15 februari 2010

George Leef over hoe een laks en naïef slavenvolk haar vrijheden langzaam en verzetsloos opgeeft

George Leef is als Amerikaans liberaal econoom verbonden aan de "Foundation for Economic Education" in Irvington, New York. Hij is voornamelijk bekend als boekenrecensent voor Amerikaanse libertarische publicaties zoals de "Mises Review", "The Freeman", "Reason Magazine" en de "Independent Review". Af en toe verblijdt Leef ons ook met een column in die tijdschriften of op de FEE-blog. Zo ook deze week. Leef buigt zich over de staat van de vrijheid in de Verenigde Staten en valt de personen aan die in hun slaafse laksheid en domme naïviteit al tevredenheid nemen met een halfvol glas vrijheid. Leef ziet het vrijheidsglas als halfleeg en weigert zich daar zonder verzet naar te conformeren. Meer nog, hij merkt in zijn "Freedom in America: Is the Glass Half-Full or Half Empty?"-column terecht op dat het net de personen zijn die de "kleine" inperkingen van onze liberale vrijheden klakkeloos aanvaarden eigenlijk de doodgravers van onze vrijheid en dito beschavingsvorm zijn.

It is an age-old question of perception. Show a person a glass with some liquid in it and ask, “Is it half-full or half-empty?” The importance of the answer depends on the interests of the person asking the question. If you owned a restaurant and wanted to skimp on the wine, you would rather your customers focused on what they are getting and not on what they aren’t. You won’t get many complaints if your patrons think that half a glass of wine is normal. (...) We are facing exactly that problem in America with respect to freedom. “Half-empty” people notice that a lot of freedom is missing. They are aware that they’re prevented by force of law from doing many things they would like to do, and compelled by force of law to do many others that they would prefer not to do. Most of those people also know that in the past there were far fewer restrictions on freedom than today; they sense that every year, the glasses contain less and less wine.


“Half-full” people, in contrast, rarely think about the government’s innumerable laws and taxes as deprivations of their freedom. They focus on what freedom they still have and regard it as enough. Just as restaurateurs prefer customers who see half-full glasses and are content with that, so rulers prefer citizens who are content with whatever freedom they choose to permit. For that reason, crafty rulers—and the form of government doesn’t matter—try to condition the people to think that they are enjoying the best possible state of affairs. Rulers want the people to believe that all the state’s numerous mandates, prohibitions, and confiscations are actually good; they’re done not to take away freedom but only to improve society. If you can get your citizens to look at things that way, they will be as docile as sheep.


A survey by George Mason University economics professor Daniel Klein helped me (a half-empty person) to see what’s going on. Klein had written critically about minimum-wage legislation, mentioning that such laws not only have adverse economic consequences but also abridge freedom—namely, freedom of contract. Imposing a minimum wage commands employers: Either pay each employee at least the legal minimum or else face prosecution. To Klein’s surprise a number of economists responded that they did not think that law has any important impact on freedom. Klein subsequently conducted a poll asking economists if they felt that minimum-wage laws were an attack on freedom. A majority of those who responded said that they regarded them as having little or no impact on freedom. (...) So here is a government mandate—do this or you’ll be punished—yet a majority of economists see no loss of freedom. An obvious explanation is that the minimum wage simply has no effect on professors. They are not the ones hiring low-wage workers.
Verder in zijn column geeft George Leef een hele resem voorbeelden van vrijheidsbeperkingen die de "half-full glass"-mensen schijnbaar probleemloos lijken te aanvaarden. De geïnstitutionaliseerde roof van een groot deel van iemands inkomen, beter bekend als belastingen. De erosie van de contractvrijheid door een wettig minimumloon, anti-discriminatiewetten, wettelijk vastgelegde arbeidsvoorwaarden en verregaande maatregelen die bepalen welk soort producten onder welke voorwaarden verkocht mogen worden. Leef staat ook stil bij bepaalde "kleine" vrijheidsinperkingen die de mensen zelfs actief ondersteunen. Het gaat dan niet enkel om anti-terreurmaatregelen, maar ook om anti-woekeraarswetten en zelfs om staatsverplichtingen om in de toekomst nog maar één bepaald soort spaarlamp te mogen gebruiken. Leef spreekt verder ook nog over het verplicht dragen van een gordel in de wagen, het verplichten van banken om iedereen een hypotheeklening toe te kennen, ongeacht de kredietwaardigheid van de persoon in kwestie, en het verplichten van een overheidsstempel op tal van documenten alvorens ze rechtsgeldig zouden zijn.
Skeptics may be thinking, “Okay, some peripheral bits of freedom may have been whittled away over the years, but the government would never deprive the people of any really important aspect of freedom.” Put aside the riposte that what one person thinks peripheral may be extremely important to another. I think that the “glass half-full” view most people apparently have puts all of our freedom at risk. Could we lose, say, freedom of the press the way we have lost other, “peripheral” freedoms? I think so.


“Half-full” people would probably fall for that since they focus on the freedom that’s left, not that which has been taken away. They’d never give a thought to the consequences of putting federal officials in a position, for instance, to harass those who write what the government does not want the public to read. With such a pro-censorship law in place, the baseline concept of what freedom means would adjust downward again. No, even the freedoms protected by the First Amendment are not secure. Nothing is if people only look at the freedom that’s left, not that which is being taken away. (...) Frederic Bastiat taught that people’s thinking is usually influenced by what they see, not what they do not see. His point is at the root of the slow death of freedom in America.


At 15/2/10 20:58, Blogger Rudy said...

"het verplichten van banken om iedereen een hypotheeklening toe te kennen"
Met dit soort zinnen maak je jezelf irrelevant, Vincent.


At 16/2/10 01:13, Anonymous fcal said...

In tempore non suspecto (1999), werd het reilen en zeilen van de "staats" hypotheek- en verzekeringswereld in lovende termen beschreven in de NYT. Speciaal benadrukt en bejubeld werd het feit, dat de door de CRA "in bescherming" genomen minderheden zo goed presteerden op de hypotheekmarkt. Van excessen en vehoogd risico was er geen sprake.



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