Leitmotif

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Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Tracinski’s Article in FoxNews

Posted by Jerry on October 9, 2007

This is one of the best and well-formulated articles I have read on the historical significance of Atlas Shrugged.

Robert Tracinski writes:

[Ayn Rand] saw the dramatic potential in asking a single question: what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen — after decades of being vilified and regulated — started to disappear? What if the men condemned as parasites who somehow grow rich by exploiting manual laborers — the whole Marxist view of the economy — what if those “exploiters” were no longer around? The disappearance of the world’s productive geniuses provides the novel’s central mystery, both factually and intellectually.

Factually, the story follows Dagny Taggart, a woman in the then-unconventional role of operating vice-president of a transcontinental railroad, as she struggles to keep her railroad running in the face of strangling government regulations, while trying to solve a series of mysteries: a promising young railroad worker refuses a promotion and takes up a menial job instead; a spectacularly talented heir to a multinational copper company abandons his work to become a flamboyant playboy; a genius who invented a revolutionary new motor abandons his creation in the ruins of a derelict factory.

The factual questions are: Where did all of these people go? Why did they give up their work? Is there someone or something that is causing them to disappear?

The philosophical questions raised by this plot are: What is the role of the entrepreneurs and innovators in a society? What motivates them, what are the conditions they need in order to work and what happens to the world when they disappear? The factual mystery is integrated with the novel’s deepest philosophical question: What is the moral status of the businessman and industrialist?

Read his entire article for its many good insights. Especially tantalizing is Tracinski’s concluding statement in the article. It’s such a brilliant device to push the reader to learn more!

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Historic Achievement

Posted by Jerry on October 5, 2007

October 12, 2007 will be the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged. In commemoration, many have focused on the undeniable influence this book of unprecedented ideas has had on people across the globe. It marks the beginning of a whole new philosophic system that the world would encounter and have to confront.

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is also a grand act of justice.

In our times, practically every group, class, species, object, or cause has a moral champion. For example, the Earth has its environmentalists, the animals have Peter Singer, the working class has the Marxists, the lazy have their welfare Socialists, the destitute have Teresa’s daughters of charity, the altruists have Jesus.

But the men whom mankind need the most–for employment, investments, inventions, medicines, technology, construction, food, entertainment, i.e., for human survival itself–were historically ignored, even reviled. They were rarely given the recognition they deserve; instead, they these men are often the targets of verbal attacks, legal restriction, irrational lawsuits, public protests, denunciations, moral condemnations, and philosophic indifference.

Atlas Shrugged is an homage to these men; to signal to them that their work is being recognized, appreciated, and understood as being incredibly significant to human civilization. Indeed, it is intended to make them accept and realize the moral superiority of their actions.

“Atlas Shrugged is a historic act of justice, because it is an act of homage. It is a bestowal on the world’s thinkers and creators of the recognition, the gratitude, the moral sanction, which they rarely received but abundantly earned. [They] are the men who support life. They are the men who struggle unremittingly, often heroically, to achieve values. They are the Atlases whom mankind needs desperately, and who in turn desperately need the recognition–specifically, the moral recognition–to which they are entitled. They need to feel, while carrying the world on their shoulders, that they are living in a human society and that the burden is worth carrying.” — Leonard Peikoff 

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Onkar Ghate Debates

Posted by Jerry on October 4, 2007

Podcast from BusinessWeek:

Universal Health Care, Yes or No?

Philosophies clash when Harvard School of Public Health professor Katherine Swartz and Ayn Rand Institute senior fellow Onkar Ghate react to reader comments about their recent health-care debate.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Piracy Protects Property Rights

Posted by Jerry on September 24, 2007

In India, buying pirated movies is the best way to protect your own property rights.

Pirated movies, videos, music, and software are rampant in the Indian market: they are sold openly, loudly, and prodigiously in the full presence of law enforcement officials, who are often also the patrons of such piracy. Indeed, it goes even further: pirated goods are often sold right on government–public–property!

The Indian constitution recognizes no right to private property, which is actually logically consistent with its constitutionally enshrined Socialist character.

Therefore, there are no economic transactions in India that absolutely exclude the presence of the government at every level.

In the context of pirated movies, when you purchase a legitimate copy of a DVD from a store, you will be wrong to assume that the government has not stepped in somewhere between the creator of the movie and you–the purchaser–of the movie to violate the sanctity of property rights. Further, because of this government interference, you can never be sure that the movie you are going to purchase is the same movie that you wish to purchase.

Recently, I bought the legitimate copies of Babel (on VCD) and 300 (on DVD); naively, I assumed that I had purchased that which I wanted to purchase, i.e., that which I considered was of a value worthy of trading in my money for.

Both movies were so grotesquely mutilated by the government censors that I had no interest left in watching or even owning them and they provided me with no value for the money I had spent. Note that the censorship was actually a government act of fraud and violation of property rights: The movies I ended up inadvertently owning were neither created by the director/producer nor were they the ones I was led into believing as being what I desired to own.

Thus, the knife of government censors slices both ways–they mutilate the property of the creators and fraudulently expropriate the money of the consumers who have no way of ascertaining the integrity of the product they are purchasing. The creator’s property rights are violated and the customer’s right to pursue that which they truly intend to own is also violated.

In this way, the government of India openly commits fraud, invalidates the objective property rights of its citizens, infringes on the property laws of other sovereign nations, and continues to foster piracy on its own turf.

In response to the criminal acts of the government, the Indian people are well justified in resorting to piracy; from what I hear, the pirated versions of the DVDs come directly from the US, bypassing Indian government interference and censorship, and therefore preserves the integrity of the originally intended creations of the movie producers.

Therefore, by having the original creation reach its consumers as properly intended, piracy in fact protects the property of its creators; and by delivering the correct product that the consumers actually wish to purchase, piracy is fostering an honest (non-fraudulent) exchange of value for value.

Of course, that the creators get no gains from the sales of pirated versions of their products is therefore not the fault of the common man in India; for this, they should properly target their blame upon the Indian government as the true originators of piracy and crime.

Notably, the same violation occurs with regard to cable television in India. While the US government treats cable television as a sacrosanct domain because it falls under the private ownership of cable subscribers, in India there is no dearth of government meddling, censorship, and outright blackouts of cable channels on the whims of the Indian Ministry of Communication. This is in obvious disregard for the fact that cable subscription is the private property of individual citizens who spend their hard-earned money to purchase it. 

Here again, the Indian government’s utter ineptitude at providing quality programming on broadcast channels–and its refusal to fully privatize broadcast air frequencies and get out of the business of media completely–has forced a majority of Indians to buy or steal cable service. Thus, while stealing cable is a crime, the blame should properly lie on the government as the true originators of the crime.

EDIT:

I’m reminded of Howard Roark’s actions in the Fountainhead. Roark much rather preferred that Keating took all credit for the design of Cortlandt and Roark received nothing for himself (in a sense, giving up his claim to his property–his designs) than have the integrity of his creation compromised. In a sense, this parallels the situation I am describing in India. A creator would rather have his creation released intactly with integrity and exactly as he intended–but have it be pirated–than have some incompetent secondhander in the government (who’s probably never made a movie in his entire life) mutilate his creation and sell it on the market as pseudo-legitimate property.

Of course, the analogy is weak and serves only an illustrative purpose–not a moral justification. Roark’s actions were deliberate and voluntary. Many of the movie-makers whose works get pirated are not even aware of the unlicensed reproduction of their works.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Movies, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Two Articles

Posted by Jerry on September 17, 2007

There is a reason why I haven’t blogged much lately. My mind is occupied with some troubling personal issues beyond my control, which is more frustrating than the actual problem itself. In any case, since there isn’t anything I can do about it, I might as well function normally as best as I can.

For now, I’d like to draw your attention to two articles on the Web. The first is my own article published on the The Atlasphere–an online magazine for Ayn Rand enthusiasts. The article is a slightly edited version of my post on free markets in a cultural context. After you read the article, you can also rate it to your liking. So far, my article enjoys a reasonably high rating.

The second article is by Harriet Rubin published in the New York Times on Ayn Rand’s widespread influence in corporate America.

[John P. Stack] created an “open book” company in which employees were transparently working in their own interest.

Mr. Stack says that he assigned every job a bottom line value and that every salary, including his own, was posted on a company ticker daily. Workplaces, he said, are notoriously undemocratic, emotionally charged and political.

Mr. Stack says his free market replaced all that with rational behavior. A machinist knew exactly what his working hour contributed to the bottom line, and therefore the cost of slacking off. This, Mr. Stack said, was a manifestation of the philosophy of objectivism in “Atlas”: people guided by reason and self-interest.

The important fact to note from the article is the very real and practical influence of philosophy in everyone’s life. Corporations and the people who lead them have great impact on the employees, stakeholders, traders, vendors, politicians, and the culture in general; the imperative need for a rational philosophy guiding these businessmen and women is to ensure that the impact they create is a positive and desirable one.

[Happy update: The “troubling personal issue” that I referred to in my post while writing this about two hours ago has now been resolved! 🙂 I just learned of it a few minutes ago. I am immensely relieved.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Greenspan’s Autobiography

Posted by Jerry on September 4, 2007

The Age of Turbulence is slated to be released in the United States on September 18, 2007. I wonder when the book will find its way to India, because ever since Alan Greenspan retired from his office as the Federal Reserve Chairman and announced that he will pen an autobiography, I have been waiting to get my hands on it.

Alan Greenspan’s autobiography will be extra exciting for me because, in addition to the fact that I love reading biographies of interesting lives, Greenspan’s life includes the years he spent as part of the intimate circle of Ayn Rand’s friends. The extent of Rand’s influence on him is evident by his statement that Ayn Rand was his intellectual mother. Greenspan had invited Ayn Rand to the White House when he was being installed as the Chariman of the US Federal Reserve.

At his promotional blog on Amazon.com, Greenspan had this to say about his upcoming autobiography:

There was also a personal story to tell. I’d known every president from Richard Nixon to Reagan, Ford, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And what about all those other assorted characters from my childhood in New York, my years as a jazz musician, my complete career switch to economics – and my friendship with Ayn Rand? I wanted to make the leap from writing economic analysis to writing in the first person about what I’d experienced. And after years of talking “Fedspeak” in carefully calibrated congressional testimony – I could finally use my own voice!

As I wrote “The Age of Turbulence,” I tackled the personal part first, but then started unraveling the detective story about the economy: what did all the economic shifts we began to detect in the late nineties mean?

I’m so excited!

UPDATED — October 8, 2007: Three days ago, The Age of Turbulence moved into the bookstores in Mumbai. I was there at Landmark bookstore as the crates were being shifted inside. Thirty-five copies were stocked in Landmark. I bought myself a hardcopy of the book today: it was among the last three copies remaining. I asked the store if more were coming on their way, and they said yes.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Economics, Objectivism, Personal, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Indians and Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on August 28, 2007

Myrhaf writes a post on India that projects a rather generous view of the state of affairs and trends in this country. It is interesting to get a foreign perspective on India because, to some extent, it reflects on the kind of media coverage India receives abroad, and thereby, the perception foreigners have of it.

However, a more interesting point in Myrhaf’s post is his perception of Rand’s popularity in India, which reinforces my own view on the matter. He writes:

Along with the mysticism in India you can find many who subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a philosophy of reason and reality that is the opposite of mysticism. I was fascinated in the 1980’s to read announcements in The Intellectual Activist of all the cities where Leonard Peikoff’s taped lectures could be heard. After the USA, the country with the most lectures by far was India.

Some time ago, I wrote up a post detailing my reasons for why I believed that Ayn Rand is more respected in India than in the US. The only thing I might be inclined to change in that post is its title. It would be more accurate to say that Ayn Rand *was* more respected in India than in the US. 

Prior to the proliferation of the Internet in India and the opening of its borders, Ayn Rand was known in India primarily through her books–her novels and non-fiction writings–and through the works of Dr. Leonard Peikoff. For this reason, her reputation in India remainded largely untarnished by the pseudo-intellectual rantings of both self-proclaimed Objectivists and non-Objectivists that now proliferate Rand-related forums, blogs, and online communities.

However, presently, with intellectual laziness and sloppiness being made even more feasible for mediocre minds by quick search engines and Wikipedias, rigorous and critical analysis of any idea is easily substituted with the regurgitation of someone else’s thoughts–however invalid, distorted, baseless, caricatured, or sloppy–that can be summoned before one’s passive mind with only a few easy clicks. 

It is no surprise then that the more Internet-savvy of the Indian crowds who may have actually read something of or by Rand–or may have only heard of her–find intellectual shelter in a kind of collectivist “online group-think” phenomena when they engage in pseudo-intellectual smears against her. The depth of depravity of such mediocre minds is that while it is granted that they can produce no original or insightful content of their own, even their smears, criticisms, and snide remarks of someone’s profoundly original ideas are second-handedly sourced and regurgitated.

Therefore, to return to my original point, I believe that while a few of the older generation who read Ayn Rand first-hand and were forced to critically respond to her ideas with their own mental efforts ended up developing an appreciation for her ideas, the more recent crop of Indian intellectuals for the most part neither share that appreciation nor have ever expended the mental effort. Further, all of this is in addition to the fact that the Indian socio-economic scene has changed drastically over the past 17 years, and it no longer resembles the kind of Socialist dystopia as presented in We The Living or the precipitated degradation of the society in Atlas Shrugged, which means that young Indians are becoming more and more removed from the ideas that Rand railed against and therefore fail to fully appreciate the gravity of her ideological positions.

[P.S. Check out the interesting comment thread under Myrhaf’s post.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Meeting Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on August 27, 2007

Dr. George Reisman wrote Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, which is available as a free PDF for browsing and downloading (not printing, though) from his website. Reisman’s book was extolled by James Buchanan, a Nobel laureate in Economics, as an “exposure of modern mercantilist fallacies takes its place alongside that of Adam Smith.” Basically, the book is a tremendously important and comprehensive work on Capitalism, and since it’s available for free on the internet, everyone should take advantage of the resource and read as much it as they can online.

In the Preface to his book, Reisman recounts the history of his intellectual growth and the influence of his mentors on his philosophical views. Early in his career, he was heavily influenced by Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard–accepting their views of utilitarianism in ethics, subjectivism in values, and anarchism in politics. However, after meeting Ayn Rand one evening in New York, Reisman remembers that his most fundamental views were heavily shaken to the core. Over time, he came to completely reject utilitarianism, subjectivism, and anarchism, even culminating to the point in his personal life when he broke ties with anarchist-libertarian Murray Rothbard.

This is an excerpt from Reisman’s account of his meeting with Ayn Rand:

At one of our gatherings, in the summer of 1954, over three years before the publication of Atlas Shrugged, [Murray] Rothbard brought up the name Ayn Rand, whom I had not previously heard of. He described her as an extremely interesting person and, when he observed the curiosity of our whole group, asked if we would be interested in meeting her. Everyone in the group was very much interested. He then proceeded to arrange a meeting for the second Saturday night in July, at her apartment in midtown Manhattan.

That meeting, and the next one a week later, had an unforgettable effect on me. In the year or more before I entered Ayn Rand’s apartment, I held three explicitly formulated leading intellectual values: liberalism (in the sense in which [Ludwig von] Mises used the term, and which actually meant capitalism); utilitarianism, which was my philosophy of ethics and which I had learned largely from Mises (though not entirely, inasmuch as I had already come to the conclusion on my own that everything a person does is selfish insofar as it seeks to achieve his ends); and “McCarthyism,” which I was enthusiastically for, because I believed that the country was heavily infested with communists and socialists, whom I detested, and to whom Senator McCarthy was causing a major amount of upset. By the time I left Ayn Rand’s apartment, even after the first meeting, I was seriously shaken in my attachment to utilitarianism.

Both meetings began at about 8:30 in the evening and lasted until about five o’clock the following morning. When I was introduced to her, I had no real idea of her intellectual caliber. I quickly began to learn her estimate of herself, however, when I offered her two tickets to an upcoming dinner in honor of Roy Cohn, Senator McCarthy’s chief aide, at which Senator McCarthy would be present. (I was scheduled to make a brief speech at the event, and when I mentioned to one of the event’s organizers that I was going to meet Ayn Rand, she asked me to extend the invitation.) Miss Rand declined the invitation on the grounds that to get involved as she would need to get involved, she would have to drop her present project (which was the writing of Atlas Shrugged) and do for McCarthy what Zola had done for Dreyfus. I had seen the Paul Muni movie Zola, and so had a good idea of Zola’s stature. I don’t quite remember how I experienced the comparison, but it was probably something comparable to the expression of a silent whistle. (After I came to appreciate the nature of Ayn Rand’s accomplishments, a comparison to Zola would seem several orders of magnitude too modest.)

At both meetings, most of the time was taken up with my arguing with Ayn Rand about whether values were subjective or objective, while Rothbard, as he himself later described it, looked on with amusement, watching me raise all the same questions and objections he had raised on some previous occasion, equally to no avail.

I had a sense of amazement at both meetings. I was amazed that I was involved in an argument that in the beginning seemed absolutely open and shut to me, and yet that I could not win. I was amazed that my opponent was expressing views that I found both utterly naïve and at the same time was incapable of answering without being driven to support positions that I did not want to support, and that I was repeatedly being driven into supporting such positions.

Neither of the evenings was very pleasant. At one point–I don’t know how we got to the subject, nor whether it occurred at our first or second meeting–I expressed the conviction that a void must exist. Otherwise, I did not see how the existence of motion was possible, since two objects could not occupy the same place at the same time. Ayn Rand’s reply to my expression of my conviction was that “it was worse than anything a communist could have said.” (In retrospect, recognizing that the starting point of her philosophy is that “existence exists,” I realize she took my statement to mean that I upheld the existence of “nonexistence” and was thus maintaining the worst possible contradiction.)

Because of such unpleasantness, I did not desire to see her again until after I read Atlas Shrugged. However, I could not forget our meetings and could not help wondering if somehow she might be right that values really were objective after all.

I obtained a very early copy [of Atlas Shrugged] and began to read it almost immediately. Once I started it, I could not put it down, except for such necessary things as eating and sleeping. I was simply pulled along by what I have thought of ever since as the most exciting plot-novel ever written. Every two hundred pages or so, the story reached a new level of intensity, making it even more demanding of resolution than it was before. I stopped only when I finally finished the book, four days after I had started it. When I finished, the only thing I could find to say in criticism, tongue in cheek, was that the book was too short and the villains were not black enough.

Very soon thereafter, the whole Circle Bastiat, myself included, met again with Ayn Rand. We were all tremendously enthusiastic over Atlas. Rothbard wrote Ayn Rand a letter, in which, I believe, he compared her to the sun, which one cannot approach too closely. I truly thought that Atlas Shrugged would convert the country — in about six weeks; I could not understand how anyone could read it without being either convinced by what it had to say or else hospitalized by a mental breakdown.

The following winter, Rothbard, Raico, and I, and, I think, Bob Hessen, all enrolled in the very first lecture course ever delivered on Objectivism. This was before Objectivism even had the name “Objectivism” and was still described simply as “the philosophy of Ayn Rand.” Nevertheless, by the summer of that same year, 1958, tensions had begun to develop between Rothbard and Ayn Rand, which led to a shattering of relationships, including my friendship with him.

Shortly after that break, I took Rothbard’s place in making a presentation in Ayn Rand’s living room of the case for “competing governments,” i.e., the purchase and sale evenof such government services as police, courts, and military in a free market. As the result of Ayn Rand’s criticisms, I came to the conclusion that the case was untenable. […]

The influence of her philosophy extolling individual rights and the value of human life and reason appears repeatedly in this [Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics] book and sets its intellectual tone…. I have found her treatment of the concepts of individual rights and freedom to be far superior to that of anyone else.”

Another account of meeting personally with Ayn Rand is provided by Bennett Cerf, the founder of Random House, the first publishers of Atlas Shrugged. In his account, Cerf describes Ayn Rand as a “very simple and modest woman”! Quite strange, one would like to think, for a woman who developed a philosophy that championed egoism and self-interest.

[D]uring the four years [Hiram Hadyn] was at Random House he brought us a number of authors we were very happy to have and who remained with us after he left.

The first of these was Ayn Rand, whose The Fountainhead had been published by Bobbs-Merrill while Hiram was there. I had never met Ayn Rand, but I had heard of her philosophy, which I found absolutely horrifying. The Fountainhead is an absorbing story, nonetheless. She was very dubious about coming to Random House, she told Hiram, because her sycophants had told her that we were way over on the left and that she didn’t belong with us. But this rather intrigued her — being published by a liberal house rather than one where she would ordinarily be expected to go. Furthermore, she had heard about me — one of the extra dividends you get from being known. She had lunch with Hiram, Donald and me at the Ambassador Hotel, now unfortunately torn down, and asked us a lot of questions. I found myself liking her, though I had not expected to.

She has piercing eyes that seem to look right through you and a wonderful way of pinning you to the wall. You can’t make any loose statements to Ayn Rand; she hops on you and says, “Let us examine your premises.” […] She asked me an infinite number of questions. Later on, after she came to Random House, she showed me a chart she had kept. She had visited about fifteen publishers, and when she got home she rated them on all the things they had said. I didn’t realize, of course, that I was being examined this way, but I came out very high because I had been absolutely honest with her. I had said, “I find your political philosophy abhorrent.” Nobody else had dared tell her this. […]

At any rate, Ayn and I became good friends. What I loved to do was trot her out for people who sneered at us for publishing her. She would invariably charm them. For instance, Clifton Fadiman, who had snorted at the idea of our publishing Ayn Rand, sat talking with her until about three in the morning. George Axelrod, author of The Seven Year Itch, toward the end of a long, long evening at Ayn’s, disappeared with her into another room and we couldn’t get him to go home. Later he said, “She knows me better after five hours than my analyst does after five years.”

Ayn is a remarkable woman, but in my opinion, she was not helped by her sycophants. She’s like a movie queen with her retinue, or a prize-fight champion who’s followed by a bunch of hangers-on, or a big crooner and his worshipers. They all come to need this adulation. These people tell her she’s a genius and agree with everything she says, and she grows more and more opinionated as she goes along. You can’t argue with Ayn Rand. She’s so clever at it, she makes a fool out of you. Any time I started arguing with her, she’d trick me into making some crazy statement and then demolish me. […]

A very peculiar thing happened early in our relationship — the first time Phyllis [Cerf’s wife] met her, Ayn came to our house and said to Phyllis for openers, “We have met before.” Phyllis said, “Oh, Miss Rand, you must be mistaken.” Ayn Rand said, “We have met before.” Phyllis said, “It’s impossible. I would certainly remember you if I had met you.” Ayn said, “No. You wouldn’t. Do you remember when you were a baby starlet at RKO in the movies?” Phyllis said, “Yes.” Ayn said, “I was working in the costume department there at twenty-five dollars a week, and I handed you several of your costumes.” Incredible, but true.

Ayn’s a very simple and modest woman. We were on our way to lunch in Radio City once, and as we passed one of those junk shops with all kinds of statues and knickknacks, she saw a little blue bracelet in the window, and like a twelve-year-old girl, Ayn said, “Isn’t that a beautiful bracelet!” So I went in and bought it for her. It cost exactly one dollar, but she was as happy as a child. […]

I thought she was one of the most interesting authors we’ve ever had. Many people who disapproved of a lot of the books we published worshipped Ayn Rand; and wherever I go lecturing, somebody is sure to pop up and say, with adoration, “Tell me about Ayn Rand.” When she gave a talk at Harvard, the hall was full of students who came to hoot but stayed to applaud. They weren’t convinced by her but they were impressed by her sincerity. This is a brilliant woman.

And just as a bonus addition, below is a picture of the house in California that Rand and her husband Frank O’Conner lived in; the house was designed by the architect Richard Neutra.

vonsternberg_1.jpg

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Economics, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Business of Charity

Posted by Jerry on August 14, 2007

Software Nerd has highlighted a story of how an Indian fund manager has decided to get into the business of charity and turn it into a profitable venture.

Fund manager, Monish Prabai, runs a charity for highly intelligent, but poor, kids in India. He pays for coaching for the entrance-exam of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).

Read the rest of his article to see how rational and private acts of self-interest can be wholly beneficial to all parties concerned–yes, even to the poor.

[h/t: Gus Van Horn]

Posted in Economics, General Work/Life, India, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Some Questions

Posted by Jerry on August 6, 2007

If a capitalist nation like the United States did not exist in this world, who would China have as its biggest market to trade with? Who would pour in great amounts of wealth into India as investment and help it emerge from Socialist poverty?

Who would create jobs around the world to feed the consumerist demand? Who would be able to pour billions in aid and charity into Africa? Who would lead global charity donations in times of calamity? Which nation would produce the most inventions to advance our civilization?–the most drugs to cure our illnesses?–the most deep sea explorations to fuel our adventures and mobility?–the most technology to enhance our living experiences?

If a capitalist nation like the United States did not exist as it has throughout its history, where would the brilliants minds of Europe, like Einstein and Godel, flee to in search of liberty and security? Where would banned authors and artists with a sword hanging over their heads find protection under law?

If the United States did not exist as it does today, who would lead the fight against Islamic totalitarianism? Who would invest the lives of soldiers, the money, and the military in facing an ideological enemy of freedom? Who would challenge the rise of other ideological totalitarians and dictators? Who would be powerful enough? Who would be brave enough? Who would have the moral courage to do it and be vilified for it?

Imagine the history of our civilization without the rational minds of Greece, the democracy of Athens, and civilized administration of Rome. Imagine our world today without a capitalist nation like the United States. Then, imagine if all nations in the world were like Cuban, North Korean, Chinese, or Iranian style socialist, communistic, fascist, theocracies, or dictatorships.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Political Issues, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

That Will Be 25 Blades

Posted by Jerry on August 6, 2007

Ah ha! Remember my travails in trying to find loose change one morning that ended up with me bitterly condeming an irrational restaurateur for his mysticism? Well, I think this article by the BBC might explain why Indians are so reluctant to part with their loose change.

Here’s an excerpt:

Millions of Indian coins are being smuggled into neighbouring Bangladesh and turned into razor blades. And that’s creating an acute shortage of coins in many parts of India, officials say.

The grocer confessed to melting down tens of thousands of Indian coins into razor blades which were then smuggled into Bangladesh, police said.

“Our one rupee coin is in fact worth 35 rupees, because we make five to seven blades out of them,” the grocer allegedly told the police.

John Drake at Try Reason, from whom I found the BBC article, highlights this Indian predicament as a logical consequence of an economy founded on arbitrary monetary values as opposed to being based on the gold standard. What it means for me is that I need to revisit Alan Greespan’s article on the gold standard in Capitalism: An Unknown Ideal.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Political Issues, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Irony Does Not End

Posted by Jerry on August 1, 2007

This is so funny, really. I have a commentor on my blog insisting that my identification of “class distinctions”  and class identity as a crucial motivating premise and defining element of Socialism/Communism is false and a strawman.

At the same time, The Rational Fool posted on a Socialist/Fabian dinner guest who came over to the Fool’s house and argued the exact opposite of his comrade! Read this:

Fabian: I’ll not be satisfied, not until everyone is conscious of his or her class. Without universal class consciousness, we cannot achieve an egalitarian society. Increasing political awareness through education is the only means to create class consciousness.

Fool: Class consciousness towards what purpose? I suppose, it is the means to make everyone happy?

Fabian: No, material prosperity is irrelevant. Class consciousness is an end in itself. When the masses are made politically aware and conscious of their class and that of the oppressors — through peaceful and democratic means — then only they’ll be truly free!

Read the entire post–it’s really interesting. And read my own post where the commentor insists on contradicting the views of his socialist comrade Fabian.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, On Collectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Class Distinction

Posted by Jerry on July 31, 2007

The crucial motivating ideology behind Socialism and Communism is the elimination of class conflict; the Communist ideology is fueled by the struggle of the lower class demanding emancipation from the supposed oppression of the higher classes. Indeed, the accusation is that Capitalist societies foster the most brutal class distinctions, whereas Communism promises an egalitarian utopia of just one big happy family.

I find it rather ironic, then, that the lines of class distinctions should be so pronounced in India–a highly socialist country for more than 50 years of its independent existence–than in the United States–a highly capitalist country for all of its independent existence.

Any Indian will agree that the manner in which we interact with our colleagues at work, for example, is vastly different from the manner in which we interact with our maids, manual laborers, store clerks, bus drivers, and just about anyone on the street. Even members belonging to the same group–like say all college students in one class–make highly conscious assessments of each other’s status in social strata and behave discriminatingly. 

Indeed, the irony is only heightened when I consider how the Indian socialist governments throughout our history has officially sanctioned class distinctions in its laws, quota, education, and reservation systems and in the government-owned railways (our trains have First Class and Second Class coaches, for the rich and the poor, respectively).

In contrast, consider the United States–where capitalism breeds men of great wealth and huge income gaps. Yet, in the United States, even the lowly waiter, the bartender, the plumber, the carpenter, the bus driver, or the maid servant are accorded the dignity of their labor and treated with respect and congeniality.

Then, consider the changing economy of India and the advent of capitalist market influences over the past decade or so. Today, when I enter a crowded shopping mall, I do not see a consumerist, materialist symbol of moral decadence; I see crowded shopping malls as the great Indian class equalizer–I see people from across the social strata shopping, eating, and socializing at the same place, seeing each other eye-to-eye as equal trading partners; I see young men and women working at the stores in these malls being accorded with some dignity and respect; I see class distinctions blurring and the dignity of labor taking over.

Then, what credibility does Socialism and Communism have when their most fundamental motive premise of is undercut and contradicted by the reality of their application? It’s a rhetorical question: the answer is obviously clear–Communism has never been an ideology consonant with reality and human nature; indeed, it blatantly admits that human nature has to be forcibly contorted to fit its collectivist/altruist ideology–and therein lies its evil.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, On Collectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | 27 Comments »

The Unraveling Continues

Posted by Jerry on July 30, 2007

It is so easy to expose the lies and deception of Moore and his Sicko, that you don’t need sophisticated analysis and arguments from academic intellectuals, economists, or philosophers; intelligent movie reviewers are doing a superb job of it. Here’s an article by Kyle Smith that exposes the deception of Sicko.

The silliness of Moore’s oeuvre is so self-evident that being able to spot it is not liberal or conservative either; it’s a basic intelligence test, like the ability to match square peg with square hole.

Regarding my claim that Moore has zero credibility:

There is no way to know whether this claim is true because Moore’s style is to present whatever information he likes without checking it.

He told “Entertainment Weekly” “absolutely not,” when asked whether he felt any need to get the other side of the story. So, over time, his work rusts out from within as the facts eat away at it. The central idea of “Bowling for Columbine,” for instance—that the killers were subconsciously driven to their actions by the presence of a weapons manufacturing plant in Littleton—turned out to be not only conceptually insane but literally untrue. The plant did not make what Moore called “weapons of mass destruction” but rather space launch vehicles for TV satellites. “Roger & Me,” which presented Moore as unable to secure an interview with the GM chief Roger Smith, was also a 90-minute lie: Moore did talk to Smith, a fact revealed by Ralph Nader.

Regarding any disagreements surrounding wait times for healthcare in Canada:

Moore glosses over wait times, hoping his audience is too stupid to notice. He asks a handful of Canadian patients how long they had to wait to see the doctor. Oh, 20 minutes, 45 minutes, everyone says. So if Moore finds five people who didn’t have to wait, there’s no waiting for anybody! “To any Canadian who has ever been forced to go to emergency, this would seem unbelievable,” writes Thomas Malkom, a vehemently pro-Moore columnist for Canada’s paper The Star. The Canadian Supreme Court struck down a law forbidding private insurance in a 2005 decision, ruling that “Access to a waiting list is not access to health care”

Here is Dr. David Gratzer, the Canadian author of “The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save Health Care,” who believes both the US and Canadian systems are deeply flawed:

“Like most Canadians, I believed that we had the best-run health-care system in the world. Because the system was publically owned, I assumed that compassion came before profit and that everyone got good care. . .After I entered medical school, however, my view of Canadian health care changed…I trained in emergency rooms that were chronically, chaotically, dangerously overcrowded, not only in my hometown of Winnipeg, but all across Canada. I met a middle-aged man with sleep problems who was booked for an appointment with a specialist three years later; a man with pain following a simple hernia repair who was referred to a pain clinic with a two-year wait list; a woman with breast cancer who was asked to wait four more months before starting the lifesaving radiation therapy. According to the government’s own statistics, some 1.2 million Canadians couldn’t get a family doctor. In some rural areas, town councils resorted to lotteries: the winners would get appointments with the only general practitioners around.”

Regarding life-expectancy statistics offered by Moore:

Moore emphasizes life-expectancy figures in which the US slightly lags some other Western countries. But life expectancy involves many factors; two that Moore is especially knowledgeable about, obesity and homicide by firearm, are special American plagues. Here’s a stat: The percentage of patients having to wait more than four months for non-emergency surgery is about five times higher in Canada and seven times higher in Britain than it is here. [see Gratzer, 171]

I urge you to read Kyle Smith’s article in its entirety and link to it on your posts on the topic (if any).

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, Movies, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

An Evening with We The Living

Posted by Jerry on July 16, 2007

Over the weekend, my friend and I managed to spare an hour before it would be time to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix. As I am accustomed to spending time with friends over glasses of Vodka Cranberry (not quite Cosmo), we went to one of my favorite hangs called Alfredo’s–a small and charming little Italian restobar–to indulge in the usual.

Only last year, I introduced him to Atlas Shrugged, which he read and immensely enjoyed. He had the kind of reaction that I’m coming to regard as rather typical of first-time readers of the book: deeply challenging, life-changing, dense, and an intensely thrilling experience.

We the Living, Centennial edition.Well, now he told me that he just finished reading We The Living, the more ignored of Ayn Rand’s works, and my personal all-time favorite novel. I asked him what he thought of the book. He remained silent for a really long while, not as if searching for something to say but as if saying anything would necessarily be describing it in some incorrect or inaccurate manner. He was reluctant to say anything. I goaded him on to throw some words that simply came to mind–to introspect his emotional reaction and identify them with words that at least come close to describing his reaction.

Indeed, my own experience after having read We The Living was fairly similar. In my blogpost after reading the novel, I was simply unable to coherently formulate sentences and describe my emotional reaction; therefore, I merely picked certain words and phrases that came to mind. Raw words completely stripped off of fillers:

Poignant, tragic, grand, vivid, sad, inspiring, passionate, moving, shocking, benevolent, desire, romantic, love captured and described like how love should be, strength, worship, weakness, anger, hate, purposeful, beautiful…

Finally, he said he found the book troubling: He was troubled by the reality painted in the novel–a dark reality under Communism. He said he loved the character of Andrei Taganov and was troubled by his tragic failure; he deeply connected with Kira and admired her to the end; he viewed Leo’s character as the greatest tragedy because he felt he wanted so badly to love the man for all he could be but was not.

He also found the vivid descriptive clarity of We The Living very powerful because it helped him actually visualize the life, environment, and the fate of the major characters.

I think that these new ideas he has just discovered might be sowing the seeds of an ideological conflict in his mind, given his strong upbringing as a Christian. Nonetheless, he claims to maintain his belief in the Christian version of a deity. Further, despite his Master’s level training in Economics, I suspect that he has hardly been exposed to the kind of consistent and pure moral defense of Capitalism and free market like that presented in Atlas Shrugged. Nor, I believe, has he ever encountered a study into the concrete and horrific consequences of Communism in his economic textbooks as that presented in We The Living. The clue to this was his admission that he had never heard of Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or Isabel Patterson, although he might have studied their theories at some point over the years.

In academia, skepticism is the religion and the “unknown” is God. In their faithful commitment to intellectual modesty, uncertainty, and skepticism in knowledge, most intellectuals outrightly shun claims to objective rights or wrongs and clarity in moral issues. It is no surprise then that some of the principles of Objectivism and capitalism appear to these intellectuals as alarmingly absolutist, dogmatic, presumptuous, and shrill. The thought revolution that is needed goes right to the core of everything that is currently held as axiomatic–a complete upheavel of what is currently cherished as dear beliefs, everything from what is knowledge to how can we gain true knowledge.

In any case, my friend and I had a nice thought-provoking discussion over some good food and Vodka. Oh, and incidentally, in previous times that I have gone out with him, he has steadfastly refused to drink any alcohol–for no particular reason. But this evening was different (in more ways than just this, I believe); he opted to drink without any prodding or fuss. It was nice. And to wrap up the evening, the Harry Potter movie was enjoyable as well and sparked some more spirited discussion on the book–another work of fiction that he is very passionate about.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, Political Issues, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Uncertainty in Free Markets

Posted by Jerry on July 2, 2007

The nature of the free market system is squarely based on the fact that no one man has omniscient knowledge; hence, insofar as there is any planning, it is done on a personal and limited scale because beyond a certain level of complexity, it becomes impossible to accurately predict–let alone plan–the possible actions and ramifications. At best, educated forcasting models could be created in accordance with observed trends–but even these are subject to the volitional nature of man.

Now, as opposed to this being one of free market’s inherent weaknesses, the limited knowledge of economic actions and ramifications becomes one of its greatest strengths. It means that no man has to bear an impossible cognitive load in attempting to ensure his survival (and the survival of his business) by trying to account for every possible eventuality. It means that man must function by thinking in broad and fundamental principles and not by scrutinizing every minutiae of a concrete situation. It means that no man is obligated to have all the answers and no man has the legitimate right to plan the actions of another man and force it upon him.

One man’s limited knowledge in a particular area does not mean that everyone else is also limited in knowledge in that same area. Just as capitalism engenders the division and specialization of physical labor, the free market system functions on the division of intellectual effort. It leaves you free to pursue and specialize in that which you have the most interest in pursuing, thus resulting in different people attaining knowledge and specializing in different fields.

The free market requires that people who have the specialized knowledge trade with each other their ideas and services and arrive at their own particular solutions to the problem at hand. The planning, insofar as it occurs, occurs within this limited sphere involving many different actors; there is no top-down approach to planning.

Thus, while it may seem daunting to have such uncertainty inherent in an economic system, keep in mind that the uncertainty is unique only to you (or to a few people), unique only to that specific sphere that you are uncertain about, and is in fact the nature of existence.

For example, take the issue of health care. As a non-medical lay person, you may properly feel uncertain about how efficacious a health care system functioning on free market principles would be in providing health care services to all or most people. You may not know how it will work, who the principle actors will be, how the medical services might be disseminated in rural or hard to reach places, will the required drugs be manufactured by drugs companies, etc. But the point is, you don’t need to know and indeed it is impossible for you to know all of these things. There may be a large number of actors at play and an infinite number of motives driving each of them. Given the freedom to pursue their own ends and the guarantee of protection from force and fraud, the principle actors will engage each other in trade and exchange to meet their desired ends and resolve the relevant problems because it will be in each actor’s own interest to minimize problems and maximize their chances of survival.

This is the most basic fact that socialists, communists, and social planners most adamantly wish to deny and invalidate. In their attempt to forsee and plan for every eventuality, their “scientific” planning strategies create unreal strictures upon the actions of *all* people and events.

Thus, when you have people claiming that to leave an issue up to the markets is too dangerously uncertain and that strict controls and supervision is required, they are making the impossible claim to having omniscient knowledge and the ability to forsee, control, and plan for every possible eventuality. This method is a chronic pursuit of failure and disappointment as has been amply demonstrated by half a century of evidence.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In Defense of Protectionism

Posted by Jerry on June 28, 2007

Ha-Joon Chang, a Korean economist, makes a case for maintaining minimal protectionist policies in the economies of developing countries until these economies become robust enough to enter the global free trade market unabashedly.

Here’re some excerpts:

The wealthy nations of today may support the privatisation of state-owned enterprises in developing countries, but many of them built their industries through state ownership. At the beginning of their industrialisation, Germany and Japan set up state-owned enterprises in key industries—textiles, steel and shipbuilding. In France, the reader may be surprised to learn that many household names—like Renault (cars), Alcatel (telecoms equipment), Thomson (electronics) and Elf Aquitaine (oil and gas)—have been state-owned enterprises. Finland, Austria and Norway also developed their industries through extensive state ownership after the second world war. Taiwan has achieved its economic “miracle” with a state sector more than one-and-a-half times the size of the international average, while Singapore’s state sector is one of the largest in the world, and includes world-class companies like Singapore Airlines.

A level playing field leads to unfair competition when the players are unequal. Most sports have strict separation by age and gender, while boxing, wrestling and weightlifting have weight classes, which are often divided very finely. How is it that we think a bout between people with more than a couple of kilos’ weight difference is unfair, and yet we accept that the US and Honduras should compete economically on equal terms?

Global economic competition is a game of unequal players. It pits against each other countries that range from Switzerland to Swaziland. Consequently, it is only fair that we “tilt the playing field” in favour of the weaker countries. 

Those among my readers who are proficient in technical economic theories (and even others, of course), perhaps you could comment on Chang’s argument.

My initial thoughts are that any calls for government protection necessarily presumes that government has the omniscience to conceive of every possible permutation and ramification of market forces resulting from these policies–both within its own borders and across international borders–and has the omnipotence to act swiftly on every one of the possibilities with the right economic solution for these industries.

This top-down approach of economic planning assumes not only that the government has the resources to handle the infinite range of possibilitites but also that the bureaucrats devising these policies are competent in planning for any imaginable scenario occurring across a wide range of industries. But clearly, these assumtions are wholly invalid–both in theory and in practice, as has been shown in economic history.

Nevertheless, how valid is Chang’s argument?

I wish to add further thoughts to this post and include Kyle Haight’s response to Chang’s argument, which settles the matter satisfactorily for me:

My own thoughts: While having dinner tonight with a friend of mine, I happened to reason out loud a possible distortion in Chang’s argument; namely, by comparing the US and Honduras as unequal partners in a globally competitive field, Chang is distorting the principle *players* in the game of free market trade. It is *not* nations or countries as a whole that engage in global trade but individual businessmen or corporations. And therefore, it is fully possible to have a comparatively rich and powerful “player” from Honduras competing with a relatively smaller and perhaps newer company in the same industry from the US. Thus, Chang portrays the scenario as one of whole nations being the *principal* actors in global trade, whereas it is actually the corporations and businessman. There could be a poor farmer in the US competing with a rich or governmentally protected farmer from China, or there can be a huge corporation from the US competing against a small company from Mexico. So, the analogy with boxers and sportsmen does not apply because these atheletic players are individuals who are the principal players, but entire nations are not the principal players in global free trade.

Of course, if you believe that nations are indeed the principal players in free trade, then it would mean that you support government intervention in free trade, which is not capitalism anymore, in which case, Chang’s argument becomes an indictment of government interference in free trade and not against free trade itself.

Kyle responded with this:

“While this may be true, it isn’t really responsive to the core of Chang’s argument.  The basic issue can be decoupled from international trade, and can be put as follows: In a free market, individuals compete with each other.  If you rank people by their productive abilities, somebody is going to be at the bottom.  It’s entirely possible that the person at the bottom will actually be worse at everything than anybody else in the economy.  So, the question follows, what happens to this poor soul who can be out-competed by everybody else?  Surely he must starve, as he will always lose out in competing for jobs, or sales, or anything else.

The principle of comparative advantage refutes this scenario by pointing out that just because A is better than B at everything doesn’t mean that A can actually *do* everything.  I just paid a guy to repaint the door on my house.  I could have done it faster and better than he did, but I chose to pay him to do it because my time was better spent doing other
things (in my case, software engineering) that he wasn’t capable of doing.  I suspect that if you think about the issue from that point of view, you’ll see instances of that kind of behavior all over the place.

Putting the point back in terms of international trade, it may be the case that American farmers can grow more food more economically than, say, African farmers.  But American farmers can produce more wealth if they stop farming, spend their time and resources building computers instead, and buy their food from Africa.  Same principle, applied to aggregates in the context of international trade.”

Posted in Culture, Economics, India, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Food For Thought: Free Market and Indian Eateries

Posted by Jerry on June 22, 2007

Over lunch at a restaurant table, sitting by myself, I happened to be thinking about the logical operators “and” and “or” and their implications in the truth-value of propositions. But anyhow, my thought process was interrupted by a fellow Indian who decided to seat himself beside me at my table because all the other tables were taken during the rush of the lunch hour.

It is a rather common practice in India for total strangers to share a table—no matter how small—during their meals. However, this practice is mostly restricted to low-end eateries and Indian fast-food joints. They usually get a rush of crowd during the lunch hours and after-work evening hours.

What struck me about this practice was that it was a simple but elegant expression of free market operations. During the peak meal times, there is a large demand for fast and inexpensive food, which brings hordes of hungry patrons to these restaurants at the same time.

More people seated at one table means more people are quickly served their meals,
More incoming customers are given seats to have their meals quickly,
The restaurant makes double or triple the money than normal per table by this practice,
The servers (waiters) make more money in tips due to double or several checks per table,
All this extra and efficient earnings per table—plus the low cost of wages for servers earning handsome amounts in tips—allow the restaurateur to control prices and provide cheap meals for his patrons,
Which keeps the patron satisfied because he is getting a quick and inexpensive meal,
Which means the patron will continue to patronize the restaurant, thus sustaining a business in the economy,
And in the end—everyone is satisfied, and the transaction has benefited all the parties involved.

Free market—supply meets demand—no regulations—market value prices—efficient service—mutual benefit.

Of course, a huge part of this transactional chain is the cultural aspect of Indians, who are pretty (extremely?) flexible with their notions of private space—if they even have one.

Such a practice would not work in the United States because Americans have a very rigid notion of private space and consider it invasive and offensive to violate this space.

But the beauty of the free market is that it allows such cultural considerations to seamlessly guide the transactional operations without external regulation, monitoring, or coercion.

To illustrate, even though Indians have little qualms about invasion of personal space when it comes to inexpensive fast-food eateries, they become highly attuned to their space issues when they visit expensive restaurants. This is again the operations of free market creating a framework of transactions that blends in cultural considerations. In expensive restaurants, the extra money you pay ensures (or is intended to ensure) not only exotic food but also a unique experience. And the money buys you the privilege to individually monitor who comes within the sphere of your pleasurable experience, i.e., who invades or shares your personal space—a stranger or your companion. The extra money affords you the legitimate demand to deny a stranger what you are experiencing.

The restaurateur has to respect this demand from his customers if he intends to continue his business of charging expensive rates for the food and ambience of his restaurant. Thus, the items on the menu are pricey and the tips given to servers are generally higher. Customers do not complain about this because it is a legitimate exchange of value for value—and all are benefiting from the transaction.

Now, such a thing cannot be expected from an Indian low-end, fast-food eatery because the items on the menu are not priced to provide you a value for more than just the meal. And as a customer, you are well aware of this fact and you do not complain. In addition to low price of the meal, as an Indian, you are also aware of the fact that cultural mores here do not permit you the luxury of personal space at a place not intended to be luxurious.

Thus, free market in Indian contexts allows for such variance in the practices observed among customers while eating out. This is because the essence of the free market is that everyone sorts out his own problems, devises his own solutions, and engages in the trade of values or ideas with others on a voluntary basis. If you don’t like what you’re getting, you have the right to withdraw from the transaction.

Free market in the American context means that Americans will not practice sharing tables with strangers in restaurants—no matter how inexpensive—because no one (or very few) is willing to enter such a transactional framework. As Americans, they are aware that personal space is not a matter of luxury but an expression of their individuality.

Thus, the free market system is not culture-bound. It is not a uniquely western phenomena unsuited for the needs and mores of non-western cultures. The free market need not be modified, tampered with, controlled, or monitored by government “checks and balances” simply because they distrust this free-for-all “western” system.

The free market is simply a term designated to denote individual freedom in economic matters—and all individuals across the globe regardless of their culture have the right to be free.

Addendum:

My response to a commentor on this article bears some important points that need highlighting and that clarify the above article in more explicit terms. Here is what I said:

[Commentor] said: Capitalism should not be enforced/crudely exported.

Ergo: If capitalism were enforced, then it would not be capitalism at all. That would be a contradiction of concepts. Laissez-faire capitalism *requires* that people be let *free* to be irrational or rational in their dealings with each other. All that capitalism requires is a guarantee to freedom, liberty, and ownership of property. These are the roles of the government and supporting capitalist institutions. But no, the government cannot *force* someone to engage in voluntary free trade or enter a transaction that the individual does not want to engage in. That is not capitalism.

Next, Capitalism cannot be exported, “crudely” or otherwise. Because to “export” implies that capitalism or free market system is a uniquely western phenomena that has to be tailored to meet the needs of host economies in the east. But the point of my post above was precisely to illustrate how free market systems can arise *organically* in any culture without any external or government regulation or supervision and can take into account all the cultural mores prevalent at that time in a given framework (I illustrated two contrasting frameworks of transaction–the low-end Indian eatery and the high-end Indian restuarant–with two contrasting cultural mores–the Indian cultural more where private space is a luxury and the American culture where private space is an expression of individuality). My article attempted to show how free market transactions can arise organically within any of these diverse cultural frameworks.

[Commentor] said: Capitalism should evolve over a great deal of time.

I agree with you on this. Even Ayn Rand pointed out that to institute capitalism immediately would be destructive even if we accept that the loss could be quickly recouped by the free market system. Rand advocated gradual evolution towards free market systems by putting in place capitalism institutions, slowly withdrawing or reducing welfare and socialist policies, reducing taxation, encouraging private business ventures, etc. Yes, all this should happen over time for people to get used to the idea of having to be personally responsible for their actions and transactions.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The Last Days of Europe

Posted by Jerry on June 21, 2007

Here’s an article reviewing the book The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent by Walter Laqueur. The book is about the decline of the great old European civilization. Unfortunately, judging from this review (and I may be wrong on this), it did not seem like the author of the book highlighted the major root cause of this decline, which is the abandonment of its Enlightenment roots in rational philosophy in exchange for everything from racist multiculturalism, socialism, collectivism, environmentalism, to cultural relativism.

The article briefly reviews three causes for the current disturbing trend in Europe. In my opinion, these causes actually occur later in the chain of causes leading to Europe’s descent into insignificance, with the root cause being laid down in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the philosophies of Hegel, Kant, Marx, and their progenies.

There are three threats to Europe’s future. The first comes from demographic decline. Europeans are simply not reproducing, for reasons that are unclear. They seem to care more about the ozone layer and carbon emissions than they do about the continuation of their own societies. Or perhaps bringing up children interferes with what they conceive to be the real business of life: taking lengthy annual holidays in exotic locations and other such pleasures.

I find this issue of demographic decline as strange–at the least–to be viewed as a cause of the decline of European civilization–unless, of course, we are speaking specifically about the *racial* classification of the general population. I don’t understand the need to lament the low number of racially white people unless we are giving the matter of biological race some kind of metaphysical importance, greater than the matter of European ideals, for example. In fact, raising the issue of race in a discussion of declining civilization almost echoes the kind of racism that the Nazis were concerned with when they decried the perceived adulteration and decline of the Aryan-German race.

Are we properly concerned with civilization as a matter of social and cultures norms, ideas, and philosophies, or as a matter of biological and physiological traits–like how many blue-eyed, blond-haired people do we have? I believe it is hardly lamentable that the number of whites are declining because–perhaps–there are more interracial offsprings from racially mixed romantic unions. It is more disturbing when whites (or whoever else) concede their rational and moral principles (that formed the bedrock of early European civilization–including the tradition of classical liberalism) in order to accommodate and respect the diversity and cultural relativism of new immigrants.

The second threat comes from the presence of a sizable and growing immigrant population, a large part of which is not necessarily interested in integration.

An immigrant population not interested in integration does pose a threat; a greater and more pernicious threat, however, is posed when the immigrant population decides not to integrate but disintegrate the host culture and penetrate the culture’s mores forcefully with their own fundamentalist ideologies. This is what the immigrant muslim communities in many of the European host nations are engaged in–they demand acquiescence and even certain practices from the host culture in accordance with their Islamic notions of morality.  

The third threat comes from the existence of the welfare state and the welfare-state mentality. A system of entitlements has been created that, however economically counterproductive, is politically difficult to dismantle: once privileges are granted, they assume the metaphysical status of immemorial and fundamental rights. The right of French train drivers to retire on full pension at the age of 50 is probably more important to them than the right of free speech.

This threat of welfare socialism, of course, takes its root in the anti-capitalist philosophies of the previous couple centuries despite the repeated and total defeat of this ideology in the arena of practical reality. 

While Europe mortgages its future to pay for such extravagances—the French public debt doubled in ten years under the supposedly conservative Chirac.

Europe, once the home of a dynamic civilization that energized the rest of the world, declining into a kind of genteel theme park—if it’s lucky.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, Immigration Issues, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

It Pays to Remain Poor

Posted by Jerry on June 20, 2007

There is so much that is wrong with the new anti-poverty experimental program in New York being instituted by Mayor Bloomberg; even the one seemingly postive factor that the program will be funded by private money as opposed to tax dollars is actually not redeeming.

By private money, obviously, Bloomberg does not mean to indicate his own bank account but most likely that of large corporations, whose monetary support is actually extorted by soft coercion rather than fair and mutual benefit. [See end of this article for an instance of this soft extortion from corporations.]

The program works as such that selected poor people in New York will now be paid for “good” behavior like visiting the doctor and getting vaccinated; presumably, the monetary incentive is to encourage positive choices that will help the poor escape some kind of “vicious cycle” of poverty and improve their lives.

The theory behind cash rewards is that poor people are trapped in a cycle of repeated setbacks that keep them from climbing out of poverty. A person who doesn’t keep up with his vaccinations and doctor’s visits, for example, may get sick more often and struggle to stay employed.

Bloomberg, a billionaire Republican, said he believes paying people in such circumstances to make good decisions could help break those patterns. The program “gives New Yorkers in poverty a financial incentive to look ahead and make decisions that will improve their prospects for the future,” he said in a statement.

Among the possible rewards in New York’s program are $25 for attending parent-teacher conferences, $25 per month for a child who maintains a 95 percent school attendance record, $400 for graduating high school, $100 for each family member who sees the dentist every six months and $150 a month for adults who work full time.

So, for example, I get paid if I remain on a job that pays! But, what if all this payment coming in makes me reach a level of wealth just above the defined level of poverty, in which case I would lose all the incentives I have been receiving thus far! Hmmm… I think I have a *greater* incentive to continue remaining just below the threshold of poverty–now, that would be comfortable living!

And what about the rest of the folks who make decisions like visiting the doctor regularly, getting vaccinated, scoring good grades in school, staying on the job, etc., on a regular basis simply because this is the rational self-interested thing to do!? Do we get any monetary rewards to continue being rational? Why not?

The incentive to be rational is simply that it makes survival and living so much easier and pleasurable. Visiting the doctor and getting vaccinated just means (among other things) that I can more often avoid being sick and enjoy my health with friends and family. Having good grades in school just means I can get better jobs or better higher education to improve my prospects of earning a higher income. Staying on the job just means I will continue to have some disposable income that will enhance the kind of leisurely activities and vacations I indulge myself in.

Are these not incentives enough? Is the rational self-interested pursuit of happiness in life not a strong enough incentive for the poor (or ANYONE!) to make good decisions? If money–pieces of paper–is the incentive to make good choices, then one must ask–to what end will the money be used? Is money inherently pleasurable or is it a means to further happiness? If money is the means to happiness, then why is the *end*, i.e., the happiness, the achievement of values, not regarded as the proper incentive instead of regarding the *means* as the incentive to that end?

If you believe that the poor are “trapped” in some cycle of poverty beyond their control, then it would seem that never in the history of humanity–over all millenia–did any one poor person ever escape the shackles of poverty on their own accord. It implies that every poor man who climbed out of poverty did so with the help of some hand-out, some charity, some morsel thrown at them. It implies that man is incompetent, inefficacious, and the universe is malevolent and unresponsive to our rational actions–that no matter what actions we take to improve our condition, the universe (reality) is inherently antagonistic to our betterment (This is the “malevolent universe premise” identified by Ayn Rand). It implies that altruism is the only answer to poverty, that man can only hope to survive if someone else is willing to support their survival for them.

There is so much wrong with all of this. I could go on… but I won’t.

On the related note of soft extortion of corporations being asked to support causes and programs not related to their own benefit and at the point of the altruistic gun, see this article of a documentary film that is explicitly against consumerism and shopping.

The film follows the white-suited, big-haired Rev. Billy and his 35-member choir as they hit the road in two biodiesel-fueled buses in December 2005.

They invade shopping malls, megastores and Starbucks coffee shops with a message preached in mock-religious fervor that there is evil — a looming “shopocalypse” — at the heart of U.S. consumer culture.

The movie has received early praise.

But director Rob VanAlkemade said the movie’s message makes it a tough sell to potential distributors.

“Major distributors have backed away because Wal-Mart pushes half of their DVDs,” VanAlkemade said after a sold-out screening of the movie on Sunday at the Silverdocs documentary festival near Washington.

Starbucks — a frequent target of Rev. Billy which got a court order to keep him out of its California stores — pulled out as a sponsor of Silverdocs. The festival is presented by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel.

Festival spokeswoman Jody Arlington said Starbucks expressed discomfort with the movie and raised security issues, but it let Silverdocs keep the sponsorship money even as it withdrew its logo. [emphasis mine]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, On Collectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

 
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