangered there. Now, all the people who pay for the upkeep of this national forest can’t go there because some group has managed to convince some bureau in Washington.
INTERVIEWER # 1 We want to protect these toads.
TIBOR MACHAN Why? At my expense? At the hikers’ expense? What are toads anyway? I mean toads are nice and if you want to save the toads, take some home and take care of them. But don’t shut down a whole people’s forest for the sake of the toads.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Indians in America have the worst lives.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s true.
INTERVIEWER # 1 They are terribly poor. They live short lives. Without government help, wouldn’t it be worse for them?
TIBOR MACHAN That’s like when the government goes in and ruins their lives and it comes up and says, hey, you need us. That’s really bright and morally admirable isn’t?
INTERVIEWER # 1 What do you mean morally?
TIBOR MACHAN I mean that’s really something commendable for them to do, to have neglected the Indians for decades on end and then suddenly parade themselves as [if] they were needed to save the Indians. And they did worse than neglect them; neglect might have been good. The fact is that most of the crimes against the Indians were committed by the government.
INTERVIEWER # 1 The Bureau or Indian Affairs is helping Indians.
TIBOR MACHAN Helping again in a particularly predisposed way that usually the Indians don’t like very much, but again because of this idea that people in these bureaus are experts and know better and are also morally more virtuous than the rest of us they get to do this stuff. The Indians have been mismanaged, they have been treated terribly, they’ve been criminally assaulted throughout America’s history and now this bureau in Washington comes in and tries to pretend that it is there to save the Indians.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But they are trying to save the Indians.
TIBOR MACHAN They’re not trying to save the Indians. They’re basically imposing certain standards on how the Indians must live because they think they’re more virtuous and brighter and smarter than everybody else, especially the Indians.
INTERVlEWER # 1 It’s all to help them?
TIBOR MACHAN This is not to help them. This is to regiment them.
INTERVIEWER # 1 National Parks – don’t we need national… [that] the government keeps… TIBOR MACHAN We need parks. We don’t need national parks. We need shoe stores. We don’t need national shoe stores. We need grocery stores. Where does this “national” stuff come from?
INTERVIEWER # 1 Without National parks, people would put McDonalds all over the parks and roads everywhere.
TIBOR MACHAN Well I’m not sure that would be the case but if so, then maybe that’s a good deal. Maybe that’s what the people want.
INTERVIEWER # 1 I don’t think people would want McDonald’s …
TIBOR MACHAN Then they wouldn’t put them there right? But all this comes from the top down, from people who sit in Washington. They know how local communities should allot their resources, is that right? Give me a break.
INTERVIEWER # 1 In Washington they know.
TIBOR MACHAN They don’t know squat, in fact most of those people who live in Washington inside the Beltway, they don’t go out and check out exactly what’s happening. They have a couple of Congressional hearings and bring in some of their cronies, who testify to what they want to hear and then they make a law, which completely ignores local knowledge, the most important ingredient in public policy. They don’t have that. One of the things about a free society is that it adjusts expertise and skill to particularly interesting local circumstances that may not be shared with other local circumstances. This is not possible when the Federal government runs everything.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But if every local community does what it wants, you don’t have a nation.
TIBOR MACHAN You have a nation of certain laws that protect individual rights. The uniqueness of this nation was supposed to be that it doesn’t have laws running people’s lives but [laws] protecting people’s rights
lNTERVlEWER # 1 Rights, rights like …
TIBOR MACHAN The right to [life], to liberty, the right to express myself, the right to seek out jobs in the marketplace, the right to trade, the right to exchange property with others — those are rights of freedom which other people should not abrogate or violate, including the government. One of the interesting elements of our criminal law is the concept of due process, which means the government has to behave in accordance with the very rights that it tries to protect, that it promised to protect. But in fact, what’s it now doing is violating those rights left and right in order to accomplish its various [special interest] goals.
INTERVIEWER #1 Safety rules, we need government to make sure the planes don’t crash.
TIBOR MACHAN Yes, and they never crash right? Why can’t we sue them when they do crash if we really need them for that much, why aren’t they complicit in the disaster that happens? That’s an interesting side story, by the way. There are all these regulatory agencies [that] get off completely Scott free when some disaster happens.
INTERVIEWER # 1 All right but they don’t crash that often.
TIBOR MACHAN They don’t crash that often partly because we are very well used to now making pretty good planes. That could happen without the government just as easily as with the government. There’s nothing the government has [done to] keep us safe. There are many, many institutions already in this society, which help in keeping us safe without the government’s intrusion.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Few people seem upset about this. Nobody’s talking Boston Tea Party.
TIBOR MACHAN Actually, quite a few people talk about it but they don’t get on the air.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But nobody . . .
TIBOR MACHAN [they are not] interviewed by most mainstream talk show hosts. They don’t say, hey, wait a minute, come on out here and tell us what’s wrong with the government. Instead, they say, hey what has the government done for you lately?
INTERVIEWER # 1 But the level of outrage isn’t there. I mean nobody’s throwing tea into Boston Harbor.
TIBOR MACHAN Well of course, back then that was one instance. A lot of people put up with a lot of [King] George’s indiscretions even then. There were a few brave ones, who agitated the rest of us.
INTERVIEWER # 1 The Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps us safe.
TIBOR MACHAN Why would it be the only thing that does so? Since when is that a metaphysical truth? The fact is they busted in even though they are not needed.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But we need them to set some rules.
TIBOR MACHAN No, we need the government to protect our rights. We don’t need it to come in and do what is called prior restraint, namely mess with us before we have done anything wrong. If we do something wrong, there is tort law [and] all sorts of legal devices in a free society that could punish the wrongdoers but not before the fact; that is the price of liberty. You have to wait until someone does something wrong before you mess with them.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Regulation doesn’t wait.
TIBOR MACHAN Regulation does not wait and in that respect, it’s unjust. It’s like going out and gathering up a bunch of people and saying, you go to jail because you might kill somebody.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Who would protect us if the Consumer Product Safety Commission didn’t?
TIBOR MACHAN We would and those people, whom we would hire for that purpose. I mean we’re not that stupid that just because we’re free, we would squander all the safety, all the caution in our lives. We would hire people just like we now hire dentists and doctors and automotive workers and TV repair people; we would hire people to look out for our safety just as easily. But these guys in Washington and in Sacramento and many other centers of power have preempted this now. A lot of people have the false security and they don’t even do such a great job with this.
INTERVIEWER # 1 OK, what should government do?
TIBOR MACHAN It should protect our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and all the derivative rights, the ones that are not mentioned because remember, the Declaration says, “among these rights” are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That doesn’t mean that those are the only rights we have. It also says that governments are instituted “to secure these rights, [which is] a very clear statement of the proper business of government in a free society.
INTERVIEWER #1 You don’t want government to do safety regulation and all these things. What, again, should government do?
TIBOR MACHAN Government should do what it’s appointed to do, namely to protect our rights – that is when criminals attack us, when foreign aggressors attack us, then the government must rise to defend us. Then the government rises and does it job of protecting our rights. That means it should have a police, it should have courts, and it should have a defense from foreign aggressors. That’s what the government should do in a free society.
INTERVIEWER # 1 That’s it?
TIBOR MACHAN Well that’s a whole lot. There are lots of criminals out there; there are lots of people who might instigate a war against us. That’s a very big job. It would do it much better if it didn’t do all this other stuff that it’s gotten its nose into. One of the reasons there is so much crime is that they’ve made a bunch of [conduct] crime that is not [really] a crime.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Don’t Americans have a right to health care? Shouldn’t government provide it?
TIBOR MACHAN No, Americans don’t have a right to other people’s labor. That constitutes involuntary servitude. We’ve outlawed that a long time ago. We do not get a right to other people performing things for us. We have to buy that. We have to prepare for that. We have to save up for that. We have to be prudent and careful in our lives to secure those things just like food and clothing and other benefits. We don’t go out there and hold people up to give it to us. That’s what all the entitlement programs are.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But they all have noble intentions.
TIBOR MACHAN Of course noble intentions but you know what [good] intentions will [often] give you?
INTERVIEWER # 1 OK, but, I mean, people think of the government as good people. If people choose to work for the government, it means they want to help people, make people’s lives better.
TIBOR MACHAN That may very well be the case — there are a lot of motivations for going to work for the government and I’m not disputing their motives. I am disputing the legitimacy and the justice of what they’re doing.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But isn’t there something noble about that – go into government and help people?
TIBOR MACHAN Why don’t they do the job that government is supposed to do and that way help people? You can help people by protecting their liberty against criminals and foreign aggressors and that means that they can get to do all the things that they need to do for themselves.
INTERVIEWER # 1 [But] without government to order life, we’d have chaos.
TIBOR MACHAN A famous thinker in the classical liberal tradition named F. A. Hayek spoke about the spontaneous order. What this means is that people, when they are free, will plan out their lives in cooperation with other people. Out of that, [an] order will emerge without it’s being imposed from above.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Spontaneous order?
TIBOR MACHAN [Yes,] that’s like you and I, for example, making an appointment for this interview. It’s orderly. We are talking, everything is going to fall into place and there was no government that set it up for us.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Don’t we need government to plan?
TIBOR MACHAN No, you have all sorts of planning done by businesses by social clubs, by universities by hospitals, by religious organizations. Planning is part of living.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Willy-nilly?
TIBOR MACHAN It’s not willy-nilly –it’s my plan and your plan and our coordination of our plan so that we get things done without having to have nanny government come in and do it for us.
INTERVIEWER # 1 I mean it sounds willy-nilly, all of us doing what we want.
TIBOR MACHAN First of all, I’m not sure that willy-nilly is that bad a thing; but the second point is that our plans are spontaneous self-generated, innovative plans, much [more] likely to be on mark than the plans that are imposed upon us by bureaucrats from above.
INTERVIEWER # 1 But it’s hard to anticipate how those things will work.
TIBOR MACHAN Well is it any better to anticipate how things will work when done from 3,000 miles away by a bunch of bureaucrats, who by the way, have probably as their priority to make sure that their job is secure?
INTERVIEWER #1 But people seem more comfortable with a planner.
TIBOR MACHAN Well I don’t think so. That’s a myth …the myth of the planner. Most people, if you ask them, [give] their gut reaction that they would like to lead their lives themselves. They may not have worked this out into a theory. They may not be able to articulate it, but if you ask them in their normal commonsense ways, they will insist that they are better qualified to be in charge of their lives than other people are.
INTERVIEWER #1 But I think people feel safer knowing the government is checking the airplanes and the meat and. . .
TIBOR MACHAN Some people do, but they’re deluded.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Government isn’t robbing people?
TIBOR MACHAN It’s seizing wealth from us. It is seizing our income. Seizing is just a nicer way of saying it.
INTERVIEWER # 1 Well, we willingly pay taxes.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s a myth. Just go out and survey people. Do they willingly pay taxes or they pay taxes because they’re afraid to go to jail?
INTERVIEWER #1 It’s called a voluntary tax.
TIBOR MACHAN Oh, that’s a crock, a “voluntary taxation” –then it wouldn’t be a taxation, it might a fee What happens is that if you don’t pay you’re going to be fined. Now, if you try to run away from that fine, they’re going to send the cops after you. If you try to resist the cops, then you’re going to be shot.
INTERVIEWER #1 And your conclusion from that is?
TIBOR MACHAN That it is robbery.
INTERVIEWER #1 So, that’s not voluntary?
TIBOR MACHAN No, it’s not voluntary. It’s the last thing Voluntary means that you reach into your pocket and you give even if you don’t have to, that’s what voluntary means. When you give to the Salvation Army or give to the United Fund, you’re not going to jail you if you don’t give. They have to ask you. These guys [the government IRS agents] don’t ask you, they order you to give.
INTERVIEWER #1 So, if this is robbery, we should refuse to pay?
TIBOR MACHAN They’re stronger than us and they’ll put us into jail and that way they’ll shut us up, so we better pay and keep arguing against them.
INTERVIEWER #1 Some people refuse to pay.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s probably a situation that they have to judge for themselves, there’s no way to tell how people ought to resist the government’s petty tyrannies but on the whole, in a relatively free and open society where you can still argue about these things, it is better to keep your situation open to argue rather that go to jail and be a martyr.
INTERVIEWER #1 Thank you.
INTERVIEWER #2 The water system in New Jersey we’re looking at, emergency vehicles in Florida, a highway in California — what should the government privatize or try to privatize and why?
TIBOR MACHAN Essentially “privatization” means to restore to the free society things that the government has no business doing in the first place. Just because we got used to the governments doing them doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for the government to do them. So, basically everything other than police, courts and national defense, should be in the hands of private associations, corporations, volunteers group, church groups, whatever. We are intelligent enough as human beings to figure out ways to do that without having to resort to the means that government is good at using, namely force the only place where government should operate with it’s special tool, force, is in retaliation against crime. Everything else, whether it’s farming or building roads or [the rest] can be done by private initiative. “Private initiative” may be a little bit misleading because [often] it’s a social or community initiative. It’s lots of people getting together but without using coercive force on each other to solve problems in society. There is a great deal of promise in that. It doesn’t mean that it always works perfectly but neither does anything that government does. We should compare it to other societies in which governments do almost everything, socialism, fascism [or communism] and recognize that one of the reasons that the United States tends to be ahead on most counts is that it happens to have more [individual] freedom than any other society. That means more private initiative.
INTERVIEWER #2 Is the private sector going to do it generally better than the government, you think?
TIBOR MACHAN Yes. It’s just like asking, “Are free people going to do things better than slaves?” except not by the drastic measure of complete slavery but by being pushed around, manipulated, regimented. Human beings do things better when they are on their own initiative than when they are being pushed around by others. That goes generally for everything except when it comes to dealing with initiated force. When somebody attacks you. How to respond to that needs to be adjudicated and guarded by law. That’s what due process is. That’s what law is for. But law is not for cooking meals, running restaurants, opening of farms. That’s what human cooperation is about.
INTERVIEWER #2 We met with Irwin Schiff who says [you don’t need to pay taxes]
TIBOR MACHAN Right.
INTERVIEWER #2 Irwin and [certain] groups in the country say don’t pay your taxes. You’re saying this is government’s stealing us blind.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s right. The government is stealing us blind but it still is not so severe a tyranny that it would perhaps justify a revolution, an overthrow of the government. I don’t know about Schiff’s story, I cannot imagine how I could escape paying taxes, since I work for a company and for a university and for a think tank, which [withholds] taxes. [They are forced to] do the government’s extorting from me what is mine and in order for me to resist that, I would have to get these companies on my side and there is no way I can do that. I don’t know how he does it and I don’t want to really comment on that.
INTERVIEWER #2 Do you think he’s morally right?
TIBOR MACHAN Yes, if they can win, if they don’t have to sacrifice their liberty, if they’re not going to be martyrs, I wish them well with their tax resistance, tax dodging, tax evasion because I consider this extortion by the government. Now, extortion sometimes works: you don’t say no to the extortionists because they come and burn down your building. This is what they do to you if you don’t pay your taxes. They put you to jail. They confiscate your wealth, your income. So, it’s not always advisable to do the resistance. But if you can do it, I think it’s morally admirable to do it.
INTERVIEWER #2 Government housing, [Is it not a] great idea, a lot of people just can ‘t afford a place to say and they’re helping them out?
TIBOR MACHAN But not at other people’s expense, that’s not help … that is transfer of wealth from one part to the other at the point of a gun, that is not admirable, that is not charity t that’s not compassion. Even if it accomplishes some good one usually doesn’t see the bad things that it accomplishes because one cannot measure the damage that’s been done to those from whom the income was taken and transferred to these other people. Even if there is some good involved, that is just not the way to do good amongst free men and women.
INTERVIEWER #2 And what’s the quality of what this product is that they’re putting out when they do this?
TIBOR MACHAN Well it’s usually a mess because when you accomplish these ends, with such resistance [to the] bureaucratic meddling, the outcome tends to be disastrous. That’s clearly the case with most of the public housing projects.
INTERVIEWER #2 Here, people are given a chance to own some things maybe for the first time in their life. Is there any bonus to that?
TIBOR MACHAN Of course there has been a fairly clear association between responsible use and ownership whereas there is a tragedy of the commons when people don’t own things but use public facilities, public resources. They tend to deplete them. They tend to overuse them and there is shortage and all of those consequences follow. So ownership and responsibly have a very strong association. It’s not a necessary connection but it’s a very strong association both history and theory shows this.
INTERVIEWER #2 The jobs programs we visited – do you have any idea how successful government jobs programs are because we visited a private one in Maryland that’s going great guns. It’s really like a person ministry and he’s having like a 70 percent success rate cause he cares, cause he’s right there. He’s available to the people all the time. How do you know anything about comparison as a businessman?
TIBOR MACHAN No partly because I tend to oppose these things on principle not piecemeal. I perfectly well recognize that some isolated successes can arise out of government activity, just like sometimes when you use force on somebody, it may do some good. But it’s not to be made into a Federal policy. It’s not to be generalized. It’s not to be regularized. So I tend to be against it even when you can show me occasional success stories.
INTERVIEWER #2 Charities, somebody comes up with a great idea in the neighborhood, our hobo [ph] are guys down there helping the homeless. They’re people feeding people in another part of the country.
TIBOR MACHAN Right.
INTERVIEWER #2 Why not come in and throw some of the more the government clout and the government money and stuff behind these people and help out a great idea?
TIBOR MACHAN Because that’s not the government’s job to do this. I mean there are a lot of things that people could do with force that they shouldn’t do and government has the force sometimes to step in and it looks very attractive because people are urgent, they’re panicky, they’re always asking for instant solutions. It’s the wrong way for government to act. It’s an abrogation, its kind of what you call governmental malpractice.
INTERVIEWER #2 You know Delancey Street.
TIBOR MACHAN Yes.
INTERVIEWER #2 [H]ere government is taking is taking these people and it hasn’t helped. They’ve thrown them in jail, they’ve put them through some government programs and what do you think about how government deals with that 2 percent and is there a better way to do it, things like Delancey Street or …
TIBOR MACHAN There is historical evidence that if the government did not do these things, people would do it on their own initiative. That government doesn’t do such a great job and government usually costs a lot more than private efforts to do these things. There is no INTERVIEWER # 1 that on occasions the government comes and [what it does] looks very good, usually because people only concentrate on what the accomplishments are and never follow through on investigating the costs. But, even on the rare occasions when governments do something genuinely good, the means they deploy to do it are abhorrent.
INTERVIEWER # 2 Anything on private aviation or anything that you want to conclude on…
TIBOR MACHAN Part of the problem is that when the government gets into any of these activities, it has to operate by the spirit or letter of the 14th Amendment, which means it has to apply all of the restraints that apply to government activity to these charitable and philanthropic activities. It has to be uniform and the red tape is enormous. If private organizations so that, they can do it their way and sometimes, this may not be to everybody’s taste. For example a women’s group may decide only to give money only to women and not to men. A men s group may want to give money only to men but not women. Government can’t do that because it’ll be accused of being discriminatory. That is a major impediment of government doing things as is required to be done on the local front you know.
INTERVIEWER #3 What about the great programs of Social Security, Medicare, it’s unthinkable to have America today without them.
TIBOR MACHAN It was unthinkable in most of Europe that the private enterprise should run television and radio. Eventually I they learned better. Privatization always is difficult at first because people are wedded to these programs. They become used to them. It’s like a bad habit, it’s very difficult to get rid of but nevertheless, once you’ve tried it, once you’ve weaned your way from the government, then you realize that private initiative accomplishes these things much more effectively, much at much lesser cost than government does.
INTERVIEWER # 3 So, what would people be better off, worse off if we didn’t have Social Security? I mean people love Social Security, they think be back in the Depression era circumstances without it.
TIBOR MACHAN You know I mean …
INTERVIEWER # 3 The old people freak out when people talk about getting rid of it.
TIBOR MACHAN I mean some people do like the idea that others make them do the right thing because they fear that they wouldn’t do that of their own initiative but even in a free society, you can establish institutions, where they automatically withhold part of your income and place it into a trust fund or an annuity. The Social Security system whatever is of value in it can be completely achieved in a private system. There is no need for the government to do this. Aside from the fact that it’s wrong for the government to do that. That’s not what its function is.
INTERVIEWER # 3 Talk about how the function of government has changed from the founding to now. I mean how do people look at government today?
TIBOR MACHAN I am not convinced that all of the things that those of us who are very, very suspicious of government extending its power over the rest of society, were on the minds, was already on the minds of the founders. Maybe they had an inconsistent conception of implementing the principles or the Declaration of Independence. Suffice to say that generally
INTERVIEWER # 3 But, briefly, what did people used to think the purpose of government was?
TIBOR MACHAN Well I can’t you know there are a lot of people, there were kings and there were czars and there were pharaohs and caesars, who thought the purpose of government is to make the people do the right thing or to follow a certain god or to fulfill the revolutionary goal of history. The founders tended to believe that government should be restricted. It should be limited to the function of securing our rights. Now, whether they did this consistently or not is not the issue. That’s what they said. That’s what inspired the revolution. That’s what inspired millions of people across the world to look up on America as the leader of the free world. Free world meant individuals can be free in that society, more so than anywhere else. Why? Because the government stuck to the business of protecting people’s individual rights.
INTERVIEWER # 3 L.B.J. when he started HUD, he said, every man should belong to a community. Every man should be able to find security in his own community.
TIBOR MACHAN Yes. Everyone should belong to a community of his or her own free will and not be conscripted into a community. This is what a lot of communitarians forget, community is wonderful. Without community, human beings would be nowhere near as well off as they are. But they are forced into the community, they are worse off than if they were on a desert island living as hermits.
INTERVIEWER # 3 Well I don’t know if these people aren’t conscripted into public housing. They’re thrilled because they didn’t have anything before.
TIBOR MACHAN The people who support public housing are conscripted to support it right? Sot there is a form of conscription involved here. The people who are living in public houses very often are people, who have been displaced by eminent domain; by other things that government does that ruins the neighborhood for them to live in.
INTERVIEWER # 3 Now Andrew Coumo is changing the way public housing is done. He has a new plan, instead of doing high rises, they’re going to do town homes and they’re mixing it up. They’re putting millions on it and there are going to do mixed neighborhoods, where they have a public housing town home next to a fair market middle class next to a fair market middle upper class. They’re going to have these new neighborhoods.
TIBOR MACHAN Probably will suit some people, it probably will be the construction unions would love it and the construction firms will love it because they got more business thrown their way. But on the whole, whenever government does these things, it’s just reshuffling the old cards. The outcome tends to be the same, namely, you get people to depend on it. You get people, whose business depends on it. You reduce private initiative in the society and that is a kind of addiction. It’s very, very bad.
INTERVIEWER # 3 You had said this thing on the phone about everyone thinks they have their sort of winning recipe. I mean …
TIBOR MACHAN Yeah.
INTERVIEWER # 3 We’ve had all these scandals in HUD. I mean should we believe Andrew Coumo when he says he finally has just the calculus to deliver?
TIBOR MACHAN My test of whether a scheme has promise, first and foremost is whether it involves any use of force, coercion and if it does, that’s wrong. Now, it’s just like in personal relations. There are many, many ways to interact with other people, but one way is out. That is to beat them up or to force them to do things. After you have dropped that, there are millions of ways that you can’t even think of. Why not give that a chance as opposed to conceive of these schemes of coercive solutions. That is what is so sad about these people, who have this faith in government. They fail to realize that at the heart of their solution lies a cancerous ingredient and that is coercive force.
INTERVIEWER # 3 So, what do you say to the single mom, who doesn’t have any family to help her, who doesn’t have any community support and who has nowhere to go?
TIBOR MACHAN Well you’re setting it up in such a way that there is not much I can say. But usually when people do not expect the government to do things, they tend to be reasonably generous toward their fellow human beings. They’ll look out, they have a charitable organization) they’ll have a church; they’ll have a service organization that looks out for the benefit of these people. I am not certain in every case that this will work but it doesn’t work the way the government does it anyway. I would like to give the free initiative of people a greater chance at solving these problems than they have now.
INTERVIEWER # 3 So, are people less charitable now because they expect the government to be taking care of these problems?
TIBOR MACHAN In a sense, yes. Clearly, I mean I notice that in myself, I give a pretty good amount of money to Doctors Without Borders and Americare, but once in a while, I say, gee, they are taxing me for all these people and I have children to feed and send to college and so forth and so on, so probably I should keep more than I would ordinarily keep.
INTERVIEWER # 3 Is government destructive of charity or does it change the way people think because we’re relying on government?
TIBOR MACHAN Well judging by the people I know myself, my friends and neighbors, that does amount of a fairly serious impediment to private giving because people think, “Hey, we’ve already been taken from for these purposes, so what about our purposes, the goals that we have — the feeding and the clothing of our children, the sending them to a good school, buying them a decent car, buying them good medical coverage? So, we probably shouldn’t give more, since the government has taken it from us and that means that we don’ have enough to spend on our goals.” If the government didn’t take it, I think there would be a great deal more charity and benevolence — genuine benevolence, because government is never charitable, generous or benevolent because what is involved in government giving is government taking. Bill Clinton, when he feels your pain, doesn’t reach [into] his own pocket and give you medicine to alleviate that pain. He picks my pocket to do that.
INTERVIEWER # 3 [What about eminent] domain, we’re profiling a case in New Rochelle, New York …
TIBOR MACHAN Eminent domain [today] is a travesty.
INTERVIEWER # 3 Where they’ve condemned a whole neighborhood to build an Ikea superstore so but the City Council says only the impartial government can look at the big picture scenario and private residence owners and private businesses, they’re just worried about milking their own little plot for what it’s worth for them. So, isn’t it a good idea to have this sort of someone looking out for the bigger picture?
TIBOR MACHAN No. Generally speaking it is has been proven a long time ago that top down allocation of valuable resources in a community is a failure. You cannot calculate the proper allocation without people having the freedom to decide for themselves what they want. You can only allocate things as some people see it. But it doesn’t suit other people. Moreover, eminent domain in a free society is supposed to be confined to taking private property for genuine, bona fide public use. That means if there is a courthouse that is needs to be built, a police department or a military base that needs to be built, fine. But not to hand over property from one owner to another business, which some people deem to be more valuable to the community.
INTERVIEWER # 3 How much does government take from taxpayers and what are they missing because of it?
TIBOR MACHAN It’s very difficult to tell what you are missing if you are never even allowed to get a glimpse of what you would have it has now become routine. Every year, way after tax day, the 15th of April, there comes a day when you finally have paid the government. Then you start paying yourself and your goals and your purposes and your obligations. That’s one of the reasons that most of us don’t notice this. It’s a little bit like in Europe: for example, when you buy things the sales tax is not spelled out. You basically think that you are buying something for this amount of money. In America, on the other hand, you have a figure [showing the cost] of something you buy and then they add the sales tax but that’s the only place where you can really become aware of the taxes that you pay. Ordinarily you don’t — most people, for example, get a check and they look at the net amount and that is their pay. But if you look at the stub and you see all the deductions, then you begin to be aware of what you could be doing and that’s very difficult to track. It’s very difficult to point to the thing that you don’t have, whereas politicians can always point to the dams, the monuments, and the arenas that they have built with the things that they’ve looted from you.
INTERVIEWER # 3 I mean hypothetically what kinds of things are missing from people’s lives?
TIBOR MACHAN That is so difficult to tell — it depends who you are, on the sort of things that you would want to do. You might be an inventor or artist, who doesn’t have enough paint or doesn’t have enough canvas or cannot hire enough musicians to do back-up. There are so many alternative ways in which people might perfectly sensibly spend their money on very productive things and yet, they never get a chance to even think about it. You are robbing the society if you want to put it in that sort of terms of enormous resources by failing to deploy all of these people’s inventiveness and ingenuity in allocating their wealth to worthy projects. You’re failing to do that. Instead, you are sending the resources to Washington and have a bunch of people way away determine what these resources ought to go to.
INTERVIEWER #3 But if people kept that tax money, they’d just buy more stuff for themselves.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s not necessarily true. They could very well by stuff for themselves or for their children [or] send it to the likes of Mother Teresa — they could be doing all kinds of things. People are not greedy all the time, they’re not selfish all the time; they are not [always indulging in trivial] buying habits. Very often they would be buying paint for their next art projects, flowers for their gardens.
INTERVIEWER #3 Everyone has their own thing that they need their money for.
TIBOR MACHAN What I was pointing out is that you cannot photograph [or depict] things that aren’t there. That’s very difficult for a medium like television to have viewers focus on. That’s why I refer to the 19th century French political economists Frederick Bastiat, who actually had a theory to this effect. It predated television. But it’s really true that when you’re talking about the losses that people suffer from taxation, it’s difficult to document this. Because if you ask them what they would have done, well, they never even had a chance to really seriously think about this. So, they may be making things up. They maybe trying to look good and so, they say things, “Oh, I would have given it to my grandmother or something”. Whereas in fact they might have spent it on some trivial pursuit. The point is that not trusting them is the crime, not letting them allocate their resources as they see fit and giving that power to others, who didn’t earn that income, who didn’t have it to start with, that is the crime. Not so much that maybe those people in the bureaucracy always have bad ideas. No, they all don’t always have bad ideas. It’s very nice to have classical music on PBS. I like it, I listen to it. I watch PBS. But the point is that it distrusts the people from whom those funds were taken. It places that authority in other people’s hands. That shouldn’t happen in a free society.
INTERVIEWER #3 [What about] this idea that people always say that government should spend less but never in their district.
TIBOR MACHAN That’s right.
INTERVIEWER #3 Government has expanded and has these huge responsibilities now or it runs all these programs. Is it behaving unconstitutionally and if not, then what’s really wrong?
TIBOR MACHAN Specifically the Constitution does not authorize the government to do almost 80 percent of what it does now. However, of course, courts would twist and turn the Constitution in such a way that they do authorize governments and then the governments can say, well the courts interpret the Constitution this way. We may do it. But we can criticize that and that’s [what] we’re doing here. We’re criticizing how the courts have expanded the scope of government. Government now can enslave some people to serve other people and this is wrong. I don’t care even if it’s constitutional – it’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen. I have a right to say that and I’m arguing that it shouldn’t happen. The fact is that when people believe that they’re entitled to unemployment compensation, to Social Security, to health care benefits and so on and in fact, these have to be provided by other people — either directly as doctors and nurses and educators or indirectly as taxpayers plunging these people — that places these other people into involuntarily servitude. In other words, [they're made to do] work that they did not choose to perform and that is wrong. I don’t care whether it ‘s Constitutional or not, the simple fact that a Constitution has been interpreted to authorize the government to do that doesn’t make that right. There should have wiser interpretations, more sensitive to certain individual rights. I would maintain that if you were consistent with the fundamental tenants of the American political tradition these developments would not have occurred at the judicial level.
INTERVIEWER #3 OK and what about this idea that everyone says in general, let’s cut government but then everyone wants their Congressman to bring home the bacon and they want their favorite program, whether it’s breast cancer or…
TIBOR MACHAN It’s very difficult to wean people from these things that they have been told [they’re entitled to]; most people are not political theorists. Most people don’t think the implications of the Declaration of Independence through They see the system [of welfare and subsidies] there and they grab whatever they can from that system. If the system allowed them to take their neighbor’s fruits off their fruit trees, they would probably get used to that and say, it’s my fruit, you know. Unfortunately, that’s what happens but that’s why political arguments go on and I am trying to dissuade them from continuing to think that way
INTERVIEWER # 3 OK but are they stupid or are they hypocrites or …
TIBOR MACHAN They’re inconsistent, they’re shortsighted; they apply general principles that they don’t follow through in specific cases. A lot of people do that. People condemn certain politicians for lying and then they go home and lie to their children. Now people are not perfect, and I’m not maintaining that it’s [all] going to be changed overnight but it ought to be thought through carefully and maybe we should lean in the direction of changing rather than continuing it.
INTERVIEWER # 3 And [what is the] tragedy of the commons?
TIBOR MACHAN [It refers to] a principle that had been identified many centuries ago by Aristotle in his book The Politics but it was resuscitated by a biologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara named Garrett Hardin in an article called “The Tragedy of The Commons,” in the December 1968 issue of Science magazine. This theory identifies a serious problem with individuals using common resources like air like water or like a grazing area that is commonly held. Usually, if there are no limits budgetary limits or property right limits defining what belongs to whom, people will grab whatever they can as fast as they can and therefore, deplete their resources. They will not replant. They will not refurbish, they will not heed, conserve, preserve, they will just grab. This happens very often with the public treasury; people grab whatever is in there because they think it’s theirs. It’s just like the freeways; people go on the freeways thinking the freeways are free. They’ll be enormous congestion and people will not even be able to use the freeways but they all think they are getting a free good. So, this is a very serious problem with anything that is public, whether it’s a public beach or a public forest or the public treasury .If you had restraints which are provided by the right to private property where borders are around what you is yours and what is theirs, then you knew, you would know how to allocate these things. You would know how to prudently use the resources that are, are yours and then cultivate new resources and act more responsibly. Again, there is no guarantee but the likelihood is far greater than otherwise.
INTERVIEWER #3 But if you did that, you’d get only rich people, who could drive on the LA freeway during rush hour and poor people wouldn’t get to go to work.
TIBOR MACHAN As a matter of fact, the poor and the rich change places a great deal in a free society. They are not stable classes, not like in a monarchy, not like in feudalism. Some people are rich for a while and then they are not so rich and then they become poor and it turns topsy turvy allover because people are sometimes investing resources in one thing that pans out and other things that don’t pan out. So, yes, there will be differences, equality of conditions is not the priority of a free society. Its freedom of action that is the priority. In that way; poor people can learn how to become rich people and rich people could neglect how to stay rich people. We should bash the rich for a little while.
INTERVIEWER #3 We should?
TIBOR MACHAN In the following way, a great many government programs benefit established corporations, industries that think that they’re entitled to this. Very often unfortunately, defenders of the free market focus on unwed mothers and the recipients of welfare rather than the really big guys, who are the greatest rip off artists, who have the big lobbies in Washington.
INTERVIEWER #3 What, give us some examples I mean …
TIBOR MACHAN For example — almost all of the industries that advertise abroad get half of the costs of their advertising paid by the American taxpayer. There are all kinds of price support programs for major agro business. There are loans; there are subsidies for all kinds of business. There are projectionist measures that protect American textile firms from competition from abroad. This is insidious. This costs the consumer enormous amounts of money and generally speaking, puts big business on the dole. So, it’s not really the unwed mothers, who are the beneficiaries of the welfare state. It tends to be humongous industries and workers in those industries and the executives in those industries. You have to remember that the welfare state is largely welfare for those, who have power to extract the welfare from Washington. That tends to be people who make the contributions. There’s all this talk about campaign finance reform. The only legitimate campaign finance reform is the abolition of the welfare state. Anything else is going to be circumvented by top lawyers, legal departments and industries and lobby groups and they’re going to get their pound of flesh from Washington no matter what.
INTERVIEWER #3 This is a great point but I don’t think most people are going to follow you from A to B.
TIBOR MACHAN Well campaign finance has to do with people paying politicians in the hopes that when the politicians get elected, they will distribute the wealth that they have collected from everybody to the people who have made the biggest donations. Now, campaign finance reform promises to remedy this but it can’t as long as the handouts continue. They’re too damn attractive. People will always find some way to funnel money to those from whom they expect money in return. I don’t care what John McCain wants and I don’t care what anybody wants, as long as there is a welfare state, there will be people, who try to buy politicians to funnel the money from the government to their enterprises.
INTERVIEWER #3 I think welfare state might not register with most people
TIBOR MACHAN Of course the welfare state means the welfare state is a kind of system in which the government takes money and hands it to people for the sake of their welfare. This creates entitlement programs, benefit programs, subsidies and so on. Because of this system, a lot of people pay politicians so that when they get elected; they would funnel that money that the welfare state allocates to these people to them. That is impossible to stop as long as the system continues because they’ll find some way to try to influence the politicians.
INTERVIEWER #3 And so, the answer is …
TIBOR MACHAN The answer is to cut out the government handout programs and restrain the government to do its proper business and that is to protect our rights and not to be our Santa Claus, our nanny, and our uncle.
INTERVIEWER #3 Earlier you kept talking about bureaucrats and wanting to regiment people, it’s like with the Indians. What does that mean?
TIBOR MACHAN That means that. ..
INTERVIEWER #3 They sit around and they’re control freaks or …
TIBOR MACHAN Yes, they are, because they have an ideal. This is not because they’re vicious monsters but because they have accepted it as their role to guide people’s actions just like a military commander, who regiments the troops, bureaucrats guide industry or farming or whatever in terms of a vision that they have of proper behavior. They don’t let the individuals forge their own vision. Instead, they step in there and take over as if they were the fathers and the mothers of these people rather than their fellow citizens. This is a major impediment to a free society, some people being in a position of ordering other people how to act.
INTERVIEWER # 3 OK but they’re well educated and the Indians are drunk and have 80 percent unemployment.
TIBOR MACHAN But if the Indians never realized that they need to learn how to guide their lives, they’ll never get educated– ever. In fact, just because you are smarter, it doesn’t mean that you are wiser. Bureaucrats may be smarter, better educated, they may have come out of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard but they are not entitled to run our lives even if we got our degree from Podunk University. This is not a monarchy in which there is an upper class and then we are the lower class. They are equals. Their rights are no more privileged that our rights. I don’t have very much to say about the war on poverty. It’s sort of implicit in all the things that I say that this is sort of like not the government’s business.
INTERVIEWER # 3 that they get off Scot-free …
TIBOR MACHAN Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER # 3 I mean the Consumer Protection Agency, they make sure pajamas don’t burn and they’re doing great stuff for us. The Department of Transportation giving us air bags and child safety seats.
TIBOR MACHAN Well in fact, most of the regulatory agencies do not have the incentive structure to do the right thing even at the job that I think they shouldn’t have because they cannot be taken to court. They have what is called sovereign immunity that means they can’t be sued. Even though the FAA sees a bunch of crashes, despite its responsibility for the safety of airlines, when there is a crash, it’s the company that gets sued but not the FAA. Now if you do not have to account for your mistakes, it’s not as likely that you’re going to be watchful not to make them. Governments have an inherent limitation on actually doing the jobs that they have illegitimately assumed now because they cannot be held accountable. There’s a widespread phenomenon in a capitalist society that most people don’t value highly enough that when capitalist industries do something wrong, they can be held liable. You can go to court and sue them and they payoff huge sums. But when a state industry does something wrong, wrong, it can’t be sued. When Union Carbide did that disaster in India, it paid big time. When the Mexican government did that disaster in Mexico City with its oil tanks, it gave out token payments to those who suffered the damage because they were not private industry they couldn’t be sued.
TIBOR MACHAN I remember this very well because it happened very close to each other and, I don’t exactly [know] what to say about it. I don’t know the other ones that well, but this [one] I paid attention to. I wrote a piece on it and it was a very clear case of how when private industry screws up, it gets penalized severely. Whereas, when government screws up, at most, they resign. Mostly government officials go to jail only if they violate some corruption law. But if they engage in malpractice, nothing happens. But if a doctor engages in malpractice he gets sued and may lose his entire business. May never be able to practice again. So, that’s another reason why one should prefer privatization as against state usurpation of what people do, should do for themselves
INTERVIEWER # 3 Thank you very much.