Monday, March 16, 2009

Is Rand Relevant?

Ayn Rand died more than a quarter of a century ago, yet her name appears regularly in discussions of our current economic turmoil. Pundits including Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli urge listeners to read her books, and her magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged," is selling at a faster rate today than at any time during its 51-year history. There's a reason. In "Atlas," Rand tells the story of the U.S. economy crumbling under the weight of crushing government interventions and regulations. Meanwhile, blaming greed and the free market, Washington responds with more controls that only deepen the crisis. Sound familiar?

The novel's eerily prophetic nature is no coincidence. "If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society," Rand wrote elsewhere in "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal," "you can predict its course." Economic crises and runaway government power grabs don't just happen by themselves; they are the product of the philosophical ideas prevalent in a society -- particularly its dominant moral ideas.

Why do we accept the budget-busting costs of a welfare state? Because it implements the moral ideal of self-sacrifice to the needy. Why do so few protest the endless regulatory burdens placed on businessmen? Because businessmen are pursuing their self-interest, which we have been taught is dangerous and immoral. Why did the government go on a crusade to promote "affordable housing," which meant forcing banks to make loans to unqualified home buyers? Because we believe people need to be homeowners, whether or not they can afford to pay for houses.

The message is always the same: "Selfishness is evil; sacrifice for the needs of others is good." But Rand said this message is wrong -- selfishness, rather than being evil, is a virtue. By this she did not mean exploiting others a la Bernie Madoff. Selfishness -- that is, concern with one's genuine, long-range interest -- she wrote, required a man to think, to produce, and to prosper by trading with others voluntarily to mutual benefit.

Rand also noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism -- and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention -- and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest. Rand offered us a way out -- to fight for a morality of rational self-interest, and for capitalism, the system which is its expression. And that is the source of her relevance today.



Complaints about Obama, largely from establishment Democrats

A selection from Howard Fineman's even longer list of complaints from the establishment about the performance of President Obama so far:
If the establishment still has power, it is a three-sided force, churning from inside the Beltway, from Manhattan-based media and from what remains of corporate America. Much of what they are saying is contradictory, but all of it is focused on the president:

* The $787 billion stimulus, gargantuan as it was, was in fact too small and not aimed clearly enough at only immediate job-creation.

* The $275 billion home-mortgage-refinancing plan, assembled by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, is too complex and indirect.

* The president gave up the moral high ground on spending not so much with the "stim" but with the $400 billion supplemental spending bill, larded as it was with 9,000 earmarks.

* The administration is throwing good money after bad in at least two cases-the sinkhole that is Citigroup (there are many healthy banks) and General Motors (they deserve what they get).

* A willingness to give too much leeway to Congress to handle crucial details, from the stim to the vague promise to "reform" medical care without stating what costs could be cut.

* A 2010 budget that tries to do far too much, with way too rosy predictions on future revenues and growth of the economy. This led those who fear we are about to go over Niagara Falls to deride Obama as a paddler who'd rather redesign the canoe.

* A treasury secretary who has been ridiculed on "Saturday Night Live" and compared to Doogie Howser, Barney Fife and Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone"-and those are the nice ones.

* A seeming paralysis in the face of the banking crisis: unwilling to nationalize banks, yet unable to figure out how to handle toxic assets in another way-by, say, setting up a "bad bank" catch basin.

Hey, give the guy a break. After all, this is really the professor's first real job besides conducting cool classes with break-out discussions and some real sharing of feelings and whatever.



The Boy President

President Obama's performance in his first months in office has reinforced my belief that it would be a big mistake to elect a boy to do a man's (or woman's) job.

Note to the politically correct language police: I am very much aware that "Boy" was long a racist, insulting, demeaning term used, especially in the South, to refer to black men. I do not choose to use that term in reference to President Obama because of his race but because of his callow youthfulness. Not his youthfulness per se - John Kennedy was even younger when he was elected, but he was no boy - but his unseasoned, callow youthfulness.
callow, adj., Lacking adult maturity or experience; immature....

Obama is like a normally sober and well-behaved little boy left unattended by adults (there being few of those in Congress, and even fewer among his governing party) in a candy store - our candy store, the treasury where all our goodies are stored. Faced with so many tempting treats that he is unable to decide which to eat first, he rushes from this jar to that in a mad effort to devour as much as he can before someone makes him stop, knocking over many jars in the process but oblivious to the waste caused by his haste. His appetite is matched only by his overweening faith in his own abilities, another conceit of untempered youth, a quality nicely captured today by George Will:
The president's confidence in his capacities is undermining confidence in his judgment. His way of correcting what he called the Bush administration's "misplaced priorities" has been to have no priorities. Mature political leaders know that to govern is to choose - to choose what to do and thereby to choose what cannot be done. The administration insists that it really does have a single priority: Everything depends on fixing the economy. But it also says that everything depends on everything: Economic revival requires enactment of the entire liberal wish list of recent decades.

Obama, in short, is acting as though he believes that he must cram as much as he possibly can, and then some, down his (and by extension, our) throat right away, because sooner or later the adults will surely come in and insist on a balanced budget diet, delaying the gratification of dessert until after we've eaten our vegetables.



Paying the Piper

[Chinese] Premier Wen Jiabao's knickers are in a bunch about his country's loans to the United States, estimated at 1 trillion.
We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S., so of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. Frankly speaking, I do have some worries.

The best case scenario, I think, would be for China to stop buying the US Treasury bonds that we use to fund our day-to-day spending. Think about it: there would simply be no money to fund ACORN, anti-life activism, and corporate welfare. Some argue that inflation (and disaster) would be inevitable; I like Philip Klein's conclusion: John H. Cochrane, a professor of finance at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, explained in a recent article of mine, "Once you have a flight from U.S. government debt, there's nothing the Fed can do about it...If people don't want more U.S. Treasury debt, then the Fed is out of ammunition."

Either way, Jiabao's words were a good kick in the tush for our spendthrift leaders. I'm all for even more international pressure.




A list of some of the promises that Obama has broken already

The jocular Bob McCarty says that it's Time to Stop Celebrating Cinco De Mayo and celebrate the CINCO DE MUSTARD instead! (Site a bit slow to load)

Americans' Opinion of United Nations at Record Low: "The Obama administration's attempts to revamp the U.S. relationship with the United Nations comes at a time when Americans' opinion of the world body's effectiveness has dropped to an all-time low. In the latest annual Gallup poll on the subject, only 26 percent of respondents said the U.N. was doing a good job "in trying to solve the problems it has had to face." The score marks a new low point in a steady decline since 2002, when 58 percent of respondents thought the U.N. was doing a good job. This year's is also the lowest score registered by Gallup in more than half a century of tracking the issue. Gallup previously attributed the downward trend since 2002 to the U.N.'s stand on the 2003 war in Iraq, corruption and scandals including the oil-for-food affair and sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Africa. But even subsequent attempts to reform the U.N. and the departure of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006 do not appear to have checked the slide."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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