30 April 2009

Objectivist Round Up #94

Welcome to the April 30, 2009 edition of the Objectivist Round Up! This blog carnival features posts by blog authors who are advocates of Objectivism.

Objectivism is the philosophy of the 20th-century novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. It is a comprehensive system of thought that identifies the basic axioms of the universe, and formulates and defends a reality-based theory of concepts, free will, morality, political liberty, history, aesthetics... and virtually every other aspect of living a human life.

Miss Rand was once asked if she could express the essence of her philosophy while standing on one foot. She responded by saying: Metaphysics - Objective Reality; Epistemology - Reason; Ethics - Self-Interest; Politics - Capitalism.

If you wish to discover more about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, you can do no better than reading her two great novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. The Ayn Rand Institute and the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights provide very relevant information and commentary, and a great introduction to Ayn Rand’s works can be found here.

With no further ado, I present this week’s Objectivist Round Up posts:

John Drake presents “A Changing Tide?” at Try Reason!, saying, “Obama's policies and apparent philosophy are prime targets for Objectivists. His presidency may help spread Objectivism throughout the culture by becoming its antithesis.”

Guy Barnett presents “Obama, No Take-Backs” at The Undercurrent, saying, “When the rules of the game keep changing, how can businesses and individuals make long-terms plans?”

Roberto Sarrionandia
presents “Poisoning Money” at Tito’s Blog, saying, “How socialism poisons money.”

presents “Ruminations on Meta-Ethics” at Erosophia, saying, “Ruminations on the difference between teleology and Ethics and the nature of ultimate ends.”

Mike L.
presents “On the Epistemological Problem of Anarchy” at Coroner’s Bureau, saying, “With the onslaught of oppressive government in the form of inflationary monetary policy and deficit spending, many have been tempted to reject government in its entirely, wishing to replace it with anarchism. Here I defend the existence of limited government as an epistemological necessity.”

Jared Rhoads
presents “The Lucidicus Project - Editorials on Individual Rights in Medicine” at The Lucidicus Project, saying, “Obama needs more doctors in order to carry out his plan to expand healthcare, but tinkering with reimbursement rates won't attract more people into this increasingly regimented field.”

Diana Hsieh
presents "Just Say no Fast Tracking" at NoodleFood, saying, "The Democrats in Washington want to fast-track socialized medicine. Take a few minutes to write quick letter to your representatives expressing your opposition!"

Linn and Ari Armstrong
present "After Tea, Try Liberty" at FreeColorado.com, saying, "After the tea parties, we need to return to the ideas of liberty."

C. August
presents "Pragmatism, Social Justice, and the Failure of Conservatism" at Titanic Deck Chairs, saying, "A conservative columnist identifies, perhaps unwittingly, a crucial point about the nature of Obama's pragmatism, and damns his political philosophy in the process."

presents "20th Century Motor Company, Anyone?" at The Money Speech, saying, "Get ready for the Federal Bureau of Automobile Manufactures!"

Paul Hsieh
presents "Alarming Flu Reports From Mexico" at NoodleFood, saying, "As more cases of swine flu appear in the US, how will the US government? What should you look out for on a personal and political level?"

Doug Reich presents “An Injustice of Injustice: Bossnapping vs. Capitalist Logic” at The Rational Capitalist, saying, “The "struggle against free market forces" (as evidenced by violent attacks against businessmen in Europe) is a struggle against the nature of reality - the same struggle implied by the morality of altruism.” Also, “Maybe It’s The Sun Part III,” saying, “Given yet more evidence that climate scientists do not yet understand the sun's role on earth's climate, this post concludes that the most dangerous scientific phenomenon facing man today is the computer model which codifies and extrapolates massive philosophical errors, viz., an invalid process of induction on the part of these climate scientists and the anti-human ideology of environmentalism.”

Miranda Barzey
presents “America Should Leave the UN” at Ramen & Rand, saying, “The American delegation walked out of the UN, forever ending it's membership in the group...well, not really. But it did happen at my mock UN conference.”

Rituparna Basu
presents “Thug Rule in Washington” at The Undercurrent, saying, “Ken Lewis recently revealed controversial threats issued to Bank of America by Paulson and Bernanke. When thugs like these are masked as political leaders, how can financial confidence be restored among the American people?”

Rational Jenn
presents “Tough Choices” at Rational Jenn, saying, “This post describes a conflict I had with my oldest child recently, and how I used Positive Discipline techniques to reinforce my parenting principles and help my son make a tough (for him) decision.”

Gus Van Horn
presents "Apuzzo on Fingerprinting" at Gus Van Horn, saying, "Apuzzo thinks torture is wrong, but fears that it might be effective. Being a pragmatist and a leftist, he damns it with an impossible standard of practicality."


Sorry, GVH! I've now added a last-minute entry by Gus Van Horn that should not be missed.

27 April 2009

King Barack the Mild

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. penned an interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal last week, in which he characterized President Obama as “King Barack the Mild.”

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, name-calling falls in the category of mere ad hominem, and is thus actually counterproductive to an argument.  However, occasionally a clever appellation can make a point more vividly and concisely than could an entire essay.  I am sympathetic to Mr. Jenkins’ comparison; he strikes an apt parallel between Mr. Obama’s administration and the heavy-handed, arbitrary, and often contradictory decrees that one would expect from an omnipotent monarch.  

So, if the royal shoe fits...

image credit to The Wall Street Journal, Ismael Roldan

The straightforward enumeration of “King Barack’s” policies related to Chrysler and General Motors serves to demonstrate the dictatorial nature of the administration.  In particular, Mr. Jenkins shows the illogic of juggling the various contradictory political considerations - as “[k]ingly prerogative... conflicts with kingly prerogative” - none of which takes any real account of market requirements or individual freedom.[Note 1.]

Consider the pressures imposed by the Obama administration upon creditors.  As “King Barack the Mild... tries to dictate terms of what amounts to an out-of-court bankruptcy for Chrysler and GM,” Jenkins writes:

He wants Chrysler’s secured lenders to give up their right to nearly full recovery in a bankruptcy in return for 15 cents on the dollar.  They’d be crazy to do so, of course, except that these banks also happen to be beholden to the administration for TARP money.[Note 2.]

This is exactly the kind of government force that I’ve warned about in previous posts.  The government seizes the earnings of private citizens, distributes it to corporations, then uses that “gift” as a lever to exact obedience, compelling the companies to make concessions or decisions that they would not have otherwise made.  

As for GM’s creditors, the Treasury Department’s advisor Steven Rattner “has delivered word that the king’s pleasure is that these unsecured creditors give up 100% of their claims in return for GM stock.”  The article points out the absurdity of this charade.  Why would GM’s creditors accept as payment, instead of the dollars that they are owed, the stock of a company that “the king’s own policies mean they’d be loony to buy?”  Why indeed, except that implicit or explicit compulsion is behind it.

Naturally, political agendas trump the logic of running a company.  Jenkins notes that it is “the king’s pleasure” that GM discontinue its GMC-brand SUV’s and pickups despite the fact that they earn the company’s highest profit margins - a suicidal position that can be comprehended only in the shadow of the president's environmentalist policy.  And with that same illogic, Mr. Obama has refrained from advising GM to discard the “profitless black hole” that is the Chevy Volt because such programs are the darlings of the environmentalists.

Concludes Jenkins:

There’s a reason royal discretion has long been outmoded as a way to run an economy: Things just work better if a realm’s subjects are left to resolve their own disputes and interests through the impersonal mechanism of the markets and the law.

This point is well taken, though of course there is an even deeper reason than markets simply “working better” under capitalism.  At the heart of the matter is the moral foundation of capitalism.  In her essay “What Is Capitalism?” Ayn Rand wrote: 

The “practical” justification of capitalism does not lie in the collectivist claim that it effects  “the best allocation of national resources...”

The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.”  It is true that capitalism does - if that catch-phrase has any meaning - but this is merely a secondary consequence.  The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.[Note 3.]


1.  To write “market requirements or individual freedom” is a redundancy.  What the market requires is the liberty of individuals.

2.  Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., “GM Is Becoming a Royal Debacle,” The Wall Street Journal, 22 Apr 2009, p.A13.  All other quotes of Mr. Jenkins are from this article as well.

3.  Ayn Rand, “What Is Capitalism?” from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Penguin Books, New York, NY, p. 20.  Article reprinted from The Objectivist Newsletter, November and December, 1965. 

26 April 2009

This Land Is Your Land

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw the caption of a photograph from last Sunday’s Boston Globe: “Pete Seeger and Bruce Sprinsteen perform ‘This Land Is Your Land’ before President Obama’s inauguration.” 

Perhaps the President took the message a little too literally, assuming America was his to dispense with as he sees fit.

20 April 2009

A Modest Proposal

My thanks go to C. August at Titanic Deck Chairs, who called attention to Richard Ralston’s satirical article, “It's Time to Nationalize Grocery Stores ;).”  In the article, Mr. Ralston, who is the Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, laces the chilling details of a government takeover of the food industry with tongue-in-cheek humor.  His purpose is draw a parallel between the industries of food and medicine, and to demonstrate, by the sheer absurdity of the prospect, that the claims of a “right” to health care are no more valid than claims of a “right” to food.

He is correct, of course, and as I read his article, I fully grasped the implications of his scenario.  I worry, though, that in this climate of unchecked government intrusions - in a culture that clamors for a kingly messiah that promises “change” in the form of a morsel of food dropped into outstretched hands - the absurdity will be missed by too many people.  Anyone who values liberty is sure to get the message of Mr. Ralston’s piece, but I fear that many Americans (i.e. citizens of America, though not American in spirit) would applaud the announcement that food “is surely a right, as it is necessary for human survival.  Therefore all groceries available in government commissaries will be free of charge.”  Are we so very far away from this now?

In a previous post, I wrote of my misgivings about the use of reductio ad absurdum with a public that is more likely to listen to the rumblings of their stomachs than to applications of logic:  

It wasn’t so long ago that I used the poor eating habits of Americans as an argument, in the form of reductio ad absurdum, to defend the tobacco industry in conversations with colleagues.  My case would go something like, “People choose to smoke, so they have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences.  To blame the tobacco companies is like blaming fast food restaurants for making people fat, which is ridiculous, right?”  At the time, it seemed completely absurd to think that legislators would come to assail restaurants for using “trans-fats.” 

Alas, in a society that has abandoned reason, a proposition that is plainly absurd one day becomes legislation the next.

When Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal in 1729, he could be certain that his sarcasm would not be lost on his audience, and the population of Ireland would not suddenly begin relieving their hunger pangs by stewing, roasting, baking, or boiling their children “in a fricasie, or a ragoust.”  I have no such confidence in the general public today, for whom the most egregious violations of individual rights is palatable with scarcely any seasoning at all.

18 April 2009

The Threat of Exhalation

Pardon me for living.

From today’s New York Times:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.[Note 1, emphasis mine.]

So, according to the EPA, the simple act of my breathing is a threat to the public.

Now, lest I be accused of hyperbole here, I readily acknowledge that the EPA statement really pertains only to exhalation, not to the entire process of breathing.  Thus, when I inhale, I am not endangering public health and welfare according to the Obama administration.  (There may come a day when I must be concerned about inhaling more than my “fair share” of the vital gas we call air, but that is not yet on the regulatory agenda as far as I know.)  This wonderful freedom to inhale gives me great comfort, not only because I can do so without harming my neighbors, but for the very practical and selfish reason that my body makes great use of oxygen molecules.  

But alas, I have found that every time I inhale, within a few seconds I fall to the inevitable temptation to pollute the earth with that vile human discharge: carbon dioxide.  This is a happy circumstance for plants, of course, which would consider (if they had the capability to consider anything at all) carbon dioxide to be rather more like food than a pollutant.  However, the various governments of the world - the ones constituting the “fierce international criticism” before which the president and The New York Times quake - think otherwise.

It is not only the executive branch of our federal government that is now committed to regulating this ubiquitous "pollutant," carbon dioxide.  Both President Obama and EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson would “much prefer that Congress address global warming rather than have the E.P.A. tackle it through administrative action.”[Note 2.]  Congressional action would have the merit of formalizing the legality of controlling our carbon dioxide production, which the president might reasonably guess to be more palatable to certain elements of the public than his steady stream of executive decrees.  In any case, neither branch is likely to meet much resistance from the Supreme Court, which in 2007 ruled that the Clean Air Act gave the EPA authority to regulate “greenhouse gases.”  


1.  “E.P.A. Clears Way for Greenhouse Gas Rules,” The New York Times, 17 Apr 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/18/science/earth/18endanger.html?_r=1&hpw.

2.  This quote comes from an earlier version of the article in Note 1, which is no longer online.

16 April 2009


With a tip of the hat to the Larcom String Quartet, who performed the Allegro movement at a recent concert I attended, I give you one of my favorite pieces of the Italian Baroque – Vivaldi’s Concerto #4 in F minor, op. 8, RV 297, “L’Inverno” (Winter).  The YouTube video below features a good performance by I Musici and an interesting video.

I intended to post this a few weeks ago when winter officially gave way to spring, but alas, my long trip got in the way.  (Winter often hangs on into April in New England anyway, so I'm really not so very late!)

What I did not know about these popular “Four Seasons” concertos is that they were accompanied by sonnets that were possibly written by Vivaldi himself.  At the concert, violinist Jessica Corwin recited L’Inverno before the quartet played the piece:


Allegro non molto
To tremble from cold in the icy snow,
In the harsh breath of a horrid wind;
To run, stamping one's feet every moment,
Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold

Before the fire to pass peaceful,
Contented days while the rain outside pours down.

We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds course through the home despite the locked and bolted doors...
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.[Note 1.]




1.  The sonnets are available at Wikisource, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Four_Seasons_Sonnets.  If you’re wondering why these sonnets don’t have fourteen lines, remember that they have been translated from the original Italian verse!

15 April 2009

“Earth Hour” in Malaysia

I just returned from a ridiculously long business trip, something I intend never to repeat.  I rarely spend even two days away from home for work purposes, never mind two weeks – and I like it that way.


Anyway, I was in a Singapore hotel on the evening of the “Earth Hour” anti-festivities.  A note in the hotel room reminded guests to turn off the lights from 8:30 to 9:30 PM as a means of protesting industrial civilization.  I used the occasion to turn on all the lights and celebrate, in my own quiet way, the human achievements that freedom has made possible.


A few days later, while I was in Malaysia, I was astonished to see a similar protest described in the opinion pages of a local newspaper.  The title of the piece was “Earth Hour is a total farce,” and it was written by a Malaysian native, Mohd Peter Davis:


As the lights went out for Earth Hour on March 28, organized by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to protest against man-made global warming, our scientist family did exactly the opposite.


We switched on every single light in our energy-efficient bungalow in Bandar Baru Bangi.  We held this mini festival of lights to say that mankind’s increasing use of electricity has nothing to do with global warming…


[Said his wife of the Earth Hour campaign,] “This is immoral and an insult to everything we have achieved.  I studied under oil lamps until I was 16.  Electricity got us out of poverty and built Malaysia.  It transformed society.  If anyone messes up our electricity supply, it’s back to oil lamps and padi farming…  Earth needs more and more electricity.  That is how we measure our improving standard of living.”[Note 1, emphasis mine.]



Mr. Davis made several other good points in his article, including the fact that carbon dioxide is not an environmental poison and that the “global warming” that results from natural fluctuations of environmental conditions has tremendous benefits to mankind.  Unfortunately, he subverted his article somewhat with his last paragraph, which seems bizarrely out of place, by pining longingly for big government programs of the past (“Atoms for Peace, the Green Revolution and the Man on the Moon mission”), and applauding the use of Malaysia’s “economic stimulus package” to fund scientific research.  Despite this defect, I was thrilled to see such a sentiment expressed in a Muslim country halfway around the world, especially as it stressed the immorality of the “Earth Hour” protests. 




1.  “Earth Hour is a total farce,” New Straits Times, 3 Apr 2009, p. 19.