Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Financial Panic and the Only Proper Answer to It

One fact is absolutely clear: most of the blame for the current financial panic is utterly misdirected. Rather than hold accountable the irrational government policies that encouraged irresponsible lending and mountains of homeowner debt (and those who supported these policies), the moral foundation of the free market is itself being disparaged and attacked. We are told that the ruthless self-interest of Wall Street (rather than the "compassionate" gift-giving of the Congress) is the cause of the current crisis. Unfortunately, the truth is a little more complex. Perhaps we should examine this truth, that is, before we blithely allow our political leaders to add nearly a trillion dollars to the public debt and give new powers to those who helped bring the disaster along in the first place.

If you notice, our government has a policy of promoting borrowing over savings. For example, we permit our government to fully tax the savings that someone might make in order to pay for a home while allowing a person to deduct the interest costs of their home mortgage against their taxes; that is, through its tax policies, our government punishes savings and encourages home debt. Given this financial incentive to borrow (an incentive that happens to suit those who build and sell houses and lend mortgage money just fine) you would have to be a fool to save for a house rather than borrow for it. Most people tacitly recognize this fact and that is why they choose to take on debt in order to buy their homes.

Furthermore, if there is one thing that that government is, it is helpful to those who have political pull. For the last seventy years there has been no pull like that of those selling the American dream. To help encourage people to own their own homes, our government created two quazi-private monopolies: Fannie Mae in 1938 and Freddie Mac in 1970. These government-sponsored monopolies buy mortgage debt, pool it, and then resell the debt as mortgage-backed securities to investors on the open market. This secondary mortgage market increases the supply of money available for mortgage lending and new home purchases.

What happens when the government makes credit more available than credit would otherwise be in a free market? People will respond to the incentive and find ways to take advantage of the newly available cash. As long as home values were increasing because of the ever-increasing demand for homes, there wasn't really much to worry about; a person could do well even with risky financing arrangements like zero-down, interest only or negative amortization loans. And even if Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac didn't directly encourage those kinds of loans, they allowed themselves to be dangerously exposed to fallout from those who did.

But that is not the end of it; we didn't demand our government to limit its interference to just tax incentives and home loan monopolies however; we allowed it to offer us even more unearned gifts. Passed in 1977 and amended over the years, our government gave us the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a law that mandated that banks must extend credit to those who otherwise would not be credit-worthy. If the banks didn't make enough risky loans, being heavily regulated by the government, they would be denied the ability to open new branches, merge with other banks and enter new business endeavors, etcetera.

Again, as long as housing prices were always going up, real estate was a great racket to be in; in some areas, home prices saw double digit increase in valuations and there were even whole TV series dedicated to the phenomenon of house-flipping, the process where a real estate speculator would buy a distressed property, fix it up a little, and then cash in on the re-sell. Who would ever argue against the policies that helped make it all happen? How could one ever go wrong when the tide was always rising?

Yet the problem with tides is that they don't always rise. If you allow yourself to be heavily leveraged and the person who lends you money allows himself to be heavily leveraged and the insurer that insures his loan to you allows himself to be heavily leveraged, the fall of your one little domino can wreak a lot of havoc. Add tens of thousands of dominos all falling at the same time and you have the underpinnings of a financial panic.

Now in a free market, you might have your panic, but it would soon stop. Those people who made irrational choices with their money and assets would lose them. Those people who were rational and had chosen to protect themselves from calamity would not. If you look at the financial panics in the age before massive government intervention in our economy, these panics were smaller and when they did their damage, the spendthrifts received their just reward, and the rest of the people soon recovered and moved on with their lives.

Today, we are not fortunate enough to live under a free market. Most Americans seem to like their lives to be controlled by those who claim to act out of the public interest--and today there is no public interest like assuaging need through government controls. If you need to borrow money for a home even though you can't afford to pay back your loan, the government will see to it that you get your money. If you build your house in a flood plain and the flood comes, the government will tax others so you can rebuild it. If you make poor financial decisions that improperly account for economic risk and that cause your bank to go bankrupt, the government will pay to bail you out. Today we live under an economic and political system where need is a blank check and risk is nationalized.

So just who does our current system of national relief favor? Does it favor the independent, thrifty, hardworking and non-foolhardy? Hardly. Such a person is able to think and act for himself; what need does he have for our government? Instead, our system today favors the unwarranted risk-taker. It favors the person who presses for political favors. After all, there was a reason why the most corrupt (and now bankrupt) home lenders were giving sweetheart home loans to key members of Congress--and it wasn't to restore the free market in housing. It was to keep the incentives that Congress created to steer money into housing flowing because there was a ton of money to be had doing so.

So unlike the claims of some, the current crisis is not so much a battle between Wall Street and Main Street. The problem we face today rests in every street; it rests in our nation's unchallenged enshrinement of need as a virtue and its willingness to use government power to assuage that need. Instead of leaving people free to work toward improving their lives though their own efforts, we have created a system of perverse incentives; a system that has now collapsed as a system so-designed must.

What then is the answer to this panic? I hold that we simply ought to let the businesses that failed fail, expedite the liquidation of their assets at their current market value under streamlined bankruptcy laws, and once and for all remove our government from the business of creating perverse economic incentives.

Notice however that such a plan is not a serious proposal being debated within the halls of Congress. Instead we are told that we require more regulation of banking through "Financial Stability Oversight Boards," smaller CEO salaries, stricter business accounting rules, massive taxpayer-funded bailouts of banking, subsidies to borrowers, and perhaps most rich, we are told that we should expect our government to make money from it all as it essentially nationalizes the commercial banking sector. I'm sure the folks at Amtrak think that they are going to make money one day too, but institutions that respond to political wishes rather than the reality of the marketplace do not make money; they lose it and in our age they lose it to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars.

So for the market to be restored, we must first demand an ethical revolution, one that says that people have a right to their life, liberty and the freedom to pursue their own happiness, but not a right to claim the unearned or a right to have our government provide it for them. Our nation needs to learn a new mantra: Give us liberty, and death to government controls.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

John Allison takes a stand

According to blogger Dave Wilson, Objectivist John Allison, President & CEO of BB&T has shared his thoughts on the current mortgage panic:
    1. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are the primary cause of the mortgage crisis. These government supported enterprises distorted normal market risk mechanisms. While individual private financial institutions have made serious mistakes, the problems in the financial system have been caused by government policies including, affordable housing (now sub-prime), combined with the market disruptions caused by the Federal Reserve holding interest rates too low and then raising interest rates too high.
    2. There is no panic on Main Street and in sound financial institutions. The problems are in high-risk financial institutions and on Wall Street.
    3. While all financial intermediaries are being impacted by liquidity issues, this is primarily a bailout of poorly run financial institutions. It is extremely important that the bailout not damage well run companies.
    4. Corrections are not all bad. The market correction process eliminates irrational competitors. There were a number of poorly managed institutions and poorly made financial decisions during the real estate boom. It is important that any rules post “rescue” punish the poorly run institutions and not punish the well run companies.
    5. A significant and immediate tax credit for purchasing homes would be a far less expensive and more effective cure for the mortgage market and financial system than the proposed “rescue” plan.
    6. This is a housing value crisis. It does not make economic sense to purchase credit card loans, automobile loans, etc. The government should directly purchase housing assets, not real estate bonds. This would include lots and houses under construction.
    7. The guaranty of money funds by the U.S. Treasury creates enormous risk for the banking industry. Banks have been paying into the FDIC insurance fund since 1933. The fund has a limit of $100,000 per client. An arbitrary, “out of the blue” guarantee of money funds creates risk for the taxpayers and significantly distorts financial markets.
    8. Protecting the banking system, which is fundamentally controlled by the Federal Reserve, is an established government function. It is completely unclear why the government needs to or should bailout insurance companies, investment banks, hedge funds and foreign companies.
    9. It is extremely unclear how the government will price the problem real estate assets. Priced too low, the real estate markets will be worse off than if the bail out did not exist. Priced too high, the taxpayers will take huge losses. Without a market price, how can you rationally determine value?
    10. The proposed bankruptcy “cram down” will severely negatively impact mortgage markets and will damage well run institutions. This will provide an incentive for homeowners who are able to pay their mortgages, but have a loss in their house, to take bankruptcy and force losses on banks. (Banks would not have received the gains had the houses appreciated.) This will substantially increase the risk in mortgage lending and make mortgage pricing much higher in the future.
    11. Fair Value accounting should be changed immediately. It does not work when there are no market prices. If we had Fair Value accounting, as interpreted today, in the early 1990’s the United States financial system would have crashed. Accounting should not drive economic activity, it should reflect it.
    12. The proposed new merger accounting rules should be deferred for at least five years. The new merger accounting rules are creating uncertainty for high quality companies who might potentially purchase weaker companies.
    13. The primary beneficiaries of the proposed rescue are Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The Treasury has a number of smart individuals, including Hank Paulson. However, Treasury is totally dominated by Wall Street investment bankers. They do not have knowledge of the commercial banking industry. Therefore, they can not be relied on to objectively assess all the implications of government policy on all financial intermediaries. The decision to protect the money funds is a clear example of a material lack of insight into the risk to the total financial system.
    14. Arbitrary limits on executive compensation will be self defeating. With these limits, only the failing financial institutions will participate in the “rescue,” effectively making this plan a massive subsidy for incompetence. Also, how will companies attract the leadership talent to manage their business effectively with irrational compensation limits?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Open Thread

You came, you saw, you commented. Have at it here.

PS: I'm watching the debate and trying to get a grasp on the alleged Main Street / Wall Street dichotomy. Ugh.

America vs. Congress et al.

If one wants to understand why Congress and the White House wish to sneak in "corporate" socialism in the guise of a "bailout" of Wall Street and the American economy, the following ought to serve as a good starting point, and provide some context of why the government thinks it ought to take action:

"The accounts of the receipts and expenditures during the year ending on the 30th day of September last, being not yet made up, a correct statement will hereafter be transmitted from the Treasury. In the meantime, it is ascertained that the receipts have amounted to near eighteen millions of dollars, which, with the eight millions and a half in the treasury at the beginning of the year, have enabled us, after meeting the current demands and interest incurred, to pay two millions three hundred thousand dollars of the principal of our funded debt, and left us in the treasury, on that day, near fourteen millions of dollars....The probable accumulation of the surpluses of revenue beyond what can be applied to the payment of the public debt, whenever the safety and freedom of our commerce shall be restored, merits the consideration of Congress. Shall it lie unproductive in the public vaults? Shall the revenue be reduced? Or shall it rather be appropriated to the improvements of roads, canals, rivers, education, and other great foundations of prosperity and union, under the powers which Congress may already possess, or such amendment of the constitution as may be approved of by the States? While uncertain of the course of things, the time may be advantageously employed in obtaining the powers necessary for a system of improvement, should that be thought best."* (Italics mine)
So wrote President Thomas Jefferson in his last message to Congress in November, 1808. In past addresses and messages to Congress he reported revenue surpluses, and often recommended the reduction or abolition of taxes. The last time the federal government reported an actual surplus that did not reflect bookkeeping legerdemain and an appropriations shell game was during Calvin Coolidge's administration. In Jefferson's and Coolidge's instances the surpluses were in gold and silver currency and metal-based promissory notes, not in the baseless fiat paper and clad-zinc coinage of today. Gold and silver cannot be created by the snap of one's fingers or by an order from the Federal Reserve to cover deficits and debts, as fiat money is now. Gold and silver served as restraints on government spending and intervention, which is why FDR took the U.S. off the gold standard, and why silver coinage vanished by government order after 1965.

Without going into detail about past, pre-Federal Reserve Bank episodes of financial panics - such as the one Alexander Hamilton managed in 1792, the two Bank of the United States experiments, and the Panic of 1907 - it should be stressed that neither the participants nor the institutions involved sought to take over the entire American economy - that is, attempt to "socialize" or "nationalize" it - as the White House, Congress, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the U.S. Treasury are proposing to do now. It should also be pointed out that in none of those instances was the U.S. government the chief instigator or culprit, as it is today.

Another interesting facet of the government-made financial crisis is that two of the entities that needed to be "rescued" by the government, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are government-founded mortgage companies created to sell and invest in cheap credit and cheap mortgages. There was no other purpose to their existence. They were created to "serve the public." Treasury chief Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chief Bernard Bernanke have nothing over Scottish banker John Law, author of the Mississippi Bubble in early 18th century France. Their fiscal policies and economic philosophy are so similar to Law's that one would think Law was their mentor, but they have blanked out the ruinous consequences of the same schemes.

Nevertheless, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been portrayed by Congress and the news media as independent of the government, when in fact they are taxpayer-subsidized. In a genuinely free market, an organization that behaved as recklessly as they did would have gone bankrupt and vanished from the scene. But because they were tax-subsidized, risk was no object, American taxpayers being seen by them and Congress as an inexhaustible cash cow. This was also the operating philosophy of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG, four of their biggest "customers." They are government entities that hire their own lobbyists to shill for special favors and treatment from - the government.

Financial skullduggery is not the only offense that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have committed. Their employees, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, have also "invested" in the perpetuation of their jobs by sending money to the campaigns and pet pork barrels of Senators Barack Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and many other politicians.

But both political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, must share responsibility for the debacle. To wit:

"In 1971, Richard Nixon rescued Lockheed by providing $250 million in loan guarantees. When the Penn Central Railroad failed in 1971, Nixon created Amtrak. Jimmy Carter gave $1.5 billion loan guarantees to Chrysler in 1979. Under Ronald Reagan, the FDIC in 1984 spent $4.5 billion to rescue Continental Illinois, which still holds the record as the largest U.S. bank failure. Then, during the S&L crisis of the 1980's, George H.W. Bush approved the bailout of 747 savings and loans at a cost to taxpayers of $124.6 billion. In 1998, under Bill Clinton, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York bailed out Long Term Capital Management at a cost of $3.6 billion. During the Mexican Peso Crisis, Clinton arranged for loans and guarantees to Mexico totaling almost $50 billion. Then, following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, George W. Bush approved $15 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees to aid the faltering airline industry. This year, the Federal Reserve approved a $30 billion credit line to help JP Morgan Chase acquire Bear Stearns, and engineered takeovers of Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and AIG."
Topping all that is the $1.8 trillion the federal government will have shelled out to "save" the economy if Congress approves the proposed "bailout." All "guaranteed" by the American taxpayer. Only one senator has been reported as calling the Paulson/Bernanke/Bush/Pelosi/Frank plan "socialism," Jim Bunning of Kentucky. That was accidentally, and it is likely the news media will not let that kind of remark slip through the cracks again.

But, to return to the subject at hand, and to the italicized portion of Jefferson's message to Congress in 1808, the Founders could not imagine that "improvements of roads, canals, rivers, education, and other great foundations" could be financed by other than government intervention and government money. One may forgive Jefferson and his contemporaries for not being politically omniscient or infallible. Capitalism was in its infancy and the Industrial Revolution lay a generation ahead beyond his last administration. Not even the worst of his contemporaries could imagine that the premise of government responsibility for infrastructure and education could lead to anything but to the "prosperity and happiness" of the nation. There was nothing in the original Constitution that gave the government the power to "improve" the economy, either, except, implicitly, to let it alone.

Instead, that premise has repeatedly led to scandal, corruption, the destruction of wealth, and the looting of the productive sector - with the private, productive sector blamed and punished. It is time to begin challenging that premise, and get the government out of the economy, and especially out of education. Jefferson's benevolent but erroneous support of public education has ultimately, by necessity, over the course of generations, created a dumbed-down, docile public, one that expects the government to take care of it and solve all problems, real or imagined.

In my original commentary on this subject, I wrote that Congress, the White House, and the other "rescuers" were acting to stave off the pressure-cooked justice of the wrongdoing and fallacious policies of decades. Perhaps the only thing that will educate the American public now is the failure of the system which they were told, and which they believed, was justice-proof.

Then Americans may rise up, as the polls seem to show them doing now in demonstrations and calls to their Congressmen, to proclaim, "Account overdrawn!"

*Thomas Jefferson: Writings, Library of America, 1984, pp. 548-549.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Welcome C. August to the Rule of Reason

I'd like extend a hearty welcome to C. August as a new contributor to the Rule of Reason. You may recognize him from his blog, Titanic Deck Chairs. C. lives in the suburbs of Boston and works as web development manager. Prior to going over to the dark side of IT back when the Internet was new, he worked as a scientist at a medical technology company. He has been an Objectivist since his college days in the early 90s, and he tells me that his intellectual interests include history, economics, biology, and helping his two young children develop into happy, rational people.

He says that his main goal in joining the Rule of Reason is to lend his voice in the defense of individual rights and capitalism, from what he sees as their primary ideological enemies; Islamism, Christian fundamentalism, environmentalism, and the crippling pragmatism endemic in modern American politics.

In that light, I could not be happier to have him join the ranks.

Intellectual Thugs and Those Who Fight Against Them

Diana Hsieh offers some thoughtful analysis of my appearance as a guest on the Laura Ingraham show this Monday and I recommend it to our readers here. As Objectivist ideas percolate more and more throughout our culture, there will be times when those who oppose the philosophy push back--and even push back hard. These times won't be pretty; in fact, they may be outright horrific. For example, there will come a day when an Objectivist is murdered for his or her views and that day is going to be shocking. Yet such is the nature of our enemies.

And now there have been two experiences in my life where some of my countrymen have revealed themselves to be borderline savages. The first was when John Lewis spoke at George Mason University in an event I helped to organize. There Lewis stood firm as Islamists and their leftist sympathizers screamed at him with seething rage for his having the audacity to say that those who seek to impose their creed by force are a threat to the good and must be defeated. In the absence of the 20-plus police officers sent there to guard Lewis as he spoke, I am all but certain that he would have been strung up from the nearest tree, yet Lewis never so much as winced. And now I have my own recent experiences to draw upon.

Of all the reasons my blog post garnered the attention it did, I think the first and foremost was that I expressed my position with moral confidence. When I argued that it was moral for a woman to abort a fetus with Down syndrome and place her own interests and happiness above that of the unborn, I attacked our enemies where they are most sensitive. They believe that their mystic creed makes them good and they responded to me as anyone who relies upon blind faith as a method must. That is the nature of the beast we must grapple. We have seen this before, we will see this ever again, and we should be ready to deal with it.

And in this endeavor, the support of our allies in reason is deeply appreciated. If you agree with our efforts, if you think that we fought well, I ask that you stand alongside us by offering a financial contribution to help further our activities. Our goal is to fight for freedom and win. We will never stop in this effort, we will never quit, but we can do so much more if you help us. Just follow the this link to make a donation; it's quick, easy (and hopefully painless), and by doing so, will help this organization all the better stand for our common values of reason, egoism, and capitalism.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Refuting the Distortion and Lies Told About My Stand on Sarah Palin and the Right to Abortion

Most of the criticism against my blog post defending the morality of abortion and questioning Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's choice to knowingly give birth to a child afflicted with Down's syndrome relies upon outright lies and distortions of my position and the selective interpretation of the text of my post. I think that this distortion is a deliberate tactic of the so-called "Pro-Life" movement because if this movement took my argument at face value, it would be impossible for it to refute my reasoning. I maintain that when you hold a dishonest position, it is inevitable that you will rely upon a straw man to make your case.

Thus the purpose of this post is to reveal the "Pro-Life" straw man being used against my arguments and my response to such dishonesty. Below are some of the common refrains I have seen since my initial post along with my answer to them.

You advocate "Nazi-style" eugenics.

This claim is a lie. The goal of the eugenics movement in history has been to 'improve' the human race by controlled selective breeding, forced sterilizations, forced abortions, and forced euthanasia. I hold that the human race is not improved in such a manner and that any initiation of force is an absolute violation of a person's individual rights.

Furthermore, to call me a Nazi is utterly dishonest and nothing more that a visceral attempt to inflame people's emotions rather than examine my arguments for what they are. There is no parallel between the goals of the eugenics movement and/or the goals of the Nazi's and my personal affirmation the individual, un-coerced and perfectly moral choice of a woman to have an abortion (or not) if she deems it to be in her rational self-interest. There is zero parallel between the force of the Nazi's and my advocacy for individual freedom and moral justice protected under our Constitution and laws--and it is a lie to claim as much.

You only judge a person by their worth to "society" and support forced euthanasia for anyone who is disabled, ill, or otherwise cannot sustain themselves.

This claim is a lie. A person's "worth to society" is not the basis of any part of Objectivism, which is the philosophy I adhere to and advocate. As a living, physically independent entity possessing the unique attributes of human consciousness, I defend the right to life of any born person capable of even a modicum of human thought because that person's life has worth to them and that is enough. If a person decides that life is untenable for them (such as in the case of painful terminal illness), I support the right of that person to terminate their own life in accordance with their own wishes, but I categorically reject any initiation of coercion over the life or mind of man.

At root, I claim no power over anyone's life or anyone's ability to peaceably live it, and I demand as much in return. I am not my brother's lord or keeper, and they are not mine.

You claim that you support the "right to life," and yet you support abortion, and thus you contradict yourself.

That would be either a lie, or a gross misunderstanding of the right to life. A rational view of the right to life does not extend into the womb when a woman wishes to veto the live birth of her fetus. Call it what you will, but the entity that exits in the womb of a woman is different in nature from what exists outside the womb and the difference must be judged accordingly.

In contrast, a living, physically independent human being possessing the unique attributes of human consciousness demands the ability to think and act in furtherance of their own life (or in the case of a born child, the ability to rise to the point where they can to think and act though the care of those who chose to create that child's life).

By defending a woman's choice, including her potentially irrational choices, you advocate moral relativism and/or utilitarianism.

That would be either a lie, or a gross misunderstanding of the basis of a rational code of morality and how it works. Upholding self-interest over codes of religious or collectivist morality is not upholding moral relativism or utilitarianism-it is upholding Objectivism, which is predicated upon perceiving the facts of existence though reason and governing one's personal conduct in accordance with these facts. As Ayn Rand observes:

The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve "the common good." It is true that capitalism does-if that catch-phrase has any meaning-but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man's rational nature, that it protects man's survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice. [Emphasis mine]

"What Is Capitalism?" Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 20.
I wholeheartedly agree with Rand. Justice is the act of giving to each person what that person deserves, and each peaceable person requires the freedom to live a proper human life. In the case of an unborn fetus, it is not yet a person in the true sense of the word and it deserves no special protection against a woman's self-interested wishes for herself and her own life. A woman's life is her alpha and omega and her sovereign judgment over herself must be respected.
And as a corollary of respecting an individual's freedom to make rational choices over their own life, we must not prohibit choices that we may disagree with if these choices do not violate the rights of others. As an example, for some, smoking is a ticket to an early death, while for others, it is one of life's enjoyments worth any risk that the smoker might bear. It is not my place to force my personal estimate of such a choice upon others. I may disagree with a person's private choices and I may declare as much as I have with Sarah Palin, but my primary mission is to defend one's individual freedom over one's own life, and nothing more.

Why? Because my selfish right to make my own rational choices demands as much.

You think that you have the right to "play God" over everyone and/or advocate designer babies.

That would be a lie. I reject any mystical morality that holds that some deity controls the strings of the universe that that we must obey the revealed claims of those who assert that they somehow know this deity's mind. Man is a being of self-made purpose and he must form his own moral code derived from the facts of his existence. He must make and live by his own moral judgments. In this regard, each of us rates the right to be our own lord and master over our own precious lives.

Needless to say, such freedom does not sit well with those who advocate blind allegiance to the wide-eyed mystics of antiquity and who seek a return to primitivism--a time when man had little control over his own nature or the nature of the things around him.

You say that the only moral choice for Sarah Palin was to have an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant with a fetus afflicted with Down syndrome, and thus you deny Palin her right to make her own choice.

This is a lie. I hold that Sarah Palin had every right to make her own choice to carry (or not carry) her pregnancy to term (even if I personally can find no rational reason for her to do so and even if I would not choose to do as she did). Notice however that this is not a right that Sarah Palin is willing to extend to others, and this despite the fact that more than 90% of the women faced with her situation choose to have an abortion by their won will.

People have accused me of playing God and their attention is utterly misdirected; only one person between Sarah Palin and me seeks to lord our own personal and political will against people's most private judgments, and that is Sarah Palin.

You have contempt for the existence of people afflicted with Down syndrome and other genetic disorders and you seek their destruction.

That is a lie. I feel nothing but compassion for the people so afflicted when they are born. I emphasize with those who must contend with the challenges they and those who care for them face. Nevertheless, I defend a woman's moral right to abort her fetus if it is afflicted with such conditions and if the woman decides that it is in her interest to do so. I also support aborting healthy fetuses if a woman decides to have an abortion along similar lines. I simply hold that a woman must be master over her own life and biological processes and I hold her mastery to be absolute.

Abortion has nothing to do with capitalism and your stand is a discredit to capitalism's cause.

Abortion has everything to do with capitalism because capitalism is not just a system of private property and economic liberty; it is a system of rationally identified and validated individual rights. Ayn Rand (the philosopher whose ideas this organization seeks to apply to our social and political relationships) offers the following observation about such rights:

A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action-which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

The concept of a "right" pertains only to action-specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive-of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.

"What Is Capitalism? Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 19.
The right to have an abortion (or not) is a prime example of the right of a human being to have the freedom to take actions in furtherance of their own life and in affirmation of their own values. Defending such a right is absolutely critical and germane to the advance of capitalism as the only moral social system for mankind.

Capitalism and the Abortion Debate

During the heated debates over the past week about a woman's moral right to choose abortion, a number of people have asked, "Why is the CAC talking about abortion at all? What does that have to do with capitalism?" This is a reasonable question, though it was often posed in the middle of ranting and sometimes violent tirades.

From: S
... And what has the issue to do with capitalism, anyway? ...

All life should be respected. And if that is not to be honored, I humbly submit that the author of this atrocious article should be deemed of no value and he be first in line.

During this time of national fiscal crisis -- one in which large swaths of the financial system are being nationalized -- why spend time on abortion?

The answer is very simple and clear: individual rights. The protection of individual rights is the fundamental prerequisite for a free capitalist society. This does not mean just some of them. A woman's right to keep the rewards of her productive effort -- her right to property -- is irrevocably tied to her right to her own life, i.e. her right to choose what to do with her own body.

Capitalism is not simply an economic concept that can be divorced from all other areas of life. Capitalism doesn't only describe Wall Street, or the Wal-Mart down the street. Capitalism is a full social system based on the primacy of individual rights. Thus, any attack on individual rights is an attack on the very foundation of our country. A threat to individual rights is a threat to our capitalist society as a whole.

Don't be fooled into thinking the debate is between religious conservatives who supposedly favor free markets but wish to impose their Christian morality in all other areas of life, and progressive liberals who supposedly favor free speech and other civil liberties but wish to socialize the economy in the name of egalitarianism. This is a false dichotomy; you cannot have true "civil liberties" without "economic liberties." The individual rights of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be upheld piecemeal. We are either free to live our lives in all spheres of action, or we are not.

It is also important to note that although these two "opposite sides" are commonly seen to represent "economic liberties" vs. "civil liberties," in practice, neither side can resist imposing state controls over all aspects of our lives. The Right is currently overseeing the largest nationalization effort in America since the New Deal. The Right is no friend of the free market. Meanwhile, the Left engages in vicious attacks on free speech. The Left is the enemy of any speech it doesn't like.

Thus, the alternative is not a choice between Left and Right, between civil and economic liberties, but between state control over our lives on one side, and full, unabridged freedom of action and thought, of laissez-faire capitalism and individual rights on the other side. This is stated in full recognition of the fact that we do not currently live in such a free society; it has been under attack for well over 100 years and every year brings increasing statism. And yet, it is still the freest country on earth, which makes it all the more important to defend against every encroachment upon our individual rights.

This is why it is not only understandable that the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism would defend the absolute moral right of a woman to choose to abort her fetus based on her own judgment, but it is also vital that we do so. The stakes are high; they represent the very underpinnings of the free capitalist society we hope to achieve.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My open message to talk show host Barbara Simpson

Yes, Barbara Simpson, there probably was a day when someone "would take a guy like me out in an alley and beat me beyond whatever because they thought I deserved it." There was also a day when women would die from the abortions they had in back alleys because their individual and legal rights were not respected. You and your other "Pro-Life" allies may pine for those days, but as long as I draw breath, as long I am still standing, I will fight you with every fiber of my being.

And if some moron you whipped up into a frenzy does beat me or does kill me as so many who think like you have wished in this past week, I feel secure in guaranteeing you this: thousands will take my place. You and your ilk cannot win here and you will not; not when right and reason are on the side of the good.

Ayn Rand or Objectivism?

I noticed in the many comments that have been posted to the blog concerning my abortion posts, a commentator posted a quote that contained a statement by Ayn Rand on the issue. The quote is as follows:

"Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a 'right to life.' A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable."

“A Last Survey,” The Ayn Rand Letter.
The commenter felt that since even Ayn Rand seems a little bit less than certain abortion in the later stages of pregnancy, perhaps I was overstepping my supposed mandate in affirming the right to abortion up until birth.

I do not agree. I cannot say what Rand's arguments concerning late-term abortion were because she does not flesh them out. Rand certainly lays out the essential point that sacrificing a woman's life to a fetus is vicious (a principle which she also affirmed elsewhere in her writing), but that is the extent of her argument. It would be absolutely improper to allow oneself to become paralyzed by a vague aside and quite frankly, that's not how Objectivism works.

Ayn Rand's contribution to the cause of mankind was the development of a rational philosophy for thinking and acting, not a group of texts for her admirers to slavishly follow like it was the revealed gospel of some lord. As a deeply powerful thinker, Ayn Rand offers volumes of astute observations about the world and its nature. That doesn't absolve those of us who admire her ideas to see the world as it is with our own eyes. I hold that Rand's philosophic system is essential in that identification, but even the merits of Objectivism have to be validated by a person using it for it to be a truly useful tool. There is just no getting around the need to think independently and rationally about the questions of life.

So every now and again, I do come across something that Ayn Rand wrote or said that I don't exactly see eye-to-eye with. These points have been minor and trivial at best, which I think is a powerful statement of Rand's unprecedented accuracy as a thinker. Yet there has never been anything substantive that I have been able to show that was wrong with her philosophic system; quite the contrary, I see a sturdy and stout tool for perceiving reality as it is and acting accordingly. And that's why I choose to use it as such a tool in order to answer my own questions about life and respect her for it. I take Ayn Rand and Objectivism but my loyalty to Ayn Rand and Objectivism is not slavish; it is rational, and there is a world of difference between the two.

Staring into the Bailout Abyss

I sent this letter to The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

21 September 2008

To the Editor

The Wall Street Journal

New York, NY



A Kentucky politician remarked, in response to the Federal government’s proposed nationalization of the American economy, that “the free market is dead.” A WSJ front-page headline read, “In Turmoil, Capitalism in U.S. Sets New Course” (Sept. 20-21). The question no one seems to be asking is: Since when has the U.S. ever had a free market, one free of government intervention, or laissez-faire capitalism, one free of government “capital”? Historically, never.

And why is no one asking that question? Because virtually everyone, from the secretary of the Treasury, to the head of the Federal Reserve, to both presidential candidates, to Congress, to the news media, to Wall Street fund managers, to too many denizens of “Main Street,” believes that the government ought to be the bullying gorilla in the marketplace to ensure social or financial equity and justice. Why do so many economic “experts” and politicians believe that? Because they all cling to the idea that the best route to political power and popularity is to offer something for nothing, or for very little, necessarily at someone else’s expense, someone who has no say in the matter. That someone has always been the productive, wealth-accumulating private individual.

Now we have the news media laughably but blithely informing the public that it now owns billions of dollars in bad debt. No, gentlemen and ladies of the anchor desk, the public owns nothing. The government owns the public and will expect it to work hard to erase that “private” debt. This is called fascism, or national socialism.

The recent actions of the Federal government amount to nothing more than panicked regulators and controllers and politicians rushing to stave off, as a friend put it, “reality catching up with unreality,” the unreality of free lunches and low-cost mortgages (which comprise a welfare state within the general welfare state) which must be paid somehow, by someone, at some time. Their actions are also taken to deflect, defer, deny, and postpone justice, whose connection with reality was best dramatized by Ayn Rand in her novel, Atlas Shrugged. And the longer justice is denied, a justice denied ever since the 1960’s, when the welfare state ballooned under Lyndon Johnson, the worse its vengeance will be when reality comes calling.

Don’t blame capitalism for the current crisis. Lay the blame where it belongs: at the feet of the government. Capitalism never promised a free lunch. Our government always has.


Edward Cline

Yorktown, VA

Of course, I could have gone on for pages - mentioning the Social Security, Medicare, Homeland Security, and other financial scams - or even further back in time beyond the 1960's to the 19th century, but I was afraid I would overload the mind of the letters editor or readers of the WSJ and cause a power-outage. What other things are our political leaders, the news media, the Left and Right not mentioning?

That the scale of the proposed "bailout" is unconstitutional, but the Constitution, limping along as it was long before the current "crisis," is now, for all practical intents and purposes, a dead letter.

That the proposed "bailout" would mean nothing less than the socialist conquest of the American economy, something yearned for by a long line of Democrats, ending most recently with the likes of Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, et al.

That, regardless of how soothing and cooperative members of Congress might feel after pushing this conquest through both houses, and how reassured they might feel that they've "done the right thing," the "bailout" will break the spine of the American economy, and precipitate a future and certain collapse.

On another matter, readers will note just how feverish the Democrats are to punish CEOs for their lavish paychecks and severance packages (whether or not these CEO's are overpaid or over-compensated, is a separate issue). You can bet, however, that no Congressman or Senator considers himself overpaid and over-compensated with all his taxpayer-funded medical and other benefits and other perks. I'm waiting to see Matt Lauer or Brian Williams or Charlie Gibson or Bill O'Reilly to throw that hot potato into Obama's or McCain's lap. That is just a rhetorical comment, of course. Neither of them will bring up that subject. Staring into the abyss.

Long Live Lady Liberty!

Peek-a-boo comments problem in Firefox

I'm working on a fix to solve the problem users have having with slow load times when reading the blog in Firefox. We had put in a script to allow peek-a-boo comments and while this functionality seems to work fine in IE, it doesn't work in Firefox, hence the long load time.

As a temporary fix, I've hidden the comments in my Palin piece as they were the single-largest cause of the long load-time in Firefox (and that was the main reason I decided to turn comments off for that post anyways). We'll bring those comments back live after we get the code straightened out, which will hopefully be later today.

And as always, we apologize to our readers for this snafu.

Update: Fixed the comments problem, but caused another with the wrong text shading . . . we're working on it, but for now, the page should load faster and all the comments are open.

Update II: Everything is all fixed. Sorry for the hassle; like you, I hate slow loading websites and I hate even more that our blog became one of them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pet Your Little Zygote ... Knock Yourself Out

Our dear conservative freinds at the National Review pointed out that I had some catchy one-liners when I was on the Laura Ingraham Show today, including one that they felt might make a good T-Shirt.

Might? You just can't let inspiration like that pass you by. It is my honor to present to you the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism's First Ever T-Shirt, the "Pet Your Little Zygote ... Knock Yourself Out" special avalible through our CafePress store. Here's the graphic:

And here's the Men's T-shirt. Yup, I know exactly what you are thinking: "Is that just your Zygote, or are you happy to see me?"

And you ladies won't feel left out with our Spaghetti Tee:

And yes, even you Moms to be can get in on the action with our special Maternity Tee:

My view? It's so wrong, it's gotta be right.

Ms. Laura Ingraham: You are an intellectual coward

Here is an audio stream of my appearance.

Here is a downloadable MP3.

For allowing me the modest opportunity to present my arguments to her listeners, I give Laura Ingraham her due. But for mischaracterizing my position into a straw man, for constantly interrupting me as I attempted to explain my reasoning, for allowing her staff to turn off my mike in our debate (implying that I sat in silent awe while she pontificated), I give Laura Ingraham nothing but my utter contempt. I judge Laura Ingraham to be an intellectual weakling whose main stunt is to bring in a guest on her show for the sole purpose of abusing them in order to aggrandize herself and her followers.

To add to her outrage, Ingraham had the audacity to talk about "elites" such as me dominating our country. I never clerked for a US Supreme Court Justice like she did. I never wrote speeches for a presidential administration like she did. I joined the Marine Corps out of high school to defend my and my country's freedom and to help pay for college. When that money ran out (little as it was), I did things like wash windows to get by. Laura Ingraham shouldn't lecture me about how I'm some sort of out of touch elitist who doesn't understand the problems of real life. I'm well aware of these problems because I've lived through many of them myself.

I've been a guest on countless radio talk shows and I anticipated a rhetorical slug-fest with someone who disagrees with my every view, yet what I received as guest on the Laura Ingraham Show exceeded even my worst expectations. At root, Laura Ingraham is a discredit to civil discourse in this country. She should be nothing but ashamed and appalled for her obnoxious conduct while I was a guest on her show.

Laura Ingraham Show Talking Points

I stand for three principles here:

  • I stand for the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion under the law because I stand for reason and the principle of individual rights.

  • I stand for the principle that if a woman is acting her rational self-interest, her choice to have an abortion is absolutely proper and moral.

  • I stand for the idea that while a woman has every right to give birth her child without any government interference whatsoever, I see nothing praiseworthy or moral about knowingly bringing a severely retarded fetus to term. I see the decision to give birth in this manner as enshrining needless sacrifice and suffering.

Gov. Sarah Palin
Given Gov. Sarah Palin's choice and her larger anti-abortion stand, I reject that she is some sort of moral exemplar for women and I personaly oppose her holding a position of national power because of the threat she poses to a woman's right to abortion. Palin would deny a woman her right to choose her own happiness as a value. In this light, her stand is loathsome.

Roughly 54% of Americans appose abortion in some manner. Most these are adherents of religions that explicitly forbid abortion under any circumstances. Yet when confronted with the tragedy of a pregnancy gone wrong via some sort of genetic disorder, over 90% of women choose to abort their fetuses.

Unenumerated rights:
If it required a Constitutional amendment to outlaw something as trivial as the sale of alcohol in America, it should require a Constitutional amendment to outlaw a woman's right to abortion—and any such proposal would be immoral and must be defeated.

The Pro-Life Lie:
If my inbox stuffed with wishes for my swift torture and death is any indication, the so-called "pro-life" movement is nothing more than utter hypocrisy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

NewsTalk 710 KIRO Appearence Today

I'm slated to appear as a call-in guest on the Dori Monson Show on NewsTalk 710 KIRO Seattle at 5:05PM/2:05PM ET/PT today to discuss the furor over my comments defending a woman's right to abortion. This discussion will be available online, details here. As I understand it, there will be an opportunity for call-ins.

Update: I'd like to publicly thank Host Dori Monson for a thoughtful and civil show. Discussions over abortion can often generate more heat that light and the hour spent as a guest on his show was a welcome respite.

If you had the opportunity to listen to the show or listen to MP3 archive [link here], I encourage post a comment at Mr. Monson's website here to share your own opinion.

The Fundamental Right to Abortion

In affirming a woman's absolute right to abort an unwanted fetus, it seems I have triggered the wrath of the anti-abortion lynch mob if the recent death threats in my inbox are any indication. Such is life when confronting the morally ignorant with their irrationality, yet all their "pro-life" death threats aside, the fact remains: a woman has the unqualified moral right to abort a fetus she carries inside her in accordance with her own judgment.

What is the basis for this claim? What facts of reality demand that a woman enjoy the freedom to exercise her discretion in such a manner? At root, it is the simple fact that until the fetus is born and exists as a separate, physically independent human entity, the fetus is potential life and the actual life of the woman grants her interests and wishes primacy. As an acorn is not the same thing as an oak tree, a fetus is not the same thing as an independent human being. In the case of the fetus, its location matters: inside the woman and attached to her via the umbilical cord, its position in relation to the woman subordinates its status to her wishes; outside the woman, welcome to life in the human race.

But why is biological independence the defining factor of personhood in both morality and under the law? Why isn't it the moment of conception, or the first instance of fetal heartbeat, or the first instance of fetal brain wave activity (just to name a few of the benchmarks often put forward by anti-abortion activists)? Again, it is the nature of the direct physical connection between the fetus and the mother. Physically attached to a woman in the manner a fetus is, the woman's right to regulate the processes of her own body is controlling. Unattached and physically independent, the fetus is thus transformed; it is a person no different from anyone else and enjoys all the individual rights of personhood.

Needless, to say, this truth offends the sensibilities of some. They cannot fathom that something like the physical presence of the fetus inside a woman grants a woman power to control it as she controls the affairs of her own body. In a more just world, such people would simply choose not to have abortions, which is their every right. And leave it at that. Yet justice is not the aim of the anti-abortion mob. They simply seek to sacrifice unwilling women upon their altar of the unborn, reducing a woman to a mere birthing vessel the second a fetus exists in her body.

Let us not forget that raising a child is a tremendous commitment. As a life created by its parents, parents owe the children they bring into the world what they need in order to be independent and self-sufficient human beings, to include food, shelter, clothing, and an education. Not every person can measure up to this commitment and not every person wants to. While her fetus in her womb, a woman has every right to reject this obligation. Contrary to the claims of the anti-abortionists, a child should be a choice.

And since the morality of aborting fetuses with severe disability was the original topic at bar, let us remember that over 90% of the women faced with such a situation choose to have an abortion. This is not just my decision; it is the independent, un-coerced decision of women acting within their complete and lawful discretion. And while I would not wish to be them, their decision to terminate their unwanted pregnancy is a decision I am more than willing to publicly defend.

And as I read the sundry comments and messages of those who choose to oppose me on this issue, I cannot help but notice the utter insincerity in their near-hysterical defense of Sarah Palin's decision to knowingly give birth to a child with Down's syndrome. While I have received many odes to the glory of living life while afflicted with Down's syndrome, I have seen little acknowledgement that the decision to give birth to a severely retarded child is a difficult choice and to choose so entails heroic commitment (or a willingness to dump this obligation upon others and against their will). I have seen little acknowledgement that not everyone decides to have a child such as Palin did.

I also see that the many of the objections to my position center upon my framing the issue in the terms of a cost-benefit analysis, as if some choices are somehow exempt from this kind of review. The absurdity of such a claim should be manifest; a nervous groom on his weeding day is performing a cost-benefit analysis, a person standing before the fridge contemplating a midnight snack as they look at their waistline is performing a cost-benefit analysis, and like it or not, a woman confronted with the terrible choice between giving birth to a child with Down's syndrome and having an abortion is performing a cost-benefit analysis. As an advocate for individual liberty, I defend the freedom of each to perform their own analysis and act upon their own good judgment.

So yes, a woman has the absolute right to choose to have an abortion, including the right to abort a fetus diagnosed with physical handicap. It is not "eugenics" for a woman to choose as much; the choice to abort is the woman's alone and there is no element of coercion or a racial master plan. Nor is it some form of "euthanasia" to have an abortion, the fetus not being the same as a physically independent human being. The claims that I or any other Objectivists support eugenics or involuntary euthanasia are utterly dishonest; they are lies told to advance the vicious agenda of those who seek to deny half of our species their legitimate and fundamental freedom.

Freedom is a peculiar thing. It is the recognition that each person is sovereign over their own lives. It is the recognition that a person has the liberty to make choices that you might not make because their choices concern their own life and not yours. It is the recognition that you do not have the right to coerce another against their will. That a person does not have the right coerce the process of a woman's womb against her will ought to be academic. That it is not is testament to the irrationality and ignorance of our times.

Palin, Down's Syndrome, and Trolls

The tone and content of most of the dissenting remarks in response to Nick’s Palin/Down’s syndrome article to date together verge on the hysterical madness of a lynch mob, sharing with Christian and Muslim fundamentalism the same unreasoning, teeth-clenched emotionalism and the urge to convert or kill. The anti-abortionists are about as “pro-life” as the Muslims who bury a woman up to her neck and then stone her to death for having broken one of their irrational, tribalist rules. Especially appalling was the sneering attack on Judy, who spoke in her remarks of her first-hand experiences as the mother of a “special needs” child with as much authority as Nick spoke on the issue.

I’m glad that Nick has not removed these malicious posts, as he has every right to, for they reveal that the enemies of reason and individual rights are not only Republicans and Democrats, but also libertarians and other cretins in various states of intellectual arrest. Having read every one of the remarks, over one hundred and twenty-five to date, I got the impression that when a libertarian or Christian or Rockwellian read Nick’s article and gasped at his “blasphemy,” he alerted his ilk to descend on Rule of Reason with the cry, “Let’s get ‘im! How dare he contradict the consensus of the scientific community!!” (Like the scientific “consensus” on global warming, or on smoking, or on any other government-friendly scientific chicanery that costs individuals their freedom and money?) Also, I think it is nearly flattering that so many trolls visit Rule of Reason. They must consider the blog a major threat to their premises and peace of mind.

And it was nearly amusing to read another Anonymous’s religious quotation: “Do what thou will shall be the whole of the Law.” Excuse my ignorance, but is that from Kant or from the Bible? This categorical imperative is also evident in the yahoo-ish, anti-intellectual rhetoric of both presidential candidates and their running mates. How could anyone sincerely defend Sarah Palin, whose political record is being whitewashed, suppressed and retrofitted with the same dishonesty and fervor as has been Obama’s?

Lastly, it was interesting to see Nick’s critics play by the Rulebook of Argumentative Irrelevancy and latch onto an incidental remark in his article that “a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all)…” and beat it to death as though it was his primary point and premise. His major premise is that a woman owns her body; his minor premise is that a fetus in her body, defective or not, is an appendage until it can sustain its own life upon birth, whether as a billionaire wastrel or as a productive individual. His critics couldn’t deny with any credibility the validity of his major premise, and so resorted to skewing and misrepresenting his minor one, consequently losing all credibility as defenders and valuers of any kind of freedom.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin's Down syndrome child and the right to abortion

Like many, I am troubled by the implications of Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome. Given that Palin's decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.

A parent has a moral obligation to provide for his or her children until these children are equipped to provide for themselves. Because a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all) and requires constant care and supervision, unless a parent enjoys the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that their child will require, they are essentially stranding the cost of their child's life upon others.

So while anti-abortion commentators such as Michael Franc of the National Review sees Down syndrome's victims as "ambassadors of God" who "offer us the opportunity to rise to that greatest of all challenges," for many, that opportunity for challenge is little more than a lifetime of endless burden. In this light, it is completely legitimate for a woman to look at the circumstances of her life and decide that having a child with Down syndrome (or any child for that matter) is not an obligation that she can accept. After all, the choice to have a child is a profoundly selfish choice; that is, a choice that is an expression of the parent's personal desire to create new life.

And most parents seek to create healthy life; in the case of the unborn fetuses shown to have severe developmental disabilities, one study reports that over 90% of these fetuses are aborted prior to birth. But if you notice, the anti-abortion zealots try to attach a dirty little slur to these abortions, labeling them a form of eugenics. For example, in 2005, as he condemned those who opposed federal legislation that would have attempted to dissuade women carrying fetuses diagnosed with severe disabilities from having abortions, conservative pundit George Will wrote:

If it is not unobjectionable, let's identify the objectors, who probably favor the pernicious quest -- today's "respectable" eugenics -- for a disability-free society.
So in the anti-abortion advocate's eyes, a parent's desire to raise healthy children by squelching unhealthy fetuses while the are still in the womb is little more than a pernicious quest, but it is not considered a pernicious quest to knowingly bring severely disabled children into this world. On the contrary, such a choice is held out as an great example of upstanding morality. For example, consider this recent press release from a conservative anti-abortion advocacy group which celebrated Plain's birth announcement:

The Palin family is a wonderful example of a family who made the right choice to embrace their child and his future. Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America (CWA), commends Governor Palin, saying, "She is even more beautiful inside than out. Her proud and warm announcement of the birth of their special child revealed the depth of love and faith of this extraordinary woman. May God give America more women and statesmen like her.

"Special needs children can bring out the best in people. They draw out compassion, patience, a joy for the simple things in life in people around them," says Wright. "In some ways, we need special needs people more than they need us."
That is, we need the mentally retarded to teach us how to better sacrifice our lives and divest ourselves of our self-interested ways more than they need us to care for them. At Noodlefood, Diana Hsieh condemns such a stand as "the worship of retardation." Given that Palin had complete foreknowledge of her child's severe disability yet nevertheless chose to have it, it is hard not to see her choice as anything less.

Book Review of 'Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism' by Michelle Goldberg

The organized push from radical Christians to dissolve the separation between church and state is currently one of the most potent threats to individual rights in the United States. With Kingdom Coming, Michelle Goldberg presents a detailed intellectual history of Christian nationalism and how it is changing the culture. In particular, if Dr. Onkar Ghate's culture change lecture at OCON 2008 inspired you to do more research on the threat of the Religious Right, Kingdom Coming is an excellent book for further reading.

This book is rich in intellectual history. In the first chapter, Goldberg explains Dominionism, which holds that Christians have the god-given right and duty to be sovereign over one's country, if not the entire world. This idea derives from Christian Reconstructionism, which argues that American law should be replaced by Biblical law.

You will learn about many important figures in the intellectual origins of Christian nationalism. This includes the following thinkers and writers:
  • R. J. Rushdoony, the profoundly influential prolific writer who wrote that homosexuals, blasphemers and unchaste women should be sentenced to death as well as insisted that Jesus Christ would not return until Christians establish a thousand-year reign on Earth. Rushdoony is the father of Christian Reconstructionism.
  • Francis Schaeffer, whose Christian Manifesto argued that history is a contest between two antipodal forces: the Christian worldview and a materialist (secular) worldview, that the U.S. was founded on a Christian Consensus and that any public official who "commands what is contrary to God's Law [abrogates his authority]." Unfortunately, Goldberg only speaks of Schaeffer for a little over two pages.
  • David Barton, a Christian revisionist historian who writes extensively on how the separation between church and state is a myth and that the founding fathers intended for basic biblical principles to permeate public life.
  • Marvin Olasky, a prolific writer who is considered the founder of Compassionate Conservatism. One of Olasky's major works, The Tragedy of American Compassion, argues that there was a golden age of social services provided by churches until the secular government of Franklin Delano Roosevelt made social welfare the government's responsibility. President George W. Bush cites Olasky as his leading influence for funding faith-based initiatives.

This book also thoroughly documents how religion is permeating American culture. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Many widely-read revisionist history books such as Barton's Original Intent.
  • Textbooks designed to bring Christian science and morality into classrooms such as the intelligent design championing text Of Pandas and People.
  • Television shows that promote Christian ideology such as Pat Robertson's 700 Club.
  • Rock concerts and campus clubs intended to convert and recruit the younger generation.
  • Highly influential political activists such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Ralph Reed and their respective non-profit political organizations.
  • Active Christian think-tanks such as Answers in Genesis, Discovery Institute and the Family Research Council.
  • Media moguls such as the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
  • Many recent/current legislators with radical religious agendas such as Sam Brownback, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, Jesse Helms and former House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

After the first, each chapter is organized around a specific political campaigns that the Religious Right has embraced: against gays, for intelligent design, for faith-based initiatives, for abstinence-only education and against "activist" judges. The ongoing war on abortion rights is also thoroughly treated.

My only complaint is that, like a waitress who seasons your food without asking, the author rudely inserts her socialist views throughout the book. She even explicitly celebrates FDR's New Deal for "[bringing] socialism to America." As if everyone who is anti-religion is also pro-socialism! Irritating as this is, it does not ruin an otherwise informative book.

If you enjoyed the above review, please rate it as helpful on Amazon.com. My Amazon version of this review can be found here. The more helpful ratings I receive, the higher my visibility is on Amazon.com. You can access all of my reviews on Amazon.com here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Trade-Off

The rational among us are anxiously debating whom to vote for in November. From one perspective on the current race for the White House, we are faced with a choice of which devil to cut cards with (to paraphrase Wellington at Waterloo).

Do we vote for John McCain, who may or may not be better than George W. Bush in foreign policy and in adopting a semi-rational attitude toward America’s dedicated enemies, but who is “pro-American” in the same sense that Mussolini was “pro-Italian” and Hitler was “pro-German,” that is, in an un-American, nationalistic, service-to-your-country-in-a-higher-cause-than-yourself way, which implies the partial or wholesale regimentation of the American population to combat the bogeyman of the moment?

Do we vote for Barack Obama, whose anti-American, anti-military, anti-freedom, serve-your-country-until-you’re-flat-broke-and-living-in-penury-for-a-cause-higher-than-yourself solution to all problems, foreign and domestic, might mellow once he is in office and is handed on morning one the intelligence reports from the various security agencies on what our enemies (including Russia and China, not just the Islamists) are up to vis-à-vis tightening the noose around America’s neck? Or would he just grimace and think: We brought it upon ourselves.

Do we vote for McCain, whose “patriotism” would compel Americans to “give back” what they were never given, and who may or may not give the rational among us half a fighting chance to spread the word of reason? Would the Ayn Rand Institute and other pro-freedom organizations be safely sidelined by his domestic policies? Would conservative talk-show hosts be any more secure against censorship or persecution than under an Obama administration? Both candidates are preeminently anti-conceptual mentalities, but this does not mean they would not be aware of the peril of freely expressed ideas or organized opposition, and search for some means to squelch, silence, punish or harass the recalcitrant.

Do we vote for McCain, whose election might stave off another attack on America, because our Islamic enemies (Ahmadinejad of Iran, the Saudis, et al.) just might possibly believe that he would bomb Iran’s nuclear power facilities, or give the Israelis the go-ahead to do it themselves (Israeli intelligence on Mideast matters being vastly more informed than the CIA’s or the NSA’s)? Would McCain’s election give the Islamists pause? Or would they strike before Cindy McCain had time to redecorate the Oval Office?

Do we vote for Obama, whose election most assuredly would guarantee another attack on this country soon after his inauguration, just to test his professed “love” of America? Or would our enemies be ferally intelligent enough to realize that he would destroy it for them, stay their hand, and settle for ramping up their cultural jihad, knowing that Obama would applaud it in the name of multicultural diversity? It is not for nothing that the Muslim world approves of his candidacy and more or less has remained mum about his alleged apostasy.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia, of course, macho dictator that he is, would have Mr. Change that Matters for lunch, and use Senator Joe Biden as a serviette. Would Obama be a diplomatic match for the heavyweight thug of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, or Snake Eyes Ahmadinejad? It is indicative of the world’s hostility for America that every dictator, sheik and “social democrat” is hoping for an Obama presidency and the chance to stick it to this country even more, knowing that Obama would contritely claim that America deserved it, as a kind of reparations for what the U.S. has done to the world. Like save it twice at great cost in lives and treasure, and after that act as the world’s selfless policeman and “democracy” builder, also at great cost in lives and treasure.

McCain may or may not choose to go head to head with America’s enemies. Obama is not likely to want to butt heads with anyone. McCain’s brand of patriotism is similar to Teddy Roosevelt’s, whose political shenanigans gave us the father of all servitude, Woodrow Wilson.

When one studies side-by-side photos of McCain and Putin, one sees a similar, power-hungry glint in their eyes. One may legitimately suspect that the “reform” McCain promises is not so much of government, but of the American people. No, he does not believe in compulsory national service, but one may be sure of penalties if one does not “volunteer” for it. His vision of Americans united in a single cause differs in no fundamental from Obama’s, except in the path on which each wishes to lead them, “reformed” or “changed”: socialism with fascist overtones, or socialism for the sake of gutting the country of the remnants of its individualism and liberty.

So, the question is: Between the two candidates, where is the trade-off? What smidgen of the benefit of one’s doubts should one grant McCain and hope against hope that his administration would not be as disastrous and destructive as Bush’s? On what evidence can one hope against hope that Obama would “grow up” in the Oval Office and see the error of his ways?

The answer may depend in one’s estimation of how much one can bear the consequences of either candidate reaching the White House – coupled with how well one can second-guess. This much is certain, however: Politically speaking, whichever candidate is sworn into office next January, America is in for times rougher than those of the Great Depression.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Weekend Open Thread

I've seen other blogs host "open threads" for their readers to encourage friendly discussion and debate but never thought about doing as much here . . . that is, until now. So here we go, and to start of the thread, I'll post my own contribution in the comments below.

Book Review of 'The Myth of the Robber Barons' by Burton Folsom

Burton Folsom's The Myth of the Robber Barons is a short, but excellent book that argues that the mislabeled "Robber Barons" of the 19th century became wealthy not because they robbed anyone but because they offered quality products/services at record low prices. These productive giants made their fortunes because so many Americans chose to do business with them.

There are several values to gain from this book. First, you will learn several inspiring stories about how great industrialists amassed their fortunes through ingenuity, prolonged dedication and calculated risks. In an age when successful businessmen are vilified, an informative book that recognizes the heroism of prodigious business accomplishments is a rare treasure.

From reading this book, you will learn about how Cornelius Vanderbilt defeated the Fulton NY/NJ steamship-transport monopoly by offering lower rates, earning a reputation for his punctuality, investing in faster and larger ships and providing ancillary services such as concessions. Although this work does not get into Vanderbilt's days as a railroad tycoon, you will still learn about his many other ventures as a steamship entrepreneur, including his role in ferrying traffic during the 1849 gold rush as well as his spirited offer to sink the infamous confederate submarine, the Merrimac, during the U.S. Civil War.

From reading this book, you will also learn about how steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was obsessed with cutting costs, which led to him profitably carting off tons of steel shavings discarded from a competing steel plant owned by the Scrantons. Although the fourth chapter actually focuses on Carnegie's fascinating and clever right-hand man Charles Schwab, there are plenty of good Carnegie stories in this book.

This book also contains the riveting story of how James J. Hill built the Great Northern Railroad without a penny of federal aid while his competitors either lobbied for monopoly status or collected subsidies by building uneconomical railroad lines. This story is particularly important to know, as the railroad network is often (wrongfully) cited as "too big" to be left to free markets.

There is also plenty of information on John D. Rockefeller in this book. You will learn about how Standard Oil made it cheap for households to stay illuminated at night during an age when domestic activity was constrained by darkness. You will also learn about how Rockefeller too was obsessed with efficiency, which led to him recommending that his barrels of oil be sealed with 39 drops of solder instead of 40.

Other business heroes covered in depth are the Scranton family who built up the steel industry Eastern Pennsylvania and Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of the Treasury whose low-tax, limited government policy recommendations allowed the 1920s to roar.

Although he does not use Rand's terminology, Folsom correctly identifies that "Robber Barons" is a package deal. That is, the concept "Robber Barons" includes market entrepreneurs (i.e., those who created their fortunes by revolutionizing an industry) with political entrepreneurs (i.e., those who made their fortunes through government aid or with political connections.) Examples of market entrepreneurs include Carnegie, Rockefeller, Hill, and Vanderbilt. Examples of political entrepreneurs include Henry Villard and Leland Stanford.

A final great aspect of this book is that it offers a concise, essentialized history of what made these individuals great. Thus, an avid reader may absorb a healthy amount of introductory material on these giants without committing himself to reading an 800-paged biography.

If you enjoy this book, then I also highly recommend both Burton Folsom's Empire Builders and Andrew Bernstein's The Capitalist Manifesto. To a lesser extent, I also recommend H. W. Brands' Masters of Enterprise, which is similar in spirit but has a less interesting selection in subject manner. I am anxious awaiting the release of Folsom's New Deal or Raw Deal?, which explores the true legacy of the FDR administration.

If you enjoyed the above review, please rate it as helpful on Amazon.com. My Amazon version of this review can be found here. The more helpful ratings I receive, the higher my visibility is on Amazon.com. You can access all of my reviews on Amazon.com here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Objectivist Round Up #61 - September 11th, 2008

Welcome to the September 11th, 2008 edition of the Objectivist Round-Up. This week presents insight and analyses written by authors who are animated by Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. According to Ayn Rand:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

"About the Author," Atlas Shrugged, Appendix.

Seven years ago today, America endured a ruthless and unprovoked attack upon her people. In the intervening years, America has suffered greatly and has yet to fully restore the peace and security that her people and all the just people of the world so richly deserve.

The posts below reflect each contributor's assessment of the meaning of this anniversary, from the vicious nature of the Islamic threat, the half-hearted response of the West in retaliation, the heroism and achievements of those murdered that day, the appalling symbol of un-restored lower Manhattan, to our own moral commitment to a proper victory. I could assign a theme for this project, it would be "Nothing Less Than Victory;" a charge that should be the singular rallying cry heard around the world in response to the savagery of September 11th.

So in the name of such a victory, it is my honor to present our round-up:

Stephen Bourque presents Henry's Walk to Work posted at One Reality, saying, "It would be tragic indeed if men could not remain free without having a war to remind them that liberty is the most rare commodity in history. And it would be still more tragic if our freedom - the freedom of the United States of America - perished because men forgot that war is necessary when an enemy has its knife at our throats."

Edward Cline presents 1776 vs. 9/11 posted at The Rule of Reason, saying, "Inspired by Patrick Henry's Stamp Act Resolves in 1765, the American colonies rallied together in a common cause to oppose the British Parliament's authority to impose taxes, and to retain their right of self-governance. Today, in the face of Islamist tyranny, we are witness to a far different response."

Adam Reed presents The outrage of September 11 and the tragedy of September 14, 2001 - and the choice of 2008. posted at Born to Identify.

Myrhaf presents Twilight of the West posted at Myrhaf.

Eric Clayton presents It Changed Everything posted at Atlantis.

Amy Mossoff presents Struck by Lightning posted at The Little Things.

Paul Hsieh presents NoodleFood: Do Americans Want Victory? posted at NoodleFood, saying, "The Americans of 1941 wanted victory and were willing to fight to achieve it. Do the Americans of 2008?"

Gideon Reich presents September 11, 2008 posted at Armchair Intellectual, saying, "Thoughts on the seventh anniversary of that murderous day."

Rational Jenn presents The End Of Normal posted at Rational Jenn.

Tom Stelene presents Al-Kafir Akbar!: Islamists & Multiculturlists posted at Al-Kafir Akbar!.

Gus Van Horn presents Five years ago ... posted at Gus Van Horn, saying ,"I may be a little too preoccupied with hurricane preparations to write a good 9/11 piece tomorrow, so if you don't hear from me in time, please link to this post on the subject. It is from 2006, the fifth anniversary of the atrocities."

And last, I present Five Great American Paintings (Part IV: Freedom of Speech) posted at The Rule of Reason, saying "In 1943, as America fought a desperate struggle against tyranny in a worldwide war, artist Norman Rockwell sought to depict the essence and value of America with his brush and inspired a nation with his creation. Today, on the anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, recalling Rockwell's masterwork can inspire us to victory in our struggle as well.

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In addition to the 9-11-themed posts, here are posts on other topics of interest:

Rational Ryan presents The Nationalism of John McCain. posted at The Dirty Kuffar, saying, "A blog exploring the Nationalist ethos of the Republican nominee for President."

Paul McKeever presents Freedom versus Freedumb posted at Paul McKeever, saying, "I here do what many others have done before (compare individualist with collectivist notions of "liberty" or "freedom"), but I supply for you what I believe to be a novel definition of freedom...the one I'll be elaborating upon more in my book."

Greg Perkins presents Another Objectivist at Ford Hall Forum? posted at NoodleFood, saying, "The founder of Wikipedia says Rand's philosophy of Objectivism guides his vision, but I have some tough questions for him on that front."

Burgess Laughlin presents A Study Group for Intellectual Activists posted at Making Progress, saying, "This post, one of a series on Study Groups for Objectivists (SGO), describes an upcoming study group examining in detail Drs. Brook and Ghate's three 2008 OCON lectures on intellectual activism: "Cultural Movements: Creating Change." Their lectures focus on the successes of the environmentalist, free-market, and Christian fundamentalist movements and the lessons they offer to Objectivists outside ARI."

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That concludes this edition of our Round-Up. Please submit your blog article to the next edition (to be hosted by Titanic Deck Chairs) using our carnival submission form, and past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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