"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
Location: Sacramento, California, United States


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Saturday, January 08, 2005
  I Think I'm Clear Now...
The Ayn Rand Institute has released an op-ed today which is supposed to replace the original by David Holcberg. Here is the full text of the new op-ed (hat tip Kyle):
Clarification of ARI's Position on Government Help to Tsunami Victims
Friday January 7, 2005

On December 30, 2004, the Ayn Rand Institute released as a letter to the editor and as an op-ed a piece that condemned the U.S. government's use of taxpayers' money to help victims of the recent tsunami ("U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims"). That piece was inappropriate and did not accurately convey the Institute's position. We would like to clarify our position.

Obviously, the tsunami, with the thousands of innocent victims left in its wake, is a horrible disaster. The first concern of survivors and of those trying to help them is to provide basic necessities and then to begin rebuilding. The American public's predictably generous response to assist these efforts is motivated by goodwill toward their fellow man. In the face of the enormous and undeserved suffering, American individuals and corporations have donated millions of dollars in aid; they have done so by and large not out of some sense of altruistic duty but in the name of the potential value that another human being represents. This benevolence, which we share, is not the same thing as altruism.

The ugly hand of altruism--the moral view that need entitles a person to the values of others, whose corresponding duty is to sacrifice their values for that person's sake--did show itself in the petulant demands of U.N. and other officials that "stingy" countries must give more. On their view, the U.S. has no right to the wealth it has produced, because it has produced it; the helpless victims of the tsunami have a right to that wealth, because they desperately need it. This perverse view is not an expression of goodwill toward man. In generously providing aid, the U.S. government should repudiate all such altruistic demands and refuse to associate with the organizations that make them.

In a fully free, fully capitalist society--a society toward which ARI works--the government would not have the power to tax citizens and redistribute their wealth for the purpose of charity, domestic or foreign. The government would be restricted to one fundamental function: to protect the citizens' individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. To accomplish this, the government would need only a police force and a military to protect citizens from aggressors, and a legal system to adjudicate disputes among citizens who allege that their rights have been infringed. Charity would be left to private individuals and organizations, as it was successfully left in 19th century America (in even a semi-capitalist system, there is no shortage of wealth or of benevolence, as the public’s response to the tsunami illustrates).

But of all the ways in which our government today fails to uphold individual rights, providing (through compulsory taxation) short-term, emergency relief to foreign victims of a natural disaster is among the most innocuous. It was therefore inappropriate to single out for condemnation the government’s offer of assistance. True, it would be preferable to use the aid money for a legitimate function of government, such as to purchase needed military equipment and armor for our soldiers in Iraq, who are being asked to risk their lives to defend our freedom. It is likely, moreover, that the increase in aid offered by our government in the days after the disaster stemmed not from benevolence but from surrender to the altruists' corrupt demand that the U.S. had not sacrificed enough. Nevertheless, thousands of the government's actions are more damaging to our rights. Far worse, for instance, would have been to pour the aid money into government programs and agencies whose very purpose is to violate individual rights, such as into the antitrust division of the Justice Department, which persecutes successful businesses for out-competing other companies on a free market. If one wants to fight the government's growing encroachment on individual rights, such are the areas on which to focus, not emergency relief.

The crucial issue in the battle for a free society is to restrict the government to its only legitimate purpose: the protection of individual rights. (The issue of compulsory taxation, the focus of the original piece, is a derivative; it pertains to the appropriate means by which a proper government would finance its activities, and is the last issue to address in establishing a free society. For elaboration, see Ayn Rand’s article "Government Financing in a Free Society" in The Virtue of Selfishness.)
I must admit that when I first heard about this, and read through this op-ed, I was confused. But upon re-reading it, I achieved enlightenment. The crucial error made in the first op-ed is one of strategy; taxes are bad, but they are one of the last things to be abolished on the road to a free society.

Here's an analogy (though not to cast pearls before swine); I was watching Scarborough Country tonight on MSNBC. It was a segment featuring Michael Newdow, the (infamous) atheist, and another lawyer, from some group whose name sounds good, but is really just a front for the religious right. Newdow's latest lawsuit concerns President Bush having some religious figure deliver a prayer at his inaugural party. Newdow is suing to stop this, because it violates separation of church and state. Now while this may be totally inappropriate (I don't have all the facts, but it sounds like it), it is impractical and a waste of time. Chaplains in congress or at Bush's inaugural party are not appropriate, but they are one of the last things we need to fix in regards to the separation of church and state. To focus so much energy and time on this derivative issue, while ignoring more fundamental violations, undermines the effort to buttress the wall the religious right is trying to bring down. In a similar way (though certainly not in the same universe as Newdow), carping on taxes is a valid point philosophically, but not in the context of a fight to return to the principles of a free society. In that context, taxes are a derivative issue, and there are bigger fish that should be fried first.

I'd like to hear what anyone else thinks who's been following this. Please feel free to leave your two cents in my comments section.

UPDATE: Noumenal Self has written the definitive piece on this topic. I thought mine was pretty good, but I am an amateur next to such greatness.

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