About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

About Objectivism, part III: Ethics

By Massimo Pigliucci

[Part I of this series was on Objectivist metaphysics, Part II on epistemology]
Well, in this 4-part essay on Objectivism, we have arrived at where the real fun begins: first by considering Objectivist ethics and then — in the next and final installment — its implications for Objectivist politics. Let us clear the air of a common misunderstanding about Rand and followers: when they talk about selfishness being their chief moral value, they do not mean what most of us mean by that term. Of course, that is a recurring problem with Objectivist writings: one can reasonably ask why on earth Rand should make prominent use of a very common word while attributing to it a very different meaning from the one commonly accepted. This sounds like either an attempt to confuse things from the beginning (though I’m sure that wasn’t her goal) or at the very least, a sloppy practice that ends up in endless and useless disputes. Oh well, so much for achieving philosophy’s goal of clarifying rather than muddling things.
So, what did Rand mean by “selfishness”? In her view, the term refers to a particular form of rational egoism, “To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason, Purpose, Self-esteem” (from The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, 1989). Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991) further clarifies: “[Objectivism aims at] the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action.”
All right, I’m all in favor of reason (I mean, just look at the title of this blog), and I certainly think that we need to give purpose to our lives in order to be more than just biological reproductive machines (not that there is anything wrong with the latter, within limits), and I suppose self-esteem is broadly speaking a good thing (though too much of it leads to unbearable degrees of pompous self-importance). But for these to be the “supreme values” of one’s life seems to be a stretch and to neglect other important aspects of human existence. What about, for instance, love and friendship? I suspect that they don’t make the pantheon of Objectivist ethics because in some form or other they would conflict with rational self-interest. See, when John Galt (the pompous protagonist of Atlas Shrugged, one that clearly had no trouble with self-esteem) says “I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine” one suspects that the guy will have some trouble picking up chicks who might be interested in more than a one-night stand, and that other people might agree to have business relations with him, but certainly not to call him a friend.
Other ethical values that have a hard time squeezing into the Objectivist view of morality are things like justice and fairness — unless they get to be redefined in terms of rational self-interest. For an Objectivist, any attempt to level the playing field by guaranteeing access to resources (like education or health care), or by, god forbid, redistributing resources through taxation, is anathema for the simple reason that within the Objectivist system it is hard to justify ethical duties to others, outside of “live and let live.” But the unexamined assumption behind that attitude is that people own their moral selves, in a way that is actually very difficult to justify.
Let me trying to explain this carefully, because it is a point that potentially undermines the entire Objectivist ethics, and yet it is something that I have never seen one of my Objectivist friends even consider. In my experience, the main attraction of Objectivism is the idea that a human being is a moral island of his/her own. I ought to be able to make my own decisions about my own life in absolute freedom, because that is the purest and most noble sense in which I can be truly human. Bullshit, any decent undergraduate student in ethics would quickly be able to respond. It is very hard to see in what sense we “own” ourselves independently of a particular societal (and even biological) background.
Consider the following example (which I adapt from Michael Sandel’s excellent book, Justice). Is it right to tax Kevin Garnett for his high earnings as a basketball player? In 2008-09 he was the highest paid NBA player, with the Boston Celtics giving him a whopping $24,751,934. I assume that the answer for Objectivists and most Libertarians alike would be that we have no right to take any of this away from Garnett, because the guy earned his money in a (quasi) free capitalist society, so he deserves it. “Deserve” here implies some sense of moral desert, and not just the result of luck. Nobody “deserves” to win the lottery, as glad as they may be to pocket the money if they happen to hold the winning ticket.
But let us unpack how it is, exactly, that Garnett (I’m not just picking on him, the same could be said for anyone’s salary, in any activity, including my own) deserves that compensation? Because he is an excellent basketball player that brings in money for its franchise, obviously. Right, but he is able to do so for a number of complex reasons, most of them having precious little to do with moral desert. Most obviously, of course, Garnett just got lucky at the genetic lottery: had he had a different combination of genes, he wouldn’t have been able to play professional basketball. Second, he owes his success also to his teammates, coach, and the remainder of the large number of people that make professional basketball possible. I mean, he didn’t build all that, right? Third, he has been lucky at what I shall call the “cultural lottery” as well: had he been born in a different time or place (say, medieval Europe, for instance) all his skills would not have earned him much other than forced labor as a serf, the common destiny of most people of the time. But, you might say, he has worked hard at honing his skills, day after day and year after year. While some moral philosophers (John Rawls, for instance) would say that even that is the result of natural propensities and societal environments for which it is hard to claim ownership, I won’t go that far. My point is that Objectivists drastically overestimate the independence of individuals from society, as well as the ability of the individual to overcome or take ownership of his/her natural abilities.
This is why Objectivists make a big deal out of the philosophically exceedingly murky concept of free will: for rational self-interest to be ethical in any sense (as opposed to simply instrumental to getting what one wanst), I have to assume that everyone completely owns responsibility for both his failure and his successes. But that is simply and obviously not the case, regardless of what one thinks of the concept of free will itself.
It gets even more basic than that: for Rand, the ultimate value is survival, and human beings are the only animals that can make conscious decisions about it. While I certainly agree witht the latter statement, and I don’t deny that survival is the sine qua non of everything else in life, it’s just too darn simple. Yes, we want and need to survive, but even that is simply not possible for highly social animals without a substantial contribution from the rest of society — without which, in the immortal words of Hobbes, life would have “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, [there would be] continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man [would be], solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (Leviathan, 1651, ch. 12). It is hard to imagine how Objectivist ethics would lead to the kind of polity that most of us take for granted these days: a place where our rights and wants are balanced with other people’s, where we have obligations to our fellow human beings and they have obligations toward us, where we enjoy not only arts and letters, but also friendship and love.
Next time, the conclusion: Objectivist politics (ouch!).

115 comments:

  1. I'm glad to see that someone with real philosophical chops is giving Rand a serious look. She has some problems, but those are best explored with a serious critique, not the dismissal she normally gets. I've always thought a lot of her issues stem from an unquestioned acceptance of the rationality of the human mind. Though she never in my knowledge attacked evolution she admitted in one essay that she had trouble understanding how the human mind could come from earlier, clearly less rational predecessors. Given her vocal materialism, one wonders how she thought minds originated, and what her reaction would have been to the ongoing merger of neuroscience and philosophy. If you view reason and its vehicle (the human mind) as qualitatively different from other entities in the universe (as she seemed to) then that would indeed present big problems later on.

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  3. "Objectivists drastically overestimate the independence of individuals from society, as well as the ability of the individual to overcome or take ownership of his/her natural abilities." I've never heard this said better. Thank you very much.

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  4. @Michael:
    >Given her vocal materialism, one wonders how she thought minds originated, and what her reaction would have been to the ongoing merger of neuroscience and philosophy.

    Alas, Rand was probably one of the oodles of atheists who reject religion for political reasons without going back to question the intellectual baggage that co-evolved with it, like humanity as totally sui generis.

    @Massimo:
    Is there any conception of moral desert that cannot be cashed out as contingent (and hence apparently not genuine)? (Leading to a big sophistic debate about free will).

    Would you agree with me that, whatever the reasons for and against redistributive taxation, reasons like "they owe their success to society" and "they deserve their success" are just irrelevant? I think moral desert ought to have nothing to do with this question at all.

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  5. It is somewhat ironic if as you say survival is the primary goal that individualism would be praised above all things for there are few indeed who could survive on their own in the rawness of nature. Who among us mines their own metal, makes their own machines, grows all of their own food, makes their own clothes, provides all of their own health care etc.? We are neck deep in a web of interdependency and anyone who denies that is either a lone survivalist hunter or blind.

    Also should our species make it through this difficult period long term survival will depend not on individual effort, but on co-operation. It will not be one lone man or woman who, through sheer force of will, will detect and deflect the next planet killing rock with Earth's name on it. Nor will it be a loner who moves the orbit of the Earth out when the sun heats up enough to boil the oceans in about half a billion years give or take. Eventual survival will depend on co-operation.

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  6. Interesting observations, especially because it's the first time I see someone take seriously the thought of Ayn Rand, which to me has very illuminating insights, but also some troublesome loopholes or blind spots. Anyway, what I wanted to ask is another thing. A friend sent me this address and, as I started reading, I saw this: "...a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word)..." I wanted to ask: ¿Why being public intellectual is a bad word? ¿Which part is bad, the public one or the intellectual? ¿Is this something that happened in the United States or in other countries as well? ¿Since when it has become a bad word? Here we didn't know about this, but I'll go fast to say to many colleagues who speak on radio & TV "You are the quintessential public intellectual", I'll tell them this a lot before they know it´s a bad word. Ahh, life's so happy, feel like a cold shower in the heat over my body. Bliss.

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  7. Has anyone critiqued Objectivism on the basis that the object of our selfishness should be the species, not the individual? I thought I caught a glimpse of this concept in Kant, based on Michael Sandel’s lecture based on “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” but I may have misinterpreted Kant. Specifically, I’m wondering if there’s a school of thought in which selfishness regarding the continuation of the human species is the primary moral precept. (I think Kant by way of John Rawls does refute the self-ownership claim.)

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  8. If Rand believes (i.e., believed) her interests take full precedence over ours, why would we expect or trust that anything she wrote would be in our interest to take at face value? She obviously expected her readers to trust in her intentions, while at the same time in effect advising them that there were few circumstances under which she herself would trust in theirs.

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  9. ian, I'm not sure that considerations of ownership of virtue shouldn't enter into discussions of moral deserts. In this, I'm intrigued by Rawls position. But in the case of Objectivism, it is the objectivist who make that front and center, so it is fair to bring up the point in examining their philosophy.

    Luis, yeah, that's an American thing. The word intellectual 'round here is often given a negative connotation, unlike in most of Europe.

    Phoebe, the closest to what you are referring to is, I think, Peter Singer's concept of the "expanding circle" of morality, which would include animal rights and stewardship of the environment. Singer is one of the most prominent utilitarians today.

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  10. I think intellectual has a bad connotation here in the United States because it implies you just sit on your butt and don't do any 'actual' work. Even doing bad work (like tearing the tops off of mountains to reach the coal beneath) is better than just thinking. Somewhat ironic given that many of the Founding Fathers would certainly have fallen into the category of intellectual.

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  11. I think the point about moral deserts is a bit weak in places. True no one deserves to win the lottery, but then no-one takes your winnings away (outside of the established tax rates). The lottery was simply a system and you followed the system and happened to get a payout (the same for the sports player).

    But I'm probably viewing things in a more nihilistic way than a Randian.

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  12. down, the point is that objectivists advance a moral argument for why taxes, for instance, are theft. The moral deserts response is specific to that argument.

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  13. With regard to the poor man dying of thirst next to your well, here is what I hear my conservative friends say. You should give the dying man water, but the government should not be allowed to tax you to establish "public wells" or pass laws to make sure that you share yours.

    What is wrong with this logic?

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  14. Charles, let's leave politics/the government out of this for the moment and take the first proposition: You should give the dying man water.

    I could easily reply: Why? Am I my brother's keeper? Try and make me!

    Don't worry, this isn't leading up to a Bible lesson, but as far as I can tell, there's nothing logically wrong with this response. Sure, it's selfish, cold-hearted, and possibly self-defeating in the long run (depending on the circumstances). But poor logic? I think that can only be true if one assumes certain value-laden or sentimental premises or principles (e.g. human life is precious), in which case it is only fair to admit that there is a non-rational and subjective (or inter-subjective) element involved in formulating a proper moral/ethical response.

    As I recall, Rand, her followers, and some other libertarian types on the hard right do not like to make this admission, as it clashes with their claim of objectivity. Your conservative friends may or may not fall in with that group. But, if they do, then good luck trying to persuade them otherwise.

    And, if you can't agree on the level of (individual/interpersonal) ethics, then I suspect that you'll need even more luck at the level of politics!

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  15. "Garnett just got lucky at the genetic lottery... He has been lucky at what I shall call the “cultural lottery” as well: had he been born in a different time or place (say, medieval Europe, for instance) all his skills would not have earned him much other than forced labor as a serf, the common destiny of most people of the time."

    You call this a refutation? I shouldn't take credit for my abilities because really I'm just a collection of molecules and DNA? Then why shouldn't a gerbil or a rock have just as many 'rights'?

    Really, expected something better than this. you should retitle this one "Raging Against Evolution" because it seems that you have it in your head that all people should be equal despite the fact that without a supernatural soul, and with natural selection being true, they can't be, and we know it.

    Really, this is your big refutation of Objectivist ethics? You take issue with pointing out that some people are more fit than others, and that who is more fit depends on the environment? That's not even a debatable point, it's OBVIOUSLY true. Try again, this one is an obvious failure.

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  16. omgobama: I shouldn't take credit for my abilities because really I'm just a collection of molecules and DNA? Then why shouldn't a gerbil or a rock have just as many 'rights'?

    If enough humans (i.e. the only organisms on the planet known to construct and enforce rights) were willing to endow such entities with rights, they would have them. (Think of Bentham's "nonsense on stilts", which made it into the title of Massimo's latest book.)

    So why are we willing to endow ourselves, and not rocks or gerbils, with rights (unless, in the latter case, one is an animal rights advocate)?

    Actually, one need not provide a satisfactory answer to this question in order to demonstrate that Objectivist ethics also lacks satisfactory answers to ethical questions. Without restating his arguments, I think Massimo was quite successful in meeting that modest goal.

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  17. "Nobody “deserves” to win the lottery, as glad as they may be to pocket the money if they happen to hold the winning ticket."

    Correction, I deserve to win the lottery! :)

    @Pure Luck
    "We are neck deep in a web of interdependency and anyone who denies that is either a lone survivalist hunter or blind."

    Along with many of Massimo's points, this is also very well said.

    And this leads me to question how we as a society can justify the grossly disproportionate inequality in incomes, wealth and access to resources?

    This gross inequality results in creating a system where others are denied the opportunity to develop their talents or skills. I am thinking on a global scale here.

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  18. Charles,

    > here is what I hear my conservative friends say. You should give the dying man water, but the government should not be allowed to tax you to establish "public wells" or pass laws to make sure that you share yours. <

    No go. These are the same people that argue that a legitimate role of government is defense and policing. Why? If you apply the same reasoning, shouldn't we just count on people being moral and do the right thing? Since they too often don't, that's why you need government intervention and regulations (within limits, obviously).

    omgobama,

    > You call this a refutation? I shouldn't take credit for my abilities because really I'm just a collection of molecules and DNA? ... you should retitle this one "Raging Against Evolution" <

    This has nothing to do with either evolution or with people being equal. The point is that it is objectivists who try to cash in people's abilities and efforts on moral grounds, so a Rawls-type response is perfectly logical in addressing their claim. Nobody is denying natural differences, what is being denied is it's moral import.

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  19. Here's a more in depth response:

    http://omgobama.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/objectivist-ethics-on-trial/

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  20. jcm / charles / Massimo,

    As I recall, Rand, her followers, and some other libertarian types on the hard right do not like to make this admission, as it clashes with their claim of objectivity.

    Although I am not a proponent of Objectivity, but am a fan of Rand. So I will explain my Libertarian views. The difference between giving a man water and allowing the government to give a man your water (or using your money to give him water) has an important distinction that both jcm and Charles is leaving out.

    As a Christian I would give the man water and not allow the building of public wells without defying my moral code in any way.

    The moral premise that stealing is wrong is an obvious one that I hope our different world views can share.

    Lets say you had two neighbors, one which was wealthy and had two cars and one which was out of work and had no car to speak of. If you were to take one of the wealthy mans cars and give it to the other man it would be stealing. In fact your water sharing government would arrest you if you would try it. And the charge would obviously be stealing. Yet Charles, because you assign water to the scenario instead of cars, you make the need greater, you think you have somehow removed stealing as the action. The truth is that you haven't. It is stealing all the same. Just because it is government performing the stealing does not make it more moral. Just because the mans need is greater, does not mean it is not stealing. the amount of need involved does not change the definition of the actions involved. If the man only needed toilet paper or needed water does not change anything. Need is not a factor as to the definition of stealing. Stealing water and stealing an X-Box is still stealing.

    So yes as a christian I would give the man water. But the huge distinction here is that it is my water to give. Once the government is the giver of the water through force of an unjust law (I can take your water and give it to someone else), theft has occured.

    What Massimo is leaving out is that we have a right to our property. Once you have amibguity with property rights. You have omitted one of the most important rights we have.

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  21. Massimos example with Kevin Garnett using the term "Moral desert" is obviously assuming that we do not have rights to our person and property. It doesnt matter that he hit the DNA lottery. Its kevins DNA, not anyone elses. And your talk of "the cultural lottery" is even weaker since the purpose of Rands work is to fix the culture so that society understands we have a right to our own DNA and property (whether its great of poor). She wrote to help us understand the folly of not being sole owner of our personal property.
    In your Garnett example you talk about how Garnett owes his success to the NBA and his teammates and his coach. His $24 mil is a result of the value placed on him by the Boston Celtics. Because the NBA happens to be there is lucky for him, but that means he owes his success to it? Does the success of the NBA, Celtics and Teammates not owe their success to him equally? Thats the whole idea, it is a transaction that has equal value to both parties. The Celtics can now sell tickets for a winning team and Garnett gets crazy money because he works for them (but he gives them equal value in return is the point). I am not sure how that entitles you to some of that money?
    You use the term "Moral desert". I am not sure why, it is not some morality that belongs to Garrnett alone, it is the same morality that belongs to all of us. We own ourselves and our property. It is not some collective ownership. What is your point about Kevins DNA, that because he was lucky to have better DNA that it does not belong to him, it belongs to the collective because there is luck involved? I think your point is that he didnt earn his DNA, so what, does that make it less his and it should belong partially to me becuase there was luck involved?
    What you claim as fairness is that we all should have the same DNA. Otherwise it just isnt fair. And since we dont have the same DNA, to make it fair, those with better DNA need to give us the proceeds from that DNA. At what percentage are you entitled to Kevin Garnetts DNA? What would be fair?
    I cant believe this is what you call logical or rational. I am not sure if you have actually read Rands work, but if you havent, you should. The whole purpose of it is to show how things crumble when society makes it a law that Kevin Garnett is his brothers keeper. When that becomes logical, when theft is accepted, when people do not have rights to their property, society falls. Your hunting for some grey area where kevin can make more money but not the actual value he presents to someone, and at the same time still have liberty. There is no logical grey area. In your post you never made a sound arguement why Kevins DNA doesnt belong to Kevin. You just said there was luck involved. Rand never claims luck is not involved. She just claims Kevins DNA is Kevins, not yours and not the collective. Your logic states that because someone else does not have Kevins DNA, they are entitled to share in Kevins DNA. Your logic states that because Kevin was lucky enough to be born in the USA instead of Kenya, that other people are entitled to his earnings. The men that created the very society that allowed the USA to be a culture where Kevin could prosper did not share your logic. And that is the very reason that the USA was a place that Kevin could prosper.

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  22. Ah, of course, the real backbone of the libertarian; private property. Because what is a man without him being able to say "this is mine, not yours"? Jesus would be proud.

    "The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying 'This is mine,' and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." -- Rousseau

    The conflation with water and cars is a dubious one and tells me more about Jim Fisher than it does about theft. This point is about access to resources, not access to commodities. Keep your bottled water or save your tap, Jim. Tell whoever it is who should presumably be grateful by your spectacular act of kindness that they can have a drink at the city park where they have water fountains - especially if they'd like to be spared by this ridiculous patronization you call charity.

    (by the way, as an aside, the irony of bottled water is worth looking up; I would advise anyone to look into companies like Aquafina, who get their 'private' profits by using municipal water sources)

    As far as this talk of NBA and DNA, its hard to respond if you really think the argument is that there is a certain percentage of someone's DNA that is owed to us...

    By the way Jim, about our wager way back when - when will you concede?

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  23. "... one can reasonably ask why on earth Rand should make prominent use of a very common word while attributing to it a very different meaning from the one commonly accepted. "

    Because Rand was correcting the centuries-long deceit of mystics of every stripe who always have a vested interest in persuading men to cease from pursuing their own interests in preparation for a tyrant or priest to order them to pursue his interests out of duty. Inverting the meaning of the word "selfish" has always been to that end imperative. They achieved that by teaching their flocks to erase the distinction between rational self-interest and irrational self-interest. They gave "selfish" a rationalist meaning that intrinsically embodied a dis-value.

    When asked why she chose to buck the long-standing understanding of that word, in the face of the controversy it would engender, she said, "for that very reason." And boy!, was she ever right on that one. Today, an ever-growing multitude now understand that difference. And the irritation it causes has put her argument front and center in every blog, forum, and one-on-one discussion in which her name arises, present company included.

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    "I suppose self-esteem is broadly speaking a good thing (though too much of it leads to unbearable degrees of pompous self-importance)."

    Pompous, self-importance or arrogance of any kind is a vice and in the long run degrades one's self-esteem. Here you make the same mistake you make with "selfish." Self-esteem has no inherent value. It is only a virtue when it is accompanied by the implication that it is earned. Self-importance is unearned self-esteem—a deceitful fabrication.

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    "But for these (Reason, Purpose, Self-esteem) to be the “supreme values” of one’s life seems to be a stretch"

    I'll let Rand provide the "stretch" you omitted to your own ends:

    "Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living. These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues, and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride." [FNI,128]

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  24. "and to neglect other important aspects of human existence. What about, for instance, love and friendship? I suspect that they don’t make the pantheon of Objectivist ethics because in some form or other they would conflict with rational self-interest. "

    It's a good thing you qualified this series in the beginning as a non- scholarly work, because you are nurturing huge gaping holes in your knowledge of Objectivism. This is what happens when one starts out with the unfounded bias that it is not a real philosophy. You no longer feel obliged to pursue a complete understanding of it. The resulting view that a lot of issues are not addressed by it then comforts and reassures the bigotry with which you began.

    Human beings who each hold their own life as their highest value, and who do not live for the sake of others nor demand that they live for their sake interact with each other on the "trader principle." All values, whether tangible, physical values or intangible, spiritual values are never just given or taken, but rather are always voluntarily exchanged.

    Respect, friendship, admiration, and love are such spiritual values, and each is given to others never as a duty or obligation to them, but rather as a repayment or a reward for embodying to some degree the same view of life and acting to gain, teach, and preserve similar values to one's own.

    Human beings formulate and exercise their value system from within, while the context of our daily lives is a continual interaction with external reality. Each is his own most perfect exemplar of a human living by his own value system—but an examplar experienced first and foremost only from within. The experience of other human beings living by one's own values is an enormous value. It provides the experience of one's values in actions externally in the context of our everyday lives. It offers one an opportunity to judge oneself externally, and to the degree that the result reconfirms one's values, an opportunity to enjoy the interaction.

    That is also the purpose of a work of art, like Atlas Shrugged. It enables the artist, Ayn Rand, and all who share her values to one degree or another to experience conceptions of ideals as they would if they were actually existing and not just abstractions of what should be in their head.

    The concept that threads its way through these values from friendship to love to aesthetic values is "sense of life," a concept she defines as "a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence."

    Rand explains:

    "A sense of life is formed by a process of emotional generalization which may be described as a subconscious counterpart of a process of abstraction, since it is a method of classifying and integrating. But it is a process of emotional abstraction: it consists of classifying things according to the emotions they invoke—i.e., of tying together, by association or connotation, all those things which have the power to make an individual experience the same (or a similar) emotion ... The subverbal, subconscious criterion of selection that forms his emotional abstractions is: “That which is important to me” ...

    It is only those values which he regards or grows to regard as “important,” those which represent his implicit view of reality, that remain in a man’s subconscious and form his sense of life ...

    Man is a being of self-made soul—and it is of such conclusions that the stuff of his soul is made. (By “soul” I mean “consciousness.”)

    The integrated sum of a man’s basic values is his sense of life." [TRM,27]

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  25. "Other ethical values that have a hard time squeezing into the Objectivist view of morality are things like justice..."

    From the passage quoted above:

    "... and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride." [FNI,128]

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    "But the unexamined assumption behind that attitude is that people own their moral selves, in a way that is actually very difficult to justify." and further down: "It is very hard to see in what sense we “own” ourselves independently of a particular societal (and even biological) background."

    Self-ownership is not an Objectivist concept. The idea is claimed by Misesian Libertarians and free-market anarchists to be the axiom on which their politics rests. "Ownership," however, is a relationship of a human individual to the product of an individual's mind and actions embodied in external objects. One cannot own what one has not created. One cannot own matter. One possesses and controls otherwise unowned matter that embodies the value one has added to it and owns.

    One cannot claim to own a human being—neither another nor oneself— without self-contradicting. The concept of ownership is dependent on a prior recognition of the autonomy of every human being that necessitates an individual's claim on the product of his own mind and actions.

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    "In my experience, the main attraction of Objectivism is the idea that a human being is a moral island of his/her own. I ought to be able to make my own decisions about my own life in absolute freedom, because that is the purest and most noble sense in which I can be truly human."

    This statement is true, but for some might beg the question of why it is pure and noble. It is because the condition of autonomy is necessary to fulfillment of the requirements of one's human nature. We are by nature volitional and therefore fallible. It is imperative to pursue autonomy over one's choices, even the choice to trust or not the judgment of others when one's own knowledge on a matter is inadequate. And any claim to autonomy by one's nature implies that it must be granted to all others who have the same nature.

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  26. "Is it right to tax Kevin Garnett for his high earnings as a basketball player? etc., etc. ... My point is that Objectivists drastically overestimate the independence of individuals from society, as well as the ability of the individual to overcome or take ownership of his/her natural abilities."

    You have jumped out of context with this. The virtue of independence is about intellectual and physical autonomy. In no way does that independence require that one achieve all values without cooperating with others through voluntary trade. The whole purpose of living in a society of men instead of alone on an island is the more than obvious benefits of specialization in production and voluntary trade. But this is more properly a subject to discuss in your next installment. It is only important here to point out that you are trying to use the word independence in two separate contexts at the same time.

    ------------

    "This is why Objectivists make a big deal out of the philosophically exceedingly murky concept of free will:..."

    The big deal is that those who propose there is no free will must abandon the concept of objective truth of anything, including that proposal itself. (Careful, sir, this self-refutation thing could soon morph into a fetish...)

    ------------

    "It gets even more basic than that: for Rand, the ultimate value is survival,"

    No. The ultimate value is a life consonant with one's nature to the best one can make that be. It is not just to live, but to maximize one's life, usually stated as, "to survive and flourish."

    ------------

    "Yes, we want and need to survive, but even that is simply not possible for highly social animals without a substantial contribution from the rest of society"

    Speak for yourself.

    ------------

    "It is hard to imagine how Objectivist ethics would lead to the kind of polity that most of us take for granted these days: a place where our rights and wants are balanced with other people’s, where we have obligations to our fellow human beings and they have obligations toward us ..."

    The Objectivist ethics balances the rights of men by recognizing the fact that a "conflict of rights" is a contradiction in terms. So in the Objectivist polity all humans have identical rights that are identically defined and applied in every situation. That is, in fact, the first obligation to our fellow human beings and theirs to us that Objectivists (and scant few others) accept and defend. The difference between the Objectivist position and that of would be tyrants is that Objectivists do not grant the existence of unchosen obligations. But more on that in the next installment.

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  27. Michael,

    Quoting Bible passages about the flood does not make the story of Noah literally true. Can you address Massimo's criticism?

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  28. There's a discussion going on regarding this post over at the SGU forums:

    http://sguforums.com/index.php/topic,31345.210.html

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  29. Look at the places on this earth where the code, in effect, is "every man for himself."

    They are not very nice places to live.

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  30. Darek,

    Ah, of course, the real backbone of the libertarian; private property. Because what is a man without him being able to say "this is mine, not yours"? Jesus would be proud.

    I love your notion that Jesus is opposed to ownership. Since Jesus preached personal charity, I am not sure how one performs this if we live in Rousseau's hippy trippy world where no one owns anything. If you really believe Jesus wanted a society where government should be responsible for people, why would he preach personal charity and personal salvation? How would one perform acts of personal charity when there is no ownership? You keep going there Darek and your logic is off.

    Most of what is owned (in a free society) comes from ability and effort, not what some guy enclosed on a piece of ground.

    The conflation with water and cars is a dubious one and tells me more about Jim Fisher than it does about theft.

    I am not really interested in getting personal Darek. I made a point about why this is theft. You said nothing to counter that point, but instead looked to make this about Jim Fisher. Perhaps if you actually made a point you could have explained what this actually says about Jim Fisher.

    I am sorry what was your point?


    As far as this talk of NBA and DNA, its hard to respond if you really think the argument is that there is a certain percentage of someone's DNA that is owed to us...

    Massimo is saying Garnett shouldnt be able to keep all that money (24mil), that some of it should be shared with you. If you can explain why that is Darek, I am all ears.

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  31. "Is it right to tax Kevin Garnett for his high earnings as a basketball player? ... My point is that Objectivists drastically overestimate the independence of individuals from society, as well as the ability of the individual to overcome or take ownership of his/her natural abilities."

    Very insightful essay Massimo. I think I'm swayed! But surely it would only be 'appropriate' to tax Garnett and distribute these earnings to those in society that contributed to his earnings?

    As an economist, I think its possible, and useful, to consider some of your commentary in light of what economists may say about where taxes should be distributed (e.g. public goods and externalities). I think that there are in many, many, many, services in society, both publically and privately provided, that contribute to Garnett's earnings.

    For example:
    - Should Garnett's earnings be distributed to his teammates because they collectively contributed? Well, in a functioning NBA labour market, these players would already be compensated for their contribution to the team through their own wages. I dont think any more distribution is required.
    - How about Garnett's coaches that trained Garnett? Again, the coaches of his NBA team/s will have already been compensated through their wages. His highschool and college coaches will have similarily been compensated. In a working labout market, the coaches should be fairly compensated for their input (note the assumptions there).
    - What about the stadium in which Garnett is able to play basketball and his high wage? Well patrons of the sport will pay for the stadiums through their entry tickets. Also advertising.
    - How about Garnett's education, which without he may never have become an NBA basketballer? So maybe he went to public schooling, and therefore his taxes can fairly contirbute to public schooling. However, what if he went to a private school? His parents would have likely already paid for his schooling - so maybe his wage should go to his parents instead?
    - Perhaps Garnett played basketball in a local park growing up, and he learnt many skills there? Well, if we consider a park to be a public good, then his earning can be taxed to pay for public local parks.
    - How about the roads that Garnett and his team drove on to get to training and to the games - which without, they wouldn't have been able to train or play? Also the roads and trains that patrons use to get to the games, and pay their tickets? Well, if roads are public goods (in general), and in some cases rail tracks are publically owned (but not public goods - more like natural monopolies) then it seems fair for Garnett to contribute to paying for these services through his taxes!
    - What else is there? Health - more patrons go to games if they're healthy? (I'm sure Garnett can afford private doctors and medicine). Military? Perhaps a safer country means more patrons for the NBA, and more opportunities for basketballers? (Masssive assumption there regarding military and being safe).

    So I actually completely agree with your essay re the contribution of others to an individual's outcomes in a society.

    I actually found your essay really helpful in assessing those goods in society that we pay for with our taxes, and whether it is appropriate to do so - considering the interconnectivity with people and those services that everyone uses.

    However, I do think that the general concepts of public goods and externalities that economics talk about cover many of these interconnectivies off. When individuals receive a fair wage for their contribution to society, then there is less of an argument in favour of giving them more money for their contribution to others. It SHOULD be covered off in their fair wage.

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  32. Completely agree with your Jim Fisher. How is it that people can be charitable when they do not own anything?

    And there's an implication here that personal charity is the only way to enrich someone who is poor? Is this really the case? How do these 'rich' people get their earnings in the first place? Do we really want to get into an empirical discussion of how capitalism has contributed to reducing the prices of countless essential goods, which in turn bring many people out of povery?

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  33. What the heck does Jesus suddenly have to do with that? Anybody ever read the gospels? If they are to be believed, he was plainly a doomsday prophet, convinced that the world would end within the lifetime of his listeners, and therefore told his followers to give away their belongings to prepare for the next life. How to manage a state or economy was none of his interests, considering that according to his beliefs, all that would have ceased to exist by 100 C.E. anyway.

    I see most of the arguments go along the lines of taxes = theft, theft = bad. Well, an underlying assumption here is that people have a right to their possessions just because they inherited them, lucked out or pressed a profit from those who are more disadvantaged. Pro tip: this is not self-evident. Pro tip #2: even if it is, there are other things that are bad except theft. The One Big Idea Syndrome strikes again, making those suffering from it pathologically unable to see trade-offs, grey shades or the need to weigh certain goods against each other.

    And Michael M, nice Gish Gallop you got going there.

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  34. I have always found the argument that government taxation is a form of theft as an absurd one... as if your income is earned in a vacuum between 2 parties. Sorry, but you have to view your income as occuring in an economic system (at minimum... not to mention other aspects of the society which allow for such an economic system) for which there are many rules and regulations created by a government for which economic transactions to take place. In this context you earn an income given these rules, and under these rules taxation is a part of equation.

    You want to deny the ability of the government to tax your income, yet you are willing to reap the benefits of having the stable government which creates rules and a stable environment for you to earn that money? Good luck creating a society that works on that logic.

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  35. Alex,
    I'm really not sure what your argument here is. That we are entitled to our own property and not inherited wealth? Or it's just not self evident that we are owners of our own achievement and thus we are not entitled to our own property? If it's the first then it's just a contradiction since inherited wealth is a person that is giving their private property to who they want to receive it ( usually their relatives). If it is the latter and we are not owners of our own achievement then please explain? I do see it as self evident, but I'm not a philosopher, so perhaps there is strict criteria for for something being self evident.

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  36. Jim Fisher,

    Can lying ever be morally right?

    I await your answer.

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  37. Jim,

    Most of what is owned (in a free society) comes from ability and effort, not what some guy enclosed on a piece of ground.

    Right because the cream always rises to the top. Shit floats too - more often than you'd like to think.

    I have no interest in talking about Jesus. The crack was made at what I feel is a bizarre marriage being displayed; adherence to the teachings of Jesus (which you yet again remind us of, being christian) and adherence to libertarian values. Besides, from the sound of it, it appears I'll keep getting the a la carte menu which only serves things as you'd prefer to see them, as opposed to how they are. I mean, are you telling me you have a direct line to Jesus and what he really meant on these matters? I have a difficult time believing, between the two of our 'takes' on the matter, that he'd be aligned with Ayn Rand...

    Is a car a resource such as water? Then why conflate them when discussing distribution in the context you gave? Tells me more about how you think, that's all. It wasn't getting personal; simply an observation.

    Massimo is saying Garnett shouldnt be able to keep all that money (24mil), that some of it should be shared with you.

    If by 'me' you mean the community, than yes, he should give back to the community from which he is a product and was able to become such a success. By overrating what the individual has accomplished, you place the cart before the horse with respect to what one can and cannot accomplish without the aid of others - both past and present. Garnett was able to benefit greatly, for example, from the public school system and its basketball programs growing up. Without any training are you telling me Garnett would be where he is regardless?

    Evan,
    How do these 'rich' people get their earnings in the first place?

    By ensuring as little as possible is paid for labor. To your other point, it'd be a discussion best had via email exchange, as that'd be pretty winded, I imagine.

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  38. "Yes, we want and need to survive, but even that is simply not possible for highly social animals without a substantial contribution from the rest of society"

    Speak for yourself.


    So then I will assume that since he does not speak for you Michael M. that you - mine, smelt and forge all your own metal out of which you make all of your own tools. Manufacture your own cloth, produce your own electricity, carry or pump your own water, grow and prepare all of your own food, provide your own health care including making or gathering all your own medications because if you are saying you aren't dependent on the labor of other human beings that is what you would have to be able to do. Otherwise he does speak for you as someone dependent on other human beings and their labors. Doubtless you also made that computer that you are typing on and sent those information packets across the internet through sheer force of Randian independence otherwise you'd have to acknowledge the contributions of a vast array of other people on whom you have a dependence.

    Human beings exist in context not as individuals. They exist in the context of their family, their group (ethnic, religious or political) their species, their biosphere and their planet. 'Independence' and 'freedom' are just delusions people use because they don't like to look at their chains.

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  39. Right because the cream always rises to the top. Shit floats too - more often than you'd like to think.

    Are you making a point here? I have made very precise argument for what I believe (and there reason I meantioned being Christian, was only to show there is no contradiction in my belief system, I am not interested in discussing religion as well, but in previous debates with you, you have told me I should be for social government programs because I am Christian and otherwise I am contradicting myself) if you have a logical reason as to why I am wrong, I am happy to listen. But Your analogy of cream and shit rising doesnt mean anything to me.
    The discussion isnt about if Jesus would side with you over Rand, it is about Rands ethics, again I only wanted to show that I can believe in a Libertarian view (similar to Rands but with differences) and not be contradicting my personal religious beliefs.

    Garnett was able to benefit greatly, for example, from the public school system and its basketball programs growing up. Without any training are you telling me Garnett would be where he is regardless?

    Most Libertarians are not against taxation for programs that benfit the population equally. That by definition would not be stealing. So saying Garnett must pay taxes to support these is not something I will refute. What I am talking about is theft. Taxing Kevin Garnett to pay for someone elses needs. Once that happens, by definition we have allowed the government to steal.

    Charles,
    Do you want me to admit telling my wife a dress doesnt make her look fat is ok and moral to prove there are no moral absolutes. That ones intention for commiting crime can validate its morality? If for your purpose you would like me to agree there are no moral absolutes, and that you need me to say its moral to say white lies to make one feel better. That this is the same thing as people allowing the government to steal because they know how to better spend Kevin Garnetts money than Kevin Garnett does. That it is ok for them so force Kevin by threat of imprisionment if he does not allow them to spend his money on the poor. That Kevin must allow the government to spend his money on the poor or he will have to go to jail. That white lies to boost ones self confidence is similiar in manner to stealing from someone to give to the poor. Then I will say that yes, it is always immoral to lie.

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  40. Pure Luck,

    Did you even read Micheals post. One does not need electricity and everything else you have listed to survive. He is just saying that it is possible for one to survive without society (or has it never been done?) The Libertarians view is that the true benefit of society is to allow a person to thrive in his specialty or what he has the best possible talent for or can be the most productive in. And that person is the sole owner of that amount of his/her production.

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  41. Jim,

    I am not a philosopher either, but this also not only a philosophical question, but rather also at a minimum one of practical politics and economics.

    Be referred to the beautiful comment made by ccbowers, that hits the nail right on the head. Or paraphrasing what I wrote to another libertarian in a previous iteration of this endless discussion:

    If you are Robinson Crusoe sitting all alone on an island, and you have just fashioned a spear, it would be unfair of me to take it away. But if you are a shop owner making a profit in government-backed money, with employees educated in government run schools, after coming to work over government built roads, all in the framework of the government keeping you save from thieves with police, from fraud with a judicial system, from foreign invaders with a military, and from a popular uprising disrupting your business with welfare payments to the destitute, then you can bloody well pay taxes for all those services and shut up about it.

    If you are unhappy, you can always build a hut in some remote woodland area and see how much fun it is to live without the entire societal network around you. Or go to Afghanistan or Somalia to see how a country with such a weak state as you would prefer it ends up.

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  42. Alex, we have rarely been in deeper agreement, my friend.

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  43. Well said, Alex, and I think most citizens here in the US would agree with you, whether they vote Republican or Democrat, notwithstanding the usual mainstream political debates (e.g. the trade-off between military and social welfare spending). But the Objectivists (among other extreme right-libertarian types) represent a political fringe, on whom such commonsensical arguments as yours tend to fall on deaf ears. So, if nothing else, you struck a chord with the choir.

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  44. Alex,
    Perhaps I wasn't clear ( I thought I was) the Libertarian view is not that we should not pay taxes. It is that we should not pay taxes that pay for another persons needs. Things like defense, policing and roads are not social governing. Thus by definition, they are not stealing. Does Kevin Garrnett use the roads more than everyone else? Does he require more defense than you or I? Why is it that he is responsible for feeding someone else? Should he pay his fair share to defend the United States? Of course. Should he pay his fair share to pay his teachers salary? Of course. What I am challenging you to define is why is it fair for him to pay for someone elses food? Please explain why that is not theft? When you take arbitrary amounts of money from one person and give it to another, it is theft. It is socialism. But of course you know total socialism doesn't work. I am also curious (Alex and Massimo) what do you think Kevin Garrnett should be able to make? Is it 1 mil? $100,000? $96,356.92? What is the amount you place on him. Since you do not feel is entitled to the actual worth that his employer has placed on him, I challenge you to define what that amount is. What is your actual view? Should we all make the same? If your a socialist take off the mask and just say it. Or is it that you do indeed understand socialism does not work and you do need capitalism?if that's the case define what degree of socialism should be in the system? Is it when everyone has a house and food and water and clothes? Or is it when everyone has at least two bedrooms and healthy food and five changes of clothes. What is the correct value of Kevin Garrnetts salary? Since it certainly is the actual value he gives to his employer.

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  45. Jim,

    Let us not go down that road; I would indeed call myself socialist, but the term may stand for something very different than the straw man it has been formed into in the USA. Like liberal, by the way. Where I come from, that term means what would be a moderate libertarian in the USA, so all these labels are rather unhelpful.

    the Libertarian view is not that we should not pay taxes. It is that we should not pay taxes that pay for another persons needs

    Ah, but where do you draw the line? You say, for example, that taxes to pay for teacher salaries are okay. But what about somebody who went to a private school, or has no children?

    Conversely, why is paying for other people's welfare not satisfying your own needs in much the same way that maintaining a system of law courts does? If large numbers of dispossessed people do not have anything to eat (as would very soon happen in a libertarian or objectivist utopia, even just by purely stochastic processes), they tend to do one of three things, depending on their numbers and degree of organization, ranked here from lower to higher: (1) petty crime, (2) rioting and looting, or (3) civil war and revolution. Not because they are bad people, but because they are desperate to survive.

    You probably don't want either of the three to happen. So now you are also faced with a choice: you can invest your money either into (1) shooting all of them, or into (2) paying welfare so they don't go hungry in the first place. Today, most of us consider it a no-brainer that the second is the more civilized option. That is why we are not libertarians.

    The argument is not that the government does not sometimes waste money, or that we cannot discuss on a point by point basis what taxes should be spent for and what not, or how many percent you should pay at what income level. The argument is that you cannot draw as clear a line between justifiable taxes and "theft" as you seem to think. And, of course, that this kind of "theft" may be a lesser evil than, e.g., a few gazillionaires squatting on all the resources while thousands starve to death.

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  46. ... I only wanted to show that I can believe in a Libertarian view (similar to Rands but with differences) and not be contradicting my personal religious beliefs.

    Of course. Have your cake and eat it too. Don't let me or anyone stop you. You not wrong. You can't possibly be wrong. You can lose all the wagers in the world and it doesn't matter. Your special. You have the gift of superior beliefs, no matter what the thought is.

    That by definition would not be stealing. So saying Garnett must pay taxes to support these is not something I will refute. What I am talking about is theft.

    You don't know what your talking about. This is doublespeak. I'm not interested in going through another round with you so we can place our thoughts on the line so you can welsh again, but I will say you need to slow the intake of right-wing literature and at least make an attempt to read books on that scary 'other' side...

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  47. Alex,
    I think we understand the current terms we are using for our purpose, but I appreciate the info (where are you from?)

    I will ask that for the moment we can leave the one subject of education out (it is one that there is considerable debate among Libertarians and I have also not been forthright on my views, not to be dishonest but because it is a large debate within itself)
    Its strange that you say the absense of social programs would cause civil unrest (so that is your justification it is equivilent to the court system). The United states from revolution to the 1930's is basically that Libertarian Utopia. During this time was the most prosperous revolution happened. It is also a fallicy that men can not help men without the government. The government that had little to no social programs for most of its exsistance is the most charitable nation this planet has ever seen. I am not an Objectivist, I am a libertarian. My views are not that man cant help man. Its that it doesnt need government to steal for that to happen. It is the social governments that have civil unrest. The more socialist the worse the unrest. They (including the current United States) are not sustainable and eventually have civil unrest. It is the Libertarian form of government that has proven successfull. So no, public welfare (which by definition uses theft) does not serve the same funtion as the justice system.
    I am not sure what you mean by straw man version of socialism? Please explain your more favorable version of socialism.

    Why do you think people will produce when if they are ones in need, their wealth will be equal? Do you really believe that rewarding need does not create it? Why do you think there every truely socialist government must use force as a means. Do you think peoples production will have the same output when the reward for the individual does not differ regardless of their output. Do you believe that personal gain does not have a factor in production?

    The argument is that you cannot draw as clear a line between justifiable taxes and "theft" as you seem to think

    So aside from education (and I know thats a big one, and i would like to discuss it, I only avoid it because it will be a large debate in itself)it is pretty simple assign each government program into social or not social catagories. And thus, being theft or not.

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  48. Darek,

    I am sorry, did you make a point this time? Other than giving the sarcastic "your right" you still havent said anything or refuting my points. I am saying that it would not align with my world view to allow stealing prior to charity. You havent told my why I am wrong, just gave me sarcasm. there is no double speak, which is why you didnt bother to explain it.

    As far as our wager. I believe there is plenty of time left. Do you think the economy is getting better. the unemployment rate us only gone slightly up snce our wager. Does that somehow make you right that the econpmy isnt getting worse? has our debt decreased? Only in that we are now making the huge mistake on monitizing it. Which will lead to inflation. Its almost laughable that you use our wager as some point in this. The economy is bad Darek, it hasnt gotten any better since we made that wager, and I still have plenty of time left. Vitory for you?

    I'm not interested in going through another round with you so we can place our thoughts on the line so you can welsh again

    What did I welsh on? I believe we have a bet on that if government doesnt change its spending then it will eventually result in depression. In order to quantify it, we bet on some unempolyment rate. I think I said in 1 or 2 years it will be at 15% (I could be wrong on the actual terms so please correct me). So you are claiming (a few months later) that I am welshing. Yeah Darek, things are just going great and they wont get any worse. In fact, we dont need to fix anything. Maybe we should increase our spending on social programs. That should help. The bet has plenty of time (even if it was 1 year) and I hope you win. I hope uneployment doesnt hit 15%. But I am not sure what your point is, that we are not in a depression? OK fine, label it something else if you would like and tell yourself you have won the bet.

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  49. "It is the Libertarian form of government that has proven successfull."

    Is "libertarian government" not an oxymoron? You are strawmanning socialism by comparing "total socialism" with the rest of the spectrum. I doubt anyone here is a "total socialist" (whatever that means) as you are not a "total capitalist."

    My argument is that an extremely wealthy person should pay more because he or she has disproportionately benefited almost by definition (or he wouldn't be extremely wealthy). A libertarian argument (from what I understand) would be that the wealth is of his/her own doing so he/she "deserves" it, but that again ignores what I and Alex said above. None of this occurs in a vacuum, and the economic possibilities are created by the society and government in which this acquiring of wealth was made possible.

    Jim, don't forget that "Libertarian Utopia" was full of needless suffering and incredible greed. Not to say that those aren't problems of today, but lets not romanticize the past in a way that is inaccurate.

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  50. The United states from revolution to the 1930's is basically that Libertarian Utopia.

    Two words: Civil War.

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  51. ccbowers said: My argument is that an extremely wealthy person should pay more because he or she has disproportionately benefited almost by definition (or he wouldn't be extremely wealthy).

    Adam Smith came to a similar conclusion in The Wealth of Nations regarding the idea of progressive taxation, albeit from a different argument, which, of course, he framed in terms that made sense within the context of his time & place (see quote below).

    But statements like these tend to be either ignored or explained away by libertarians, since they don't fit their narrative nearly as well as Smith's Invisible Hand metaphor does (which reminds me of this quote by Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz: "the reason that the invisible hand often seems invisible is that it is often not there").

    The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

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  52. ccbowers,

    My argument is that an extremely wealthy person should pay more because he or she has disproportionately benefited almost by definition (or he wouldn't be extremely wealthy).

    Your statement here is completely false (if your saying it in terms I think you are). I will go back to the Garnnettt example (he is perfect because it is these situations people have the most contempt for and think is unfair). Describe to me how Garnnett has disproportionately benefited? Did society give him better basketball legs? Did the government give him laser shooting ability? what did he recieve from society that was disproportionate? In order to recieve higher pay, he gave someone what was equal in value from himself. The role society played was identicle (and if he grew up in inner city perhaps less) to any other person. he gave the NBA something disproportionate to what you or I could offer the NBA, so in turn thats what he recieves.
    Society should offer everyone the same exact benefit of structure then what people produce, they should be compensated in proportion to. You still havent made a case for why he should pay disproportionately to someone else, he didnt recieve anything disproportionately from society. There are two seperate transactions that occur in respect to Garnett. He recieves safety from government and pays equal value to everyone else for the same amount of safety as everyone else gets. Hence his tax rate should be the same as everyone else. He gives the NBA more than 24 mil in value for his work and then recieves 24 mil from the NBA. You havent made a case for why Kevin now should pay more than others and feed people he doesnt know.
    You say that you (or anyone here) are not a total socialist. Why? (I honestly ask you to explore this question). How can you argue that people dont deserve compensation equal to their value (or if they do and it is above average they are now responsible for those who cant or wont). To what degree are you a socialist? Just until everyone has what they need? Or perhaps a little more than what they need? By what moral code is it your following? At what point is it ok for Garnett to keep the rest of his pay? You know Kevin didnt receive anything in additional value over anyone else from society, but he gives something in additional value (at least percieved by those willing to pay for it). But for some reason you feel he needs to compensate someone else for that.

    economic possibilities are created by the society and government

    Economic opportunity is never created by the government. This is a fallacy that lead to the policies of the great depression. They are created by society however, it is created by individuals in society coming up with ideas or opening businesses. I am sure you will bring up government jobs and such. I hope we dont have to get into how that is not the government creating economic opportunity. If you want to say they create it by having a safe place to conduct business -agreed, but we have covered why it is ok to pay taxes for those things.

    Jim, don't forget that "Libertarian Utopia" was full of needless suffering and incredible greed

    Agreed, There is no such thing as a society that does not have suffering. The question is, how do you have one that has the least amount of suffering and the most opportunity for the most people. Is it socialism (where there is never been wealth except for the few) or capitolism with there is wealth for the masses. The more capitolists a society (less regulation, less taxes) the less suffering and more wealth. The more socialist (more regulation, more taxes) a society the less wealth, more suffering.

    Please see 2010 index of economic freedom:

    http://www.heritage.org/index/

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  53. I am sorry, did you make a point this time?

    What point do you want to hear? How to refute someone who fantasizes about a pre-1930s libertarian utopia? Theres no arguing with you Jim, as much as you keep claiming you want to engage in discussion, anything that challenges your presumptions is socialist (henceforth doomed to fail, according to your warped definitions of what that means). Total socialism does not have to mean Soviet Russia. Just like there are variations of liberalism and conservatism, socialism isn't black or white. You are not willing to allow that though, because by having this game in play, you (your arguments) win by default if opposing views so much as lean on anything that could come close to 'total socialism'.

    This is a game best played by ideologues like Glenn Beck. Not anyone who is seriously interested in political discussion.

    As far as our wager, our terms was unemployment hitting 16% and staying there for 12 consecutive months, beginning within the next 2 years. I asked much earlier when will you concede as I think its clear that isn't going to happen. But lets be honest here; you have no intention of honoring this as doing so would mean, according to the terms, that you would have to change your thinking on these matters - which, given your most latest thoughts, its clear that isn't going to happen. You've bent even farther rightward than our previous discussion; must be all of those books mystifying the founding fathers and anti-FDR propaganda (largely by a historian plugged by Glenn Beck), or perhaps it was Ayn Rand. Whatever it was, something has changed because you never labeled yourself an outright libertarian before.

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  54. After considering some of the responses to Massimo's post, and his given example of the professional basketball player, I began to think that maybe that is not neccessarily the best example to select. At least for my argument.

    Alternatively, consider the hedge fund manager. Top hedge fund managers literally make billions of dollars. They do this by managaging the investments of mostly other wealthy persons who basically don't lift a finger to actually earn this money. What does this huge amount of money actually represent? It is appropriated from the actual work of milllions of people that are actually doing what most of us would regard as work. Mining minerals, building houses, harvesting crops, making and assembling commodities etc. All sorts of things to numerous to list. Those are actually the people that create wealth. Labor creates wealth. It is socially produced. Hedge fund managers just move around capital to make more capital.

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  55. "How can you argue that people dont deserve compensation equal to their value"

    I am not arguing that he shouldnt make more money than others. I don't know that our progressive tax structure has prevented Kevin Garnett from being wealthier than people who make less than him. In other words, all else being equal, he still makes more money than people who have smaller salaries, but he perhaps pays a slightly larger percentage of his salary. I don't see a problem with that.

    There is much to this argument that would take a long time to discuss in this forum, so it is hard for me to address all of your questions...

    "Economic opportunity is never created by the government"

    I was not just talking about government jobs and security (although they are important) but the government through rules and regulations defines what constitutes legal activities in this realm. It determines what economic acitivities are possible.

    "At what point is it ok for Garnett to keep the rest of his pay?"

    That is something that as a society we determine through the government we elect to represent us. For the answer to your question see the current tax code. If you are asking for my personal take, I don't feel strongly about drawing a line in the sand. I'm OK with him making the money he can... I would like to influence our society to value intellectual ability as much as athletic ability. (I enjoy both myself as a NBA and NFL fan) I don't think that progressive taxation really gets in the way of him being a really wealthy guy.

    "The more capitolists a society (less regulation, less taxes) the less suffering and more wealth. The more socialist (more regulation, more taxes) a society the less wealth, more suffering."

    This is inaccurate to say the least. Just looking at healthcare alone shows that this is untrue. The US has one of the most capitalist structure in healthcare, spends the most money per person, and has very mediocre health measures relative to the spending.

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  56. "The more capitolists a society (less regulation, less taxes) the less suffering and more wealth. The more socialist (more regulation, more taxes) a society the less wealth, more suffering."

    So is there more suffering in the U.S. now than in the libertarian utopia of the pre 1930s? Is there more suffering in Scandinavian countries versus African ones? What comparisons are you making to believe these statements?

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  57. Darek,

    anything that challenges your presumptions is socialist (henceforth doomed to fail, according to your warped definitions of what that means). Total socialism does not have to mean Soviet Russia. Just like there are variations of liberalism and conservatism, socialism isn't black or white.

    I have asked repeated times for you and CC and Alex to go ahead and define your socialism? I have asked you to explain how it is sustainable? How do you expect to not create need by rewarding it? How to get production out of people when there is no reward for it? The most simple problems of total socialism whether you figure out how to do it without the evil and corruption the Russia had or not. There are basic issues with socialism that all of you just think will go away if you refuse to awknowledge them. You call this me refusing to have proper discussion. (which I guess would be me agreeing that socialism is good).


    Whatever it was, something has changed because you never labeled yourself an outright libertarian before,

    Your not interested in debate or having minds changed Darek (unless it is mine changed to yours). otherwise you would focus on the content of the debate rather than the content of my reading material. Nothing I am saying now is any different that before Darrek, the only difference now is that I have read more and am getting better at defending my position using rational discourse (which you have yet to do in this thread).
    Your focusing on me personally rather than the debate at hand. I will not do the same to you. If I cant logically counter something you say I will either agree or stand down. On a site of Rational discourse, and you have logic on your side, this should not be necissary.
    I have two more children on the way Darek and I am really want to do my civic duty in ensuring they have the same America I had to start out in. Where a guy like me with only partial college training can make a living well enough to support a wife and 6 children. That they live in a world where if you want something more, one only needs to exchange his efforts and talents to recieve it. Not where if one wants more he only needs to show he has more need for it.

    I am fantasizing of the pre-30s Libertarian government. I and most of America, are realizing thats how we got here. Thats how the success happened. You think because you can make it ancient history that you can remove its effectivness. But cant make a valid arguement as to what is so different about today as to why it wont work anymore. I have yet to hear, other than lame rhetoric as to why our constitution should no longer apply.

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  58. Then I will say that yes, it is always immoral to lie.

    So you think for a German living in the 1930s, it would be immoral to lie to the Nazis when they ask if you're hiding Jews in your basement?

    Don't get me wrong. I agree that in general lying is wrong. But there are exceptions to every rule.

    If someone is trying to kill you, it is not only permissible, it is required for the police to try to kill them right back if doing so will save you. And if in some cases, it's good for governments to kill, it must also be good for them to "steal".

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  59. ccbowers: Is there more suffering in Scandinavian countries versus African ones?

    I'm not sure that African countries are necessarily more capitalist than Scandinavian ones (notwithstanding the often bad policy advice given the former by the WTO, IMF, and World Bank), but I take your point. It's very difficult to talk politics with people whose standards of social well-being are either a mystery or are radically different than our own.

    I'm tempted to propose the Human Development Index (HDI) or Satisfaction with Life Index as data sources pertinent to social well-being, but my experience has been that their critics often tend to be...you guessed it, libertarians! After all, with so many "socialist countries" (translation: social democracies) near the top of the lists, which are you going to believe? The ideological narratives of right-libertarianism and Objectivism or your lying eyes?!

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  60. Jim,

    The United states from revolution to the 1930's is basically that Libertarian Utopia.

    Please consider the following in lieu of an elaborate answer, which would very likely contain some shouted insults on my part: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]. Just for starters, I mean.

    During this time was the most prosperous revolution happened.

    I have no idea what that sentence even means.

    It is also a fallicy that men can not help men without the government. The government that had little to no social programs for most of its exsistance is the most charitable nation this planet has ever seen.

    Yeah, duh. If there are no welfare programs, then well meaning people are hopefully more motivated to give to charities to alleviate the despair around them that would otherwise not exist in the first place. But that means that the destitute are dependent on goodwill that can be arbitrarily withdrawn at any moment, and thus they can never be secure in the knowledge that they will be able to eat tomorrow.

    The more socialist the worse the unrest. They (including the current United States) are not sustainable and eventually have civil unrest.

    You mean like the Swedes, Danish, Norwegians, Swiss, Germans, Australians and Austrians rioting in the streets all the time and overthrowing their governments? I had not noticed that - or maybe my news sources suppress that information. Who knows.

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  61. Charles,

    I was hoping to avoid the entire morality debate with my inadequate response, but I guess well have to go there. So your point is (with the Nazis) that if doing something immoral can prevent a greater immoral act then it is ok. So now transform that concept to government stealing to prevent starvation and all is good, right.
    There is a few holes in that theory. (not to mention, there are homeless people out there, better start robbing banks). Is what the government does with the money it steals actually preventing a larger immorality. Are there less poor now than there was prior to the 30's? And since we are traveling past the tipping point (due to socialist programs) where the government spends far more than it takes in, we eventually travel to a point of bankruptcy, where due to the very socialist programs there will be far more poor and Boone to take the money from. It's as if you just see wealth and say "oh how I can distribute it to help", without ever asking - how did the wealth get there? Where did it come from? Who generated it? And because you haven't actually seen how it happens you think it was the government.
    You think that the rich get rich off the backs of the poor. Never asking the man who works for that big corporation. The man at Gillette (me at one time) who maybe could make one razor a week by myself which would be worth one dollar. But walking into that plant I could use a machine that was built by master engineers, metal bought and paid for by the company, electronics developed by brilliant men. Now I could make hundreds of thousands of parts a week, and instead of one dollar I got to take part in the benefit of being able to sell hundreds of thousands of razors. I got to share in that wealth. This is how production is made. This is how the wealth is created. And you saying it is moral to take our production to give to others, which does not help the poor in any way (the proof is that there is just as many poor now than there was before the programs, and I am willing to bet more but it would be difficult to quantify). Bottom line Charlse is running and unsustainable system by stealing to give to the poor does not validate that stealing in anyway.

    I will respond to the others tomorrow (Im typing on my I phone and the keyboard sucks). I like to go where I am in the minority to debate because it will have to be the most challenging, but it is also quite time consuming.


    Good night

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  62. First of all Jim, suggesting you could use a book here and there that goes against the grain of what you already agree with is not irrelevant to the discussion at hand if those books and material are where you arguments are coming from. So stop pretending like this debate and your arguments are somehow unrelated to what you're saying here; you've already conceded you've gotten more from these books. Not to mention that I am taking the fact that we've sparred before into consideration, so, in the realm of such a dialogue online, we're not total, complete strangers.

    Perhaps you don't like the fact that I know what material you have read, or what people you admire on television, theres not much I can do about that, but I certainly can't forget these things when I hear you say things like the pre-30s were a glorious time in America.(though, I guess you'd at least have a leg up during such a time, given that you're a white male, for starters)

    There is a difference between saying 'you're wrong' and 'think like me instead'. Of course, what's being projected here is pretty clear.

    I have two more children on the way Darek and I am really want to do my civic duty in ensuring they have the same America I had to start out in.

    I hate to spoil it for you, but they never will, just as you didn't have the same America your parents did, or they had before their parents (assuming they go back that far in the US) and so on. We're not talking about a world that can be set up like a tape deck - rewind or fast-forward to what we desire and hit play - much like the way you want the world to work by rewinding to something before 1930 (presumably with everything you think is good about todays society, like civil rights). Nope, this is not even wishful thinking, this is just plain silly.

    The rest of your post is just straw men and mischaracterizations; I never said or suggested things like the constitution shouldn't apply.

    There are basic issues with socialism that all of you just think will go away if you refuse to awknowledge them.

    Others here as well as I have asked you to look at places like Germany and Sweden as modern examples of stronger (in comparison to here) social programs. Someone pointed out what I think is a key measure of the strength of any society - health care for its people, where we rank far below most 'socialist' country's in this regard. Whos ignoring what here, in such an example?

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  63. Jim,

    Are there less poor now than there was prior to the 30's?

    Cannot speak for the USA, but in Europe? Well yes. Certainly the introduction of the welfare state (not necessarily in the 30ies for every non-US-country, of course) has wiped out the worst of poverty. Why do you think huge numbers of Europeans emigrated in the 19th century, but today half the world wants to come to Europe?

    And since we are traveling past the tipping point (due to socialist programs) where the government spends far more than it takes in

    Slightly different perspective: "And since we are traveling past the tipping point (due to neo-liberal policies and tax breaks for companies and the wealthy) where the government takes in much less than it has to spend..."

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  64. Jim says something very interesting here quoted below. And unfortunately he is so ignorant of the actual ideas of socialism he is in some ways arguing for it. What the genuine concept of socialism is about is that that factory should actually be owned and operated by the workers. Sure you can say that the private corporate owners of the factory bought the machinery and bought the metals etc., but that machinery and metals was also created by labor. And if you follow the chain of production back it is the labor that creates the wealth, but labor is only partially compensated, the rest of the value/profits are taken by the capitalist to re-invest in other ventures or expand. But why couldn't that function be done by another collective and democratic institution, and the re-investment done for the intent of social need as opposed to simply more profit?

    And we must ask Jim, so what happened to that Gilette factory? The corporation probably moved overseas like so many others, because they don't give a rats as about your contribution after they pay you for the last time. Because labor is cheaper overseas, and they own what you and your fellow workers produced.


    "You think that the rich get rich off the backs of the poor. Never asking the man who works for that big corporation. The man at Gillette (me at one time) who maybe could make one razor a week by myself which would be worth one dollar. But walking into that plant I could use a machine that was built by master engineers, metal bought and paid for by the company, electronics developed by brilliant men. Now I could make hundreds of thousands of parts a week, and instead of one dollar I got to take part in the benefit of being able to sell hundreds of thousands of razors. I got to share in that wealth. This is how production is made. This is how the wealth is created."

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  65. And a word about the "poor". Jim seems to think that there is some constant percentage of poor people, that are probably lazy and unmotivated.

    We might ask, why are there "poor" unemployed people? What would happen if in capitalism all the people are employed? Then they are able to make more demands for higher wages, basic supply and demand of the labor market.

    Owners of capital don't want full employment, but instead prefer a population of people desperate for work, and willing to accept less to work. Now they have the world.

    And technical education in the US is not enough to protect you, because now they have a population of Indians that are educated, speak English, and are willing to work for less than an educated American worker. This is what is happening now! Its not simply "big government" regulation that is destroying American living standards, unless you are willing to concede that it is government in collusion with corporations that is undermining the living standard of American workers. Jim I think has every thing backwards and twisted.

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  66. Jim,

    What state do you live in? How "socialist" is this state relative to other states in the United States? If you were to rank the states in the U.S. by how "socialist" you feel the state government is how would they rank in terms of poverty? healthcare? education? etc. I'm afraid when you look honestly, the states whose citizens value social programs and are most willing to fund these have are much better off in many ways. The states with the most "suffering" do not fit your theory of being most "socialist" (for which you have provided no evidence), in fact its generally the opposite.

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  67. Kevin Garnett is ostensibly just some dumb seven foot tall basketball player; no one will know his name in just twenty years, maybe less; of course he should be taxed highly. I know libertarians like to pretend that the economic pie will just keep growing but thermodynamics (which I consider to be truer than ideology) tells us that it will not. It's pretty obscene that a guy who's just good at throwing a basketball should have that much of our increasingly limited resources

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  68. Darek,

    So stop pretending like this debate and your arguments are somehow unrelated to what you're saying here

    It is unrelated! If you want to debate my reading material, I am really not interested. Your point here is not refuting what I am saying. It is a lame attack to try and say its not valid because it source of information is poor. Like I have repeated Darek. If you had something solid, you wouldnt need to go there. You would just refute the point.

    Perhaps you don't like the fact that I know what material you have read, or what people you admire on television

    If I didnt, would have never told you. I am not the least bit ashamed in any way whatsoever of who I watch on TV. I think I have mentioned here before that I am a Beck fan (I think it was this site where I was debating with people about Beck that had obviouisly never watched or listened to him)
    I am not the least bit ashamed to say I have read all of Milton Friedman and he is a personal hero of mine. I am not ashamed to tell you what I have read (and think I have in the past) I have read many many books on the founders (currently trudging my way through The Federalist). I will list my entire library for you if you like. Your point here is try to show everyone else that I am a right wing extreemist based on my reading material. I am not trying to hide anything. If thats my label, so be it!

    How about discussing the actual points at hand instead?

    I hate to spoil it for you, but they never will, just as you didn't have the same America your parents did,

    I understand things change Darek, I am not talking about freeze framing a time period and living in it forever. I am only referrig to what drives prosperity. That did not change. What motivates people to produce did not change. How buisness responds to overregulation does not change. The definition of stealing did not change. (although apparently it did for many)

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  69. Sheldon,

    Owners of capital don't want full employment, but instead prefer a population of people desperate for work, and willing to accept less to work. Now they have the world.

    This statement is just obsene, If your a corperation selling widgets to the people, you know you need an economy where people can afford your widgets or you fail. When companies grow, the result is almost driving down the price of their product. As companies grow and hire more people the wage is almost always increased. Who pays their empolyees more and puts more demand for employees (thus increaseing the wage by default), Walmart or your local department store?
    Sheldon, there may be companies that have this outlook, but it would be an obvious failing outlook for obvious reasons. if someone is that stupid then they probably incoperate enough stupid failing policies that they wouldnt survive.

    Let open a buisness selling cars and hope the whole country is out of work so I can hire labour very cheap to build cars for no one. Cmon Sheldon?

    ccbowers,
    You bring up a very good point I want to reply to, but I am spending too much time here at the moment that I am decreasing my own value to my company (lol) so I have to stop for now. So my non-response for the moment is not my answer. I will respond this weekend or maybe at lunch if I can.

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  70. Jim,

    It seems like you agree that taking the rich man's water to save the dying man is the right act. Nowhere have I argued the the implementation to generalize this idea to the country at large is efficient or even works. Just that it is right in principle.

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  71. CC,
    How prosperous a society can be is obviously much more involved than just how socialists it is (I stand by the statement the the more social programs it has the less prosperous it will be than if it didnt have them). A country like Sweden that spends much less money that the US on defense can obviously spend more on social programs and if the over all spending relative to GDP is lower they could still be more prosperous.
    To directly answer your question. I live in MA. How it rates on the social scale of the US I am not sure. The most expensive social programs that absorb almost 50% of all tax dollars spent are at the federal level, so they affect all of the US equally. We have a 5% income tax in MA and many other new taxes, we are loosing more jobs than we are gaining. We have had the benefit of some of the best colleges for many years and hence brought many high tech well paying jobs here. I know there are states like NY that have a 12% tax and are in pretty deep trouble. how much of that 12% is spent on social programs, I am not sure, but willing to bet a lot.
    When it comes to your earlier point CC, I must ask, Do you think this is sustainable? Do you think the current state of spending is sustainable. Since almost all of the budget goes to the military and social programs those are the only two things that can really make a difference. Most of the countries on your list have the same problem (and some on mine). They spend far more than they take in. It has been proven that raising taxes does not raise income (when a certain rate has already been reached and this obviously has a lot of factors). Bush (who I dislike as much as you) lowered taxes and set the all time high for revenue (my point isnt to glorify but but to show tax revenue and rate are not linear. So what do you propose. All these countries just keep spending (and most of that spending is on social programs) the same way they always have? making the next generation pay for todays social programs.

    Please answer this. Is this sustainable? Do you really think it just can keep on going the way it has? Each tax payer in the US owes $120,000 to the debt. if you think yes, then there is no point in debating, I need to find someone based in reality. If you say no, then what do you propose? all the countries on you super socialists lists are in the same trouble. do you suscribe to the philosophy that it will be fine, we just need to raise taxes a little?

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  72. "This statement is just obsene, If your a corperation selling widgets to the people, you know you need an economy where people can afford your widgets or you fail."

    You're assuming the owners are rational.

    This is quite an assumption.

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  73. If you had something solid, you wouldnt need to go there.

    The way I see it; if you can't be convinced that Glenn Beck isn't a voice of reason, than I really don't see how you could accept a refutation of anything you've conjured up.

    Your point here is try to show everyone else that I am a right wing extreemist based on my reading material.

    No. My point is to try and suggest that perhaps why everyone is telling you your views/definitions of things like socialism are skewed or twisted or backward is because you haven't taken the time to read about them (which is clear).

    Look, we've already gone over a lot of this stuff already. Your asking the same questions all over again but in different form, so either nothing stuck or nothing is capable of sticking. I told you about alternatives to your libertarian premises by extending democracy into the economic sphere, not just the political.

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  74. Jim, you badly need a fact-checker.

    For example, where did you get the idea that Bush "set the all time high for revenue"? After all, revenue was higher (as a % of GDP) under his predecessor (e.g. as illustrated by this graph).

    And "It has been proven that raising taxes does not raise income"? Source please.

    And who are these countries that "spend far more than they take in"? For example, prior to the global economic crisis, Sweden, which is among the most highly taxed countries in the world, ran a budget surplus nearly every year during the past decade [*].

    Besides, balancing a budget isn't so difficult. I did it myself just this week, using this handy tool, all while carefully protecting what precious little social safety net this country offers itself (relative to the rest of the advanced world). Of course, it's much easier when there's no politics getting in your way.

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  75. Sheldon,
    I have carefully explained how working for the company allows all members to enjoy far for production and thus pay than any of us could do alone. You state I am in a way arguing for socialism. Did anyone give anything to anyone else? We were each compensated for out individual contribution. This is not socialism. This is capitalism. Yes Sheldon, in capitalism people automatically benefit each other. Yes the steel was made by labour. And it was made in a plant where if it were one man it would have taken 40 years, but where that man had access to the plant and all the equipment and engineers and so on, one man could produce all that steel and enjoy the profits that came from it rather than making that same money over the 40 years it would have taken him without his company.

    And your right, P&G bought us out and started sending jobs over seas. Instead of saying P&G screwed me (since I don't) why not ask why the sent the jobs over seas. And it isn't just my wage vs Brazils wage (I did the math and my wage was paid in the first minute of a 12 hours shift, each machine makes 600 parts a minute) the lost 100 years of my wage just by moving the machines in down time and the fact since they have moved half the Mach 3 machines (3 are still in S Boston and 3 are in Brazil) they have lost about 30 percent of the daily production due to uneducated labour running very complex machinery. This has not changed their plans and they are still going to move the other 3 machines over the next 4 years. So why are they moving there? There are a few reasons but to you it will always transcribe as greed.

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  76. Jcm,
    I feel like I am explaining the obvious too often here. 2007 was the all time high. You cannot use percentage of GPD because my whole point is that the tax rate effects the GDP (negatively). If you raised Taxes to 99.999999 percent purposely making the economy collapse maybe you would collect 10 dollars but the GDP would only be one dollar. But hey, as far as percentage of GDP you would be at a wonderful 1000 percent. Get it!
    Bush had the all time record. Lowering the tax raised the ACTUAL money received and raising GDP (but lowering the percentage of GDP so apparently that's worse on your eyes)

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  77. Who's willing to bet pure capitalism wouldn't have ended smallpox?

    I am.

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  78. Lowering the tax raised the ACTUAL money received and raising GDP (but lowering the percentage of GDP so apparently that's worse on your eyes).

    More likely: the housing bubble temporarily inflated GDP and, thanks to the Bush tax cuts, the federal gov't captured a smaller percentage of that windfall (thus adding to the federal deficit).

    In other words, you distort the picture if you only look at the absolute numbers, without anchoring them to what else is going on in the economy at the time. That's why economists use % GDP when analyzing tax revenue.

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  79. Incidentally, I find this whole capitalism vs. socialism debate too abstract. After all, if I were to draw up a list of (real-world, contemporary) countries that I would most like to live in, every one of them would possess some economic traits that we could identify as capitalist and some that we could identify as socialist. In other words, in my (educated) opinion, the best (real-world, contemporary) places to live are political democracies with mixed economies.

    Of course, that includes my homeland, the US. But then I also have to admit that there are other (real-world, contemporary) countries that have been more successful than the US, say, in terms of risk management, elevation & maintenance of living standards, and alleviation of misery. As far as I can tell, not one of those countries achieved those outcomes by cleaving to a libertarian/laissez-faire/free-market agenda. Although markets and the private sector play key roles in each of them, so do government regulation and the public sector.

    So, if we must debate politics here (sorry, Massimo, we couldn't wait for your next post!), then I would prefer that it be market liberalism vs. social democracy. (These are the terms preferred by John Quiggin in his recent book, Zombie Economics, which I highly recommend.) In that case, I think the evidence (not the least of which is the current crisis) strongly suggests that the latter is the one-to-beat.

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  80. Jim,

    I understand that the word "socialism" is simply an epithet to you and many people, and simply means that hard working people are taxed and their money is given away to other people.

    But that is not what socialism is acording to actual Socialists. You might note that the famous phrase "From each acording to his ability, to each according to his need" also contains a clause implying an obligation to contribute.

    However, you betray your ignorance about what actual Socialists think and believe. So you oppose "socialism", but why not curb your hubris and actually try to learn something about what actual Socialists think?

    In your haste to respond you ignored a key modification of what I said you were arguing for. That is that the workers should own and manage that factory. This is what actual Socialist believe.

    Given what I wrote I am not surprised you didn't throw out another epithet "Marxist" at me. Perhaps you didn't because you didn't know and recognize the over simplified Marxist analysis of capitalism and justification for socialism that I wrote.

    I will make it more explicit. Workers sell their labor power and create a certain amount of value, the wages covers only a portion of the value they creates, the surplus value is appropriated by the capitalist in the form of profits. Ironically you note yourself that your wages are paid for in the first minute of production. Which basically supports this basic idea.

    And, please don't put words in my mouth. I didn't use the word "greed" or did I say P&G "screwed you". What I actually think is that P&G made a business decision on how best to stay competitive and profitable.

    And regarding what I said about capitalism and employement. I was talking about this on a systemic or structural level. Of course firms want consumers with money to buy their commodities. This also points to one of Marx's ideas about the contradictions of capitalism. Basically there are contradictory tendencies, the need to sell more and more commodities, and the need to hold down wage inflation, both in an effort to increase profits. Also this leads to the idea of the crisis of overproduction where there is a surplus of commodities left unsold without buyers, because workers don't have enough money to buy them. This relates to the housing market crisis by the way, but that is another dimension.

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  81. Rand's social group of one is way too small, but Peter Singer's is way to big. Humans are social animals and while it is true that the tribe or parish is getting bigger as we necessarily move in a larger interdependent society, fundamentally we are still tribal animals. The only difference between my tribe as a university educated atheist and the fundie church is that I get to choose mine intelligently, and I don't have to listen to that little vuvuzela in the fancy dress in the overdecorated balcony telling me what I believe every Sunday. But the welfare of that group of intelligent rational people that is my village is the only moral paradigm that works for me. Just as the welfare of the church is the only moral paradigm that works in the fundie. church.

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  82. Sheldon said: That is that the workers should own and manage that factory. This is what actual Socialist believe.

    Even in Marx's time, "socialism" came in different varieties (e.g. see the critique of some competing varieties near the end of the Communist Manifesto). In our time, that term is naturally biased by real-world, historical examples of countries that self-labeled as such - particularly those which followed the Soviet model of a command economy.

    But I would agree that the term is not necessarily limited to the Soviet model, and one could define "socialism" more broadly "as a set of values rather than a specific type of social and economic organisation" [*], although (as I alluded above) this practice may cause trouble than it's worth.

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  83. jcm,

    Your point is well taken. Yes, there are multiple socialisms as Marx himself discussed, and after him there developed the two models of Soviet style state-socialism command economies, and the Western European social democracies, which are capitalist economies with the state playing a redistributive role.

    I wanted in part for rhetorical reasons to point to what I believe Marx was arguing for, a worker controlled democratic socialism. And most people today that will explicitly call themselves socialists mean something close to this definition.

    But again, I completely agree with your point.

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  84. Sheldon, glad we agree on that point.

    I guess I'm not a socialist (by your definition), since I don't consider "worker controlled democratic socialism" an apt description of the model society that I tend to envision. But I would agree that the worker cooperative seems like the model firm (particularly at larger scales - at smaller scales, I remain sentimentally attached to the family business).

    And, although I say that as a social democrat (who has no objections, at least under certain conditions, to state-owned enterprises), it's hard to see how even a (sincere) libertarian can object to worker co-ops, so long as they exist within a market economy, membership is voluntary, and it receives no subsidies from tax revenue.

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  85. jcm,
    That's alright, you don't have to fit my litmus test for being a "true socialist". ;) What I did want to point to in my response to Jim is one of the prominent traditions of socialist politics, which is a movement of workers for workers; and in opposition to Jims's purely derogatorcy idea that "socialism" means the government "stealing" from producers to give to non-producers.

    Some other things to consider in response to some of your points. Under present day capitalism, the government supports in a variety of ways both large corporations and small businesses. So why not a government supporting worker managed cooperative enterprises? (I understand your comments were stated in the context of what even a libertarian shouldn't object to).

    Regarding markets. There is no doubt that ultimately Soviet central planning was a failure. But only ultimately. The early SU underwent industrial development more rapidaly than any other country, (but at a very high social and environmental cost).

    But I wonder if in different contexts and with more democratic institutions, socialist economic planning might be a feasible economic system.

    I say this because markets also have high social and environmental costs, and inefficiencies. They misallocate resources in a variety of different ways. So is their some feasible alternative? I don't know, just raising the question.

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  86. Sheldon, it's a reasonable question you raise about markets (especially given all that's known about market failure). But my main concern here is social well-being, which naturally raises empirical questions, like: Which countries score best in this regard? and what are their policies? That's not to suggest that I don't appreciate a good a priori argument. I do. But, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. And the answers that I've found thus far (which, collectively, I like to label "evidence-based politics") tend to be left of market-liberalism (a.k.a. laissez-faire or libertarianism), but right of certain socialist varieties (more on that below), and they tend to validate the centre-left ideology of social democracy.

    As you already know, social democracy assigns an important economic role to government planning (e.g. regulation, social insurance programs, state-owned enterprises, subsidies, and tariffs). As I interpret these facts, they are most inconvenient for market liberals.

    But then social democracy also assigns at least as much of a role to private property and market competition, which is at least as inconvenient for certain types of socialists. On that note, I'm aware of the debate among Marxists over what Marx's true intent was, which I don't want to get into here. But, suffice it to say, I think it's fair to say that many nominal Marxists over the years would have balked at this observation (at least as much as our libertarian friends would balk at the previous paragraph).

    All that said, we face different cultural challenges here in the USA than Nordic or Western European ones do, which is partly why I tend to plug worker cooperatives in threads like these, as a tool/technique that does not depend on our agreeing over the proper role of government in the economy.

    But, that aside, I agree with you that there's nothing wrong (and plenty right) with "a government supporting worker managed cooperative enterprises", provided that such support proves to deliver social benefits, as I suspect they would.

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  87. Sheldon,

    Sorry for the late response. Been out for a bit.



    So explain your plan for employees owning a company. This is the crap that drives me nuts. It sounds all warm and fuzzy to have all the employees own the factory. But please do fill in the blanks. How do you accomplish this? Do you wait until someone has come up with an idea, opened a company, then tell him, sorry buddy but it belongs to everyone now. Or do you pass a law that starting today, all companies will now be owned by their employees and still expect that people will do the hard work of opening companies knowing that it doesnt belong to them, but to whoever he is about to hire? Tell me Sheldon, how do you remove ownership of a company and still give people the motivation to open a company. Or do you think that the motivation to open a company does not come from the ability to own it? Do you think it comes from some other source? Do you think the tradgety of the commons is just a myth? I have asked you this same question before and you have not given any answer. How do you give ownership of a company to its employees with out crashing the economy? Do you think people will still bother to go through the trouble to open a company when they can have ownership if someone else does all that work?
    Tell me Sheldon, what does the wording on the law you would pass to accomplish this look like? You dont have to give all the nitty gritty details, just a general description of the law that prevents people from owning their own company and gives it to the employees.
    What you dont realize Sheldon, is that it cannot be done without completely removing liberty and completely crashing the economy. Thats the problem with Socialists, it is as if reality and what drives an economy escapes you. You said earlier that you understood why P&G moved south, which tells me you must understand something about what motivates people, yet you think that just wont happen when you pass your "employee ownership law". this must be one of the main reasons that Socialists want a global government, so that when you pass your crazy laws the remove ones liberty to own what he creates, he has no where to run!

    My guess is that your response will come in some form that you will claim doesnt remove liberty, by not making it law that employees own the company, but rather that the government supports cooperatives or something to that effect. Even so Sheldon, I think if your going to pursue this line you have the burden to define what it is your willing to defend. How would this happen? Tell me how you get employee owned companies? I understand it can and has been done. But that is mainly becuase it was someones personal motivation to do that. that is how they fullfilled their right to pursuit of happiness. Your talking about something different here. Your telling me that employees should be owners of their companies, not as something the owner of the company wants, but as a rule. Tell me how that is done!

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  88. Jim to Sheldon: Tell me how you get employee owned companies?

    Jim, there's more than one way for an employee-owned company to get started. Perhaps the best known example, the Mondragon Corporation, began as a technical school, which grew into a network of worker-owned and democratically managed industrial businesses. The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is home to a cluster of roughly 8,100 cooperatives, has more of an agricultural origin. But, in both cases, we're talking bottom-up, voluntary organization, involving numerous "entrepreneurs" who (for whatever reason) chose this organizational structure over the top-down, hierarchical structure that dominates the corporate world.

    Another way that these firms get started is via "recovery", when employees take over bankrupt businesses and decide to run them as worker-owned cooperatives. There's a film, called The Take, which documents a story of this kind.

    But, if you're sincerely interested in this phenomenon, then I recommend that you do some research of your own. Not much justice can be done to the subject in a forum like this.

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  89. jcm,

    Let me clarify my position. I am in no way against a Co-op or an employee owned company. I am a Libertarian. So if someone wants to start his/her own 100% socialist company, thats fine. What I am against is the loss of liberty from government mandating this (or even supporting it by treating it any differently than any other company. (if you gave a tax breaks or other incentives the government could possibly control to a company for being a co-op, then you have loss of liberty by making one company pay for the other (again theft).
    If someone says "I am a socialist" and also says that all companies should be employee owned, then they are saying that government needs to control companies to make them empolyee owned.

    If every single company in the USA decides to be employee owned and give every single employee exact share of the business, that is absolutly fine with me. This is still a 100% capitolist system. The key word here is "decides". In order for that to actually happen there would have to be a benefit to the origonal owner to run this way, and I have no issue with that. The benefit could be financial, his own altruistic needs, whatever, but it should be his to decide.
    Sheldon said that the factory "Should" be employee owned. Is he implying that all technical schools should grow into corperations? I dont think so. "Should" is implying some loss of freedom, it implying that it be mandated by law somehow

    So when someone says to me "I am a socialists". I assume you are talking about government. If your a socialists only for the company you own, hey, have at it. That is harmless and may indeed have benefits to society. But the reason for this is the people are always free to escape you. When your socialist at the government level. It is a completely different story. You MUST steal from one person and give to another. That is the difference here. If you do it to your employees, the cost is coming out of your pocket, that is your right. If you take from one employee and give to another, the employee always has a choice to leave the company. We are all employees at will and if you sign on to a company that practices this way, then it is not stealing (you signed on becasue you want this) But when the government is taking from one to give to another, there is no way out and no choice by you was ever had, and thus by definition -stealing.

    I am curious about Mandragon though. They claim to have 45,000 employees so they must be fairly globalized. I wonder, is their average standard of living higher than other similar sized companies (I am not saying it is or isnt)? Just what does it mean to be a co-op in the actual work life? Exactly what control does the emplyees have. I am very interested in the answers, but regardless what they are, I wouldnt support the government forcing any company to run this way. And I have nothing against a company wanting to run this way.
    Liberty is why America prospered. There was no socialism for most of its exsistance. It is not the socialist programs that gave any bit of prosperity to America. To have socialism, by definition, you must remove liberty. If through liberty every company in exsistance decides to be socialist, this is not socialism, its capitolism. Unless you remove the word "decides" can you call it socialism. Of course the only way you can have it happen (all companies become socialist)is if you remove the word "decides".

    So again, I challenge Sheldon to define how he would accomplish the goal of "all companies should be employee owned"

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  90. Jim,

    So if someone wants to start his/her own 100% socialist company, thats fine.

    It sounds to me like you're saying that a company that's owned (be it partly, mostly, or entirely) by its employees and/or is structured democratically is, in some sense, "socialist." You then go on to say things like:

    So when someone says to me "I am a socialists". I assume you are talking about government. and To have socialism, by definition, you must remove liberty.

    It seems to me that you have more than one definition of that term in mind, and you're not alone in that, which is why I tend to avoid it (along with "capitalism").

    That said, I would not go so far as to say that "all companies should be employee owned." Like I said earlier, my main interest here is in "evidence-based politics" (driven, of course, in part by moral sentiment), and none of the countries that I deem worthy of emulation have ever enacted or enforced such a mandate (although they by no means fit the libertarian mold, either). What's more, none of the examples of worker cooperatives that I cited above received, to my knowledge, any more state aid or support than any other type of firm - bearing in mind that no real-world economy exists in a political vacuum.

    But this all dances around the core ethical issue that you raise, which is that of coercion.

    As I see it, coercion is a permanent aspect of life. Some of it is fair (e.g. when a sociopath is coerced into prison); some of it isn't (e.g. when a person is coerced into a life of misery for reasons beyond his/her control). The mature thing is to accept that, to promote the fair kind, and to fight against the unfair kind. Obviously, one needs to first possess some sense of fairness in order to do that, but that's pretty much a given for an average human being.

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  91. Jcm,
    You talk about "evidence based politics". This is difficult. I see the evidence smacking us in the face. The single most prosperous country was as close to the Libertarian form of government for most of it's existence. The industrial / Agricultural revolution spawned under that form of government. Socialism has done nothing but retract from that. The evidence is all around us. But the different sides always see it differently. Progressives see our current state (in Europe and the US) as a failure of capitalism. The Libertarians see it as the failure of the more recent (last 70 to 80 years in the US) injection of socialism. I feel I know the truth (but of course so does the progressive). So which is true for prosperity? Does true capitalism give the masses the most possible prosperity or does Socialism? (or some quasi mix) in these many debates I have with people, I find that socialists almost always fail to define what it is the end product they believe government should be. What is it that progressives claim to be progressing to. They blame me for accusing them of being communist (because they are fully aware every time it's been tried it's utter failure) so they pretend to have some new secret version of socialist government.
    You claim to be a fan of evidence based politics? Has social security made the 1/5 of the population on it better of than prior to it's enactment? Has the welfare programs made that population better off than they would have been if it were not there? Will this health care program improve the standard of health care in the US? did it in England? I think that America would be a completely different place without any socialist programs and the people that are using them would be far more prosperous. If you want to see the evidence, I will provide it, but much of it is obvious. Would that population be worse off if the programs not there, or better off. We know the communism is an utter failure for many reasons. Communism is a complete socialist state. Capitalism is a complete free state. One has proven successful and one a failure. Todays socialist define socialism as a quasi communist/capitalist state. Where there can be ownership, just not complete ownership, and so on. This is why they fail to define their form of state. They know they need some resemblance of capitalism to avoid failure. So they pretend that socialism is not capitalism nor communism, but some neat new form of governing. By definition, socialism must remove liberty. You can't have the co-ops (at a higher percentage than there are now) without coarsen as you call it. The worst part of it is, you remove liberty from the people recording the socialism. You destine them and often their generations to the lowest standard of living. Milton Friedman has the simplest and most effective ideas that government could use to give these people a chance and government has ignored him. If there is one thing I could get anyone reading this to do, please read "free to choose" or at least google friedmans idea on reducing welfare. It is a program that does not threaten their ability to collect in any way, just gives incentive to work. At one time he was on channel 2 and was a hero amongst liberals, but progressivism changed what liberal meant since the 70's

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  92. Ask yourself this? Dockside see things like education, healthcare, food and housing as a right.

    How is it that some thing that a human must create can be a right? What your really saying is if we don't have it, then we have a right to take it from someone else.

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  93. The single most prosperous country was as close to the Libertarian form of government for most of it's existence.

    I would disagree (strongly), except that I suspect that you're working with some definition of "prosperous" that only a Libertarian could love. So why argue with you?

    Suffice it to say, according to the kinds of criteria that I find satisfying (e.g. see my comment above), the evidence strongly suggests that the best countries to live in are perhaps best described (in political-economic terms) as "social democracies." A Libertarian might agree with some of their policies (e.g. those which foster markets), but many of them (e.g. high tax rates and social welfare programs) not so much.

    So much the worse for Libertarianism!

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  94. One other thing JCM,

    (I dont know where dockside came from, I think it is my I phone spell check)

    Your last post.

    It seems to me that you have more than one definition of that term in mind, and you're not alone in that, which is why I tend to avoid it (along with "capitalism").

    I just look at it as anything that involves government stealing from one and giving to another is socialism. I do not define a co-op or emplyee owned company as socialism so long as it was not mandated by government (yes it is a socialist action, but it was done under a complete capitalist system, I am really talking about the system or government). If it was someones choice to run their company this way, that is a capitolist system with some person running a socialist company. So I think my definitions are very precise and clear. I have no problem with freedom alowing people to create pockets of socialism. As a libertarian it would be inconsistant to say people are not allowed to run a company in a socialists manner. That would be a removal of personal liberty.

    When people here define themselves as a socialist, I assume they are talking about government (correct me if I am wrong). If your not, and you just want more socialist companies (not mandated by the government), well then, your a capitalist who better get out there and start some more socialist companies, but if you dont think it should happen under law, then you are still a capitalist. If you are indeed a socialist (government), then define what it should be.

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  95. Jim, if you prefer to call me a "capitalist", because I don't have a problem with private property or markets norms (at least to a point), then I'll take that as a compliment (given the source).

    But, if you mean to suggest that a government "steals" every time it taxes its citizenry, or at least its income, then count me among the majority of Americans who say that income taxes are fair.

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  96. But, if you mean to suggest that a government "steals" every time it taxes its citizenry, or at least its income, then count me among the majority of Americans who say that income taxes are fair.

    jcm,
    I dont mean to suggest anything. Government is stealing when it taxes for Social programs.

    Here is Wiki's definition of "theft"

    theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's freely-given consent

    This does not mean all taxes are theft and I think I have done a thorough job earlier of explaining what taxes could be used for without it being theft. If the taxes are for the protection and benefit of all society equally (military, courts, yadda yadda) then its not theft. When you say the majority of Americans say that income taxes are fair, I am one of them. I am getting sick liberals saying that libertarians are against paying taxes. We are against government theft. If you take someones money without consent and give them roads, protection from fire, police, courts, I dont think you can define this as theft. You have their consent at pretty much 100%. If you take someones money without consent and give it to someone else because you happen to think they need it more. This is theft. Its not my suggestion, its just a fact. If you want to call it redistribution of wealth or whatever else to make it sound better, fine. But it is theft, I am not making this up. I am not changing the definition of the word "theft". I am just saying what it really is. Something liberals want to pretend is not actual theft. So its not me suggesting anything, its me telling you a fact. If you want to explain why I am wrong, why this is not theft, please do. Libertarians are not against taxes, we all consent that they are nessisary. So please stop suggesting libertarians are against taxes. Not only do we contend that taxing for social programs is theft, aside from stealing, we also know that you are hurting the very people that claim to be helped.

    All the countries you favor and call social democracies are capitalist. They just have many socialists policies as well. There is a tipping point. communism is 100% socialism. we know (and perhaps agree) that it can not work. We also know that almost 100% capitalism (which is what America was for most of its years) does work very effectivly. Those socialist democracies (as you call it) are far more capitalist than socialist, but do have both.

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  97. If you take someones money without consent and give it to someone else because you happen to think they need it more. This is theft.

    First of all, where's the evidence that, when a majority of Americans say that income taxes are fair, they mean "except for the part that's spent on social programs - that's theft!"? As far as I can tell, at least some of those programs are quite popular (e.g. see here).

    As an aside, I think there's some merit to the argument that, if programs like Social Security and Medicare were not universal, they would not be so popular. But, nonetheless, where's the evidence of majority opposition to means-tested programs, like food stamps and Medicaid?

    Secondly, the free rider problem basically rules out allowing individuals to opt out of paying for a public good, be it social insurance or defense. It's an economic nonstarter, which virtually guarantees system gaming and failure to raise pay for the good.

    Of course, if a majority of Americans were in fact Libertarians like yourself, and did not believe that social insurance merits the status of a public good, then the democratic process might eventually change that.

    But you have not even begun to persuade me that such a majority exists, let alone persuaded me that social insurance is wrong in principle (i.e. even when a majority of the population consents to it).

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  98. One other thing: We also know that almost 100% capitalism (which is what America was for most of its years) does work very effectivly.

    No, we do not know that. As Alex's comment above demonstrates, the USA was a turbulent and violent place prior to the mid-20th Century (and I don't even think he mentioned the Civil War, although I did). At best, it's audacious of you to repeat this claim, as if it were non-controversial.

    There is a period in US history known as the Gilded Age, but it lasted for less than 30 years, was marked by extreme inequality (think: robber barons), and ended in the worst depression the US had ever experienced until that time. (Of course, that was later topped by the Great Depression.)

    But even if we did share a similarly rosy view of this period, all we would have is an apples-to-oranges comparison with contemporary societies, whose populations are much larger, more complex, and more technologically advanced than those of, say, the Victorian era. What worked then would not necessarily work now.

    I won't bother to repeat what I think works now. Suffice it to say, it does not conform to Libertarian ideology.

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  99. Jcm,
    The "free rider problem" prevents people from opting out and paying for public good? Come again? How is someone that is on welfare, section 8 and food stamps paying for public good? Or someone that is on SSI from the day they come of age paying for public good? I'll agree there is a free rider problem, but I am not following your logic of how they are not opting out of paying for public good.
    As for your polls of people that don't think there should be cuts, your missing my point. If there were 10 people in a tiny society, 8 had average wealth and 2 had extreme wealth. They had a vote to take half of the wealth from the 2 richest people, would this be theft? By your definition - no, by mine - yes. We know that 2 of the 4 no votes came from the 2 wealthy people. If you redid you poll from your link and asked instead - "do you want to pay for other peoples Medicare and social security or you want the government to actually fund these programs as was the original intention, what would the poll say?
    You point that the majority of Americans don't want these programs cut to me isn't really a valid one for a couple of reasons. One is that 20 percent of America is currently on these programs. Then the percentage of people that will be receiving SS and MC in the next 5-10 years brings that up drastically. Given this two points the stats you cite are pretty low. The fact that a majority currently wants it, is kind of a moot point. It's not sustainable. If you had a poll that said we should divide all of Bill Gates money amongst all Americans , there is a good chance you might get a yes vote. That doesn't mean it isn't stealing. Only 1/3 of Americans contribute to the tax base so giving a vote to decide whether ornot we should cut down on the amount of theft will not come out with a "yes". Also keep in mind Jcm, that I am a realist. I understand we can't just stop these programs overnight. This is why I am such a big fan of Milton Freidman, he doesn't just explain why people on these programs are actually being hurt by them (along with the rest of us) he gives a way out without hurting them. For SS he outlines a plan the would begin with people of age 45 or younger (all of which will be completely in poverty or worse if they only rely on SS. For people on welfare his plan is simply to allow them to work at a 50 percent tax rate with no penalty to their benefits. Once their income reaches a point of 2X their government benefits , they are removed from government benefits and have a zero tax rate. There is obviously much more detail to these plans, but we could do it and give these people better lives than they currently have. Right now someone receiving benefits can't work or they will loose them. That's big incentive to help them. Someone earlier in this thread accused me of thinking all these people are just lazy. I don't blame the people, I wouldn't work either if I didn't have to. It's the governments fault not theirs. The unintended consequences of "safety net" programs are always worse than the original problem.

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  100. As far as America being extremely prosperous for it's first 150 years, I guess we will have to agree to disagree, but there is a reason people flocked to it for all those years. Do you think all out prosperity happened from the 30's to now? (yes some of it did).
    Yes there was a civil war. One of the main causes of this war was to bring the actual rights laid out in out constitution to all men. We have scares and it wasn't all peaches for that time. But if you look at that period as a whole and how it affected the average standard of living it was one of the most prosperous times in history. The social programs have not contributed to the standard of living, they have only insured that certain people live at that standard outlined in those programs. I contend their standard of living would be better if the programs were never there. You contend their standard of living would be worse.

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  101. Jcm,
    One thing that never got resolved is. Do you think the current path is sustainable? The whole reason we got into the tax and GDP thing was because I said that - knowing increased tax rate does not raise actual tax dollars (then I got into the whole Bushes record thing). So if you are indeed willing to accept this fact, that increasing taxes on even just the rich, does not mean you will have an increase in "actual tax dollars collected" please don't talk about GDP because we are talking increasing actual revenue here.
    Usually at this point in the debate I get told we should cut defense and not social programs. I am fine with that. I think we should cut a sizable chunk from the defense budget. But even given that, is our current system sustainable? You talked about believing in ownership. But you don't. How can you? At what point is a person to owner of their personal wealth at the same rate as other people. It's your belief, so define it. What makes you think there should be ownership? Why do you think that ownership is a right, but only up to some imaginary and inconsistent limit? I'll tell you why, it's because you don't think there should be needy people out there when there are others that are obscenely wealthy. So you would be all for the right to own your property if there wasn't such needy and obscenely wealthy people. Do you see the contradiction here. You say you believe in property rights, but have some imaginable limit that it stops if the need gets great enough. If I asked you to define those limits, you couldn't. You just know they are there.

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  102. The "free rider problem" prevents people from opting out and paying for public good?

    From the same link:

    "A common example of a free rider problem is defense spending: no one person can be excluded from being defended by a state's military forces, and thus free riders may refuse or avoid paying for being defended, even though they are still as well guarded as those who contribute to the state's efforts. Therefore, it is usual for governments to avoid relying on volunteer donations, using taxes and, in some countries, conscription instead."

    The same argument for government's mandating "donations" (read: taxes) for defense may apply to other public goods & services, like education and health care. But free riding "is usually considered to be an economic "problem" only when it leads to the non-production or under-production of a public good (and thus to Pareto inefficiency), or when it leads to the excessive use of a common property resource."

    You and I may disagree about what qualifies as a "public good" or service, or when and where "non-production or under-production" are likely to occur. But, that it occurs is (as far as I can tell) non-controversial among mainstream economists and public policy experts. More to the point, when and where it does, the typical solution is to mandate funding (i.e. tax).

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  103. Jim and jcm,

    Well it looks like this discussion has carried on without me. But in response to Jim,

    Do I have a detailed plan of how a worker managed socialist democracy would work, and exactly how that society could be transitioned to? And do I have a solution to all the possible problems this might entail? No I don't.

    Unlike you, I don't claim to have all the answers.

    I do thank and wholly endorse jcm's response to references to Mondragon and the film The Take about worker seized and operated factories in Argentina, which demonstrates that these alternative models of economic organization are potentially feasible, and not purely theoretical.

    The transition to worker managed socialism becoming the dominant type of economic organization in society would most likely take place in the context of a crisis and collapse of capitalsim, not the passage of some normal law. Basically what happens in The Take, workers seizing the factories and creating an economic system out of the ashes of capitalism. Is it stealing? Yes, maybe, but its stealing the wealth they already created.

    But again I reiterate, one of my purposes was to point out to you what at least one model of "socialism" might in part look like; and against your purely erroneous and derogatory label of "socialism".

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  104. Sheldon,

    Unlike you, I don't claim to have all the answers.

    You are criticising me because I can define what it is I believe. What you freely admit, that you cannot define what it is that your socialism would look like, yet your supposed to convince me that we should move towards it? Your telling me that in order to achieve it, we must first collapse a system that has worked very effectivly in providing wealth to the masses? That workers need to seize their companies to achieve it?

    The transition to worker managed socialism becoming the dominant type of economic organization in society would most likely take place in the context of a crisis and collapse of capitalsim

    The funny thing is Sheldon, the only way you can collapse capitalism is by injecting too much socialism into it. If there was no Social Security, Medicare, Health care reform, Housing, etc..., you couldnt collapse capitalism. You think that by collapsing capitalism you can have an effective way of social governing that doesnt even remotely have a plan.

    Thankfully for me, this is why it wont work. You can't get people to rally and buy into something you fail to define. You define me as extreem and right wing. Your wrong. I am becomming center. I can spell out exactly what it is I believe and people can choose to buy into it or not. And as 4 of 10 votes came from the Tea Party this go around, people are buying in. That number will only increase as people like you only offer an alternative of collapse and undefined socialism as a replacement. Thanks to your unknown alternative, your moving me towards center. People are beginning to understand that our current socialists practices are not sustainable. There are certainly not going to buy into the collapse capitalism and replace with more socialism (undefined socialism).

    Your touting that I just claim to have all the answers means nothing to me and the average person. I do have the answer (not by my creation, I am just someone that was looking for it like so many others) and people are slowly gravitating towards a real defined answer, not some yearning of a socialists utopia based off of collapse and people taking over their companies.

    The problems with your world view are endless.One of the few things men will die for is liberty. Your talking about an undefined system where the only thing that is defined is that liberty is removed. Ownership must be removed. As Ayn Rand spells out, it is the producers of wealth that require liberty or they will no longer produce it. You have a world view that wealth is not produced. It is just floating around out there in the form of natural resources and the greedy capitalists are hogging it all up. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wealth is created.

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  105. jcm,

    I guess I do not understand your point about the "Free Rider System"

    I am telling you that 2 out of 3 Americans do not pay taxes. I am not sure what you are telling me? That because they all use the military they should? Agreed.

    Are you trying to tell me they already do? How so?

    So regardless of whether or not you apply this principle to social programs or not, 2 out of 3 people do not pay taxes. How is it that this is supposed to convince me of anything?

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  106. There is too much that I disagree with in Jim's comments, and too little time, so I'm picking one or two key points at a time, in the (vain?) hope of creating some potentially "teachable moments." If nothing else, it helps to clarify my own thoughts & feelings, by getting them "out there." My thanks to the moderators for keeping this going.

    Jim said: If you had a poll that said we should divide all of Bill Gates money amongst all Americans , there is a good chance you might get a yes vote. That doesn't mean it isn't stealing.

    Let's begin with some actual evidence, shall we? For example, this analysis paper by political scientist Larry Bartels documents that: "Three out of every four people polled said that the difference in incomes between rich people and poor people has increased in the past 20 years, and most of them added that that is a bad thing—but most of those people still supported the regressive 2001 Bush tax cut and the even more regressive repeal of the estate tax." A key observation in the paper is that "better-informed respondents were much more likely to express negative views about the 2001 tax cut". However, "people’s opinions about tax cuts were strongly shaped by their attitudes about their own tax burdens, but virtually unaffected by their attitudes about the tax burden of the rich—even in the case of the estate tax, which only affects the wealthiest one or two percent of taxpayers."

    If you have equally rigorous counter-evidence, which suggests that a majority of Americans believe that the wealth of Bill Gates, or any other member of his economic class, should be completely expropriated and divided up among the less well-off citizens, then, by all means, put it up.

    [Incidentally, the impending expiration date of those same tax cuts seems to have motivated Bill Gates and other rich folks, like Warren Buffet and the "patriotic millionnaires", to speak out with the charge that they should be paying more in taxes. Who am I to argue with them? :-)]

    As for your "stealing" mantra, note that your own chosen definition of "theft" above says: "illegal taking of another person's property without that person's freely-given consent." Obviously, taxes are just as legal as the property laws and titles to which they pertain, and so, for that matter, are the expenditures on welfare and defense.

    That doesn't mean that all laws or policies are ethical, of course. But then I'm of the opinion that using tax revenue to alleviate the misery of the poor is a quintessentially ethical use of the law. Frankly, that you feel so differently disturbs me deeply, but I'm trying my best to suppress that reaction for the sake of civil dialog.

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  107. I am telling you that 2 out of 3 Americans do not pay taxes

    Actually, it's slightly more than half, and that's either because "their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability."

    We can quibble over which "credits, deductions, and exemptions" are fair. But, obviously, you can't tax people for money that they don't have, such that the only practical financial solution to the problem of "non-production or under-production" of a public good or service is to seek revenue where it actually exists.

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  108. Sheldon, I think we already knew that we weren't likely to have much of an impact on Jim's thinking (or at least not an immediate one). But this thread has given me some mental exercise, if nothing else. Any way, I see where you're coming from (e.g. based on your allusions to the labor theory of value).

    I just want to give some credit for my own political-economic thinking to economist Herman E. Daly, and particularly to his simple explanation of the "three economic problems": allocation, distribution, and scale. Here's an example:

    ...the individualistic market solution to the problem of efficient allocation presupposes prior political and social solutions to the problems of just distribution and sustainable scale. In general, for each independent policy goal we need a separate policy instrument... To kill three birds we have to be very lucky to do it with less than three stones. For allocation we have the market. For distribution we have separate income and welfare policy. For scale we have at present no clear goal aiming at sustainability, nor any institutions for serving the goal. We are trying to kill three birds with two stones.

    I think it's clear by now that Jim is working with only one "stone", and that he believes we should all do the same by eliminating the distributive instruments of income and welfare policies. (I don't think we've argued here over the ecological problem of scale.)

    Furthermore, I would caricature his view (and that of other Libertarians that I've met) as a reflection of the belief (or article of faith) that, whatever distribution we happen to find in society, that's a just one -- so long as it came about (or so the Libertarian believes) via the market instrument alone.

    I find this view to be logically flawed, ahistorical, and morally impoverished...and thank goodness it is a minority one. However, the Internet seems to have given it a loud speaker over the past decade or so.

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  109. Jcm,
    Since we are beyond going in circles this will be my last comment. I did not say taxes are theft (for the tenth time) taxing for social programs or " redistribution of wealth" is theft.
    You and Sheldon accuse me of being ignorant of Socialism. You should accuse yourselves since besides a link to a co-op, and me asking repeatedly for your definition, you can't define it. You just know it's better. There is only two reasons you could fail at this. 1. You just truely can't define whatever it is that you think socialism is. 2. You can define it, but can't defend it so you are not ready to fully remove the mask. Continueing a debate of capitalism bs socialism can't have value to you or I as long as you continue to refuse to define what it is you believe. This is always an issue when in debate with socialists. When you have a plan for something that's a little better than collapse and hope for social magic to replace, perhaps we can debate

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  110. Jim, where did I label myself a "socialist"?

    Perhaps you confuse me with Sheldon, since he and I are aligned in our opposition to Libertarianism (or at least your version of it) and happen to share a particular enthusiasm for worker coops. That said, I hardly feel obliged to define "socialism" for you.

    And, by now, I'm quite aware of your meaning of "theft", and I find it irrational and scandalous.

    Sorry to end the conversation this way, but I think we've already gone about as far as we can go with it.

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  111. Jcm, my apologies. I thought had defined yourself as a socialist earlier.

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  112. I have not read all 114 previous comments, so this might be a restatement, but I want to suggest that what Rand means by selfishness and self-esteem are both more neutral and more logical than your take.
    Disregard for one's self-interests would quickly lead to death. Why not cross the street while traffic zooms by? It is this level of definition that Rand intends, I claim, for the terms involving "self."
    It is the self which lives, and the possible value of living is something we can only grasp in the first-person, that is, selfishly.
    Rand defended her choice of terminology, saying that it is exactly because of the misunderstanding people have of the term, "selfish" that she chose it--to directly confront the fundamental altruism--"other-regarding"--philosophy that dominates our culture.
    I agree that the term seems to make spreading her ideas more of an uphill climb, personally. I don't think I can tell, for myself, how much of that is due to being brought up in this culture, though.

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