The Philosophy of Plunder

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

When garden variety academics leave their ivory cocoons, they are really at a loss. Recently, Notre Dame University philosophy professor James P. Sterba tried to sell the libertarian Cato Institute on the “right” to welfare. “You’re not at the ABA anymore Jim,” his co-panelist Jan Narveson, chided him.

Narveson is a professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo. Indeed, Sterba’s understanding of liberty might be more at home at the American Bar Association. “I submit that the liberty of the poor, which is the liberty not to be interfered with in taking from the surplus resources of others what is required to meet one’s basic needs, is morally enforceable over the liberty of the rich, which is the liberty not to be interfered with in using one’s surplus resources for luxury purposes,” Sterba wrote in Are Liberty and Equality Compatible?

Narveson was more comfortable at Cato. “I have no sympathy for welfarism as a cure for poverty,” he said. “It is not a cure.”

“It perpetuates it.” To be fair, Sterba was more than a good sport in coming to Cato to begin with, though he did betray a bit of culture shock.

“I’m listening,” he said. “I’m trying to listen.”

Then he mumbled, “Maybe I’m biased.” It should be noted that bias does not come up in his singular, albeit negative, review.

“The class was all over the place, he never led discussion,” his one anonymous critic on RMP claimed. “Too much reading for a 200 level course and not enough direction, especially since the class had a lot of underclassmen who haven’t properly learned how to debate topics.”

“Frusterating.[sic]” No doubt, particularly if you can’t spell.

Nevertheless, Sterba’s understanding of history is ideally suited to the academic workplace. “You had a communist system that wasn’t really a communist system,” he told a fairly incredulous room full of libertarians. “You had a czarist system.”

“That’s why they made the transition so easily to capitalism.” The Heritage Foundation study on Russia indicates that Sterba may have missed a few bumps in this “easy transition.”

“State involvement in economic activity remains extensive,” the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom reported. “Non-tariff barriers significantly increase the cost of trade.”

“Monetary stability is weak, and prices are heavily controlled and influenced by the government. Deterrents to foreign investment include bureaucratic inconsistency, corruption, and restrictions in lucrative sectors like energy. Corruption weakens the rule of law and increases the fragility of property rights.”

It appears that Frederic Bastiat had a keener understanding of the danger of socialism in the mid-Nineteenth Century before the advent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics than Sterba has in the Twenty-first nearly two decades after its official demise. “Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times,” Bastiat wrote. “It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic.”

“Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual, and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.”

“This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat again: These two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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