A few weeks ago, I gathered that a friend is a homosexual. There were premonitory signs. He was eager to meet. He’d message me incessantly on Facebook. This doesn’t prove anything. I know another guy who does all this. He’s just weird. Maybe some people are neurotic. Perhaps their communication needs are much stronger. People are not straight forward, and perhaps these guys want to just feel safe.
This fellow is very good at his job. But, he’s still bothered by what happened in high school half a lifetime ago. When a guy tells me he’s depressed without giving me any good reason, my first guess would be that he’s gay. He doesn’t believe in marriage. When I probed further, no good reason seemed to be forthcoming. At some point, I felt he was hitting on me. There was nothing really sexual in what he said, but my intuitions don’t go wrong. I asked him whether he’s straight, and he said, “I don’t even know what I am”. I asked him whether he can give me a plain “Yes” or “No”, he said “You can’t put people in a box.” This is exactly the kind of thing leftist people say when they try to get away with something. I said, “Bye-Bye”. This is not my thing. Continue Reading
“I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”, so ends the speech of John Galt, the hero of heroes of Atlas Shrugged.
The above sentiment is echoed by many in the libertarian movement, especially Ayn Rand’s followers. Objectivists single out Altruism as a scapegoat for most, if not all of the problems faced by mankind. I myself believed much of the rhetoric years back, when I came across her works for the first time in my life. I still find much merit in them. Given the fact that Voters have systematically biased beliefs, selfishness is likely to significantly improve the way democracy works.
GMU economist Bryan Caplan puts it well: “Why? If selfish voters misinterpret markets as a method for the rich to exploit the poor, at least the rich will still favor markets. They’ll want what they falsely see as their “pound of flesh.” But if unselfish voters misinterpret markets as a method for the rich to exploit the poor, the rich and poor alike will unite against the imaginary evils of the market. Instead of petty squabbling, we get a consensus for folly.” It should be obvious that it is important to emphasize that altruism is not an unconditional virtue in a world where most people wrongly believe that we are our brother’s keepers and get that notion institutionalized. Self interested actions are generally virtuous, as long as it doesn’t involve taking advantage of others. When Caplan says: “I often wish the people around me were more selfish – or at least better at being selfish. I know how to deal with rational, self-interested actors. They’re really quite charming. If I want them to change their behavior, I offer them a deal. While they might hold out for more, at least they don’t take offense.”, I tend to agree. Continue Reading
Recently, the department of science and technology (DST), government of India decided to sanction grants to science departments of different colleges and universities in Bihar for strengthening their infrastructure, including laboratories. The Indian government is actively encouraging universities to make use of government support, on the guarantee that there is no dearth of funds.
The government is trying to bring together two opposites-mind and force, not giving a moments reflection to the fact that both are incompatible. Government funding of science is an outright infringement of individual rights. It attracts all kinds of rogues to science, who wouldn’t have otherwise in the field, and are more interested in the politicization of science than in the pursuit of knowledge. It would be irrational to expect the government to accept ideas which threaten its existence, or prevent the expansion of its power. Government funding of global warming alarmism and the green movement is a case in point. So, is the fact that the leading universities breed all variants of collectivism. Continue Reading
Most educated Indians I have come across have read Ayn Rand. A lot many of them think highly of her. In the eyes of some, she was a brave raconteur, but when it came to politics, she was a moth-eaten individualist. Yet, it can’t be doubted that her influence is growing at an amazing pace. Recently, I came across an article, “Why Is Ayn Rand Respected More in India”. The author, Jerry Johnson, says it is partly because Rand’s reputation “has escaped the lies, mischaracterizations, and attacks of the intellectual and academic elite in the US.” Another reason is that Indians could easily relate to what Ayn Rand wrote. We live in a highly collectivist society. An American libertarian friend of mine told me that in India, corruption is there for everyone to see. It is glaringly obvious that it can’t escape anyone’s attention. Jerry Johnson thinks that “Rand’s uniquely powerful, persuasive, bold, and lucid style of writing is perfect for the tastes of the Indian audience who are not into obfuscations, meandering musings, and equivocality. Rand’s admirable style of revealing things as they are, never faking reality, and calling a spade a spade, seems superbly customized for the Indian readership.” One of the greatest merits of Ayn Rand’s writings is that she writes in such a straight-forward manner. Philosophers usually hold highly nuanced and contingent views. One is left wondering what they really meant. Ayn Rand will have none of this disrespectful treatment of the reader. I don’t think anyone will have any confusion over what Ayn Rand really meant. Jerry Johnson ends by saying that the phenomenon of “growing out of Ayn Rand” is catching up in India too, as Indians like to ape the west. I know at least half a dozen young Indians who claim to be “over her already”. Not a good sign!
Like many other issues, on war, Ayn Rand was right more often than not. Rand rightly points out that though most of the mankind is opposed to war and never wanted it, they live in fear, as they haven’t rejected the philosophy which leads to war: statism. Her article on war is full of brilliant insights. Yet, there are a few inconsistencies and incomplete arguments which I would like to point out. Rand was of the opinion that a free country has every right to start a war against a controlled economy. It might be true that a free country has the right to free the citizens of a totalitarian nation, but in these times of modern weapons it is extremely difficult to avoid civilian casualties. Not surprisingly, several libertarians have noted that the position of many Randians on the issue of Iraq war was equally inconsistent. Is it right to kill innocent victims in the name of punishing evil? Obviously not! Yet, their position amounted to that. Rand was right when she said that it makes no difference to a man whether he is killed by a nuclear bomb or a dynamite bomb or an old-fashioned club. But, is that all? Isn’t it difficult to pin-point criminals when nuclear weapons (or even ordinary bombs) are employed? An old fashioned club could be used only against the person who has initiated violence. She was partly right when she said the number of other victims or the scale of destruction might not make any difference to that man. (In some cases, it does make a difference.) The problem arises when she stretches the argument and claims that there is something obscene in the attitude of people who regard horror as a matter of numbers. We often hear that it is no worse to kill millions than it is to kill one man. The error in this mode of reasoning was pointed out by Murray Rothbard. He wrote: “Surely it makes a huge difference how many people he kills. We may see this by phrasing the problem thus: after a man has already killed one person, does it make any difference whether he stops killing now or goes on a further rampage and kills many dozen more people? Obviously, it does.”
“Food Inflation”, as they have named it, has soured to a decade’s high in India. As usual, speculation and hoarding is being blamed. False remedies are being proposed. It is time to think in terms of fundamental principles. Ayn Rand had pointed out decades back in her essay “Egalitarianism And Inflation” that “Inflation, a man made scourge, is made possible by the fact that most people don’t understand it.” If people were sound on monetary matters, government manipulation of money and credit would not have happened. Ayn Rand asks what would have happened if a person is allowed to trade in paper in a society in which gold has evolved as money. What if such a person claims that he is the best customer and expands the market? The issue, now, must be clearer than crystal to everyone. That person is making a claim on goods for nothing. That’s precisely what the Government does-Counterfeiting, a crime which is punished severely if done by an ordinary citizen. As Ayn Rand had noted, there is only one institution which has the legal power to trade by means of rubber checks: the Government. Counterfeiting is implicit theft. Of course, it is true that the Government doesn’t simply print paper money and circulate in the market. The process is more complicated. But, that doesn’t change the intrinsic picture. The fact remains that the Central Bank, a Government institution, creates money out of thin air. Ayn Rand identifies that there will be two concepts a savage thinking on the range of the moment transported into an Industrial society can’t grasp-“Credit” and “Market”. We, however, can’t make such an excuse. We are capable of long range thought. If we are to stop inflation, we should grasp these concepts and step into action.
The subject of Thursday’s (8 p.m., Eastern Time) “Stossel” on the Fox Business Network will be the novel “Atlas Shrugged”. There will be interviews with leading Objectivists including Dr. Yaron Brook.
Atlas Shrugged sales are going through the roof as of the economic crisis. In 2008, an all time high of 200,000 copies were sold. People find some similarities between the novel and the present happenings. When Ayn Rand was asked “Is Atlas Shrugged a prophetic novel or a historical one?” she replied “If some people believe that Atlas Shrugged is a historical novel, this means that it was a successful prophecy.” One has to agree.
As Richard Salsman pointed out, “altruism” is the root of the present economic crisis. . Subsidies doled out to prop up failing businesses are a classic case of robbing productive individuals to “help” the incompetent. Politicians are trying to solve these problems through more and more controls, not paying attention to the fact that it was controls which led to the crisis in the first place. Controls breed further controls. It is easy to blame the free market and “greed”, but it should be obvious that the problem is much deeper. (The heroes of Atlas Shrugged were branded “greedy”.) If people had understood the ideas put forward in the “Atlas Shrugged”, the world would have saved a lot of pain.
Laws to promote house ownership for the poor were the root cause of the housing bubble. George Bush said in a speech in 2002: “We use the mighty muscle of the Federal Government in combination with State and local governments to encourage owning your own home. That’s what that means. And it means – it means that each of us – each of us – have a responsibility in the great country to put something greater than ourselves – to promote something greater than ourselves.” We must be “unified in service to the greater good”, said Obama. One is tempted to quote John Galt, “Why do you shrink in horror from the sight of the world around you? That world is not the product of your sins; it is the product and the image of your virtues.”
Mark Skousen is an economist I respect a lot. He is inclined towards Capitalism, and is a consistent critic of Keynesian economics. However, in his article “THE TROUBLED ECONOMICS OF AYN RAND” he proves that he has grossly misunderstood Ayn Rand’s philosophy and the concept of consumer sovereignty. Howard Roark, Skousen writes, denies a basic tenet of sound economics–the principle of consumer sovereignty, when he says. “I don’t intend to build in order to serve or help anyone. I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.”
The principle of consumer sovereignty was (and is) espoused by many sound economists, including Ludwig Von Mises and W H Hutt. They are right in saying that in a free market, people are urged to produce goods which are demanded by the consumers. But, this is far from proving that the consumer is “sovereign”. It was one of the greatest achievements of Ayn Rand to prove the fallacy of consumer sovereignty, a notion which has misled even great economists. As she put it, “There are the economists who proclaim that the essence and the moral justification of capitalism is “service to others—to the consumers,” that the consumers’ wishes are the absolute edicts ruling the free market, etc. What all such theorists fail to mention is the fact that capitalism grants economic recognition to only one kind of consumer: the producer.” Even Ludwig Von Mises would have agreed that people pursue their monetary interest “only to the extent that other things are equal.” The consumer is not sovereign. He hasn’t’ (and shouldn’t have) the right to compel producers to produce goods he desire.
Sovereignty is in fact, a political concept, as expressed in statements such as “The King is sovereign”. It doesn’t apply to economics. As an economist wrote, “Sovereignty” is the quality of ultimate political power; it is the power resting on the use of violence. In a purely free society, each individual is sovereign over his own person and property, and it is therefore this self-sovereignty which obtains on the free market. No one is “sovereign” over anyone else’s actions or exchanges. Since the consumers do not have the power to coerce producers into various occupations and work, the former are not “sovereign” over the latter.”
Mark Skousen is off the mark when he says “Randian selfishness ignores the interest of others.” I wonder whether he has carefully studied Ayn rand’s philosophy. There is no clash between legitimate interests of people. One doesn’t ignore the interests of others when pursuing ones selfish interests. One, in fact, aids it.