Posts tagged Ron Paul

Column on A Small Pleasure of Book Production

A Small Pleasure of Book Production

Tibor R. Machan

One of my books is a collection of prominent essays by mostly contemporary libertarian political-economic thinkers. Its title, The Libertarian Reader (1982), was so well chosen that years later someone quite prominent, David Boaz of the Cato Institute, also used it for a collection of essays he put together, The Libertarian Reader (1998). (Just in case you didn’t know, in the publishing world it is acceptable to make us of the titles of already published books.)

One of the hopes of authors and editors of books is of course that these will be bought and read, not to mention in huge numbers. But unless one is a famous author or so dedicated to learning of the fate of one’s works, it is rare that one learns whether they have made the rounds. (In the academic world, of course, professors often assign books they have written or edited in their classes, although such self-dealing is widely frowned upon.)

I do know that another book of mine was at least considered for display in a movie or TV program because some years ago I received a form letter asking that I give permission for a producer to do just that with my The Pseudo-Science of B. F. Skinner, originally published by Arlington House of New Rochelle, NY (later reprinted by the University Press of America) and once reviewed very favorably in by Robert W. Proctor and Daniel J. Weeks in The American Journal Of Psychology (Summer 1990). But I never learned if this ever came to pass.

But a few days ago I was watching the coverage of the Republican presidential primaries and as I looked at the bookshelf behind Representative Ron Paul as he was being interviewed, I noticed that The Libertarian Reader was among the books on his shelves. Well, that was gratifying, so much so that I paused my TV and took a picture of it all with my cell phone camera. (It didn’t come out well but still, there it is, in living, albeit blurry, color.)

Of course, Ron Paul is known as a libertarian–he once was nominated for president by the national libertarian party. I think I even met him once when he visited Auburn, Alabama, where the Ludwig von Mises Institute has its headquarters–Paul is close to the folks at that think tank. So it would be easy to indulge in some fantasies about how he may actually have read and been influenced by some of the works collected in my book, although that would be a bit over the top. It is much more likely that he has read into another work I edited, namely, The Libertarian Alternative, published by Nelson Hall Co. of Chicago back in 1973. That was my very first book and came about because Nelson Hall just started out and sent out a notice to academics around the country, soliciting submissions of book ideas. I jumped at the chance and lo and behold got the idea accepted and the volume published. (As the later collection, this one also contains some really fine essays on libertarian political philosophy and jurisprudence.)

So although my books, now numbering in the several dozens–with around 50 featured at Amazon.com–aren’t so popular and prominent as those by Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or even Richard Epstein, at least one managed to surface in a prominent enough place, suggesting that some others might have done likewise. Not that I wrote or edited them for fame and fortune–though I wouldn’t shy from these were some to have helped to achieve them–it is still quite gratifying to see at least one make it center stage in a popular forum.

Like with happiness, so with fame and fortune, they better be the side effects of one’s dedication and passion. That way even if one fails to make it big with one’s writings, one will at least have had the satisfaction of having contributed to a good cause, namely, the exploration of the subject matter of the works one has produced.

Column on So What’s Wrong With That?

So what’s Wrong with That?

Tibor R. Machan

So there is now concern by some so called journalists that “in his 1987 manifesto ‘Freedom Under Siege: The U.S. Constitution after 200-Plus Years,’ Presidential hopeful Ron Paul wrote that AIDS patients were victims of their own lifestyle, questioned the rights of minorities and argued that people who are sexually harassed at work should quit their jobs.” Of these only the last could be objected to on rational grounds and only if the harassment involved coercion. Thus if some colleague happened to place an objectionable picture on his office wall, a picture that others do not have to look at and can easily avoid, that would be a matter of office privacy unless the firm had a policy against it. There is no universal right to be free of annoying colleagues.

Arguably, though probably not in all cases, AIDS patients did invite their illness through risky activities they choose to engage in. At most Paul was exaggerating: some AIDS patients become infected from blood transfusions for which a hospital or medical office, not the patients, in responsible. In most instances it is probably true that AIDS patients are more like those who experience motorcycle or mountain climbing mishaps; they took on risks that landed them in medical trouble, something we all do now and then as we move through a risk infested life.

As to “the rights of minorities,” Paul is entirely correct. Minorities as a group have no rights. No group has rights, only individuals do. Members of minorities do, of course, have rights and when these are violated, it is the function of the government of a free society to secure them, just as the Declaration of Independence makes clear. Arguably no one has the right to have government mandate affirmative action in his or her behalf. Such a policy needs to be achieved by way of employment contracts, not legislation. More to the point, the whole matter of such mandates is open to serious dispute and should be perfectly acceptable as a subject of political debate.

These complaints against Ron Paul demonstrate a total failure to understand what democratic politics is about, namely, debating public policy. No such policy is sacrosanct apart from the commitment to the philosophy of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights and to constant debate. Just as many liberal democrats disagree with the War on Drugs and free trade measures and are willing to challenge these in public discussions, so libertarians have their list of public policies they want to challenge and change.

Reporters who express shock with Ron Paul’s positions should realize that in a democracy innumerable matters are up for debate, including the right to an abortion, to assisted suicide, minimum wage laws, undeclared wars in Libya or elsewhere. Ron Paul, just as any other candidate, may be open to criticism for the side he takes on any of these issues but it is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of political debate to consider simply holding views with which others disagree as something objectionable. What do these people want, anyway? Do they expect that elections will be about what spices should one use when baking a turkey or colors to decorate one’s garden?

The pretended outrage with Paul’s positions of several decade ago also fails to allow for any nuance in his libertarian stance, or indeed for some change in his political views. Why is this objectionable about Paul but not about Romney or Gingrich? It shouldn’t be about anyone who has a long time ago professed to hold views that he or she no longer considers sound. It is especially hypocritical to object when so many journalists are rank radical pragmatists, like Paul Krugman and President Obama, people who proudly reject principled thinking about anything.

Moreover, when journalists get into the fray and start championing the views of some of the candidates they cover, there is no longer any integrity to what they are doing; indeed, their journalism is seriously corrupted. This is why so many in America have a negative attitude toward the media–to many of these folks put themselves up high as if someone appointed judges and juries of public debate. They should, instead, keep their political opinions to themselves as they carry out their work, just as doctors, teachers, and others should.

Column on th BBC’s Sorry Journalism

The BBC’s Sorry Journalism

Tibor R. Machan

The BBC recently published the following in a report about the Republican primary contest in Iowa: “Correspondents say a Ron Paul victory in Iowa would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party as many of his views are seen as too libertarian and isolationist. Mr. Paul would order a $1 trillion (£641bn) spending cut, eliminating a number of government agencies, including the Department of Education. He also proposes returning the dollar to a gold standard and cutting all foreign aid, including to Israel….”

“At a recent campaign stop in Iowa a breast cancer survivor began crying after he told her insurance companies should not have to cover those who are already sick, Reuters news agency reports….”

This passage is worth some attention if only because those of us who have sympathies toward Representative Paul’s libertarian politics should not duck out when opponents target him for criticism, be it fair or not. Let me start with the last bit, the treatment of a crying breast cancer survivor as a kind of “gotcha” device versus Paul. (And incidentally, who are those correspondents who say that Paul’s “victory would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party”? Let’s have some names her, some attributions, by BBC!)

Now we all have hopes and wishes that people will be helpful to and supportive of us, especially when we suffer from maladies or hazardous conditions we had no role in bringing about. Casualties of acts of nature do often deserve our sympathy and even help, unless they have been negligent in taking precautionary measures, such as saving up for health insurance. Even in cases when one has been negligent, often others overlook this and tend to be considerate beyond the call of duty, as it were.

Representative Paul and other libertarians are often first in line with offering private support to such people. The citizens of the US are often first in lending a hand to those who have been hit with natural disasters, like a tsunami or earthquake, and the essence of generosity is precisely that, offering private support and aid to those in need.

What Paul and libertarians in general object to is the coerced support given to those in need by governments are expropriate resources from the citizenry, take a sizable chunk of it for administrative expenses, and distribute the funds according to the lights of the politicians and bureaucrats. This kind of forcible distribution of others’ money is what libertarians are against as a matter of principle and Ron Paul is no exception. This does not at all make him or libertarians callous, heartless, cruel or anything of the kind, however much many claim this about them, ones to whom it seems to come very naturally to confiscate other people’s resources and do with it as they think they should. (I explain this in some detail in my book, Generosity, Virtue in Civil Society [1998].)

As to the cuts supported by Ron Paul, I would urge those who are going to give the matter some thought to consider, once again, that these cuts are an effort to eliminate or at least reduce the forcible taking by some people of the resources that belong to others and to which they have no right whatever. All charitable, helpful acts must be voluntary otherwise they have no moral merit whatsoever. Yes, there are some spurious arguments claiming that out good behavior may, indeed must, be imposed upon us by wiser and more virtuous people than we are but it is just a ruse. No one can make other people moral except by example!

This also applied to foreign aid, be it to Israel or Mongolia. People abroad aren’t entitled to the property of Americans or anyone else who has not voluntarily given it to them. Israel is no exception!

Unfortunately this line of thinking is rarely if every presented to readers in an accurate way so they could consider it without bias. Instead journalists have a dogmatic commitment to the coercion involved in government support for the needy, failing to even mention that kind of thinking summarized above and making it appear that those who do share it are monsters.

Lost of people also mistakenly identify the coercive taking of people resources with Robin Hoodism but in fact Robin Hood took back from the tax takers what they forcibly took for the those whom they victimized. The proper approach to seeing people in need is to mount a serious, voluntary effort to secure support for them, starting with one’s own, not to advocate taking from them what belongs to them and what only they have the rightful authority to give away.

Now in a messy world it is very difficult to be principled and trying to be usually brings on the charge of being an ideologue, a blind adherent to simplistic ideas. But in fact it shows integrity, nothing less! And it is time that politicians show some of it because without integrity the game is up anyway–trust, honesty, responsibility and all such virtue go out the window, never mind simple, honest generosity.

Essay on Ideological Thinking Revisited

Ideological Thinking Revisited

Tibor R. Machan

Following the December 15th Republican “debate,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote once again about the evils of ideological thinking.

Krugman began piece by criticizing Mitt Romney for his repeated vacillations about which public policies he supports, which he opposes, a problem Romney has been plagued by most of his political life. But Krugman didn’t do what follows form this, namely, praise Romney for being a pragmatist, for his agility and flexibility. No, he decried the former Massachusetts’s Governor’s various views. And then he moved on to a more familiar target, one he has been shooting at every chance he gets. This is Representative Ron Paul’s integrity and consistency. Calling it ideological thinking, Krugman considers this a far great failing than anything he could find with Romney.

As Krugman summarizes all this, “In a way, that makes sense. Romney isn’t trusted because he’s seen as someone who cynically takes whatever positions he thinks will advance his career – a charge that sticks because it’s true. Paul, by contrast, has been highly consistent. I bet you won’t find video clips from a few years back in which he says the opposite of what he’s saying now. Unfortunately, Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology’s wrongness.”

Ignore, please, for the moment that Krugman is every bit as ideological as would be anyone who tries to make sense of political economy, just one field of study that tries to learn generalities from the past so as to prepare for the future. The way this is done is by the identification of certain principles and then implementing them with the expectation that bad results will be avoided and good ones fostered. There really is no practical field, such as farming, medicine, engineering, child raising, and so forth, that can carry forth without this approach. Call it theoretical or ideological thought, no one who even dabbles in them can avoid them.

Ron Paul’s theoretical guidance comes from a certain school of free market economics, laid out by the likes of Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. (Other free market schools are those of Milton Friedman–the Chicago School–and those of James Buchanan–the Virginia School.) Massive volumes lay out these positions, in more or less technical ways, as they do the positions of Paul Krugman and his idol, John Maynard Keynes. It is routine in the social sciences for up and coming scholars and researchers to hitch their wagon to some earlier leader in their field. Just check out sociology or anthropology–they all follow this pattern. Krugman is no exception–he has hitched his wagon to Keynes and follows Keynes’ pragmatic, erratic economic thought. It happens to accommodate his hostility to principles. It doesn’t demand any integrity in one’s thinking; only expediency counts.

Because we are talking here about how political economy should be approached, or if you will macroeconomic theory, the impact of unprincipled thinking is quite remote. It is difficult to tell which results of such a mishmash political-economic thinking come from which ideas–as I have argued before, it is like getting food poisoning or, alternatively, health benefits from a smorgasbord meal which contains many diverse ingredients. But if you consider some areas of concern that are more immediately relevant to one’s life, the unprincipled approach shows its damage right away.

For example, it is generally understood that people with certain medical maladies should stick to a certain diet–think of diabetics. In engineering, medicine, nutrition, farming and the rest the practitioners learn their general principles and implement them in the course of their practice. Or consider morality; it is pretty much the case that lying and cheating ought to be avoided. Eve more drastically, deploying coercion in sexual relations is not just immoral but outright criminal. Everyone must, therefore, practice consensual sex so that rape, for example, is never acceptable. That is the principle of the thing, no exception.

Yet by Krugman’s lights to prohibit rape in all cases, as a matter of one’s ideology, is a serious flaw in one’s character, just as sticking to free market economic analysis is supposed to be in Ron Paul’s thought. As Krugman says, “Paul has maintained his consistency by ignoring reality, clinging to his ideology even as the facts have demonstrated that ideology’s wrongness,” but the only case he offers to illustrate the alleged wrongness is that Paul and his allies have warned about inflation for years and yet we are not seeing inflation break out all over. (Of course, there are those, rather more subtle economists, who see it break out in numerous hidden way–like postponing the destruction of the value of money for a while, kicking the can down the road to confront the mess later, e.g., by our grand children.) In other words, inflation can be prevented in various clever ways but not without eventual dire consequences. So here, too, Krugman is off.

What Paul insists on is consistency in one’s economic theorizing, something that every bona fide science insists upon. Pseudo-sciences like astrology and tarot reading don’t, with the result that they accomplish nothing useful at all. Most of Krugman’s ad hoc economics is like that–fancy footwork without any useful wisdom in its wake.

The ideology that Krugman follows despite denying it–just as many pragmatists deny that they firmly stick to some ideas–is the economic philosophy of coercion, of the state’s regimenting economic agents at nearly every turn. At no time will coercion as such be frowned upon by Krugman–it would be ideological to do so, in his view.

But the issue isn’t whether ideology is admissible but which ideology is sound, which bogus.

Machan’s Archives: “Fetal Rights: Implication of a Supposed ‘Ought’”

Fetal Rights: Implication of a Supposed Ought
[from Liberty Magazine, July 1989, pp. 51-52]

Tibor R. Machan

[Introduction to Reprint:
When back in 1973 I edited The Libertarian Alternative (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1973), the libertarian political outlook wasn’t well known and “libertarian” certainly was no household word as it is today, what with prominent media figures identifying their own position by that term. Several presidential hopefuls have stopped being coy and now openly describe their own politics as libertarian--e.g., Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox Business News’ daily “FreedomWatch” program, as well as John Stossel of that same outlet’s weekly “Stossel” program make no bones about their championing libertarianism.

Now all of this is very welcome to those who hold that the fully free, libertarian polity is superior to all other live options advocated by political thinkers. There is, however, one small fly in the ointment. Among those I mentioned above several are "pro-life," so called, in the debate about whether one of the liberties citizens have a right to is obtaining abortions. Ron Paul and Andrew Napolitano are both of this school, holding that abortion is the killing of a human being. One may assume that they would both accord full legal protection to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses, seeing that as they see it, these all have the right to life just as any other human being does. Maybe they would qualify this just a bit by noting that the homicide involved would be akin to infanticide, not the killing of an adult. But just as infanticide is one variety of homicide, so could abortion be.

Several decades ago, when libertarianism was not yet discussed on news programs I aired some concerns with the position held by Representative Paul and Judge Napolitano on the abortion topic. It sparked some response from some who embraced the position--e.g., certain prominent members of the organization Libertarians for Life--but it certainly cause little stir even among the participants of the then budding libertarian movement. At this time, however, it may be worth revisiting the issue and seeing how it might be dealt with by those who embrace the Paul/Napolitano viewpoint. For this reason I want to once again publish the piece in which I aired my concerns, this time on line. (The original article was published in Liberty Magazine and a response was penned by Edwin Viaira, “Fetal Rights: Enforceable in Principle” at Libertarians for Life [1996]. Although Vieira stated in that essay that the argument I advanced is “one frequently used,” he cites no other literature in which it is presented. I myself know of none.)

So then here is the essay as originally published in Liberty Magazine:]

Among the many issues considered in connection with the abortion controversy, there is one that has, unfortunately, received little attention. To wit, if the “pro-life” position is roughly right—that is, if human conception entails a serious right to life for the conceptus—then certain radical legal consequences follow. If zygotes, embryos, and fetuses have a right to life comparable to infants and adults, then miscarriages or spontaneous abortions must become subjects of extensive and constant police scrutiny.

Every state has some public policy regarding police investigation of unexplained deaths and homicides. (See Wayne R. LaFave & Gerold H. Israel, Criminal Procedure [St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1985], Chapter 1.) The authorities must determine that there are no reasonable grounds for suspecting murder or some other variety of illegal killing. In addition, if a fetus or zygote has a right to life, it follows that any activity on the part of the pregnant woman (or even a companion or stranger) that might result in a miscarriage (say, arising from some sport or a minor traffic mishap) could constitute negligent homicide. (See Criminal Law 21 Am Jur 2nd Par. 132; Model Penal Code Article 210, Section 210.1 & 210.4 Criminal and negligent homicide [1962]; Commonweath v. Nelansky, 55 N.E. 2nd 902 [MA. 1944].

In the death of an adult or even a child, the public accessibility of the deceased makes it relatively easy to determine whether foul play can reasonably be assumed. Innumerable forensic methods and devices exist for this purpose. Simply checking the body will usually provide investigators with sufficient information to determine whether there are grounds for suspecting a crime. Often, there are members of the public well-acquainted with the deceased, and these friends, family and neighbors can testify to suspicious circumstances, history, and the like. The same situation, however, does not apply in the case of deceased zygotes.

Whatever it is that is created at conception—whether it is something that is human or something that is only potentially human—it is often not known to exist until long after conception. Women do not know that they are pregnant immediately after they have conceived. The plain fact is that “unborn children” are hidden for several weeks from the kind of public exposure that even babies enjoy. In advanced civilizations, many of these unborn are monitored by physicians, but this usually occurs only after they have lived and been vulnerable to mistreatment for several weeks. This alone seems to violate the “ought implies can” provision of ethics, which states that if someone is required to act in a particular way, it must be possible for that person to carry out the responsibility. The veil of ignorance that surrounds the early stages of pregnancy causes many problems unforeseen by the advocates of fetal rights.

Even if immediate knowledge of conception were possible for a pregnant woman, the situation would be the same. What is required is public knowledge, as well as private knowledge. It is the rights-protecting authorities who must be able to know of the existence of the embryo, zygote or fetus in order to protect their rights. This requirement is not easy to meet.

Of course, one could imagine the following: At the moment of any possible conception—that is, whenever heterosexual intercourse takes place between fertile parties—an extensive machinery of examination, registration and supervision of possible pregnancies could be generated. Every woman would have the constant duty to check whether she is pregnant. If the answer is in the affirmative, the woman would immediately have to register the conception of the new human being. She would then have to submit to constant inspection and supervision, so as not to permit the possibility of a neglectful miscarriage—for example, from sports, recreation, work, or play, or any of a number of other activities.

This kind of “solution,” however, conflicts with the existence of the rights of persons to not have their lives unreasonably scrutinized by authorities—or, as the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution puts it, “against unreasonable searches.” The threat to the rights of possible parents would be enormous—indeed, to do their duty, governments must violate human rights on numerous fronts. A veritable police state would have to be established so as to uphold ordinary justice.

This extraordinary extension of state power can also be considered a violation of the “ought implies can” provision, although in a somewhat complicated sense. Ought implies can not only in a physical sense, but also in a moral sense: a moral obligation must not require immoral acts. Rights must be compossible—the human right of a fetus cannot contradict the equally basic human right of anyone else (although some prima facia rights theories allow for the ranking of human rights). Accordingly, even if all pregnancies could be detected immediately upon conception, the institutional arrangements required for this would involve extensive rights violations and, thus, make discovery of negligence and other criminal conduct during pregnancy morally impossible.

A legal policy consistent with the idea that the human being is formed at conception could not be carried out in a society that respects the sovereignty of all of its citizens, including pregnant women. If a law is unenforceable in principle, it is inoperative. This, in turn, suggests that the “pro-life” position implies a set of legal consequences that are impossible in the very society that supposedly recognizes the rights of its citizens in all cases other than the unborn. If we add to these considerations the possibility that some alternative theory of when a human being comes into existence makes better sense and does not imply a widespread official violation of individual rights, then the case against the “pro-life” position seems very strong indeed. Before it could even be considered sound, it would have to be shown that the widespread intrusion into the lives of persons as discussed here is not implied by the “pro-life” doctrine.

The normal respect for and protection of individual rights cannot be extended to the being that is created by conception—not, at least, without an absurd invasion of the rights of adult human individuals.