Monday, December 19, 2011

Thomas Paine on Reconciliation

Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense at the beginning of the American rebellion and is credited by other Founding Fathers as having united the colonists in the cause of independence. In the pamphlet Paine describes the absurdity of monarchy and of England's mongrel system fusing hereditary monarchy (in the King and peers) with republicanism (in the House of Commons). He goes on to argue for American independence with some specific suggestions on the structure of the continental congress, building a navy and what a declaration of independence should look like.

The target of his pamphlet was that large, undecided portion of the population, those thinking that reconciliation with England was possible. His ideas came at a critical time and were widely read. 500,000 were sold in the course of the revolution, amongst a population of 2 million. John Adams said, "Without the pen of the author of 'Common Sense,' the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

The battle he engaged is being fought again. The form then was republicanism versus monarchism. Today it is capitalism versus welfare statism. Both are forms of individualism versus statism. Are we as individuals right in making our own decisions and pursuing our own happiness, or does the government own us and have the right to dictate how we should live?

My favorite quotation is below. Consider that we have two political parties. Democrats are completely devoted to statism and have even dropped their support for freedom of speech (e.g. in 'hate speech' legislation, the 'fairness' doctrine in broadcasting and campaign contribution regulations). Republicans are a mixed bag, with some genuine advocates of freedom and others that would reconcile some economic freedoms with welfare statism (e.g. George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism).
[A]ll those who espouse the doctrine of reconciliation, may be included within the following descriptions. Interested men, who are not to be trusted; weak mean, who CANNOT see; prejudiced men, who WILL NOT see; and a certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world than it deserves; and this last class, by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of more calamities to this continent, than all the other three.
Conservatives, don't think better of welfare statism than it deserves.

(Craig Nelson's biography of Thomas Paine is my current favorite: Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. Recently deceased Christopher Hitchens has also written a biography, which I'd love to read.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Better to Give or Receive? No.

The North County Times ran a cartoon by David Fitzsimmons of the The Arizona Star yesterday on the letters page. In it, a charity bell ringer wearing a "merry christmas" hat stands with a sign "'Tis Better to Give than to Receive." Walking past him away from the reader, with his hands pointedly in his pockets, is an I-heart-Ayn-Rand-t-shirt-toting Republican. The non-donating Republican's thought: 'socialist vermin'.

While mildly amusing, it's wrong on many levels.

First, the implication is that Republicans or Objectivists (followers of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism) don't give to charity. I've never seen data for Objectivists, but comparisons of Republicans and Democrats show that Republicans give more (see also "Bleeding Heart Tightwads" from the NYT).

Second, is it better to give than receive? My 8-year-old daughter saw the cartoon and unbidden said, "Its better to give than receive? Huh? I think its better to receive." That's the Christmas spirit!

But seriously, is it better to give? In the narrow sense, for a particular person, at a particular age, with a particular family, the question might be answerable. For a kid, with no income and infinite wants, its definitely better to receive. For a retired grandparent who has everything he wants, it might be better to give--to experience vicariously the excitement of his youthful receiving for example. Then again, maybe not. Maybe he'd prefer receiving that handmade coffee mug with I *heart* grandpa on it, to giving yet another sweater he didn't pick out to a kid that hates sweaters.

Is giving better than receiving in the broad sense? Here's where I have my biggest beef with the cartoon. If that bromide is to be taken as some kind of moral guidance, then it must be flatly rejected. Rejected not because it is better to receive, but because that isn't the real choice.

The give-or-receive world of the altruist progressive is one of a fixed pie, divided among the population that can be redistributed (given or received). The altruist practitioner is obliged to give up some of his slice to those that have a smaller slice, while the altruist advocate skims off his commission. This bizarrely makes the altruist advocate and those he defends recipients. Doesn't that make them evil?

The real moral choice we face is not to give or receive, but to produce or mooch. Among producers there need be no question of give versus receive. Their interactions are not sacrificial, they are exchanges to mutual benefit. Furthermore it is their abundance of production that makes charity possible.

The bell ringer is 'socialist', but not for advocating giving. He's a socialist for his pretense that giving and receiving are the alternatives. The real alternatives are: production, trade and abundance that makes giving (and receiving) possible versus mooching, looting and the mutually assured destruction that the altruist doctrine leads to.

On another level the cartoon captures the revolting moral-political atmosphere we have in the world: the advocate for the producers who make giving possible and in fact are the biggest givers, is scorned and derided by the receivers, while being berated that its better to give than receive!

Contra 'giving versus receiving', here's John Galt's Oath from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged
I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
Happy winter solstice to you all! May you enjoy the selfish pleasure of giving to and receiving from the ones you love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yaron Brook on the Tea Party Moral High Ground

In this speech to the Southwest Metro Tea Party in Chanhassen, Minnesota, (HT Ayn Rand Center), Yaron Brook explains how the Tea Party can take the moral high ground in the political debate: by embracing the pursuit of happiness the Founders referred to in the Declaration of Independence, i.e. the morality of self-interest.

YouTube link