Ayn Rand and Libertarians Misunderstood
Paul Ryan has some affinities with Ayn Rand's political philosophy and is now taking flack for this. Apparently eager to besmirch Ayn Rand and through her Mr. Ryan, claims now abound in the media that go like this: "Rand's libertarianism has an underlying philosophy that says that if you are not particularly smart, ambitious, disciplined or wealthy, and you become homeless, hungry, financially ruined and suffer from premature illness or death, then that is entirely your fault."
Neither Ayn Rand, Mr. Ryan nor libertarians say any of this. What they do say is that if you are in such a state, you by no stretch of the imagination have the authority to confiscate from others their resources. You may ask, of course. And surely that is correct.
Even a person in the greatest of need has no warrant for stealing from others. What such a person most definitely is fully justified in doing is to request help from others, which, in America especially, millions provide at little urging – just consider the help that they provide when something like Katrina or a tsunami strikes and all the charitable contributions they send to the casualties of various similar mishaps. They do this far more than citizens of any other country.
Both Rand and libertarians support voluntary aid but oppose, most vigorously and vociferously, confiscating what other people own.
Nor do Rand and libertarians hold that everything in the list of the quoted paragraph is one's fault, quite the contrary. Many mishaps people experience, because of illness and natural disasters, are clearly not their or (most often) anyone's fault. Bad things do happen, be it to good or bad people.
What Rand and libertarians have believed, on pretty good grounds, is that when improvements are needed in people's lives, relying on confiscating other people's belongings and coercing them to do work to provide assistance are flawed and morally wrong remedies. Instead, voluntary cooperation is both the most ethical and the most effective way to go.
This idea is by no means odd. In broad terms it is recognized that countries the laws of which protect their citizens against coercion – violent criminals, intrusive or meddling governments – are in better shape than those ruled by strong rulers who impose their idea of what is good for everyone not by convincing citizens of what they believe is right but by imposing their will on them. Be this in small matters or large ones, history is replete with the lessons about how coercive force between human beings is an ill advised way to handle problems.
In one area, especially, this has proven to be true for the last few centuries. Ever since Adam Smith published his path-breaking book The Wealth of Nations in 1776, it has been understood by quite a few political economists that prosperity is best pursued in peaceful ways. Voluntary economic relations among people are now referred to as a win-win situation, whereas coercive economic relations are primarily zero-sum games, meaning when one party gains the other loses. In most of human history, sadly, this latter is the way wealth has been obtained and many still advocate the approach even today. This is in part because in largely free markets – there has never been a fully free market anywhere, unfortunately – those seeking to have their needs and wants met, from gaining groceries to major medical treatments, have been able to find nearly exactly what they have in mind, suiting their particular, individual needs and wants instead of some general benefit that governments prescribe for everyone, something that always suffers from government's ignorance of what it is that can benefit individual human beings. This may be one reason boosters of government involvement in our lives – in other words, statists – tend to speak mostly of the public interest or the public good or the common welfare since these are so indeterminate, so vague that no one can check out just exactly what they come to in practice.
Aside from all this, there is also the less well known greater generosity found in free societies than in those with top-down government regimentation of nearly everything in people's lives. But this isn't government "generosity," involving robbing Peter so as to hand some of the loot to Paul. It is voluntary charity and philanthropy so it is likely to be far more efficient than what the government does when it sets out to "help" people, including the poor, indigent, hapless, or unfortunate among us. (It isn't help when one doesn't dig into one's own pockets or bank accounts but those of other people and hands these to those in need of help. Moreover, the welfare state didn't emerge because private help was not forthcoming.)
Ayn Rand and libertarians have supported all voluntary contributions to the people the letter writer listed, provided those people aren't set on robbing others to support their goals or urging the government to do so. Rand, in particular, did believe that focusing too intently on the needy is a mistake. After all, even the needy are much better off if the productive among us are championed. And how are the needy ever going to gain from rich bashing, by denigrating and discouraging those who create the resources from which they might benefit?
Posted by Muskie on 10/26/12 02:25 PM
I'm with you on your power analysis of the welfare/warfare state. The rallying cry of the welfare state is "help the poor, the downtrodden, etc." The rallying cry of the warfare state is "Patriotism/Security."
I wonder which is primary - acquiring power to accomplish these ends, or they are just the most persuasive rationalizations for acquiring power?
You seem to go with power first, the rallying cries are just the means to the end, i.e., power.
Posted by Joe on 10/26/12 05:53 AM
On the other hand, it is obvious that dynasties do structure the world so they can continue to grow rich and remain powerful.
Click to view link
Here's the full list of the '26 richest people of all time':
1. Mansa Musa I, (Ruler of Malian Empire, 1280-1331) $400 billion
2. Rothschild Family (banking dynasty, 1740- ) $350 billion
3. John D Rockefeller (industrialist, 1839-1937) $340 billion
4. Andrew Carnegie (industrialist, 1835-1919) $310 billion
5. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (last Emperor of Russia, 1868-1918) $300 billion
6. Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII (last ruler of Hyderabad, 1886-1967) $236 billion
7. William the Conqueror (King of England, 1028-1087) $229.5 billion
8. Muammar Gaddafi (former Libyan leader, 1942-2011) $200 billion
9. Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company founder, 1863-1947) $199 billion
10. Cornelius Vanderbilt (industrialist, 1794-1877) $185 billion
11. Alan Rufus (Fighting companion of William the Conqueror, 1040-1093) $178.65 billion
12. Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft, 1955- ) $136 billion
13. William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey (Norman nobleman, ??-1088) $146.13 billion
14. John Jacob Astor (businessman, 1864-1912) $121 billion
15. Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel (English nobleman, 1306-1376) £118.6 billion
16. John of Gaunt (son of Edward III, 1330-1399) £110 billion
17. Stephen Girard (shipping and banking mogul, 1750-1831) $105 billion
18. Alexander Turney Stewart (entrepreneur, 1803-1876) $90 billion
19. Henry, 1st Duke of Lancaster (English noble, 1310-1361) $85.1 billion
20. Friedrich Weyerhaeuser (timber mogul, 1834-1914) $80 billion
21. Jay Gould (railroad tycoon, 1836-1892) $71 billion
22. Carlos Slim (business magnate, 1940- ) $68 billion
23. Stephen Van Rensselaer (land owner, 1764- 1839) $68 billion
24. Marshall Field (Marshall Field & Company founder, 1834-1906) $66 billion
25. Sam Walton (Walmart founder, 1918-1992) $65billion
26. Warren Buffett (investor, 1930- ) $64billion
Reply from The Daily Bell
"Rothschild Family (banking dynasty, 1740- ) $350 billion"
Posted by Joe on 10/26/12 05:50 AM
Prophet Muhammed said 'It is better for anyone of you to take his rope and to go to the mountain and bring a bundle of wood on his back, sell it and cover his needs, than to ask people, either they give him or refuse.' [Bukhari]
COMMENTARY: The Prophet of Mercy reminds all of us that we should not be stretching out our hands and begging from people. We need to make every effort possible to take up whichever occupation we can to earn our own livelihood. If that means that we have to take up the most menial of jobs, then we should in the interest of not living off other people's money. How can people still in their young age not work on their own and expect other people to look after them? Accepting the lowest paying jobs is much better than begging or continuously living off the government and people's taxes.
This is not to say that the Prophet did not believe in social security or the bolstering of society with social services. It is simply to state that the Prophet wanted able-bodied and able-minded people to make every effort to make a living for themselves. This instills self-reliance, self-esteem and confidence in the people and makes them self-sufficient. When the people do fall on genuinely hard times, it is then that the community should come together to help.
Click to view link
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 10/25/12 04:27 PM
The fact that a thinker of the caliber of Tibor Machan feels the need to explain these simple things, which have been explained so many times before, shows just how lost our left leaning full-sized children are.
Posted by RED on 10/25/12 12:15 PM
Another great piece Tibor. I am very happy to be able to provide some feedback once again (the best I could do in the recent past was to give you 5 stars). I was not able to express my appreciation for some of you past fine articles, particularly your eloquant piece on the inherent conflict of interest in the existance of public sector unions.
If I decide to extend money to the truly "less fortunate" that is honest "CHARITY" in its most efficient and benificent form. If the government confiscates it from me to transfer a portion of it to those who most often do not deserve or need it, that is Socialism Marxism and Fascism (the other "portion" is lost in bureaucracy and misappropriation).
Also, under the current (and proposed) confiscatory tax and regulation system of our current Marxist and Fascist administration, fewer and fewer people in the "vast middle class" are in a position to provide any charity at all to the truly needy; it is all being drained away into the coffers of our greedy Marxist governments (Federal & State). A Marxist regime cannot afford to allow a viable middle class to thrive and flourish; they must have a fully dependent population.
I appreciate your work, and I wish you even broader, influential forums in the future (in addition to this great forum of course!)
Posted by ba3939 on 10/25/12 11:38 AM
Thanks, Tibor, for clarifying that. I hope this gets syndicated. One problem I see in America is that there's a certain schizoid attitude about the wealthy: Everyone wants to be wealthy but once you attain wealth or the American dream, you become a target of derision. Relatedly, people will deride those who don't work, yet the goal of most people in America is to not have to work. It's weird.
Posted by Libertarian Jerry on 10/25/12 06:24 AM
Two thirds of the money spent by government on poverty programs never reaches the poor but is lost instead to fraud,bureaucracy and waste. Just like warfare,welfare is a racket. With that said,the real story is about power. The Political Class,in order to get elected,often needs a constituency base. This base may consist of areas of the country with large numbers of military contractor employees,large numbers of government employees,large retirement communities and thus large numbers of Social Security recipients and so forth. However, often this constituency consists of large pockets of Welfare recipients such as in Appalachia or the inner cities. Thus politicians,in these areas, will dwell on promoting the redistribution of other people's wealth,mostly through class envy,in order to garner as many votes as possible in order to stay in power. In the end its all about obtaining and keeping power.