Posts tagged Krugman
Why not Pessimism?
Tibor R. Machan
By most accounts there is little good news about any progress toward a freer society, quite the contrary. Around the globe, of course, there are some regions that are making small moves away from tyranny but even in those few, human freedom doesn’t appear to be a priority. Instead tribal and religious conflicts are the rule, even as the more vicious rulers are losing their grip on their populations. In Syria the tyrant is hanging on by a very thin thread yet elsewhere it’s mob rule that has replaced dictatorships.
In the USA, which at one time had the justified distinction of aspiring toward a fully free society–”leader of the free world”–the system and those who administer it pay hardly any heed to human liberty; the leadership is either wallowing in calls for economic equality (as if George Orwell had never written Animal Farm) or embarking wrangles about social and religious issues. (These Republicans certainly know how to drop the ball and miss opportunities!) Every problem that gains serious attention seems to call forth simply more statism from the elite; the possibility of turning toward more freedom is routinely denounced by prominent commentators. (I cannot get over Paul Krugman’s widely respected yet totally preposterous complaints about “market fundamentalism,” something he keeps alleging has gripped the country even though no evidence of it exists anywhere.)
Despite all this, there is reason to be hopeful. First, there is that proverbial long run to keep in mind; anyone who takes a close look at the sweep of human political history has to grant that there exists at least a “two steps forward, one back” phenomenon when it comes to the progress of freedom. Then there is the recent emergence of substantial respectability for libertarianism, with the likes of Ron Paul and his son Rand championing it openly among mainstream politicians and with the likes of Fox TV’s Judge Andrew Napolitano, John Stossel and others making a libertarian pitch on a very successful cable network, with regular appearances by and interviews with consistent, uncompromising champions of the fully free society. All those Reason Magazine and Reason.com folks certainly are a very welcome presence “on the air,” repeatedly, making their points very cogently. Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, is going to give it a shot as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, lending his sharp message–one I consider more coherent and on point than those of Ron Paul whose is marred by both certain domestic conservative themes and somewhat over the top ideas on international affairs–to the growing demands for freedom coming from America’s main street (as against the insistent statism we get from too many prominent academics). And there is the growing acknowledgement from many corners that the profligacy of government just cannot be sustained, not without the serious threat of a police state that would be needed to coerce us all into compliance with the resulting grotesque economic policies such as increasing taxes on productive citizens and clamping down on all efforts to resist confiscatory tax policies around the country and abroad. (It bears remembering that John Maynard Keynes considered the Third Reich as a very promising place for his policies of economic meddling by the state–see the Introduction he wrote for the German translation of The General Theory!) Also, the general population seems to be tiring of rich bashing, although there are those, like the Occupy Wall Street bunch, who continue to be ignorantly deluded about the desirability and feasibility of economic leveling.
It is wise also, I think, to keep in mind that massive semi-democratic systems are very unlikely to ever settle into a sensible political regime, given all the conflicting and often bizarre influences that guide public policies and produce truly awful elected officials–think Barney Frank here. Nonetheless over the long haul freedom is making progress. Not in all places, for sure, and with major gaps not just at the national level but in our backyards. When a totally corrupt and counterproductive war on drugs can continue in force, it does appear to be hopeless to expect increasing sanity in the country.
Yet, all in all, the trend, albeit a slow one with many detours and interruptions, does seem to be pointing toward a freer world than before.
Krugman’s Incoherent Moral Stance
Tibor R. Machan
Finally Paul Krugman, Princeton University Nobel Laureate in economic science and columnist for The New York Times, has come clean about his “moral” position (TNYT, January 14, 2011). He has admitted that he doesn’t believe that when you earn something, you own it. (Don’t know if he believes we own things we haven’t earned, such as our kidneys or eyes! Maybe he thinks that as with earned resources, these unearned ones, especially, belong to the government which can proceed to distribute them just as Krugman thinks it can redistribute the resources citizens have actually come by through hard work, ingenuity, luck and the like.) Let’s see then whether Kurgman’s moral stance has any chance of being sound. Is it the morality by which people ought to guide their conduct in their lives? Do we and what we own belong to government to do with as government officials believe? But isn’t that slavery?
If my life doesn’t belong to me–if the norm the Declaration of Independence identifies as universal, namely, that every human being has a right to his or her life, is false–then what is true? Does my life belong to the government? If we recall that government is a group of individuals to whom a certain social role has been delegated–namely, the role of securing the rights of the citizenry–the claim that government owns our lives and resources means nothing else but that these individuals in government own our lives and resources.
But that is very odd–why would those people be in the privileged position of owning us and what to all appearances belongs to us while we, also human beings and with equal rights, do not own our lives and resources? This makes no sense.
So when we take even a cursory look at Professor Krugman’s position, it turns out to be incoherent, rank nonsense. It reminds me of the remark attributed to the poet W. H. Auden, namely, “We are here on earth to do good for others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.” So we all belong to government but then to whom does government belong?
The idea that we belong to government is obscene and harks back to an age when Caesars, monarchs, tsars, Pharaohs and such were believed to have been given their realm by God and everything within that realm, including all the human beings, therefore belonged to them. Later these slaves and serfs began to be called subjects, implying that they were all subject to the will of the government. This is were serfdom and even taxation have their origin.
Now we have, in 21st century America, one of the most prominent commentators and educators reiterate this horrendous outlook. Incredible. But it gets even worse.
An essential aspect of any bona fide moral position is that it must be practiced voluntarily, not because someone–e. g., government–holds a gun to one’s head and coerces one to do what is right. That doesn’t count as doing the right thing, so any such policy is literally demoralizing. It robs people of the opportunity to be morally good (or bad, of course).
A society that’s fit for human habitation must not have policies that prevent citizens from exercising moral judgment. So, OK, assume for a moment that we should devote ourselves entirely to serving other people, to serving the public good. If, however, all of this is accomplished through governmental coercion like taxation, regulation, regimentation, and so forth, there can’t be anything moral about it. So Dr. Krugman’s so called moral stance isn’t one at all. It leaves no room for morality because it makes all purportedly moral conduct involuntary, imposed by rulers and not a matter of one’s own free will.
So Krugman’s moral stance is not only incoherent but it isn’t even a moral stance. So much for the “morality” of one of America’s foremost public philosophers.
What someone like Dr. Krugman could more fruitfully do is urge people to be generous toward those in need, to give support to worthy causes, to help the poor, etc., but always of their own free will. That is what moral leaders may do, nothing else. Whether the morality they advocate is sound is another matter. But to remain something morally relevant it must not be imposed. Elementary, Dr. Krugman, really.
It’s a Massacre, Stupid
Tibor R. Machan
What happened in Tucson, AZ, was a massacre and not a tragedy. Perhaps some view this a pedantic detail but it isn’t–words do have meaning and a tragedy, as anyone familiar with ancient Greek literature or a bit of Shakespeare will testify, takes place when bad outcomes come from what good people are forced to decide. They are a peculiar moral phenomenon. A massacre isn’t morally peculiar but plainly, straightforwardly evil. To execute a bunch of people who haven’t been convicted within a system of due process and when the executioner isn’t properly authorized to act as the agent of punishment for crimes is no tragedy. It is a vicious crime.
Having said that, please let me reflect a bit on all those who are scapegoating now by assigning blame for the massacre not to the actual perpetrator but to something, anything, they don’t like in the world. Accordingly, you will find the likes of Professor Paul Krugman of Princeton University and the Op-Ed page of The New York Times and any number of opportunists in Congress point the figure at the heated rhetoric that emerges from those in public forums who are often passionate and polemical about their political convictions. No doubt, some of these folks can go too far with labeling their opponents, unreasonably ascribing motives to them, indicting them for the likely adverse consequences of the policies they promote. That’s what happens when a lot is at stake–even the most civilized among us will tend to resort to hyperbole.
But words are not guns. Even the law, always only a questionable clue to what is and what is not moral or ethical, acknowledges that there are only a few fighting words. These are those rare case of speech that do not get the protection of the principle embodied in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution because they are deemed to be too offensive and provocative for civilized discourse. But fighting words are few. And heated political rhetoric does not qualify.
These scapegoat mongers–who, by the way, quite often excuse wrong doing on the grounds that people just cannot help how they act, that their socio-economic circumstances force them to do the vicious things they do–aren’t really concerned about properly fixing blame or responsibility for events like those that transpired in Tucson but are more likely hoping to score political points. So Sarah Palin likes to shoot big game and you find her politics objectionable, maybe what you can do is associate her with any kind of shooting, never mind the target. Or if those talk show hosts on radio and TV–for instance, Keith, Beck, and Rush–indulge in some fancy verbiage so as to drive home a point, lets treat what they say as if it amounted to fighting words, as if they could cause people to act criminally. By suggesting this one may succeed in besmirching one’s favorite political adversaries–or one could at least for a moment win over to one’s side the people who are too desperate to make sense of events that are overwhelming and for which no ready explanation is available to them.
This is dirty pool. Yet it should not be banned, any more than the rhetoric being indicted should be (as, sadly, some people are proposing). Curbing the heated rhetoric, as such censorship is euphoniously referred to, isn’t going to reduce the number of villains among us–they don’t need to be enticed; they have their warped imagination guiding them to do what is unacceptable in civilized society.
Even if one could show that a perpetrator of a massacre such as occurred in Tucson did hold a particular ideology or religion by which one might govern one’s behavior, that ideology or religion can never be held fully responsible for the ensuing conduct. That is one thing that’s wrong with holding radical Islam responsible for terrorism or Roman Catholicism for the Inquisition! All ideas must be filtered through the minds of the human agents who may make use of them. And these human agents are supposed to be reasonable enough to restrain themselves however passionately they may feel.