Posts tagged Ralph Nader

Column on Getting Worked Up

Getting Worked Up

Tibor R. Machan

One might very well be right to consider me an emotional person although this doesn’t mean I lose my mind while I am worked up about something. Indeed, one result of being worked up can be more intense focus on the topic at hand.

In the current political climate, however, my feelings are taxed a good deal. I recall some years ago The New Republic asked whether it was OK to hate George W. Bush and pretty much argued “Yes” in several essays for that issue. I didn’t much approve of hating the then president although I found a great deal to criticize about his positions. I was against the war in Iraq from before it started and Bush’s sop to all the elderly with an entitlement mentality, his policy of providing aid to them for prescription drugs, was a betrayal of whatever modicum of loyalty he might have had toward the principles of a limited government.

Still, I could kind of see that both of these measures had been quite in line with the kind of Republican politics Bush practiced and preached. Nor did I ever see him as a racist or class warfare provocatuer. Now, however, we have in Washington a whole lot of truly despicable politicians and their bureaucratic cadre, people who make no secret of their demagogic contempt for the rich and successful–or their pretense of this in order to get the support of the worst elements within the American political landscape. This now feels every bit like the prevailing official attitude of Soviet bloc countries used to, what with their relentless besmirching of capitalism and capitalists (and anyone with even the slightest sympathies for these).

This then isn’t political debate, disagreement over public policy, etc. This is out and out misanthrope, hatred of the very best features of human society that America has always had to offer the world, namely, hospitality and friendship to those who try to succeed at commerce, those who pursued economic happiness and incidentally keep the wheels of the economy rolling.

This resurrection of the ancient attitudes of envy and resentment of people who do well in life is so unbecoming to anyone involved in American culture and politics that I am not at all ashamed to say that I do in fact hate these people–or at least this aspect of them–with a purple passion. When they offer their nasty soundbites on TV news and talk shows, I am just about ready rush in an blast them with some well chosen sound bites of my own, like, “You commies, go to North Korea where your philosophy will be right at home.” Yes, I have in mind Pelosi and Reed and Sanders and the lot–plus all the Americans who vote for them.

I had reserved this attitude mostly toward people who ruled the Soviet bloc countries and, I have to admit, also Ralph Nader (who epitomized for me the most maniacal proponent of the petty tyrannies of government regulation, thereby implicitly demeaning the American public, saying, in effect, that they must all be treated as children or invalids). (Yet once when I met and debated Nader, back in 1976 I believe it was, at Hillsdale College, in Michigan, he too wasn’t a visible monster, just a terribly misguided man!) These days, however, I am really quite openly angry at the statists in the country, ones who are threatening to bring it down for good unless they are stopped soon.

Of course, the politicians are only the tip of the iceberg. It is their intellectual supporters, writing for sophistic rags like The New York Review of Books, The Progressive, The Nation and the Op Ed pages of several national dailies, who frighten me most. These people, with their polished education but perverse ideas and ideals really need to be stopped in their tracks, refuted with all the ammunition possible to muster against them–with persistent blogging, writing, speaking, voting, and the rest. Otherwise they are going to bring to a sorry end the greatest human political experiment in history, one responsible for improving on human lives more than anything else, a country largely based on the principles of liberty.

Column on Frank Rich’s Prejudice

Frank Rich’s Prejudice

Tibor R. Machan

Karl Marx was famous for, among other things, claiming that everyone always promotes his or her economic interest. This is something he actually had in common with non-Marxists classical economists.

Most economists, in fact, believe that we are all motivated by our economic interests, nothing else. Or, rather, everything else that might appear to motivate us really comes down to economics. Consider the following from a few very prominent non-Marxist economists. The late Milton Friedman, one of the modern age’s most famous and diligent students and defenders of the free-market system, said it most directly: “[E]very individual serves his own private interest… The great Saints of history have served their “private interest” just as the most money grubbing miser has served his interest. The private interest is whatever it is that drives an individual.” His colleague, the late George Stigler, another Nobel Prize winner, made the point only slightly differently: “Man is eternally a utility-maximizer—in his home, in his office (be it public or private), in his church, in his scientific work—in short, everywhere.” Finally Nobel laureate Professor Gary Becker, who also embrace this homo economicus viewpoint, underscores the idea as follows: “The combined assumptions of maximizing behavior, market equilibrium, and stable preferences, used relentlessly and unflinchingly, form the heart of the economic approach as I see it.” The bottom line: We are all driven by our desire to fare well economically, first and foremost.

Marx also held to this idea, at least so far as people in the capitalist phase of humanity’s development are concerned. We act to enrich ourselves and whatever else we might claim motivates us, it is really just self-enrichment.

Frank Rich, prominent columnist at The New York Times and a relentless foe of the free market, capitalist economic system, has just now latched on to the story of the brothers Koch of Wichita, Kansas, David and Charles–there is another who isn’t so directly involved in the Koch business enterprises–a story told extensively in The New Yorker recently, by Jane Mayer. Rich is very impressed by this story and interprets it in the way many economists would, namely, that everything done by the brothers Koch has to do with their desire to enhance their wealth. But the economists would say this about all of us, not the the brothers Koch.

Of course, Rich merely infers his claims from the story–he fails to give one solitary good quotation from either David or Charles Koch to substantiate his allegation that they are both interested solely in self-enrichment. No wonder, because it is not so.

I have had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of both of the Koch brothers, although we aren’t fast friends by any means. But way back when I was a graduate student in philosophy, Charles took an interest in my work on my doctoral dissertation and invited me to give a talk about it in Wichita. It had to do with human rights and whether we can know that there are such rights or do some of us simply have a strong feeling in favor of them. Later I served, briefly, on the board of the Reason Foundation (which grew out of Reason Enterprises, the tiny firm that published Reason magazine in its early incarnation) with David Koch. So I can attest without any reasonable doubt that what motivated and likely still motivates the brothers Koch is their firm commitment to the ideas and ideals of a fully free society, a la the Declaration of Independence.

Now it is often held by the likes of Frank Rich–such as Ralph Nader and Kevin Phillips–that those who favor a fully free society are only interested in promoting their own economic welfare. Is this credible?

No. Of course, true enough, a fully free society would also be economically free, just as it would favor religious liberty or freedom of the press or everyone’s right to, say, sing in the shower and marry whoever they want who would want them. Freedom for those of us who love it isn’t divided into economic, religious, journalistic, scientific and other parts. It is indivisible, a general proper condition for human community life, period. This is what the Koch brothers have always championed.

Now just like journalists who favor freedom of the press benefit from such freedom, the Koch’s naturally would benefit from freedom of commerce. But so would we all. Freedom, not surprisingly, is simply good for us all and this includes entrepreneurs such as the brothers Koch. Now do they–do we all who champion a fully free society–support liberty solely because it enhances our economic welfare? No, I am certain of that–I, who have hardly a dime to my name, certainly favor liberty in part because it enables me to earn a living with the support of those of my fellows who freely choose to pay me for my work. But is this the sole reason why I favor liberty? Is it the sole reason the brothers Koch do so? Wrong! Not by a long shot.

Just ask us. Don’t ask Frank Rich, who makes his claims based on his prior beliefs, independently of any evidence from the brothers themselves.

Column on Ralph Nader’s Turn Around?

Ralph Nader’s Turn About?

Tibor R. Machan

So we have it on the good authority of The London Times that all is well with the Obama Administration’s latest interference with the market place. Here is how The Times reported on this long-desired development, admittedly desired by but fraction of those concerned:

“In a coup that achieves something President Clinton promised but never delivered, President Obama has forced the big three US carmakers, and their unions, to accept tough mileage rules for cars and SUVs. The rules will cut emissions from vehicles by more than a third over the next four years. Whether the new rules end America’s love affair with huge cars remains to be seen. But they are being introduced at a time when SUV sales are at a fraction of their peak level five years ago. Their demise coincides with the country’s first mass-produced ‘plug-in’ electric car, which finally rolled off a Michigan production line this week. From 2016, new cars and SUVs will have to deliver an average of 35.5 miles per gallon (42.6 miles per British gallon), comparable for the first time with European and Japanese requirements. … The rules were welcomed yesterday by the industry and environmentalists. The US Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which had little choice but to accept the standards after the $25 billion bailout of Chrysler and General Motors, said they gave the industry ‘a clear road map’ instead of a patchwork of differing state rules. The Natural Resources Defense Council said they were ‘good for consumers, companies, the country and the planet’. Ray LaHood, Mr. Obama’s Transportation Secretary, called them ‘historic’, claiming they would save consumers $3,000 per new vehicle and cut emissions by 1 billion tons.” (Times of London)

Maybe I am just a tad too gleeful here, about the noticeable absence in this discussion of famed consumer defender and frequent American presidential candidate Ralph Nader who back in the mid-1960s penned his path breaking book, Unsafe at Any Speed (Grossman, 1965). Doesn’t anyone else recall how vividly Nader condemned small cars back then claiming they are the source of traffic fatalities everywhere? Corvair, I believe, was one of his major targets and there was a huge court case involving that rare vehicle, a small car out of Detroit. (In an ironic twist, though, as recounted by author Bob Helt, “The 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests…the handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic.”)

I am no expert on the history of this famous episode of one of Nader’s influential roles as a consumer activist, one that both made him rich and helped him become a major player in public policy matters. What prompts me to bring up Nader, however, is that by all rights it seems to me that he ought to be a big, vocal defender of Detroit’s switch to the production of SUVs, which are by all counts mostly very safe vehicles–the bigger, the safer–ones one would certainly want to be driving if one is going to be in a car crash, which is to say if one is primarily concerned with the safety of the occupants of a vehicle as Ralph Nader made out he was.

But I certainly haven’t heard from Nader on this topic. Is it because he changed his mind? Has he come to the conclusion that small cars are, after all, better for us all than the gas guzzling SUVs?

It appears to me that some journalists ought to be curious about this and interview Mr. Nader now that SUVs (what I can only consider his dream cars from the perspective of highway safety for vehicle occupants) are under global assault. Maybe he has changed his views but if I recall correctly he wasn’t all that concerned about the cost of safety back then. Maybe, in an interesting twist, he would not be today either.

But hasn’t Mr. Nader become a big fan of “green”? If so, then by his current ideological commitments would naturally deride SUVs, after all. In any case, it seems to me that he owes us an explanation of where he stands in this debate–for “green” or for safety.