Posts tagged Inc.

Column on Good Bye OC Register

Good Bye OC Register

Tibor R. Machan

Since the Fall of 1966 (if memory serves me right) I have been a columnist at what was then The Santa Ana but is now the Orange County Register. I cannot count how many columns I produced, nearly all of them concerned with demonstrating the superiority of the free society as understood in libertarianism. (Two books I edited contain some of the columns, Liberty and Culture, Essays on the Idea of a Free Society [Prometheus Books, 1983] and Neither Left nor Right, Selected Columns [Hoover Institution Press, 2004].)

None of the columns I wrote for the paper has ever been rejected or significantly altered by the editors. I am quite amazed by this but couldn’t complain, that’s for certain. It has been an amazing run and I am very grateful I was given the opportunity to be a part of the company’s efforts to promote individual liberty. Unfortunately, however, the current management has decided that they no longer wish to publish my columns. Given that Freedom Communications, Inc., that owns The Register and a slew of other papers around the country, has been abandoning it’s libertarian bearings over the last couple of years–the Hoiles family lost all control over the company–this is no great surprise.

I would have welcomed knowing exactly what brought about the decision but as someone who holds firmly that those who hire one are fully within their rights to let you go (unless some contract specifies otherwise, which in my case doesn’t apply)–just as are you to leave them–I have no complaints apart from finding it uncool to provide no reason after having been with the company for such a long time and having never been told of any dissatisfaction with my work by anyone there. But it’s a free country–up to a point–and people in any line of work, including journalism, are or should be at liberty to peacefully misbehave. I would be first in line to defend their right to do so even when I regard what they do objectionable. (And whoever welcomes being fired, especially summarily, never mind that by this time they paid me only a nominal fee for my work?)

The only reason this is worth a bit of public discussion is that The Register and other Freedom Communications, Inc., newspapers have been a rare libertarian voice in an admittedly shrinking newspaper-land. Indeed, Freedom Newspapers has been a rarity, founded by R. C. Hoiles back in the 1920s, consistently and unrelentingly championing individual liberty.

In 1997 I was hired with the title “Advisor on Libertarian Issues” to work for the company, over and above the writing of my columns, and this came to an end in 2010 when the company pretty much fell apart as the distinct entity it had been, championing liberty more than any other media outfit had done.

It is not easy to gauge the impact of Freedom’s hundreds of editorials and columns discussing various aspects of the free society but it’s probably fair to say that at least it has given a strong and lively voice to a fully libertarian viewpoint more than any other prominent media organization in the land. It has also made room on its pages to columnists like me, some far more prominent in their fields of specialization, such Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, James Doti, et al.

Just when the company abandoned its consistent editorial stance in favor of liberty some other major media organizations did, fortunately, begin to give voice to the freedom philosophy (as we liked to refer to the R. C Hoiles brand of libertarianism). Fox TV News has welcomed quite a few libertarians, such as Judge Andrew Napolitano and John Stossel, and their slate of libertarian scholars and other guest commentators. The editors of Reason Magazine, which I helped built up in 1970 and which in time has become a formidable libertarian publication, appear on Fox TV regularly; so it seems that there will continue to be voices championing liberty even without Freedom Communications, Inc., committed to doing so as intensely as it had been since its founding.

Anyway, so long and good bye Orange County Register. You have been a sharp and diligent champion of liberty even when that was hardly welcome in the USA, even in conservative (but not quite libertarian) Orange County. I am grateful for having been part of your team for quite a few years.

Column on Morality, the Professions and Politicians

Morality, the Professions and Politicians

Tibor R. Machan

While I see strong merits to an ultraminimal government idea, whereby the state has no other function than to protect the rights of the citizens from criminals and foreign aggressors, I do not share the view that politicians are necessarily corrupt. Sure, a welfare state attracts the kind of politicians who see little wrong with taking from some people to make available for others, including themselves, when they feel it is important enough. This is no different from how vice squad work attracts moralizing or puritanical police officers rather than ones who believe that victimless crimes should not exist and police should stick to guarding the peace — they used to be called “peace officers.”

Any corrupted profession is likely to be a Haven for people who yield to various temptations to do wrong because they can now do it with legal approval. The Nazi doctors who experimented on innocent victims were certainly that segment of the medical profession that had already gone bad. And going bad in this way is a subtle, psychologically complex process, beginning with the person convincing himself, first of all, that the policy being followed is acceptable, even necessary. So most of these people are quite sincere!

How does one encourage genuine ethics in the various professions? First, the profession must itself be morally upright — Murder, Inc., certainly isn’t going to be manned by saints. So if a profession already embodies some measure of evil, it’s going to be tough to ask of its members to behave themselves. Politicians in a system which legalizes theft are not likely to resist the temptation to steal! Medical or legal professionals whose prestigious associations support monopolies will probably lean in the direction of some immoral practices, ones that reflect the organization’s policies.

Yet apart from all this, much else is wrong with current thinking about professional ethics. For one, the prominent moral teachings of our time are confusing, indeed. Perhaps the best statement of this fact came from Adam Smith, who is known mostly as the founder of scientific economics but was in his own eyes and by his university appointments actually a moral philosopher. Here, in a someone lengthy passage, is the gist of our problem with contemporary thinking on morality: “…In the ancient philosophy, the perfection of virtue was represented as necessarily productive to the person who possessed it, of the most perfect happiness in this life. In the modern philosophy, it was frequently represented as almost always inconsistent with any degree of happiness in this life, and heaven was to be earned by penance and mortification, not by the liberal, generous, and spirited conduct of a man. By far the most important of all the different branches of philosophy became in this manner by far the most corrupted” (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations [New York: Random House, 1937], p. 726.)

Smith got it right: moral teaching for the last several centuries has been mostly of the self-sacrificial variety: those who care to live well aren’t morally worthy, those who care to make others live well are, period. One reason for this is that much of theology and even some social science claims that people are innately selfish, so why bother teaching them how they need to care for themselves, how to be prudent, how to do well at living? Isn’t that hard wired into everyone?

Actually, no it is not. But another thing that suggests that unselfishness is the height of ethics is that professionals do often take an oath to help others who seek them out. But they do this mainly because they find the profession rewarding to themselves. Indeed, nearly all parents urge their children, and teachers their students, to find a line of work that is self-fulfilling instead of a constant drudgery or chore.

But the ethics most widely championed tells us mainly that it’s good only if it hurts. Not that simply self-indulgent conduct is ethical, no. If one lives by following his or her desires, nothing else, this can neither promote one’s life or that of other people. It is senseless, helter-skelter. But it is the business of ethics to guide one to the true, actual, serious enhancement of oneself as a human being.

If one understands that the human being has a self that can flourish only by being alert to the world, including other people, a self-enhancing moral code will leave plenty of room for generosity, kindness, compassion, without being self-sacrificing, self-denying.

It is especially pointless to talk about business ethics, for example, if all one means is that people in business should give up trying to succeed in order to be ethical. That simply means business people will disregard ethics altogether. And disaster waits along such a route.

If, however, it is clear that business — or education, art, science, medicine, etc. — is a professional calling that requires success within certain limits, just as, indeed, all life does, ethical business can make clear sense. It will not include, for example, trying to profit from deeds that are unethical, since profit itself will have to be understood as meaning prosperity that is productive, not destructive.

Unless moral education changes toward teaching folks to be ethical because that is how happiness is achieved in life, many folks will indeed try to avoid doing the right thing. If you think that cheating, lying, stealing, and so forth are the road to happiness, while honesty, justice, prudence, generosity and the like make you a looser in life, it is not surprising that you will often choose to do the wrong thing.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Ethics is a discipline that’s supposed to help us live, to flourish. Even when we are generous or charitable toward other people, such policies are supposed to enrich our own lives in the process. The virtuous life is suppose to be something beneficial to those who live it.

Once morality is recognized as life enhancing, it is not going to be very difficult to champion it among our professionals, including politicians. A culture that makes morality constantly painful, however, cannot very well expect morality to be well received.