Taxes

Debunking Ayn Rand via "Luck" and Tax Burden Distribution

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Jonathan Chait, in a somewhat interesting New Republic review of two forthcoming biographies of Ayn Rand, gets too concrete-bound in his attempts to debunk or call into serious question Randian moral judgments about government stealing from the productive. 

Chait spends a significant portion of his review talking not about Rand or her ideas or these two very interesting new books about her (Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller), but rather harping on the fact that luck, not pure talent and work, often feeds into worldly success. He also stresses statistics about total tax burden distribution to note that the highest one percent of America's income distribution pays nearly as high a percentage of their income in taxes to all levels of government as do the bottom 99 percent.

All that has little to do with what Rand had to say and why she said it. She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people their just property at the point of a gun. "Gentlemen, leave your guns outside!" was one of her summations of her political philosophy, and it stands or falls beyond any specifics about the role of luck in worldly success, or minutia about tax burden distribution.

Acting as if the latter is any blow to Rand's thought requires Chait to believe his own caricature of Rand as a defender of the rich qua rich as opposed to the real Rand, who believed that everyone deserved everything they honestly earned through uncoerced trade. And that includes the bottom 99 percent of the population's income distribution.

Chait might be aware that he isn't really jousting with Rand per se with all this material--he's explicitly arguing with the likes of Stuart Varney, Greg Mankiw, unnamed stereotypical arrogant "rich people," and Irving Kristol. But by spending so much of an essay ostensibly about Rand on these points, he's misleading his readers about what Rand thought and why.

In addition, Chait's anecdotal points in his review's lead showing certain GOP-leaning public figures are seeming to rely on quasi-Randian rhetoric don't support the belief that the American right is going through a significant Randian moment. Rand is far, far too radical a small-government libertarian for most of them to tolerate, much less emulate. 

I'll close with this Chait quote, from after he notes that both Ayn Rand and Grover Norquist have childhood memories of their parents taking from them things they thought of as theirs: "The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study." It certainly does, and will probably continue to await it for a very long time: because it's utterly irrelevant on any conceivable level when it comes to understanding or judging libertarian thought.

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  1. I haven't RTFA, but if the role of luck is cause to question the legitimacy of capitalism, then what's the counter-proposition - if there were *no* luck at all, Chait would be OK with market outcomes, even for the losers?

  2. All that has little to do with what Rand had to say and why she said it. She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people their just property at the point of a gun.

    No doubt. Rand's main beef with fellow libertarians was that they formulated their beliefs via non-epistemological means such as economics or utilitarianism. She would find someone defending laissez faire on the grounds that it produced the greatest good for the greatest number to be hopelessly amoral.

    Critiquing her on those very grounds is therefore hopelessly inept.

  3. "The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study."

    My mom never bought me a Nintendo when I was a kid. Chait must be right!

  4. "It certainly does, and will probably continue to await it for a very long time: because it's utterly irrelevant on any conceivable level when it comes to understanding or judging libertarian thought."

    Probably what Chait is thinking is that, if we can explain "extreme" libertarian views on the basis of childhood trauma then we don't have to listen to any of their logical arguments, since those aren't the reason they believe these views in the first place. It's just a way to delegitimize an argument that doesn't involve answering it.

    BTW, everyone should watch for Shoshana Milgram's biography of Rand, which should be appearing soon.

  5. Rand is far, far too radical a small-government libertarian for most of them to tolerate, much less emulate.

    I don't know about that...I have met many a conservative who came to the right via Rand to think what you wrote as true.

    Yeah i want her all to my libertarian self as well...but to think that i can have her alone just isn't true.

  6. Why the hell does Jonathan Chait think he's qualified to talk about anything?

    His biases are transparent. He endorsed Joe Lieberman, for Galt's sake.

    In case you think this is just a fancy attack on Chait the man, I can say that he has an extremely superficial read of Ayn Rand (as do, unfortunately, most people) and I am almost sure that he, like Whittaker Chambers before him, is probably criticizing her without ever having really read her. I read the entire piece, and it is really just a lazy cobbling together of the stereotypical attacks on Ayn Rand ("She had an affair!" "The 'Collective' acted like cultists!" "HUAC argle bargle").

    I mean, *yawn*, Jonathan, I could have read all that on any "proto"-Objectivist website or in any Ayn Rand comment thread here on reason. Chait, of course, treats these stale "critiques" like new found gold or something. When you mention that self-selected "survey" from the Library of Congress from 1991 about influential novels as if it means anything for 2009 in the first page of your piece, any decent reader knows he's going to hear the same old recycled shit we have all been hearing about Rand for years.

    D-, Chait. See me after class.

    I don't know about that...I have met many a conservative who came to the right via Rand to think what you wrote as true.

    Because they do not understand her. I specifically remember getting a reading list from the 2004 CPAC saying "Read Atlas Shrugged - but ignore Rand's atheism". FAIL, conservatives.

  7. Rand is far, far too radical a small-government libertarian for most of them
    [GOP-leaning public figures] to tolerate

    Most of the commenters here as well.

  8. Not that it was remotely conceivable that New Republic would publish anything related to Rand that wasn't a hit-piece, anyway. But it's nice to see that some constants remain in the media-verse even in these turbulent times.

    it's utterly irrelevant on any conceivable level when it comes to understanding or judging libertarian thought

    Not if you start with the presumption that those who do not agree with you on all matters political are clinically deranged. See comment above re New Republic.

  9. I bet Chait never had to experience the ordeal of a boy whose cigarettes were taken away by his mother at age 13.

  10. When it comes to illegal search and seizure, things have gotten a whole lot worse since Ayn Rand wrote her books and treatises.

    Everytime you turn around, someone's door is being broken down and a gun pointed at them, or someone's dog is killed.

    She wasn't thinking about such explicit examples, more just how the IRS treats people, but still it is sometimes scary how prescient she was. The State points guns at its citizens far too frequently, and so often with little moral compunction.

    There is a lot of talk about the police "overreacting", but few speak out as explicitly as Ayn Rand.

  11. Because they do not understand her. I specifically remember getting a reading list from the 2004 CPAC saying "Read Atlas Shrugged - but ignore Rand's atheism". FAIL, conservatives.

    You don't need to be an atheism to be a libertarian and if you read Rand and ignored her atheism but implemented everything else it would be still be a pretty radical change.

  12. I love how Chait believes that luck is so important, because we all know that chance is not just. I should win EVERY time I play and if luck comes into it I won't. Not to mention I can't be accused of jealousy because you earned something that I didn't - you just lucked into it.

    Are all liberals stuck at the mindset of an over-indulged 5 year old?

  13. It's the kind of shortsighted stupidity that says, "markets are no good because some people are lucky" that completely misses the point of capitalism. Free markets are not a system for individual success; they do not promise wealth and prosperity to everyone. In fact markets make no promises, any more than the wind or plate tectonics make promises. The only claim free marketers make is that the market is a natural force, an ecosystem, that one may interfere with at ones own peril or go along with to one's own maximum benefit. That maximum may be a penny or a billion dollars, the market does not make promises.

    The alternative, central planning, is a joke - there is no center and there is no planning involved. It's a handful of idiots pretending they have the intellectual and perceptive capacity to substitute themselves for a million eyes, a million ears, and a million minds and produce a better outcome in the face of overwhelming odds. It's flat out on its face stupidity that tries to reduce an incredibly complex system to a brutish, childish diagram of interactions; it's a mysticism akin to prayer and rain dancing, and it's utterly and completely ridiculous to contemplate. Even without the boundless historical and modern evidence of its pure and utter fallacy, a person with a rational mind should be able to recognize the conceit of it.

    Rand of course doesn't care whether it works, she cares whether it is moral, the efficacy of it being only a minor concern. She's right on both counts.

  14. If Rand is so wrong, and her ideas are so odious, why is it invariably necessary to twist those ideas into a nigh-unrecognizable caricature before attacking them?

  15. Admittedly to a liberal the notion of ignoring the luck vs. ingenuity equation is ridiculous. Fine, Rand had a moral philosophy that puts squatter's rights above all other considerations. There are other, more convincing and complex, moral philosophies out there. They came long before Rand and continue to develop long after.

    How everyone deserved everything they honestly earned through fair and uncoerced trade

    So Rand would agree that the mere fact of someone's birth, and 1,000 other random circumstances that can affect one's access to wealth, are not included in the fairly, justly acquired wealth you refer to? The only moral claim to wealth you happened upon rather than produced is a very weak and I dare say barbaric one.

  16. Tony, how is it any of your business how someone else became wealthy? Unless it was via force or fraud, you really have no business trying to get the state to find out.

    There are other, more convincing and complex, moral philosophies out there.

    Oh really? Like what? I doubt you have the mental wherewithal to understand any of them, anyway.

  17. The only moral claim to wealth you happened upon rather than produced is a very weak and I dare say barbaric one.

    You realize, of course, that the only alternative to letting people give what they own to whoever they want, including their children, is to take what they own from them. Which is the barbaric claim again?

  18. Are all liberals stuck at the mindset of an over-indulged 5 year old?

    Perhaps there is a study waiting to be done on the psychological motivations of left-liberals who, as children, had everything they ever wanted provided to them by benevolent parental figures.

  19. TAO
    Didn't you say you were a philosophy major? It's hard for me to believe that and also believe that you discussed a lot of Rand in your college classrooms. Go to Amazon right now and look at the best selling philosophy textbooks for college courses and you'll see Rand gets nary a mention. So what's more likely, that she is ignored because of the SocialistLiberalConspiracy or that most people who spend decades of their lives studying and working in philosophy found her to be a lightweight at best?

  20. So what's more likely, that she is ignored because of the SocialistLiberalConspiracy or that most people who spend decades of their lives studying and working in philosophy found her to be a lightweight at best?

    The people you're talking about take Rawls and his "original position" nonsense seriously. I'll go with column a.), especially when you're talking about university professors.

  21. The only moral claim to wealth you happened upon rather than produced is a very weak and I dare say barbaric one.

    Perhaps that's true. Problem is, anyone else's moral claim on that wealth is even weaker. If "my father left me this money" is a weak reason to support ownership, "I want the money someone else's father left for them" is even worse.

  22. MNG -

    t's hard for me to believe that and also believe that you discussed a lot of Rand in your college classrooms. Go to Amazon right now and look at the best selling philosophy textbooks for college courses and you'll see Rand gets nary a mention.

    That's just a start.

    Argumentum Ad Populum.

    Next!

    Four people for you, MNG:

    Dr. Tara Smith - Anthem Foundation Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Dr. Amy Peikoff - Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the United States Air Force Academy

    Dr. Tibor Machan - Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at the University of Auburn and former editor of reason.

    Dr. Onkar Ghate - PhD in philosophy from the University of Calgary.

  23. I should also note that Dr. Michael Shermer, despite his takedown of the "cultism" around Rand, considers himself an Objectivist.

    Dr. John Hospers was probably once an Objectivist and likely considers that philosophy a continued significant influence on him.

  24. TAO
    That's a pathetic response. First, you still understand the nature of the logical fallacies you had taught to you in Phil 101. Yes, the mere fact that something is popular cannot be a firm basis that it is correct. But when something is popular among people who study that area a lot it is a good reason to think so. Likewise, when something is massively rejected by same, it is good reason to suspect it.

    Then you name me four philosophy professors in the US. Four. Think about how pathetic that is as an "answer" to my charge that academic philosophy deign Rand to warrant much time in their classrooms, texts and work. There are literally thousands of these profs.

  25. Hospers is the first well respected name you've come up with, though not one of the major hitters in the past couple of decades.

    You really don't know much about the field, do you?

  26. "All that has little to do with what Rand had to say and why she said it. She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people their just property at the point of a gun."

    I think its Doherty missing the point. OK, so Rand thought it wrong to take from people their property at the point of a gun.

    First, the "their property" is question begging (to say something is the property of another is to say it is appropriately "theirs", the very thing being debated).

    Second, one can ask Rand this simple question. Why? Why is it wrong to do that? Taking things by force is wrong in some deonotlogical sense (can't be that or we could never restore stolen property to "rightful owners")? Is it because they "deserve" what is theirs (that people deserve that which is in their legally recognized possession, physical possession, etc)? If the latter, then the point about luck might be relevant, undermining that the person "deserves" what he happens to have legally or physically at some point in time.

  27. Problem is, anyone else's moral claim on that wealth is even weaker.

    Not if you believe in the concept of a society, which can have a claim on its own.

    Chait's article mentions the concept of social Darwinism as a precedent to Rand. Ironically, current Darwinian understanding applied to economics would not preclude extremely progressive policies. You don't have to do away with the core of self interest (or even the prime moral place its given in Rand) to believe in redistribution. Just as evolution sometimes generates mutual benefits through cooperation, humans engaged in constant contact with one another are capable of inventing distributive schemes that benefit each to a greater degree than what they could achieve on their own. Apart from merely believing in eternal moral truths that happen to accord with one's own self-interest, it's often ignored that one's own self-interest may not be hoarding his wealth.

  28. Oh well, MNG, it really is not my fault if you want to ignore the number of philosophy doctorates out there who consider Ayn Rand a major influence.

    you assume, of course, that the philosophy field considered and rejected (what, at the Secret Meeting) Ayn Rand. The more generous interpretation (and the one more likely, because it's attributable to ignorance rather than malice) is that they are unaware of her philosophical work and/or never really evaluated it on its own merits.

    Like I said, too bad for you that you have a bizarre notion of what is and is not good scholarship, based solely on popularity.

    And Michael Shermer isn't a big name to you?

  29. First, the "their property" is question begging (to say something is the property of another is to say it is appropriately "theirs", the very thing being debated)

    Holy god, you are not very smart.

    To use the term "property", you have to say that it is someone's property. That's the definition of "property".

  30. heh, that should be "misunderstand" the nature of logical fallacies.

    They are not magic encantations you know, a la Harry Potter:

    MNG: "Hey TAO, if Rand is so good at philosophy how come the vast majority of people that study it dismiss her so readily?"

    TAO [shutting his eyes, thinking of Hermione and grasping his wand]: "Argumentum Ad Populum!"

    I also not dwell on the hilarity of someone yelling Argumentum Ad Populum and then proceeding to list the professors that agree with him...

  31. Second, one can ask Rand this simple question. Why? Why is it wrong to do that? Taking things by force is wrong in some deonotlogical sense (can't be that or we could never restore stolen property to "rightful owners")?

    Sigh. You know, it's better to be thought completely ignorant of the philosophy you're criticizing than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    It's hard for me to believe that and also believe that you discussed a lot of Rand in your college classrooms. Go to Amazon right now and look at the best selling philosophy textbooks for college courses and you'll see Rand gets nary a mention.

    This is basically the exact same thing as someone in 1880 arguing that Marx was not a serious philosopher because no one was studying him in American universities.

  32. "it really is not my fault if you want to ignore the number of philosophy doctorates out there who consider Ayn Rand a major influence"

    That number is an incredibly small % of the field. And you know it. It's why you on the one hand list names (six, and one "likely" to have been influenced!) but on the other hand offer up excuses ("they probably just never came across her work")

  33. MNG - I am not making the argument that Objectivism isn't to be taken seriously based on its popularity. you are.

  34. Graphite

    Please don't be retarded (you know the Obama plan will help with that). Marx was not widely discussed in American universities because you would lose your job and maybe be prosecuted for sedition if you did.

  35. That number is an incredibly small % of the field.

    So?

    but on the other hand offer up excuses ("they probably just never came across her work")

    They probably didn't, or at least, just believed what folks like you told them about it. My explanation is far more likely than yours, especially since mine doesn't involve mind-reading.

  36. "To use the term "property", you have to say that it is someone's property."

    Er, that's kind of what I was getting at...

    "My explanation is far more likely than yours, especially since mine doesn't involve mind-reading."

    WTF? Your explanation requires we assume their biographies (that they never came across it). Really, how likely is that? Her books on every shelf in every bookstore in the philosophy section in America.

  37. " it's better to be thought completely ignorant of the philosophy you're criticizing than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

    So what's the answer then smart guy?

  38. As someone who has read the entire Rand oevre and who majored in philosophy I can say with some authority that she's ignored in philosophy departments for the same reason L. Ron Hubbard is.

  39. MNG - maybe something like this would help explain things?

  40. "She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people their just property at the point of a gun"

    She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people things that belonged to them at the point of a gun.

    "Belonged to" just means "is morally correctly theirs." It's question begging.

  41. TAO
    I don't click on links, paste it in if you want me to take a look

  42. It's worse than that. Hubbard is at least not in every philosophy section of every bookstore from here to walla walla. Rand is. It's hilarious to think philosophy profs have just never come across this secret lady...

  43. oh look out - philosophy wunderkind Tony is going to bedazzle us with his insights.

    "Belonged to" just means "is morally correctly theirs." It's question begging.

    if you want to have a discussion about how people should initially acquire property, please, by all means, start it off. If this is going to be another tired old thread about how all things are in flux and we should therefore act on our range-of-the-moment emotions and beat people down for their stuff because Jerry Bentham said so, well, save it.

  44. All one has to do is open up the book for the New Intellectual she came out with to understand one is not to take her seriously in philosophy. She casually dismisses giants in the field in two sentence bits which are mostly filled with calling them witch doctors or such. Crack open some Mackie, G.E. Moore, Anscombe, Scanlon, etc., the really big names of the 20th century, and see the difference. Rand was "pop" philosophy at best.

  45. It's hilarious to think philosophy profs have just never come across this secret lady...

    Fine. Start providing major academics who have rejected Ayn Rand as a legitimate philosopher to be studied. I'll wait.

  46. Please don't be retarded (you know the Obama plan will help with that). Marx was not widely discussed in American universities because you would lose your job and maybe be prosecuted for sedition if you did.

    You mean the institutional forces of American academia at the time were such that it was nearly impossible for Marx's thought to make inroads? You're on the cusp of a major breakthrough in deductive thought here MNG ... keep going, I know you can make the next connection.

    So what's the answer then smart guy?

    Short answer: human reason, the basis of all production--and therefore, of life (the ultimate value in Rand's ethics), survival and flourishing, cannot operate at the point of a gun.

    The long answer is available on any number of "Objectivist Ethics 101" articles on the internet which you're too lazy or sneeringly dismissive to bother looking up.

  47. if "temporary slavery" MNG is the one doing the evaluating, I'll stick to my own judgment, thanks.

  48. Well Rand has a lot of pushers, like Ron Paul sorta. In fact the only time I was made to study Rand in school was in 8th grade when some shady looking characters took a class session to give a special presentation about her, then disappeared, leaving many pubescent boys in rapt curiosity about this strange new theory that put their selfish desires at the front of morality.

  49. TAO
    It's not that at all. It's purely a technical recognition that its question begging. The very thing to be argued (who deserves what articles or better what articles morally correctly belong to what persons) is "begged" by the use of the word property (which just means articles that morally correctly belong to a person) thought you were into these logical fallacies?

    Of course it would be wrong to take articles that rightfully belong to others. Like most question begging it's a tautology at best.

  50. So, Tony, you read the entire "Rand oevre", as you say. What, specifically speaking, do you find objectionable about Objectivism?

    Start at the beginning. If you decide to just leap into ethics or politics, I'll know you're just another liar.

  51. Rand's great "insight" is the tautology "it is morally wrong to take what is rightfully anothers."

    Fucking duh! By definition Nimrod.

  52. MNG -

    You implicitly recognize the existence of "rightful owners" every day. The fact that you hilariously think that Ayn Rand's position on property is either deontological or utilitarian is an awesome demonstration about how outdated your thinking on the subject is.

  53. cannot operate at the point of a gun.

    Someone needs to tell William Kostric this.

  54. Oh, geez, MNG, perhaps you have something else to add? Ayn Rand didn't start with "Taking someone else's property is wrong". That would be, as you say, begging the question. She discussed at length what it means to produce, to own, what it takes and what the stakes are, flowing from metaphysics and epistemology.

    It's obvious and apparent that you haven't bothered to really read her, either. Why consider this conversation when you are demonstrating sheer ignorance on the subject?

  55. Why continue this conversation, that is...

  56. Rand is far, far too radical a small-government libertarian for most of them to tolerate, much less emulate.

    Smile when you call St. Ayn a libertarian, Doherty.

    Peikoff has ninjas, you know. Perfect, objectivist ninjas. [shudder] Boy, I'm not standing close to you. Or to Tony, but that's just because I don't like him.

  57. if "temporary slavery" MNG is the one doing the evaluating, I'll stick to my own judgment, thanks

    Hear! Hear!

  58. Someone needs to tell William Kostric this.

    Ayn Rand was, on the other hand, highly complimentary of the use of retaliatory force as a means of response.

  59. "The fact that you hilariously think that Ayn Rand's position on property is either deontological or utilitarian is an awesome demonstration about how outdated your thinking on the subject is."

    Note TAO I was asking a question. I'm glad you finally realize I was correct that Doherty's statement of her philosophy was a silly tautology. Progres is being made.

    But yes, then the next question (actually the first since that statement is no answer to anything), is,, as I said, why? Why is it wrong to use force to take articles from another?

    And I didn't assert her reasoning was "deontological or utilitarian." I know it's not. It's not sophisticated enough to be either actually.

    And I'm curious as to why you think those two things are outmoded. Utilitarianism fairly dominates most discussions of ethics in peer reviewed philosophy journals and probably has a majority of professional academic ethicists in its camp. Deontology is much less popular, but still oft discussed.

  60. ... I can say with some authority that she's ignored in philosophy departments for the same reason L. Ron Hubbard is.

    I'll bite. Too into self-help? Too funny?

  61. .... I can say with some authority that she's ignored in philosophy departments for the same reason L. Ron Hubbard is.

    I'll bite. Too into self-help? Too funny?

    Both authors' works tend to cause people's heads to explode, though for very different reasons ....

  62. "You implicitly recognize the existence of "rightful owners" every day."

    Haha, OK Mr. Potter, let me try one of these magic encantations you like so much: Appeal to Common Practice!

    Appeal To Widespread Belief (Bandwagon Argument, Peer Pressure, Appeal to Common Practice):
    the claim, as evidence for an idea, that many people believe it, or used to believe it, or do it.

  63. deontology and utilitarianism are outmoded as a system of ethics because one values acontextual acting without regard for the consequences and the other is shiftless and unprincipled, without regards for justice or long-range implications.

    In short, the deontology/utilitarian dichotomy is a false dichotomy. What is just is what should yield good results, and what yields good results is just. I recognize that is a very broad statement, but divorcing results from justice is as much of a fool's errand as is divorcing justice from results.

  64. The long answer is available on any number of "Objectivist Ethics 101" articles on the internet which you're too lazy or sneeringly dismissive to bother looking up.

    It is pretty funny to watch MNG the "academic" wonder aloud "Why is Ayn Rand ignored?" and then make fun of her, all while, at the same time, demonstrating he has not read scrap one of her work.

  65. Has TAO fled the premises?

    Philosophy is an actual field angry one, with people who study this much more than you or I. Reading Ayn Rand and pamphlets from the Objectivist Institute don't cut it, and you're findng that out the hard way. I've told you before, if you don't want to make such a fool of yourself, get to know something about the field. Most of the giants are simply un-ideological in today's terms (Quinne, Mackie, Scanlon, Nagel, Searle, etc).

  66. Oh shit, you meant Michael Shermer the guy who edits Skeptic Magazine?

    Shit, you really don't know jack about this field buddy! This reminds me of when I asked you what liberal thinkers you know and you said "Maurren Dowd!" Bwahahaha!

  67. I read For the New Intellectual. It was hilarious. Do you take that seriously?

    Anthem was funny too.

    I'm a very big fan of We the Living, probably the best book by a woman ever.

  68. So, Tony, you read the entire "Rand oevre", as you say. What, specifically speaking, do you find objectionable about Objectivism?

    Start at the beginning. If you decide to just leap into ethics or politics, I'll know you're just another liar.

    What I like about objectivism is its claim to value reason. Where it goes wrong is the way it generously confers upon itself claims to rational precision on matters that are more or less the arbitrary whims of Ayn Rand.

  69. "In short, the deontology/utilitarian dichotomy is a false dichotomy. What is just is what should yield good results, and what yields good results is just."

    Remarkable insight there TAO, you should publish that resolution to an age old philosophical problem in an academic journal and get rich! They love bare assertions of amazingly complex matters.

    Why don't you just add "and anyone who thinks otherwise is a witch doctor?" Then you would have scaled truly Randian heights of philosophical scholarship!

  70. Like I said, it is rapidly becoming apparent that MNG has never read any Rand.

    Where it goes wrong is the way it generously confers upon itself claims to rational precision on matters that are more or less the arbitrary whims of Ayn Rand.

    OK, Tony, those still are not specifics. Nice try.

  71. "divorcing results from justice is as much of a fool's errand as is divorcing justice from results"

    Philosophy by Hallmark πŸ˜‰

    See, people would love for you to show this (or rather what you think you're showing), but here's the catch, calling someone a witch doctor won't convince them you've solved this problem.

    They are going to do things like put forward hypotheticals to you to test your arguments and principles (and we know how mad that makes you, remember my thirsty man in dessert and stranded on the island hypos you hated ["Lifeboat ethics!]). Because you should be able to generalize your stances to such situations.

    And they will get to one where your "justice" conflicts with the consequences (btw, utilitarianism is just a sub-species of consequentialism and sees itself as not divorcing consequences from justice at all, in fact all consequentialism thinks this, duh). And you will just shout the equivalent of "witch doctor" and run away crying.

    Which is why you are a good Randian, if not philosopher...

  72. I say again, it is apparent that MNG mocks that which he has not read word one of.

  73. Rand didn't write For the New Intellectual?

    Was that Branden ghostwriting for her?

    I'll believe that her monkey wrote Anthem for all its depth of narrative.

  74. TAO

    Is that supposed to be either a substantive rebuttal to my points/defense of Rand?

    TAO [crying and plugging ears]: "You're wrong, you're wrong, you've never read her!"

    Pathetic.

  75. What I like about objectivism is its claim to value reason. Where it goes wrong is the way it generously confers upon itself claims to rational precision on matters that are more or less the arbitrary whims of Ayn Rand.

    Interestingly, I have much the same view. I have read everything she ever bound into a book except the second half of The Romantic Manifesto, where it became all too apparent that Rand was simply excusing her own tastes.

    Yet I am still an admirer of Rand, and I am even more a small-government libertarian than she.

    What the hell happened to you, Tony? That the person has faults does not mean the message is in the whole faulty. Why throw out the entire laissez faire baby with Rand's overreaching bathwater?

  76. Consequentialism is just the broad view that to say an act is morally right (just) is just to say that, in its total consequences, it maximizes the good. Utilitarianism is a sub-theory in that category. They are not the same thing. And you seem not to know that they don't advocate divorcing justice/rightness and maximizing consequences at all. Incredible.

    Deontology is a name given to a broad number of theories that fall outside of consequentialism. Wrong acts are inherently wrong despite the consequences. It's this view that quite explicitly divorces justice and consequences (though some philosophers now think this is not so, deontology just has a very truncated view of consequences).

    Do you have any idea what you are talking about?

  77. "That the person has faults does not mean the message is in the whole faulty."

    This is my view of Rand. When she ventured into the field of philosophy she was at best a gifted amateur, at worst terrible. But this is true of many major authors (does anyone think Hemingway was a great philosophical thinker?).

    She could be an excellent writer and could illustrate philosophical themes via art well (so could Hemingway). She should be taught in literature classes around the world (she's a very strong woman type, you'd think the feminists in academe would eat that shit up with a spoon).

    But if you want philosophical underpinnings for a libertarian ideology for God's sake read Nozick or Hospers or someone who knew what the fuck they were talking about!

  78. The Romantic Manifesto

    Funny, I actually like this one, it's at least as good as Tolstoy's What is Art. Her Victor Hugo fetish was kind of interestingly explained here.

  79. It was imo one of her stronger works b/c she was actually writing about a field which she was obviously an expert in: artistic creation.

  80. Think about how pathetic that is as an "answer" to my charge that academic philosophy deign Rand to warrant much time in their classrooms, texts and work. There are literally thousands of these profs.

    So is this an endorsement for Marxism?

    Number of academics who lust after a particular philosophy really tells us more about the academics then it tells us about the use or correctness of a particular philosophy.

    Perhaps the great divide between left and right is simply a divide between people who are willing to say a professor is full of shit and the people who are not.

  81. Interestingly, I have much the same view. I have read everything she ever bound into a book except the second half of The Romantic Manifesto, where it became all too apparent that Rand was simply excusing her own tastes.

    Unfortunately, Ayn Rand got in her own "way" about things like this. As if epistemology and ethics are not complicated enough, she had to get into art, for whatever reason. Most Objectivist introductions leave "art" out of the branches, probably for good reason. If RM was your first exposure, you'd probably be instantaneously turned off the entire thing.

  82. a moral philosophy that puts squatter's rights above all other considerations.

    Are the left against squatter's rights??

    When i lived in Seattle I always wondered why the left of center City establishment hated the homeless so much.

  83. "Second, one can ask Rand this simple question. Why? Why is it wrong to do that? Taking things by force is wrong in some deonotlogical sense (can't be that or we could never restore stolen property to "rightful owners")?"-MNG

    "The right to life is the source of all rights-and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

    Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values."-Ayn Rand

    Keep that the right to dispose of property means that property tights have to be fully transferable to another person.

    Now that you have an answer to your silly pseudo-ignorant point, can you actually make a case that the Randian view is wrong?

  84. can we talk about dogs getting shot or something. you muthafukas are losing me. here's my philosophy:

    good: stuff i like
    bad: stuff that makes me sad

  85. MNG | September 14, 2009, 9:08pm | #
    "divorcing results from justice is as much of a fool's errand as is divorcing justice from results"

    Philosophy by Hallmark πŸ˜‰

    Yeah we would hate for a philosophy to be written in plain language...that would be a fucking travesty.

    Better to use a word like "Consequentialism" and "Deontology" to confuse anyone trying to read it and to fluff your own ego.

  86. But the main problem, ignoring all of the rhetorical ones, is the unscientific nature of objectivism. It ignores psychology (really it rejects that people have psychologies).

    The books are interesting in their apparent desire to have their cake and eat it: they are self-consciously unrepresentative of real life, presenting characters as absolutes, either all-good or all-bad based on what they believe (which brings in the question begging--what's good is what these characters believe to be good), yet at the same time mind-numbingly didactic. Maybe in the universe she invented the moral system makes sense, but that universe in no way resembles the real one. The philosophy of objective reality fails to acknowledge reality.

  87. Better to use a word like "Consequentialism" and "Deontology" to confuse anyone trying to read it and to fluff your own ego.

    The funny thing is that MNG offered deontology up as a self-evidently absurd (though mistaken) basis for Rand's view of property rights, and then a few posts later was discussing how academic philosophers -- the arbiters of All Philosophy Worthy of Serious Consideration -- still frequently discuss deontology.

  88. But the main problem, ignoring all of the rhetorical ones, is the unscientific nature of objectivism. It ignores psychology (really it rejects that people have psychologies).

    Even as an Objectivist I think one can make a good argument that there are things Rand got wrong about psychology. But to argue she just ignored or denied its existence is patently false.

  89. But the main problem, ignoring all of the rhetorical ones, is the unscientific nature of objectivism. It ignores psychology (really it rejects that people have psychologies).

    Since her right hand man for many years was psychologist Nathaniel Branden, this claim is beyond ridiculous.

    The books are interesting in their apparent desire to have their cake and eat it: they are self-consciously unrepresentative of real life, presenting characters as absolutes, either all-good or all-bad based on what they believe (which brings in the question begging--what's good is what these characters believe to be good), yet at the same time mind-numbingly didactic.

    So you have read nothing close to her entire oevre, unless by "oevre" you mean her fiction.

  90. they are self-consciously unrepresentative of real life, presenting characters as absolutes, either all-good or all-bad based on what they believe (which brings in the question begging--what's good is what these characters believe to be good), yet at the same time mind-numbingly didactic. Maybe in the universe she invented the moral system makes sense, but that universe in no way resembles the real one. The philosophy of objective reality fails to acknowledge reality.

    Again, there is no way that someone claiming to have read all of Rand could come to this conclusion. First of all, you come to the implicit conclusion that Ayn Rand somehow did not recognize that the novels are fiction. Secondly, you fail to acknowledge any of the nonfiction when it comes to "reality" (i.e. The Objectivist Epistemology, The Ayn Rand Letters).

    Ayn Rand was very conscious of the fact that her fiction was just that: fiction.

    Finally, Tony, if you can tell me how Objectivism does not somehow comport to reality, I'd love to hear it.

  91. So you have read nothing close to her entire oevre, unless by "oevre" you mean her fiction.

    He cannot even claim that, because to call the characters in We The Living "mind-numbingly didactic" is patently false.

    Tony, I knew you were lying at the start of this. It didn't take long for you to demonstrate it, however.

  92. Since her right hand man for many years was psychologist Nathaniel Branden, this claim is beyond ridiculous.

    You mean the same Nathaniel Branden who wrote this:

    She used to say to me, "I don't know anything about psychology, Nathaniel." I wish I had taken her more seriously. She was right; she knew next to nothing about psychology. What neither of us understood, however, was how disastrous an omission that is in a philosopher in general and a moralist in particular. The most devastating single omission in her system and the one that causes most of the trouble for her followers is the absence of any real appreciation of human psychology and, more specifically, of developmental psychology, of how human beings evolve and become what they are and of how they can change.

  93. I am not going to go into the age-old "let's all chatter about Nathaniel Branden" thing.

    Tony - I want you to back up your claim that Ayn Rand knew nothing about psychology. You PROVE it.

  94. (Not that most moral philosophies aren't adequately scientific.)

  95. c'mon MNG, answer MJ!! You must have a response to that, you're a super philosophy guy and stuff.

  96. Tony,

    I have read my share of Branden, too, especially post-Rand Branden. He is still quite the libertarian and fully grounded in reason.

    What parts of Objectivism did Branden reject as "unscientific" because of Rand's failure to appreciate the importance of psychology in personal development?

    Seriously, Rand was asking people to change. People have trouble changing. Those who tried to be model Objectivists had trouble too. What does this have do to with her defense of laissez faire political economies?

  97. "Chait spends a significant portion of his review talking not about Rand or her ideas or these two very interesting new books about her (Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller), but rather harping on the fact that luck, not pure talent and work, often feeds into worldly success."

    So what?

    Something gained by luck is every bit as legitimately owned by the individual as something gained by any other means.

    It's called private property rights.

  98. Something gained by luck is every bit as legitimately owned by the individual as something gained by any other means.

    It's called private property rights.

    Says you. What makes it legitimate? You're begging the question. What is private property but what is legitimately owned by someone?

  99. I will say that Branden's 1984 article about Ayn Rand and psychology is very good. What I will not say is that Tony in any way understands it. To Tony, it's a weapon to use against those who threaten his vision of the world, not something to be integrated into a consistent worldview.

  100. Says you. What makes it legitimate? You're begging the question. What is private property but what is legitimately owned by someone?

    Are you reading the fucking thread? That was asked (by you and MNG) and answered (by Rand via MJ above). So it's your turn, Tony.

  101. "Says you. What makes it legitimate?"

    The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution - you might try reading it sometime.

  102. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution - you might try reading it sometime.

    So, before the Constitution, there was no property?

    *gah*! *headdesk*

  103. "divorcing results from justice is as much of a fool's errand as is divorcing justice from results"

    In other words; the ends justifies the means. Real nice.

  104. MJ, what are you talking about? I never said anything like that.

  105. Although I'd say The Fountainhead is one of my favorite books, I've always found Rand's philosophy to be, like Marxism, in denial of human nature. Marxism fails because humans can never revoke their individualism or selfishness unless forced by gunpoint; Randism fails because compassion and altruism are healthy and fundamental elements of human nature as well.

    Parents have to be altruistic for their children - a parent can't decide to fly off to Vegas for a weekend of fun and leave their helpless 10 month-old kid at home by himself. If they truly couldn't care if their kid lived or died, the only mechanism making this into rational self interest is the force of law. This is likewise an argument against anarchocapitalism. Likewise, few children want to let their elderly parents wither away without help into an old age of Alzheimers, dementia and loneliness. There is nothing by law requiring them to care for their parents, but the people who would allow granny to starve to death are called "heartless bastards" because most humans have compassion, even if that compassion and sense of duty is not in their own self-interest or would stand in the way of things that Ayn Rand thinks could be more important for oneself, like careers, money and happiness.

    Furthermore, the fact that Ayn Rand thinks utilitarianism should not be a factor in one's argument for individualism and liberty is actually the "big picture" reason why libertarianism fails to connect with so many people politically. If economics shows that more freedom also creates more equality and improved quality of life, why not trumpet these facts? If libertarians do not actively care about poverty issues, they are ignoring the easiest and most widely accepted argument for the expansion of government.

    The sad part is, libertarians would rather punt on outarguing the left from a utilitarian standpoint and instead resort to sloganistic demands for individual rights that do not address or seem to care about the real problems of poverty, economic centralization and lack of equality of opportunity for all.

    The facts ARE on our side. Free trade is the best way to improve development in third world countries. Deregulation is the best way to spawn small business to compete with the large corporations. Markets are naturally socially openminded because even a racist is still unlikely to discriminate against a minority willing to give him money (and if they do, it's their own loss). Localism/defederalization of government is the best way to enable the disenfranchised to have their say. The military industrial complex is a result of big government, not big corporations. The early civil rights and abolitionist leaders were classical liberals, because they recognized racism to be a form of collectivism and they recognized that government elites abused their power against the poor and minorities. Monopolies have historically been the result of government privileges, not free markets.

    These are all straightforward arguments but require that one utilizes utilitarianism and economics (i.e. classical liberalism) into their defense of liberty, and supports meritocracy as a rational and desired end of libertarianism that also simultaneously reduces the argument for state intervention. Progressive ends are not incompatible with libertarian means, but Ayn Rand would find such an argument amoral.

    Frankly, most people find the idea that society should be based upon survival of the fittest to be amoral, and thus I would think libertarianism would be far more widely accepted if we advocated for liberty as the best means of attaining progressive ends as the classical liberals did, instead of ignoring the necessity for (or benefits of) progressive ends altogether.

  106. Why is it so rare to find someone arguing against a position that Rand actually held without resorting to drawing at random from a list of standard ad hominems? It can't be that she was right about everything. Is it just that her polemic style makes it impossible to read her (and confront her actual arguments) if you already disagree with her?

  107. TAO, See joshua corning's comment at 9:41 pm.

  108. Marc - it is because you have a lot of people who read Rand and say "Oh, so what she meant here was..." while completely ignoring what she said. Chait is not alone in doing this (see also Whittaker Chambers).

  109. MJ - still don't know what you mean. When I say that, for example, a certain ethical system has to not only be evaluated by its results, but by its first principles justifications, I mean just that. It is no coincidence that libertarianism as a political system will yield both the best and most morally just results.

  110. Parents have to be altruistic for their children

    My wife and I chose to bring my daughter into this world, and to invest my time and energy into (I hope) a long and rewarding relationship with her. If I make "sacrifices" for my child, it's because I deeply value this. This isn't altruism by Rand's definition.

    If I take her college funds and give them to some random child--preferably a real bastard, one who sets cats on fire--that's altruism by Rand's definition.

    Maybe you mean something else by altruism, but Rand did not mean "doing good things for other people", that is not the idea she spent so much energy railing against, and whatever the validity of your other points, you ought to know better about this.

    Shit, is it really so hard to get her right? They made a dictionary for her and everything.

    most people find the idea that society should be based upon survival of the fittest to be amoral

    Gah! Who's been arguing this?

  111. Marc - it is because you have a lot of people who read Rand and say "Oh, so what she meant here was..." while completely ignoring what she said. Chait is not alone in doing this (see also Whittaker Chambers).

    I know, a lot of people do that, and I know, Whittaker Chambers is the canonical example. Still, why? Respectfully, I think you begged my question...

  112. Then I misunderstood what you meant.

    I'm watching football and am still a bit shorttempered from watching the idioyic way the Bills gave the game back to the Patsies.

  113. Marc - I would say, as a deeper answer, that you were right: her deliberately polemical style is what triggers people's lizard brains and not their thinking-man brains. In other words, they see this:

    "selfish"

    and say that instantly triggers an emotional response that goes:

    "BZZZT AAAA SELFISHNESS BAD MUST STOP...GAS CHAMBERS??? AAA BZZZZT."

  114. Then I misunderstood what you meant.

    I'm watching football and am still a bit shorttempered from watching the idioyic way the Bills gave the game back to the Patsies.

    After not going to the playoffs last year on a 11-5 season, I can't begrudge the Pats as I much as I use to.

    Urlacher out for the year πŸ™

  115. I have never understood why people think that "survival of the fittest" is not currently in operation in humans. Evolutionary forces are not anything we are supposed to be conscious of...right?

  116. And to any Deus Ex fans, does Brian Urlacher remind you of anybody?

  117. The Angry Optimist | September 14, 2009, 11:25pm | #
    I have never understood why people think that "survival of the fittest" is not currently in operation in humans. Evolutionary forces are not anything we are supposed to be conscious of...right?

    When people apply that phrase to markets though my eyes glaze over.

  118. Oh Jeebus, TAO @ 11:21pm:

    "BZZZT AAAA SELFISHNESS BAD MUST STOP...GAS CHAMBERS??? AAA BZZZZT."

    Too fucking funny.

  119. PS, 11:21pm: Friggin' East Coast time zone. Reason needs to move to someplace outside the maw of the beast...say Denver πŸ™‚

    (I went to college in DC. I know where from I speak.)

  120. It's called private property rights.

    Says you. What makes it legitimate? You're begging the question. What is private property but what is legitimately owned by someone?

    I can legitimately claim something as mine if I

    1. Obtained it with the consent of the previous owner (I bought it or he gave it to me, which is how 99% of property is obtained now).

    2. Built it from materials that I already owned.

    3. Obtained it, and it had no previous owner or the owner gave up any claim (I mined an asteroid or found a quarter on the sidewalk)

    As long as I obtained something legitimately, it is my property, and nobody other than me should get to decide what is done with it.

    Utilitarianism fairly dominates most discussions of ethics in peer reviewed philosophy journals and probably has a majority of professional academic ethicists in its camp.

    This is why whenever someone says the word "ethicist", I run far, far away.

  121. Marc,

    The fact that you love your daughter and have therefore given up freedoms, opportunities and alternative forms of happiness to raise your daughter is completely rational because self-sacrifice, in addition to being potentially rewarding on a spiritual and long-term basis, is part of our human nature. You can't deny that in addition to your selfish goal of a fruitful, lifelong relationship with your daughter, you are also compelled to a large degree out of a sense of duty. My argument was that an irresponsible, selfish parent who lacks a sense of duty and doesn't love their child might not be considered irrational by Rand to abandon them if a state mechanism were not making it in their self interest to care for that child. There's a disconnect in Rand's world where neglect of a dependent (for instance, abandoning a mentally handicapped child who will never be self-reliant) might be in one's self-interest under certain circumstances, even if the rest of us would consider that an immoral action.

    I totally understand Ayn Rand's definition of altruism. (After all, I have read "The Virtue of Selfishness".) If one believes that they could not live without their child and thus jumps in front of a car in an attempt to push their child out of the way, dying in the attempt, Rand would argue this was motivated by selfishness instead of altruism. If the child was a complete stranger, however, sacrificing oneself would be irrational (unless one does it to avoid a life of guilt, which is not in their self interest. Certainly one has time to mull this over in the seconds between the recognition of danger and the actualization of the car hitting the child.) She would see nothing heroic about this sort of self-sacrifice.

    Rand would have us believe that pure selflessness ("altruism" - as if these terms are black and white...) is only caused by either irrationality or by force. Her argument is that most "altruists" are helping others out of self-interest or pride in oneself and thus are not irrational; this of course ignores the fact that for many altruists, these are side benefits and not the central basis for their service of others, as motivating as it might be. I'm not willing to make assumptions, but if Norman Borlaug saved millions of total strangers' lives because he saw that as a good and moral thing to do and believed it would advance society, the selfishness of recognition, fame, money, power, and feeling good about himself is balanced with the selfless motives and ends of his work. Human actions are usually a mishmash of selfishness and selflessness, and to define altruism vs. individualism in such black-and-white terms seems to be ignorant of human nature. I've tried to find shades of gray in Rand's work, and they seem sorely lacking.

    Likewise, altruism by force of government is ironically MORE likely if a political movement following Rand's orders places liberty as the ultimate end - instead of using liberty, in addition to being a desirable end, as a compatible utilitarian means to bring about a more meritocratic society and equality of opportunity.

    If I argued that it was a rational benefit of society to reduce poverty, because poverty is the easiest mechanism for opponents of liberty to use to grow the size and power of the state (even though these people usually ignore economics and end up hurting the poor), Rand (and many libertarians) would say that the argument for individual freedom is based upon the fact that it is an intrinsic individual right, and therefore should not be based upon extraneous utilitarian outcomes of the political actualization of these rights. However, if arguing for the utilitarian outcomes is the best means to bring about the political actualization of liberty, from my perspective it would be irrational NOT to use utilitarianism and economics. Selfishness is simply not a compelling political message, even though everyone practices it.

    One could say I'm approaching it from a political perspective and she's approaching it from a philosophical perspective. However, If political reality and human nature clashes with her philosophy, like Marx's idealism, it is fairly meaningless.

  122. When I was in college, I took an Introduction to Ethics course, and we DID study objectivism, or more precisely, rational self-interest. My professor admitted that no one had ever been able to truly refute it. He did, however, explain what a mess utilitarianism was.

  123. Let me try to phrase this in rational political terms: why, even though I am a libertarian, I support progressive taxation.

    Purists and Randians would argue this is in conflict because a libertarian believes that we are all equally entitled to the fruits of our labor by virtue of individual rights alone. From a Randian perspective, it is "unfair" for the wealthy to pay a bigger percentage than the poor. I agree it would be economically illogical if the tax rate is burdensome enough to actually discourage productivity (in fact, I think taxes should hardly be burdensome at all because government should be very small); however, from a utilitarian standpoint the impact of taxation will affect the quality of life for the wealthy far less than that of the poor simply because the disposable incomes of the rich are vastly higher.

    When you look at the outcomes of a proportional flat tax, the poorest would likely end up dipping into their non-disposable income to pay for their tax burden - instead of using that money to buy food, housing, medical care, etc, they would be giving this money to the government. Thus paying the same percentage of tax as a wealthy person would only push them deeper into poverty, deepening the political argument and support for a protective welfare state to provide for the exacerbated problem of poverty. In fact, the poor would rationally demand more welfare than they do today simply because they would now be paying a more significant proportion of their own money into the state. Of course, routing their money through an expansive bureaucracy is less efficient than simply letting the poor keep their own money. The political ends of a flat tax would likely backfire, leading to both more inequality and less freedom. Therefore, a purist libertarian policy stance on issues is actually likely to result in less freedom in reality - and to worsen the false but widely held perception that libertarians would rather let the poor starve than help them. (See also: the Libertarian Party and its complete lack of political effectiveness.)

  124. I can say with some authority that she's ignored in philosophy departments for the same reason L. Ron Hubbard is.

    Their books both often come in paperbacks! Everyone knows that ain't true of real philosophers. You just try and find Ayer or Popper in anything but hardback!

  125. Tony knows Rand's not a real philosopher, like Heidigger.

  126. Hobo Ching Ba:

    I certainly can't advocate this as an ultimate goal, but for the utilitarian reasons you state for wanting a progressive income tax, you should be aware that Milton Friedman's Negative Income Tax achieves the same ends with a much more appropriate means and without all the wonky side-effects of punishing the rich and the added "necessity" of additional welfare provisions.

    That said, I think the optimal solution is 0 taxation πŸ˜‰ A little bit of evil is never necessary in my book.

  127. From a Randian perspective, it is "unfair" for the wealthy to pay a bigger percentage than the poor.

    An equal percentage is a progressive tax

  128. I think Rand called herself a radical capitalist.

  129. "An equal percentage is a progressive tax"

    Joshua, this is not true from an economics perspective. The determination of progressive and regressive taxation is based upon percentage of wealth, not dollar amount.

    A progressive tax rate would be the poor paying 3%, the middle class paying 10% and the wealthy paying 20%. (Dare to dream it will ever be that low...) A flat tax is theoretically neither regressive or progressive, with say, everyone paying 10%. A regressive tax would be the poor paying 20%, the middle class paying 15% and the upper class paying 10%. Sales taxes are regressive because for the taxes on the same widget, the poor is paying a bigger percentage of his income than the rich would.

    I'm arguing that even a flat or near-flat progressive tax would be to some extent regressive if you base the value on percentage of non-disposable income. In a flat tax situation, the poor would be most likely paying a bigger percentage of his non-disposable income (the money we use for our basic needs) over a wealthy person.

    Sean, I am indeed very aware of the Negative Income Tax (as well as the Fair Tax). I'm fairly opposed to income taxation as the best basis for taxation in general although accepting of the reality. (I'd likely prefer naturally progressive taxes like land value taxes, where the poor would pay close to nothing and wealthy land speculators who are profiting solely off of scarcity of natural resources, and those who can afford hordes of real estate would be the primary funders.)

    I don't even think taxes could go to zero, but a small number like 10% max would be ideal. Personally, though, I think spending should be cut before taxes because debt is often more expensive than paying for programs up front, and inflationary spending is a tax on the poor, whose wages can't keep pace with rising prices.

  130. I think Rand called herself a radical capitalist.

    I think that would be "a radical for capitalism". I don't know that she participated in any significant way in capitalism herself.

  131. Flat tax schmat tax.

    The most interesting evolution about federal taxes is the creep up of income that is subject to FICA and Medicare while the standard deduction stays flat. One would think that if inflation were the cause of higher FICA taxes an inflation in the standard deduction would accompany it. The frog's water gets hotter.

  132. TAO gets a TKO.

  133. Hobo Chang Ba,

    Although I'd say The Fountainhead is one of my favorite books, I've always found Rand's philosophy to be, like Marxism, in denial of human nature...... Randism fails because compassion and altruism are healthy and fundamental elements of human nature as well.

    Rand denies human nature, but this is really not the place where it happens. As others have pointed out above.

    If economics shows that more freedom also creates more equality and improved quality of life, why not trumpet these facts? If libertarians do not actively care about poverty issues, they are ignoring the easiest and most widely accepted argument for the expansion of government.

    Agreed! And in fact, this is one of Rand's great errors. She claims there is no such thing as "society" and that it therefore has no interests.

    She was wrong about that. For one thing.

    She was and still is a big influence on me. But she missed the boat more than once or twice. Like Howard Roark, she "doesn't think about" anything that could not be pulverized by pure logical analysis. For example the subject matter et al that Machiavelli described so well.

    Machiavelli puts a gaping hole in the argument that "there are no conflicts of interest among rational men who do not desire the unearned". If you work for a corporation, or a huge, one-man empire company, it's not hard to find circumstances where -- what's good for the company, and what's good for your career, are in direct conflict. Rand has nothing to offer here.

    And it is precisely here that we find a major root cause of why nations grow weak and corrupt as they age.

  134. TAO gets a TKO.

    Oh man, I almost forgot to mention it but Tony also gets a few lashes in with his wet noodle. Leeth-ile!

  135. Hobo Chang Ba,

    I think your basic argument about taxes is pretty much on the mark. The details of how it's done we can argue, but the lowest economic ranks of society should be paying little to no taxes. If you want a system that's likely going to work for the long haul.

  136. The determination of progressive and regressive taxation is based upon percentage of wealth, not dollar amount.

    A flat tax that pulls in revenues on the order of today's revenues would be something like a 20% tax with a $10,000 per person exemption and no other deductions.

    Thus a family of four would pay no tax.

    Is this not progressive enough?

  137. Thus a family of four earning $40,000 would pay no tax.

  138. "I can't begrudge the Pats as I much as I use to."

    alan, as a lifelong Bills fan, I can and I do.

  139. "So is this an endorsement for Marxism?"

    Marx is a joke among academic philosophy professors. Maybe English and Sociology professors like him.

    MJ
    That's just pathetic answers by Rand full of the usual Hallmark philosophizing that contains classic question begging (e.g.,"it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it") and bare assertion/conclusions with no arguments behind them ("Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life"). It's a joke.

    "The funny thing is that MNG offered deontology up as a self-evidently absurd (though mistaken) basis for Rand's view of property rights, and then a few posts later was discussing how academic philosophers -- the arbiters of All Philosophy Worthy of Serious Consideration -- still frequently discuss deontology."

    Sigh, I know this is hard for you Graphite, but deontology is a CLASS of ehtical theories. The particular hypothetical deontological Randian answer I gave would not be equivalent with that class. The class is still discussed by academics, though dismissed usually, but don't worry, any Randian version doesn't even get that far.

  140. In a basic philosophy undergrad class they will teach you to analyze arguments by putting them into a syllogism, then you can check their validty and soundness.

    Try that with the mess that MJ quoted from Rand above. Good luck if you can even get it into coherent arguments, much less syllogisms and much less sound and valid ones...

  141. "It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values."

    Here's the funniest quote above and at least the second question begging in Rand's monologue.

    Basically she says there is a right to keep what you earn. Think about how hilarious that is.

    OK, since it took even TAO about a half hour to see the question begging in Doherty's summation of Rand's philosophy, I'll do it for you. To say someone has a right to something is to say it is morally correct for them to have that article. To say someone has earned something is to say it is morally correct for them to have that article. So Rand says "It is morally correct for people to have what it is morally correct for them to have."

    All that flowerly Hallmark language ("rights, rights and more rights!") and the woman has said absolutely nothing here. She knew not even the basics of philosophy, and so seemingly is the situation for many of her "followers."

  142. "So, before the Constitution, there was no property?

    *gah*! *headdesk*"

    Did I say that?

    Of course there was property before that.

    But the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, made it explicit that any question about the matter had been settled.

    And so it has been for all eternity.

    Who is or isn't a "real" philosopher or what any of them have to say about it is irrelevant.

    All yapping by liberals like Tony or MNG is merely nothing more than an attempt to rationalize their desire to steal something that belongs to someone else.

    That's all it boils down to.

  143. Ah. It may be possible to be religious and a libertarian, but it isn't possible to be a Christian and a libertarian. (Not if you value being consistent, anyway.) Christianity is all about central planning and collectivism, with the central planner being God (who, notably, doesn't seem to be terribly competent at keeping the general welfare promoted) and the Christian social ideal, according to St. Paul, being radical communism.

  144. MNG,

    Capitalism creates better outcomes on average than central planning* does. Of course one can argue until one is blue in the face what "better outcomes" means, but most would agree (and here I make a plea to majoritiarianism I guess) that greater choice, greater material wealth, etc. are all better outcomes. I don't think you need a philosophical position like that of Rand to defend that, nor do a lot of libertarians generally.

    *I take it for granted that all forms of government intervention are some form of centralized planning; it doesn't matter whether it is some sort of licensing scheme or the procurement of a new weapons system.

  145. It may be possible to be religious and a libertarian, but it isn't possible to be a Christian and a libertarian.

    Only if you use stupidly narrow definitions of "Christian" and/or "libertarian".

    "The only organized political party with a Christian vision of morality is the Libertarian Party." -- Walter E. Williams

  146. In a basic philosophy undergrad class they will teach you to analyze arguments by putting them into a syllogism, then you can check their validty and soundness.

    Try that with the mess that MJ quoted from Rand above. Good luck if you can even get it into coherent arguments, much less syllogisms and much less sound and valid ones...

    And... MNG punts again.

  147. "Christianity is all about central planning and collectivism"

    Really.

    I don't recall reading that Jesus marched around at the head of a Roman legion extracting "contributions" from the population for the collectivist state.

  148. Ah. It may be possible to be religious and a libertarian, but it isn't possible to be a Christian and a libertarian. (Not if you value being consistent, anyway.) Christianity is all about central planning and collectivism, with the central planner being God (who, notably, doesn't seem to be terribly competent at keeping the general welfare promoted) and the Christian social ideal, according to St. Paul, being radical communism.

    Uh, no, actually, everything you just said is incorrect. Also, it has no real bearing on what's being discussed here.

  149. Obviously, this blog entry was not meant to authoritatively explain the reasoning behind Ayn Rand's moral philosophy. MNG, can you please present an unimpeachable syllogism establishing the morality of taxation?

  150. Of course he can't.

    Above MNG says...

    To say someone has a right to something is to say it is morally correct for them to have that article. To say someone has earned something is to say it is morally correct for them to have that article. So Rand says "It is morally correct for people to have what it is morally correct for them to have."

    ...thus proving that taxation is immoral.

  151. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.

    All Rand is doing here is clarifying her definition of the limits and meaning of property rights, and doing so in what should be a pretty obvious and uncontroversial way to anyone who believes such a thing as the right to property exists (which, granted, MNG probably does not). But leave it to MNG to call this "question begging." I guess dictionaries are begging the question every time they offer a definition for a word.

    The more important insight is that property (i.e. in Rand's terms "disposing of material values") is a necessary precondition to sustaining life -- so, to the extent that one values life one must also uphold property rights. I haven't yet seen MNG proffer the absurd position that either property is not necessary to sustain life or that life should not be valued, but maybe we're getting there ....

  152. "She wasn't thinking about such explicit examples, more just how the IRS treats people, but still it is sometimes scary how prescient she was."

    That's how far you can see in the light of principles: over the horizon.

    It really is pretty basic stuff. Twentieth century philosophy did its worst to SUBAR* the whole deal.

    (*Sophisticated-Up Beyond All Recognition)

  153. "Four people for you, MNG..."

    That was "The Pearls Before Swine Moment", TAO. You see, you were presenting what you thought were values, and there was simply never a chance in hell that you could sell them. Nice try, though.

    (BTW: see Hospers' remarks on Rand at p. 413 of Branden's bio. "Whatever subject one discusses thenceforth, one always has to take account of Ayn Rand.")

  154. "But if you want philosophical underpinnings for a libertarian ideology for God's sake read Nozick or Hospers or someone who knew what the fuck they were talking about!"

    I see the problem here, which is that "MNG" doesn't know the material. Nobody familiar with, say the "Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology" would actually say something like that, and especially if they'd also been through Nozick ("ASAU" will do, but I kept up with him sporadically all the way to "Invariances") and Hospers ("Libertarianism", 1971, is required here).

    Look: Rand's corpus is scattered. People who know her life know this and they can see why. The non-fiction can most usefully be seen as adjunct to the two major novels, and the rule is "Some Assembly Required". That Woman achieved very large feats of conceptual integration ("ITOE" explains a lot of how), but the written works don't fit together quite so neatly, because it really is fairly disorganized. (For instance: "Captialism: The Unknown Ideal" is not a proper book-length exposition of the point that she's making, and the necessary ethical precepts underpinning the argument actually reside in "Selfishness".)

    The upshot is that a certain species drive-bys not interested in doing the work ("you can lead a dork to concepts, but you cannot make him think") -- and most especially in a cultural/academic climate of nearly boundless prejudice against individualism -- are not to be expected to present worthwhile questions or arguments.

    Chait is a most extremely common example. I haven't completely figured "MNG" out yet.

  155. "To say someone has a right to something is to say it is morally correct for them to have that article. To say someone has earned something is to say it is morally correct for them to have that article. So Rand says "It is morally correct for people to have what it is morally correct for them to have." - MNG

    "Earned" has a larger meaning than simply morally correct, it says something was done to obtain that right. Also, when Rand wrote there were schools of economic thought in vogue that said a man does not have a right to what he has earned. And it's not as if those schools have entirely disappeared.

    "...bare assertion/conclusions with no arguments behind them ("Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life")."

    Good grief, it's a frickin' two paragraph quote, not an essay, it's not going to have a detailed explanation of the intricate meanings. You leave your own questions hanging. How is that assertion wrong? What's your case for it? For that matter, do even believe that it is wrong?

  156. I don't recall reading that Jesus marched around at the head of a Roman legion extracting "contributions" from the population for the collectivist state.

    Does "Render unto Caesar" ring a bell? He punted on politics entirely, leaving that slot wide open for his later followers to insert "The Divine Right of Kings".

  157. "...a society, which can have a claim on its own"

    There's one of the most poisonous clauses in existence.

    Quite literally, it is the claim of mobsters.

  158. "She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people their just property at the point of a gun."

    In terms of her own wannabe-Nietzschean philosophy, why shouldn't the strong (in this case, the guys with the guns) simply take the property of the weak (in this case, the ones without guns)?

  159. Montaigne: The quote "wannabe-Nietzschean" is an almost certain

  160. Montaigne: The quote "wannabe-Nietzschean" is an almost certain "tell" exposing those who have been told what to think about this stuff.

    And only someone who hadn't read the source material would ask the question. Do your own homework. The answer is in there.

    Do you take *all* your knowledge second-hand?

  161. I've realized over the past couple of years that guys like Billy Beck and Mish have ZERO quantitative background and are incapable of dealing with quantitative concepts, ergo they (and apparently most Libertarians) are incapable of anything remotely like a solution.

    So we get gesticulations about "The Coming of The Randian Era" despite the fact that it was Evil Capitalist Bankers who crashed the thing, calls to cut wages when people are already not earning enough to buy the stuff that's made, and knee-jerk conditioning to "make even more stuff" when, in point of fact, quite enough stuff is being built and there's an oversupply in most things.

    Their pavlovian conditioning is beyond amazing. Shrieks of "Evil Gov't", "Evil Govt" over and over again but not a shred of critical thinking, historical examination, or even the faintest grasp of what's happening.

    The past fifteen years are probably the biggest bout of productivity in human history but these morons just can't seem to grasp that distribution of productivity is the real problem, so they shriek for more productivity because, well, that doesn't require any thought or planning and the magical market will just make it all work out okay, anyway, like a Magical Benevolent God, so we don't have to engage in any real thinking, God Forbid.

    Christ.

  162. OK, if you say Christ, I'll have to say GAWD!

    That post of yours contains so much spluttering FAIL...simply put: you almost could not have it more backwards.

    I don't need to make any arguments in support of what I just said: your words stand as their own evidence, and besides, you didn't see fit to offer any support for what you said.

    But...whatever...just keep your hands off my stuff (no matter what better reasons and plans you think you might have), and we can get along. Or at least I won't have to hurt you.

  163. Brian Doherty says: She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people their just property at the point of a gun.

    And this is the reductio ad absurdum of the conservative/libertarian argument against taxation. It is morally wrong to take people's stuff at gunpoint. And thankfully it's even illegal. There's a whole area of law around this covering armed robbery.

    But conflating armed robbery with taxation by the sovereign and legitimate state is stupid. If I see another tea-bagger who's NOT from DC with a sign about taxation without representation, I'm going to scream. The whole reason for the Boston Tea Party was because of the actual lack of representation.

    And please note: if the candidate you voted for loses? That doesn't mean you have no representation.

    Taxes will happen: the only argument now is how much.

  164. Rick wrote: "But conflating armed robbery with taxation by the sovereign and legitimate state is stupid"

    Yeah! Why can't all us see that the big difference is some that sort of numerically sufficient "hive mind" gave the folks with the guns permission to take stuff at the point of a gun.

    Why, it's as obviously properly ethical as two wolves and a chicken voting on who's for supper. In fact, it's the same.

  165. "the false but widely held perception that libertarians would rather let the poor starve than help them."

    I would phrase this:

    "the true but rarely held perception that libertarians would rather support protecting the liberty of all individuals to work toward their own wellbeing rather than support stealing from one individual to help another based on our subjective evaluation of their relative conditions."

    Vanishingly few people "starve" in countries made wealthy by free markets.

    "If economics shows that more freedom also creates more equality and improved quality of life, why not trumpet these facts?"

    Can we make a distinction between "equality of protection from force initiated by other citizens and government" and "equality of outcomes as dictated by some citizens over others via government"?

  166. Rick...and this part isn't true, at least according to *your* definition : "The whole reason for the Boston Tea Party was because of the actual lack of representation."

    According to your definition, they did too have representation--there was a whole Parliament, exceedingly sovereign and legitimate as heck (they'da told ya so) of duly elected folks setting the taxes on tea.

    Or are you quibbling about distance?

  167. Horne, you were a boring-ass motherfucker back when you were swearing to destroy Kennedy and then I was "next". Gibbering idiot. Why don't you go chase your ex-wife around and take detective pictures?

    Shut the fuck up.

  168. Why, I wonder, do so many on the right leave out the fact that atheism is at the very heart of Rand's philosophy? She argued that religion's goal was to turn a person into "an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question."

    I'm often amazed that the right holds together at all when so many of its components ought to be at odds with each other.

  169. This is a cross-post from the comments on Will Wilkinson's blog article:

    http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2009/09/16/jonathan-chait-on-ayn-rand/

    ==

    Correcting some factual details -- Chait's no more meticulous factually than he is interpretively.

    "Rand spent her first months in this country subsisting on loans from relatives in Chicago, which she promised to repay lavishly when she struck it rich. (She reneged, never speaking to her Chicago family again.)"

    Although, according to Barbara Branden, in The Passion of Ayn Rand, pg. 72, Rand never carried through on her declaration to her aunt Minna, "When I make a lot of money, I'm going to get you a Rolls-Royce," she remained grateful for her Chicago relatives' help, and there's no indication that either she or the family thought of their help as "loans."

    The description of her as "never speaking to her Chicago family again" is flat-out false, according to Barbara's account. As well as corresponding with them for years -- albeit with increasing infrequency and eventual cessation -- she saw members of the family when they visited Los Angeles or later New York and when she gave a lecture in Chicago. (She sent them tickets and they attended. I suppose that would have been the McCormick Place lecture in Fall '63.) Also on the occasion of Burton Stone's death she attended the funeral. (Burton Stone was a cousin, Aunt Anna's son; he greatly admired Ayn and was interested in her philosophy. She remained in touch specifically with him until his death.)

    -

    "Sex and romance loomed unusually large in Rand's worldview. Objectivism taught that intellectual parity is the sole legitimate basis for romantic or sexual attraction."

    No, it didn't.

    "Coincidentally enough, this doctrine cleared the way for Rand--a woman possessed of looks that could be charitably described as unusual, along with abysmal personal hygiene and grooming habits--to seduce young men in her orbit. Rand [...] persuaded Branden, who was twenty-five years her junior, to undertake a long-term sexual relationship with her [...]."

    Branden initiated the affair -- see his own account. Where does Chait get the plural ("young men")? Or the "abysmal personal hygiene"? There's no indication in either of the Brandens' accounts of poor *hygiene*, although there is of inattention to grooming. The latter is a characteristic shared by a lot of people who are absorbed in intellectual work. As to her "looks," there are photos. Chait makes her sound like an eye-sore.

    He similarly goes overboard in his description of the "cult" atmosphere.

    -

    "Rand called her doctrine 'Objectivism,' and it eventually expanded well beyond politics and economics to psychology, culture, science (she considered the entire field of physics 'corrupt'), and sundry other fields."

    Rand didn't claim to dictate the contents of science, if that's what he means. The statement about physics is incorrect. She thought that Kantian influence was corrupting theoretic developments in specifically 20th-century physics, though she didn't know enough physics to provide demonstration. There are only hints of her views on physics in her writings. My primary source on that issue is some conversations she had with my husband, who's a physicist.

    What "sundry other fields" does he mean? Art, yes. Anything else?

    "Objectivism was premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavors. Emotion and taste had no place."

    Has he actually read her work?

  170. It's later than you think.

  171. Oh Puhlease!!As much as you love to go on about Ayn Rand's"Property Taken at Gunpoint",isn't that what we did to the Native Americans??
    Ask a member of the Comanche;Cherokee;Iriquiois and Navajo Nations about how they felt about"Property at Gunpoint"!!

    BTW:Hate to bust your bubble,but Ayn Rand's in Hell getting cornholed every day by Satan alongside The Gypper and Jerry Falwell w/o Vaseline!!

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