Who is John Galt? Why do I care? Why am I still reading this tripe?

Posted: March 3, 2009 in atlas, ayn rand, conservatism, cult, john galt, objectivism, stupid

It’s a month since I resolved to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged before the year is done, I’m only 180 pages into it, and I have only one thing to say.

Do people really read this crap?

I mean, good God, people, if this isn’t the worst book ever written, it’s certainly in the running.  Reading it actually causes physical agony, it’s that bad.  I’ll continue my slog through this meandering, pointless, plotless, soulless pile of steaming feces, but damn it all, someone owes me big time for this.

And remember, like I said before, I’m doing this as a public service.  I’m reading it so you don’t have to.

You’re welcome.

  1. hpx83 says:

    I recommend reading on, because when you look up after finishing the last page, you may realize that what you just read is happening, and the only thing left to say is “aaaaaaw, crap…..”

    • Afrit007 says:

      I will continue reading, of course. I have only rarely failed to finish a book once I have started it. However, I am not enjoying this in the slightest. The characters fail to evoke even the slightest amount of sympathy, the situations are so unrealistic as to be laughable even when read as fantasy or science fiction, and the writing is turgid, morose and sophomoric. I could teach a creative writing unit and, using this book, fill an entire ten-week segment on how not to write.

      It’s that bad.

      Also, re. the “aaaaaw, crap……” reaction, people have said that about Nostradamus, the Revelation, and LaHaye’s atrocious “Left Behind” series. We’ll see.

  2. Afrit007 says:

    Another thought re. “aaaaaw, crap…..”: Read “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis and compare the events therein with the Bush II years. It’s far more realistic, and it really almost did happen.

    Unlike the bullshit spewed by Ayn Rand and her cultists.

  3. hpx83 says:

    For someone who has already decided not to like Atlas Shrugged, it would seem rather pointless in reading it. And the best thing about having an opinion of your own, is that you don’t have to care about those of others. I know what the writings of Ayn Rand have been worth to me, and if you don’t like them well tough shit, why would I give a flying?

    I was merely trying to give some advice, because if you haven’t noticed the world economy, and specifically the US economy is going down the drain. Some people were intelligent enough to predict it and know why, but you don’t have to join.

  4. Afrit007 says:

    I haven’t decided not to like Atlas Shrugged. I have come to this conclusion after attempting to read it. I have noticed the economy going down the toilet; I noticed it five years ago when I returned from overseas assignment and saw the desperate scrabbling for cash going on at all levels of society. The middle class was having the rug pulled out from under it and those at the top didn’t give a shit. They just wanted to wring as much cash out of the masses as they could before the whole house of cards collapsed.

    And they’re still doing it. I could have told you this would happen back then, but I wasn’t blogging at the time. And I didn’t need Ayn Rand, Nostradamus or anyone else to tell me about it. Just observation and deduction.

    I’ll continue reading Atlas Shrugged. I truly want to know what the hype is about.

  5. hpx83 says:

    I’d say your analysis is pretty correct. And the hype is about this – want to know how the government and the crony socialist corporatists feed off each other to send you to poverty? And why? Then read the book.

    And I’ll admit the first 200 pages is a bit of a “setting up the stage very slowly”, but the book picks up pace after that.

  6. Afrit007 says:

    I hope you’re right. The first 200 pages could have been pared down to about 20 to 30 (and would have been, had Rand been a *good* author) without losing anything. I’m honestly trying not to pre-judge the book. It’s just that the writing is so incredibly bad that it’s almost unreadable.

    Another excellent analysis, and one I highly recommend, is _The Conservative Nanny State_, available online at http://www.conservativenannystate.org/. I urge regular readers of my diatribes to click on over and check it out. It explains everything.

  7. hpx83 says:

    If you are reading it for the philosophy, but hate the style its written in, maybe you’re better of at reading “Philosophy, who needs it” or some other non-fictional work by Rand?

  8. Afrit007 says:

    I’ll accept that. Perhaps after I’ve finished this most talked-about book I’ll delve into her essays and non-fiction.

  9. NG Lynd says:

    Rand’s Objectivism is based upon notions of individuality and freedom, but unfortunately it veers into a philosophy of complete selfishness. This was a person who believed it was acceptable to live one’s life completely in pursuit of one’s own interests….even if it meant harms to others in the process.

    Look at how things work. In this day, it seems that in order to be rich others must be left in the wake. To get rich all too often involves harming others. When I think of how Objectivists I have known blame the poor for their situations, I wonder how they can believe this when the evidence is frequently to the contrary. Worker’s rights? Please. Work hard to make a great living for someone else.

  10. hpx83 says:

    NG I think you should re-read your Rand a bit. The basis for the entire philosopy is that everyone should live in pursuit of one’s own interest, as long as one did it WITHOUT harming others.

  11. NG Lynd says:

    That is impossible. To live for one’s own interest according to Rand’s principles leads to a society that lacks empathy and concern for the common good.

    Too-rigid notions of individualism create a society disconnected people. They simply do not care enough about other people.

    This kind of philosophy leads to the creation of people who have a convenient skepticism when presented with any information that could threaten their own interest. This is why the majority of the right is somehow magically of the same mind when it comes to climate change. How could so many people just happen to interpret that data in the same way? It seems almost all conservatives do not believe it. One would think there would be a variety of opinions on the matter, but apparently not. Why are they all on the same page, why do they all see the data the same way and reject it? Because they do not want to see it. It is simply too inconvenient, because to believe it would mean that they would have to accept certain changes in society; changes that would limit or inhibit their endless self-centered, self-interested pursuits. Curb pollution? Not if curbs profits.

    Certainly many on the left are guilty of groupthink and obediently following the party line. Both sides have errors in their ideology and want to push aside any info that challenges their belief system; too inconvenient to think.

  12. Afrit007 says:

    The trouble with Rand’s philosophy, as was the problem with Socialism, its opposite, and other more individualistic ideologies, is that it fails to take into account human nature. Objectivism does indeed lead to a society of selfish, disconnected jerks devoid of concern for their fellow man. Enlightened self-interest leads to unenlightened moral relativism. The desires of the individual become paramount, regardless of their effect on others or society as a whole.

    Consider Alan Greenspan’s statement re. the financial meltdown from last March: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

    There’s those words, “self-interest.” True virtue and service lies not in self-interest, but in other-interest. Only by acting in the interests of others can we truly act in a way not to harm them.

    Objectivism doesn’t work, neither on an individual scale nor on a national scale.

  13. hpx83 says:

    NG : “To live for one’s own interest according to Rand’s principles leads to a society that lacks empathy and concern for the common good.”

    It seems like you have no faith in yourself nor your fellow man. Just because you allow people to act according to rational self-interest does not meen that they won’t care about others. Do you base this reflection on your knowledge of yourself? Would you not care for anyone else unless you were forced? Or do you think this only applies to others, that you would care if you had the choice but no one else? I care much for others, but I won’t ever allow anyone to force me to do so.

    Afrit :
    “Human nature” is an excuse commonly used by leftists and statist, that implies that man is a foul beast that must be tamed by the government. How did we ever survive before there was a government? Or do you attribute the development of modern society to the forceful oppression of government? Do you think man develops more, and faster when oppressed? Why would one want to live in slavery just for the comfort of knowing that you cannot do anything to affect things around you?

    Alan Greenspan is a philosophical traitor, and his comments in self-defence are nothing but that – his pathetic attempts to clear himself from guilt of creating the largest financial crisis in the history of man. There was no rational self-interest in lending institutions, with the CRA demanding more subprimes, Fannie and Freddie purchasing all bad loans with an implicit government guarantee, rating agencies slapping AAA on anything that moved, and investment banks naively thinking that crap would turn into gold if you circulated it quick enough.

    Virtue lies in self-interest. To make other-interest a virtue is to adhere to the same doctrine as communists. I do not need to give a man bread in order to avoid slapping him in the face. I do not need to pay welfare taxes in order to not shoot people. The belief in positive rights is what will in the end destroy this society, the belief that you are entitled to something when you are born, that everyone else has an obligation to make sure that your life is as comfortable and pleasing as possible. There are only two crimes that need to be prevented, and that is the acts of physical force and intellectual fraud.

    In order for you to make statements of whether or not objectivism works on any scale, I suggest you read up on what it is first.

  14. NG Lynd says:

    I believe human beings can be socialized. They can be socialized either positively or negatively.

    We need only look around to see all the “good” that comes from people who live their lives so selfishly.

    “To make other-interest a virtue is to adhere to the same doctrine as communists”. This is a stunning statement, one that is almost cult-like in that it is so rigid and absolute in its conviction. To adhere to a philosophy like this is so self-conscious and self-important it is breathtaking. Its illogical message is that caring for others will lend itself to rigid conformity. This type of thinking is disturbingly rigid, black-and-white, and devoid of flexibility. You really cannot envision a society where people are other-centered, still have their own needs met, and all the parts are synchronized and work in harmony while still avoiding the rigid conformity so obviously present in your own worldview? Again: cult-like.

  15. hpx83 says:

    “Be socialized”? What the h do you mean “be socialized” ? Are we to puit people in camps and tell them to be nice to other people until they get it? And I don’t believe that “good” will ever come from stealing with the left hand and giving with the right.

    And there is nothing cult-like with my statement – the communists believed in “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, which is exactly the doctrine of other-interest. What is cult-like about it? And it is not caring about others that I claim will lead to rigid conformity, it is forcing people to care for others. How could it NOT lead to rigid conformity when the basis for such an agenda is that the unspecified group “man” should be “cared about”, for no reason other than its existance?

    And as to your claims about my personality traits – I am conscious of myself, and I consider myself important (to myself). If you want me to be ashamed of it you better be prepared to wait indefinately. And again, the harmony you are looking for is what we get when people take pride in their self-interest, and help others only because they want to, not because they are forced.

    Flexibility is another word leftists like to use to describe a system where rules are created not to be adhered to, but to be bent or broken by those who created them.

  16. […] Go here : Who is John Galt, why do I care, why am I still reading this tripe […]

  17. Afrit007 says:

    hpx83: Neither I nor NG has ever said a single word about “forcing” anyone to care about others. That’s your spin on it. Other-interest is also fundamental to the doctrine of Christianity, a wholly non-Communist philosophy. It’s also non-Objectivist at its heart.

    You talk a lot about “force” and “oppression”, and use hot-button phrases like “putting people in camps” and “live in slavery” as though the only choice we have is between acting in our own “rational self-interest” and living under a socialist dictatorship. Your own statements display a rigid, simplistic, black-and-white world view. I won’t make any judgements of your personality traits.

    ““Human nature” is an excuse commonly used by leftists and statist, that implies that man is a foul beast that must be tamed by the government.” Not at all. It’s also terminology used by psychologists and sociologists to describe and predict human behavior. I do not believe man is a “foul beast”, but I do believe that laws are required for society to function. It stands therefore to reason that government is required to enforce those laws. All human societies eventually develop systems of government, whether they are the smallest village tribe or the most powerful nation on earth. We didn’t get where we are today as a nation by acting in “self-interest”; we got here by banding together and acting for the COMMON GOOD. That’s neither oppression nor slavery. It’s human nature.

    “Alan Greenspan is a philosophical traitor.” Really? Or his he a rational human being admitting to an error of judgment? Perhaps after examining the results of his own actions he concluded that he’d been wrong, and felt he needed to make a mea culpa. You’re right to say there was no rational self-interest in lending institutions. That’s the problem with self-interest. It’s rarely rational. The people in charge of Lehman, Bear-Stearns, AIG et al. were acting out of corporate and individual greed in irrational pursuit of short-term gains. The government erred in removing or reducing the regulations that would have prevented much of the worst excesses. The present economic troubles are not an aberration, but rather the logical outcome of these activities.

    Back to Greenspan. Saying he’s a “philosophical traitor” is black-and-white thinking, the language of a cultist. Sorry.

    “Virtue lies in self-interest. To make other-interest a virtue is to adhere to the same doctrine as communists.” Again, more rigid, black-and-white thinking. You present to us a world view that divides society into free thinkers and oppressors. I say again, neither NG nor I have said a single word about oppressing or forcing anyone to agree with us. I do not need to be “enslaved” or “oppressed” or “forced” to consider others’ needs when I make decisions; that’s the result of my upbrining. I am neither a communist nor a statist, simply a mature, rational human being who has come to the rational conclusion that it’s in my self-interest not to act like a jerk.

    “Be socialized.” We are all socialized at some point in our development, whether it’s by our parents, our peers or society as a whole. That doesn’t produce “socialism”, “oppression” or “slavery”, it produces a SOCIETY.

    I say again, there is no virtue in self-interest. That’s the philosophy of a spoiled child. True maturity and rationality lies in acknowledging the importance of others and factoring their needs into your thinking. At some point in life you must realize that sometimes the needs of others come first and you must suborn your desires to their needs.

    That’s not “socialism” or “oppression” or “slavery”. That’s maturity.

  18. hpx83 says:

    “You talk a lot about “force” and “oppression””

    There is a reason to this – I believe in freedom. I don’t mind if other people volountarily choose to create societies or groups that have socialist agendas etc. Just don’t force me to join. Sadly, there is nowhere on earth where one can declare independance left. And I my opinion, when the majority of all your work and everything you produce has to be given to the government – this is nothing else than the oppression of the minority by the majority.

    No one is ever asked what they feel should be payed for with taxes, instead we have “representative democracy”, which has grown into a bloated corrupted politicians world, where the politicians get to choose what is in my best interest. How many political suggestions that aren’t really crucial to people’s survival have you seen pushed through, forced upon everyone regardless if they want it or not? Sure – I can agree on a minimal state that guarantees the absolute minimum necessary for survival – but I don’t feel like paying for people’s dance classes or their right to buy nutri-correct brand-name cereal.

    Alan Greenspan wrote an excellent article in the 60’s, explaining what happens if you do not have a gold standard and how the government and central bank are going to go mad with the printing press. In the 80’s he took over as Federal Reserve chairman, and started printing. If that isn’t philosophical treason, I don’t know what is.

    “The people in charge of Lehman, Bear-Stearns, AIG et al. were acting out of corporate and individual greed in irrational pursuit of short-term gains.”

    Here I will agree, but I wouldn’t call it greed but “self-interest” or “greed”, rather fraud, nepotism, corporatism and corruption. These companies have lived on the “too-large-to-fail”-doctrine, and your beloved politicians have done nothing except prove them right. Which system is it that has allowed these companies to thrive? It isn’t the free market, because the US government has 50.000 pages of regulation and 12.000 people in washington to make sure that these companies don’t do exactly what they did. On a free market these companies would have been bankrupted years ago.

    The current move to try and tax back the bonuses for the AIG executives proves how incompetent government is – first they give away money to a company that is a complete economical hazard, and then they get surprised when the executives follow through on previously decided bonus-deals that they thanks to government money now can afford. There is a reason no investor wants to touch AIG with a 60-foot pole – yet the government refuses to let them go.

    The mistake was not to slash regulation, but to pick and choose which regulations to slash. Any regulation is going to give an unfair advantage to one or other participant, and all the slashing did was change who was the beneficiaries of the system. Until all regulation is removed, there will be no real competition and therefore only substandard companies, driven not by people who have a long term interest in them, but instead people who have a short-term interest in getting unfair advantages thanks to government, grab their loot, and get out.

    And you are pointing out exactly what I am trying to tell you – you don’t need anyone forcing you to care about others, so why do we have gazillions of taxes that demand that we pay for everyone else? Since people overall are usually pretty decent, why does the government think that they need to redistribute? If you believe that caring for others is a fundamental human trait, then there is no need for forcing socialized charity on everyone, because we are quite capable of handling that privately.

    And I agree once again that we are all socialized, and thus we have society. But people think that government is the basis for society – it isn’t. It is a parasite on societys back. Fear and corruption has created this system, and it won’t last forever. I wouldn’t want to live on a mountain-top, all by myself. I care for and want to deal with people – but volountarily, and not by government force. I don’t mind giving to charity, but I mind the government taxing me and then calling it charity. I mind that rules and regulations state what I can and cannot do, when all they should state is that I am free to do whatever I wish as long as it doesnt hurt anyone else.

    The virtue of self-interest is the reason we do not still live in the stone-ages. You think I don’t acknowledge the importance of others – but you’re wrong. I simply acknowledge that I will always be most important to myself, because my well-being is the basis for the importance of anything else. I also acknowledge that something does not become important because someone else tells you to – it becomes important because one decides to make it important. I will only suborn my desires to someone elses needs if I decide that its worth it – not if someone else demands it.

    • Afrit007 says:

      I believe in freedom as well. It’s one reason I spent nearly 21 years defending it as a member of the Air Force. No one forced me to join – I did it of my own free will. To be sure, my motives at first were primarily based on self-interest – I wanted a job, I wanted to see the world, and I wanted to get away from the small town where I grew up – but as I progressed in my career I quickly suborned my selfish interests to the service of something greater than myself. That’s what service is – the recognition that you are not the most important thing in the world, and that sometimes you have to give of yourself to become something greater. Those motivated primarily by self-interest may eventually rise to the top, but they rarely make good leaders. The best leaders always start out as good followers.

      Interestingly enough, I never met anyone in the military that I would consider to have been an Objectivist. The mind-set simply isn’t compatible with a life of service and sacrifice.

      “No one is ever asked what they feel should be payed for with taxes, instead we have “representative democracy”, which has grown into a bloated corrupted politicians world, where the politicians get to choose what is in my best interest.”

      Of course not. The size of our country makes true democracy unworkable. Unfortunately, you have a point about the corruption, but one of the features of our governmental system is that we do get the chance to send different corrupt politicians to speak for us in the government every few years.

      Your point about Alan Greenspan is well taken – we never should have gone off the gold standard. Our currency should always be linked to something tangible that people have confidence in. Gold, silver, platinum, plutonium, whatever. But it has to be something more than the hopes and dreams that we’ve been linking it to for the past 30 years.

      And it was Nixon that took us off gold, in 1971. When Greenspan took over as Fed chairman in the ’80s, the damage had already been done. It took another 20 years for the full effect to be felt, though. It wasn’t philosophical treason, he was just working with the broken tools he’d been given.

      “On a free market these companies would have been bankrupted years ago.”

      I have been an opponent of the bailouts from day one. It always seemed to me that throwing money at the gang of idiots that just lost billions and destroyed the national economy was nothing more than rewarding bad behavior. It’s as though your teenage son just wrecked your new Corvette, so you go and hand him the keys to the Porsche because he doesn’t have a car any more. Ludicrous.

      I disagree, though, that a free market would have prevented this, because after years of deregulatory fanaticism, the markets were as close to free as they could get. The regulations were there for a reason – to prevent the very risky and irresponsible behavior that these companies were engaged in, that led to their downfall. Regulations on business practices perform the same function that rules do on school playgrounds. They help prevent the biggest kids from lording it over the little kids, and keep the games flowing fairly and equitably. Taking the rules away led to a “Lord of the Flies” mentality on Wall Street, where the only thing that mattered was short-term gain and individual profit. No concern for the long-term effects of their actions there; the name of the game was get rich and get out. And we’re stuck with the bill now while the CEOs engage in economic terrorism against the country.

      And I agree with you about AIG – the government should immediately demand every thin red cent of its bailout be returned and the money turned over to the Veterans’ Administration where it can do some real good. Obviously the CEOs and officers of AIG don’t know how to properly handle public funds. Let the punishment fit the crime – they lost millions for others and destroyed jobs and livelihoods in the process, so they should lose everything in their turn.

      “Until all regulation is removed, there will be no real competition”

      And I suppose the school playground will be safer and more fun if there’s no adult supervision? Would a football game be more fun to watch if we remove the refs and throw away the rulebook? Incompetence and corruption exist whether there are rules or not – the rules are there to help us identify it and remove it if necessary. Without clear rules in place, how do we define what’s good and what’s bad? Who decides? I know you don’t trust the government, but someone has to make the determination.

      I wouldn’t want to live in a society without laws. You’re right again – I don’t need anyone to “force” me to care about others. I have my parents to thank for that. They taught me well, and I teach my children the same. And yes, the majority of people are pretty decent, honest, law-abiding folk who just want to get along and get ahead in life. Laws and government exist to protect their rights and protect us from the worst excesses of the parasites and looters of AIG, Lehman, Bear Stearns et al.

      Empathy is a fundamentally human trait, and charity is a great virtue. But there are limits to what private charity can do, as is being proven right now as we speak. Food banks are running low on stock, and the foreclosure crisis and unemployment have the shelters bursting at their seams. As distasteful as the thought may be, the government is the only player with the resources and ability to provide help for those in extreme need. Unfortunately, it’s thrown away over $1 Trillion in misguided, unplanned, mismanaged “bail-out” schemes giving more money to the same people who’ve proven conclusively they couldn’t manage the money they’d already been trusted with.

      But I see I’m repeating myself. My point is, the money would have been better spent helping real people with real jobs find new real jobs than being flushed down the financial sector toilet.

      “I mind that rules and regulations state what I can and cannot do, when all they should state is that I am free to do whatever I wish as long as it doesnt hurt anyone else.”

      Once again, who decides? How do we define this code? How do we prevent abuses of it? Most primitive societies start out this way, but eventually as the culture grows it (collectively) decides some form of government is needed to create and enforce the laws. What you are suggesting sounds good on paper, but in practice I don’t think it would work on any scale larger than a few dozen individuals.

      I know our system of government isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the others out there. It works, not without problems, but it’s not a complete train-wreck either. And I’d rather live in a society like ours, where individuals and groups have a chance to influence society as a whole and people like you and I have the chance to air our differences in the public square, than in any other, especially one governed strictly by self-interest. That seems too close to anarchy or despotism for my comfort. What, in your system, is there to prevent a single, powerful individual from gaining power and influence, and using it for personal gain? Forcing others, as you say, to obey his will? I submit there is nothing – because in this hypothetical person’s self-interest, he is doing what is right for him, and if others choose to follow him and do his will, then that’s “their decision”.

      Before long you have tyranny and dictatorship, all growing out of a philosophy of self-interest. The very opposite of what you espouse. No, I’ll take a society with laws and good government any day over one based on selfishness and narcissism.

      There is no virtue in selfishness. Every three-year-old child is selfish. Not every three-year-old child is virtuous. Children must be taught to be, on the one hand, unselfish, and on the other, virtuous. Some adults forget the lessons of childhood, or maybe they never learn them.

  19. jmp says:

    The thing I don’t understand is this:

    Rand’s entire philosophy relies on competent corporations producing money and goods that advance society. Could she have even imagined the level of incompetence on display in corporate america today?

    If you start from her premise, I tend to agree. Smart competent companies should be largely governed by the market. However, I’m not sure many of them are left, and I’m certain that no company receiving a bailout would qualify in that category.

    While many quote Rand to condemn welfare mothers and others taking advantage of entitlements, I suspect that anyone who has actually read her work would agree that incompetent companies would draw even more ire from her than the incompetent individuals. Yes, I’m saying ING, GM, Ford, all airlines (maybe with the exception of southwest), all government subsidized oil, … should be permitted to fail. So long as the govt is propping up the inferior companies, it gives them an unfair advantage against new entrants, which are sorely needed for the advancement of the market and society as a whole.

  20. hpx83 says:

    jmp : You just confessed to being a capitalist, of the Randian kind 🙂 The answer to the question is simply this : What corporate america needs today is a massive wave of bankrupcy. However – the bailouts are keeping the incompetent in business and bankrupting the competent – so things are likely to get even worse. In the end – either the US will stop bailing incompetence out, and let the competent survive, or the entire nation will be bankrupt.

    Were the market to be allowed to work, the rot would leave the system faster than you think, because anyone with half a brain and some imagination would kick the incompetent out of business faster than you can say zip.

  21. hpx83 says:

    “… I quickly suborned my selfish interests to the service of something greater than myself.” Yes, but this is because you decided that the most important thing to you was the service to this “greater thing” (I am guessing you are referring to the US Air Force/the US as a nation etc.). So in effect, you were still following your own interests. Would you not have done it if someone said that it wasn’t in their best interest? Would you have done it if you didn’t find it important. My point being – if one wants to dedicate time, money or effort at something else than oneself as a person – then I totally agree. I have little interest in self-indulgence, I only ask of people to understand that what I consider important will be important, and what they consider important may not be. That it is up to me to decide on anything being “greater than myself”, and whether or not I will follow a path to serving this.

    “The size of our country makes true democracy unworkable. Unfortunately, you have a point about the corruption, but one of the features of our governmental system is that we do get the chance to send different corrupt politicians to speak for us in the government every few years.”

    True democracy is never unworkable – even if it hasn’t happened yet. It is very much a question of decentralization of power, and putting the decisions as close to those whose lives it affects as possible (ideally almost no decisions would be made “over the head” of people, except those regarding law and justice etc.). And the thing is – I don’t care for corrupted politicians. When we vote one out and one in, all it ends up being is a quest for which group of society can steal more from another. This is not an ideal I wish to pursue.

    We seem to agree on the gold standard, bailouts and that stuff. I will add though that I don’t think Greenspan did the best he could. What he did was run an experiment without telling common people – because how many knew that the kind of interest rate policy he maintained was completely unchartered territory and was at risk of massive bubble-creation? I sure didn’t before I looked it up.

    “I disagree, though, that a free market would have prevented this, because after years of deregulatory fanaticism, the markets were as close to free as they could get.”

    Actually, the last figures I have is that there are 12.000 people in Washington responsible for regulating the american financial systems, and that the law-texts covering this span some 50.000 pages in all. I cannot view this as a free market.

    My point is this – bureacracy never solved one single problem, without creating 3 new. Government bureaus and agencies are per definition bloated, slow and ineffective – because they do not have any incentive to be anything else. Sure there are one or two idealists who will perform a great job, but the larger mass will never consider themselves more than just a cog in the machinery, that just needs to keep on spinning, and it doesn’t really matter at which speed or which direction.

    The market on the other hand has a really efficient method for getting rid
    of corruption and irresponsible behaviour – it bankrups them. If there had been a free market, people would have worried about their deposits and bankrupted bad banks many years sooner. Banks had worried about their balance sheets and stopped lending in view of the growing housing bubble. Financial institutes would not have purchased “toxic assets”, because they would have realized that without implicit government backing (plus Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to unload many of these assets to), these assets were the equivalent of gettign $5 for storing a bottle of nitroglycerine – the risk couldn’t be measured, it was only known to be high, and the revenue was questionable. One or two companies may have invested in them, boomed while the others looked on, and then collapsed as a house of cards without effecting the rest of the market.

    The risk of CDS implosion that has made the Federal Reserve guarantee hyperinflation in the US, wouldn’t have happened. The price of Credit Default Swaps would have been much higher, and they would have been less traded (because the more you trade them the more unpredictable the situation gets). The entire financial sector has relied on the US government and implicitly tax-payer money. They couldn’t fail. The deposits were guaranteed. They could always buy mortgage derivatives. Sell half to F&F, and in case of problems, scare the politicians into bailing you out.

    Lehman Brothers was sacrificed to the market to scare politicians, by other politicians. It guaranteed the future bailouts of everyone, and the expropriation of the wealth of the entire nation of america to a group of bankirs and corporatist cronies. Corporatism cannot exist without regulation.

    And I am all for rules when it comes to playgrounds, because kids do not have any judgement. Grown-ups do, and if they don’t, in a free market only they have to pay, as opposed to a regulated market where everyone has to pay, for their mistakes.

    Allowing self-interest is the fundamental basis for society. Not until people are allowed to care for their own good (not being slaves), can they care about each-other, and for each freedom to care about themselves you remove, the less likely people are going to be to care for anyone else.

    Why do you think society in certain aspects seems completely apathic? Why do you think so many just dont care about anything?

    • Afrit007 says:

      Examining this discussion more thoroughly, it would appear we agree on more points than we disagree on.

      That we should return to a gold standard backing our national currency – check.

      That the bailout was a mistake and a waste of taxpayer dollars – double check.

      That politics has become a corrupt exercise in perpetuating the status quo, regardless of who’s in charge – check and mate.

      I must still disagree, however, on your point that the market wasn’t “truly free” and that’s what led to the meltdown. You can quote numbers and statistics at me all day, and throw out factoids like “12,000 people and 50,000 pages of rules” but unless you can prove that the rules were actually enforced, that’s all they are – numbers. The reason AIG et al got “too big to fail” is because the regulations that would have prevented the risky behavior they were engaging in, were dismantled years ago by the Bu$h administration. The big kids on the playground, in effect, went to the monitors and told them the rules were getting in the way of them having a good time. And the adults who were supposed to be supervising the playground looked the other way while the bullies ran amok. You’re right in one sense – it wasn’t a free market, at least not for the little kids.

      The lack of regulation, or at least lack of enforcement of existing regulations, encouraged the sort of behavior we saw that led to the collapse. I suppose free markets do, in fact, discourage incompetence, but only after the incompetent have already done their damage.

      The problem with living according to “rational self-interest” is that self-interest is rarely rational. I do not believe that human beings are “filthy, ignoble animals”; we’re merely flawed and, well, irrational.

      One final question, though – in your “ideal society” based on “rational self-interest”, where the only laws required are those against “physical violence” and “intellectual fraud”, who decides which is which? You still haven’t answered that.

      Who decides and who enforces?

      I await your reply, and grant you the final word.

  22. Afrit007 says:

    Still waiting… what, no counter-argument from the Objectivist camp? No finely honed defense of the Dear Leader’s teachings? No skilfully worded exposition on the so-called “virtues of selfishness”?

    You were doing so well, earlier. I guess society does need government, after all.

  23. hpx83 says:

    Sorry, been busy in the blogosphere and real life as well. Give me a little time to compose myself, and I will get back to you 🙂

    It aint over til the fat lady sings. (As a teaser – yes – society does need government – but not like any government it has ever seen)

  24. hpx83 says:

    I admit that numbers do not tell the whole story. But if anything, the current state of affairs shows what the sentiments have been. Powerful friends = good business. That’s not a free market. Just imagine the few responsible bankers that didn’t overleverage or invest in MBS’s. In a free market, they would be getting to pick and choose assets from the collapsed giants at fire-sale prices, because they knew that safety comes first in a market where people had gone nuts.

    And I agree that the removal of the Glass-Staegall act was a mistake (this is what people usually refer to when they talk about the role that deregulation has had in this crisis). But the mistake was not that it was removed – the mistake was to remove only half of it. In a situation where banks have not had to adhere to sound banking practices for half a century, because regulation told them what they could and could not do instead of the goal of long-term profitability – the market was set for a few bankrupcies when deregulation came.

    But like I said – the mistake was only to remove half of it. The other half of it is the FDIC. That along with the SEC that couldn’t see Bernie Madoff despite the fact that his scheme was painted in a thousand-feet-letters prove that government regulation is a risky mechanism, relying on political favours instead of sound business incentives.

    Imagine what would have happened if one small community bank was unable to meet its payments, or if one newspaper article outlined the dangers of mortgage-backed-securities, in an environment where there was no deposit insurance – where people knew that it was their responsibility to put their money in a sound bank. Depositors would flee all the giants into “safe banks”, which relied on banking practices that took centuries to evolve, but have now been removed with one foul swoop of regulation earlier this century. A market needs bank runs and bankrupcies – because it weeds out the irresponsible and incompetent – in favour of the responsible and competent. This goes for banks as well as depositors. If one doesn’t want to have to check up on the bank managing ones money – keep it in the mattress instead.

    Evolution proves that there is rational self-interest. If self-interest was most commonly irrational, the first caveman who created a wooden club would likely have clubbed all of his tribe to death. Darwin takes care of the rest. Self-interest is rational – as long as REAL self-interest exists. This can only come about when people, institutions and business are responsible for their actions. If we rely on the support of the nanny state for all our mistakes and mishappenings then yes – there will be no rationality left, and self-interest will be scorned as a vice.

    In my so-called “ideal society”, laws are based on an objective set of values, not unlike that which is put forward by Ayn Rand (or similar – Murray Rothbard, although being an anarcho-capitalist, has some sound views on the rights of man). These rights are in the US constitution as well, and described as “inalienable”, which I truly believe that they are. You have a right to yourself, your property and your own efforts. You have a right not to be violated by other men, or government. From a sound moral ground, all necessary laws can be derived. And yes – I am sure there may be some tricky cases here as well – but the system wouldn’t rely on political whims, arbitrary interpretations and random luck. It is better to strive for perfection and achieve something halfways – then to strive for arbitrary rules created and interpreted by arbitrary men, for the “common good”. Because the “common good” is nothing but a game of who cheats who the most – and nothing “good” ever comes from it.

    If you want to riposte, I have much enjoyed the debate, and I find much more joy in a debate where one can decide on what is agreed upon, and not only that which is not agreed upon.

    // HPX