Values, Objectively Defined (Ayn Rand)

Values are the motivating power of man’s actions and a necessity of his survival, psychologically as well as physically.

Man’s values control his subconscious emotional mechanism that functions like a computer adding up his desires, his experiences, his fulfillments and frustrations—like a sensitive guardian watching and constantly assessing his relationship to reality. The key question which this computer is programmed to answer, is: What is possible to me?

There is a certain similarity between the issue of sensory perception and the issue of values. . . .

If severe and prolonged enough, the absence of a normal, active flow of sensory stimuli may disintegrate the complex organization and the interdependent functions of man’s consciousness.

Man’s emotional mechanism works as the barometer of the efficacy or impotence of his actions. If severe and prolonged enough, the absence of a normal, active flow of value-experiences may disintegrate and paralyze man’s consciousness—by telling him that no action is possible.

The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure.


Come and Make Me

It is your mind that they want you to surrender—all those who preach the creed of sacrifice, whatever their tags or their motives, whether they demand it for the sake of your soul or of your body, whether they promise you another life in heaven or a full stomach on this earth. Those who start by saying: “It is selfish to pursue your own wishes, you must sacrifice them to the wishes of others”—end up by saying: “It is selfish to uphold your convictions, you must sacrifice them to the convictions of others.”

— Ayn Rand, from Galt’s Speech in ATLAS SHRUGGED

Fascism and Communism are Fighting for the Same Thing: Control

AYN RAND: “Fascism and communism are not two opposites, but two rival gangs fighting over the same territory . . . both are variants of statism, based on the collectivist principle that man is the rightless slave of the state.”

“Modern collectivists . . . see society as a super-organism, as some supernatural entity apart from and superior to the sum of its individual members.”

The philosophy of collectivism upholds the existence of a mystic (and unperceivable) social organism, while denying the reality of perceived individuals—a view which implies that man’s senses are not a valid instrument for perceiving reality. Collectivism maintains that an elite endowed with special mystic insight should rule men—which implies the existence of an elite source of knowledge, a fund of revelations inaccessible to logic and transcending the mind. Collectivism denies that men should deal with one another by voluntary means, settling their disputes by a process of rational persuasion; it declares that men should live under the reign of physical force (as wielded by the dictator of the omnipotent state)—a position which jettisons reason as the guide and arbiter of human relationships. From every aspect, the theory of collectivism points to the same conclusion: collectivism and the advocacy of reason are philosophically antithetical; it is one or the other.”

Laissez-faire Capitalism: Still the Unknown Ideal

Ayn Rand collected and published a number of her economic essays under the title, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.   She was not the first to identify the anomaly.  At the height of the Great Depression, Samuel Pettengill wrote:  “When it is said that free enterprise has failed, my answer is that we have not permitted it to work.”

Unfortunately, the debate over capitalism has largely overlooked the vital point Pettengill and Rand raised.  Thousands of words are written daily on the subject, but we have to wonder how many writers know what they are talking about?  Myths and misconceptions have plagued historical research and continue to hinder conceptual clarity on the question.

The capitalism we debate doesn’t exist.  There is Laissez-faire capitalism that respects productive labor, private property, and voluntary exchange.  Then there is crony capitalism.  By this arrangement corporate welfare benefits, privileges and immunities are awarded to well-connected lobbyists and special interest groups, invariably at public expense (if only for taxpayers).  Cronyism comes in a variety of flavors.  We speak of pork, bacon, earmarks, member items, constituent services, protective tariffs, farm, and business subsidies, bank bailouts, pay-to-play and too-big-to-fail.  And then there are the profits private, “non-profit” agencies reap by providing the services to which social welfare recipients are lawfully “entitled.”

These two economic models should not be lumped into a single unit of analysis and called “capitalism.”  Laissez-faire rejects the visible, invariably corrupt hand that crony politics plays.  Unlike genuine capitalists, counterfeit capitalists seek to mitigate normal market risks by getting the government to provide a safe bet or sure thing.  Hence is public power routinely put to private, pecuniary use (and thankful beneficiaries are happy to pay their benefactors a hefty price for the privilege).

Talk about myths and misconceptions, take the conventional reading of America’s past.  It is widely reported that the 19th-century American economy was essentially unregulated.  This economic “anarchy,” it is said, precipitated a long series of boom-and-bust business cycles.  So populists and Progressives naturally and “compassionately” demanded remedial measures to combat the hardships capitalist “progress” repeatedly produced.

Is any of this true?  First, the 19th-century economy was politically regulated every step of the way.  Perhaps government didn’t impose restraints on business enterprise (e.g., minimum wage or environmental mandates)  But at no point could the market freely go about its business.  Free enterprise must be free not just of acts that impede economic growth.  They must be free of public policies that positively promote economic growth, as well.

It turns out that the country’s long succession of financial panics and enduring depressions were precipitated not by free-market activities, but by crony capitalist policies?

Failed corporate welfare schemes, alone, created the “need,” and demand for social welfare reform from the Progressive Era to the New Deal and beyond?

Corporate welfare provisions helped some, harmed others, and severely distorted the pace and direction of business growth, especially with respect to patterns of capital investment.  Once the government’s best-laid plans bumped into flesh-and-blood, economic players, all bets for a happy ending were off.  Land and stock speculators saw their opening and took it.  They blew up the bubbles of prosperity that, for a while, happily expanded, then tragically exploded, leaving behind years of hardship.  In the history of the republic, this pattern forms an unbroken chain of events (down to 2008).  What is worse, the bold political efforts to revive a moribund economy only prolonged the pain.  Consider FDR’s New Deal.  Never before had an administration done so much to restore prosperity and never before had poverty spread so far and persisted so long.

The origins of the corporate welfare state can be traced to the second bill signed into law by our first president, the Tariff Act of 1789.  Indeed, a long succession of tariff acts benefited domestic manufactures but,  by crippling transatlantic trade, materially harmed farmers, planters, shipbuilders, seaport merchants, and thousands employed in the maritime and carting trades.  Every family paid more for the manufactured goods it purchased.  And since ever-higher tariff duties cut into Britain’s sale of textiles in America, her industries didn’t need as much southern cotton.  At a time when cotton was the country’s leading export, rising tariff duties devastated (1) those who labored in the soil and (2) the banks that issued their mortgages and loans.  In combination with Alexander Hamilton’s other “implied powers” and pragmatic financial plans, the young republic ran right into the Panic of 1792.

How did we get from that day to this?  Once the nation decided that some of its citizens had a right not to go out and get, but to lobby Congress and be given, it faced two daunting questions:  who else should be given and exactly how much should everyone get?  There was only one answer:  politics.  Out of the darkness of despair, men like John Dewey came along and promised a  bold, experimental path to reconstruction and growth.  The pragmatic politics of Progressivism would light the way.  We are just beginning to see where Progressivism is leading us.  What was the title?  The Road to Serfdom?

The conclusion is clear.  The boom-and-bust business cycle is a purely political, not an economic, phenomenon.  It occupies no space in a free, unfettered market governed only by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.  To this point, markets have not been free, but regulated for the benefit of a cacophony of special interests.  Drain the swamp, then watch what wonders a laissez-faire economy can generate.  Unbounded opportunity to pursue success in a multiplicity of human occupations and endeavors, outpourings of life-saving, labor-saving gadgets and inventions to bring affordable comforts and conveniences to the masses and lessen the burdens of daily life, this is what a laissez-faire future shorn of liberal, welfare socialism has to offer.  It’s an ideal worth working for and attaining.

Jerome Huyler

Can a Liar Really be Victorious ?

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.” — AYN RAND

Ayn Rand on Poverty

If concern for human poverty and suffering were one’s primary motive, one would seek to discover their cause. One would not fail to ask: Why did some nations develop, while others did not? Why have some nations achieved material abundance, while others have remained stagnant in subhuman misery? History and, specifically, the unprecedented prosperity-explosion of the nineteenth century, would give an immediate answer: capitalism is the only system that enables men to produce abundance—and the key to capitalism is individual freedom.

Poverty is not a mortgage on the labor of others—misfortune is not a mortgage on achievement—failure is not a mortgage on success—suffering is not a claim check, and its relief is not the goal of existence—man is not a sacrificial animal on anyone’s altar nor for anyone’s cause—life is not one huge hospital.

The Wisdom of Ayn Rand

An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate . . . .

One of today’s fashionable anti-concepts is “polarization.” Its meaning is not very clear, except that it is something bad—undesirable, socially destructive, evil—something that would split the country into irreconcilable camps and conflicts. It is used mainly in political issues and serves as a kind of “argument from intimidation”: it replaces a discussion of the merits (the truth or falsehood) of a given idea by the menacing accusation that such an idea would “polarize” the country—which is supposed to make one’s opponents retreat, protesting that they didn’t mean it. Mean—what? . . .

It is doubtful—even in the midst of today’s intellectual decadence—that one could get away with declaring explicitly: “Let us abolish all debate on fundamental principles!” (though some men have tried it). If, however, one declares; “Don’t let us polarize,” and suggests a vague image of warring camps ready to fight (with no mention of the fight’s object), one has a chance to silence the mentally weary. The use of “polarization” as a pejorative term means: the suppression of fundamental principles. Such is the pattern of the function of anti-concepts.

Observe the technique involved . . . . It consists of creating an artificial, unnecessary, and (rationally) unusable term, designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concepts—a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a “package-deal” of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context, a “package-deal” whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential. This last is the essence of the trick.

Let me remind you that the purpose of a definition is to distinguish the things subsumed under a single concept from all other things in existence; and, therefore, their defining characteristic must always be that essential characteristic which distinguishes them from everything else.

So long as men use language, that is the way they will use it. There is no other way to communicate. And if a man accepts a term with a definition by non-essentials, his mind will substitute for it the essential characteristic of the objects he is trying to designate . . . . Thus the real meaning of the term will automatically replace the alleged meaning.