Recently it was announced that Gary Becker has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. There is no doubt in my mind that Gary Becker's work is so good that he deserves every academic honor. And he has received them, including the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1992.UPDATE: This is Glen now. To those who disagree with Mario's reasoning, I pose this question: Would you accept an honor from Kim Jong Il? If the answer is no, then I submit that we're only quibbling about where the line should be drawn. Sadly, I think GWB is on the wrong side of the line.
However, let me offer my gratuitous and perhaps meddlesome opinion that he should not accept the award. Why? That is simple. It is the Presidential Medal and George W. Bush is no friend of freedom. Here I can only list without proof several claims. First, it is clear, I believe, to all objective analysts that he lied us into a war. He intentionally exaggerated or cherry-picked the evidence to show that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Second, Bush has violated the UN Charter (to which the US is a signatory) by invading Iraq without any immanent or even medium-term threat to the US. Third, he has violated the Geneva Treaties and allowed, negligently or intentionally, torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. Fourth, his Administration has engaged in completely extralegal rendition of prisoners to other countries where he knew or should have known that they would be tortured. Fifth, and perhaps least important, he has allowed the explosion of government spending not seen since Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.
All this raises a much larger issue than Gary Becker's medal. This is the attitude among many academics that the state is really benign, at least the good old US of A state. As long as the state recognizes their achievements, excellent as they may be, this shows that these guys can't be all bad. And, what's more, the government (the NSF, for example) awards funding for their worthy research. So what is there to complain about? However, the evidence continues to mount about the malign effects of this government's policies, in particular, and of the fundamental structural deficiencies (to use a mild word) of our state.
The president is not in a position to convey honors to anyone, least of all to a truly great economist like Gary Becker. How can the dishonorable convey honors?
UPDATE 2: Mario emails the following addendum:
Some people are saying that I am being a "libertarian purist." My point is not that it is wrong to accept government money in all cases. I intend to accept my Social Security payments, for example. In fact, if it were simply that Gary Becker would get a check in the mail, I would say fine. Better it should go to him than down the usual rat holes.The problem is that so many people think that it is an HONOR to receive a presidential award from Bush or that, quite fantastically, this medal can enhance Becker's reputation.