Posts tagged Pres. Obama

Obamacare & Involuntary Servitude

Obamacare and Involuntary Servitude

Tibor R. Machan

However much one learns to squirm out of one’s inconsistencies, logic usually bites one in the butt. Of course, strictly speaking logic is the formal system that’s supposed to guide our reasoning process and on its own doesn’t serve much more than that vital, indispensable task. That is why it is usually studied in symbolic form–As and Bs or ps and qs. When one complains that someone is being illogical, it means that he or she isn’t following the guidelines of logic.

In any case, the discussion of President Obama’s federal policy requiring that everyone obtain health insurance has frequently focused on the fact that either an employer or individual would be forced to obtain private health insurance instead of, as Wikipedia points it out, “or in addition to the institution of a national health service of insurance”. And many have suggested that this is a very unusual measure since it mandates specific performance from citizens, contrary to the legal tradition of the country. One may be forced to give up property but never to carry out a task, something that is reminiscent of slavery or involuntary servitude and thus directly in conflict with the idea of a free society.

It has been noted, now and then, that some laws do require specific performance despite all this, such as being forced to prepare tax returns, but this has been dismissed as rather trivial. However, there is a requirement imposed upon nearly every citizen, namely jury duty and complying with subpoenas–which often takes several days, even weeks from one’s life and imposes specific conduct that one must perform. Is this not just like the individual mandate to obtain health insurance–to go out and purchase this service?

In America jury duty has been objected to mainly by libertarians who have a firm conviction that the right to liberty is a natural–and should be a constitutional–right. Thus to coerce someone to serve on a jury in opposition to what he or she chooses to do would be to subject the person to a form of–maybe not Draconian but still significant–involuntary servitude.

Thus, the argument goes, as a matter of consistency the USA is already awash with a type of compulsory individual mandate and those who complain that Obamacare is breaking with a powerful American principle and tradition are wrong. Or, put more precisely, there is strong precedence for doing this so Obamacare isn’t something extraordinary in requiring specific performance from the citizenry.

There is a good case to be made to counter this, however. Both jury duty and complying with a subpoena do demand specific performance from American citizens, yes, but arguably in consequence of a voluntary commitment they have made in choosing to be citizens of the country. Both jury duty and complying with subpoenas are deemed as necessary for the pursuit of justice. And citizenship in a free country has exactly that as its central purpose, namely, to secure justice for everyone.

So if someone has witnessed a crime and is the only one who can provide testimony about it, refusing to do so is arguably going back on the free choice of a citizen of the country committed to securing justice for all. Refusal to serve on a jury might be so construed as well, although in that case the particular individual’s compliance could well be dispensed with. One could obtain the service involved by hiring a fellow citizen to sit on the jury. This is no option in most cases that one is subpoenaed to testify about what one has witnessed.

In any case, when one performs jury duty or testifies in response to a subpoena, it could be construed as fulfilling a implied promise one has made by becoming or being a citizen of a country the legal system of which is committed to securing justice for all. And that is clearly not involved in the individual mandate that’s part of Obamacare.

Obamacare would, in fact, set at least a federal precedent by compelling citizens to follow a mandate they haven’t consented to follow, to submit to the demand for involuntary servitude!

Column on Who is Near Socialism Now?

Who is Near Socialism Now?

Tibor R. Machan

Nearly all people who believe in a pro-active government–one that doesn’t merely make sure the rule of law by which individual rights are protected is followed but gets in there picking winners and losers–have a good deal in common with socialists. They are more or less avid statists. This includes monarchists, fascists, communists (with some peculiarities though), welfare statists, modern liberals, many conservatives and so on. Only classical liberals and libertarians are exceptions. They either adhere to a very limited role for the government–they are, in short, minarchists; or they may even embrace a kind of anarchism.

In America there are very few thinkers who come right out a identify themselves as socialists but quite a few are clearly statists. They believe government ought to make large contribution to the way the society and culture shapes up, from education, economics, science, all the way to the arts. Only religion and the press are excluded, mainly because the framers of the US Constitution to explicit and firm objection to government involvement in religion and journalism.

But there is a good test for telling if an American statists is in fact nearly a socialist, even a socialist of the Marxist variety. This is to see if he or she holds that people’s labor belongs to the society or to them–is one’s labor private or public property? The recent controversy about President Obama’s health care policy, one feature of which is that government is authorized to force citizens to purchase health insurance, is a kind of litmus test. This policy involves the government coercing people to engage in a certain kind of labor, even if only the labor of purchasing health insurance. Citizens, just for being citizens, are deemed subject to being forced to do something they may very well not choose to do, namely, to expand their labor and resources in ways they may believe is wrong.

Yes, this is not a Draconian measure for sure. And there are some other similar measures already on America’s law books, so it isn’t even entirely exceptional. But it is rather blatant and unabashed. Forcing people to get a license to work in some profession is similar but one might chalk that up to an overly zealous concern with safety, not to making people purchase what they do not want. The idea that a citizen’s labor belongs to the government to manage, to give direction to, is not just statist but indeed part and parcel of Marxian socialism.

Here is the late Professor Robert Heilbroner, famous mainly for writing The Worldly Philosophers (Simon & Schuster, 1961, a history of economic thought nearly all students are assigned upon entering college), spelling out the point in his less well know book, Marxism: For and Against (W. W. Norton, 1980):

“Indeed, the creation of socialism … requires the curtailment of the central economic freedom of bourgeois society, namely, the right of individuals to own, and therefore to withhold if they wish, the means of production, including their own labor. The full preservation of this bourgeois freedom would place the attainment of socialism at the mercy of property owners who could threaten to deny their services to society—and again I refer to their labor, not just to material resources—if their terms were not met…” (p. 157, my emphasis)

That is the crux of the issue: Not just private property but the private control or freedom of one’s labor is abolished under socialism; the state in that system (which is to say the group people in government) knows best what citizens need to do and have the legal authority, even duty, to make citizens comply for the good of society.

Is this what is involved in Obamacare? To a certain extent it is and if it is an intricate aspect of Mr. Obama and his supporters’ public philosophy, it signals that they are moving toward socialism, the state’s rule over the population of the society. (It bears out F. A. Hayek’s warning issued back in the 1940s about the heavy handed welfare state, in his The Road to Serfdom [Routledge & Sons, 1944]!)

And that means that all those who have made the charge that Obamacare is socialist have been on target and not engaging merely in badmouthing, besmirching the president’s efforts to solve an important social problem. And why protest the charge anyway? Why don’t Mr. Obama and his supporters admit outright that they want a socialist health care system and maybe even a socialist political economy in America? If such honestly were to obtain, we could start a real argument instead of engaging mostly in name-calling.

Column on Pitfalls of Shared Responsibilities

Pitfalls of Shared Responsibility

Tibor R. Machan

President Barrack Obama asserted in a recent speech dealing with the country’s enormous debt that what the country needs is to live by an ancient principle, namely, “the principle of shared responsibility.” He invoked this in his defense of his championing of the increased extortion of the resources of the wealthy, those who earn $250K or more per year. Why this “principle” should be invoked he didn’t say–he seemed to think it’s obvious.

Frankly the details are not what’s important her–what is is that extortion from rich and poor alike is evil and destructive of the country’s economy. In addition, the idea of unassumed share responsibility for economic mismanagement (either by individuals who ought to care for their household finances or by public officials who ought to care for the country’s economic affairs) is a very harmful one. Shared responsibility applies only where those who are to share have freely volunteered to do so. I am not morally and should not be legally authorized to conscript my neighbors to share the household debts I have assumed for myself in, say, my repeated refinancing of my mortgage.

It is interesting that a good many policy wonks complain when companies dump their waste into the public sphere–the air mass, rivers, lakes, or oceans. And they are right–such dumping is intrusive, a violation of the property rights of those whose sphere has been used without their consent. The idea of sharing the responsibilities assumed by various public officials in the name of the citizenry is no different. Some, very few, public expenses are, of course, the responsibility of all citizens–national defense, maintaining the legal infrastructure of the country, etc. But when public officials spend resources on what they deem to be important projects, such as a bridge in their district or a dam or a school, these are no shared responsibilities by any stretch of the imagination. These are the responsibilities of those individuals who elected to assume them. The rest of us, who have assumed different responsibilities, are not to be imposed upon by making us all share the burdens of fulfilling such responsibilities.

There is an ancient principle that President Obama ought to consider before he imposes responsibilities on those who didn’t consent to assuming them. It is “the tragedy of the commons.” Perhaps the best statement of this principles comes from the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who pointed out that

“[T]hat which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few.” (Politics, 1262a30-37)

This principle is widely embraced by environmentalists who realize that when spheres are commonly owned, they fall into neglect. The same holds for shared responsibilities–people tend to assume that others will fulfill them and they do not need to worry. Even more importantly, it is nearly impossible to determine for a huge population in a country such as the USA just what is to be shared and what is not. Is one to share the responsibility for another citizen’s crimes, debts, children, etc.? Why, if you decided not to have any children, must you shoulder the responsibility of supporting them? Why share the debt that others have assumed unless you are a close friend or associate?

No, the idea President Obama floated in his discussion of how to handle the enormous national debt is a nonstarter. And the idea of coercing those making $250K or more to shoulder most of it is obscene. No one is going to pay attention to balancing his or her budget if others will be forced to pay one’s debts. It is also a terrible practice to support by the leader of a supposedly free country in which citizens may not be punished unless they have been shown to have committed a crime.

In fact, all this sharing of responsibility amounts to letting off the hook all those who acted irresponsibly in their finances, private or public.

Column on Leak Embarrassments

Leak embarrassments

Tibor R. Machan

My newspaper carried the AP headline the other day, “U.S. cuts access to files after leak embarrassment,” and the body of the article reports that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks is now on a most wanted list in Europe.

I do not have the time or even the curiosity to figure out if the leaks contain anything that would be criminal to steal–such as genuine national or military secrets–but I am told they do not and I also recall that when Daniel Ellsberg sent similar materials to The New York Times many moons ago, which The Times then published, a great many people in the American media defended him despite the fact that those at the Pentagon who were responsible for the material were very upset with him and with The Times about revealing stuff to the world they would just as soon have kept secret. There was a big brouhaha about this back then and my recollection is that many people, especially on the political Left including liberals and critics of the administration, defended Ellsberg and The Times. “How dare anyone try to stop this good man from telling us what we all had a right to know?” was the mantra then.

Today, however, I hear nothing much other than, gasp, on Fox TV, in defense of Julian Assange despite the fact that most of what he has put out there for us to check if we’d like to is by all reports quite innocuous and, in any case, ought to be available for us to find out about in this new era of government transparency. Indeed, all the materials WikiLeaks revealed seem to be no more than simply embarrassing and probably have no business being secret. Transparency, I was made to understand when the Obama administration took office, would be the order of the day, not secrecy. Yet didn’t the president go on record condemning the WikiLeaks revelations? Curious.

I am not sure just what makes something an “important diplomatic message” but the number of individuals, the AP article reported, who are permitted to read them will soon be “significantly reduced.” Is this really right? Unless it is shown that people are put in harm’s way it seems to me nothing coming out of the government of a free country should be kept hidden. How can the citizenry judge the conduct and ideas of members of the administration, the president and his team and all those in Congress who support them, without having access to their work? Must I trust these folks just for the asking? Are people in governments all that trustworthy?

My strong impression is that free men and women must never trust those in government very much, given that such folks have immense power and unless they and their works are watched carefully they are likely to abuse it–to quote the famous English political theorist Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

So there is good reason to applaud WikiLeaks’ efforts to inform us about how the governments of the world go about their business. The excuse that such knowledge may be embarrassing seems to me quite irrelevant since governments simply ought not to engage in conduct that embarrasses them. It is no fault of a news reporter that the transparency that he or she achieves has that effect. If the citizens have the right to know, to avoid embarrassment requires acting decently in the course of doing government’s work. If other countries rely on secrecy to do business with the American government maybe it is high time this stops and they, too, confront the reality that the people they supposedly represent in diplomatic negotiations have the right to know.

Had WikiLeaks stolen a bunch of private information, say from banks or doctors’ offices and computers, the charge that it was acting criminally would be credible. But since the information it is letting everyone have bears on public affairs, I do not see that any breach of privacy is involved. Embarrassing just doesn’t matter here.

Column on The Mosque Fiasco

The Mosque Fiasco

Tibor R. Machan

For once I agree with something that President Obama said, if I understood him right: Muslims do have the basic right, one that is legally protected in a free country, to build a mosque anywhere they choose if they own the land (or are leasing it with permission from the owner) to build there even though it is very possible that they should not build the mosque, that it is morally offensive, unwise, and imprudent for them to do so. That is indeed part of the meaning of freedom of religion.

If only Mr. Obama and his supporters had the integrity to apply this doctrine in other areas of social life, such as education, science, the arts, and economics. In all those spheres human beings have the right to do as they choose, provided they are not violating anyone’s rights; yet in these areas they do not enjoy the protection of the law in America and most other places around the globe (places, by the way, where the right to religious liberty enjoys no protection, such as in most countries where the official, government supported religion is Islam).

Interestingly, Mr. Obama never mentioned this last point, thus missing a fine opportunity to do a bit of peaceful proselytizing to the rest of the world. As if freedom of worship were some kind of culturally specific right just of American citizens, not a basic, universal human right at all! But it is just that, a basic human right and where it lacks protection, there is serious injustice afoot. And there is serious injustice afoot in America where only religion and journalism (and some adjacent activities) enjoy legal protection from those who would regulate and regiment other people’s peaceful–albeit possibly risky or offensive–conduct.

This is kind of like that famous modern liberal crusade in support of choice, the choice to get an abortion (at least up to when a human being emerges during pregnancy). OK, so arguably pregnant women have the right to choose–I will not explore this topic here any further. But why stop there? It is utterly perverse to believe that while pregnant women ought to be free to kill their fetuses, they should not be free to, say, smoke marijuana or open a hair salon without the “permission” of politicians and bureaucrats. How come the former but not the latter? What kind of a free country is it where such contradictions are rampant and upheld by the legal authorities (including the president)? Or where one is free to publish porn galore but must bow to local, state and/or federal authorities who want to regulate nearly everything else they might choose to? Why is one’s freedom to choose as one wants with one’s resources, one’s wealth (which also means one’s skills, time, property, etc.) not protected with the determination that one’s freedom to publish whatever one wants to publish is and to worship whatever one elects to worship?

Not only on the domestic front but around the globe America would have a far better reputation, for political integrity to start with, if it went on record, via, for example, its chief executive officer, declaring–once again–that individual human beings have fundamental rights, simply for being human, to do as they want to do provided what they elect to do is peaceful, non-invasive or non-aggressive.

There is a time to be righteous, yes, and when some truly despised organization such as those who have made the vile choice to built a mosque near ground zero of all places, then speaking up for their rights is arguably honorable and righteous. But it isn’t if those doing such speaking up forget about all the other rights human beings have that go neglected, unprotected, abused and violated throughout the land, not to mention the globe. It is fine for our president to defend the rights of misguided Muslims but not while he fails to mention that millions of others do not have their rights properly protected, in innumerable spheres of peaceful human activity. It may even suggest a bias on his part, one no official of a free country ought to harbor.