In modern America, February 2 is best known as Groundhog Day. But it also marks the birth of one of the most praised and criticized thinkers of the past century – Ayn Rand.
Rand sold more than 30 million books. Atlas Shrugged has been ranked behind only the Bible as an influence on readers’ lives. She has also been stridently attacked for issues such as her militant atheism. But perhaps least understood has been her full-bore rejection of altruism. On her birthday, it is worth reconsideration.
Altruism has commonly been held up as the standard for moral behavior. But Rand rejected it, asserting it was “incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights,” and therefore “the basic evil behind today’s ugliest phenomena.”
That head-on collision arises from French philosopher Auguste Comte, coiner of the term altruism. The altruists.org website says he believed “the only moral acts were those intended to promote the happiness of others.” Comte’s Catechisme Positiviste asserts that altruism “gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence,” and, therefore, “cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such a notion rests on individualism.”
In Comte’s view, any act performed for any reason beyond solely that of advancing someone else’s well-being is not morally justified. That implies taking a tax deduction for a charitable act strips it of its morality. The same is true when done because “what goes around comes around.” Something as seemingly innocuous as feeling good about doing good also fails Comte’s joyless standards. Even “love your neighbor as yourself” fails his unlimited duty of altruism. As George H. Smith summarized it, “One should love one’s neighbor more than oneself.”
Ayn Rand’s attacks on altruism are aimed at Comte’s definition. However, modern usage has eroded his meaning of altruism to little more than a synonym for generosity, so Rand’s rejection of the original meaning is now often taken as a rejection of generosity, which it is not. In Roderick Long’s words,
… her sometimes misleading rhetoric about the “virtue of selfishness”… was not to advocate the pursuit of one’s own interest at the expense of others … she rejected not only the subordination of one’s interest to those of others, (and it is this, rather than mere benevolence, that she labeled “altruism”), but also the subordination of others’ interest to one’s own.Rand’s categorical rejection of altruism was a rejection of Comte’s requirement of total selflessness, because that was inconsistent with any individuals mattering for their own sake. Rand vehemently opposed such an invalidation of individuals’ significance.
The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value.Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” was a response to Comte’s demand for complete selflessness. Not only is a requirement for everyone to completely disregard themselves an unattainable ideal, it is self-contradictory. You cannot possibly sacrifice yourself fully for me, while I am also sacrificing myself fully for you. And if no one has any intrinsic value, why would the results, even if possible, be meritorious? With Comte as a starting point, more attention to people’s own well-being – more selfishness, in Rand’s terminology – is the only way to move toward recognizing value in each individual and significance in each life.
Comte’s conception of altruism is also inconsistent with liberty, which was Ayn Rand’s focus. The duty to put others first at all times and in all circumstances denies self-ownership and the power to choose that derives from it. Everyone else maintains never-ending presumptive claims on every individual, overriding any rights they may have. In contrast, benevolence involves voluntary choices to benefit others of one’s own choosing, in ways and to the extent individuals choose for themselves.
This is why Rand criticized equating altruism with benevolence. The key distinction is between benevolence’s individual discretion, which recognizes our rights over ourselves and our resources, and altruism’s unconditional requirement to always sacrifice for others.
An omnipresent duty of self-sacrifice also makes people vulnerable to manipulation by those who disguise power over others as “really” a means to attain some noble goal. The desire to sacrifice for the good of others can be transformed into the requirement to sacrifice to the desires of leaders. As Rand expressed it:
Those who start by saying: “It is selfish to pursue your own wishes, you must sacrifice them to the wishes of others” – end up by saying: “It is selfish to uphold your convictions, you must sacrifice them to the convictions of others.”The key here is Rand’s emphasis on duty:
When A needs something, in B’s opinion, if C, who can do something about it refuses … C is pilloried as someone who is selfish rather than altruistic for not choosing to support B’s cause. The faulty syllogism remains that “C is failing to do his duty here. C should do his duty. So C should be made to do it.” And … that syllogism as a bludgeon remains an ever-present threat from everyone who wants to do good with someone else’s resources, and finds coercion an acceptable mechanism.To Rand, Comte’s view of altruism is logically impossible, joyless, and liberty-excluding, and has enabled vast harms to be imposed on vast numbers. It does not deserve deference as a guide to morality. However, Rand offers no criticism of voluntary benevolence. That is why we should still care about her objections to altruism, which we now mistakenly take to mean whatever voluntary individual choices people make to be generous to others.
Rand reminds us of the central defense against the threat of coercion lurking beyond altruistic demands placed on people. It lies in protecting individual self-ownership and the property rights that derive from it. When that is maintained as fundamental, my power to choose what to do with myself and my property – including when my conclusion is, “I could contribute to cause X, but I choose not to” – is accepted as legitimate. Thus we would soundly reject the view that “Apart from such times as [someone] manages to perform some act of self-sacrifice, he possesses no moral significance.”
Without the coercive violation of rights, liberty can be maintained. The vast majority of people would not only be generous, they would have far more to be generous with. Their voluntary arrangements, including their chosen generosity, creates a better world than Comte’s altruism.
Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His recent books include Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013). He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.
I was recently interviewed on Fox Business Network about Trump’s policies and the economy, and the discussion jumped around from issues such as border-adjustable taxation to energy regulation.Though the central theme of the discussion was whether Trump had good ideas for American jobs and business competitiveness.
Given my schizophrenic views on Trump, this meant I was both supportive and critical, and I hope certain people in the White House paid attention to my comment about there being no need for the “stick” of protectionism if Trump delivers on the “carrot” of tax cuts and deregulation.
For today, though, I want to elaborate on why protectionism is the wrong approach. I mentioned in the interview that the long-run outlook for manufacturing employment wasn’t very good, but that we shouldn’t blame trade. So I decided to find a chart that illustrated this point, which then gave me the idea of using a Q&A format to share several charts and tables that make very strong points about trade and protectionism.
Did you know…that manufacturing employment is falling because of productivity growth rather than trade?
The bad news (at least for certain workers) is that manufacturing employment has fallen. And it will continue to fall. But as illustrated by this chart from Professor Don Boudreaux, manufacturing output is at record highs. What’s really happening is that productivity improvements enable more to be produced while using fewer workers. And this is happening all over the world.
Did you know…that there’s a strong relationship between trade openness and national prosperity?
One of Professor Boudreaux’s students augmented one of his charts to show the link between pro-trade policies and per-capita economic output.
Did you know…that you can’t hurt importers without also hurting exporters?
Many of the major multinational firms engage in considerable cross-border trade, meaning that they are both major importers and major exporters. Here’s a very illuminating chart from the Peterson Institute of International Economics.
Did you know…that protectionism imposes enormous losses on consumers and therefore is a net job destroyer?
There has been considerable research on the results of various protectionist policies and the results shared by Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute inevitably show substantial economic costs, which means that the jobs that are saved (the “seen“) are more than offset by the jobs that are lost or never created (the “unseen“).
Last but not least, did you know….that economists are nearly unanimous in their recognition that trade barriers undermine prosperity?
There are plenty of jokes (many well deserved!) about economists, including the stereotype that economists can’t agree on anything. But there’s near-unanimity in the profession that protectionism is misguided.
By the way, if you have protectionist friends, ask them if they have good answer for these eight questions. And also direct them to the wise words of Walter Williams.
Republished from Dan Mitchell's blog.
In just a few weeks, the Solar Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group, will release its latest annual report touting growth figures for solar jobs while it also warns against policies that could result in layoffs.
But the hard reality is that even as solar energy became politically fashionable, it remained economically unsound.
Just ask Elon Musk, the South African-born, Los Angeles-based renewable energy business mogul who had his electric car company bail out his solar energy company last year.
Neither company has been able to stand on its own two feet, and neither company has been turning a profit. But because both companies have been heavily subsidized, Musk was able to have U.S. taxpayers foot the bill to have one failing company bail out another.
The good news is there are some on Capitol Hill who are beginning to ask some hard questions about the taxpayer-funded welfare payments pumped into failing industries.
Last year, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee launched probes into tax incentives paid to solar companies.
With the change in administration, it is possible there might be an end to the solar investment tax credit, which has been propping up failing solar enterprises on the taxpayer dime. So, expect the Solar Foundation to double down on its talking points in its upcoming report.
In America, anyone is free to lobby and push for their own personal policy preferences. Federal and state officials who have the power to give preferential treatment to this industry should know there are all kinds of conflicts of interest that should be taken into account.
For starters, the Solar Foundation is closely aligned with the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group that advocates on behalf of those that manufacture and install solar energy equipment.
That’s not all. Take a good look at who staffs the foundation and it becomes pretty clear this is not an objective organization.
Andrea Luecke, the foundation’s president and executive director, previously worked for the city of Milwaukee’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar America Cities program “Milwaukee Shines,” where “she helped Milwaukee implement policies aimed at increasing solar energy capacity.”
Deputy Director Pari Kasotia serves on the board of directors of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association and is active with Citizens Climate Lobby.
Program Director Yolanda Seabrooks spent eight years with SunEdison, one of the largest global renewable energy development companies aimed at providing solar photovoltaic systems to municipal, state, federal, utility, and commercial customers.
There’s more, but you get the picture.
The Solar Foundation staff is mainly made up of former solar company and trade association lobbyists and other advocacy positions and has ties to government solar advocacy programs.
Policymakers should not put their faith into a report designed to be an advocacy piece managed by solar advocates and lobbyists to produce an accurate depiction of the solar industry’s contribution to economic development.
Whenever state officials push back against solar power, the foundation’s operatives are quick to respond with scare stories about potential job losses. These stories are parroted by solar companies as well.
In Nevada, for instance, two solar companies threatened to end their operations in the state when the Public Utility Commission decreased the subsidy for net metering, a state-level policy that shifts the cost of a solar system to those who do not have solar.
The story quickly became national news and painted the picture that solar policies should not be reformed if states wanted to avoid any severe economic fallout. But the number of jobs that created in the solar industry remains a bit nebulous.
Moreover, there is growing body of research that shows the opportunity cost of government subsidies for renewable efforts versus the jobs that could be generated in the private sector is too high from the perspective of sound public policy.
Under the sins of omission, the Solar Foundation’s annual reports sidestep the question of opportunity costs. But they typically make lengthy references to large percentage increases in solar jobs that are as sly as they are misleading.
For example, the 2015 report stated:
The solar energy workforce grew an impressive 13.2 percent over the last year—nearly six times the overall national employment growth rate, and has grown 27 percent since 2010. This compares to only 3.2 percent national employment growth over that same period (August 2010-September 2012).
The relatively low base numbers (compared to the overall economy) for solar jobs means that, percentage-wise, solar job growth will seem impressive compared to the overall economy.
In simpler terms, if the solar industry had one job in 2015 and two jobs in 2016 and the utility industry had 500,000 jobs in 2015 and 560,000 jobs in 2016, the solar job growth percentage would be 100 percent to the utility job growth of 12 percent.
That is not an honest representation of what’s actually going down in the solar industry.
With a little digging, astute readers will find the Solar Foundation reports that government subsidies are primarily responsible for any growth the solar industry has experienced. The reports typically bifurcate state and federal subsidies into separate categories.
But when these figures are blended together, there is no escaping the prominent role government intervention plays in sustaining an industry that is otherwise unsustainable.
When all the government subsidies are added together, our calculations show that the U.S. taxpayer is really responsible for almost 33 percent of any growth that occurs in the solar industry. That’s not real job growth.
The Solar Foundation’s tax records show that it has experienced a steady jump in revenue.
In 2012 it had $296,243 in revenue, and in 2013 it had $886,715 in revenue. That’s a big jump! For 2014, which is the most recent year that tax records are available, it reported $976,991 in revenue.
Clearly, the foundation is not in the poor house.
The mission statement on the 990 tax form says the foundation was set up to “educate the public” about the benefits of solar power. In reality, it is carrying the water for well-connected special interests that have a vested interest in maintain taxpayer subsidies for unworkable renewable boondoggles.
So, when the Solar Foundation releases its next report on job growth, remember the source of the information and all that glitters is not gold.
Commentary by The Daily Signal's David Williams. Originally published at The Daily Signal.
But I only told her that developing countries have experienced great successes in their private schools (especially compared to public schools which cost three times as much for the same or worse results), that perhaps alternatives to failing public schools aren’t a bad thing, and that we need to guard against giving away our power because one day it might end up in the hands of a monster.
It makes sense to me, but I can tell she thinks that I no longer care about the experiences of minorities in America, the LGBT community, or women’s rights.
Not so! I must not be explaining myself to her accurately. Allow me an attempt to do so now.
E Pluribus Unum
I truly care about the people who live in our society. True, I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual woman who lives in the southern United States. Also true, I feel a strong connection with the disenfranchised people who are struggling to get by and to be accepted in the land of the free and abroad.
I don’t believe in freedom and capitalism because of some careless idea about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. I know that some people don’t have boots to stand in. And that is a shame. I feel for those people. I know how easily that could have been me, and still could be.
These are my people.
I think about the ways that we are the same. There are kind people in every group, who feel when strangers are hurting, who love animals and the environment, and who care about the lives of everyday Joes and Josephines. My people, the human race, all over the globe, they feel the power of music. They smile at babies, share meals, embrace. They’re innovators and explorers; long ago, they took to the seas, the mountains, and the moon. Scattered all over the planet, they look up at the same stars. They hope and dream.
I want more than prosperity for these people. I want opportunities. I certainly don’t want all of us to be equally screwed.
I acknowledge that I am privileged by experiences over which I have no control and that have nothing to do with the person that I am. For example, if I speak and write with “correct” grammar, no one calls me a credit to my race. If I am nonviolent, career-driven, or pursue an education, I am not labeled as ‘one of the good ones’. If I buy nude pantyhose, the nylon will actually resemble the color of my skin.
Like you, I have no control over the place of my birth or to what family I was born. The world is not just and we all fear the power of others to make us small. To make us disappear.
There are people a plane ride away from me who confront this reality daily. I’ve seen pictures of cities reduced to rubble and of kids who have only lived through war.
A majority of humanity wants the same things, to feel safe in the world, in our homes, on the street. It’s nice to be nice and what stops us? Nothing.
Power and Freedom
I’m not so naïve as to deny the impact of historical horrors and people with iron fists, whose amplified voices have moved feet and toppled innocents. As a people, we have flung salt at each other, thrown up walls, and tossed over exploding bombs. But every day we have an opportunity to be better than yesterday.
We give away our power so easily, out of fear and hate and hope. I want opportunity for you, just like I want opportunity for me. I also want your freedom, and mine.
The question of policy will always be: where do we draw the line?
I like to imagine my ideal government as a metal fence post. It has clearly defined geometry, a solid foundation, and within its structure, it stands strong. Society and people's lives twine around the post like vines, occupying the negative space, growing, flowering, reaching for the sun. The fence post doesn’t show favoritism, it doesn’t suppress or give one vine a boost. It is functional and useful and it stops right there.
We are at liberty to add love, multiply our empathy, and forget to divide. But I believe the solution to our concerns is subtraction of power from the grasp of people who will take it.
Freedom as a life philosophy and free-market economics are about civil rights and allowing the people who need it most to build wealth. They are not about stepping on the poor or ignoring women’s and minority rights. There can be a balance between protecting people and allowing society to progress through spontaneous order.
According to Vox, 3.3 million women marched down US streets last Saturday. They did not do so by the grace of government. Individuals made choices; they used their agency and their civil rights to assemble, use speech, and protest. What will stop passionate people from fighting against injustice?
Politicians can only play catch-up. Culture, which you and I contribute to at every moment of our lives, defines what our society looks like and how people are treated. We don’t need Government to save Gotham. We have us.
|A memorial to war dead in Avdiivka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)|
|Combined Russian-separatist forces launched an attack on the front-line town of Avdiivka early Monday morning. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)|
|Artillery damage in Avdiivka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)|
|A Ukrainian soldier at a front-line position near Novomykhailivka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)|
|A building damaged by artillery in Marinka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)|
|Ukrainian soldiers in a trench in Pisky. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)|
(Family Features) No matter how diligent you may have been about saving for retirement, unexpected life changes and economic realities can negatively impact your retirement budget. Sustained low interest rates have suppressed yields on income from bonds and rising health care expenses have affected retirees of all ages.
Many retirees are surprised to learn that one of the most valuable assets in their portfolios may be a life insurance policy that they no longer need.
It’s not uncommon for people to outlive their need for life insurance, and if you no longer need the policy or can no longer afford the premiums, you could consider selling the policy through a life settlement. This is a financial transaction in which a policy owner works with a company, such as Coventry Direct, to determine if they qualify to sell their life insurance policy. The policy seller receives an immediate cash payment while the buyer assumes all future premium payments. Most life insurance policy types qualify, even convertible term life policies.
Consider this story about a financial advisor who recently retired from a long, successful career. He decided the money he was spending on the rising premiums for his $799,975 life insurance policy could be used to help fund his retirement. After some research, he called Coventry Direct and was happy to learn he had an option other than just letting the policy lapse. He sold his policy through a life settlement for $25,000, which was more than four times the value he would have received if he surrendered the policy back to the insurance company.
If you don’t own a life insurance policy or still need your coverage, you may want to evaluate the real estate you own. Think about downsizing to a smaller home or selling other property you no longer need. Many retirees discover that they have significant equity tied up in real estate – equity that could be used to help fund expenses.
Another useful exercise is reviewing your investments. If your retirement income is failing to produce the amount needed to maintain your lifestyle, you may need to rebalance your portfolio in order to meet your changing needs.
If you find your retirement income is insufficient, there are options available to maximize your assets. For many retirees, an existing life insurance policy may be a hidden asset that can be utilized to generate cash. To learn more about life settlements, visit coventrydirect.com/lifesettlements or call 888-858-9344.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images