Tibor Machan: The current focus on bailouts brings to the fore a widespread confusion. Perhaps it can best be understood by comparing the bailouts that many of us who are parents have performed versus the government’s bailout of banks, car companies, etc.
The current focus on bailouts brings to the fore a widespread confusion. Perhaps it can best be understood by comparing the bailouts that many of us who are parents have performed versus the government’s bailout of banks, car companies, etc.
As a parent of three grown children, I have, on and off, been approached by one or another of them asking me to please bail them out of, for example, credit-card debts. The sums are not inconsiderable, given my economic standing. But I could usually manage, if only by going into temporary debt myself.
Say my child maxed out his or her credit card to the tune of two or three grand. Being something of a pushover parent and not wishing to saddle them with bad debt early in their lives, I would comply with their requests. And I have done this several times, actually.
Each time, however, I would dip into my own savings or borrow on terms my lenders and I could agree on. I would not ransack the homes of my neighbors or friends in these undertakings. I certainly would not even think of using other people’s resources without their consent (for instance, that of my bank). Nor would I gather citizens of my community and use a democratic process to confiscate their wealth.
When you borrow money from other people on mutually agreed to terms, they assume a risk but with full awareness that this is what they are doing. And if they are at all economically savvy, they would make sure the terms insure them against loss and even bring in some profit by way of the going interest money would fetch at the time.
Now this kind of family bailout may have its downsides, of course. First of all, it can send very bad signals to your children about the way money needs to be earned. Simply providing them with the bailout can suggest, if only implicitly, that money just grows on trees, at least on family trees. And in time this can come to haunt parents since they will at some point stop earning enough to keep increasing their savings, or have made some unwise investments, or the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington and other centers of economic interference have managed muck up the system so that one’s money has come to be nearly worthless.
There are innumerable other ways that the parents (or grandparents) can start becoming less and less capable of doing these bailouts. Hopefully the children are mature enough that they, too, appreciate all this and begin to be more prudent, manage their resources more sensibly and stop needing and asking for bailouts. My own have nearly reached this point, although not yet, even though they are now in their late- or mid-20s.
My idea is, however, what else am I to do with my resources if not first of all provide support for my children, hoping that I will be sensible about it and not send bad signals to them? (Some, by the way, are more eager for bailouts than others!)
When the federal government provides bailouts of the sort it has been doling out recently, the situation is very different. And the central, most crucial difference, is that the government has no resources of its own. President Barack Obama and his team do not bail out anyone, nada. They do not go to their savings accounts and dip into these so as to help out failing banks or auto companies. They do not refinance their homes in order to enable them to do these bailouts. What Mr. Obama & Co. do, along with all the politicians and bureaucrats involved in these endeavors, is to place millions of Americans who have no say in the matter into very serious debt, a debt that will have to be paid by imposing confiscatory taxes on them, including their children and grandchildren who aren’t even around to have some kind of electoral say about the matter.
Mr. Obama & Co. view the country as their firm, a company they own that has resources they can use at their discretion, a company that can assume debt as would one in a free marketplace, only of course these assumptions are way off.
Sure, maybe the majority of the voters can be taken to have agreed to assume the debts incurred by the Obama team. But what about those who didn’t? Does democracy really mean one may vote on other people’s use of their resources? Then why not on what religions they must subscribe to, what they may think and say?
In fact, that’s what many people argue, in effect taking it that the United States is a huge voluntary cooperative or corporation or commune or something and its political leaders are like conductors of orchestras. They completely ignore that the country was founded on principles of individual rights to one’s life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc., matters not subject to majority rule! They ignore that the whole point of a country such as the U.S. was meant to be — as per the Declaration of Independence — to make these rights secure, including secure from the majority, not just some British king.
When parents bail out their kids it may not always be wise and prudent, but it is honest. When Mr. Obama & Co. do a bailout it is dishonest because they do it always with the resource or future resources of millions of citizens who haven’t consented to the policy and whose own purposes are thus just as severely thwarted as if a criminal had burglarized their homes and run away with what they own.
Tibor Machan holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at Chapman University’s Argyros School of B&E and is a research fellow at the Pacific Research Institute and Hoover Institution (Stanford). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at TMachan@link.freedom.com.