Saturday, August 30, 2014

This Labor Day, Celebrate Intellectual Labor

The United States Department of Labor, speaking on The History of Labor Day, had this to say on its website:

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

Really? There is no doubt about what is meant here. McGuire was referring to people who “work with their hands”. Is that what built America? Physical labor has existed since time immemorial. What changed in the last two hundred + years that suddenly endowed the American worker with the means to produce “all the grandeur we behold” out of raw, “rude” nature? (Note the word “all”).

The American worker has, indeed, contributed significantly to the American Economic juggernaut. But, it was not because of his labor, as such. It was because of his intellectual mastery of the theoretical and material tools of production provided to him, that vastly increased the value of his labor.

Physical labor, as such, has very little value. Slaves can perform it. So can mules pulling hand plows.

Consider my trade, plumbing. If my job is fundamentally physical labor, then any able-bodied person off of the street can wander onto any construction job site and robotically perform the task of installing plumbing systems. He can simply be told: “Run this pipe from here to there”, and it will get done. He has the same muscles and bones, nerves and guts that I have, after all.

That, of course, could never be the case. Performing my task (or any construction trade) requires reliance on previously acquired theoretical knowledge, on-the-job apprenticeship training, the mastery of the tools of the trade, and years of learning experience. This is to say nothing of the continuing education that new materials and technologies require of me.

My job is knowledge-based. All modern jobs are, to varying extent. How did that knowledge become imbued in my brain? - by my choice to expend the intellectual effort to acquire it. Even the muscular physical motions my job requires had to be learned by a conscious mental effort that led to the appropriate neurological connections.

Do you still think mere labor built this country?

The idea that a laborer “works with his hands” is only superficially true. What directs the motions of his hands? It is his focussed, reasoning mind – if he is a motivated worker who strives to be the best that he can be at his chosen occupation. If not, then that worker is an occupational drone, or an incompetent, or worse.

And that gets directly to the point. The celebration of “labor” as a holiday implies that mindless worker. Labor Day ignores the intellectual root of modern, productive labor. It ignores the intellectual labor that created the worker’s job to begin with, and the intellectual labor that the competent worker must expend to learn to perform his job.

Human knowledge is fleeting, but for the grace of those who came before us and chose to acquire it and pass it on. Knowledge can not be passed on from person to person or generation to generation innately. No one is born with previously discovered knowledge, but rather with a mind that is tabula rasa – a blank slate. To celebrate “all the grandeur we behold”, it is to the discoverer and the acquirers of knowledge that we must pay initial gratitude to. The worker, by learning the skills he needs to perform his job, plays his role in keeping that knowledge train going.

This does not, however, mean that labor is inconsequential. Theoretical knowledge in and of itself has little value, unless and until it is placed into the service of man’s living requirements. The process of turning knowledge into the material values humans need to live and to flourish is dependent upon the contributions of many economic players. The value of each player’s contribution to this productive process varies and is dependent upon many factors. But all through that process – from the discoverer of new knowledge to the final material product put together by the worker – the value added represents, at root, the application of the mind.

“[W]hen you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you.

“When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible: for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think…” (Page 1064)

Labor Day, according to the DOL, was created in 1882. That was the heyday of Karl Marx’s rise to prominence among the American intellectual elite. Marx was the theoretician of “Dialectical Materialism”, the idea that man’s consciousness – his spirit, his intellect, ability, and logic – plays at best a minimal role in the production process. Human beings, according to Marx, are conditioned by the physical world around them, including the means of production like tools and factories, which just happened into existence. Our modern, complex, and advanced industrial society is the product of mindless, conditioned muscular movements, according to Marx (and others). It is owing to the Marxist theory of the mind – i.e., spiritual values - as of little consequence that gave rise to the myth that labor and those that perform it are the primary engines of economic progress.

Labor Day, whether one knows or wants to admit it or not, is an outgrowth of Marxism and the “labor theory of economic value” that so enamored late 19th century American intellectuals.

The DOL concludes its Labor Day salute as follows:

"It is appropriate … that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker."

Not quite. Instead, we should pay tribute to the creator of the American worker.

This Labor Day, we should celebrate not workers, but those who made our jobs and prosperity possible. This country was not built by physical labor. It was built by intellectual labor applied to physical labor under a system of individual rights that allowed everyone the freedom to think and, above all, to act on his thinking. Instead of patting ourselves on the back for our labor, we “workers” should reflect on the mental efforts that we had to expend in order to acquire the previously discovered knowledge that makes it possible to perform our jobs. We should stop selling ourselves short. Labor Day is an insult to the American Worker.

More importantly, we should give silent thanks to all of those intellectual “laborers” who came before us – the discoverers, the inventors, the investors, the businessmen - who made our well-paying jobs possible.

Instead of Labor Day, we should celebrate Intellectual Labor Day.

Or, better yet, we should celebrate Capitalism – the social system of the United States of America. Capitalism unleashed the individual human mind. It is Capitalism that made it possible for the American worker to have acquired the means to rise to middle class status and prosper. It is Capitalism’s liberated human mind that from rude nature has delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.

Capitalism is what I will be quietly rejoicing as I enjoy my long weekend.

Happy Labor Day!!

Related Reading:

Atlas Shrugged—Ayn Rand

To Whom Does the American Worker Owe His Prowess?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Not Fight for Immediate Abolition of Sales and Income Taxes?

Previously, I've advocated for a flat, low-rate income tax in exchange for eliminating deductions and ending rate progressivity of rate. I also once toyed with the idea of lowering sales tax rates as a trade-off for extending sales taxes across the internet (a position I ultimately rejected). 

Longer run, I believe broad-based taxes such as sales and income taxes should be abolished.

A question that some may ask is: Why not advocate for an immediate end to sales and income taxes, rather than quibble over reforms? The answer is, because fundamentally, government spending, not taxes, is the problem.

Fiscal conservatives used to say we could check government spending by "starving the beast" through tax reductions—a line of thought I once subscribed to—and deficits soared even higher as spending growth continued virtually unabated. These conservatives had it backwards.

The government has three ways to finance its operations; direct taxation, borrowing (future taxation), and artificial money creation (inflation, or printing money to monetize the debt, which confiscates dollar purchasing power rather than actual dollars). All three are a form of claim on private sector wealth. Even if sales and income taxes were abolished today, the government would just go on spending, using debt and inflation to finance itself. Nothing essential would change. The government would go on confiscating our wealth, one way or the other.

There is no escaping the necessary hard work of philosophical education followed by practical implementation. People must first be convinced of the moral rightness of reducing rights-violating government spending and the virtue of a government limited to protecting individual rights. Then would come the job of rolling back spending, regulations, and the welfare state in an integrated way that allows for people to readjust their lives over time with as little economic disruption as possible. As we do that, we can phase out taxes as we go. 

A good example of why an orderly, integrated approach to tax abolition is necessary can be seen regarding New Jersey's state income tax. The state income tax was instituted in the mid-1970s as a means of propping up "poor" school districts. The tax was collected by the state, then doled out to poor districts whose property tax base was allegedly too small to support the "thorough and efficient education" the state constitution demanded. Over time, the income tax grew and all districts—"rich" and poor alike—got in on the state education "aid" scheme.  

As one can see, to abolish the income tax involves not only immediately cutting off money that school districts now depend on, but also the cumbersome, time-consuming process of amending the state constitution that guarantees every child a "right" to an education. And that, in turn, is tied to the broader philosophical question of individual rights and the proper role of government. In the mean while, wouldn't it be advantageous to fight for less unfairness and more liberty through a flat tax and properly structured tax credits for education? 

Of course, liberty advocates should always be ready to defend the idea of abolishing coercive taxation and the rights-violating programs they fund when appropriate; i.e., when abolition is politically feasible and/or as a vision in conjunction with an incremental approach to more liberty and less government rights-violations. But to come out for tax abolition in a vacuum as a political strategy would be unrealistic, to say the least.

Let's fight to advance liberty on the tax front, and take what we can get, while never losing sight of our no-tax ideal. But to put tax abolition on the front burner at this time would be a futile waste of precious time, and, as history has shown, would not solve the fundamental problem—government spending, which is itself primarily the outgrowth of an even more fundamental problem, the ethics of altruism.

Related Reading:

How Would Government Be Funded in a Free Society?—Craig Biddle

Education in a Free Society—C. Bradley Thompson

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bush's Gift to Obama and the American Left

“I've abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”- President George W. Bush, 2008

That statement was uttered on CNN by President Bush shortly before leaving office. It pretty much sums up the mentality of the man who stands for “compassionate”…i.e., big government…conservatism. Embodied in those words is the portrayal of a man who claims to be a believer in free markets, without having the slightest clue what a free market actually is. If he did, he would have known that what we were witnessing that day was not the collapse of a free market, but of the collapse of the mixed economy.

Barack Obama and the Democrats swept into power largely on an anti-Bush platform, declaring his to be a failed presidency based upon failed free market capitalist policies. They had vowed to resurrect the depression-era New Deal statism of Franklin D. Roosevelt as a model for their tyrannical governance to come.

President Bush’s presidency had indeed been disastrous, but not for its pro-free market capitalist policies. The truth is just the opposite. President Bush governed as an abject statist who expanded government and squeezed the private economy more than any president since at least Lyndon Johnson. But as a Republican…and his lip service…his statist policies were carried out under the “free market” banner. Thus, the economic crisis that followed, which was caused and exacerbated by those (and previous) statist policies, was (and is) blamed on capitalism.

The Bush presidency was catastrophic for free market capitalism. To understand why, one must look back on an almost exact, and eerie, parallel.

Herbert Hoover has been the straw man that for decades has been held up as the epitome of the failure of free market or laissez-faire economics. This caricature of the Hoover presidency, however, could not be further from the truth. Despite being a successful businessman and entrepreneur, Hoover in fact had strong statist tendencies. Although a popular commerce secretary during the 1920s, he was very much at odds with the free market-oriented President Coolidge and his tax-cutting treasury secretary Andrew Mellon. In his 1920s book, titled (ironically) American Individualism, “Hoover rejected the old brand of absolute individualism and disdained laissez-faire economics,” expressed a less-than-enthusiastic regard for private property, and “made clear that he believed America must move toward regulation.”

Hoover’s views were philosophically “in line with two academics popular in the 1920s, William Trufant Foster and Waddill Catchings,” and their “beneficent hand” theory of government. He presided over a much-expanded commerce department and, for a time, was allied with the United Mine Workers leader John L. Lewis in pressuring for above-market wages for coal workers (which proved disastrous for unionized coal companies and their workers). Toward the end of his presidency, “Calvin Coolidge concluded quite simply that ‘that man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.’ ”

As president during the early years of the Great Depression, Hoover signed a massive tax increase, the Revenue act of 1932, while he “significantly increased government spending for social welfare programs,” in the process “increasing the government’s share of GNP…from 16.4% to 21.5%…between 1930 and 1931.” During the 1932 campaign, FDR, apparently out of political expediency, actually accused Hoover of over-spending and over-taxing, and calling Hoover’s “the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all of history.” And “John Nance Garner, FDR’s running mate, accused Hoover of ‘leading the country down the path to socialism.’ ” Some “laissez-faire” president!

The fact is the Hoover administration, far from being laissez-faire, “proceeded to impose massive government intervention on the economy.” Those interventions actually laid the foundation for the disastrous New Deal policies to come. In fact, “Rexford Tugwell, one of FDR’s top advisers, stated decades later: ‘We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.’ ”

(My references for the above are two well-documented books…The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes [pages 34, 36,38, and 131], and The Capitalist Manifesto by Andrew Bernstein [pages 380-382].)

Like Hoover, Bush's policies paved the way for a statist Democrat president to follow. Like Hoover, Bush is becoming a symbol of the failure of free market or laissez-faire economics. Bush, like Hoover, handed a gift to the American Left; failed statist policies masquerading as failed free market policies.

But any objective assessment reveals that to hold the Hoover Administration up as proof of the failure of free market governmental economic policies is to attack a huge straw man. Likewise, any objective assessment of the 2008-09 Great Recession and its causes reveals that to hold the Bush Administration up as proof of the failure of free market governmental economic policies is to attack a huge straw man. Some day, both the 1930s Hoover/Roosevelt great depression and the modern Clinton/Bush housing bust-financial crisis-Great Recession is to attack another straw man. Both Hoover and Bush were statist, not free market presidents. 

We must recognize the Great Depression and Great Recession for what they were…the utter failure of statism and central planning.

Related Reading:

The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure—John A. Allison

Hey “Liberals”: Obama Has Nothing On Your Should-be Hero Bush

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chuck Jaffe’s Moral Inversion on "Tax Inversion"

Charles Jaffe writes a financial column for MarketWatch, and I often enjoy reading them. But in a recent column, Jaffe strayed beyond dispensing financial advice and opinion. In Tax inversions can be bad for shareholders—and for America, Jaffe offered not just financial but moral perspective, and went way off base.

Initially, Jaffe noted:

Inversion [Re-incorporating a company overseas in order to reduce the tax burden on income earned abroad] deals have been in the news of late, becoming a political football. Lost amid the rhetoric and President Obama calling them “unpatriotic,” is a fundamental truth: They’re not good for long-term shareholders who hold stocks in taxable accounts.

So far, so good. But after explaining the mechanics of how inversions work and why companies do them, Jaffe said:

Functionally, an inversion is the way corporations can actually live by the old quip attributed to one of my father’s favorite entertainers, Arthur Godfrey, who said he was “proud to pay taxes in the United States; the only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money.”

Mind you, the companies here want the full benefits of being United States citizens without paying full price for it.

That’s why, on a personal level, this grinds me; it’s not a “buy American” thing, it’s more that I’m the son of immigrants who were grateful to be taken in by this country, and I was taught that if you were going to enjoy the benefits of living here, you were supposed to be a responsible citizen.

I left these comments:

“Mind you, the companies here want the full benefits of being United States citizens without paying full price for it.”

This is a very unfair statement.

First, taxes “dodged” through inversion pertain only to profits earned outside the U.S. Inverting companies still pay “full price” on their American earnings.

Second, corporate taxes represent double taxation, with owners’ profits taxed once as a corporation and again as individual shareholders.

And this is not to mention that U.S. corporate tax rates are the most confiscatory in the world. It looks to me like American companies pay quite a bit more than “full price” for their U.S. citizenship. Shame on Washington for treating American business so shabbily.

I didn’t even mention another form of unfairness—all of the special tax provisions larding up the corporate code, which leads to different tax rates for different companies based on how much they curry favor with politicians.

It may be that, from a tax standpoint—as Jaffe also argues—tax inverting corporations are a less good personal investment. But I would say that Jaffe is engaging in some inversion of his own—specifically, moral inversion. This surprised me, because in just having explaining why companies invert, one would expect a conclusion such as, “Who can blame them?”—followed by a call to reform the tax code and lower rates so as to eliminate the incentive to invert. But no, Jaffe plays the Leftist rhetorical game of “political football” he decried, essentially agreeing with Obama that these companies are “unpatriotic,” with not a word against the politicians who devised the tax code.

Jaffe’s inverted moralizing cheapened his column, and put him squarely in bed with what George Will characterized as “the grandstanding frivolity of the political class. It legislates into existence incentives for what it considers perverse behavior, and then waxes indignant when businesses respond sensibly to the incentives.”

Related Reading:

Toward Less-Unfair Corporate Taxes

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ayn Rand Anticipated Obama's "You Didn't Build That" Outrage

Two years ago, President Obama created a firestorm when, in defense of "big government", he told a campaign audience, "If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that."

In the comments section of an Objective Standard blog post on the subject, Darin Sorrell noted how Ayn Rand anticipated President Obama's "you didn't build that" outrage. Sorrell highlighted two passages from Atlas Shrugged, which was published in 1957.

This exchange is between James Taggart, the useless, vicious CEO of Taggart Transcontinental, and Cherryl Brooks, a struggling, naive but nevertheless bright, ambitious young woman, who have just met. The subject is Hank Reardon, who had invented a revolutionary new metal. From Part I, Chapter 9:

    [JT] "He didn't invent iron ore and blast furnaces, did he?"
    [CB] "Who?"
    [JT] "Rearden. He didn't invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn't have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His Metal! Why does he think it's his? Why does he think it's his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything."
    [CB] "But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time. Why didn't anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?" 

This next passage is uttered by Floyd Ferris at a meeting of top government and industry officials, who are discussing government policy in a time of economy collapse. From Part II, Chapter 6:

    "Genius is a superstition, Jim," said Dr. Ferris slowly, with an odd kind of emphasis, as if knowing that he was naming the unnamed in all their minds. "There's no such thing as the intellect. A man's brain is a social product. A sum of influences that he's picked up from those around him. Nobody invents anything, he merely reflects what's floating in the social atmosphere. A genius is an intellectual scavenger and a greedy hoarder of the ideas which rightfully belong to society, from which he stole them. All thought is theft. If we do away with private fortunes, we'll have a fairer distribution of wealth. If we do away with the genius, we'll have a fairer distribution of ideas."

Sound familiar? Now let's hear what Barack Obama said on July 13, 2012:

    [I]f you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. . . . I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
    If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
    The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

Don't be fooled by Obama's lip service to "individual initiative". It's window dressing; an intellectual diversion to make his collectivist message sound more palatable to an American audience that still retains some respect for individualism. As I've noted before, the overarching theme of Obama's speech, and his worldview, is to marginalize the individual in favor of the "We". 

Ask yourself why. 

Yes, a few moments of self-reflection, observation and thought by any rational person will expose the absurd notion that individual initiative is not primary to achievement. But, as Elsworth Toohey said in The Fountainhead, "Don't bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes." Ask yourself what type of person Obama's premise appeals to. And then, ask yourself what political/economic system depends on Obama's worldview, and what system depends on recognizing individual achievement as "Yes, I did build that."

Related Reading:

Piketty's "Capital" an Obama's "You didn't Build That": Perfect Together

Obama's Way vs. the American Way.

Mazzucato’s Fantasy: The “Courageous, Entrepreneurial State”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Denying Assisted Suicide Rights Based on Potential “Abuse” is Immoral

A bill legalizing assisted suicide in New Jersey is working its way through the legislature. The bill, A2270 sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, is dubbed the Aid in Dying Act. A2270 would legalize doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients diagnosed as having less than six months to live.

The Aid in Dying Act was the subject of a July letter published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger by anti-assisted suicide activist Diane Coleman, writing as President of Not Dead Yet. Coleman wrote, in part:

When it comes to emotion as a barrier to reason, assisted suicide’s proponents have a much bigger problem than opponents.

The bill doesn’t prevent abuse; it hides it. Legislators have a duty to set aside emotion and think about seriously ill people who don’t have a loving family and need the law to protect them.

I left these comments:

When it comes to reason—and morality—those opposed to legalization of assisted suicide have the bigger problem.

Yes, the law must protect against the taking of life against the patient’s wishes. But the law should also protect the right of every individual of sound mind to end his life on his [own] terms, whether that choice is made consciously by the patient at the time of death or carried out by third parties based on a living will. In fact, my problem with Assemblyman John Burzichelli’s “Aid in Dying” bill is that it’s too restrictive. Why require a diagnosis of six months to live? What of someone who, by his own rational judgment, is living an existence of living death and wants to end it? As a 65 year old, I certainly would want my right to die with dignity respected and protected by law.

The idea that the right to end one’s life with professional assistance should be denied to everyone because of the “potential” for abuse by the few is morally corrupt and inimical to basic liberties. On that premise, no one should have any rights whatsoever, since any right can be abused.

[NOTE: The phrase "or carried out by third parties based on a living will" should not be construed to imply support for euthanasia. What I mean here is that if an adult of sound mind, alert and lucid, is physically unable to administer the lethal drug, it would be legal for another, should he choose, to administer the dose under the dieing patient's observation and direction. In this situiation, a living will would not come into play. I do not support legalized euthanasia.]

Related Reading:

Diane Coleman's Opposition to Assisted Suicide Ignores Rights - PART 2

Monday, August 18, 2014

Do the Means Justify Medicaid Ends?

A letter titled Affordable Care Act is good for the country appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on March 21, 2014. The letter writer, Christopher, explains that he was born with severe disabilities, but that his family was unable to afford the necessary treatments. But, thanks to the "help" of Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor, Christopher is now an 11-year veteran employee of Starbucks with plans to marry in 2015. Medicaid, writes Christopher, "enabled me to become the man I am today."

He concludes:

    I am appalled by the way the Republican Party has repeatedly tried to deny and obstruct the Affordable Care Act, which would benefit all people regardless of mental and physical limitations, especially those with financial hardships.
    I am a testament to and living proof that this piece of legislation benefits not just the individual but the country as a whole.

I left these comments:

"The ends justify the means" is one of the most horrific moral precepts ever devised by man. It excuses any injustice or aggression, so long as the end to be achieved is deemed to be good.

This is the premise behind Christopher Gagliardi's letter. Where does the money that funds Medicaid, ACA subsidies, and the like come from, and by what means? It comes out of the pockets of taxpayers who earned it, by means of legalized force—i.e., it is stolen at gunpoint.

I sympathize with Gagliardi's health plight. I also admire his courage and determination in dealing with and overcoming his handicap to build a productive life for himself. And I don't necessarily fault Gagliardi for taking advantage of Medicaid, since his family's taxes undoubtedly contributed to it. 

But calling Medicaid benefits "help" is dishonest. Their are certainly people worthy of consideration for voluntary charity from his fellow man (simply being "poor" is not one of them). But the term "help" implies voluntary good will, not force. This fact must not be evaded: Government "charity" programs start with legalized theft, and that makes them fundamentally immoral. 

Notice that advocates of government programs always rationalize them with undefinable collectivist catchphrases, like "the good of the country as a whole," as if the "whole" exists independently of the individuals that make it up. There is a reason for this. When you focus on reality and facts, you find theft (and power-lust) at the root of government programs. There is no "whole" in this context. There are individual people being victimized by government aggression—being denied the liberty to decide who, when, and in what capacity to help others—and there are beneficiaries that profit from that aggression. Nobody has ever attempted to justify theft as regards actual human beings—nor can it be justified, whether or not carried out under cover of law—hence the vague collectivist catchphrase, "the good of the country as a whole."

There is more wrong with Medicaid, the ACA, and like programs than the theft; such as that they feed the growth of government power over our lives. But the bottom line is, the ends don't justify the means, until and unless the means are first justified. In regard to Medicaid and ObamaCare, the means can not be justified, so neither can these programs, no matter who benefits from them.

Related Reading:

The “Personal Account” Path to Ending Social Security

No One is "Supposed" to Shoulder Unchosen Obligations

What if Someone Can't Afford Healthcare In a Free Market?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ayn Rand on a Modern Dollar Bill? Who Better Deserves the Honor? has an interesting poll with an interesting result. The poll asks, “Who Should Be the First Woman On a Modern Dollar Bill?” As of this writing, Ayn Rand leads with 55%, followed in second place by Eleanor Roosevelt with 10%.

These results are appropriate. Ayn Rand was the thinker who gave money its proper moral due. As Carl Svanberg notes at Voices for Reason, “Who could be a more worthy candidate? Ayn Rand did, after all, argue that money is the root of all good.”

Of course, Rand understood fully that money, as such, has little value. To arrive at the conclusion of money as the root of all good, Rand asked, “What is the root of money?” Her answer, which is contained in Francisco’s Money Speech in Atlas Shrugged, is life-serving productive work and all of the virtues that implies. Next, she asked, “What is the root of production?” Man’s mind, she observed. If you think about it honestly and objectively, you must conclude that Rand was right.

Rand praised America as “a country of money: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. . . . If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose–because it contains all the others–the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money,’” Rand said.

What does it mean “to make money?” To make money means to make (create) a good or service that others value enough to be willing to pay you for. It does not mean to get money by hook or by crook. Armed robbers, fraudsters, and moochers don’t make money. They simply appropriate it. To make money means to earn it by productive work and trade.

And what virtues do productive work and trade depend on? Since productive work is reason-guided labor (physical or mental), and trade is the voluntary exchange of value for value, it follows that the root of money rests on certain life-serving human virtues. These virtues, which money-making embodies, are virtues like rationality, self-motivation, self-discipline, self-esteem, honesty, integrity, teamwork, long-range planning, and pride.

As Rand observed:

Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce.

When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears not all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor–your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money.

Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions–and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.

A culture of money-makers is a culture of peaceful coexistence and rising mutual prosperity. The money you make can then be exchanged for all of the material values your life and flourishing depend on, but which others make, through the win-win medium of trade. It is money that makes trade possible. As Rand eloquently observed, money is “your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”

This is not to say that money-making is or should be one’s only pursuit. Everyone needs a whole constellation of values to complete his life, such as vacations, leisure activities like reading or media, friendships, romantic relationships, quality time with children or extended family, hobbies, charitable activities, and so on. In an advanced industrial, money-exchange, division of labor economy, there is time for all kinds of enriching pursuits. But money-making is and should be understood to be one’s central pursuit, around which all of one’s other values are oriented and balanced. This is not a matter of choice or opinion. This is fact. Without the means to survive and thrive that money-making embodies, no other values are even possible.

Far from being some lowly, amoral activity or necessary evil, money-making is a noble activity that belongs at the top of our moral hierarchy, because the human virtues embodied in the phrase “to make money” are the very virtues vital not just to survival but to achieving a happy, prosperous, and fulfilling life.

This is why Ayn Rand identified money as the root of all good. Who but Ayn Rand, above all others, deserves to be the first woman on a modern dollar bill?

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The Money Making Personality—Ayn Rand

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tax Inversion: “Fiduciary Duty to Shareholders” vs. “Duty to Society”

Herb Brennan had a good letter published in the 8/11/14 New Jersey Star-Ledger rebutting Steven Pressman’s op-ed "We must invert tax inversion" (covered in my last two blog posts). In his letter, Inversion not a crime, I was particularly impressed with this statement:

Any corporation’s board of directors has a fiduciary duty to shareholders to use all legal means, including inversion, to increase after-tax profits.

While there is no such duty to society, most well-managed companies make substantial contributions to the community.

I not sure if Brennan understands the full implications of his statement, so I left these supporting comments:

I agree with Herb Brennan, especially his observation that “there is no such duty to society.”

“Society” is not an entity apart from the individual human beings that comprise it. When someone suggests that “society” takes precedence over private individual interests such as corporations minimizing taxes, they are saying that some individuals’ interests should be sacrificed for the benefit of other individuals who have an automatic moral entitlement to the lives and wealth of others. There are no such entitlements or duties.

Those who propose criminalizing tax inversion always justify their argument on some collectivist rationalization like “duty to society” or the “nation”, and then smear tax inverting companies as “unpatriotic” or “deserters.” But, collectivism is the hallmark of tribal slave systems like communism and fascism, where the group rather than the individual is the focus of moral concern. America is the opposite: It is the land of the free—free, sovereign individuals pursuing their own interests (their happiness) by their own efforts. Tax inversion is not just economically sensible, but moral and patriotic as well. While we should never condone tax evasion, I say shame on our unpatriotic politicians for the confiscatory, discriminatory tax policies that are chasing American businesses abroad. These politicians and their supporters are deserting American principles by demanding that these companies sacrifice their own interests as a duty to society.

Keep in mind what the whole issue concerns; profits earned outside of the U.S. The federal government taxes all of a U.S.-based multinational company’s income, wherever it is earned. For example, if a company pays a 20% tax to a foreign government on sales in that country, it still must pay an additional 15% to the American government because the U.S. tax rate is 35%, the highest in the world—plus additional state corporate income taxes where applicable, such as NJ’s 9% rate—if and when the foreign earnings are “repatriated” (reinvested) in the U.S. The earnings shielded from U.S. taxes when a company does a tax inversion is not money earned inside the U.S., which is fully taxable at the draconian U.S. rates regardless of the company’s official residency. It is only U.S. taxes on money earned outside the U.S. that companies escape when “inverting.”

Is it any wonder that many U.S.-based companies often re-establish residency abroad? Is it any wonder why statists must resort to collectivist arguments to justify their attack on tax-inverting companies?

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