January 17, 2019

Orlando Sentinel Op Ed: Vitriol Has Been a Proud Tradition

In the past, it has taken a war for the government to summon the courage to attack the very first right protected in the “Bill of Rights.” While constantly under attack, the right of free speech has withstood the invocation of all manner of horrors to convince people that it must be violated by the government to keep us safe. Now, it seems, the solitary act of a mentally ill man is enough to persuade Americans to falter.

The shooting in Arizona on January 9 was tragic. However, the argument that “irresponsible speech” had somehow helped to motivate it is completely separated from reality. In fact, the assertion that political speech is more “extreme” now than in the past is false. The spewing of raw invective at political figures is one of America’s oldest and proudest traditions.

How Do We Defeat Racism and Discrimination Once and For All?

We haven’t heard a lot lately about discrimination in the job market. Perhaps the economic crisis has pushed it into the background. “Progressives” may be too busy promoting their economic gibberish (Keynesianism) to fall back on this tried and true “divide and conquer” issue. However, as surely as night follows day, there will come a time when our friends in Congress will again need a different reason to try to tell people how to conduct their business, and nothing garners more support than railing against discrimination. When that shoe finally drops, I have a suggestion. Let’s not go back down the road of affirmative action, quotas, or any other idiotic idea that our retro-liberal Congress is likely to resurrect. There is only one remedy for discrimination in the workplace: free market capitalism.

I can speak from personal experience that this is true. I have interviewed thousands of people for jobs over the course of my life. The candidates were black, white, Hispanic, male, female, young, and old. How did I decide who to hire? I chose the same way every time. I picked the candidate that I believed would make me the most money. When I chose a black candidate or a woman, I did not do so because I wanted to promote diversity or equality. I did not do it out of altruism or for women’s rights. When I made those decisions, I had one thing and one thing only on my mind – profit.

Sometimes, I chose a white male over a black female and didn’t give it a moment’s thought. Sometimes, exactly the opposite was true. Nonetheless, in each case I chose based purely on my own self-interest (or that of my employers). I did not hire people to help them and they did not come to work for me to further some missionary cause (or even because of my sparkling personality, believe it or not). They came to work for me because the opportunity I offered them would benefit them personally more than any other available to them at the time.

The people that have worked for me in the past and who work for me now are my equals. They have skills and services to sell and I am their customer. We deal with one another in the same way that people deal with one another when buying or selling a house. I am looking to get the highest quality work that I can for the best price. They demand the highest price that they can get for their services. They choose to sell those services to me because I am willing to meet their price. If they call me “Mr.” or “Sir,” it is not out of subservience any more than the owner of an exclusive restaurant is subservient when he calls you “Sir” or “Madam” while you are paying him $150 per plate. When someone buys your product, you show gratitude for the high compliment they have paid you. They have chosen what you have to offer over all other alternatives.

Were I to make hiring decisions based upon anything other than the profit motive –based upon racial discrimination for example – the market would punish me. It would reward my competitor with a more talented employee and an advantage in the market. If I were to do this habitually, my competitors would soon have more talented employees throughout their organizations and I would be forced out of business. Anyone who has run a business knows that one cannot afford to discriminate based upon anything but profit. The market forces me to ignore race, creed, or sex for my economic survival. Only politicians remind me that I should consider demographics.

The plain fact that no politician in history has ever understood is that the market requires no altruism for everyone to benefit. Competition for employees creates higher wages and better benefits. If competition for jobs drives wages down, then the cost of production drops with wages and real wages rise despite the nominal decrease. There is no need to “balance” profit and social justice. The profit motive creates social justice. People exchanging their goods or services with one another by mutual, voluntary consent is social justice. It is only coercion that is unjust.

When people are left to themselves to deal with one another by mutual, voluntary consent, the profit motive will trump racism and discrimination every time. Show me a firm that passes on superior talent because of race or sex and I will show you a firm that is not going to be around for very long. Show me an entire industry that has put the best talent on the sidelines due to race, sex, or age, and I will be open for business in that industry the very next day. Within six months, I will be that industry’s next billionaire. The company with the most talented employees wins – every time.

This relationship between employer and employee – between buyer and seller of services – is one based upon all parties acting in their own self interest. My employees do not need my help or my altruism – they need my business, just as I need the business of my customers. They strive to perform at the absolute highest level that they can so that they can demand even more money from me for those services. I happily pay it when their improved performance increases my sales or my profits. I offer less when I can get the same performance at a lower price.

The beneficiaries of all of this are our customers. I am constantly trying to lower my costs and raise the quality of my products. I do this to gain market share and increase profits. My employees continually improve their service to our customers so that they can make more money for themselves. Higher performance from my employees is what raises the quality of my products.

Neither I nor my employees bother to stop and take note of the color of anyone’s skin or whether they are a man or a woman. We cannot afford to and, quite frankly, we just don’t have the time. This is the way the real world works. Just ask anyone who has to make a living in it. Only politicians and the people they are able to confuse see it any differently.

So, the next time your politicians bring up discrimination in the workplace, try to explain all of this to them. Tell them to put away their pamphlets and spend some time with you – working for a living. Six months spent actually earning a living rather than living off taxes collected at gunpoint would make capitalists of them all. You may say I’m a dreamer, but just imagine the freedom and prosperity that would result.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.


>False Prophets of Freedom

>One might be tempted to celebrate the “growing” number of people here in America that associate themselves with the “freedom movement.” As encouraging as it may be to see a loss of confidence in the present “neo-con” ruling class, there is certainly no reason to think that what most people would replace them with would result in any more liberty. Sadly, as was the case in Germany in the early 1930’s, the opposition to the present tyranny simply thinks their form of tyranny is better. Using Bastiat’s terms, they don’t object to legal plunder, they just have a different idea of how to divide up the loot.

While professing to be staunchly against tyranny, it is apparent that most people don’t seem to understand what tyranny is, and most importantly don’t understand its motivation. Perhaps many do not WANT to understand, because their solution may not be substantively different. Let me clear the air in the hopes that the 800 pound gorilla hiding in the corner of this tea party we call the “freedom movement” can cease to be politely ignored. In all of human history, there has only been one motivation for tyranny: plunder.

No conqueror in history has gone to the expense and trouble of raising, training, and feeding an army, marching them across vast distances, and risked his own position and wealth for the purposes of suppressing free speech. Neither has he done so to suppress freedom of religion, the writ of habeas corpus, or the right of the people to freely assemble. While he may have attacked all of these rights, he did so only as a means to one end: plunder. Every tyrant that ever lived has violated the rights of his own people and of those he has conquered for no other reason than to gather wealth that he did not earn.

The reason that most people don’t understand tyranny or its sole motivation is that they don’t truly understand liberty, either. If your understanding of liberty ends at freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to due process, then you are omitting the heart and soul of liberty – property rights. Without a right to keep the fruits of your labor, there can be no liberty, no matter how fiercely the other “civil liberties” are protected. The right to the fruits of your labor is the central right, the foundation of liberty. Without controlling the fruits of your labor, you have no control over your life. Whether you have nothing to eat, a little to eat, enough to eat, or enough to save for another day all depends upon your control over the product of your work. However, it is the violation of precisely THIS right that is the sole desire of the tyrant.

This is why Jefferson said that “’the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it” is the “first rule of association.”[1] Samuel Adams called it “self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”[2] It is the reason that John Locke devoted an entire chapter of his 2nd Treastise on Civil Government to property, and the reason he said that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”[3]

Plunder is the violation of this central right. Plunder is the use of force to divest people of the fruits of their labor without their consent. When it is done by individuals or groups outside of the law, it is recognized as a crime. When it is done by government, it becomes what Bastiat called “legal plunder.” Legal plunder by government generally falls into two categories: welfare and warfare. While cosmetically different, these two practices are essentially one and the same. They represent the use of government force to plunder the property of the individual. One merely does so farther away than the other – a relatively minor difference.

Recognizing that the right to property is the most important civil liberty (without which there can be no liberty), and recognizing also that plunder is the only true threat to liberty, Bastiat devoted much of his brilliant essay “The Law” to the subject of legal plunder. Like Locke, our founding fathers, and all philosophers in the liberal tradition, he recognized that government in a free society has only one purpose, beyond which it may not be permitted to go. Its sole purpose is to protect life, liberty, and property. According to Bastiat, the minute that government goes beyond fulfilling this role, it must necessarily attack life, liberty, and property. This is the fundamental principle of government which must be understood before one can begin answering questions of liberty.

Bastiat correctly concluded that there are only three alternatives for a society in determining how to address the question of plunder. Only by choosing the last of these can a society be free. It is not surprising that our two political parties generally align themselves with one of the other two. I will take the “liberty” of inserting their names in parenthesis next to the alternative they advocate:

1. The few plunder the many. (Republicans)
2. Everybody plunders everybody (Democrats)
3. Nobody plunders anybody (Freedom – the position of neither party)[4]

Like the unfortunate child in the middle of a game of “pickle in the middle,” Americans have been running back and forth between the first two alternatives offered by their political parties for decades. It has never occurred to the great majority of people that NEITHER ONE can benefit them in the end. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either the great majority of people do not understand the true nature of liberty and tyranny – that they both revolve around property rights – or the great majority of people DO NOT WANT TO UNDERSTAND. This may be because they secretly do not want to let go of the possibility that THEY ALSO might benefit from legal plunder. This second possibility is even more pathetic than the first. Like the gamblers in Las Vegas, they should know by now that the House always wins.

Rather than objecting to legal plunder itself, false prophets of freedom frame the debate into organizing opposition to the present ruling class on the assumption that the loot should merely be divided up differently. At the moment, the Democrats position themselves as against the war in Iraq, not because it is wrong, but because the Republicans started it. Their position is no more the position of liberty than was the Republicans’ in objecting to President Clinton’s war in Kosovo, or their ludicrous impeachment of him over a sex scandal. They are merely looking to divide up the loot differently.

However, politicians will be politicians, and I am much more concerned about the average American than I am about them. In the end, politicians can be bought with votes. If the vast majority of voters demand liberty, liberty is what they will get. However, when the vast majority of voters are persuaded to demand legal plunder, then it becomes clear why Madison described democracy as “the most vile form of government.”[5]

For those interested in finding their way through this maze of false assumptions, I offer the following examples of common arguments made on current issues and their implications for true liberty.

If you are (rightly) against the war in Iraq, but go on to say that the money we are spending on that war should instead be spent on providing healthcare to uninsured Americans, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are opposed to the recent bailouts of the banks during the mortgage crisis, but like False Prophet of Freedom Lou Dobbs go on to say that the government should instead help average Americans that are in danger of losing their homes, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are against the fascist alliance being formed between large corporations and government, but suggest taxing the profits of corporations more heavily to fund some public redistribution of wealth, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are concerned that Social Security and Medicare are imminently insolvent, and go on to argue that they must be “reformed,” rather than abolished (or at least phased out), then you are not against legal plunder. You are merely concerned that you won’t get your share of the loot.

These are only a few examples of the lapses in reason so common even among those who claim to be part of the “freedom movement.” Presently, average Americans are running from the Republicans (the few plunder the many) to the Democrats (everybody plunders everybody) in their perennial game of pickle in the middle. They still haven’t noticed that no matter which side they’ve run to over the past century, they never actually get to catch the ball. However, the implications are more ominous than this.

After at least a century of practicing legal plunder in one form or another, the inevitable end to which such a society comes is now in sight. Having given up the central civil liberty – property rights – Americans now see that the government monster they have built is coming to gather up the rest of the rights that people have deluded themselves that they retain. It is vital to realize that the police state measures and the perpetual war that we now find ourselves confronted with are not an aberration of the Bush administration BUT THE LOGICAL END OF DECADES OF LEGAL PLUNDER. This was Hayek’s central point in his classic The Road to Serfdom – that Naziism was the natural result of socialism, and that England’s and America’s socialism of the 1940’s would eventually lead to the same results in decades to come as Germany’s socialism of the 1870’s had led to by 1933. He was not only correct in theory, but seems to have correctly predicted the duration.

In conclusion, there will be no “freedom movement” until Americans recognize and understand the nature of freedom and tyranny. Until Americans cease to marginalize or ignore property rights, and again recognize them as the MOST important rights, as our founding fathers did, we will not move one inch toward freedom. In fact, even if we were able to completely end warfare for several presidential administrations in a row, our practice of welfare would lead us right back to our present circumstances.

Do not look to your politicians to offer you Bastiat’s third alternative. They have seduced free people throughout history with the prospect of sharing in legal plunder, while keeping the majority of the loot for themselves. It is left up to every American to reject the notion of legal plunder on their own, to reject the false prophets of freedom, be they named McCain, Obama, Clinton, Dobbs, Paulson, Bernanke, or Roosevelt, and again take responsibility for their own self preservation, and thus regain the right to determine it themselves. This is the ONLY path to freedom.

Tom Mullen

[1] Jefferson, Thomas Note in Destutt de Tracy’s “A Treatise on Political Economy,” 1816. ME 14:466
[2] Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: 417-428.
[3] Locke Second Treatise Ch. IX, Sec. 124
[4] Bastiat, Frederic The Law (1850) (words in parenthesis inserted by the author of this article)
[5] Madison, James Federalist #10