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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/2916/wsjs-taranto-slanders-ayn-rand-institute/

WSJ’s Taranto Slanders Ayn Rand Institute

January 4, 2005 by

David Holcberg, of the Ayn Rand Institute, published U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims [Our money is not the government's to give]. In response, James Taranto, of the Wall Street Journal‘s slandered the ARI. The Ayn Rand Institute’s Holcberg argued that:


Every cent the government spends comes from taxation. Every dollar the government hands out as foreign aid has to be extorted from an American taxpayer first. . . . The question no one asks about our politicians’ “generosity” towards the world’s needy is: By what right? By what right do they take our hard-earned money and give it away?

Holcberg is absolutely correct. It is very easy to be charitable with other people’s money, money that you haven’t earned. G.W. Bush hasn’t earned one dime of the money that the U.S. government is sending to the tsunami victims. They have no right to give away other people’s money, which they obtained via thievery and robbery. My only request would be that the Ayn Rand Institute apply that same correct argument to acts of U.S. imperialism. Instead of addressing the issue, the James Taranto made a tenuous and slanderous connection between the ARI and the Westboro Baptist Church, a church which is anti-homosexual. Aside from being slanderous, that particular link was ironic, given the Ayn Rand Institute’s criticism of the religious right:

The religious right’s efforts to enforce religion and destroy our rights is all around us: laws preventing abortion and assisted suicide, censorship, school prayer in public schools, laws against homosexuality [emphasis added], laws mandating the teaching of “creationism.”

After opening up with a brilliant and simple refutation of U.S. governmental aid, Holcberg goes on to note (approvingly) that there is significant private aid being sent to the victims of the tsunami:

As the death toll mounts in the areas hit by Sunday’s tsunami in southern Asia, private organizations and individuals are scrambling to send out money and goods to help the victims. Such help may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of those affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own.

Taranto asks “Which of the tsunami victims are at fault for their suffering?” (his only relevant comment). Firstly, we should note that Holcberg’s tone is sympathetic with the victims of the tsunami. He is not being callous, as Taranto implies by isolating that one word (most). However, Holcombe was probably simply trying to be completely correct. Individuals living in these areas know that tsunamis are a possibility. This does not mean that they deserved to be struck by this tragedy. It simply means that, while people cannot control natural disasters, some may be able to control where they choose to live (absent a State preventing them from moving, or extreme poverty).

Some may note that the States in these areas are very restrictive, with regards to emigration. For example, Thailand’s government is very restrictive. Sri Lanka’s been split by a long-standing civil war. It is true, that for many people in many of these countries, moving may have been very difficult or impossible. Many people may not be able to move because of extreme poverty, which is (of course) caused by various State-interventions. Or a combination of both. What does this mean? It means that ~120,000 dead from the tsunami can be laid at the altar of the State: 120,000 individuals (or a great many of them) effectively murdered by their States.

I’d make one criticism of Holcberg: he’s too generous in his assessment. He had an opportunity to criticize common use of the term “altruistic” with regards to the State. When the State redistributes wealth, it is not acting altruistically or in humanitarian fashion; it is acting in a calculating and self-serving fashion. There’s nothing “altruistic” about me stealing money from one person and giving it to another: what did I sacrifice? Nothing. There’s nothing virtuous about that. The State redistributes wealth to generate support from various groups of people, and set people against eachother. This is calculating and self-serving.

Unfortunately, the Ayn Rand Institute has backed down — probably due to hot-headed and irrational criticism like this — and has taken the article off of their website. I would, nevertheless, commend them for having the courage and conviction to put it up in the first place.

{ 23 comments }

BridgetB January 4, 2005 at 6:11 pm

As an Objectivist I am very thankful for this thoughtful and correct defense of Holcberg’s peice. It is always a relief to turn on Mises Economics blog and read some rational analysis.

I beleive you can still access the article. It has been posted at Capitalism Magazine (www.capmag.com)

http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4072

$
Cheers, Bridget B

BridgetB January 4, 2005 at 6:16 pm

“It is always a relief to turn on Mises Economics blog and read some rational analysis. ”

This may seem a bit ambiguous. Allow me to add that it is always a releif to be able to count on the Mises blog for thoughtful and rational discussion. :)

Thanks.

Geoffrey January 4, 2005 at 6:59 pm

Thanks with the link David, and I agree with your commentary.

Geoffrey January 4, 2005 at 7:00 pm

er…that should read “Thanks for the link.”

DallasW January 5, 2005 at 3:12 am

This is one thing I’ve never understood about Objectivism. I think Holcberg asks one very good question–what right does the U.S. federal government have to “steal” our money and give it to someone else?

This is a very important question, but this is a question we can ask with regard to all taxation. If my propety truly is mine, then why cannot refuse to give part of it to the government? Why must I be forced to at gun point?

And if I shouldn’t be forced to surrender my money, then how shall we fund the institutions that protect propety rights or provide national defense (institutionns which Ayn Rand explicitly approved of)?

If your answer is voluntary payments, then how do you propose to solve the free rider problem (people shirking payments betting that others will not)??

This is a very hard quesion and I can’t think of a good answer for it. And so far I havn’t seen a single essay by Ayn Rand that contained a solution. Maybe that’s why she avoided the issue.

If anyone knows of a possible solution, I would appreciate a link.

Scott Schaefer January 5, 2005 at 6:54 am

DallasW:

Ms. Rand’s political philosophy was unmistakably clear: the only just and morally valid roles for government are those that can be justified as necessary and indispensable for protecting individual rights: the police, the law courts, and the national defense forces.

I don’t have my Rand resources at hand, and cannot provide you a link, but I am certain Ms. Rand supported taxation for these purposes. I haven’t read Mr. Holberg’s essay, but, assuming you quote it correctly, then there is a distinction between giving “our money” to someone else, and giving “our money” to provide for one of the valid roles of government.

Scott Schaefer January 5, 2005 at 7:13 am

OK — I should know better than to post w/o checking facts first …

Ms. Rand published a collection of essays entitled The Virtue of Selfishness in 1964. One of these essays is Government Financing in a Free Society. Much (mostly useful) critical discussion exists on line [Google either of these titles]; I couldn’t find the actual essay itself.

Jacques Chester January 5, 2005 at 7:14 am

Dallas, approaching your question from a purely anarcho-capitalist perspective, you’d find few free riders because no provider of defence, police or justice services will be required to come to your aid. It’s likely that they might prevent a mugging in the street before checking if you’re their customer, but good luck getting Prudential Police Co to send a car to your house to catch a burglar if you aren’t a subscriber.

I think this answers your question.

Geoffrey January 5, 2005 at 9:17 am

Scott… In that Rand essay you cite, Ayn argues that government financing in a fully free society will be completely voluntary.

David Heinrich January 5, 2005 at 9:21 am

This is where I think Objectivists are inconsistent, and wrong.

the only just and morally valid roles for government are those that can be justified as necessary and indispensable for protecting individual rights: the police, the law courts, and the national defense forces.

Firstly, this is not a conclusion, but an assertion. The objectivists don’t really have any clear argument in support of it.

Secondly, non-sequitar. Exactly what roles would those be? None. The free market can provide for everything.

Also, regarding the earlier comment, the owners of streets (and other business properties) would pay for protection services on their property. People don’t want to shop or walk someplace which is dangerous.

Geoffrey January 5, 2005 at 9:54 am

I agree with you David, but you missed something else hinted at in my previous comment that is inconsistent and wrong with typical Objectivist arguments for the state. If, as Ayn Rand argues, government financing in a fully free society will be completely voluntary, then what sort of government will we have? Might it not more resemble free market anarchy than statist-limited government? As Rothbard has pointed out, the state is inconsistent with the protection of individual rights. Ayn Rand and most of her followers seem to have missed this point.

Curt Howland January 5, 2005 at 1:17 pm

David, as an interesting example to the free rider “problem”, a snowy sidewalk is perfect.

Some people will use it that do not go into the store. Yet this in no way invalidates the benefits to shopkeeper and customers of having a clean walk.

Many of the free rider “problems” depend for their validity on maintaining present conditions. For instance, it is absurd to assert that a paying customer of a private “police” agency will tolerate being arrested for a voluntary act such as drug possession. Neither will the efforts of empire and foreign aggression be as well funded if they had to run commercials on TV and hope people will donate.

But to assert that “important” things like defense against attack (both large and small) and relief from disaster cannot be funded voluntarily makes a huge assumption about the nature of humans and government both:

If a program or project cannot generate enough support to sustain itself by voluntary means, there is no way it could be favored by the overwhelming majority of individuals required to grant government a mandate for carrying it out involuntarily.

Giving Ayn Rand benefit of the doubt, I expect that if private efforts were to be supplying “justice”, or “defense”, she wouldn’t have advocated nationalizing that agency. I believe that she just never felt comfortable with the full repercussions of her philosophy of private enterprise.

David Heinrich January 5, 2005 at 1:49 pm

Regarding the free-rider and externality issue, it should be noted that all economic activity has externalities.

DallasW January 5, 2005 at 3:19 pm

David Heinrich

“Also, regarding the earlier comment, the owners of streets (and other business properties) would pay for protection services on their property. People don’t want to shop or walk someplace which is dangerous.”

If there was some way to keep other people from benifitng from the protection services you pay for, then you would be right. But, if your protection agency captures a criminal, then that I still benifit from one less criminal on the streets. And If I bet that enough people will pay for those services, then I might decide not to pay for that protection because I could get the same benifits for nothing. This could lead to the underproduction of these services.

But you bring up another question, if there is no government, and the free market can provide for everything, then what do we do with captured criminals?
For example, if I steal something in the mall of a no government world, then what can the mall do to me if they catch me? Throw me into a “mall prison”? How would they keep me there without force, and what right do they have to force me to do anything? This isn’t even mentioning the jurisdiction problems that would be bound to arise under such a criminal justice system.

Daniel Franke January 5, 2005 at 3:41 pm

DallasW: Rothbard does a good job of addressing this. When someone commits a crime (crime, in an an-cap society, being defined as any act which violates the natural rights of others), the victim of that crime gains the ethical right to violate the natural rights of the perpetrator to an extent proportional to the original violation. That would mean that if someone shoplifted a mall, the mall would gain the right to take back some of the perpetrator’s property, by force if absolutely necessary. In a smooth-running economy, it’s more likely that the mall would hire some third-party agency to capture and punish the criminal.

DallasW January 5, 2005 at 4:23 pm

Daniel Franke


Could you point me to the essay/book where Rothbard explains that assertion? It dosn’t strike me as obvious that victims have the right to force people to do things they don’t want to do. And, if force is justifiable in some cases, then we can’t just complain about taxation just because it is a form of force. We will have to explain why that particular form of force is objectionable, something Holcberg’s article dosn’t do.

But on a seperate point, even if we agreed that victims had the right to force you to do something, then how do we find an objective institution to determine guilt in an anarchist society? What if the suspected criminal dosn’t submit to “your” justice system, but would rather operate under his own?


And How do we prevent institutons from preferring people that pay for that instituton’s services over people that do not? Or, on a similar note, how do we prevent them from delivering rulings in favor of people that pay more for their services (bribes)?

I’m not saying that government-run insititutions do not suffer from similar faults, but these flaws seem to be exasperated by having such services openly payed for by individuals.

Daniel Franke January 5, 2005 at 5:24 pm

The Rothbard work to which I refer is ‘The Ethics of Liberty’, specifically the chapter on justice. An an-cap society would by definition have no central authority deciding who is qualified to adiminister justice. As usual, it would be left to the free market. Natural rights theory dictates that anyone who is wronged by another gains the ethical right to seek restitution. It says nothing, however, about one’s practical ability or legal standing (under civil law) to carry out such a claim.

DallasW January 6, 2005 at 1:57 am

I’ll check that out, but the practical problem of determining guilt and delivering punishment is more than a minor technicality. And disolving central authority seems to exasperate those problems.

It seems to me that the person with a comparative advantage in force will always have the ability to punish others inspite of actual guilt. For example, if you think I stole something from you, and you have more private “police” forces at your disposal than I do, then what would stop you from punishing me whether I actually commited the crime or not? Some sense of fairness? A strong moral compass? Not a very convincing motive.


This brings up another point. In an anarchist world, what’s stopping those individuals with comparative advanatges in violence from just taking whatever they want from other people? Why wait to have a reason to “punish” someone, when you can do it any time of the day?

Jacques Chester January 6, 2005 at 3:35 am

Dallas,

Allow me to preface my comments by letting you know that I don’t expect that many of your “aha!” questions will go without an answer from somewhere in Rothbard. To put it otherwise: Go read Rothbard. Please. You’ll save yourself and everyone a lot of time.

Some notes from your comments & queries.

1) “This could lead to the underproduction of these services.”

According to whom, precisely? You? God?

2) “This isn’t even mentioning the jurisdiction problems that would be bound to arise under such a criminal justice system.”

Rothbard presents a simple rule. When any two courts agree on the verdict, the matter is settled. This allows victim to go to their court, the criminal to go to a different court, and for both to be run in absentia if necessary. If they agree, the matter’s settled either way. If not, it’d go to a third arbitrator for settlement. Done.

3) “It dosn’t strike me as obvious that victims have the right to force people to do things they don’t want to do.”

The Romans pointed out that laws without punishments are not laws at all.

4) And, if force is justifiable in some cases, then we can’t just complain about taxation just because it is a form of force. We will have to explain why that particular form of force is objectionable, something Holcberg’s article dosn’t do.

This statement is illogical. To recap as a syllogism:

Some force is allowed.
Taxation is some force.
Therefore taxation is allowed.

If the first line read “all force is allowed”, the statement would be true. As it is the statement is malformed and cannot be resolved without reference to outside information.

5) “… how do we find an objective institution to determine guilt in an anarchist society? What if the suspected criminal dosn’t submit to “your” justice system, but would rather operate under his own?”

Refer Rothbard on competitive arbitration (ie the “rule of two” I mentioned above).

6) And How do we prevent institutons from preferring people that pay for that instituton’s services over people that do not? Or, on a similar note, how do we prevent them from delivering rulings in favor of people that pay more for their services (bribes)?

Because:

a) Market reputations for even-handedness would be essential for independent arbitrators.
b) In many disputes, a contract can specify just such an arbitrator.
c) Why would anyone accept enforcement orders from a corrupt judge?

Furthermore:

d) How does having a monopolistic state, with no competition, somehow magically remove the threat of bribed officials?

7) “It seems to me that the person with a comparative advantage in force will always have the ability to punish others inspite of actual guilt. For example, if you think I stole something from you, and you have more private “police” forces at your disposal than I do, then what would stop you from punishing me whether I actually commited the crime or not?”

In a private system where criminal matters are dealt with as civil matters, you can sue their police company for entering into illegal enforcement against you.

Governments, however, claim “sovereign immunity” for most of their policing actions. So once more you are worse off under the current system.

8) “In an anarchist world, what’s stopping those individuals with comparative advanatges in violence from just taking whatever they want from other people? Why wait to have a reason to “punish” someone, when you can do it any time of the day?”

Because “without the State” does not mean “without law”. Because, as I said, you’d enter suit against anyone who broke that law, be it crooked arbitrator, bent copper or the crazy whackjob taking potshots at you from the lawn.

None of your questions is unique to anarcho-capitalism. They can be fairly asked of any statist system. Remove the assumption of governmental infallibility and suddenly anarcho-capitalism looks pretty darn good.

Again, I urge you to read Rothbard.

DallasW January 6, 2005 at 8:15 am

Jacques Chester
Well, no need to get snipy. But, allow me to respond.

1) If enough people bet that others will fit the bill for non-excludable goods (hoping to get a free ride on the backs of others), then it is possible that such goods will be produced in fewer quantities than desired. The point is that there is the incentive to shirk payment, which will make funding difficult. This is the nature of the free rider problem. That’s my kind answer, I could have simply put “Who says it won’t happen? You? God?” Funny how that works aint it?

2)Wow. That certainly dosn’t just push the problem back a step. Then how would they decide upon a which third court to use? And how would such a ruling be enforced? If the criminal has the comparative advantage in force, then I don’t see how he could be brought to justice.

3) Maybe. Dosn’t actually answer my question though. But, then again, that’s why I’m reading the chapter Daniel directed me to. Thanks though.

4) This one really does make me hurt inside, because you didn’t take the time to read my post. I didn’t say that this proves that taxation is justified (please re-read where you quoted me). I simply said we would have to come up with a better objection than “taxation is force, therefore it’s wrong” if force is agreeable in certain circumstances. In otherwords, Holcberg would have to explain why force is wrong in the particular situation of taxation as opposed to the times when forceful action is correct. Nice try, though.

6) If people wanted a fair judge, then you might be right. But, what if someone wanted a judge that will always rule in their favor? And if such a judge had the power to violent resources at hand to enforce his rulings, then what would stop him? The minute you leave violence as an option to the individual you will have to treat it like any other skill (like typing or bread baking). That means there will be individuals with a comparative advantage in force and I don’t see what would prevent them from using that advantage from robbing whomever they like.

As far as d goes, I actually said the exact same thing in my post. Please check it out.

I think my post is long enough, so I’ll end for now. I think you can guess my reply for the next two comments by now. But, I certainly hope that Rothbard does a better job of answering my questions than your post. No offense. But no need to get defensive, I’m just asking questions.

DallasW January 6, 2005 at 8:26 am

Just to make my point in #4 clearer (since it is kinda mumbled), I’ll put it another way.

If you grant that force is justifiable under certain circumstances, then an argument against taxation would have to include reasons for why the force used in taxation is not one of those justifiable circumstances.

You can’t just say “taxation is force and therefore wrong” like Holcberg does. Since you already granted that there are situations when force is actually an ethical alternative. That’s what I said before and now. Sorry to kill your slam dunk. :(

JamesM January 6, 2005 at 10:57 am

I was a little amazed by Mr. Holcberg’s piece and surprised that it was printed, even in my rinky dink local paper. It seemed to be laden with myth and less-than-objective distortions. Holcberg missed the point of our “generosity” I think.

For instance, Holcberg wrote:

“The question no one asks about our politicians’ “generosity” towards the world’s needy…”

Generosity? As a percentage of per capita GDP, our nation is a hardly generous and we trail most developed nations in aid to other nations. Every dime we give to others has big strings attached and we usually benefit by being able to exploit the locals, peddle weaponry, enrich American corporations and station troops on their soil. Much of our “aid” never leaves this country but ends up as pork for corporate campaign contributors… Who are we kidding?

Holcberg also mentions “billions” given away by George W. Bush to “bloodthirsty Palestinians” and that is an outright lie.

Fact is, the greatest recipient of “billions” (about $135 billion and counting) in US aid is a the 16th wealthiest nation on the planet, but Holcberg makes no mention of that. Aid to that nation cannot be publicly questioned or seriously debated – its taboo I our media…

Ponder this — In direct aid, military freebies, loan guarantees, etc., I believe the nation received about $4 – 5 billion from us last year and in effect, the per capita “tax relief” we gave them exceeded the relief given to most US citizens reading this post… There are no strings attached to that special aid and this country gained **nothing** from it, yet the likes of Holcberg have no problem with the generosity. That generosity has bought us only terrorism and several really stupid, expensive, wasteful wars which Holcberg and his ilk seldom suit up for…

So, to quote Holcberg again:

“By what right? By what right do they take our hard-earned money and give it away?”

What right indeed?

likorice May 17, 2005 at 7:20 pm

A laissaz-faire capitalistic policing system would lead to eb-flow results as seen in all economical ventures both long-term and short-term.
Social Loafing is a variable that would exaggerate the eb-flow phenomenon. The social loafers would pay for something when the need reached critical mass. When the problem is resolved, the social loafers would be back to non-support mode, thus the cycle would continue while loyal contributers would be victimized along with the loafers.

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