Sunday, December 8, 2013
Dear Friend of TOS,
I’m writing to ask for your support in defense of your values.
As TOS wraps up its eighth year of fighting for a culture of reason and freedom, we are proud to reflect on our accomplishments—and eager to dwarf them in the months and years to come. Let me begin with an indication of what we have done.
In the first eight years of publishing our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard, we’ve produced and disseminated more than 330 in-depth articles and reviews from an Objectivist perspective. Our journal articles include such vital themes as:
- Ayn Rand: America’s comeback philosopher;
- Individualism vs. collectivism;
- The nature and need of a self-interested foreign policy;
- Why and how to end central banking;
- How to maximize enjoyment from art you love;
- The heroism of Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, John D. Rockefeller, James J. Hill, Andrew Carnegie, and other great thinkers and producers;
- The evil of government-run schools and the need to abolish them;
- The morality and practicality of a fully free market in education;
- The principles and methods of proper education;
- The creed of sacrifice vs. the Land of Liberty;
- Moral health care vs. “universal health care”;
- The mystical ethics of the “New Atheists”;
- Ayn Rand’s theory of rights;
- The impossibility of defending liberty while ignoring or denying its philosophic underpinnings;
- Capitalism and the moral high ground;
- The moral root of the financial crises;
- And much, much more.
Our book and film reviews have analyzed important works—some popular, some practically unknown—in a wide variety of fields. And our interviews with various scholars, artists, activists, and politicians have offered fascinating perspectives on important subjects.
In one form or another (via subscription or periodical index), we’ve gotten The Objective Standard into more than 800 college libraries, including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and many other top universities.
On TOS Blog, we’ve published more than 900 blog posts about important cultural and political issues. In 2013, we expanded our blog output dramatically, averaging 31 posts per month.
As for readership, in the past two years we’ve nearly tripled traffic to TOS’s website. In 2011, unique visitors averaged fewer than 18,000 per month; today they exceed 53,000 per month. And, importantly, when people visit our website, they find not just a disparate article from an Objectivist perspective, but a vast trove of articles, reviews, blog posts, and videos—all integrated by the fact that each upholds and applies Ayn Rand’s philosophy for living on earth.
In addition, in the past two years, TOS has seen a 1,000 percent increase in Facebook followers, from 3,000 in 2011 to more than 31,000 today. According to Facebook, these followers are predominantly eighteen to twenty-four years old, and the most popular city of residence is New York. This is the perfect demographic for reaching active minds, improving lives, and affecting cultural change.
Further, in the past two years, we’ve increased our newsstand distribution by 20 percent, from 1,500 per issue to 1,800 per issue—and we’ve done so while most magazines have suffered declines in distribution.
Finally, whereas two years ago TOS had virtually no YouTube presence, now our YouTube channel has 26 videos, which have been viewed more than 48,000 times, and we’re producing more videos every month.
There is more. But the foregoing is an indication of some of TOS’s accomplishments to date—which, again, we aim to surpass by orders of magnitude.
Toward that end, we are producing (among other things) an all-new TOS website, which is almost complete and will be rolled out in January 2014 (about six weeks later than initially anticipated). The new site will better integrate with social media, YouTube, and mobile devices; and it will be more visible to Web crawlers and search engine bots. It will also require much less maintenance than our current site does, enabling TOS staff and me to put substantially more time into writing, editing, lecturing, filming, and marketing. Once we’ve launched the new website, we will quickly triple our blog output to ninety posts per month, increase our video production to four per month, and significantly expand our social media participation and content dissemination efforts.
All of this will increase TOS’s output and visibility, expand our reach, and show more and more people the life-serving power of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
As much change as we anticipate in the coming months, however, one thing will remain constant: our commitment to objectivity and clarity.
From the beginning, TOS’s mission has been to spread the ideas on which human life and civilized society depend—and to do so by meeting people at their values and showing them, in clear, highly concretized terms, how rational principles enable them to understand the world, pursue their goals, and protect their rights. Toward this end, the three most important elements in communication are, as Ayn Rand put it, “clarity, clarity, and clarity.”
Clarity is our focus in all that we do at TOS. Every article, review, blog post, and video we create is intended to clarify the subject at hand, to foster genuine understanding, and thereby to help people see the truth and value of rational principles. “Make clarity a fetish, an absolute, a dogma, a god,” Ayn Rand advised. We have done so.
Read any TOS article, review, or blog post. Watch any TOS video. What you will find is unmatched clarity. This is a consequence of enormous effort on the part of our thinkers, writers, and editors. It takes a lot of time and perseverance to achieve the clarity we achieve. But we know it is vital to reaching and changing minds, so we exert the effort, spend the time, and make it so.
The result? Here are a few unsolicited testimonials from our readers and viewers:
“I found The Objective Standard at Barnes & Noble, and I can’t say enough about the value of this publication. It goes past the words I have, and I have a good lexicon. Thank you!” —Lishka M.
“TOS is the only publication I am aware of that discusses important philosophical issues with such depth and clarity. I am really grateful for your work!” —Boris T.
“I have read many of the Objectivist publications over the years and although they all were of high quality, yours is clearly the best. Keep up the great work, and I will do whatever I can to spread the word about your fabulous publication.” —Mike G.
“The Objective Standard is a wonderful magazine, very approachable for the average person who is interested in a deeper understanding of Objectivist philosophy. The clarity of writing is superb.” —Vicki M.
“I would like to take a moment to express my appreciation for your publication. I have found literally every article be a compelling read. I love the way the format is that of an academic publication, which keeps the focus squarely on the content. The content is rich and varied and weighty, but it is also readable by anyone who is intellectually curious, whether Objectivist or non-Objectivist. Bringing these elements together so well is a great accomplishment. I think your publication is helping to energize the whole Objectivist movement. More importantly, it is energizing me.” —David L.
“Thank you for creating the journal and for all the great articles. Ayn Rand was right, and if more people can come to understand her ideas, the world will be a much better place to live. I reference articles from the journal when trying to introduce her ideas to people I know and meet.” —Dave G.
“Thank you for everything that you all do at The Objective Standard. The video shorts TOS has posted to YouTube are excellent. Especially the ones where you answer questions from individuals. These have been very helpful to me, and I hope you continue to produce them.” —R. Lee
“I appreciate your relentless commitment to reason and excellence. I don’t know of an equivalent publication anywhere. Not only are the articles (subject matter and content) first rate, but the format and editing are outstanding as well. You have taken Objectivist publishing to the next level.” —Brent A.
We receive such feedback regularly. TOS is reaching, moving, and energizing minds. But to continue doing so, we need your help.
Like most intellectual media outlets—Reason, Commentary, National Review, The American Spectator, and the like—TOS’s sales revenues do not cover its expenses, so we must rely on additional support from people who value what we do and want us to continue.
Our annual expenses are $215,000, and our annual sales revenues are $174,000, rendering a deficit of $41,000. With the completion of our new website over the next few weeks, we will have additional expenses of $10,000, rendering a deficit of $51,000. To date in 2013, we have raised just over $30,000 in donations, so we need to raise $21,000 more by the end of the year.
If you value the work we do—if you see the importance of a multimedia outlet that consistently applies the principles of Objectivism with crystal clarity—please make a donation to help us continue our work and achieve our mission. With sufficient funding, we can make everything we’ve done to date look like a pittance. And, with sufficient funding, that is what we will do.
Donations of any amount are helpful, whether single contributions or recurring monthly contributions. In return for your investment, we promise to continue fighting for your values with everything we have. I hope we can count on your support.
Thank you for your consideration. Warmest wishes to you and your loved ones for the holidays.
Craig Biddle, Editor
The Objective Standard
Posted in: Announcements
Friday, December 6, 2013
Today, a Colorado court demanded that Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Bakeshop, bake wedding cakes for gay couples or face fines, the Associated Press reports. But Phillips—who disapproves of gay marriage and says he’ll close his shop rather than bake cakes for gay weddings—has a moral right to refuse to do business with people he does not want to do business with.
Although there is objectively nothing morally wrong with homosexuality—and those who claim otherwise are objectively wrong—this fact does not negate a person’s right of association. People have a right to act on their own judgment—so long as they do not violate the rights of others—even if their judgment is wrong or flawed. (To protest Phillips’s actions, I certainly plan to exercise my right of association and refuse to do business with Phillips’s shop.)
Does refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple violate the rights of that couple? No. Phillips’s refusal in no way subjects the couple to force, fraud, or the like—which is the only way rights can be violated. They remain free to hire any other cake maker willing to serve them. Phillips’s shop is his business and his property, and he has a moral right to decide how to run it.
Logically, there can be no “right” to a good or service produced by someone else (outside of a preexisting contractual commitment to provide it). If a gay couple has a “right” to force Phillips to bake them a cake, then what becomes of Phillips’s right to act on his judgment? A “right” that violates another person’s rights is a contradiction in terms.
Although Phillips deserves moral censure and boycotts of his business, he does not deserve to have the government threaten to confiscate his wealth for declining to bake a cake. The right to gay marriage rests on the freedom to contract—and that is precisely the freedom the court seeks to deny Phillips. If gay couples have the right to freedom of contract—and they do—then so does Phillips. Those who wish to have their own rights respected must respect the rights of others—even when others exercise their rights poorly.
Posted in: Gay Issues
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Today Congressman Jared Polis of Boulder lambasted the Colorado Oil and Gas Association for seeking to legally protect its members’ rights to produce energy in the face of fracking bans approved by voters in two Colorado cities. (The Denver Post reports the details of the legal battle.)
The timing of Polis’s comments could not be more ironic. As sub-freezing temperatures blanket the region—the Denver airport hit a record low of -15 degrees this morning—the natural gas produced by frackers is more critical than ever to helping people live and prosper, including those who voted for the fracking bans.
This morning my car would barely start due to the cold, and the deep freeze left my uncovered skin in pain. If I did not have natural gas to heat my home, it would quickly drop to sub-freezing temperatures, making it unlivable and likely destroying my water pipes.
Burning natural gas to heat our homes is a remarkable development. Decades ago, before natural gas became common for home heating, people typically burned coal or wood to heat their homes, which produced substantial amounts of toxins in the air.
Every time my gas-burning heater clicks on, sending toasty warm air through my home, I remember the great work that frackers do in my state and elsewhere in the country to help keep our homes warm, our air clean, our cars running, our electricity on.
Far from deserving a browbeating by an elected official for standing up for their rights, frackers deserve our gratitude, admiration, and moral support.
- Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market
- Voters Have No Right to Violate Right to Frack
- Coloradans Should Kill Fracking Ban for Right Reason
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Examples of sticker shock among former and current supporters of ObamaCare—once they find their insurance rates going up—keep piling up. (See also my previous posts.)
Nurse Cathy Wagner “championed Obamacare, until she received a letter from her insurance company saying it was canceling her policy,” Denver’s CBS affiliate reports. “I was really shocked. . . . all of my hopes were sort of dashed,” she said.
Sue Klinkhamer, a former employee of Congressman Bill Foster, writes that she “defended Obamacare because it would make health care available to everyone at, what I assumed, would be an affordable price. I have now learned that I was wrong. Very wrong.”
Matthew Fleischer found his rates going up under ObamaCare as well: “I’m staring in the face of a 43 percent cost increase, for less comprehensive coverage than I have now.” He regards as scandalous the high “cost of the program to young, healthy middle class people.”
Fleischer, however, does not call for the repeal of ObamaCare in favor of a free market in medicine. Instead, he believes the law can be “tweaked to provide better, more progressive care.” He suggests the government should force the “wealthy” rather than the “middle class” to subsidize other people’s health care.
Why does Fleischer continue to support ObamaCare despite its obvious failures? He writes:
The Affordable Care Act has already done a lot to ensure that many of the poorest Americans have access to health care. Which is something most individuals of conscience can agree is essential in a civilized society.
In other words, Fleischer believes that in a “civilized society” government forces some people (particularly the “wealthy”) to pay for the goods and services consumed by others. But there is nothing civilized about effectively holding a gun to someone’s head and forcing him to hand over his hard-earned wealth to those who did not earn it.
Rather, in a fully civilized society, the government acts solely to protect people’s rights—including their rights to control their wealth, to contract freely with others, and, in general, to act according to their own judgment. ObamaCare is uncivilized because it violates people’s rights, and that is why it produces disastrous consequences.
To protect their lives, their liberties, and their health, Americans must demand that their representatives act in a civilized manner and repeal this uncivilized law.
- Dr. Josh Umbehr Explains How to Get Quality, Economical Health Care and Undermine ObamaCare
- ObamaCare Surprises and Brother’s Keepers
Creative Commons Image: Austen Hufford
Posted in: Health Care
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
American energy producers have rapidly expanded their output of oil and natural gas in recent years—thanks to the advancing technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). For an indication of the difference these technologies make, consider some figures regarding the Eagle Ford Shale formation in Texas.
The energy company EOG Resources recently announced daily production rates of 4,510 barrels of oil, 715 barrels of natural gas liquids, and 4.2 million cubic feet of natural gas out of a single well. In 2007—prior to horizontal drilling and fracking at the location—Eagle Ford “total liquids production (crude oil and condensate) was less than 21 thousand barrels” for the year. In other words, EOG Resources now produces more energy in five days from one well than all the energy produced in the Eagle Ford in 2007.
That is the kind of difference these technologies make. More precisely, that is is the kind of difference the scientists, engineers, and businessmen who develop and apply these technologies make. Heroes one and all.
- Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market
- Voters Have No Right to Violate Right to Frack
Posted in: Science and Technology
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
A recent exchange about gun statistics illustrates the failure of libertarianism to base political freedom on an anything other than personal or cultural opinion.
In a recent blog post, Bryan Caplan, a libertarian anarchist and an economist at George Mason University (GMU), discusses a recent study linking gun ownership to suicide rates.
In that study, Justin Briggs and Alex Tabarrok (both of GMU) find:
Using a variety of techniques and data we estimate that a 1 percentage point increase in the household gun ownership rate leads to a .5 to .9% increase in suicides.
The researchers claim to have factored in the ability of people to substitute other methods of killing themselves. Whether they have adequately accounted for the fact that people serious about committing suicide (as opposed to making a “cry for help” or the like) tend to acquire guns for the purpose—as opposed to cutting themselves, taking pills, or doing other things less likely to result in death—I do not know.
As Caplan explains, a writer for Think Progress seized on the results to argue for more restrictive gun laws.
How, in light of this, does Caplan attempt to defend gun ownership? He pursues two lines of argument, one based on utilitarianism—the theory that the proper moral standard is “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”—the other on subjectivism—the idea that moral truths are matters or personal opinion or social convention.
Caplan’s utilitarian argument runs as follows:
[T]he Briggs-Tabarrok effect says that depriving 3,100,000 people of their guns (a 1 percentage-point decrease in the gun ownership rate) would save about 200-360 lives. . . . In ratio form, the Briggs-Tabarrok effect says that to prevent a single suicide, 8,600 to 15,500 people—the vast majority of whom are not suicidal—must lose their guns.
Is that a good deal? A standard $7M value of life [!] implies a critical value of gun ownership between $452 and $814 per person per year. If the marginal person’s value of gun ownership is less than that, gun deprivation passes the cost-benefit test.
Soak that in.
Caplan offers various data suggesting that American gun owners value their guns more than the dollar figures mentioned. But, sensing the deficiencies of the utilitarian case for gun ownership, Caplan turns to a second argument:
But is a pure cost-benefit approach to gun suicides even appropriate? Probably not. Everyone makes fun-but-risky choices—on diet, lifestyle, and sex for starters. The risks you take affect not only you, but the people who care about you. Many are far riskier than the Briggs-Tabarrok Effect. Yet almost [everyone] thinks it’s wrong to use cost-benefit analysis to veto these personal decisions. . . .
Here Caplan attempts to use moral subjectivism to bolster his utilitarian case. His idea is that to find out what is right we must find out what people subjectively want—even if they don’t yet know it. His argument is essentially that because most people oppose paternalistic government controls in most areas, so too, by implication, they should oppose such controls in this area as well. In other words, people’s desires are to set the standard of proper policy. His argument runs no deeper than that.
Leaving aside the fact that gun ownership is not merely about making a “fun-but-risky” choice (it is fundamentally about self defense and helping to maintain a free society) Caplan’s arguments utterly fail to make the case for gun ownership.
Why should an individual’s or a group’s desires be the standard for political policy? And on what basis does anyone value other people’s lives at $7 million or any other figure? Caplan offers no answers to such questions—and no objective answers are possible.
The approach Caplan takes here is common among libertarians, in that it fails to offer a philosophic grounding for political liberty. (For details, see Craig Biddle’s article, “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism.”)
A person’s rights—to act on his own judgment, to own a gun or other property, to speak his mind, etc.—depend on and arise from a philosophic foundation of reason and egoism: To live, man must use reason to pursue life-promoting values—and he can do so only to the extent that he is free to do so.
Caplan seeks to make the case for liberty while avoiding such fundamentals—which is why, as interesting as some of his discussion is, his case ultimately fails. To effectively advocate liberty, activists must embrace and clearly articulate the philosophic basis of liberty. Let’s encourage each other to do so.
Posted in: Libertarianism
Monday, December 2, 2013
Voters in several Colorado communities recently elected to ban or severely restrict hydraulic fracturing (fracking)—a process by which energy producers have vastly expanded production of natural gas and oil—in their areas. (Of course, these voters continue to power their homes and automobiles using energy produced by fracking.) An editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette explains why voters were wrong to do so.
“In the United States, voters have limited authority by design,” the Gazette explains:
Theories and concerns about potential dangers do not authorize majorities to violate fundamental protections of civil rights. . . . . Just as this country was founded to protect [rights to freedom of] religion and speech, it was founded to protect reasonable use of private property. The Fifth Amendment makes this clear. It prohibits governments and voters from depriving any individual of “property, without due process of law.” It says private property may not be taken for public use “without just compensation.”
Energy producers have a moral and constitutional right to operate on lands they own and contract to use for the purpose. Voters are wrong to violate that right.
Hopefully Colorado courts will overturn the popular vote in this case. In any case, kudos to the Gazette for making a principled argument in defense of frackers’ rights.
- Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market
- Coloradans Should Kill Fracking Ban for Right Reason
Creative Commons Image: Maarten Heerlien
Posted in: Property Rights
Sunday, December 1, 2013
SkyView Academy, a government-funded charter school in Colorado, recently cut ties with a religious charity after the American Humanist Association threatened to sue over the charity’s involvement, as the Denver Post reports. As part of a community service project, students helped the Samaritan’s Purse organization send “shoeboxes filled with hygiene items, candy and gifts—and a Gospel message—to children around the world.”
Although various parents and Christian organizations expressed outrage over the school dropping the charity, a government-funded school cannot properly spend tax dollars to evangelize religion. And the thorny debates over such matters illustrate the inherent conflicts that arise when government finances education.
The problems with tax-funded charter schools are similar to those with tax-funded vouchers, an issue that C. Bradley Thompson addresses in his new article for TOS:
Voucher programs assume that children have a “right” to a tax-funded education and thus that taxpayers must be forced to support government schools and/or pay for vouchers. But if real rights are to be protected and if education is to be freed from government force, the premise that children have a “right” to a tax-funded education must be rejected, not embraced.
Further, vouchers undermine and corrupt private education by gradually turning private schools into government-controlled schools. When government provides students with vouchers, government obviously has a say in where and how that money is to be used.
Should a school participate with a particular charity? Properly that is a matter to be determined by the owners of the school, who, in order to stay in business, must satisfy their customers—the parents whose children attend the school—and attract and keep talented teachers. When government finances the school, in effect everyone owns it—and no one owns it. So the schools are in fact controlled by the government, as Thompson explains, and are therefore subject to the perpetual political debates that accompany all such government projects.
As Thompson establishes, the proper solution to such problems—and to many more stemming from government-controlled education—is to separate schools from the state, to establish a government that protects rather than violates individual rights in the area of education, and to free educators and entrepreneurs to operate in a voluntary market.
- Education in a Free Society
- Egalitarian Call to Abolish Private Schools is Morally Obscene and Economically Absurd
Posted in: Education Policy
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Thanksgiving has come and gone, but controversy over the holiday rages on.
Traditionally, on the day after Thanksgiving, so-called Black Friday, many Americans go shopping. Last year, some 140 million Americans spent more than $11 billion on this highly commercial day. Anti-commercial mentalities have long howled about this concentration of commerce, but now they have even more to howl about.
In the last few years, many retailers have opted to open their stores on Thanksgiving evening and to remain open all night and through Black Friday. In other words, commerce has seeped into the producers’ holiday.
Infuriated by this trend, anti-commerce groups and some employee unions are calling for the government to force retailers to remain closed on Thanksgiving. For stores to open on the holiday, they say, violates the rights of employees who are called to work.
This is absurd.
Employers and employees deal with one another entirely voluntarily; they trade via mutual consent to mutual advantage; and no one’s rights are violated by means of voluntary trade.
Employers pay employees to work—and they often pay a premium to those who work on holidays. Employees choose to work for the pay offered and under the conditions negotiated or contractually agreed to—and they often appreciate opportunities to earn extra money. Employers set a variety of standards for employees—from business hours to dress codes to productivity goals—and those who dislike such terms are free to seek employment elsewhere. No one is forced to work on a holiday or any other day.
Rights can be violated only by means of force (including fraud, extortion, or the like). Where there is no force, there is no rights violation.
It may be debatable whether being open on Thanksgiving makes good business sense for a given business. But it is not rationally debatable whether employers, employees, and consumers have a moral right to engage in commerce on a holiday.
- Capitalism and the Moral High Ground
- Call It Exuberant Friday, Not “Black Friday”
- Walmart Isn’t Forcing Anyone To Work on Thanksgiving
Posted in: Regulations
Thursday, November 28, 2013
In this episode of Reason at Large, Craig Biddle answers a question from Kyle: “What is the moral status of homosexuality? Is it moral, immoral or neutral? And why are some people gay? Is sexual orientation inborn or a choice or what?”
In answering, Biddle explains that sexual orientation per se is neither moral nor immoral and that the relevant issue is whether, given a person’s orientation, he approaches sex in a rational, self-interested, rights-respecting manner. Biddle then discusses the purpose and importance of sex in human life, points out that hostility to homosexuality stems primarily from religion and should be ignored, touches on possible causes of homosexuality and explains that this as irrelevant to its moral status, and encourages homosexuals and everyone else to embrace their sexual orientation and to engage in sex rationally and joyously.
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