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2009-08-24 23:10:35.916617+00 by meuon 28 comments

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” —Margaret Thatcher

This hits me hard, I'm in Guyana, watching new footage of Fidel Castro, seeing socialist politics in Guyana (it's not, yet) and Venezuelan politics up close.

It's a quote from another Flutterby link, and I just wanted to bring it to the forefront, It's worth remembering, thinking about.

[ related topics: Politics Invention and Design Currency ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-24 23:32:12.489936+00 by: Larry Burton

I finally got around to reading "Atlas Shrugged" and I"m about half way through. I find myself very sensitive to quotes like that since I started the book and I'm hearing way too many socialist arguments that I'm hearing in the book. The scary part is some of it is coming from my own family. (step in-law) I'm finding what I consider a few flaws in Rands philosophy as it seems to be presented so far in the book but I think I'm about 98% in agreement with her so far.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 01:20:44.725573+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, Larry, there's a lot about Rand's philosophy I like (obviously). The cracks started for me when I thought about real estate ownership, and how that deteriorated into monarchy in a very few generations. And, of course, the fact that we don't live in a world of right and wrong, in the end we do live in a world where the mob resorts to violence.

I'm also sensitive, from that side, to notions that there are economic advantages to providing some services at a government level; I think health care, for instance, is something that could benefit if we can keep emergency room visits from happening. Alas, the current "reforms" seem mostly focused on making sure that the current factions keep guaranteed profits.

Chavez has his little fiefdom as long as he has control over the oil (as in middle eastern countries, and Alaska...), Hitler had his as long as he could use military expansion to keep his economy growing and keep the masses of his populace happy (nationalism is an ugly thing, it can convince you that sending your young men off to die is a good thing), and we've got ours as long as China keeps extending us credit. I had hopes that Obama would shut down the leaches and looters of Wall Street, but it sure seems like he's just handing them the keys and letting them drive.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 01:30:31.658459+00 by: ziffle


For the moment ignore Dans negative nabobs; you are reading the book that changed my life. Afterward we should hold a thread discussing the application of Objectivism to life and especially as you are noting todays chaotic mess :)

For anyone in the Mayberry area, I am open to having calm discussions of AS etc.


#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 13:02:05.020716+00 by: Larry Burton

Ziffle, I can't say the book is life changing, statistically speaking most of my life has passed and I'm confident in the philosophy I've developed over the years and the principles and standards I live by, but I will say that it is making me very aware of the philosophy, principles and standards of others that are in conflict with my own.

After I finish the book, most likely this weekend, I'll be happy to discuss the book, the author and her philosophy with you in a calm, rational, reasonable manner. From our past discussions, though, I don't think we differ much on philosophy other than the existence of a god.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 13:46:34.810256+00 by: m

Larry, if you are reading medium to late Rand like "Atlas Shrugged", may I suggest that you balance it with her earlier work. "Anthem" is a very quick read, and I believe essential to the genesis of Objectivism. "We the Living" and "The Fountainhead" are also of value in providing balance to her views. There is a lot of other fiction and nonfiction by Rand and cohorts.

"Atlas Shrugged", speaks in part to the uniqueness and freedom of the individual, but I think is too heavily weighted towards economic freedom. That is essential, but even more so are other freedoms like thought, expression, non-victimizing behaviors, right to a fair jury trial, and the host of other freedoms that we would like to be able to take for granted.

As recently demonstrated by the doubling of the national debt by the so called "capitalist right", the term "Socialism" is a bug bear. But the destabilization of the national currency, through inflation and hyperinflation, is the biggest tax there is.

As agitated as I can get about the economics, it is the other freedoms that I am more concerned about. The protections of the Magna Carta and the Constitution are being decimated. There are no longer effective rights to charges against the detained, a jury trial, a fair trial, protections against self-incrimination, torture and so on. Information is no longer freely available, but rather controlled by an agglomeration of business and government interests. The Court system has become political. The Legislative branch corrupt. The Executive is power mad. All three kowtow to religious excess. And some people worry about another 1 or 2% increase in their direct taxes.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 17:09:19.838318+00 by: ebradway

I will say that it is making me very aware of the philosophy, principles and standards of others that are in conflict with my own.

My basic problem with Ayn Rand's writing (and the zealots she inspires) is that the focus seems to be more on conflict and disagreement. Objectivism seems to lend itself to narcissistic anti-social tendencies. But I guess that's the point, isn't it?

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 19:05:12.986701+00 by: Dan Lyke

To Ziffle's point, yeah, I think there's a lot of value to be gained from learning a bunch about Rand's philosophies. My criticisms of her work are not for a moment intended to treat her with the same disdain that I view most philosophers with.

And to Eric's, I think that Objectivists tend to come off as narcissistic and anti-social because so much of what we describe as "social" is "gimme". I'm told that at a young age I was pilfering food off someone else's plate, and when called on this, responded "I'm sharing with you". But as I've said before, with a population density over about 1 person per square mile, I believe that violence is the rule and enforced "sharing" is a necessity.

Which is why I eventually came back around to "do what I have to do to support my tribe, screw the rest of y'all". Oddly, in practice, this comes across as much more "social", partially because supporting my tribe means making concessions to other tribes.

To M's point, this one's my biggie: Many who claim the cause of liberty seem focused on economic freedoms. I think this is a big pragmatic mistake, and ends up with wackiness like libertarians and Republicans conflating each other's views (And libertarians voting for Ron Paul). Social freedoms run in much smaller cycles, and have much more of an impact on the quality of my life and my tribe, and I'm more than happy to trade some of my economically productive output as a tribute/tax for other tribes to leave me alone than to expend that same energy (or more) fighting them off.

This is why, for instance, I think it makes sense to spend tax dollars raising the fundamentalist Muslim world to a higher standard of living, and in the process offering them more enlightened views of human interaction, than it does to continue to try to bomb them into submission.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 20:05:23.747061+00 by: Larry Burton

Objectivism seems to lend itself to narcissistic anti-social tendencies. But I guess that's the point, isn't it?

Eric, so far that's my take on it and it seems to also be Rand's take on it with the addition of the assertive question, "What could possibly be wrong with that?" I'm beginning to wonder if there really is a problem with that.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 21:10:52.318296+00 by: crasch

Many who claim the cause of liberty seem focused on economic freedoms.

I don't think there's a distinction between economic and civil liberties--they're all civil liberties. However, those liberties that some people classify as "economic" I think have a greater impact than most "civil" liberties restrictions. The zoning laws that prevent low cost housing from being built mean that I live in worse housing at higher cost. Tariffs and farm subsidies mean I pay more for food at the grocery store. Immigration controls and licensing means that I pay for much higher prices for services of all kinds, but especially medical services. On all of those issues (except immigration) Paul was far and above the other candidates, and on immigration, he was no worse.

Moreover, the taxes raised are used to finance all of the other predatory behavior governments engage in. The less tax money they have, the harder it is for them to enforce civil liberties violations.

Finally, it's much easier to work around "civil" liberties violations if you're rich than if you're poor. That extra $2000 a month I pay in taxes would pay for more travel (freedom of association) more books (first amendment) more guns (2nd amendment) and more drugs than I can afford now.

Even with total bans, porn, drugs, abortions, and gay sex would be readily available in the U.S. Since that's the case, and since so-called economic freedoms are under much greater threat, I tend to support the candidates who make defending economic freedoms a priority.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-25 23:25:40.86893+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

I guess I look at that $2k (I wish) a month and break it down as:

And after that we're down into the piddling stuff. Highways, regulatory agencies, NASA, things like that.

Am I personally getting $2k a month out of those items? Probably not really, but let's say that they're 50% inefficient. I'm getting a grand a month out of those expenditures. If I could cut all of those things to zero, I'd only be up a thousand bucks, which won't buy a whole lot of freedom, and I'd have a lot of angry fellow citizens who don't have the economic skills to actually contribute to the economy milling around.

So, to the other side, let's look at what'd happen if we tackled the social and civil liberties first:

Heck, you start there and about half of that spending above goes away. The other things you mention have limited appeal as immediate issues to me:

At some point I looked around at my friends, and I realized that it was largely the lower income ones who were screaming about taxes; the ones who were getting a whole lot more than my pulled-out-of-my-ass 50% factor above. Those who were actually paying taxes (by which I mean "their taxes start at more than my gross income") mostly shrugged and said "yeah, it's part of the cost I pay for the economic environment in which I exist. Did I mention I test drove a Ferrari this weekend?". Clearly the taxes aren't holding them back.

So the question is: Do I tackle this from an angle that might give me a basic minimal return, or do I tackle this from a way that lifts those around me, is likely to get them on my side and attract them to my cause, and is more likely to stick anyway?

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-26 00:05:44.510338+00 by: m

Peoples opinions on a most matters depend most upon their life view, secondly (and often a poor second) upon their personal experiences, and lastly upon their education and internal philosophical maturation. I exclude no one, least of all myself, from this statement.

I suspect most of us know or have known people who will justify their ethics and behavior on the basis of "how they were brought up", or that their systems are just "natural." Most of us occasionally fall back on such logic. It is kind of impossible not to sometimes -- we can't have the knowledge, experience or time to hold our own ethical analysis on all the topics in the world. But I think that one of the measures of the success of ones formal, informal and self education and by that I mean one's life, is how much an individual has either changed, or been willing to change if appropriate, from the precepts originally generated through our genetic and family influences.

We all start off with childish selfishness -- wanting the lollipop, and damned be (s)he who got between us and what we wanted. Gradually our behaviors changed to that which was socially acceptable around us, basically avoiding more pain than the lollipop was worth to us. But Rand speaks loud and well that there is a further step of maturation -- that of adult selfishness. Acting in a manner so as to optimize personal gain considering all costs and benefits. That there is rarely conflict when individuals behave so. That we all lose when we allow anger, rage, dishonesty or fraud to determine our behavior rather than rational self interest.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of information as to and/or the inability to percieve the actual costs and benefits. Why is the ability of another to act freely of value to me? Why should I be taxed to treat contagious disease in another person? Why not just bomb the hell out of everyone else in the world who does things we profess to dislike -- at least when others are doing them?

Dan speaks to one of these issues above. Much of the fundamentalist Islamic third world is only 100-200 years behind the first world nations in their behavior. New York was still whipping prisoners in the mid 1800s. In fact, some of the behaviors are less than 60 years behind, some less than eight, and some of those we profess to hate the most are the same things that we are doing right now. Further, how much of Islam is really fundamentalist? How much different is it than what is happening in the US? I don't pretend to speak knowledgeably about the cultural state of some 1+ billion people.

I do believe that the infiltration of Iranian culture with bluejeans, rock music, electronics and other modern devices was a lot more effective in bringing about positive change in Iran than our threats and more or less admitted sabotage. And it was cost effective. We made money on selling them stuff, and our covert military attacks certainly cost us.

I seem to recall that a hellfire missile cost about 50K. I think an Apache can hold 8 or 16 of them. How many generations of enemies can you make by firing one? How many friends can you make spending 50K to feed hungry people, how many friends can you make spending 50K on providing a well pump, meds and other similar items? Is such behavior capitalistic -- you betcha! When was the last time that you went to a conference when you didn't get all sorts of langiappe? How many medium to large contracts are induced or sealed by lawful or illegal bribes?

Do I like being taxed for such purposes? Hell no. But I would rather feed someone, even if I don't make a friend, than kill someone even if I don't make an enemy. Would I prefer to do this by my personal chosen charity? Yes, and I do. But the tiny bits of nonmilitary aid given by our nation these days are trivial. There are a lots places where we waste enormous amounts of money that are better to attack than nonmilitary aid. One of them is the money we waste on keeping 2+ million people in prison, many, all too many, for victim-less crimes and/or hysteria.

Offensive war is the temper tantrum of the two year old who isn't giving up his lollipop. The aid is an example of Randian adult selfishness.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-26 13:00:57.604405+00 by: m

As an addendum I have also noticed the phenomenon that Dan speaks of when he says that most of the complaining about taxes is done by lower income individuals -- not that I am in the Ferrari class. Some of the most vociferous anti-income taxers I know literally get paid for filing their income tax. Is it a status thing?

There are also benefits of government that we do not often think of. Public Health is one. Disclaimer, I spent 30 years in Public Health before going into business for myself. Fascinating work, much better than being my own system designer/implementer consultant, just didn't pay nearly as well.

In the mid 1800s 1 in 6 Americans had active TB. Until the HIV pandemic TB was the biggest contagious killer in the world. Medications remain of limited utility in treating TB, and Public Health measures are still the primary means of control. What is it worth to you not to have 1 in 6 of your family members not die of the "White Plague" -- a once common term now almost relegated to history in the US. More familiar of course is the Black Plague. Can't happen again? Y.pestis is endemic to animal vectors through out the world including the US with thousands of reported cases worldwide. Usually the bubonic form, but occasionally the pneumonic, highly contagious form,breaks out. Lots more including some really interesting but deadly stuff from the tropics. Stuff that can almost make Ebola look like a common cold.

The biggest improvement in the length and quality of human life in modern times are the Industrial revolution and Public Health. They are intertwined in their causes and effects, but with the increased population densities improved Public Health became ever more important.

What else does government provide that is vital, of low cost, and may even justify much of the waste? Even not of low cost, and as often as JT and I can be a bit prickly to one another, I much prefer a publicly funded police force to a bunch of private ones. If we had no public police force, I wouldn't want to offend someone like the head of Blackwater. The road system? What else that we are blind to?

Not that I have a whole lot of love for government power. It should be watched and controlled like a malignant cancer. But there are things we don't even think about that are best done, possibly only done, through public government.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-26 14:46:52.917437+00 by: Larry Burton

Some of the most vociferous anti-income taxers I know literally get paid for filing their income tax. Is it a status thing?

Maybe its because they feel guilty.

I'm guessing that those making $100k a year see taxes as preventing them from attaining the luxury they feel that $100k a year ought to be providing them. At $200k a year those taxes, while greater than on a $100k a year, are not so onerous as to prevent one from enjoying much luxury. At $1M a year they are a nuisance but have no real effect on one's life and at that point one has the luxury of pointing to all the good the taxes are doing for those less fortunate than themselves. Almost like giving to the United Way.

I have no problem in being assessed a tax to pay for the common good but I'd just like some assurance that the method of taxation is based more on my participation in the economy than on my ability to earn money or accumulate wealth. I'd also like to know that the common good is for the good of us all and not just for individuals meeting some arbitrary criteria.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-26 19:17:56.184326+00 by: Dan Lyke

Larry, in my experience you're off by nearly an order of magnitude, certainly a factor of 3-5. It's the folks making $20-30k/yr (yes, even here in California) who are complaining, and who are certainly doing better than 100% on their tax dollars. But, for the most part their complaints are about the military side of that.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-26 19:34:20.437309+00 by: Larry Burton

I'm sure the $ amount is off but what I'm getting at is that at some point of income even excessive taxation isn't going to hurt unless that person is constantly counting their money. Their lifestyle will be not just comfortable but luxurious on their after tax dollars. The guy only paying the 2% in federal taxes is still going to see places where that 2% is needed in the budget.

I'm not saying that it is right that the rich guy pays progressively more taxes I'm just saying that he really won't miss the dollars he pays out in taxes like the middle class guy will.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-27 13:55:58.490347+00 by: Dan Lyke

In one particular case, I think the only reason the person in question pays taxes is lack of good record keeping and the ability to file on time, and said person has received various government subsidies including HUD payments and such. There's some complaint about taxes going to the Iraq war, but in general I think this particular person really hasn't thought about the government services they receive, has no concept of their place in the economic system.

However, my point was mainly that there are people out there making a lot more money than me. I can argue that "the system" unfairly rewards certain sorts of efforts and not others, and that government subsidies tip the marketplace in unfair ways, but I can't attribute my lack of mountains of dollars on taxes.

Basically, although I still think highly of many of those ideals, I realized that thinking of some sort of right and wrong, that my belief in ideals was going to make up for the fact that I wasn't playing the game that was set right in front of me, wasn't serving me. I can still think all those things, but unless everybody else does taking them too seriously is a hindrance, not a help.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-31 14:29:44.205953+00 by: Dan Lyke

Just another data point in the "would the economic drain of taxes affect me personally in a more libertarian economy" question: Top 1% of taxpayers pay more than the bottom 95%.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-31 18:36:30.501069+00 by: ebradway

Murray fails to note that what he describes is the quantitative effect of a shrinking middle class. The tax code is setup so that people at the low end of the income spectrum take a smaller hit and people at the higher end get hit much harder - but hardly feel it. If you eliminate the people in the middle, this is exactly what you see - people making lots of money paying the vast majority of tax dollars.

He also makes a huge numerical conceit. He claims that the top 1% pay an average of 22% in taxes while the bottom 50% pays an average 3% in taxes. what happens to averages when you start mixing in the "0% in taxes" at the bottom of the bottom of income? Murray lumps people in the 49% to 50% income range with those between 1% and 2%, while lumping those at 99% to 99.1% with those between 99.9999% and 100%. Which way are the averages going to skew?

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-31 20:34:45.226351+00 by: Dan Lyke

Eric, yeah, I agree that the feature is a function of a demographic shift that isn't necessarily healthy. And I also think that Murray's reliance on income tax misses a huge amount of tax that lower income people pay, sales and fuel tax being the most obvious expenses.

However, if we look at the government services received per expenditure for those demographics, it feels to me like there's a lot less reason for complaint below the 95% level, and that the better argument is for cutting services first: Rather than saying "I pay too much in taxes", saying "I'd like to do without these government services" is the way to get my attention.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-05 19:24:41.525607+00 by: Larry Burton [edit history]

I also think that Murray's reliance on income tax misses a huge amount of tax that lower income people pay, sales and fuel tax being the most obvious expenses.

Sales taxes and fuel taxes are not taxes on income but I think you meant federal tax rather than income tax. I would still like to see taxes taken off of income and placed on outgo instead.

I finished Atlas Shrugged earlier this week. While I can not and will not ask anyone to live their life for my sake I can't say that I refuse to live my life for the sake of another. I'll choose when and for who's sake I will live my life for. I might find value in doing so. I find objectivism to come up with enough contradictions to itself that I can't claim it as my philosophy.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-05 20:00:03.303182+00 by: ziffle [edit history]

Well Objectivism is certainly better than christianity. It acknowledges that we have the ability to be and should be rational and rejects mysticism. As for contradictions, that should be an interesting conversation as you would be the first.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-06 00:17:28.685282+00 by: Larry Burton

Ziffle, I agree that Objectivism is certainly better than Christianity as defined by its detractors and 90% of its practitioners but the Christianity that I've learned also acknowledges that we have the ability to be rational and it also rejects mysticism. I'm sorry that you were raised up on a different flavor of the religion. I, too, would have rejected it and the God you have described to me as it representing. But I thought you wished to discuss Rand and Objectivism.

I'll continue reading Rand's other works because maybe I'm missing something but it seems that in Atlas Shrugged she rejects government completely as being an unacceptable use of force but in other works I've been reading she also rejects anarchy. Granted I've not been deeply studying her works so it is very possible that I'm missing something. I've just got to figure out if what I've read in any way is enticing me to dive into the subject deeper and sort out the inconsistencies.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-06 01:57:57.865324+00 by: ziffle [edit history]

In Galts Gulch they make the statement that so far they "have not needed government"; but its clear government should only exist to protect individual rights. Rights flow from our nature. Ethics flow from our rights. Governments are instituted among men to protect those rights. This BTW jives perfectly with the declaration of independence. And the US constitution does not give rights to its citizens but gives government limited power to protect the rights of the citizens, and no more.

Objectivism is an Ethic. We must not use force against each other, except to stop force. Force is really "somethng you did not agree to" so it includes fraud as well as physical force. In that sense I like to say "We must learn to Ask not Tell each other what we want". Its that simple. And gentle. And in that sense a Christian would agree I am sure. Where the two part company is where Christians begin to vote to use force for whatever they think is Good and ignore that guns are needed to enforce the vote.

On a philosophical level, Objectivism asserts there is a single reality (A = A) and no other and we as people are part of it and capable of understanding it. (Not that we know everything yet) And reason and our senses are the method we use to Learn. Therefore Faith is and must be rejected as invalid. Here the two would part.

Glad you read it. It changes everyone one way or the other.

And can we not see the world and politics clearer for having read it? It allows me to see Obama as the Second Hander and Mystic of Muscle that he is. How will we pay off the Two Trillion? "Somehow" as they said in Atlas Shrugged. And more: his goal is the destruction of the American System. He does not care because he wants another and another crisis so he can grow government.

While it is still fresh in your mind: Hank Reardon was typically American in that he was not Philosophical but he had the American personality. He knew things were bad but could not understand what was going on. Dagny's error was that she thought the System was worth saving. She fought so hard to make it work, and could not understand why Francisco would destroy things. Galt knew it was not worth saving. Things get to a collectivist point and they must be scrapped. In the end she held Galt as her highest value and went to him.

Today when I watch the news and I see people arguing over who gets what I realize that this is collectivism we are experiencing. In a Free Country that conversation does not exist except in voluntary negotiation. Notice no one argues over who gets what car - there are plenty of cars for everyone.

It makes me sad that Dan has rejected Objectivism for Tribalism.

Oh and Christianity is Mysticism. Thought that is obvious.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-06 21:19:20.939685+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, Ziffle, the problem with personal philosophies (and, for that matter, insurance) is that some things happen on scales that are far bigger than a human life. When I was young and thought I'd live forever, it made sense to hold on to the notion that there were unassailable ideals that it was worth living up to. As I aged, I looked around and saw that some people were railing against the world as it was, and some were embracing what existed and thriving. Looking forward, and more conscious of my mortality, I realized that I'd rather be in the latter class: accept human nature, for all of its flaws, and play within the structure that was there.

Half a century or so ago one could argue that Galt's Gulch was possible. Now, too many of the goods I've come to accept as normal in my life are intertwined globally, and the notion of sacrificing to live in such a closed society is no more attractive to me than turning Amish.

So, yeah, I've dropped the idealism, and exchanged right and wrong with allying myself with those who've got the biggest guns. But then if we look back in the history of the United States, that's what most of the big industrialists did anyway; Rand's mythical world hasn't existed, and though I love the Utopia, I've realized I'm not going to get much joy out of trying to find something that's not there.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-07 23:01:14.20945+00 by: Larry Burton

I think that is what I've been trying to put my finger on as one of the fallacies of Rand's philosophy, just as the opposite extreme that she finds so distasteful, her philosophy isn't workable without a very, very large majority buying into it. As long as there are a significant enough number of looters and moochers the system will crumble back into what we have now, a quasi-socialist state.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-07 23:24:22.394262+00 by: Dan Lyke

And, Larry, very few people will stand idly by and say "I'll die rather than steal". So there'll always be people using force.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-09 02:12:59.420258+00 by: fizzle

ziffle: you say "Objectivism asserts there is a single reality" but it's the reality in which Barack Obama lives - not Hank Reardon, Dagny, Francisco or Galt's Gulch. Ironically, the closest thing in reality to "Galt's Gulch" would be Crestone, Colorado - a place rather steeped in mysticism.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-09-09 17:11:35.608079+00 by: ebradway

fizzle: Isn't Valley View Hot Springs near Crestone? Sounds like ziffle-heaven! Oh wait, he doesn't believe in heaven.