“Giving What We Can” Calls for Sacrificing What We Have

December 31, 2012

An American who considers all the places he might have been born will conclude (if he values his life and happiness) that he was lucky to have been born in America, the Land of Opportunity, the Land of Liberty. Those born anywhere in the industrialized (or even semi-industrialized) world will conclude they were lucky to be born where they were, relative to the impoverished and oppressed regions of the earth. But is it unfair that you were born in America or in another industrial nation? The answer, according to the charity Giving What We Can (recently discussed by NPR) is yes. The charity argues: [W]e really are part of a very small and wealthy elite—vastly more wealthy than the poorest half of the world’s population, who all live on less than $4 per day. Did we earn this position? No. Of those born in the United States, almost all will be in the world’s richest 20%, and control more than 80% of the world’s income. This is in large part because they were lucky to be born in the right place. Money is thus distributed both unequally and unfairly around the world. We tend not to notice the unfairness, but for those born into countries where hard work gives only a tiny fraction of our rewards, this injustice is painfully apparent. The claim here is that because we were born into a wealthy nation, the fact that we have wealth is unfair. The obvious moral conclusion following from that claim is that those with more wealth have a moral duty to (as Obama has put it) “spread the wealth around.” The charity states that, to serve the poor, “we must be prepared to make some real sacrifice.” The charity calls on people to give a minimum of 10 percent of their wealth to the “developing world,” but that, implies the charity, is the level for the morally weak. The ideal is for you to “work out the smallest amount of money that you can realistically live on, and to give away everything above that level.” Although the charity claims that giving as much as you “realistically” can will give you a “warm glow,” in fact the altruistic morality at the heart of the charity is a demand for perpetual guilt and self-sacrifice. The charity’s handy calculator reveals that if, as a single person, you earn $50,000 per year, you make “43 times that of the typical person.” So, by the charity’s own stated standards, until you give away 97.7 percent of your income, you are committing the injustice of inequality by having more wealth than others. A key fallacy committed by Giving What We Can is to strip justice out of the context that gives rise to the concept. (Ayn Rand called this the “stolen concept fallacy.”) Justice means giving to others their due; it pertains to such things as recognizing the virtues of our friends and associates, paying our trading partners the agreed price, and punishing criminals for wrongdoing. If one individual—or most individuals in a given nation—produce enormous wealth, they do not thereby commit an injustice; rather, they commit an act of virtue: Wealth is a requirement of human life. The idea their virtuous production implies a duty to share their wealth with those who have not produced it is an unfounded, senseless assertion. A given individual may have good reasons for contributing money to a charity, not. . . Continue »

Help The Objective Standard Defend Your Values

December 30, 2012

Dear Friend of TOS, I’m writing to ask for your support in defense of your values. For seven years, The Objective Standard has consistently delivered high-quality, in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective. We’ve gotten the journal into more than a hundred libraries—including those of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and many other top universities—and onto more than seven hundred newsstands across North America. Our articles are increasingly used in college classrooms, reprinted in books (nineteen in the past four years), and referenced in other publications and media. Our website—which houses the most extensive collection of articles in support of a civilized society on the Web—now attracts more than 39,000 unique visitors per month (up 95 percent from a year ago). And our special events—such as the forthcoming debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Andrew Bernstein on “Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind?”—extend the principles of Objectivism even further into the limelight, where they belong. In short, TOS is introducing more and more people to Objectivism—and doing so in a way that makes it stick. That last point is crucial. Our goal is to change the culture by spreading the right ideas, but The Objective Standard’s approach is unique. Our strategy is not to say, “Here’s a philosophy you should accept and embrace…” or “Here are books you should read to learn what’s right…” Rather, our approach is to say, in effect, “Here are things that matter to you and your loved ones—education, the economy, business-crippling regulations, freedom of speech, beautiful art, the Islamist threat, and so on—and here are crucial principles that help you to better understand these issues, to pursue and enjoy your values, and to articulate and protect your rights.” Articles in The Objective Standard and posts on TOS Blog are written and edited specifically with this strategy in mind: to meet people at their legitimate values and show them how rational principles apply to and support these values. (We occasionally publish articles focusing on Objectivism itself; but, even then, the ideas are always presented in relation to the reader’s values. For instance, my recent article, “Ayn Rand: America’s Comeback Philosopher,” appeals to the reader’s concern for the future of America.) Why is this approach so important? Because appealing to people’s rational self-interest is the only legitimate way to motivate them—and because demonstrating the practical significance of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is the best way to sell it. When people discover and integrate Objectivism in connection with their values, they tend to embrace it as the observation-based, life-serving tool that it is, rather than as a new dogma or set of commandments; thus, they are more likely to adopt it first-handedly and permanently. Observe that millions of people have read Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s other works, but few have come to understand the radical nature and practical significance of her ideas. Clearly it is not enough for people to read her books. In order to grasp and integrate the principles of Objectivism, people need to see how the ideas apply to their everyday lives and values. TOS is dedicated to showing just that. For an indication of how effective TOS is in this respect, here are a few unsolicited testimonials from readers: “Having just found Ayn Rand several years ago (and become a huge fan), I want to let you know how much I enjoy The Objective Standard. It helps me to crystallize and understand the philosophy.” —Benjamin G. “I am relatively new to. . . Continue »

Peter Schiff: The Ability to Steal Doesn’t Make Theft Right

December 30, 2012

Peter Schiff discusses in this video why the mob doesn’t have a right to steal his money, and he warns Americans about the continuing assault on the wealthy. I have no doubt that the mob has the means to steal my money, the government has given them the means, we have destroyed the protections that were afforded [to] me by the constitution, and yes the mob does have the means to steal from me, but that doesn’t make it right. They do not have a . . . moral claim to my money. Although Schiff is spot on in most respects here, he does erroneously say the government “has a right to tax” to fund the army and to support the government. To see how the legitimate functions of government can be financed non-coercively, read Craig Biddle’s “How Would Government Be Funded in a Free Society?”. Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard. Related: An Interview with Andrew Schiff about Fishing Nets, Hut Gluts, and other Economic Matters Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice Independent Thinking, Morality, and Liberty How Would Government Be Funded in a Free Society? Image: Wikimedia Commons

Paul Hsieh: “Speak out Against the Government Narrative” on ObamaCare

December 30, 2012

In his latest Forbes.com article, Dr. Paul Hsieh elucidates the need for liberty-loving Americans to speak out against ObamaCare, saying, “[do] not let the government escape responsibility for problems they’ve created”: As the problems of ObamaCare inevitably emerge, the big question will be whether they will be blamed on the residual free-market elements of our health system or on the new government controls. This will be the battle of the “narrative.” . . . If we let the government shift responsibility for ObamaCare’s problems onto the residual private sector, those problems will eventually be used to justify a government-run “single payer” system. On the other hand, if Americans hold the government appropriately responsible, we stand a chance at adopting genuine free-market health reforms. The government is already planning its own health care propaganda campaign aimed at the American people. California state government officials in charge of implementing that state’s ObamaCare “exchange” want Hollywood to include pro-ObamaCare storylines in popular shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Modern Family” to highlight the supposed benefits of the new law. . . . The electoral battle of 2012 is over, but the battle of the narrative is just beginning. Read the whole excellent article here. Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard. Related: Medical Device Tax: Immoral and Impractical Moral Health Care vs. “Universal Health Care” Image: Ari Armstrong

New Technology Promises Electrical Power from Friction

December 29, 2012

It isn’t Galt’s Motor from Atlas Shrugged, the fictional generator that pulls unlimited amounts of static electricity from the air. Still, an innovative new use of available materials shows promise in converting static electricity into power for small devices. Katherine Bourzac, writing for the MIT Technology Review, explains the work led by Georgia Tech’s Zhong Lin Wang: The Georgia Tech researchers demonstrated that [a] static charge phenomenon, called the triboelectric effect, can be harnessed to produce power using a type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, and a metal. When thin films of these materials come into contact with one another, they become charged. And when the two films are flexed, a current flows between them, which can be harnessed to charge a battery. When the two surfaces are patterned with nanoscale structures, their surface area is much greater, and so is the friction between the materials—and the power they can produce. This technology provides enough power for such things as pacemakers, LEDs, and small batteries for cell phones and other devices. The advance is a wonderful example of how devotion to reason and science improves human life. Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard. Related: Apple’s App Revolution: Capitalism in Action Heroic Researchers Markedly Improve Thought-Controlled Prosthetics for the Severely Paralyzed Creative Commons Image: Ken Bosma

Instapundit Promotes Brad Thompson’s Article on Abolishing “Public” Education

December 27, 2012

Hats off to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit for linking to C. Bradley Thompson’s latest TOS article, “The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time.” Thompson’s article vitally important, and Reynolds’s link is a major promotion. Thank you, Instapundit! Related: The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time The Educational Bonanza in Privatizing Government Schools Image: Wikimedia Commons

Piers Morgan May Not Recognize Rights, but He Has Them

December 26, 2012

Piers Morgan is a citizen of the United Kingdom currently working in the United States on a green card as a CNN television host. After Morgan advocated stricter gun laws and called Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America “an unbelievably stupid man,” more than 44,000 Americans signed petitions calling for the Obama administration to deport him, reports USA Today. Whether Morgan was right or wrong in his policy proposals is irrelevant to the question of whether he has a right to remain in the United States. Morgan has not violated anyone’s rights; he has only exercised his right to freedom of speech. Whether he stays here should be entirely up to him. (Whether he remains employed by CNN should be entirely up to CNN. Whether people continue to watch CNN should be up to them.) As Craig Biddle summarizes in his article “Immigration and Individual Rights,” the legal “prohibition [on immigration] . . . is un-American and immoral. The basic principle of America—the principle of individual rights—demands a policy of open immigration.” Read Biddle’s entire essay for the reasons supporting this position. Morgan has a moral right to live here, and he has a moral right to freedom of speech. The best way to protest Morgan’s proposals to infringe people’s liberties is to unwaveringly defend Morgan’s liberties on principle. Whether Morgan understands the principle of individual rights is irrelevant to the validity of the principle. His case is an excellent example of why the principle must be embraced and upheld. To paraphrase Voltaire, I may not like what Morgan says, and I may not like him living here, but I will defend his right to speak his mind and live where he chooses. Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard. Related: Immigration and Individual Rights Thoughts on the Aurora Murders and Armed Citizens Image: Wikimedia Commons

Sam Harris Can Sound Like an Egoist; Too Bad He Isn’t One

December 23, 2012

Why is it that Sam Harris, a committed utilitarian, sometimes sounds a bit like an egoist? In my recently published essay “Sam Harris’s Failure to Formulate a Scientific Morality,” I point out that Harris upholds as his standard of moral value the utilitarian precept of the greatest good (or happiness) for the greatest number. Harris’s utilitarian ethics entails altruism, because in order to advance the greatest happiness for others, an individual must sacrifice his own values. (As I also point out, sometimes “Harris walks back from the logical implications of his theory, opting instead for a watered-down utilitarianism in which individuals succumb to their ‘selfish’ nature and act only to a limited extent for the happiness of all ‘conscious creatures.’”) Harris’s theory becomes superficially more palatable insofar as it allows individuals to act in ways that benefit themselves so long as doing so also advances the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Utilitarians tolerate self-benefiting actions only in that context. Egoists, on the other hand, recognize as moral all actions that objectively advance one’s life and happiness, whether or not those actions benefit others. (Rational egoism forbids the use of initiatory force against others, because it recognizes that respecting individual rights and interacting as traders in mutually beneficial relationships is a requirement of human life in a social context.) Because Harris tolerates some self-benefiting actions, some of the discussion in his book The Moral Landscape could be pulled out of that work’s utilitarian framework and applied to a theory of egoism. Although I did not have room in my original essay for that interesting aside, I’d like to touch on the matter here. At one point, when Harris considers a simple scenario of a world with only two people, he writes, “while there are ways for their personal interests to be in conflict, most solutions to the problem of how two people can thrive on earth will not be zero-sum. Surely the best solutions will not be zero-sum” (page 40). As a rational egoist would put it, human beings live by reason and therefore have the ability to live together as traders, each benefiting by working and collaborating with others. We are not stuck in “zero-sum” relationships in which one person gains only by another’s loss. Later, Harris writes, “the well-being of others, especially those closest to us, is one of our primary (and, indeed, most selfish) interests” (page 56). Although Ayn Rand certainly would not have expressed the point that way, it is true, and in accordance with rational egoism, that the well-being of our loved ones is extremely important to our selfish interests. Taken out of the context of Harris’s overarching argument and the essence of his view, those passages can seem quite promising. But, in context, the passages make his view all the more disappointing. Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard. Related: Sam Harris’s Failure to Formulate a Scientific Morality The Mystical Ethics of the New Atheists Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism

Relative Freedom Unleashes Global Advances

December 21, 2012

Today is the end of the world, according to some. Of course, last year marked the end of the world, too; as did the year before that. It seems that some people just can’t get enough mysticism or despair. People have been predicting the imminent destruction of the earth on the basis of religious scripture and belief for thousands of years. Meanwhile, back in reality, the world keeps getting better and better (despite regional lulls and troughs), thanks to the prosperity unleashed by the industrial revolution and, at a deeper level, the human commitment to reason and science that have made advanced industry possible. The Spectator summarizes in a recent article: It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age. The article also notes that, thanks largely to the production of oil and gas via the technical marvel of hydraulic fracturing, we live “in an age of energy abundance” even as the population continues to increase. The article has its problems; for example, it presumes that income equality is inherently good and that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is obviously a proper goal. On the whole, though, the article offers a refreshing reminder of the amazing news that’s all around us, thanks to the freer, capitalist elements of our world. Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard. Related: Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market Cheers to the Heroes Driving the American Oil and Gas Boom How Capitalism Saved the Bees Image: BiblioArchives