Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why Capitalism Needs a Moral Sanction

“I'm not saying that a businessman should primarily pursue moral aims. That would be asking too much, and I suspect it wouldn't work.”—Paul Johnson, Pursuing Success Is Not Enough

Ayn Rand had pointed out repeatedly the futility of trying to defend Capitalism, the social system of egoism, on altruistic grounds. Paul Johnson, an intelligent Forbes columnist and advocate of Capitalism, is here declaring that the most you can expect from the noblest product of Capitalism, the businessman, is amorality at best or immorality at worst. To the businessman, morality is impractical. He is referring, of course, to the morality of altruism.

Mr. Johnson lists four values that he believes leads to happiness, but only one is considered moral, in his view. He advocates (1) the production of real wealth that (2) is useful and original. Both of those achievements are a path to one’s personal happiness, in Mr. Johnson’s view. The third is the creation of jobs, “and not just paid occupations…but genuine jobs that justify themselves, have a real purpose and longevity.” This is a strange statement. Job creation is not and cannot be a primary concern in the mind of a productive, entrepreneurial businessman. To make it so reverses cause and effect and, thus, leads to just the kind of unpurposeful “paid occupations” of which he laments. Job creation, in fact, is a consequence of the first two values, which are a consequence of the pursuit of personal happiness. But it is only value number four, the achievement of other people's well-being, to which Mr. Johnson bestows the virtue of having “a moral basis.”

In other words, the cause of the first three values, the selfish pursuit of personal happiness, is not moral. The moral resides in the renunciation of that which leads to real, useful, and original wealth, as well as meaningful, productive jobs. The moral is to embrace its opposite, the selfless pursuit of other people's happiness! Mr. Johnson acknowledges the tremendous wealth- and happiness -creating energy inherent in the pursuit of personal happiness, without which “the world would be not only a much poorer place but a far less interesting one.” Then he cuts the moral legs right out from under this life-giving virtue. This is why Ayn Rand called altruism an “inverted morality.”

“…[I]t is desirable, to my mind, that all business activities be rooted in Judeo-Christian teaching…”

Of course, from a Judeo-Christian, or altruistic, perspective, morality is impractical to the businessman (or to anyone pursuing his own productive ends on any level). To pursue one’s own wealth, success, and happiness requires many things, all of them selfish. It requires self-motivation, self-esteem, pride in one’s work, the courage to take a risk (which means to risk failure and disappointment), integrity, loyalty to one’s own hierarchy of personal values, and the most selfish undertaking of all…to think independently. Since Mr. Johnson believes the pursuit of moral aims by businessmen “wouldn't work”, we can only conclude that the above-mentioned character traits are outside the scope of morality, in his view. Yet productive work, the means by which man survives and thrives, is the end result of these very traits. What does this tell you about the nature of Judeo-Christian ethics?

What Mr. Johnson is saying is that Capitalism cannot be defended on moral grounds. And if Capitalism cannot be defended on moral grounds, then it cannot be defended at all. If altruism is the moral ideal, then morality is on the side of Capitalism’s antitheses, Socialism. Altruism holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, and that his only moral justification for living is service to others, or putting others above self…i.e., selflessness. Socialism is the political implementation of altruism. The futility of trying to defend capitalism on Judeo-Christian ethics is obvious.

The toll altruism is and will continue to take on capitalism and freedom will not be reversed without a revolution in ethics. In this article, From Flat World to Free World, Dr. Yaron Brook writes:

For all of capitalism's astounding accomplishments, the intellectual underpinning sufficient to deflect its critics has never been fully identified or understood. Capitalism and the profit motive continue to be viewed with suspicion.

The odor of moral suspicion that clings to capitalism helps explain why, decade after decade, businessmen are first to be blamed for the never-ending crises actually caused by statist market distortions. Whenever some new emergency arises, culpability falls first on greedy capitalists, whose profit-seeking is regarded as morally suspect, and rarely on government regulators, whose selfless policies are regarded as morally unquestionable.

Capitalism will remain the world's punching bag until such time as the profit motive is rescued from moral oblivion.

In a related commentary, Objectivist intellectual Harry Binswanger writes:

Yaron Brook puts his finger on the basic issue: the morality of selfishness vs. of selflessness. To live for oneself vs. to live for others…is the basic, unavoidable alternative. No compromise is possible between self-preservation and self-destruction. Egoism and altruism, are irreconcilable opposites. But captialism represents selfishness. This is the issue leftists cash-in on, and which most conservatives are afraid to face.

But it must be faced. Either your life is your ultimate value or it isn't.

The supreme value to you of your life is what grounds the egoist ethics. What grounds the Judeo-Christian code of self-renunciation? Why is anyone who is "non-you" more deserving of your time and effort than you are? No answer has ever been given. Nothing, nada, zero grounds the code of self-sacrifice.

Capitalism is a social system based on altruism’s exact opposite…rational egoism. And it is only on the basis of rational egoism that Capitalism can be defended. The fact is, when businessmen as well as any other person engages in the pursuit of his own profit and happiness through his own productive work and in
honest and voluntary association with others, he is acting in the highest moral fashion. Capitalism is the moral system, and the only moral system, because it is the system of egoism…i.e., of man’s, every individual man’s, right to exist for his own sake and as an end in himself.

There is no conflict, of course, between a businessman treating his employees, customers, and surrounding neighbors with dignity, fairness, and respect…and the pursuit of his profits. They are, in fact, mutually reinforcing. But it is just this…the honest, productive pursuit of personal gain…that is the wellspring of human progress. Look around. The array of products and services that enhance our lives, but that are available to us only through the efforts of others, and that we can acquire by trading the product of our own work…what is the moral motive power behind the producers? It is the noblest of all human endeavors…the opposite of “Judeo-Christian teaching…” the selfish pursuit through productive work of personal gain and happiness.

By declaring that the life-giving activities of businessmen do not constitute moral aims, Mr. Johnson is damning Capitalism more thoroughly than any enemy of it could ever do. Despite the tremendous increase in the standard of living of people at all economic and intellectual levels made possible by Capitalism, this moral and benevolent social system continues under relentless assault and faces destruction at the hands of the forces of a system that, in the 20th century, brought unimaginable suffering, mass death, war, and poverty…collectivism.

Mr. Johnson is a Catholic and an ardent defender of Capitalism. But by ceding to the Collectivist/Socialist enemy the moral high ground, he is proving what Ayn Rand discovered decades ago…that Capitalism’s worst enemies are it’s conservative advocates. Morality is the most powerful force on the battleground of ideas. No social system can long survive without a moral foundation. This is why the dead, bloody hand of collectivism keeps resurfacing around the world…including, sadly, right here in the nation of individualism, America. The system that doesn’t work, collectivism, is seen as moral, while the one that does work, capitalism, is seen as immoral (or, at best, amoral). Just ask Barack Obama.

Ayn Rand saw the root cause of the demise of Capitalism…the lack of a moral base. She proceeded to discover and to define what that moral base is…the Objectivist ethics of rational self-interest… and to dramatize it in the form of a classic work of art, the action novel Atlas Shrugged. Capitalism, and thus freedom, now has the bedrock without which it is doomed…a moral justification.

The Christian Right is generally supportive of Capitalism, including property rights, lower taxes, and limited government in the economic sphere. But this support comes at the price of an irreconcilable, and philosophically lethal, contradiction. Paul Johnson is an intelligent and knowledgeable British historian, and I enjoy reading his columns in Forbes magazine. But Mr. Johnson and all those who attempt to defend Capitalism while denying the morality of its essential characteristics are doing more harm than good. It’s well past time for capitalism’s defenders to discover the destructive weakness in their intellectual armor…the failure to uphold the moral virtue of Capitalism.

Concludes Dr. Brook:

Two centuries ago, the Founding Fathers blazed the path to a capitalist future by creating a nation based on the individual's right to life, liberty, property and the selfish pursuit of his own personal happiness.

For the first time, a nation's social system embodied approval of profit-seeking, the lifeblood of capitalism.

Those founding principles withered because no one could morally defend self-interest. For individual rights to prevail in politics, nothing less than a revolution in ethics will be required--a bloodless revolution--not of arms, but of ideas. You'll know that struggle is over when businessmen are finally viewed not as moral pariahs or ciphers but as paragons of virtue, precisely because they pursue profits.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Books to Aid in Understanding Rational Selfishness

“Ethics is an objective necessity of man’s survival...The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” –Ayn Rand

One of Ayn Rand’s greatest achievements, and the source of her antagonists’ greatest angst, is the ethical system she defined as part of her comprehensive philosophy of Objectivism…rational egoism. Rational egoism (or selfishness or self-interest) is the subject of two books written by Objectivist intellectuals that are a must read for anyone interested in a full understanding of Rand’s much-misunderstood and distorted concept of selfishness. Loving Life, the morality of self-interest and the facts that support it by Craig Biddle is part theory and part practical guide. Mr. Biddle is editor and publisher of The Objective Standard; a journal dedicated to the analysis of cultural and political issues from an Objectivist perspective. Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics, the virtuous egoist by Tara Smith is a scholarly work published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press. Ms. Smith is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

It was Ayn Rand’s explicit, stated purpose to resurrect the morality and nobility of the pursuit of one’s own personal happiness. “In popular usage,” she wrote, “the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image of [one] who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.” The only alternative offered by the conventional concept of what is considered moral behavior, is the selfless concern for others (altruism). But, contends Rand, that is a false choice, because it permits no concept of the self-respecting, self-supporting man- a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others” Thus, she contends, “To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of ‘selfishness’ that one has to redeem” (Introduction, The Virtue of Selfishness, emphasis hers). Rand’s book, The Virtue of Selfishness, is a collection of essays laying out in non-fiction form the Objectivist ethics that were presented in fictionalized form in her two dramatic novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. (A systematic presentation of the Objectivist ethics is first presented by Ayn Rand’s student and intellectual heir, philosopher Leonard Peikoff, as part of his treatise Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand.)

Ethics is a branch of philosophy and, as such, cannot be viewed in a vacuum, according to Ayn Rand. The base upon which ethics rests is the twin pillars of metaphysics (the study of existence), and epistemology (the study of the nature and method of human knowledge). Rand does not devise her theory of ethics in midstream. For example, she starts not with the question, “What moral code is proper to man?,” but with the question, “Why does man need a moral code in the first place?” The answer to both must be found in the study of metaphysics and epistemology. The answer to the first question is dependent upon the answer to the second.

Craig Biddle writes in his introduction:

“Contrary to popular myth, morality does not come from God; it is not a matter of divine revelation. Nor is it a matter of social convention or personal opinion. Being moral does not consist in obeying commandments, or in doing whatever one wants to do. The rabbis, the priests, the relativists, and the subjectivists are wrong. Morality is not a matter of faith or conformity or feelings.

“True morality is a matter of the factual requirements of human life and happiness. It is a matter of reason, logic, and the law of cause and effect.”

In other words, a proper morality, like all forms of knowledge, is to be not invented but discovered. That the Objectivist concept of morality is a discovery, not an invention, of Ayn Rand is a crucially important point to grasp. It means that her concept of rational egoism can stand up to the objective scrutiny of scientific inquiry with reference to the metaphysical facts of reality…something that can not be said of the ethics of self-sacrifice (altruism).

The Objectivist ethics thus completely rejects the false altruist choice that one must either sacrifice oneself to others (selflessness), or sacrifice others to oneself (the conventional definition of selfishness). “Altruism permits no view of man except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites-…it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men…or of justice. (VOS, emphasis hers)” Rational egoism rejects human sacrifice outright as evil and anti-life. It upholds a rational, benevolent code of ethics that teaches one how to live for one’s own sake (according to one’s own hierarchy of values) without sacrificing either oneself to others or others to oneself. Rand’s rational egoism is a non-exploitative, non-predatory moral code that demands respect for the rights of others, as a matter of self-interest. It is the code that is the foundation of the only non-sacrificial, benevolent…and moral…social system, capitalism. It is the code implicit in the America’s founding philosophy embodied in the words of the Declaration of Independence. This is why it needs desperately to be understood and embraced.

As in the case of morality in general, Rand does not begin by assuming self-interest as a given. She asks…Why must one act in one’s own self-interest, what is in one’s self-interest, and how does one determine what is in one’s self-interest? The answers require a fundamental evaluation of that which presupposes ethics. In her introduction, Ms. Smith writes:

“I will present a kind of egoism that I believe escapes the concerns that usually make people loathe to even consider it. I will elaborate on the virtues of proper egoism- the kinds of action required for human beings to advance their interests and to flourish. Rand’s egoism is distinctive insofar as she contends that a determination of the proper way to lead our lives must begin with an analysis of the concept of value.” (Emphasis added.)

Ms. Smith demonstrates in this book how far removed from the conventional concept of selfishness Rand’s ethical theory is. She continues;

“This analysis yields a portrait of what a person’s interest is that requires the rejection of many of the doctrines commonly associated with egoism, such as hedonism, materialism, and predation (which is based on the assumption that promotion of one’s own well-being must come at the expense of others’). The pursuit of self-interest should not be driven by emotion, in Rand’s view, but by reason, and reason demands the consistent practice of seven principle virtues.” (Emphasis added.)

Those seven virtues are deeply explored and explained by Ms. Smith and represent the meat and potatoes of her book. They are also covered in Mr. Biddle’s book. They are rationality (the master virtue), honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride. How and why these virtues are in man qua man’s self-interest and thus indispensable to his well-being and very survival is exhaustively explained by reference to the relevant and immutable facts of reality. Ms. Smith’s last chapter deals with Rand’s ethics as they relate to conventional virtues such as charity, generosity, kindness, mercy and temperance. Mr. Biddle includes in his book a discussion on the proper social conditions required for man to live properly and morally.

For centuries, the ethics of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation (altruism) have been unquestioningly accepted as an absolute, despite the fact that no rational explanation…no why?…has ever been offered to explain how it advances mens’ well-being. Altruism’s hold remains potent, its predatory and destructive nature notwithstanding. But it is beginning to fray. Ayn Rand has introduced a moral code that challenges the still-dominant cultural penetration of altruism. The ethics of rational self-interest is an integral part of Rand’s comprehensive “philosophy for living on earth,” Objectivism, and, thus, answers the all-important question…why?

Around barely 50 years, Rand’s ethics have been mostly ignored, distorted and misrepresented. But 50 years is an historical blink of an eye. Compared to the ethics (or, in fact, the anti-ethics) of altruism…with roots dating back thousands of years…the Objectivist ethics has barely begun to penetrate the culture. But penetrate it has, leaving altruism’s apologists to face a choice…continue a policy of evasion, or refute Objectivism outright.

The morality of rational self-interest has broken once and for all the monopoly held by altruism in the field of ethics. It is now up to the altruists to defend their code against a rational alternative, openly and honestly. To meet the challenge, they must now answer the "why". Why is self-sacrifice the good? Why must morality consist of others being the beneficiaries of one’s actions, but not oneself? Why is the unearned morally superior to the earned? It’s too late for evasion any longer. A benevolent, rational, non-sacrificial code of values to live by has been discovered and has gotten a toehold in the culture. It is a code that says it is the good to pursue your interests, your well-being, your happiness…without guilt, without sacrifice of oneself or others, and without being one’s brothers’ keeper.

With the collectivist statist trend resurfacing with a vengeance in America, these two books could not be a more timely read. Ideas move human events, and morality is the most powerful force on the battleground of ideas. Altruism is the moral foundation of collectivism/statism. The political purveyors of altruism…the now-dominant socialist Left…seem to have grasped this. To advance the only alternative, individualism/capitalism, requires recognition of its moral foundation. That moral justification is rational egoism. For anyone concerned about the current state and direction of the country and the world, and for whom challenging the entrenched ethical status quo is not something to fear, I highly recommend Loving Life and Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And the Nightmare Begins

On his whistlestop trip to Washington D.C. for his inauguration, President-Elect Barack Obama stopped by a homeless shelter for teenagers. After “helping” to paint the walls, he gave a vintage Obama speech, demanding that everyone pull together and “do his part” to right America…through such community service.

This stale, old, and dangerous collectivist drivel will set the tone for at least the next four years. The exalting of the poor and the downtrodden, the mawkish call to sacrifice for the less fortunate, the morally self-righteous demand to put aside one’s own selfish concerns for the sake of lifting up others who allegedly never had a chance…these all will serve as the rationalization for an unprecedented assault upon America’s new enemy-the independent, self-sustaining individual.

If Obama really wanted to do something for the unfortunate teenagers he stopped by to “serve”, he should have simply given each one a copy of The Fountainhead. The personal virtues of independent thinking, productive innovative work, reliance on one’s own rational judgement, the courage to stand against the collective, the uncompromising upholding of one’s own values and principles, and the pursuit of one’s own personal achievements and happiness as one’s highest goals are the only path to “righting” America.

These are the virtues extolled in The Fountainhead. These are the virtues that the incoming Administration has declared war on.

Beginning January 20th, 2009, a new god will be enthroned. The God of Need. Need has never produced a single morsel of human value. But no matter. It is to the God of Need that the people of intelligence, achievement, ability, competence, ambition, self-reliance, upward mobility, and independence…at all economic and intellectual levels…will be sacrificed. These are the people symbolized by “Joe the Plumber”. These are the source of America’s greatness who will now be made to atone for their productiveness, by way of the coming expansion of redistributive government policies.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, demands Karl Marx Barack Obama.

The God of Need will be constantly on the prowl, seeking to ensnare larger and larger segments of the population into the trap of government dependence, as the Obama Administration seeks to turn the great American Middle Class into the mother of all welfare classes.

And so the nightmare begins….

Friday, January 16, 2009

The "Community Service" Injustice

President-elect Barack Obama promised to use the federal government’s increasing control over public education to compel students to perform a minimum number of hours of so-called “community service” (service to the state, actually) as a condition for graduation. But that scary Orwellian practice is already here. The colorful and always thought-provoking Thomas Sowell has nailed the sinister essence of such programs. Here are some excerpts from his recent Townhall.com article, Freedom and the Left.

The arrogance of commandeering young people's time, instead of leaving them and their parents free to decide for themselves how to use that time, is exceeded only by the arrogance of imposing your own notions as to what is or is not a service to the community.

Working in a homeless shelter is widely regarded as "community service"-- as if aiding and abetting vagrancy is necessarily a service, rather than a disservice, to the community.

What "entitlements" for some people mean is forcing other people to work for their benefit. As a bumper sticker put it: "Work harder. Millions of people on welfare are depending on you."

The most fundamental problem, however, is not which particular activities students are required to engage in under the title of "community service."

The most fundamental question is: What in the world qualifies teachers and members of college admissions committees to define what is good for society as a whole, or even for the students on whom they impose their arbitrary notions?

What expertise do they have that justifies overriding other people's freedom?

What lessons do students get from this, except submission to arbitrary power?

Supposedly students are to get a sense of compassion or noblesse oblige from serving others. But this all depends on who defines compassion. In practice, it means forcing students to undergo a propaganda experience to make them receptive to the left's vision of the world.

In other words, people on the left want the right to impose their idea of what is good for society on others-- a right that they vehemently deny to those whose idea of what is good for society differs from their own.

The essence of bigotry is refusing to others the rights that you demand for yourself. Such bigotry is inherently incompatible with freedom, even though many on the left would be shocked to be considered opposed to freedom.

Government-imposed community service mandates are completely contrary to the proper purpose of education, and of a free society. They inculcate in children the premise of obedience, rather than independence. But education should prepare children to become self-confident, purpose-driven, rational adults able to act upon their own judgement, rather than to submit to the authority of others. The coercive nature of the “community service” mandates undermines the very qualities that make for responsible adults. Coercion and education are, in fact, mutually exclusive. Education, in the sense of developing in the child a sense of self-generated purposeful action and an independent mind, ends where coercion begins. (Coercion, in this context, means the initiation of force. It should not be confused with proper discipline, based upon objective rules of conduct that the child is able to understand such as respecting the rights of others or of the teacher’s guidance.)

Viewed from the perspective of the motives of the peddlers of “community service”, this is perfectly consistent with their statist ambitions. A collective society requires an obedient, unthinking population focused on “others”, rather than independent reasoning individuals willing to make their own judgements and focused on their own self-interest.

The fact is that the best “service” any student can do for the “community” is to pursue a productive career in a field one enjoys. Being himself a member of the “community”, a young person working toward the achievement of his own personal goals, well-being, and happiness is the essence of serving the betterment of “society”. A productive, successful career means simply this; the creation of life-enhancing values that others are willing to purchase from you for their own betterment, even as their purchase advances your own life.

Helping others is a peripheral issue, to be engaged in not out of a sense of duty or coercion but of good will. Charity is a consequence of productiveness and personal happiness, as well as being a voluntary choice based upon one’s own values. Anything else is slavery. The world is not filled with helpless souls in constant need of servants. The needy are a small minority in any relatively free country such as America, and most of those are able-bodied, of sound mind, and are “needy” by their own choice and actions…hardly deserving of the sacrifice of the education of the young. At any rate, the need of others does not and should not constitute a ball and chain around the ankles of the ambitions of anyone, young or old.

Thomas Sowell’s insightful article focuses attention on an issue that, on the surface, seems silly and benign, but is anything but. At best, valuable education hours will be wasted and, at worst, the youthful spirit of life’s anticipation will be hampered and stunted by the altruistic message that one’s life is meaningless except as a means to the betterment of others…which is an attack on self-esteem and, thus, the beginning of the destructive entitlement mentality.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hirsh on "The Anti-Greenspan" in Newsweek

A recent column in Newsweek by Michael Hirsh describes the switch from the supposedly “laissez-faire” Greenspan Federal Reserve Board to a regulation-expanding one led by Ben Bernanke and the “pro-regulation virus” Obama appointee Dan Turillo…the “anti-Greenspan”.

In this article, Hirsh takes the latest swipe at Ayn Rand. He writes about “then-Chairman Alan Greenspan, an Ayn Rand libertarian”. Of course, Rand was no Libertarian, and Greenspan was no Objectivist. Objectivism advocates laissez-faire capitalism, not monetary dictators. But, hey, accuracy about Ayn Rand and Objectivism are in short supply today among the anti-Rand cultists.

As to blaming the current crisis on Greenspan’s “belie[f] that markets could mostly self-correct, [and thus he] kept putting off writing any rules and stoutly resisted other efforts to regulate derivatives on Wall Street.” It wasn’t the innovative financial derivatives as such that was the problem. Rather, it was the toxic sub-prime mortgages that they contained that was.

Ignored in the above line of thinking is that while Greenspan was “allowing” the markets to “self-correct”, the markets were being distorted and crippled by Fannie and Freddie, the Community Reinvestment Act, Sarbanes-Oxley’s mark-to-market accounting rules, and the Fed’s own housing bubble-creating inflationary policies.

Following are comments I left at the Newsweek site, as well as responses to a correspondent’s replies.

The reference to Dan Tarullo as a "pro-regulation virus" is ingenious..,and perfectly apt. Government economic regulation IS a virus, and the cause of the current crisis is a whole swarm of such viruses having evolved over past years and decades. The resulting infections have made for a very sick patient.

In a free, unregulated, "uninfected" market:

*There is no central bank with monopoly power over money creation, interest rates, or to act as lender of last resort. An unregulated financial industry under the control of a government-imposed central bank is a logical impossibility.

*There are no government-created, politically pressured quasi-private GSEs like Fannie and Freddie, buying up untold $billions in unsound mortgages originated by imprudent private lenders and borrowers, for packaging and resale to the public with implicit government guarantees of safety.

*There is no Community Reinvestment Act to impose "flexible lending standards" in order to guarantee an alleged "right" to homeownership.

*There is no federal deposit "insurance" or government mortgage guarantees to encourage excessive lending risk, discourage prudent banking, and shift liability for bad banking to government, i.e., taxpayers.

*There is no excessive, artificial money creation (inflation) engineered by a central bank unconstrained by a gold standard to fuel asset bubbles such as the house-price explosion of the past number of years, which amounted to gasoline being poured onto a raging sub-prime fire.

*There is no government-imposed mark-to-market accounting rule (imposed under Sarbanes-Oxley, the disastrous regulatory law, passed after the Enron scandals, that punished the thousands of innocent companies that DIDN'T cook the books). Under mark-to-market, which Steve Forbes calls an accounting "weapon of mass destruction", many sound financial institutions with positive cash flow and mostly performing mortgages were driven into artificial insolvency "requiring" a government bailout. This may be the greatest "insider trading" scheme in history.

*Profits are privatized, as they should be, BUT SO ARE LOSSES, as they most certainly should be. Profit and loss, or risk and reward, are the countervailing market forces that work to the advantage of prudence long term. The socialization of risk and loss brought about by government intervention severed that connection, unleashing the quick-buck artists on a massive scale.

*Banks are not shielded from bankruptcy.

I could go on and on here. The private lenders and borrowers of bad mortgages, and any fraudsters that may have operated, are just the superficial face of the financial debacle. Their irresponsible behavior need not be excused to understand that it was taking place within the context of a myriad of market-distorting government interventions, which DOES NOT constitute laissez-faire in any way, shape, or form.

Any semblance of a free market in finance, housing, and the mortgage market have long since disappeared behind decades of ever-growing government efforts to "encourage" homeownership. The veritable conveyor belt of imprudent credit expansion revolving around the housing bubble is a creation of government, and wouldn’t have been able to remotely approach today's levels in a free market. In a free market, bad private financial practices are regularly weeded out by bankruptcy, foreclosure, and investment losses long before they can infect the entire system. The common denominator of the entire financial crisis is the government.

This massive financial crisis represents the collapse of a heavily regulated and controlled financial industry operating in a housing and mortgage sector beset by massive government intervention. It is not a failure of a non-existent free market. The alleged "deregulation" is no such thing. There can be no deregulation as long as the government retains its market-distorting regulatory powers, WHETHER OR NOT it happens to have exercised them in some particular way or not (as the scapegoat-seeking Greenspan well knows). The pseudo-deregulation blamed for the crisis is just a rationalization for expanded government control over the economy, to the detriment of individual rights.

As to the continuing efforts to discredit Rand and Objectivism by linking them to Greenspan, it's getting old, and it won’t work. Ideas cannot be refuted without openly confronting them, something Rand's detractors steadfastly refuse to do. Any link between Greenspan and Objectivism has long since been severed when Greenspan accepted the job of monetary dictator in 1987.

I received several replies from another correspondent, who calls him- or herself Too late smart, who brought up points important enough to answer. Following are his comments, followed by my responses.

Posted By: Too late smart @ 12/21/2008 2:35:03 PM
There is nothing in the Community Reinvestment Act requiring lenders to leverage and sell off mortgages. When it was found out that lending in the previously red-lined neighborhoods was profitable they pushed that business beyond all reason valuations went up. When the mortgagers lost jobs in the ressession, well you know what happened then.

You’re technically correct, Too late smart, but only technically. The inherently corrupt nature of government’s arbitrary regulatory authority over the banking industry is the key here. That regulatory power itself was the leverage the government used to coerce banks into sub-prime lending under CRA. The packaging and selling off of risky mortgages was pioneered by Fannie and Freddie, and later emulated by private firms. But it is not innovative products such as mortgage-backed securities that are at fault here. It is the toxic mortgages that ended up in them. The CRA was instrumental in creating them.

When the politicians and their bureaucratic allies that have life and death control over your business tell you to do something…you’re going to sit up and take notice. For a non-complier, the government can call down retribution in a myriad of ways, from criminal investigations under antitrust laws, to tax audits, to fraud or discrimination allegations and prosecutions, to merger permission denials, to congressional subpoenas.

The CRA may not be the primary cause of the crisis, but it is an important piece of the puzzle. When politics, through government’s regulatory powers, mixes with private economic decision-making, the necessary result is corruption of markets. It can be no other way. In the “partnership” between government and business, it’s the guy with the gun…the bureaucrat, politician, or businessman with political connections…that wins over private voluntary economic decision-making. Political power works in mysterious, unpredictable, behind-the-scenes ways.

For example, check out this winter 2000 article in City Journal by Howard Husock, The Trillion Dollar Bank Shakedown that Bodes Ill for Cities, which described the role the Community Reinvestment Act played in the coming meltdown. The predictions here are eerie, but understated. It wasn’t just cities that got infected, but the whole country, thanks to the upcoming inflationary monetary policies of the Greenspan-Bernanke Fed.

Posted By: Too late smart @ 12/21/2008 5:00:40 PM
Zemack: you need a sense of humor. You might have put in an ethnic joke about people who live in ghettos. The fact is people will pay their rent or mortgage before buying food. Any landlord can tell you that.. Now speculators and people who own more than one home can and do default often on million dollars loans. I am glad that you agree with me that it has been the schoolyard bullies that have been making the rules recently.

I’ll leave the ethnic jokes to you. That’s not my style. Plenty of low-income folks continue to pay their mortgages on time. The sub-prime crisis spread to all income groups because banks that jumped into that game had to offer them to everyone, due to anti-discrimination statutes. Many banks did so enthusiastically, such as Mazzilo’s Countrywide. As I said, CRA did not cause the crisis, but is a piece of a complex puzzle.

Posted By: Too late smart @ 12/21/2008 3:16:41 PM
Any kindergarten teacher knows that there must be rules on the playground. Any good teacher knows that the rules should be fair. The last several years in the big playground in Lower Manhattan any rules there were made by bullies and wise guys. Some of them will be getting a time out of about five years in Club Fed.

Under laissez-faire capitalism, the rules are fair because they are based upon objective law designed to fulfill government’s proper role of protecting individual rights equally, for everyone, at all times. This includes the right of consenting adults to contract freely and voluntarily to mutual advantage free from coercive interference by government. Government’s role is to protect those contractual rights, via vigorous prosecution of fraud, enforcement of those contracts, and mediation of contractual disputes.

Your schoolyard bully analogy perfectly describes our mixed economy, where the “rules” are always changing based upon the whims of power-wielding bureaucrats, politicians, and the politically connected special interests of the moment. Rand describes our mixed economy as “…rule by pressure groups. It is an amoral, institutionalized civil war of special interests and lobbies, all fighting to seize a momentary control of the legislative machinery, to extort some special privilege at one another’s expense by an act of government—i.e., by force.” Check out her full description of our mixed economy:

The current crisis occurred in a mixed economy (a government of men), not a laissez-faire one (a government of laws).

Posted By: Too late smart @ 12/21/2008 6:05:45 PM
Democracy and I suppose any other system needs certain quantities of intelligence and altrualism to not fail. An Ann Rand utopia has to have a Titan but what is more likely is a Hitler or a Stalin. Maybe Greenspan was lucky for twenty years. The CRA was not criticized for forty years. Social Security has been called a Ponzi scene for seventy years maybe by Ann Rand.

Too late smart, it’s Ayn (rhymes with mine), not Ann. You should really familiarize yourself with Ayn Rand and Objectivism, so you don’t make uninformed comments like your “Titan” statement. A rights-protecting government under laissez-faire capitalism, which leaves everyone free to live their lives free from the initiation of physical force, makes utopian dictators like Stalin and Hitler impossible.

By the way, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. My wife and I have contributed over $300 K over our working lives, according to our S.S. statements, which means that if that money was placed into a personal investment account earning a reasonable rate of return, we would have probably three quarters of a million bucks to start drawing on in a few years. Instead, that money was spent or sent to other retirees. Now, when we begin to collect, we will have to depend on future workers’ taxes to collect on our contributions. If that is not a Ponzi scheme, then there is no such thing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Obama's Warren Gambit

Senator Obama, a deeply philosophical man, appears to be cleverly appealing to Christians, especially on the “right”, by way of a central tenet of Christianity that is at fundamental odds with American principles. This is not to say that Obama’s slavery/Original Sin gambit would be an easy sell. But basic premises in one’s system of beliefs is the prime driver in determining one’s stand on concrete issues. Ideas matter most. Someone who accepts the gravely unjust proposition that a person can be held guilty, sinful, or evil because of circumstances or events that occurred before he was born must necessarily be vulnerable to his “opening gambit.” Someone who doesn’t, is not, and would therefor dismiss him out of hand. Senator Obama is seeking to strike a chord, politically, with a wide Christian audience that is already philosophically attuned to the basic premise of Original Sin.

I wrote those words on April 28, 2008. Continuing on his strategy of reaching out and allying with the Christian Right, Barack Obama has chosen Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his presidential inaugural.

Thus, as E.J. Dionne writes in his article, Will the Warren Risk Be Worth It?:

President-elect Barack Obama has alienated some of his friends on the left. By accepting, Warren has enraged some of his allies on the right.

Obama and Warren have helped each other in the past, and both know exactly what they're doing.

If you're on the left, how you view Obama's move depends upon who you think Warren is, where you think he's going, and what you think Obama is up to.

Liberals who see Warren as a garden-variety conservative evangelical defined primarily by his opposition to gay marriage accuse Obama of selling them out. Gays and lesbians enraged by Warren's strong opposition to gay marriage in last month's California referendum charge Obama with pandering to white evangelicals and fear the president-elect has gone out of his way to offend them in order to curry favor with straight conservatives.

But a more benign view on parts of the religious left casts Warren as the evangelical best positioned to lead moderately conservative white Protestants toward a greater engagement with the issues of poverty and social justice, and away from a relentless focus on abortion and gay marriage. (Emphasis added.)

Just as with his Original Sin gambit, Obama’s overt campaign attack on “selfishness”, his repeated mantra that “we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers”, and his call for “community service” over money-making (corporate career) for youth is in large part intended to point to the common bond or bridge between the socialist Left and Christianity. Both rest on the same essential moral foundation, altruism.

Dionne reports that the developing synthesis between the political Left and Christian Right is a mutual undertaking:

Warren understands that a new generation of evangelicals has tired of an excessively partisan approach to religion. Evangelical Christianity's reach will be limited if the tradition is seen as little more than an extension of the politics of George Bush, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin.

An opening to Obama is the right move for this moment, and Warren appears to be genuinely interested in broadening evangelical Christianity's public agenda. In a recent interview with Steve Waldman of Beliefnet.com, Warren compared gay marriage to "an older guy marrying a child," and to "one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage." But he also called upon evangelicals to be "the social change leaders in our society" engaged with "poverty and disease and charity and social justice and racial justice." (Emphasis added. This can only be construed as an endorsement by Warren for expanding the welfare state, given his growing high-profile ties to Obama. As Dionne emphasizes, “Both Warren and Obama are shrewd leaders who sense where the political winds are blowing.”)

As I have been making the case, the old conservative-liberal political fault line is breaking down. This new and powerful emerging political alliance represents a potent danger that will accelerate Amerca’s drift toward statism.

There are, of course, plenty of steadfast pro-capitalist Christians who will not be swayed toward the Left as the breakdown of the old coalitions proceed. But the basic contradiction between Judeo-Christian ethics and the fundamentally selfish nature of capitalism will morally paralyze them in the face of the rising Christian Left.

As I have previously stated, Obama is much more than your run-of-the-mill, “pragmatic” politician. He is that as well. But he is sharply attuned, in my view, to the power of philosophy in human affairs…especially morality. This is what makes him so dangerous to America. The Republican Party, which holds the same basic premises as the Obama-led democrats, will prove to be just as impotent an opposition as pro-capitalist Christians.

The only effective counter-force to the on-rushing Obama-Warren express is for the Right to amass a proper philosophical arsenal…a strategic offense initiative. Writes Objective Standard Editor Craig Biddle in his powerful article Capitalism and the Moral High Ground:

As the politics of self-interest, capitalism cannot be defended with the ethics of self-sacrifice—nor can it be defended apart from a moral foundation (e.g., via libertarianism or mere economics). We who wish to advocate capitalism must advocate it explicitly on moral grounds. We must unabashedly explain to our allies and potential allies (i.e., people who are willing to think) that human life requires rationally self-interested action; that each individual has a moral right to act on his own judgment for his own sake, so long as he does not violate the same rights of others; that capitalism is moral because it enables everyone to act in a rationally self-interested manner; and that a mixed economy—in which no one’s rights are fully protected, and everyone’s rights are partially violated—is immoral because it precludes people from acting fully as human life requires.

We who wish to advocate capitalism must take the moral high ground—which is ours by logical right—and we must never cede an inch to those who claim that self-sacrifice is a virtue. It is not. Self-interest is a virtue. Indeed, acting in one’s rational self-interest while respecting the rights of others to do the same is the basic requirement of human life. And capitalism is the only social system that fully legalizes it. Grounds do not get more moral than that.

Biddle’s call to moral arms must be heeded.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rebutting Socialistbetty, Point by Point

In my post of 11/19/08, I recounted my commentary at Opposing Views on the topic of Universal Health Care. A response to one of those commentaries has been posted by Socialistbetty. Her comments are based upon a premise that is diametrically opposed to mine, and exposes once again the fundamental choice America faces…collectivism or individualism.

Following are quotes from her post and my responses. This represents a more comprehensive statement based upon my comments left in reply at Opposing Views.

I’m glad to see Socialistbetty disclose that she is open to reason, so I’ll take her at her word. For the purpose of understanding the essence of this debate, a rather lengthy response is required for clarification.

But first, let me state that I am not “a follower of Ayn Rand”. I ascribe to the comprehensive philosophy of Objectivism, which Rand originated. Philosophy guides one’s actions, whether one knows it or not. I have determined consciously and by my own rational judgement that Objectivism is the set of principles proper to living life as a human being. The most fundamental principle of Objectivism is to think independently, which means to be guided by one’s own rational faculty-and to never accept any idea on faith. An Objectivist is not a follower of Rand or anyone else, in the sense of accepting as truth an idea because she said it. In fact, the term “a follower of Ayn Rand” is a contradiction in terms, as anyone who actually understands her philosophy would know. Any opinion expressed by me is a result of my own rational, independent judgement based upon my own observation of the facts of reality.

Is not the notion that all men are created equal a direct affront to anti-socialists? …there is this lie that has been believed that it is wrong to accept the enslavement of a small group…

No, but distorting the meaning of that glorious phrase is. The equality of all men (and women) refers to the unalienable rights of each individual to his life, liberty, property, and pursuit of his own welfare and happiness. Those rights are possessed equally, at all times, by all people, under all circumstances, protected equally by government; they can be forfeited only by violating the same rights of another. This does not include a guarantee of the material success of any individual, only the right to take the actions that one deems necessary to achieve material success through one’s own productive efforts and in voluntary association and trade with others. The equality of all men under the law is the essence of capitalism.

Since all rights are unalienable and held equally and at all times by everyone, the violation of the rights of one single person necessarily negates the same rights of everyone else, including each and every individual member of any group such as the “collective”, the “herd”, the “masses” and “society”. And if no one possesses rights, then the state is all-powerful. This is the totalitarian premise, the ultimate logical consequence of which is Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. If this is the ideal Socialistbetty is going to embrace, then she should have the courage to openly admit it, rather than claim the lie that “the masses” can benefit under a slave state.

At least, though, I give her credit for acknowledging that “universal healthcare” is slavery. No other advocate of socialized medicine that I know of has ever admitted the obvious fact that they are calling for “the enslavement of a small group”…the doctors, among others.

How does any nation overcome the tyranny of the ruling class under which the masses suffered?

By adopting laissez-faire capitalism, the only social system based upon the above-mentioned guarantees of the equality of all men. Laissez-faire capitalism means a wall of separation between state and economics, just as with religion. There can be no rulers, exploiters, or enslavers under capitalism, since everyone…including all individual members of the so-called “masses”…possess the same unalienable rights to freedom of action, so long as they respect the same rights of everyone else. The “tyranny of [any] ruling class” is impossible under capitalism because the tool of the rulers-by-brute-force, the rights-violating initiation of physical force, especially government-initiated force, is prohibited by a government-limiting constitution based upon individual rights.

History has also shown us that those who control those supposed "markets" of what is strictly a need are also the ones who can afford to exert such power and the abuse they reek upon the rest of SOCIETY.

History has never produced a completely free, laissez-faire capitalist society. America’s first 125 years or so came the closest…especially the period between the Civil and First World wars…with spectacular results.

Under capitalism, because of the “wall”, no one can control any market, in the sense of coercively preventing competing entrants. Every member of “society”, being equal in rights, is free to enter (and create) any market through his own productive work. The creation of valuable goods and services does not constitute “power and…abuse” by the producer, but an expansion of a nation’s wealth that all can potentially benefit from. The supposed “control” to which Socialistbetty refers is only possible through the acquisition of political power by economic interests, which occurs in the kind of mixed economy such as we have now, not a capitalist one. Coercive market control is a logical impossibility under capitalism.

It is reasonable to assume that health care is a need and a right.

A right is a natural, moral requirement of human nature and survival. There is no right to the product of another person’s work, whether one calls it a want or a need, aside from what one can obtain through the voluntary means of production, trade or private charity. For a comprehensive explanation as to why there can never be a "right" to any man-made product such as healthcare, see Leonard Peikoff's essay.

Capitalism is fine for the things that we want, but do not need. It is what promotes the middle class and tears to pieces Marx's theory.

Whether one calls them “wants” or “needs”, all wealth is produced through a process of individual thought applied to productive work. The same natural laws of economics apply to both. A free market in medicine would achieve the same results as has occurred in the (relatively) free “wants” markets.

There is, however, a sinister element to this line of thought. If someone chooses to produce something for the “wants” market, such as a new video game or nail salon, they should be left free. But if that same person produces a medicine, or becomes a surgeon or family doctor, then his rights are to be trampled and his profession turned over to the control of government bureaucrats. To punish a person for producing a higher value (a need), because he produces a higher value, is pure evil and is the essential nature of altruism (which should not be confused with voluntarily extending a helping hand to a person one values as an act of good will and generosity, in a way that one can afford.)

But history has shown us what occurs when what humans need is held up for sale to the highest bidder and those who can afford it.

Human need is a fact of nature, just as every living species has needs that it must fulfill in order to survive. Human needs cannot be “held up for sale” by anyone. Only the products and services produced to meet those needs and offered in the market through free and uncoerced trade to mutual advantage can be “held up for sale”. What collectivists and altruists object to is having to pay for the necessities of life by offering a value which one has produced, in exchange for the values produced by others. What they object to is free and voluntary trade. What they object to is justice.

The elevation of “need” into a license to loot and enslave anyone who produces the means to satisfy those needs is the essence of altruism and has been the bane of mankind. Only capitalism protects the rights of all to produce and trade, free from human exploitation and predation. It is only capitalistic freedom that can lead to widespread prosperity, as history has clearly shown us, because it protects everyone, including the most productive.

We have survived as a species by working collectively.

All knowledge is discovered by the work of the minds of individuals choosing to think. All knowledge is spread by the individual efforts of anyone willing to acquire that knowledge. There is no such thing as a “collective” effort. There is no such thing as a collective. The human species is not an ant colony. All team efforts such as erecting a building is not a ‘collective” effort, but a series of individual efforts bound together by voluntary cooperation and a common goal. As a construction tradesman, I can tell you that it is the individually acquired knowledge, skills and work of each member of the team…from the architect to the tradesmen to the construction supervisors to the inventors and producers of the tools and materials…that makes that building possible. Each person involved is working to further his own self-interest by his own efforts, with no one being sacrificed to any other. The same is true concerning the building of an advanced industrial society. The subordination of the individual mind to some collective effort reverses cause and effect, and destroys the source of knowledge, ideas and, thus, human achievement.

We have survived as a species in spite of all forms of “working collectively”.

The medical profession is not a collective “small group [that] holds power over the needs of the masses”, but instead exists because of the voluntary choice of individual people to acquire the knowledge and training required to becoming a doctor, drug developer, or other medical professional. In a free market, they are legally forbidden to use force against anyone, and no one may legally use force against them. These are the most valuable people in the current debate, and anyone concerned with his health has a vested self-interest in protecting their rights, based upon the principle that “all men are created equal”. Any effort to hamper, shackle, enslave, or destroy these medical professionals who possess the capacity to satisfy one’s needs is illogical, immoral, and suicidal.

…it is the small group who holds the power who holds the masses enslaved to their own desires.

This statement is a rebellion against nature and reality. Every person faces a basic choice…to work or to starve. Those who call this basic fact “enslavement” are evading the facts of life (as well as making a psychological confession). Those who seek to enslave the “the small group” in the healthcare field for the great virtue of making their knowledge and talents available to all through trade in the market, in order to escape the personal responsibility of earning one’s keep which nature itself imposes on all of us, cannot claim “reason and observation” (or concern for anyone’s well being) as the basis of one’s thinking.

It is reasonable to assume that it is affordable, and well within our collective means.

There is no “collective means” except in the mind of a thief or power-luster who claims the right to dispose of the earnings and lives of other people.

Socialistbetty’s reply to my commentary exposes the fundamental philosophical choice America faces…collectivism or individualism.

The abandonment of the tenet that “all men are created equal” embodied in the doctrine of unalienable individual rights is what makes any collectivist goal unaffordable, because it destroys the very social conditions that make production and trade possible. The view of man the individual (my view) as the standard of value is an historically recent discovery that is consistent with the metaphysical facts of nature and, thus, leads logically to capitalistic freedom. The collectivist premise (her view) is a primitive, mystical doctrine that dismisses actual, individual human beings as valueless, sacrificial fodder for the “needs” of some "higher power". Modern collectivism merely replaces a supernatural God as that power with some group called the “proletariat”, “society”, “the masses”, the “master race”, etc., to which the individual is subordinate, and which leads logically to totalitarianism.

Reason and observation will show you why it's a good idea to have a healthy society of free individuals, not a collectivized slave state.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Honoring American Heroes...Forgetting American Ideals

"Government is instituted to protect property of every sort .... This being the end of government, that is NOT a just government,... nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has ... is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest." -James Madison

"Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist" -John Adams

One of the key principles upon which America was founded is the institution of private property, a fundamental unalienable right. Just like the very concept of individual rights, the protection of private property rights has been eroding for decades under the onslaught of government economic regulation and eminent domain.

But it is with particular sadness that one must view the actions of the families of the heroes of Flight 93. According to this Washington Post article by Dan Eggen:

It has been more than seven years since 20-year-old Deora Bodley and 39 other passengers and crew died in the fiery crash of United Airlines Flight 93, their hijacked plane disintegrating in a grove of hemlock trees outside Shanksville, Pa.

Most of the remains from the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001, were never recovered, making the bowl-shaped crash site in the western Pennsylvania countryside an unofficial cemetery and, for surviving relatives, sacred ground.

But efforts to buy property for a national Flight 93 memorial have bogged down in federal red tape and a protracted land dispute, angering family members and risking plans to hold a dedication ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The delays have prompted an advocacy group, Families of Flight 93, to ask President Bush to personally intervene during his final weeks in office to allow the federal government to seize the land needed for the memorial and to allocate part of the money for the project. (Emphasis added.)

Negotiations with the landowner, Mike Svonavec of Svonavec Inc. of Somerset, Pa., have not yet yielded an agreement on the land purchase, although negotiations are on-going. According to a statement by Families of Flight 93:

All that we have worked for is endangered. It would be an insult to the memory of the brave souls on Flight 93, as well as to the nation that demanded that their sacrifice be remembered, that inertia prevented us from completing our task.

With all due respect to the families, it would be an insult to the memory of the Flight 93 passengers and crew, to American ideals, and to our Founding Fathers to violate the property rights of a single American in the name of remembrance. The people on that jetliner acted courageously, not selflessly, in attempting to save themselves from certain death by taking on the hijackers. Their actions almost certainly saved countless other lives on the ground. I can offer no greater tribute to these heroes than to honor them for selfishly fighting for their own lives, their own liberty, and the ideals that their own nation stands for. In so doing, they fought for every American.

Mr. Svonavec is also acting courageously, albeit on a different level, in not succumbing to what must be enormous pressure to part with his lawfully, rightfully owned land. To fight for one’s property is to fight for one’s life, since one’s property is indispensable to one's life and liberty. Property rights are the means to exercising the right to life. Mr. Svonavec is operating on the same moral premise as the heroes of Flight 93.

The crash site may well be “sacred ground” to the victims’ families, but individual rights are “sacred”, and indispensable, to a civil, benevolent society. Families of Flight 93 claim to speak for “the nation”. But here is at least one American…one member of “the nation”…that they do not speak for. For the sake of the rights of us all, and the memory of the people on that jetliner, I hope that Mr. Svonavec fights to keep his land unless and until a voluntary sale agreement to mutual benefit has been reached.

I know that eminent domain seizures are running rampant in this country, but this particular case is enormously symbolic. I hope that a sale agreement can be reached but, if Mr. Svonavec ultimately decides not to sell his land, for whatever reason, it would be his unalienable…and moral…right. The needed land can then be either leased from Mr. Svonavec or the memorial can be built somewhere else.

That the Flight 93 Memorial to honor the memory of those whom President Bush declared had given America “‘the first victory’ in the war on terrorism” can be built upon land seized by force from an American citizen is to emasculate its very significance.

My sadness is to once again think how far America has strayed from its founding ideals.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009: A Challenging Year Dawns

2009 opens amidst momentous shifts in the direction America is moving…politically, culturally, and philosophically. The statist trend is firmly established following the climactic end to the disastrous Bush years. In the final analysis, President Bush did more harm to the pro-capitalist cause than any democratic administration could have hoped to do (I’ll have more on this important point at a later date.)

As a result, many Americans are angry and confused and looking for answers as to what went wrong. The recent election demonstrates that too many Americans have concluded that capitalism and freedom have failed…especially in finance, energy, and healthcare…and that bigger and more powerful government is the answer. Collectivist forces are ascendant and promising to push America strongly in the statist direction…i.e., a sharp “swing to the Left”.

Meanwhile, the Right…meaning pro-individualist, pro-capitalist…is thoroughly demoralized and on the defensive as never before (except for perhaps during America’s “Red Decade”, the 1930s). More importantly, they are looking for a new direction, or should be, and are trying to figure out how to regain the momentum. With both major political parties now firmly ensconced under the statist, big government tent, a fundamental re-evaluation of the Right’s intellectual arsenal is desperately needed.

Fortunately, there is some good news here. In 2008, the Ayn Rand Institute’s new Public Outreach division opened in Washington, D.C. The mission of The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights “is to advance individual rights (the rights of each person to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness) as the moral basis for a fully free, laissez-faire capitalist society.”

As ARI’s donor newsletter Impact reports, the Ayn Rand Center (ARC) debuted on October 22 with a speech by its executive director Dr. Yaron Brook in the historic National Press Club ballroom. Speaking to an “enthusiastic” crowd of about 250, Dr. Brook delivered his 45 minute talk, titled “Capitalism Without Guilt: The Moral Case For Freedom”, to “business leaders, university students, [and] intellectuals from other think tanks”, among others. Reported Impact:

Their response [D.C.-area policy groups} was enthusiastic. Said Steve Simpson, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice "ARC brings a new voice and a new perspective to Washington that is sorely needed, especially now. It was a delight finally to see someone defending capitalism on moral grounds in this town. Yaron Brook is a fabulous speaker…I’ve been to many events by policy groups at the National Press Club over the years. The turnout for ARC’s inaugural talk was better than I’ve ever seen.”

“Victoria Hughes, president of the Bill of Rights Institute, echoed those sentiments. “Dr. Brook’s remarks on the defense of capitalism offered the Washington, D.C., audience a point of view that challenges their ‘business as usual’ thinking. The Center’s arrival in our nation’s capital is timely and welcome ”.

Dr. Brook’s lecture is available free at the website of ARC, or click here.

The avalanche of socialist-fascist policies to come must be met with radical new ideas from the defenders of capitalism. The “business as usual” approach that has been failing for more than 100 years to properly defend capitalism and its corollary individual rights must go, as Objectivists have been saying for years. As president-elect Obama has made clear that he fully understands, the battle is a moral one. Only Objectivism offers the power to turn the tide back toward what America stands for.

It’s well past time for other advocates of capitalism to grasp this crucial fact. That other free market-oriented think tanks are starting to take note of Objectivism’s perspective that the moral case is the missing ingredient of capitalism’s defenders could signal a crucial turning point for the Right. Let’s hope so.

2009 presents a daunting intellectual-philosophical task. The battle for the future of America is about to be engaged in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. With the baggage of capitalism’s pseudo-defenders, the big government neo-conservatives, swept aside, the agenda of the Left will be openly on display for all to see. They now control the three branches of government. The target is clear and unequivocal. The danger they pose is counter-balanced by an extraordinary opportunity to clearly define the difference between their statism and capitalistic freedom. The clear demarcation line between an Obama-led Democratic government and an Objectivist-led radical pro-capitalist counter-force would not have been possible had McCain/Palin won.

While 2008 was not a good one for America, it was good for me personally. My family’s doing well, including my six thriving grandchildren…their names’ first letters of which forms my publishing nickname Zemack.

I have had three letters published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger in 2008. My blog archives have expanded significantly, and my on-line forum activity has continued, as reported on my secondary blog, Prin-Spec References, under the “Commentary” heading.

It is not just on my own behalf that I engage on the battleground of ideas. It is for my wife, my two daughters and sons-in-law, and six grandchildren, that I fight for the kinds of ideas that will make for a better and freer America. In fighting for the rights of myself and those closest to me, I am also fighting for the rights of everyone; because rights are unalienable and held equally and at all times by all people.

So the ideological battles ahead will prove to be extraordinarily challenging. And make no mistake; the battle now heating up is philosophical, not political. The old conservative-liberal political fault line has dissolved amid the intellectual bankruptcy of both the old Left and Right. Emerging from beneath the surface is the age-old battle between collectivism and individualism, manifesting itself today as between socialism and capitalism.

Today the collectivists are ascendant, while freedom’s forces are in disarray. America desperately needs an uncompromising moral defense of its founding ideals…i.e., Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Those are the ideas that I will continue to fight to bring into the cultural mainstream. Those are the ideas that America needs to discover and embrace now.

In 2009, I look forward to a busy year ahead on the battleground of ideas.