TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

The Moral Cliff

Everyone is aware that America faces a financial crisis involving the $16.3 trillion national debt, the impending “fiscal cliff,” and the long-term insolvency of entitlement programs. But America also, and more fundamentally, faces a moral crisis—a crisis that underlies and gives rise to the financial crisis—and we cannot effectively act to solve the country’s economic problems until we are willing to recognize and address the deeper moral problem.

To see this relationship, consider the proximate cause of the so-called fiscal cliff. Over many years and decades, Federal politicians have spent trillions (and promised trillions more) for entitlement programs (euphemistically called “welfare” or “security” programs), corporate welfare (euphemistically called “stimulus packages”), and myriad other rights-violating programs.

What reasons are given for this welfare spending and these business bailouts? Why must hard-working individuals hand over a portion of their wages to Social Security? Why must they give a portion of their paychecks to Medicare and Medicaid? Because, we are told, we all must sacrifice for the welfare of the elderly and the “poor”—this is in the interest of the “greater good.” Why must some Americans surrender their hard-earned wealth to bail out failing banks and power-lusting auto unions? Because, we are told, we all must sacrifice for the “greater good”—and the failure of big businesses is not in the interests of the greater good. We hear similar arguments for every redistribution program.

Runaway federal spending is the political result of runaway altruism—altruism being the moral code demanding that individuals sacrifice their own values, such as their wealth, for the sake of others or the “greater good” of society.

Any rational response to the fiscal cliff must begin with three forthrightly stated principles: 1. Each individual has a moral, inalienable right to his own life and to his own wealth; 2. This right is grounded in the fact that acting in one’s own rational self-interest is moral because it is the fundamental requirement of one’s life; and 3. Altruism, the morality of self-sacrifice, is, as Ayn Rand put it, “a morality for the immoral” and is utterly incompatible with individual rights.

Given the correct moral basis, the way to deal with the fiscal cliff is relatively simple and straightforward. First, eliminate all future tax hikes. Second, dramatically cut government spending in every area and aspect of government that does not protect individual rights. Third, cut taxes across the board—and continue cutting them wherever and whenever possible. Fourth, begin phasing out Social Security, Medicaid, and all other entitlement programs—and continue phasing them out until they are no more.

The moral cliff is the morality of altruism, with its political consequence of a rights-violating entitlement state. America’s moral salvation is the code of rational self-interest, with its political consequence of a government that protects individual rights.

Life- and liberty-loving Americans must stop jumping off the moral cliff—that is, sacrificing themselves like lemmings for an alleged “greater good”; and they must begin recognizing their own and others’ rights—that is, producing, trading, repudiating government coercion, and living as rational, selfish human beings.

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Image: iStockPhoto

Posted in: Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Taxation

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • John Shepard

    Beautiful, Mr. Armstrong!

  • Dale Netherton

    The arguments are offered and clearly presented but ignored. Does it take eons for mankind to wake up? If the situation was faced across the kitchen table the resolve to change course would be rapid and productive. Empowering others to decide our national fate and allowing them to legally rob us needs a recognition that those who seek a political career without a profound respect for individual rights are not qualified.

  • Joseph G Fleming

    Your arguments and proposed solutions are good, but will continue to be safely ignored as the previous post states as long as you fail to address the elephant in the room: the re-election incentive that motivates every action by Members of Congress.

    Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress complete monopoly control over all taxing, spending and regulating done by the federal government, mostly without Constitutional limit! As long as they can spend the nations credit and the wealth taxed away from its creators in ways to benefit their own personal re-elections, all the while conning others into believing they are doing it for altruistic reasons, they will continue doing it ad infinitum.

    Only removing the re-election incentive can stop it.

  • Don Duncan

    The “re-election incentive” is not the power to spend. It is the power to tax (steal). Taking that and eminent domain law (theft) away from them will restore property rights and remove the two prime incentives granted by our democracy. Next, abolish the rule by majority vote, i.e., democracy, and establish inalienable rights. How? Ah, there’s the rub. With gov’t comes unlimited control. No system of “checks and balances” has ever worked.

  • Don Duncan

    How do we repudiate government coercion without repudiating government? Government is coercion. Rand wrote an essay entitled: “Who will protect us from our protectors?” She was unable to answer the question.

  • PGies Chan

    “we will protect ourselves from our protectors”

  • Robert Cons

    Well said, Ari Armstrong!

  • Anonymous

    The US Constitution is what protects us from our “protectors” because it is intended to limit the (coercive) government. Our politicians, led by our broken-philosophy-holding intellectuals, and assisted by the Supreme Court, have intentionally found ways to avoid/bypass/ignore/sideswipe the Constitution.

  • Keltlady

    Also get rid of amendments 16 and 17.

  • Phillip Marsh

    And don’t forget that Ayn Rand was NOT above taking social security.

    Also, IMMENSE EXPENSE IS MAINLY IN DEFENSE and also corporate welfare and massive tax breaks for the rich.