Archive | June, 2011

Capitalism and Ayn Rand vs Jesus and The Welfare State

Writes resident philosopher at the Ayn Rand Institute, Onkar Ghate, in “Does America Need Ayn Rand or Jesus?” over at Fox News:

What worries advocates of the welfare state is that they have never before faced any moral opposition. [...] But now its advocates sense that this is no longer true, that some Americans are beginning to question the moral legitimacy of the welfare state. To strangle this questioning in the crib, supporters of government controls are trying to persuade their opponents to abandon Rand.

The current tactic is to tell Tea Partiers and “conservatives” that if you take religion seriously, you can’t be a fan of the atheist Ayn Rand. The American Values Network (AVN) has produced a short video containing snippets of Rand’s rejection of religion, which they hope to e-mail to more than a million people in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, asking citizens how they can support both Jesus and Rand. Leaving aside AVN’s distressing attempt to blur the separation of church and state by basing politics on faith, this much is true. Rand’s moral teachings are fundamentally different from Jesus’ teachings.

[...]

Given her positive teachings, Rand must reject what is usually taken to be the core of Jesus’ moral teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. But before you dismiss this as unthinkable, ask yourself the following question. Did Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers not reject the Sermon’s advice in creating America?

As I’ve written before: “When the British struck America’s right cheek, did Jefferson in the Declaration tell America to turn to offer them the left? Did Jefferson love his enemy—or did he go to war with him? Did Jefferson, who had a gallery of worthies in his home, portraits of men like Isaac Newton and John Locke, think that the blessed are the poor in spirit—or that the only people worthy of admiration are those who choose to make something of their spirit? Did Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers think that the meek shall inherit the earth—or that, in Locke’s words, the rational and the industrious shall? Did Jefferson give up riches—or did he seek them?”

 

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Friends in Washington: Obama Administration Continues to Imitate Villains of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Over at the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney writes on the waiver process for Obamacare:

Congress imposes mandates on other entities, but gives bureaucrats the power to waive those mandates. To get such a waiver, you hire the people who used to administer or who helped craft the policies. So who’s the net winner? The politicians and bureaucrats who craft policies and wield power, because this combination of massive government power and wide bureaucratic discretion creates huge demand for revolving-door lobbyists. It’s another reason Obama’s legislative agenda, including bailouts, stimulus, ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, tobacco regulation, and more, necessarily fosters more corruption and cronyism.

As Dan Mitchel at Forbes notes, this replays a scene from Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged:

Nobody professed to understand the question of the frozen railroad bonds, perhaps, because everybody understood it too well.
At first, there had been signs of a panic among the bondholders and of a dangerous indignation among the public. Then, Wesley Mouch had issued another directive, which ruled that people could get their bonds “defrozen” upon a plea of “essential need”: the government would purchase the bonds, if it found proof of the need satisfactory. There were three questions that no one answered or asked: “What constituted proof?” “What constituted need?” “Essential-to whom?”

[...] One was not supposed to speak about the men who, having been refused, sold their bonds for one-third of the value to other men who possessed needs which, miraculously, made thirty-three frozen cents melt into a whole dollar, or about a new profession practiced by bright young boys just out of college, who called themselves “defreezers” and offered their services “to help you draft your application in the proper modern terms.” The boys had friends in Washington. [Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand]

Was Ayn Rand a fortune teller? No. She was a philosopher who identified the principles that guide action in the human sphere and carried them out to their logical conclusions. And when government bureaucrats are granted the arbitrarily power to regulate commerce, the rule of economic production is replaced by replaced by the rule of political pull.

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OCON: The Leading Conference on Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Objectivism

This year’s conference — OCON 2011 — will be held from July 2–8 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In addition to the beauty of our beachfront setting, the Fort Lauderdale area offers a wide array of leisure and entertainment activities.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of Ayn Rand’s We the Living, which we will mark with a special panel discussion featuring Drs. Shoshana Milgram, Robert Mayhew, and Onkar Ghate who will discuss the new chapters they have written for the forthcoming expanded edition of Essays on Ayn Rand’s “We the Living,” edited by Robert Mayhew. Two years ago, John Allison former CEO of BB&T delivered a lecture titled “Principled Leadership”; this year his lecture is titled “Teamwork and Independent Thinking.” Longtime Capitalism Magazine writer John David Lewis presents a special perspective on the thought and work of doctors based on his recent experiences as a patient in his new talk, “Individual Rights and Health Care Reform: A Patient’s Perspective.”

Other general session lectures will include: The Objectivist Movement: 50 Years Later by Yaron Brook; Individual Rights and Health Care Reform: A Patient’s Perspective by John David Lewis; Q&A with Interviewees in 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand by Michael S. Berliner and others; The Culture of “Package-Dealing” by Peter Schwartz; What It Takes to Win: A Workshop on Defending Capitalism by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins; an Open Q&A by Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate; Spaceflight as It Was—and as It Ought to Be by Andrew Lewis.

Optional classes include: Principles by Harry Binswanger; Ayn Rand and the Romantic School by Tore Boeckmann; History of the Supreme Court (part 1): The Least Dangerous Branch? by Eric Daniels; Egoism and Altruism by Gregory Salmieri; Bach and the 19th Century by Thomas Shoebotham; The Nature of Literary Heroism by Andrew Bernstein; Topics in Intellectual Property: The Computer and Biotech Revolutions by Adam Mossoff; The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant (part 2): Kant’s Moral Philosophy by Jason Rheins; To Imagine a Heaven—and How “Sense of Life” Can Help You to Claim It by Tara Smith;  The Measure of All Things by Robert Knapp; The History of Ancient Greece: The Early Fourth Century by John David Lewis; The Age of Discovery: Discovering the New World (c. 1300–c. 1600) by Andrew Lewis; and Ayn Rand, Private Investigator: Detection in Fiction and Philosophy by Shoshana Milgram.

There will be a variety of events and social opportunities for conference attendees as well, with opening and closing receptions, and an Independence Day BBQ dinner on July 4 at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa.

Links: OCON 2011 Website

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Wilders on His Aquittal

Writes Wilders in  In Defense of ‘Hurtful’ Speech:

[...] Yesterday, the Dutch people learned that political debate has not been stifled in their country. They learned that they are still allowed to speak critically about Islam and that resistance against Islamization is not a crime.

I was brought to trial despite being an elected politician and the leader of the third-largest party in the Dutch parliament. I was not prosecuted for anything I did, but for what I had said. My view on Islam is that it is not so much a religion as a totalitarian political ideology with religious elements. While there are many moderate Muslims, Islam’s political ideology is radical and has global ambitions. I expressed these views in newspaper interviews, op-ed articles and in my 2008 documentary, “Fitna.”

I was dragged to court by leftist and Islamic organizations that were bent not only on silencing me but on stifling public debate. My accusers claimed that I deliberately “insulted” and “incited discrimination and hatred” against Muslims.

[...] That’s why I was taken to court, despite the fact that the public prosecutor saw no reason to prosecute me. “Freedom of expression fulfills an essential role in public debate in a democratic society,” the prosecutors repeatedly said during my trial. “That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable.”

[...] Though I am obviously relieved by yesterday’s decision, my thoughts go to people such as Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard, Austrian human-rights activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff and others who have recently been convicted for criticizing Islam. They have not been as fortunate as I. In far too many Western countries, it is still impossible to have a debate about the nature of Islam.

[...] Citizens should never allow themselves to be silenced. I have spoken, I speak and I shall continue to speak.

Read the rest of In Defense of ‘Hurtful’ Speech.

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Geert Wilders Acquitted of all Charges

This morning the Court of Amsterdam has acquitted Geert Wilders of all charges.

“I am delighted with this ruling,” says Geert Wilders. “It is a victory, not only for me but for all the Dutch people. Today is a victory for freedom of speech. The Dutch are still allowed to speak critically about islam, and resistance against islamisation is not a crime. I have spoken, I speak and I shall continue to speak.”

A victory for free speech and a great blow against the religion of violence and intolerance.

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Obama The Luddite

Writes economist Richard Salsman over at Forbes in Obama The Luddite: Friend To Labor Unions, Enemy Of Job Creators:

Before citing the many ways Washington’s policies impede job creation, let’s first consider Obama’s pet theory, which is centuries old and as fallacious as ever. Believe it or not, he blames high joblessness on automation, technology and efficiency. In a recent interview with NBC News, the president, asked why the U.S. jobless rate remained so high, answered:
There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.

So Obama prefers that humans again perform such automated tasks?

The economic illiteracy exposed by Obama’s resort to this ancient, bogus claim is truly astounding. Citizens should be shocked to find their political leader (and his advisors?) spouting such junk — and worse, pushing labor policies that embody the idiocy. The myth that automation or technology kills an economy’s job growth has been refuted by political economists (and empirical history) at least since the 16th century. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution itself (since 1750) entails the near-incessant introduction of new machines, factories, technologies, energies and transportation-communication systems — all of which saved physical labor and made skilled labor more productive (thus better paid), and coincided with massive growth in all kinds of jobs, including in services, intellectual fields and in the invention, design and creation of new technologies.

When it comes to genuine, pro-capitalist job-creation, Obama is a saboteur, in the original meaning of the word. Its root is sabot, which is French for “wooden shoe,” and it was such shoes (clogs) that insecure, ignorant Dutch workers threw into the gears of new machines centuries ago, hoping to impede output gains and prevent job losses among colleagues. To sabotage something means to purposely weaken or destroy it through subversion, obstruction and disruption. That’s what public policy does today to those who might hire labor.

Similarly, the “Luddites” were a gang of disgruntled British textile artisans in the 19th century (headed by a stupid thug named Ned Ludd) that tried to prevent the entry of more productive and mechanized looms by destroying them. The Luddites were applauded by village idiots who thought the destruction would “save” jobs. Obama is a current-day Luddite who obstructs industrial development and obsesses about such old-fashioned things as windmills, solar power and “shovel-ready” projects.

If economic activity is to be rational, profitable and thus beneficial to human well-being, the aim must be not more work or jobs for the mere sake of it, but to become wealthier and improve one’s living standards, through greater productivity. That goal often entails working less and devoting more time to leisure, perhaps even by reducing the number of workers per household, if it’s affordable.

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Capitalists On Strike

Writes Richard Salsman over at Forbes on How The Demand-Siders Ruined The U.S. Economy:

Both [Keynesianism and Monetarism] schools, while posing as academic rivals, in fact have far more in common than they admit. Both obsess about mere spending and consumption — the economy’s “demand-side” — to the neglect and harm of its all-important supply-side. What always drives a robust economy is not “consumers” per se but savers, investors, innovators and producers.

Whereas Keynesians claim a free economy is at risk of “over-producing” and under-consuming, Monetarists claim it is at risk of “deflation” due to insufficient money supplies. The Keynesians are always eager to boost what they call “insufficient aggregate demand,” typically by means of government deficit-spending, a policy they tout as “stimulus.”

Likewise, the Monetarists are ever-eager to counter imagined threats to demand allegedly posed by insufficient money-creation, and if necessary they’d resort to helicopters to dispense the needed money from above, a policy they call “quantitative easing.” Yet these demand-side schemes – Keynesian deficit-spending and Monetarist money-printing alike — only erode entrepreneurial and productive prowess. For example, today’s dangerously long duration of unemployment (39 weeks) reflects repeated extensions of jobless benefits, which Keynesians demand as a way to stoke more consumption, not extra jobs or output.

In truth, and contra-Keynesianism, mere consumption is the effect of production, not its cause; to consume is equivalent to using up or destroying wealth, not creating it anew. Likewise, and contra-Monetarism, the mere creation of fiat paper money (or bank reserves) by a monopoly central bank isn’t the same as creating real wealth; indeed, more often than not the effect — inflation — only undermines the wealth-production process, by distorting price signals, while simultaneously robbing unsuspecting money-holders of purchasing power.

Sadly, U.S. policymakers seem to be aping the crazy policies adopted by their Japanese counterparts starting two decades ago: gargantuan deficit-spending and money-printing. Keynesian and Monetarist policies can easily cross borders, much like viruses. Japan’s economy has stagnated during this time, not “in spite of” its demand-side schemes but because of them. Its government debt is now 200% of GDP, double what it was in 1996, and at the same time the Bank of Japan boosted the money supply by 158%. What good did any of this do? Japan’s NIKKEI today is half what it was in 1996, while its industrial output is higher by only 1%.

In this century so far America also has suffered a “lost decade” of sorts, due to the anti-prosperity schemes of both Keynesians and Monetarists; they’ve depressed the economic growth rate and saddled both current and future generations with massive and unparalleled deficit-spending and debt monetization. Together with a burgeoning mass of regulations, demand-side policies suffocate private-sector incentives to save, produce, invest and hire. Thus capitalists are on strike — and rightly so, since they face political assaults from both sides.

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Bake More Pies

From When It Comes to Wealth Creation, There Is No Pie over at Forbes:

One implication of the pie metaphor is that wealth is a zero-sum game: there is a fixed amount of houses, cars, medicines, etc. to go around, and the more Steve Jobs gets the less is left for the rest of us. That may have had some plausibility 250 years ago when most wealth was in the form of land. But today, when an iPhone 3G verges on outdated technology, it’s impossible to miss the fact that wealth grows. Roberts puts the point this way: “[T]he pie is not constant. So your well-being can grow even when your share of the pie falls if the pie is getting sufficiently larger.”

Wealth grows. True. But the pie metaphor carries with it another implication, which Roberts doesn’t challenge. It treats wealth as owned by society. We happen to find ourselves in possession of a pie. How did it get here? That’s never made too clear, but it’s here, and now we have to decide how to divide it up fairly.

In accepting the pie metaphor, we concede a moral point that should not be conceded. Wealth does not arise from an amorphous social process; “society” owns no pie.

Wealth is created by, and morally belongs to the individual creator. [...]

[Or by extension, if a group of individuals team up together to bake a pie then the pie belongs to them and not "society."]

[...] As Rand observes, since “man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.”

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LA Times Writer Shows His Confusion About The Gold Standard

Writes Nathaniel Popper over at the LA Times:

The ultimate goal is to return the nation to the gold standard, in which every dollar would be backed by a fixed amount of the precious metal. Economists of all stripes say the plan would be ruinous, but that view is of scant concern to Pitts.

“Quite frankly, I think that economists from universities are thinking within the confines of their own little world,” Pitts said. “They don’t deal with the real issues.” Proponents of the laws believe that returning America to the gold standard would force the government to live within its means, curtailing runaway spending and inflation.

[...]

The United States and most of the rest of the world operated on a full gold standard until the Great Depression. Economists generally agree that the policy helped cause the depression and earlier severe downturns by limiting the amount of money the government could create, constraining its ability to stimulate the economy. Scholars say moving to a gold standard now would be likely to slow the economy’s already meager growth. [Gold Standard | U.S. monetary policy and gold standard: Pushing for a return to the gold standard - Los Angeles Times]

Contrast this view to that of Alan Greenspan (when he was a defender of capitalism):

“The irony was that since 1913, we had been, not on a gold standard, but on what may be termed “a mixed gold standard”; yet it is gold that took the blame.” [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]

The article falsely claims that economists “of all stripes” are against a gold standard. The truth is that any pro-capitalist economist would support a proper gold standard based on pro-capitalist principles over the FED mess we have now.

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Audio: Was the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 has been a boon or a bust for the U.S. economy?

George Selgin, of the University of Georgia, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about whether the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 has been a boon or a bust for the U.S. economy. Drawing on a recent paper with William Lastrapes and Lawrence White recently released by the Cato Institute, “Has the Fed Been a Failure?” Selgin argues that the Fed has done poorly at two missions often deemed to justify a Central Bank: lender of last resort and smoother of the business cycle. Selgin makes the case that avoiding bank runs and bank panics does not require a central bank and that contrary to received wisdom, it is hard to argue that the Fed has smoothed the business cycle. Additional topics discussed include whether the Fed has the information to do its jobs well, the role of the Fed in moral hazard, and the potential for the gold standard to outperform the Fed.

Listen to George Selgin talk on the Fed over at the EconTalk: Library of Economics and Liberty.

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TEDx VIDEO: Dr, Eric Daniels on The Moral Case for the Free Market

Dr. Eric Daniels of Clemson University’s Institute for the Study of Capitalism has lectured internationally on the history of American ethics, American business, and entrepreneurship, as well as the American Enlightenment. He has also appeared on C-SPAN and is widely published in the field of economics.

You can also hear Dr. Daniels speak at this year’s OCON Conference.

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Obama’s Legal Minions Name Their Enemy

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, “may violate the constitution of Ayn Rand, but they do not violate the Constitution of the United States,” acting solicitor general Neal Kumar Katyal told a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday. Conversely, attorney Paul Clement, representing Georgia and 25 other states, framed the issue of mandated purchase of health insurance as an issue of liberty. “Can the federal government compel an individual to take part in commercial activity in order to better regulate that individual?” he asked the judges. [ObamaCare gets put through judicial wringer | Jay Bookman

And what does Ayn Rand have to say about the constitution?

The American system of checks and balances was just such an achievement. And although certain contradictions in the Constitution did leave a loophole for the growth of statism, the incomparable achievement was the concept of a constitution as a means of limiting and restricting the power of the government. [...] 

Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals—that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government—that it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizens’ protection against the government. [“The Nature of Government”, The Virtue of Selfishness]

The clause giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce is one of the major errors in the Constitution. That clause, more than any other, was the crack in the Constitution’s foundation, the entering wedge of statism, which permitted the gradual establishment of the welfare state. But I would venture to say that the framers of the Constitution could not have conceived of what that clause has now become. If, in writing it, one of their goals was to facilitate the flow of trade and prevent the establishment of trade barriers among the states, that clause has reached the opposite destination. [“Censorship: Local and Express”,  Philosophy: Who Needs It 184]

This view is apparently what the Nihilist’s of the Obama administration disagree with.

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