Friday, November 02, 2012

Objectivists And Personal Responsibility

In which John Aglialoro, the producer of the double-bomb "Atlas Shrugged" series and David Kelley, founder of the Atlas Society and official script consultant to the project, place the blame for these spectacular failures on everyone but themselves.


Rey said...

" the blame for these spectacular failures on everyone but themselves."

Sort of like Howard Roark, no?

Michael Prescott said...

I don't find them placing the blame for the movies' box-office failure on other people. Other than sniping at the leftist sensibilities of movie critics, they don't discuss the movies at all.

Instead, their point is that election offers the public a stark choice between a candidate who really does not believe in capitalism and one who, whatever his equivocations, is basically an American traditionalist. And, they say, choosing the first candidate would likely doom America to a future of diminished prosperity and personal freedom.

Though I'm not an Objectivist, I see nothing to disagree with here. The results of the election should make it obvious that America has reached a tipping point in which the takers outnumber the makers - or to put it another way, the parasites have overwhelmed the host. Those who vote themselves free stuff are now the majority, and those who get stuck paying the bills are the minority.

Of course this will not end well. You don't need to read - or watch - Atlas Shrugged to know that.

Anonymous said...

Oh Michael what a lot of rubbish!

America is still a land of 98% makers and 2% takers! The makers just elected a President who sympathised with them and cared about their plight. It may not end well but that is because the capitalist system, with all it's faults and virtues, works to benefit the minority and not the majority.
Still the Republicans have said that with this defeat they will have to do some soul searching! Good luck with that, we didn't think they had souls.
But no wonder Obama was happy, he is the only American that can be guaranteed to have a job for the next four years. As for Donald Trump talking about a revolution, dream on, why would Americans take to the street when they drive to bottom of their driveways to pick up their mail.

Don't worry about Obama, we've been voting in men and women like him, in Yurp, for years. You might end up like Switzerland or Sweden, the two most efficient economies in the World, the most equal distribution of wealth and those with the happiest populations. Though from an objectivist point of view, the Swiss and the Swedes should be the point where they have gone to hell in a handcart and are on their knees begging for a John Galt to save them.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Anon: America is still a land of 98% makers and 2% takers!

I'm with you there. We can quibble over exact percentages (I suspect 2% is on the high side), but the US is a looong way from majority-taker status, and I'm pretty sure the economy would collapse before we got anywhere close to that.

I see takers every time I walk by Mickey Dees in downtown San Francisco, asking me for spare change (which somehow I never have). These are the people who are not making, not contributing, just looking for a handout. Are they 47%? Anywhere close?

Inside the restaurant, behind the counter, I see nothing but makers -- burger flippers and cashiers, selling food to willing customers, the free market at work. Don't be fooled by the fact that they're scraping by on near-minimum wage, making tough choices between health care and saving money to go back to college so maybe they can get a better job and move closer to the "American dream." Don't confuse low-wage with laziness, and don't think a little government help with medical expenses or tuition is going to turn them into loafers.

The reality, at least in the US, is that it's hard to find people who don't want to be makers. If you don't believe that, then you need to get out of the bubble and meet more real Americans.

Anonymous said...

Michael, there are quite a few reasons to vote for Obama that don’t have anything to do with getting free stuff. Perhaps people were concerned with his social views, and how determined Republicans are to overturn Roe vs. Wade. I know it was important to me. Or maybe the comments from Akin and Murdoch reminded people how friendly Republicans can be to the ladies. Or perhaps people aren't super excited to go to war with Iran any time soon. Or maybe self deportation is a very inhumane and un-Christian way of dealing with illegal immigration. There are quite a few reasons that people could choose Obama over Romney, other than the "people want stuff argument". I voted for Obama and I don’t want free stuff. I just didn't want the current batch of republicans. I usually enjoy your comments, you usually have intelligent things to say, not this time though.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for agreeing with me and it pains me to to issue with one of the good guys on this blog; Michael. But when any of us start to sound like Lenny Peikoff we need to step back and check our premises!
I agree that America is full of makers, they don't have any choice. You don't make anything you don't get paid anything. Welfare is there to keep you alive and ready to jump into work when a job becomes available. If you really can live in luxury on welfare in America, brother I'd pack my bags and be there tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, to get back on topic. Now that Obama has been re-elected will they make good their promise not to film part III of Atlas Shrugged. As they said there would be no point if he won. That really is a silly thing to say, as if Obama won and it netted the producers a $100 million of course they bloody would make part 3!
I think it's cowardly to blame Obama's victory for that, perhaps they just don't want any more ridicule or if they made part III they really would lose the shirts from their backs.

Neil Parille said...

But the fact is that the percentage of people who work for the government or rely heavily on government programs is quite high. Whether it has hit 50% I don't know. But when it gets even close to that it is difficult to make hard choices to control spending and restrict taxes. See Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action.

Michael Prescott said...

Bingo, Neil. It's nice to get one intelligent response to my comment.

Presently, 47% of Americans pay no income taxes, though some of them do pay payroll taxes.

When 47% of the country can vote for higher income taxes with impunity, then we are indeed at a tipping point. From their standpoint, it's in their interest to vote for bigger government and more giveaways, since other people are footing the bill. In the (slightly) longer term it is not really in anyone's interest, since the whole system will fail under that kind of stress. But you can't expect the takers to think that far ahead.

Anonymous said...

Simple solution...increase wages! Then you will reduce the amount you pay out in government programmes. Nice try Michael and Neil but as they say on the net, epic fail!
It is sad that in America people need to both work and rely on welfare to survive. Next you'll be saying it's all Kant's fault.
Good use of the arguement from intimidation, if we don't agree with you, we ain't intelligent!

Anonymous said...

Geez, does it fall to Brit to point out that it is, and I will say this very slowly, the REPUBLICANS, that are the party of big government. Reagan spent a 1/4 of a trillion dollars more than Carter did in his first 4 years. I thought everyone knew that?

CW said...

There's one huge glaring fault with the makers/takers/47% argument.

Let's suppose the numbers and assumptions are true, that these people who pay no taxes will vote for Obama, or at least the most liberal candidate.

You can't simply claim that they all are some kind of leeches or loafers unwilling to work; you can have a full-time job and yet still have an income below the threshold that requires you to pay taxes. And the unemployment rate, though high, surely isn't at 47%. So these people are working, producing something, even if they are also getting some kind of handout.

So why do the "takers" outnumber the "makers"? Because the "makers" have done their level best to not pay their employees sustainable wages.

America used to have a very strong middle-class. Now, not so much. The divide between the wealthy and poor gets ever wider, and has been increasing ever since the notion that just letting Capitalism run free would generate great prosperity for all. Only, every time the chains get loosened, a very small number of people do well while a larger portion of people slide down the tubes.

This is a problem of the conservatives' own making, and not caused by parasites or moochers. By favoring policies that allow the very wealthy to profit at will while driving more and more people out of the middle-class and into the lower income classes, the Republicans have themselves created the voter base that is most likely to vote against them.

You can argue that in a truly Capitalist society, an employer should be allowed to pay as low a wage as they can get away with. But if that's the argument, it becomes nearly laughable to expect that low-income wage earner to swallow whatever variation of the "trickle-down" theory they're being fed, contra the evidence of their own experience. When the "trickle" is not sufficient, any person will seek other means of support - and even Objectivists will concede that when one is up against the wall, they will break their rigid moral stance and act to preserve their own existence.

Daniel Barnes said...

I think all you need to do is watch Cal Thomas flailingly attempt to explain how people working two jobs are actually "moochers" - nearly liquifying his own brain in the process - and it's pretty clear that the Republicans can't even coherently defend their own slogans.

gregnyquist said...

I think the 47% figure is somewhat misleading. The real problem is that America is in decline, and has been in decline for a number of years. The federal government and many state and local governments are deeply dysfunctional. America has a long history of corrupt government, and making the government bigger hasn't made it any less corrupt. Countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Germany don't have the culture of corruption problems that plague American government and society. Those countries can have extensive safety net system without bankrupting their societies over the long haul. That's not true in southern Europe in America. I know of dozens of people who try to work as little as they can and take as much as they can. And I know several people who genuinely need government services but are denied. But that's what happens when you have a lot of cheaters. They ruin the system for everybody. America's financial markets are an even worse shape. As a result of misregulation, malincentives in the tax code, and gross mismanagement of the money supply, wall street has been transformed into a casino where 50% to 75% of trading is done by computers and where the large traders regularly fleece pennies off the smaller traders. Dodd-Frank either ignores are deals rather ineptly with most of the dysfunction on Wall Street. In the best run countries in Europe, you have somewhat intelligent regulation. Even if it's not perfect, it's at least not deeply dysfunctional. In America, special interest groups combine with lawyers to write all the regulation, and the result is a complete mess. Then, to cap it all off, we have enormous debt problems. Basically, America has been trying to hide it's decline by piling up massive debts. The stock market bubble of the nineties, which helped bring down federal deficits, was fueled by a massive credit bubble. When that had run it's course, we run up huge housing mortgage debt. When that imploded, we started running up huge government debt. This cannot work for very much longer. And there doesn't seem to be anyone on either side of the political divide who has a clue how to fix it or even understands what's going on. Worse, since many of the problems are rooted in cultural issues, in the habits people have formed on a micro level, it's not clear that there is any solution. It's simply in the nature of countries to decline at some point; and that is what is happening in America. So I don't think the problems are related to the 47% that don't pay income tax. I'm not sure what the percentage is of dysfunctional people who are a drag on the system; but they exist at all levels of society, from the bottom to the top, and they're not going away any time soon.

Anonymous said... was a lot easier back in the days of Rome, all you had to give the peasants was bread and circuses. Try given that now and they'd take the feet from under you.
But seriously, now matter how grim things are now I think we can all agree, the solution is not to be found in Atlas Shrugged.

Anonymous said...

My image of the Republican party will forever be that of entertainer Rush Limbaugh, twitching and jerking in a mock display of Parkinson's disease, his "man-boobs" visibly jiggling beneath his clothing.

Michael Prescott said...

Excellent comment, Greg. I have to agree that the US is in decline. For some time I've thought we're witnessing the transition of the US from a First World country to a Third World country - a society characterized by an unstable and politically manipulated currency, confiscatory rates of taxation coupled with widespread tax evasion, intrusive micro-regulation and layers of bureaucracy smoothed over with copious baksheesh, and a media establishment that is an extension of the ruling party.

I'm not saying Romney could have reversed these trends (the best he might have done was slow them down a little, and he might not even have done that), but I do think the reelection of Obama is a clear signal that reform is no longer feasible. A majority of the electorate has realized they can vote for more spending/benefits/goodies without paying any price themselves in terms of higher taxes. Since they are not looking far enough ahead to consider the longer-term consequences of their actions, they have no incentive to vote for responsible government policies. $1.2 trillion annual deficits don't faze them; most of these voters are so math-challenged that they don't even grasp the magnitude of such numbers, and think vaguely that a trillion is about the same as a million or a billion. (Note Obama's casual and repeated references to "millionaires and billionaires," as if there is little difference.)

It seems clear that we are on course to continue the present policies until the system simply breaks down, an event that may happen a lot sooner than most people expect. As you point out, we've lived through a series of bubbles and collapses, and now seem to be entering the endgame when the money supply itself will be pumped up in a new bubble that will lead to a more catastrophic collapse.

People facing this situation who divert themselves with witticisms about Cal Thomas or Rush Limbaugh, or with concerns about cost-free birth control and other trivialities, are like passengers on the Titanic complaining about the poor quality of the buffet as the ship goes down.

CW said...

"A majority of the electorate has realized they can vote for more spending/benefits/goodies without paying any price themselves in terms of higher taxes."

As opposed to a minority attempting to vote for the candidate that would have given them benefits and goodies without raising their taxes.

Michael Prescott said...

Quite untrue, CW. Romney/Ryan did not run a campaign promising giveaways. Romney repeatedly said, "If you're looking for free stuff from the government, you don't want me; vote for the other guy." The Romney campaign was about cutting back on government spending, reforming entitlements, reducing the deficit, and moving toward fiscal responsibility. Romney didn't even promise a net tax cut; he wanted to lower tax rates but also eliminate deductions, exemptions, and other loopholes to make any tax changes revenue-neutral.

The election offered the public a clear choice between fiscal discipline and fiscal irresponsibility. A majority chose irresponsibility. Now we will suffer the consequences. As Mencken said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

CW said...

"The Romney campaign was about cutting back on government spending, reforming entitlements, reducing the deficit, and moving toward fiscal responsibility."

The Romney campaign was about a lot of things, some of them contradictory, and few of them well-defined. What you list are a bunch of nice-sounding catchphrases you can tally up on a sheet and say "this is what we stand for" but have little if any bearing on what the Republican plan actually is, (or was as the case may be). Reducing the deficit? How, exactly? All I heard from the Romney campaign was that they wanted to do it - fine, everybody was talking about getting the deficit under control - but when pressed for actual numbers and what exactly they'd do to balance the budget, Romney et al seemed to be coming up dry. Maybe they had their failsafe plan ready to go on Jan. 1, but they didn't bother to make sure I knew about it.

Let's leave aside the fact that austerity hasn't exactly been working for Europe so well, or that the progressively older Republican base is just as likely to vote to preserve its Medicare and Social Security entitlements as any other "takers", that running up the deficit was something the Republicans at least since Reagan have been just fine and dandy with - unless the other guys are in charge - and the last administration to balance the budget was Clinton's...

You know what? Let's not leave all that aside. Even if you give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt that the economic crash they presided over was in part created by Democratic policies, the rest of their performance over my memory does not in any way paint a picture of them being the party of financial responsibility. Quite the opposite, in fact. And I saw little in this campaign to convince me that they'd truly seen the errors of their ways. Their refusal to compromise even slightly during Obama's first term as well as their outright obstructionism speaks to me not of sensible reform but rabid idealism - not my favorite political trait.

So faced with a choice of an Administration that's been overseeing a painfully slow recovery - but a recovery nonetheless - and a party that promises to somehow do better and usher in a new age of prosperity without showing any real willingness to hack away at its own favorite expenditures, why would anyone not otherwise wedded to some other Republican/conservative issue vote for Romney or any other Republican candidate?

There were plenty of compelling reasons to not vote for Romney apart from this sour-grapes-generated myth of people "just wantin' free stuff" being tossed around. If the Republicans or any other fiscal conservative political group wants to seriously work towards financial responsibility, they'd be better served to stop blaming some boogeyman of "takers" and work on their policies and image to the point where they do not appear to be the party of benefiting the wealthy on the backs of the dwindling middle-class and increasing poor.

Anonymous said...

True CW, I hate to say by Michael does sound very naive in believing the promise of a politician.
Did Reagan say he would spend $250 billion more than Carter in his first 4 years as President?
No, but he did. In fact I think he said the opposite!
As the old saying goes, you don't subvert the system it subverts you.
Plus your comments about the democrats acting irrespnsibly are incredible. Do you think Obama wakes up every morning going "How can I be financially irresponsible today". I don't like him either but I at least credit him with trying to save the economy.

But basically with the US election, one guy wins, the other schmuck loses. What more is there to say :) Other than the US electorate know what they want, even if you look (at times) in askance at who they vote for.
They absolutely do not get hoodwinked or fooled, they are too clever to fall for any politician that does try.
As for Romney, if Obama is so freaking bad and unpopular, well he must have been a shoo-in. But he wasn't, he couldn't even beat a tired Obama, whom the public had grown weary off, yet they still choose to give him a 2nd chance.
So if you want to take it out on anybody Michael take it out on the Republicans for fielding such a dreadful candidate.

Anonymous said...

A recent quote about Obama's re-election: "I think, in sum, that this was the worst political event ever to occur in the history of this continent. I think it was worse than the Civil War." I'll let you guess what pundit made those remarks.

Gordon Burkowski said...

I must disagree with Mr. Prescott’s somewhat na├»ve belief that “The Romney campaign was about cutting back on government spending, reforming entitlements, reducing the deficit, and moving toward fiscal responsibility.” I would suggest that a Romney administration would have looked something like this:

1) Still more tax cuts;
2) Goosing the economy by large defense spending – the kind of move that Paul Krugman has described as “weaponised Keynsianism”;
3) Making a set of entitlement proposals artfully designed to be rejected by the Democrat-held Senate, while not going near any third-rail items like the mortgage deduction;
4) All leading to a massive ballooning of the deficit that would make the Obama years look mild by comparison – and that would be blamed on the Democrats in the Senate;
5) Campaigning on the “deficit crisis” in 2014 and 2016, leading to a Republican Senate and Presidency;
6) And finally, a frontal assault on Medicaid, Obamacare and Social Security.

In other words, I would have expected a full-blown strategy of “starving the beast”: cutting revenue to the point where entitlements would leave the government insolvent, then going after the entitlements. That’s been the Republican strategy ever since Reagan and I see no reason to believe that it would have changed under a Romney presidency.

caqroljane said...

Obama has already achieved one of his major aims for Term 2, in preventing AtlasIII, thereby forestalling World WarIII "the War of how to handle Galt's speech on screen".

Objectivists may hate Obama, but they's his chillun too, and he has saved them.