Posts tagged Obama & Co.

Column on the Bottom Line on Obama-Economics

The bottom line on Obama-economics!

Tibor R. Machan

Economic fairness is impossible: an oxymoron. Since economic activities are inherently varied and often competitive and since one size doesn’t fit all and not everyone can win in a competition, no such thing as fairness is possible unless it simply means no one may be prevented from taking part. Certainly, however, the outcome will most likely be very different for different participants.

The sort of fairness and equality President Obama and his supporters are after maybe achieved around a family or fraternity dinner table or in a last will and testament where goods are being distributed among family members who each expect the fulfillment of an implied promise from elders to receive a “fair share” of the wealth left to them. “Fair” here makes sense since the idea is that no one is going to get much less or more than another. But no such expectation makes any sense throughout a country! The government owns nothing and can thus leave nothing to the citizenry without engaging in massive redistribution of wealth it doesn’t have any authority to distribute or redistribute.

When fairness is demanded, it implies that the government does have the authority to assign winners and losers in the economic sphere. As if we still lived in a monarchy awaiting the decision of the king as to who will be the beneficiary of his largess. All the subjects can hope they will receive a fair share of the wealth of the country.

But in a free country, with the principle of private property rights as the law of the land, the king or government has no business engaging in wealth distribution so the issue of fairness is entirely moot. It’s a dream and where attempted, it leads to a police state. All that Mr. Obama needs to do to appreciate this is to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a wonderful parable about what happens when equality is demanded and government tries to produce it. He might also check out the late Robert Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain example, from this book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1973) where he shows that when goodies are fairly distributed among people they will turn right around a rearrange it all so the “fair” distribution is completely upset.

Or if he wants real life cases from which to take lessons, Obama & Co. might remember the Soviet Union and investigate how things are panning out in that heavenly egalitarian country, North Korea. They could perhaps consider that in Cuba the rulers are finally realizing the futility of the socialist-egalitarian ideal and are making changes to turn the place into more and more of a free market system.

Still, there will always be those who want to level the economy. The main reason is the misguided conviction that we are, after all, in the same boat, just as are the children in a family. But the government isn’t like our parents who have made a promise to care for all their children. We aren’t the children of Mr. Obama and his administration! To try to serve us all with all the benefits that parents owe to their offspring would be futile and invites totalitarianism.

Parents, after all, own their resources and owe some of it to their children; this is not the case with governments and the citizenry. They don’t own anything at all without confiscating it. At most they may do this up to what is needed for administering the laws of the land–providing the citizenry with national defense and a sound legal system and its maintenance. Even some of this can be achieved without much government management. After all, who is the government but other citizens who have been hired to do a rather limited job in the country. It is up to the citizenry to secure for themselves economic growth, solvency, innovation, investment, etc. To attempt anything more would involve the government in tasks that free citizens aren’t entitled to.

Sadly Obama & Co. see the country as it if were some club or team where everyone is part of it and needs the same treatment as everyone else. But a country is not a club or a team–those are the results of free men and women coming together voluntarily for a great variety of purposes. The government of such free men and women must not get involved with what the clubs are embarking upon, be it business, athletics, education, entertainment or whatever else peaceful such folks will embark upon. Like the proverbial cop on the beat, the government isn’t there to pick the goals and tasks of those whom they serve in a limited capacity of securing their rights. It’s there to keep the peace, that is all!

Column on Liberty versus Stimulus

Liberty versus Stimulus

Tibor R. Machan

Despite all the bad blood and heated rhetoric–name calling, besmirching, hyperbole and other polemics–involved in our current political-economic controversies, there really is a substantive point of considerable difference at issue. Put bluntly, the Obama team is convinced that unless people get a push from the state, or some kind of prompters, they will not move; whereas many in the Tea Party and their allies believe that people will move on their own once they are free to do so.

Free market champions tend, in the main, to believe that what is needed for economic growth–including the ensuing surge in productivity, sales, investments and employment–is for the government to stop butting into people’s economic lives. Once that happens, the bulk of libertarians and free marketeers think, there will be plenty of action, generated by the people who will then be free to exercise their initiative. Freedom of enterprise is the main issue for these folks. They aren’t mean, they do not lack compassion, they just have greater confidence in human beings picking themselves up by their own bootstraps then in others beating them into action, stimulating them to move out, etc. As to those who need help, this too is best left to private initiative than to state action which is fraught with corruption.

In the most general way the Keynesians who are advising and cheering on President Obama consider this free enterprise doctrine primitive, something for which the philosophical and scientific basis has been thoroughly discredited. The grandfather of the American system, John Locke, often spoke as if people did have free will–basically they are all free and independent, he held. Similarly Adam Smith believed that a regime of liberty will unleash the kind of energy that gets people to seek to prosper–that is the gist of the invisible hand idea. Governments may need to help with keeping the peace since there will always be some miscreants who want to cheat their way to prosperity on the backs of their fellows but in the main those are exceptions, The bulk of the population in a society can get on with the job of earning a living, of creativity and productivity, without government meddling and prodding and waiving around all sorts of artificial inducements for people to get to work.

That has been, roughly, the outlook of modern free market political economists, although that’s not to say that all of its champions have been in full agreement about the basic ideas. Free will, for example, isn’t what all champions of economic and political liberty accept but even those who do not hold to the idea that there is some kind of inner drive–some call it self-interest, some the profit motive, some the instinct for survival–that will be unleashed in a free system.

In contrast, the sort of view of human nature found in Keynes and among his followers comes to the idea that to get moving from their natural and preferred state of rest, people have to be pushed or stimulated. Only if policies that exhibit these features are implemented will there be economic activity. (Even the free market champions embrace some of this when they claim, as a lot of them do, that what gets people to work is “demand.” The famous supply and demand idea suggests this, although there are free marketeers who are what used to be called supply-siders, which is to say that they believe the way the economy gets going is with people thinking up stuff to produce and taking it to market which will then generate purchases, etc. So the issue isn’t neatly describable.)

So, the crux of the debate is between those who expect economic growth to come from personal initiative that is usually thwarted by governments and those who believe some super agency needs to spur us all into action–via thousands of regulations and the planning of the economy in ways the state agents think important but the economic actors do not have in mind.

Thus the stimulus that Mr. Obama & Co. advocate comes with state generated public works that are supposed to beef up the infrastructure, create demand for what they think would be important to produce, etc. The free market people, in contrast, leave the economic growth to the multitude of interactions among free economic agents who aren’t told to do this or that, to build roads or bridges or paint or write or whatever (which is what planners usually count on for getting economic activity going). No, the free market champions leave it to the people and their creative and productive initiative to generate economic activity, with results that aren’t predictable and that cannot be planned out by politicians and bureaucrats.

So, the bottom line is that the big dispute is indeed a substantive one, between those who have confidence in freedom and those who trust manipulation–out right force or substantial nudging.