1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

The Ludwig von Mises Institute

Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian School

Search Mises.org

Freedom and Government:
An Interview Tibor R. Machan


(Only a small part of this interview with Tibor Machan appeared on a national television show. Here is the full transcript, posted August 10, 2003. Tibor Machan, adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, teaches at the Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman University. You may send him MAIL and view his Mises.org Daily Articles Archive.)

Q: So, the sign outside the IRS says taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

MACHAN: That's just false . . . taxation is essentially a relic of feudalism. It is the rent that kings took for allowing the serfs and others to work the land that the kings owned. But we don't have a monarchy any longer. People shouldn't have to pay to be able to work and to be able to own land. This [is] just the relic of feudalism. It's like extending serfdom into a free Republic.

Q: But it's not feudalism. We're a democracy, we vote for this.

MACHAN: Well, there are inconsistencies in our free democracy, unfortunately. There used to be a draft, which shouldn't have been there. There used to be slavery. There is still taxation.

Q: We're a democracy, the majority vote for politicians, who pass the tax.

MACHAN: The fact is that a majority should have a very limited power over the rest of us . . . majorities in a free society get to elect officials to administer the law but they do not get to make the law because that would mean that they roughshod over the minority and they're not supposed to do that. We're each supposed to have our rights, unalienable rights . . . they're unalienable even by a majority.

Q: But we've, again, voted for it, it's not forced on us. The majority gets good things done.

MACHAN: Now, look, a lynch mob votes right? And yet, it violates due process? If you extend that principle to democracy in general, you realize what's happening is that people, who happened to be a little bit more numerous than the rest force the rest to comply, which is not consistent with the idea of the consent of the governed.

Q: But it's democracy.

MACHAN: Democracy is not sacrosanct. There is such a thing as democratic Fascism; there can be democratic totalitarianism. The founders were terribly afraid of democracy as a form of tyranny. I mean if you realized that you could, if you believed in democracy being that bloated, vote for what haircuts we must all get, democratically, you could votes ties democratically, you could vote everything, [even] marriages democratically. We ought to restrict democracy to very limited functions, namely the selection of the officials who administer the law. That's why we call it "an administration."

Q: Where do you get these ideas?

MACHAN: You think about them. You figure them out. You read history, you read philosophy, you read politics and you think through these issues and you also apply some common sense.

Q: But I'm also leading you to talk about the founders and James Madison saying the government powers would be few and defined.

MACHAN: Exactly.

Q: In that sense, where do you get these ideas?

MACHAN: Well these are radical ideas. People forget that the United States of America was the result of a radical revolution, which had not been officially announced anywhere else in the world to which the world still looks with some measure of amazement and admiration and it's an unusual idea because almost throughout human history, there's always been some gang that took over and allowed some people to speak their rationalizations for that conquest. Finally, with the American Revolution, some ordinary folks, who thought about things decided that maybe it's individuals who matter in society, not kings, not classes, not ethnic groups, not races or anything. Even that wasn't consistently applied and we have, as a result, taxation.

Q: James Madison said the powers of the government should be few and defined.

MACHAN: Exactly.

Q: What would the founders think of America today?

MACHAN: That's speculation, I don't know maybe they would be crazy and like it. Who knows? Now my view is that they should not like it and they'd be turning over in their grave because what they said was is that "we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights." That means rights that cannot be abrogated, may not be violated, not by majorities, not by kings, not by your local sheriff, not by the vice squad, by nobody. Now, if they really meant this stuff, what else could they do but abhor what's going on right now?

Q: Abhor what?

MACHAN: Abhor for example the drug war, all of the limitations on individual liberty and that we have regulations, prior restraint; you know the press is the only profession, [that's] actually discriminated in favor of [so that] that profession has freedom, almost maximum freedom. But other professions don't. They can be intruded upon before they do anything wrong, before anybody has violated anybody's rights, committed any crime; there's a bunch of bureaucrats sitting over them and badgering them and making them uphold certain standards that they believe these people should uphold but maybe the people have better ideas but they're never allowed to put them into practice.

Q: America is the land of the free. You make it sound like a tyranny.

MACHAN: It's becoming a tyranny. It's always been compromised on that score. There was slavery, certainly a lot of people realize that that wasn't consistent with the Declaration's philosophy, individual rights, unalienable rights and slavery? Give me a break. The fact is that America has never been fully consistent with it's own declared political philosophy. Lincoln, for example, tried to make an adjustment—at least of his rhetoric was that he was liberating the slaves to put America more in line with its own declared political philosophy. Unlike many other societies, where correctives come in from outside, in America, the corrective standards were always there. They just hadn't been fully applied.

Q: All right, we got rid of slavery. It's not a tyranny any more.

MACHAN: Well it's not a tyranny in that respect. It's not a full scale tyranny but there are plenty of petty tyrannies around—almost all of the government regulatory devices are petty tyrannies, not Draconian like a Stalin or a Hitler but they are significant and they erode individual liberty and they impose an enormous cost on our lives.

Q: When you were a kid, the government picked your profession.

MACHAN: That's because I lived in Hungary and there was a totalitarian system afoot there.

Q: But so what happened to you and how can you call America a tyranny?

MACHAN: Well it's because I insist upon a fully consistent free society. It's kind of like in personal lives, just because you lie a couple of times that doesn't mean that you are an out and out liar but you do lie. It'd be nicer if you didn't. Similarly, the United States is a relatively free society compared to previous countries in history and around the globe but it could always use some improvement and what I'm advocating is greater and greater improvement. If nobody does that, then it's going to slide into a really serious tyranny.

Q: We need these rules or we'd have anarchy?

MACHAN: No, we wouldn't have anarchy; we'd have the rule of law, which protects individual rights. Individual rights don't mean anarchy. It means people get to do what they choose to do, so long as they do not violate other people's right. Nobody gets in there and messes with them until it 's been demonstrated in the court of law that they have violated someone's rights.

Q: Unless you directly hurt someone.

MACHAN: Yes. You can directly or indirectly hurt someone; there are cases where you indirectly hurt someone through embezzlement, through fraud, through all sorts of subtle coercive means. A just system isn't like a geometrical structure. There are subtleties, there are gray areas but the default position ought to be individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Q: I mean government is now approaching 40 percent of the economy. So what? People don't seem to mind. What have we lost?

MACHAN: People don't mind a lot of things. Sometimes, people don't mind being abused by their spouses either. Sometimes people don't mind when their parents are violent and nasty. That doesn't make it right just because people don't protest; it doesn't mean that all of us have to be blind to these arrogations of individual rights.

Q: People aren't being abused by their government the way people are abused by a spouse.

MACHAN: Actually, they are. I mean a great many people in business are suffering tremendously, they can hardly get going. Enterprises cannot get off the ground because they already have so many expenses imposed by various regulations at the municipal, county, state (and) federal levels; who knows the UN is going to come in next.

Q: But people like this. It's kind of like government is Robin Hood. It takes from the people who can afford it and gives to the needy.

MACHAN: Actually Robin Hood took from the people, who stole by means of taxation; they didn't get rich like Bill Gates did, by means of production and invention. The bulk of the rich back then got rich by taxing a bunch of poor people and Robin Hood took back the taxes. People forget about that.

Q: So, Robin Hood was stealing from the government?

MACHAN: Exactly.

Q: But you tell me that, it's like Robin Hood, the government's great. You take from the people, who can afford it and use the money to help the poor.

MACHAN: First of all, that's not generous, that's not compassionate, that's not kind, and that just is sheer robbery. I don't care why the rich are always bad mouthed. I mean after all, they're human begins too. Just the other day, I read Al Gore saying, the people versus the rich as if the rich were some sort of virus. These are human beings, who—maybe through luck, maybe through effort—(made) a good life for themselves. So, why [are] they punished for this? I don't get it. Robin Hood "stole" from members of the upper classes who lived off taxes that were taken from the poor people, who worked the land, who had to pay the taxes in order to survive on that land because the land didn't belong to them, it belonged to the king and to the noblemen, to whom the king bequeathed the land. Robin Hood said, "Wait a minute, this is robbery. This is not rent. We want it back."

Q: It sounds like you're saying Robin Hood stole from the government.

MACHAN: No, he didn't steal from the government, he repossessed from those to whom the government doled out the money that it extorted, took in taxes.

Q: The government and the cronies of government.

MACHAN: That's right. Exactly. Robin Hood was like me going to the United States Treasury and taking a great deal money from there and giving it back to the taxpayers. That's what Robin Hood did. Robin Hood didn't go to the rich, who happened to have worked hard and got rich and then said. "Well these guys are rich, [so] let's give a few dollars to the poor." That's not what Robin Hood did. Robin was fighting injustice and the injustice was taxation.

Q: [But] people like it that we have a safety net.

MACHAN: Look, some people like a lot of bad things. That doesn't make it right.

Q: The poor, poor people need the help.

MACHAN: Well, they should ask for it and we should give it to them of our own free will and not have a gun to our head and do the right thing because we are forced to do the right thing. That doesn't make it right. We don't get any credits for that. That's coerced "virtue" which  makes it no virtue at all.

Q: [Isn't] government [needed since] not enough good people would give to charity to help the people [in need]?

MACHAN: That's a crock. That is a complete lie—the fact is that there have always been plenty of people in a free society who volunteer to give to those who need it. They don't do it the kind of indiscriminate reckless way in which government is doing [it]. Government came in not to substitute for a drying up of private charity. Government came in because it didn't like the standards by which the distribution occurred from those private charities.

Q: But there weren't enough private charities to help enough of the poor people. We needed government to fill the gaps.

MACHAN: I don't agree. I mean historically, that's wrong. And moreover, government is not filling any gaps. Despite the massive welfare state, the same complaints occur year after year that there are the homeless; there are the poor children, the needy old, the needy sick, the needy farmers, the needy artists. If the government is so good at this, why is it failing all the time for all these folks?

Q: Public housing sounds so reasonable. Poor people, who can't afford it, need help and they get it.

MACHAN: Yeah, they sure need that public housing right? There are the homes for the dregs of humanity, public housing. They're a disgrace; they're the most embarrassing things that government has ever done. Just look at them.

Q: But they house people who need help.

MACHAN: Yeah, usually, they house people by wiping out a bunch of low cost housing that were probably much better. In fact, there's been a lot of chronicling of this, how government displaces perfectly good but perhaps not as monumental type housing that the government creates. Besides, this is now been an embarrassment. Most people recognize—even Democrats, like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, complain about this element of the welfare state. This is not really something that even the defenders of the welfare state parade around saying we did a wonderful thing.

Q: But where would those people live? How would they get homes?

MACHAN: For one thing, most of those people would now be employed if there weren't the kind of heavy taxation there is. Taxes cost the society a trillion dollars every year to administer them. That means paying for the IRS, for the lawyers, for the CPAs, for all of these people involved in this scam, is eating up incredible productive resources in every society. These people would be getting better jobs and they wouldn't have to live in these wretched conditions for which the government comes in like a big savior and from which then it rescues them.

Q: Taxation can't cost a trillion. I'm sure it's billions but that would be like most of the money going to the process.

MACHAN: But this is [the system of] taxation, it's not the taxes, it's the expenses involved in running the tax system, in addition to the budget. When you take things from people, when you rob them, when you loot them, they obviously have to make adjustments. They now either get dejected and no longer work as hard as they used to or they have to substitute for things that they could have purchased or could have invested in better insurance policies, better education for their kids better tires for their cars. They now have to do some extra work or maybe do without. The consequences of these substitutions are very difficult to detect whereas a politician's achievement—of a new monument or a new sports arena in Boston—is always very nice to point to and the cameras can go down there and take the picture and say triumphantly public works work. But when they take [the taxes], there is no way to trace this except by imagination and by some thoughtfulness and by asking the people what they might have done with the money that they could have kept rather than have had to do without.

Q: There's no way to trace what exactly?

MACHAN: The consequences of deprivation. I mean if somebody comes and robs your house, and you now don't have certain things, exactly what you will do depends on many circumstances. You may say, OK, I'll buy another TV set [since] I lost this one. But you might say, "OK, I won't watch TV for another year and then I'll substitute it." You may decide, "I am going to spend the money that I might have spent on a new tire or a better health insurance policy on the new TV."  That's why it's so difficult to trace this.

Q: But we can see the public housing project or the monument?

MACHAN: That's exactly right.

Q: But we can't see what people would have created if they hadn't been taxed to build the monument?

MACHAN: Exactly, that's precisely the thing. A famous French economist, Frederick Bastiat once wrote an essay, "What is seen and what is not seen." It addresses this issue directly.

Q: People might have cured cancer, cured AIDS.

MACHAN: Exactly.

Q: Invented a new . . . machine [or] I don't know what . . .

MACHAN: OK, you're driving to the point where you begin to see that this is the politician's substituting their judgment for our judgment. Exactly what gives them that right?

Q: We elected them to do that.

MACHAN: What is the "we"? I mean some people elected.

Q: The majority that voted.

MACHAN: So why don't they hire them as their investment advisors and leave the rest of us alone to do our own investing? This idea that voting should cover everything is ridiculous. We already covered that.

Q: Well that's good to keep covering it a lot. Cause it sounds good. [What about] voting . . .

MACHAN: But voting doesn't sound good. We all know the example that is usually used as a reductio ad absurdum for voting, the lynch mob. Clearly, a majority wants to hang the guy but we say it's wrong because it has not gone through the process that demonstrates that the hanging is deserved.

Q: Government job training. Picture that if you will. Don't we need this?

MACHAN: It's one thing to talk about need. I mean I very well may need a car, a new VCR or a better health insurance policy. But I am not justified to go over to my next-door neighbor and hold him up because I need these things. I have to ask his permission or borrow the money. Government takes it. It comes, puts a gun to your head and says, if you don't give it, we'll send you to jail.

Q: And spends it on the good for the greatest number things like job training.

MACHAN: But even if it did that, which is a crock, it doesn't do it properly. It doesn't do it through the consent of those from whom it takes. It robs.

Q: What about Americorps—young people getting involved helping others.

MACHAN: If they do it voluntarily, at no expense to people who did not volunteer, this is a wonderful thing. But if other people are taxed in order to make this possible, this is not a wonderful thing.

Q: You're making government sound like tyranny. All these laws are passed with good intentions. This is to help people.

MACHAN: If a person goes out and robs his neighbor, it could very well be with very good intentions. He may want to put his child through a better schooling experience. He may want to buy something that is important for the family. That doesn't justify the robbery. Moreover, it doesn't have to be as I said, Draconian. It could very well be just minor chipping away at another person's life. A lot of times people don't protest these things because they got better things to do than worry about the loss of a few pennies for this and a few pennies for that. But in the end, it ends up to be 40 percent or more of their entire wealth or income. So, sure, they don't protest. It's like if I keep bumping into you as I pass you on the road, you're not going to sue me. It would take something greater than that. But [that] doesn't make my bumping into you something admirable. No, even if I'm in a hurry, I ought to be more careful. Government does [all of] these little bitsy [evil] things—granting we don't have concentration camps (although our prisons with all those drug criminals in it, do very much look like concentration camps). That is pretty Draconian, by the way. So, America doesn't come off squeaky clean when it comes to tyranny either. Many of those people are totally innocent of any violation of anybody's right and yet they are in jail sometimes longer than people who are in jail for serious crimes.

Q: [But] let's say you want to feed [and] save the spotted owl or feed poor people.

MACHAN: There are plenty of opportunities for people to invest in those private organizations that do that. There are wildlife associations, there's nature conservancy, and there are all sorts of organizations that do these things.

Q: But it's all disorganized.

MACHAN: So what? A free society is disorganized. That's what freedom means. You don't get to regiment people.

Q: Sounds like chaos?

MACHAN: No, it's not chaos, it's just not regimented. It's what a free society is expected to be; lots of people doing different things depending upon their abilities, their talents, their opportunities and yet, not stepping on each other while they [are] doing so. That's where lawfulness comes in, not by regimenting them, [which is] not lawfulness, that's dictatorship. Many people claim that the reason that the government does all these nice things is that people in a free society wouldn't do it and hadn't done it, OK? [No] in fact, the only reason that the government does it is that the people didn't do it their [the government's] way. The people who are in the bureaucracies [and their supporters] want to impose various standards that suit their particular preferences but not the preferences of the [regulated].

Q: But maybe they know better. They're the experts who studied this.

MACHAN: But this is a myth, why would the people in Washington know things better [about what] happen[s] in Wyoming? Where's that come from? I don't get it.

Q: They're smarter. They've studied. They specialize. They know what's best for the whole country.

MACHAN: Now we have this old doctrine that there is a class of people who somehow by nature deserve [to] rule because they know better by blood or by inheritance or what? Those guys are [essentially] the same blokes that we are. They have no right to run roughshod over us anymore than we do over them. They should go home and do their own business.

Q: But we keep inviting them to do more.

MACHAN: Some of us do, I don't. They should respect my freedom not to get them involved in my life unless I consent.

Q: The voters keep inviting them to do more.

MACHAN: But they shouldn't have that right to vote on those things any more than they should have a right to vote on who gets hanged.

Q: Any other examples besides lynching?

MACHAN: People make all kinds of rules. For example, where I must live—some group has decided that no one can go into the National Forest because some toads are endangered there. Now, all the people who pay for the upkeep of this national forest can't go there because some group has managed to convince some bureau in Washington.

Q: We want to protect these toads.

MACHAN: Why? At my expense? At the hikers' expense? What are toads anyway? I mean toads are nice and if you want to save the toads, take some home and take care of them. But don't shut down a whole people's forest for the sake of the toads.

Q: Indians in America have the worst lives.

MACHAN: That's true.

Q: They are terribly poor. They live short lives. Without government help, wouldn't it be worse for them?

MACHAN: That's like when the government goes in and ruins their lives and it comes up and says, hey, you need us. That's really bright and morally admirable isn't?

Q: What do you mean morally?

MACHAN: I mean that's really something commendable for them to do, to have neglected the Indians for decades on end and then suddenly parade themselves as [if] they were needed to save the Indians. And they did worse than neglect them; neglect might have been good. The fact is that most of the crimes against the Indians were committed by the government.

Q: The Bureau or Indian Affairs is helping Indians.

MACHAN: Helping again in a particularly predisposed way that usually the Indians don't like very much, but again because of this idea that people in these bureaus are experts and know better and are also morally more virtuous than the rest of us they get to do this stuff. The Indians have been mismanaged, they have been treated terribly, they've been criminally assaulted throughout America's history and now this bureau in Washington comes in and tries to pretend that it is there to save the Indians.

Q: But they are trying to save the Indians.

MACHAN: They're not trying to save the Indians. They're basically imposing certain standards on how the Indians must live because they think they're more virtuous and brighter and smarter than everybody else, especially the Indians.

Q: It's all to help them?

MACHAN: This is not to help them. This is to regiment them.

Q: National Parks—don't we need national . . . [that] the government keeps . . .

MACHAN: We need parks. We don't need national parks. We need shoe stores. We don't need national shoe stores. We need grocery stores. Where does this "national" stuff come from?

Q: Without National parks, people would put McDonalds all over the parks and roads everywhere.

MACHAN: Well I'm not sure that would be the case but if so, then maybe that's a good deal. Maybe that's what the people want.

Q: I don't think people would want McDonald's ...

MACHAN: Then they wouldn't put them there right? But all this comes from the top down, from people who sit in Washington. They know how local communities should allot their resources, is that right?  Give me a break.

Q: In Washington they know.

MACHAN: They don't know squat, in fact most of those people who live in Washington inside the Beltway, they don't go out and check out exactly what's happening. They have a couple of Congressional hearings and bring in some of their cronies, who testify to what they want to hear and then they make a law, which completely ignores local knowledge, the most important ingredient in public policy. They don't have that. One of the things about a free society is that it adjusts expertise and skill to particularly interesting local circumstances that may not be shared with other local circumstances. This is not possible when the Federal government runs everything.

Q: But if every local community does what it wants, you don't have a nation.

MACHAN: You have a nation of certain laws that protect individual rights. The uniqueness of this nation was supposed to be that it doesn't have laws running people's lives but [laws] protecting people's rights.

Q: Rights, rights like . . .

MACHAN: The right to [life], to liberty, the right to express myself, the right to seek out jobs in the marketplace, the right to trade, the right to exchange property with others—those are rights of freedom which other people should not abrogate or violate, including the government. One of the interesting elements of our criminal law is the concept of due process, which means the government has to behave in accordance with the very rights that it tries to protect, that it promised to protect. But in fact, what's it now doing is violating those rights left and right in order to accomplish its various [special interest] goals.

Q: Safety rules, we need government to make sure the planes don't crash.

MACHAN: Yes, and they never crash right? Why can't we sue them when they do crash if we really need them for that much, why aren't they complicit in the disaster that happens? That's an interesting side story, by the way. There are all these regulatory agencies [that] get off completely Scott free when some disaster happens.

Q: All right but they don't crash that often.

MACHAN: They don't crash that often partly because we are very well used to now making pretty good planes. That could happen without the government just as easily as with the government. There's nothing the government has [done to] keep us safe. There are many, many institutions already in this society, which help in keeping us safe without the government's intrusion.

Q: Few people seem upset about this. Nobody's talking Boston Tea Party.

MACHAN: Actually, quite a few people talk about it but they don't get on the air.

Q: But nobody . . .

MACHAN: [they are not] interviewed by most mainstream talk show hosts. They don't say, hey, wait a minute, come on out here and tell us what's wrong with the government. Instead, they say, hey what has the government done for you lately?

Q: But the level of outrage isn't there. I mean nobody's throwing tea into Boston Harbor.

MACHAN: Well of course, back then that was one instance. A lot of people put up with a lot of [King] George's indiscretions even then. There were a few brave ones, who agitated the rest of us.

Q: The Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps us safe.

MACHAN: Why would it be the only thing that does so? Since when is that a metaphysical truth? The fact is they busted in even though they are not needed.

Q: But we need them to set some rules.

MACHAN: No, we need the government to protect our rights. We don't need it to come in and do what is called prior restraint, namely mess with us before we have done anything wrong. If we do something wrong, there is tort law [and] all sorts of legal devices in a free society that could punish the wrongdoers but not before the fact; that is the price of liberty. You have to wait until someone does something wrong before you mess with them.

Q: Regulation doesn't wait.

MACHAN: Regulation does not wait and in that respect, it's unjust. It's like going out and gathering up a bunch of people and saying, you go to jail because you might kill somebody.

Q: Who would protect us if the Consumer Product Safety Commission didn't?

MACHAN: We would and those people, whom we would hire for that purpose. I mean we're not that stupid that just because we're free, we would squander all the safety, all the caution in our lives. We would hire people just like we now hire dentists and doctors and automotive workers and TV repair people; we would hire people to look out for our safety just as easily. But these guys in Washington and in Sacramento and many other centers of power have preempted this now. A lot of people have the false security and they don't even do such a great job with this.

Q: OK, what should government do?

MACHAN: It should protect our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and all the derivative rights, the ones that are not mentioned because remember, the Declaration says, "among these rights" are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That doesn't mean that those are the only rights we have. It also says that governments are instituted "to secure these rights, [which is] a very clear statement of the proper business of government in a free society.

Q: You don't want government to do safety regulation and all these things. What, again, should government do?

MACHAN: Government should do what it's appointed to do, namely to protect our rights—that is when criminals attack us, when foreign aggressors attack us, then the government must rise to defend us. Then the government rises and does it job of protecting our rights. That means it should have a police, it should have courts, and it should have a defense from foreign aggressors. That's what the government should do in a free society.

Q: That's it?

MACHAN: Well that's a whole lot. There are lots of criminals out there; there are lots of people who might instigate a war against us. That's a very big job. It would do it much better if it didn't do all this other stuff that it's gotten its nose into. One of the reasons there is so much crime is that they've made a bunch of [conduct] crime that is not [really] a crime.

Q: Don't Americans have a right to health care? Shouldn't government provide it?

MACHAN: No, Americans don't have a right to other people's labor. That constitutes involuntary servitude. We've outlawed that a long time ago. We do not get a right to other people performing things for us. We have to buy that. We have to prepare for that. We have to save up for that. We have to be prudent and careful in our lives to secure those things just like food and clothing and other benefits. We don't go out there and hold people up to give it to us. That's what all the entitlement programs are.

Q: But they all have noble intentions.

MACHAN: Of course noble intentions but you know what [good] intentions will [often] give you?

Q: OK, but, I mean, people think of the government as good people. If people choose to work for the government, it means they want to help people, make people's lives better.

MACHAN: That may very well be the case—there are a lot of motivations for going to work for the government and I'm not disputing their motives. I am disputing the legitimacy and the justice of what they're doing.

Q: But isn't there something noble about that—go into government and help people?

MACHAN: Why don't they do the job that government is supposed to do and that way help people? You can help people by protecting their liberty against criminals and foreign aggressors and that means that they can get to do all the things that they need to do for themselves.

Q: [But] without government to order life, we'd have chaos.

MACHAN: A famous thinker in the classical liberal tradition named F.A. Hayek spoke about the spontaneous order. What this means is that people, when they are free, will plan out their lives in cooperation with other people. Out of that, [an] order will emerge without it's being imposed from above.

Q: Spontaneous order?

MACHAN: [Yes,] that's like you and I, for example, making an appointment for this interview. It's orderly. We are talking, everything is going to fall into place and there was no government that set it up for us.

Q: Don't we need government to plan?

MACHAN: No, you have all sorts of planning done by businesses by social clubs, by universities by hospitals, by religious organizations. Planning is part of living.

Q: Willy-nilly?

MACHAN: It's not willy-nilly—it's my plan and your plan and our coordination of our plan so that we get things done without having to have nanny government come in and do it for us.

Q: I mean it sounds willy-nilly, all of us doing what we want.

MACHAN: First of all, I'm not sure that willy-nilly is that bad a thing; but the second point is that our plans are spontaneous, self-generated, innovative plans, much [more] likely to be on mark than the plans that are imposed upon us by bureaucrats from above.

Q: But it's hard to anticipate how those things will work.

MACHAN: Well is it any better to anticipate how things will work when done from 3,000 miles away by a bunch of bureaucrats, who by the way, have probably as their priority to make sure that their job is secure?

Q: But people seem more comfortable with a planner.

MACHAN: Well I don't think so. That's a myth . . . the myth of the planner. Most people, if you ask them, [give] their gut reaction that they would like to lead their lives themselves. They may not have worked this out into a theory. They may not be able to articulate it, but if you ask them in their normal commonsense ways, they will insist that they are better qualified to be in charge of their lives than other people are.