The Dim-Post

September 15, 2009

Alisa Rosenbaum

Filed under: books,Politics — danylmc @ 9:22 pm

PD*27435983The New Republic has an essay about Alisa Rosenbaum, nee Ayn Rand, inspired by two new books about her life:

Her Russian-Jewish family faced severe state discrimination, first for being Jewish under the czars, and then for being wealthy merchants under the Bolsheviks, who stole her family’s home and business for the alleged benefit of the people. . . Around the age of five, Alissa Rosenbaum’s mother instructed her to put away some of her toys for a year. She offered up her favorite possessions, thinking of the joy that she would feel when she got them back after a long wait. When the year had passed, she asked her mother for the toys, only to be told she had given them away to an orphanage.

Ah ha!

I think Rand and her books are worth paying attention to, not because they are well written (shudder) but if you want to get an idea of how a frighteningly large number of businessmen and their admirers in right-wing politics imagine themselves, their role in society and justify their actions then The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are compulsory reading.

In a way I think Rand and her attitude towards corporate CEO’s has been mischaracterized, both by her fans and her enemies. It’s true that most Objectivists have a silly, adoring-schoolgirl attitude towards the rich and successful and imagine that they have all sorts of heroic qualities and magical powers, but if you read Rand’s books – Atlas Shrugged especially – the antagonists are almost all big businessmen: incompetent, dishonest, stealing from their shareholders, running their companies into the ground and begging the government to save them. The only difference between them and a modern Wall Street banker is that the banker has read Rand and considers himself an epic hero in her mold, when he’s much closer to one of her villans.

And it’s also not true – as the linked article states – that Rand considered physics ‘corrupt’. Pre-20th century physics was fine, it’s all that modern stuff with probabilities and wave-particle duality that Rand had a problem with and considered ‘perverted’ physics.

Rand-baiting aside, I have two basic problems with the Objectivist/libertarian viewpoint. The first is historical: people like Rand and von Hayek made very famous predictions about the outcome of Roosevelt’s New Deal and the welfare states that the socialist democracies of Western and Northern Europe built after WWII: they prophesied that these countries would suffer from catastrophic economic failure and become totalitarian slave states indistinguishable from the Soviet Union. Instead they became the wealthiest economies that the world had ever seen, the citizens of which enjoyed unprecedented quality of life and freedom. That’s a pretty epic fail.

The second is it’s failure to confront problems like climate change. If Objectivism were a robust intellectual system then it would be able to propose a sensible, free market individualistic solution to climate change; instead being an Objectivist or a libertarian is synonymous with climate change denial. Responding to a problem by pretending it does not exist is not a responsible position: you have to wonder how a world of libertarians would react to similar catastrophic events like the outbreak of a deadly new disease (‘the doctors and scientists are lying, the streets are not really choked with corpses, the science is deeply disputed . . .’). With no public health and no regulations around waste disposal, food handling or hygiene a libertarian utopia would enjoy a high frequency of lethal pandemics so the question of how they’d respond to them is salient.

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56 Comments »

  1. To be fair to climate change deniers, it’s not just responding to climate change like it doesn’t exist – that’s just the latest position on a shifting spectrum. Initially it was denial, then it was acceptance that it was happening but denial that it’s our fault, now in light of more recent data, it’s denial again. So it’s not denial as such, but passivity, albeit a very active kind of passivity.

    But in the sense of living for one’s own ends and for the furtherment of oneself – the cornerstone of Objectivitism (but not libertarianism) – ignoring or denying climate change is the most practical and sensible thing to do. You don’t have to take action because you belong to a school where the principle is that selfishness is the most moral thing you can do. You can’t conceive of a good greater than your own interests and if you’re going to be dead then it doesn’t matter to you.

    The main advantage of Rand’s position is that it doesn’t try and tackle any difficult questions. It’s a self defeating pop philosophy because it ignores its own dead ends and treats them as a completion. And people rarely discuss her ideas because they’re not really her ideas to begin with. They belong to other people. Rand had a buffet attitude toward serious philosophy that, on the whole and on the part of her followers, reflects a laissez-faire attitude toward philosophy as a discipline.

    Comment by Chris — September 15, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  2. I agree that public health measures seem to be a huge problem for Objectivists.

    I used to imagine asking Lindsay Perigo, when he used to maintain that the Government should only restrain citizens from using force against each other, if he was in favour of compulsory hydatids testing for farm dogs.

    It seems to me that Perigo might argue that not getting your dog tested is a sort of metaphorical use of force and thus should be prevented by the state. But if he construed force so broadly then Objectivism would be so meaningless that he might as well vote Labour. On the other hand if he wasn’t prepared to use state power to require such a straightforward and effective public health measure then, as you say, we would come to a pretty pass.

    Comment by Andrew D — September 16, 2009 @ 12:24 am

  3. after reading Dawkins and Pinker reading anything Objectivist feels like swimming through porridge.

    A bit like Freud she got a few things right but never really understood how important evolution is to how the mind works.

    She could perhaps be excused for being a bit late to be influenced by Robert Trivers and E.O. Wilson but her followers don’t have the same excuse. But they do look more like a cult.

    Comment by Neil — September 16, 2009 @ 12:39 am

  4. for some reason I was thinking of William Hamilton but put Trivers.

    Comment by Neil — September 16, 2009 @ 12:48 am

  5. For those of you who consider us, Objectivists, as cults, I think you’re employing an intellectual cop-out to true analysis. I could just as easily say that what you assert to be true as “cultish” and continue with such absurdities as fascism is a cult, marxism is a cult. Check your premises as Ayn would say. What is your so-called definition of a “cult”. When does what you call a cult become accepted sufficiently (institutionalized) that it becomes a valid philosophy, religion, etc?
    “Dead ends”…”doesn’t tackle difficult questions”…you’ve got to be kidding. You obviously haven’t studied the philosophy. I’m 62 and I’ve just read “Atlas Shrugged” for the 4th time. I see NO dead ends…no dismissing of difficult issues…just the opposite.
    Objectivism requires objectivity….that’s the single-most element missing in most critics of Rand and Objectivism.

    Comment by Robert Taylor — September 16, 2009 @ 3:32 am

  6. “Objectivist/libertarian” is like saying Marxist/social democrat, dude.

    “if you want to get an idea of how a frighteningly large number of businessmen and their admirers in right-wing politics imagine themselves, their role in society and justify their actions then The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are compulsory reading.”
    I haven’t read these myself, but concluded that my role in the New World Order is to shut the fuck up and pay my taxes so that the Marxists/social democrats can continue their wierd experiment where no one has to take responsibility fopr theselves because the state will provide… :^)

    “people like Rand… made very famous predictions about the outcome of Roosevelt’s New Deal and the welfare states that the socialist democracies of Western and Northern Europe built after WWII: they prophesied that these countries would suffer from catastrophic economic failure and become totalitarian slave states indistinguishable from the Soviet Union.”
    Dude, have you not been following the rise of the European Union? The subprime crisis? How the British no longer feel that their police force cares about them? That NZers came close to not being able to choose for themselves which light bukbs and showerheads they use, that they can only raise their children with two hands tied behind their back? That they can’t cut down trees that they own and paid for? That we can’t even defend ourselves from physical attack, we can only rely on the state (and when the state arrives, they sit back behind an ‘eath n safety tape whilst folk bleed-out)?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 7:26 am

  7. “you have to wonder how a world of libertarians would react to similar catastrophic events like the outbreak of a deadly new disease” I guess they would invent DDT to kill mossies, vacines to prevent diease. You do know that our gumints buy vacines from the private sector, right? Damn that profit motive, eh?

    Or how would they react to hunger? Dunno, I guess I’d ask Norman Borlaug to answer that question.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 7:30 am

  8. “true that most Objectivists have a silly, adoring-schoolgirl attitude towards the rich and successful and imagine that they have all sorts of heroic qualities and magical powers

    Well, I can’t speak for Objectivists, but I believe in the power of the invisible hand. I guess that could freak you Marxists/social democrats out a bit, LOL. Pots n kettles, pots n kettles.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 7:33 am

  9. “With no public health and no regulations around waste disposal, food handling or hygiene ”

    And is this confusion you have between anarchists and libertarians, is it willful?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 7:42 am

  10. “…totalitarian slave states indistinguishable from the Soviet Union.”

    vs

    “That NZers came close to not being able to choose for themselves which light bukbs and showerheads they use, that they can only raise their children with two hands tied behind their back?”

    Yeah. That’s totalitarianism right there. We’re lucky National won the last election, I hear Labour was about to create our very own KGB, and was mere inches away from sending its political opponents to the gulags.

    Comment by deadlyllama — September 16, 2009 @ 7:44 am

  11. Yes Clunker (or can I call you dude, dude?), the EU is a totalitarian slave state. The economy has collapsed and everyone lives in abject poverty. The people are starving. You’ve been there of course, so I don’t have to tell you. It’s hell on earth. Especially Copenhagen and Helsinki. Pits of despair. The individual has been eliminated and it’s a capital offence to say ‘I’. Actually they are phasing out candescent light bulbs, but funnily enough the people here are smart enough to recognise the benefits of this so no one really cares.

    Danyl, surely life’s too short and there’s too much good stuff to read to bother with both Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead? Jesus.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — September 16, 2009 @ 7:49 am

  12. “Objectivism requires objectivity….that’s the single-most element missing in most critics of Rand and Objectivism.”

    I agree there’s an objectve reality and can see the sort of things Rand was reacting to by emphasising that. Post-Moderism in some of its manifestations for example.

    But we do have to access that reality via the mind and the mind is not completely rational. In fact if it were completely rational we would be unable to make decisons. There are people with particular forms of brain damage who have no emotions. They are completely rational but because they have no emotional reason to make a decsion they never do.

    And emotions are a form of embeded rational thinking that evolved to enable us to become social creatures.

    Although there is an external reality which we have evolved to deal with one big unresolveable issue is the unpredictability of that external world – which includes those highly inpredictable creatures – other humans. It’s impossible to process all the information available. At some point the mind makes what amounts to leaps of faith.

    But that is all from modern evolutionary psychology backed up by latest brain imagery techniques etc and I’ve never seen that discused by Randians. You don’t see it discussd much on the left either who have there own peculiar views of how the mind works.

    Comment by Neil — September 16, 2009 @ 8:24 am

  13. You people are all missing the point! Someone has already done a thought experiment on what a Randian utopia would look like. Anyone want to live there?

    Comment by Eddie Clark — September 16, 2009 @ 9:53 am

  14. Not that I am a Rand-roid, but this article is a bit much, do you not think?

    First, I am insulted that they would associate free marketers with “right-wing”. That is just a smear campaign an attempt to make freedom lovers “guilty by association” with the nutty socialists of the right (think the Compassionate Conservativism of George Bush). Someone needs to recognize that there is a clear difference between advocating individual rights vs. advocating for big government programs.

    Second, not sure why someone who advocates spending another person’s money via tax and redistribute should have a “better” moral role in society than those who produce the wealth to begin with. The people who invented new products and services (cars, computers, MRIs, airplanes, etc.) have saved more lives and improved the quality of BILLIONS of lives over the entire planet, yet that is somehow morally reprehensible, or an improper role for them to play in society?

    Right… according to that logic: We should reverse all of the gains we have made due to capitalism. The average life span should be back in the 30s. Infant mortality rates should be sky-high. People should be illiterate serfs, scratching at the earth for their very survival. Yet we would all have “moral” roles in society.

    No, not all businessmen are heroic. Certainly none of them are magical. However, why assume that the calling for “public service” eliminates these bad qualities from people? Have you never heard of a corrupt bureaucrat or a power thirsty tyrant? What was that movie “We are Here to Help”?

    I will take a free society with a profit motive and voluntary exchange anyday over a society where there is a select group of people with power over us all.

    When in doubt, err on the side of freedom.
    Viva a tyranny of justice.

    Comment by Justin — September 16, 2009 @ 9:57 am

  15. I just read Rand’s short description of objectivism. Her metaphysics and epistemology are fairly naive, but whatever – they are no worse than many popular beliefs.

    But what I found interesting was her ethics “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others”. That is quite a Kantian point of view, and I wonder whether her modern followers have forgotten that – the importance of treating people with respect rather than purely as a method of getting what you want.

    And in her politics, she promotes “free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit.” There has been a lot of work in recent years arguing that free voluntary exchange requires independent standing, and that unless society provides basic support for education, health and the dignity of the individual, this just wont happen. The risk is that her proposed political system of absolute laissez faire capitalism will deliver a sub-culture of serfs who cannot make free voluntary exchanges because of their economic and educational disadvantage.

    Our modern societies try to thread this needle, generated wealth and opportunity through capitalism, but with governments who try to make sure everybody has the chance to participate.

    http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_intro

    Comment by vibenna — September 16, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  16. it is of course possible that redistributive economies do not make a moral judgment about their taxation base

    Comment by JD — September 16, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  17. Justin – no one is criticising inventors or saying we shouldn’t admire them. The people who tend to get reamed in critiques of capitalism are not wealth creators, they are CEOs and other executives who cut R&D funding and work mostly towards increasing their stock price in the short term. Also hedge fund managers etc who have turned the stock market into a casino rather than what it is supposed to be – a way for people to invest money in wealth-creating companies.

    Personally I agree with you that capitalism is the best way to get innovation and technological advancement. But to equate inventors (many of whom make sod-all money because their employers own the rights to everything they do) with capitalists generally is just lazy and creates an extremely weak argument.

    Comment by Helen — September 16, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  18. @ Robert Taylor

    ““Dead ends”…”doesn’t tackle difficult questions”…you’ve got to be kidding. You obviously haven’t studied the philosophy. I’m 62 and I’ve just read “Atlas Shrugged” for the 4th time. I see NO dead ends…no dismissing of difficult issues…just the opposite.”

    Four times?

    I’d read something else. You might get why it’s simplistic, dead-lock material.

    Comment by Chris — September 16, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  19. “I hear Labour was about to create our very own KGB” weell, they WERE trying to shut down the SFO…
    :^)

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

  20. Guy Smiley, you can call me Susan if it makes you happy!

    “[in the EU] The individual has been eliminated and it’s a capital offence to say ‘I’.” Weelll, it’s nigh on an offense for voters to say “NO” to the Constitution-I-mean-the-Lisbon-Treaty.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

  21. “You’ve been there of course, so I don’t have to tell you.” Correct, dude, I lived there for nearly 5 years. Sure it’s not the CCCP YET, but they are trying hard.
    If The Irish vote yes, we’ll see power transfer from local elected governments (albeit some shit ones) to a bunch of unelected bureaucrats. Would YOU like to be ruled from abroad? The Kanaks don’t like it and the commonwealth countries didn’t either.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

  22. Hey, Clunking Fist. It is possible to put more than 2 sentences in a post you know. How bout you consolidate your ranting?

    Comment by Eddie Clark — September 16, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  23. Couldn’t help to recall recent comments from Tyler Cowen (Marginal revolution blog – http://www.marginalrevolution.com) and his article in the New York times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/business/economy/13econ.html?_r=1&hpw)

    Too big to take a pay cut”
    Tyler Cowen
    Here is my latest column. It’s about how politicization is behind the financial crisis (in part), why we haven’t learned very much from the financial crisis, why we are treating the health care sector just as we have been treating the banks, and why Atlas Shrugged is selling so many more copies.

    Excerpt:

    We should stop using political favors as a means of managing an economic sector. Unfortunately, though, recent experience with health care reform shows we are moving in the opposite direction and not heeding the basic lessons of the financial crisis. Finance and health care are two separate issues, of course, but in both cases we’re making the common mistake of digging in durable political protections for special interest groups.

    One disturbing portent came over the summer when it was reported that the Obama administration had promised deals to doctors and to pharmaceutical companies under the condition that they publicly support health care reform. That’s another example of creating favored beneficiaries through politics.

    If these initial deals are falling apart, it is only because reform met with unexpected resistance. Even after Mr. Obama’s speech Wednesday night, we’re still at the point where the medical sector is enshrined as “too big to take a pay cut,” which is not so far removed from the banking motto of “too big to fail.” In finance and health care, a common political dynamic has created similar trends, namely, out-of-control costs, weak accountability, and the use of immediate revenue patches to postpone dealing with fundamental problems.

    Even worse, these political deals threaten open discourse. The dealmaking may be inhibiting some people in health care from speaking out in opposition to the administration’s proposals. Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, deserves credit for complaining about this arrangement, but not enough people are asking where such dealmaking might stop.

    The banking sector has been facing similar constraints; if bankers criticize the Treasury or the Fed, they risk losing their gilded cages and could get a bad deal when the next bailout comes. When major economic sectors can be influenced in this way, are we really very far from the nightmare depicted by Ayn Rand in “Atlas Shrugged”?

    The conclusion is this:

    In short, we should return both the financial and medical sectors and, indeed, our entire economy to greater market discipline. We should move away from the general attitude of “too big to take a pay cut,” especially when the taxpayer is on the hook for the bill. If such changes sound daunting, it is a sign of how deep we have dug ourselves in. We haven’t yet learned from the banking crisis, and we’re still moving in the wrong direction pretty much across the board.

    Comment by What would Hayek say — September 16, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

  24. vibbenna @ 15. You forgot about charity. The first hospitals and schools available to the poor weren’t gummint provided, they were provided by charity, financed by the evil rich folk. Some of those dirty rich folk built entire towns to house their workers, what an evil idea, eh?

    “unless society provides basic support for education, health and the dignity of the individual, this just wont happen”
    Plenty of people give to charity at the moment. I suspect if they had more money in their pocket, they’d look to give a little more. I certainly wouldn’t want the “dignity” of being labelled a “beneficiary” by the state.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

  25. “How bout you consolidate your ranting?”
    I do it deliberately so the authorities can’t trace me. I disconnect my modem every 58 seconds. Anyway, if I consolidated it, it would look coherant and considered…

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 16, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  26. Helen,

    In terms of a lazy arguement, I would ask you to offer concrete proof (instead of blanket assertions) that CEOs and other executives are completely immersed in destroying all of our long-term potential gains for short-term success. There are clearly some CEOs and other executives that make those kinds of decisions and so long as we do not engage in bail-outs, the life-span of their companies ends up being quite limited. Only a fool kills off his seed capital, and he then finds himself out on the street the next year. Farmers do not sell all of their seeds or kill all of their livestock. They save some to replant next year or to breed for the next season. I am sure there are a few farmers who may make poor decsiions, but they are not usually farmers the next year! The only reason these executives can treat the stock market like a casino is because the risk/reward link has been completely severed – by regulatory fiat. I go to Vegas and gamble (with your money) and lose, then I go to jail. Goldman goes to Wall Street with your money, loses, and gets bailed out.
    We have appropriate laws on the books to protect people’s property and the right to contract. (Do not get me wrong, there is no such thing as a right to a profit). (Also, that means the government must clean up its own Ponzi scheme’s, like Social Security in the USA).

    In terms of corporate governance, I am not an expert on how companies are set up or on how shareholder’s rights should be respected. I am sure there are quite a few other models out there that we could test (if we were free to, and not bound by regulations). We should also distinguish between invention and innovation. The US developed the GPS systems we use in cars, but did not see a commercial use for it. The Japanese did, and they made the first inroads into that business and a lot of profit from it. I do not have a problem with the innovators and businessmen making profits from something someone else invented but could not find a use for. Certainly there are a lot of companies making similar products (in any field: drugs, autos, etc.) and that is because they have a way to get the product in a different way to consumers that provides value. The companie should be rewarded for providing value.

    When is the last time you walked into a government office voluntarily and came away with something you value and were happy to have paid for?

    Money pollutes the political system to rig the game. Your solution is to blame the greedy CEOs. They are just gaming the system. My solution is to change the system: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of trade and production. Or at least “congress shall grant no bounty from the treasury”. That would make the system of subsidies and bailouts obsolete. Couple that with the existing US government clause in the constitution (uninforced) that all taxes should be uniform, and then we can have equal treatment in front of the law instead of unequal treatment as a result of the law.

    Comment by Justin — September 16, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  27. When is the last time you walked into a government office voluntarily and came away with something you value and were happy to have paid for?

    I got some books out of the library at lunchtime . . .

    Comment by Danyl Mclauchlan — September 16, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

  28. Test.

    Comment by Peter Cresswell — September 16, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

  29. Danyl,

    I was excited to see you talking about my favourite author. However I was disappointed to find that you’d made of her a straw man — so many errors in such a short post can’t surely be accidental? And in being so scathing, one might have thought you would be able to adduce some serious evidence for your claims?

    Anyway, we at least agree on one thing here, i.e., that Rand and her books are worth paying attention to.

    However, I’d suggest you read them herself before criticising her for them, since you’ve got a number of things quite seriously wrong here.

    1. Rand’s admirers (among whom I include myself) are only too aware of the phony crony capitalists who use govt power to “privatise their profits and socialise their costs.” “Most Objectivists” oppose them as much as they oppose the politicians who give3 them power. For more evidence here, check out the Ayn Rand Center’s Financial Crisis page at their website.

    2. Rand was not “right wing” — except in the sense that I quoted her the other day, i.e., : “I use the word “rightist” to denote the views of those who are predominantly in favor of individual freedom and capitalism—and the word “leftist” to denote the views of those who are predominantly in favor of government controls and socialism. As to the middle or “center,” I take it to mean “zero,” i.e., no dominant position, i.e., a pendulum swinging from side to side, moment by moment.

    3. I searched in vain for where Ayn Rand called modern physics “corrupt” or “perverted.” Couldn’t find any reference, sorry. No surprise since, as far as the technicalities what physics itself says, philosophy per se must be silent beyond saying that what is is. That said, there are Objectivist physicists on all sides of debates on modern physics. Four names with contrasting views you might like to check out would be Travis Norsen, David Harriman, George Marklin and the late Stephen Speicher.

    4. The warning of “a coming totalitarian slave state indistinguishable from the Soviet Union” more accurately applies to Orwell’s novel ’1984′ than either Hayek or Rand.

    5. I’m not sure Rand would have enjoyed you lumping her in with Hayek anyway: she famously called him “pure poison,” and a “total, complete and vicious bastard.” She would have preferred the company of Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel Paterson — with whom she was often described as <a href="http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/rose-wilder-lane-isabel-paterson-and-ayn-rand-three-women-who-inspired-the-modern-libertarian-movement/"the three women who inspired the modern libertarian movement, or with Ludwig von Mises.

    6. And in any case, whatever the problems or otherwise of Hayek's 'Road to Serfdom,' he was as much as anything issuing this as a warning, not a prediction, and for much the same reason as Orwell wrote '1984' in 1948 – i.e., at the same time, straight after the war, when rationing and War Socialism were still in existence in the UK. Supporters of both Orwell and Hayek would probably suggest that their warnings did help to slow down the onset of all-out collectivism. I'll leave that for readers to decide for themselves.

    [continued in part 2, below]

    Comment by Peter Cresswell — September 16, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  30. [Part 2, continued]

    7. Rand herself made no predictions about the future, since as she never failed to point out people have volition.

    And ‘Atlas Shrugged’ itself was not intended to be didactic — it was intended to be good fiction. That we are however now seeing come to pass much of what Rand talked about in Atlas (a fact testified to by Atlas topping bestseller lists now fifty years after its publication, and by commentators from ‘The Economist‘ to the Wall Street Journal)is actually then a pretty epic victory, but simply the extrapolation of trends that were apparent then.

    7a. Since we’re talking about the failure of predictions, let’s look at Ludwig Von Mises — to whom Rand went for economic advice, and whose business cycle theories Hayek built on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in economics — who got made several successful economic predictions that almost seem to defy reality, and certainly flew in the face of the dominant intellectual currents of the day.
    ** He explained in 1912 (in his book ‘Theory of Money and Credit’) how the central banks then being set up would inevitably lead to catastrophic boom and bust. He was vindicated in both 1929 and 2008, and in every business cycle in between.
    ** He explained from 1919 on the inevitable catastrophic inflation of Weimar Germany — and was instrumental in ensuring Austria didn’t commit the same error on the same scale.
    ** He explained in 1920 the inevitable collapse of socialistic central planning because of its failure to calculate prices and value. He was vindicated in 1989 when the Soviet Union eventually collapsed under the weight of this problem (popular Soviet ‘planning’ joke of the time: Why will we leave New Zealand when we eventually conquer the world? Answer: So we will be able to find out (from the market there) what things are actually worth.)

    8. Ayn Rand never “confronted” global warming because she died in 1982, several years before it became an issue. (Hard to blame her for that, don’t you think. In her day, if you remember, they were talking about a coming Ice Age!)

    But in point of fact, and in contrast to what you say in your post, Objectivism contends that pretending facts do not exist is one of the worst errors a man can commitas she said repeatedly “The virtue of Rationality means … one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)” — ironic then that you say that faking reality is what Objectivism requries.

    In fact, while it’s true that there are both ethical and political implications of the hypothesisis of anthropogenic global warming, the issue of whether or not there is evidence for that hypothesis is itself a scientific one, and on that Objectivism itself says only “look at the evidence.” If evidence for a hypothesis is lacking — then reject them. If not, not.

    It’s true that many of those who call themselves Objectivists have rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming; that’s true, but there’s a significant number who haven’t. The “science of Climate Change” itself is not something on which Objectivism as such has a position.

    There are certainly ethical and political points to make if however the hypothesis were accepted, and Objectivists have made them — among them being that man is not required to sacrifice to nature; and to point out that control freaks will take advantage of any hypothesis they can, however screwed up, to advance their cause.
    And in fact Objectivists and libertarians exist who have put forward “sensible, free market individualistic solutions to ‘climate change’,” should it exist. Indeed, I linked to a few of them on my own blog yesterday. That you are not aware of them does not mean this is a “failure of Objectivism” — it simply means you don’t now about them.

    9. And finally, it’s a straw man to suggest — however obliquely — that Objectivism requires an anarchistic political system, and hence would have trouble with public health crises, waste disposal, food handling and hygiene and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth, just as nothing could be further from the truth than to call Objectivists anarchists.

    Objectivism maintains that a government is required to protect individual rights, and that a court system (including registration of deeds and contracts) is required to sort out infringements of rights, and to sort out misunderstandings between parties.
    There’s nothing in those examples you cite that can’t be sorted out between private voluntary action and the recognition of individual rights. (To put it simply, if I have a communicable disease, then the state has a role ensuring that I don’t infect you.)

    So, again, nothing in Objectivism requires that one pretend a problem does not exist when it does. In fact, as I say above, nothing could be further from the truth. As Rand said in her own words (since it’s her philosophy we ‘re talking about here, it’s appropriate to quote her):

    “Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict “It is.” Non-thinking is an act of annihilation, a wish to negate existence, an attempt to wipe out reality. But existence exists; reality is not to be wiped out, it will merely wipe out the wiper. By refusing to say “It is,” you are refusing to say “I am.” By suspending your judgment, you are negating your person. When a man declares: “Who am I to know?” he is declaring: “Who am I to live?”

    Comment by Peter Cresswell — September 16, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  31. Justin – You misunderstand me – I didn’t mean that ALL (or even most) CEOs are crooks or short-termists, just that some of them are and they’re the ones who people hate. Also they tarnish the reputation of everyone who does that kind of job.

    Admittedly this isn’t an area I know a lot about, but it seems like a lot of corporations are set up to reward short term thinking in their executives. For example, many companies seem to give their executives huge bonusses linked to (or consisting of) company stock bonuses. In theory this gives them an incentive to ensure the stock will still be paying out in 20 years time but in reality it’s an incentive to artificially boost the price now, so they can sell it for a huge amount of money. If given the choice between large gains now and possible gains of any size the future, most people think short term. I have no idea what can be done about this – the only thing that I can think of that would fix it would be a massive cultural change, and they’re pretty difficult to organise.

    Comment by Helen — September 16, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

  32. btw, Danyl, could you PLEASE reinstate the reply feature – it’s really aggravating trying to have a debate with someone when there’s ten posts in between what they last said and your reply.

    Comment by Helen — September 16, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

  33. I’ve had Tribe called Quest in my head all day now… “Alisa Rosenbaum, you gotta put me on”

    Comment by GarethW — September 16, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

  34. I’ll put money on an Objectivist being the first to invent an Infinite Satire Drive. Just wind it up once and it’ll go forever.

    Comment by Will de Cleene — September 16, 2009 @ 7:05 pm

  35. I searched in vain for where Ayn Rand called modern physics “corrupt” or “perverted.” Couldn’t find any reference, sorry.

    Rand felt that modern physics had been somehow perverted by Immanual Kant, and if you read Atlas Shrugged there are many passages – conversations between Dagny and Galt, text dealing with the physicst who taught Galt and then ‘sold out’ and worked for the government – in which she laments bad science, which teaches that the universe is subjective and indeterminate (as opposed to good science, which she feels should show the universe to be objective and definite). She doesn’t actually come out and say that she rejects special relativity and the Copenhagen interpretation but it’s hard to imagine what other kinds of ‘modern physics’ she’s talking about.

    Comment by danylmc — September 17, 2009 @ 7:54 am

  36. “Thinking is man’s only basic virtue…”

    as an assertion of a moral code surely it might be useful to investigate what “thinking” is.

    There’s some very obvious counter arguements to the idea that not thinking is the cause of evil. A substantial amount of rational thinking went into organising the forms of State repression in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

    The existential conepct off Bad Faith has more going for it. Rand seems to have plundered exitentialism but left most of what was useful behind.

    Comment by Neil — September 17, 2009 @ 8:54 am

  37. Neil,

    Might I suggest that before criticising a system of philosophy for what it did or didn’t do, you learn more about it than merely a few quotes on a blog post.

    You said: “‘Thinking is man’s only basic virtue.…’ . . . as an assertion of a moral code surely it might be useful [for Rand] to investigate what ‘thinking’ is.”

    Abd that’s precisely what she did do, devoting a whole book to it: An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which developed a theory of knowledge in the Aristotelian tradition.

    I commend it to your attention. :-)

    Comment by Peter Cresswell — September 17, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

  38. I admit I’m no expert and she did write some interesting books and at least Rand’s ideas didn’t lead to the deaths of millions but I really don’t think that any view of how humans work has much credibility without at least attempting to deal with what modern brain science and evolutionary psychology have to say.

    And I make exactly the same criticism of the left who generally only pay attention to Drawin when it’s that time of the year to feel superior to right wing Christians.

    Comment by Neil — September 17, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

  39. I wonder if Mr Cresswell could enlighten us as to what he thinks of the cult-like behaviour of Ms Rand? Shunning people, etc. It’s ugly.

    Comment by radar — September 17, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

  40. The answer to the silly and smearing assertion that Objetivism was a cult is brilliantly answered here

    http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/essays/obj_cult1.html

    Objectivism/Rands circle of friends known, jokingly, as “The Collective”, lacked the essential characteristics to be a cult.

    Comment by James — September 18, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

  41. Shunning people is called “exercising your right to liberty”.If you don’t like them you don’t have to associate with them.Socialists,like rapists,can’t understand this simple moral concept.

    Comment by James — September 18, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  42. Re Mr Cresswell’s 9th remark:

    “(To put it simply, if I have a communicable disease,
    then the state has a role ensuring that I don’t infect you.)”

    What does he mean?

    If I had a communicable disease,
    the “nanny state” could quarantine me,
    but would have no obligation to treat me… ???

    If I had a communicable disease,
    and infected someone else,
    I would need a lawyer (not a doctor)… ???

    What a recipe for disaster!!!

    P.S. Ayn Rand was a “naive realist”.
    That’s why she cosidered her illusions to be reality

    Comment by Adhominem — September 19, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  43. Never a day goes by without a debate on the blogosphere about libertartianism and Ayn Rand….

    Comment by millsy — September 19, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

  44. When is the last time you walked into a government office voluntarily and came away with something you value and were happy to have paid for?

    I got some books out of the library at lunchtime . . .

    Win!

    Also, I find the postal system quite useful.

    Comment by Rich — September 21, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

  45. Her Russian-Jewish family faced severe state discrimination, first for being Jewish under the czars, and then for being wealthy merchants under the Bolsheviks

    Neatly illustrating why the Bolsheviks were better than the Czars. The former persecuted her for the irrational reason of race, the latter for the entirely rational reason of parasitism. However, Communism was obviously inefficient, because they didn’t get round to executing the lot of them before she could escape and write whinging books about how taxation is akin to genocide, or whatever..

    Comment by Rich — September 21, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

  46. “I got some books out of the library at lunchtime . . . Win!”

    Sp you think Dan paid a fair market rental for those books, rather than Wellington ratepayers sinking millions each year into the Library?

    “Also, I find the postal system quite useful.” That’s more of a win, although as days go by, fewer real people use it and more and more they just stuff your box full of “junk”, which any old company could do without the state injected capital.

    When did you last need, and therefore purchase, the goods or services of ALAC or the families commission?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 22, 2009 @ 7:47 am

  47. When did you last need, and therefore purchase, the goods or services of ALAC or the families commission?

    While not wishing to imply that I think I get value for money in either case or that every government commission and department is worthwhile. I need, and therefore am happy to purchase via my taxes, a safe place in which to raise my family. This extends to trying to prevent crime in the first place, not just locking up people once they’ve been identified.

    I accept that there will always be some level of alcoholism and dysfunctional families creating problems for the rest of us, but the point is that there are things that we as a society need that are best served by organising ourselves as a state.

    The debate should be over which of these things are worthwhile achievements and how/whether we can pay for them. The weaners on the left think that if sounds like a noble cause we are self-obsessed misers if we don’t spring for it. The nutjobs on the right think that if government is providing it, it has to be incredibly wasteful at best (having worked for government departments, SOEs and large corporates, I can say that it’s no where near as simple as that).

    Comment by Mark Wright — September 22, 2009 @ 8:42 am

  48. “I accept that there will always be some level of alcoholism and dysfunctional families creating problems FOR THE REST OF US”

    Yep, we get Bradford lumping good parents with bad. And we get successive gummints lumping us with the drunks and making us pay taxes without merit.

    Please explain how the Families Commission has reduced child abuse. Please explain how ALAC has cured alcoholism and drunk driving.

    Please explain why some private companies supply electricty and yet some state-controlled ones need to, too.
    Please explain why, when there are so many ISPs in NZ we have to have a state-owned one as well.
    Please explain why some religious schools get state funding and others don’t.
    Please explain why someone on the DPB can “earn” more than the average wage. Esp when they have school aged children and so could get a f**king job. But then they cry about not getting a further $23? on top of cheap uni fees.
    please explain why it’s such a brilliant idea to subsidise the insulation of Karori villas.
    Please explain why Green MPs fly around the country crying about CO2.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 22, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

  49. Onward to the objectivist utopia, in which hypocrisy and foolishness will be forever banished! Er, somehow.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 22, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  50. please explain why it’s such a brilliant idea to subsidise the insulation of Karori villas.

    As someone who owns a very soon to be insulated villa (in Wadestown, not Karori) I see my government subsidy as a very small tax rebate.

    Comment by danylmc — September 22, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

  51. “I see my government subsidy as a very small tax rebate.” :^)
    Aye, this is what I argue when my libertarian chums scream at me for meing “immoral” when I collect my “entitlements” (20-free ECE, KiwiSaver, etc).
    “Well I wouldn’t bloody need them if I’d got me tax cut, would I?”

    “Onward to the objectivist utopia, in which hypocrisy and foolishness will be forever banished! Er, somehow.”
    Err, no: in the collectivist utopia, we intellegent folk simply cease to pay for the follies of the stupid. Plus I’d get to shoot people who wander into my home after forcing the lock. If I had a gun. Plus, if I wanted to and if my wife consented, I could marry a few more times, men and women. And of course beer and wine would be cheaper. Also, there would be no TV licencing fee for the Brits. Sure, it would mean that there would be commercial interruptions to some of that good BBC content, but you gotta go pee sometime.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 22, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

  52. If I had a gun

    And the burglar didn’t shoot you first, given the strong possibility of them (a) being a psychopath, (b) being a better shot and (c) having the advantage of surprise.

    Comment by Rich — September 22, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

  53. Rich, you’re right: I should just stand there while he shoots, then with my dying breath instruct my widow to ring the police and tell them to place a cordon around my house to keep the medics at bay. Then my widow should attend a restorative justice thingie where the perps family ask her for fogiveness while the perp smirks and his mates do a haka.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 22, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

  54. in the collectivist utopia, we intellegent folk simply cease to pay for the follies of the stupid.

    Oh, great – not a utopia then, just restructuring society to maximise your own personal convenience at everyone else’s expense. That’s so much better…

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 23, 2009 @ 7:42 am

  55. “just restructuring society to maximise your own personal convenience at everyone else’s expense”
    ?
    I’m not expecting you to expend any of your hard earned library dollars to maximise my personal convenience. In fact, it would be quite an inconvenience to me to have to pay directly for my children’s education, rather than have it subsidised by you and Danyl. Disestablishing the Families Commission won’t be at the “expense” of the employees of the commission: they are all highly educated/skilled folks by all accounts. So they should find it pretty straight forward getting a job in the real world (and charities are included in the definition of the real world).

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 23, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

  56. Jan. 2010.

    Given the last two years- still feel so smug?

    Comment by fugeguy — January 9, 2010 @ 6:28 pm


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