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Nov 06 2012

Ayn Rand, and Obscurantism

People often wonder at the success of Ayn Rand’s writings, at how otherwise intelligent people get sucked in to the Randian circle-jerk. I want to take some time to deconstruct one of her essays, on “Man’s Rights”, with two purposes in mind: 1) to demonstrate that her writing is not 100% vacuous crap, and 2) to help people combat these ideas when presented ‘in the wild’, as it were.

Have a read of her essay. Come back when you’re done. Hopefully you can get through the whole thing (yes, yes, choking down that first sentence is pretty rough, and it doesn’t get any better later).

So where to begin? First, I think it’s important to remember that pure lies don’t often take hold in the way that Rand’s writing has. A lie alloyed with truth can get a lot farther than either the lie or just the truth by themselves. So… For time constraints, I’m going to gloss over the pure bullshit (defining a ‘free society’ as capitalism, for example), and focus more on the truths that are used to sweeten the lie.

I’m going to run through the main philosophical flaws in this essay, mainly as these are standard rhetorical fallacies that found again and again, and several of the tropes employed in this essay are found in the writings of our good friends, the so-called Mens’ Rights Advocates. And yes, I know, this article belies a radical ignorance of both history and reality: in arguing with the specific facts of history in this sort of thing, you are implicitly accepting that the argument is valid. Even if the facts were correct, the argument is still invalid, thus arguing the facts is completely irrelevant with regards to showing that the argument is false. When faced with this kind of argument, you can either argue the facts, or you can argue effectively.

I take no issue with Rand’s general definition of Rights. She’s spot on as defining individual rights as those things that, essentially, bind ‘other people’ from interfering in our lives. This would be the doctrine of ‘negative rights‘. A negative right to life would mean that I have the right not to be killed, a negative right to education would mean that I have the right not to be prohibited from receiving an education (assuming I have met all other requirements (and yes, this particular right is problematic, given socioeconomic circumstances, etc)), and so on.

So when dealing with a rabid libertarian (you can tell by the foaming at the mouth), it would be a mistake to claim that Rand is universally wrong: in the areas where she was lifting from other Philosophers, she’s right on the money. That’s pretty much why plagiarism is prevalent. Where she goes from there, however, is basically ridiculous.

It has been largely taken by a given in labour rights (by which I mean Aristotle, Locke, Hegel, Marx and others) that labour is what gives value. Raw materials are, themselves, of limited value. A tree is of limited utility to a human, but turn that tree into a viola (amongst other things) and a whole heap of value is created. The root of value (and thus currency) is labour (and not gold. I mean, really…).

But… If I have the right to life, and I have labour, from whence does my property spring? Did I emerge fully formed in the world with a collection of skills and materials, like some computer game character? Arguably, if (like computer games) we existed in a world of infinite resources, whereby I could simply move further afield to stake a new claim (which still gives an advantage to those who came before me) and create new property, that would be undeniably mine. But here in reality, things don’t work that way.

While labour is the root of value, labour without tools is laborious: a business cannot function without the superstructure of society. No power means no business, but moreover no power infrastructure means no customers. How do the customers get to your business? By hacking their way through the jungle, or hiking over the untamed hills and marshes? No, by using the roads and other infrastructure that enable us to be more than huts merely scattered haphazardly in the wilderness, to be a society.

She has asserted that we have a right to do pretty much anything we like (so long as it doesn’t impinge upon the rights of others), and to own that which we produce ourselves. That’s entirely correct.

Where Rand’s argument falls apart is that taxes are not a violation of rights (and, really, she’s talking about taxes). Unless, again, you magically burst into existence and have not required the use of public roads, public water, public education, or public electricity, then taxes are not a form of ‘altruism’ (by which Rand means “slavery”), they are a form of trade.

Furthermore, and this is a point that seems to be entirely lost on all libertarians I have met in person, a business that does not have a road leading to it perishes. A business whose customers do not have access to potable water loses its customers. A business whose employees have health care at the whim of their employer are coerced, are compelled to act against their own values, and often are required to expropriate their own values. Or they can die, destitute, malnourished and impoverished. As long as the business benefits from the system, the business must pay into the system: this is not altruism, but trade.

 

It is important to be aware of the underlying meanings in an argument. This is not merely ‘semantics’, as some may erroneously claim, but a way of tracking that an argument is being legitimately made, and not merely implementing a series of fallacies. Else we will be unable to effectively make a case against those arguments. Raging is all well and good, but we need to rage effectively.

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47 comments

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  1. 1
    jaketoadie

    A few years back I worked with a guy who was a hard core libertarian, fully soaked in the Randian BS, and we would often argue politics (I am pretty liberal, especially since I live in Utah).

    He would always go on and on about how taxes were illegal use of force by the government against its citizens. Saying that it was basically theft, and the ultimate use of coercive force, since if you don’t pay your taxes they can throw you in prison.

    I finally managed to shut him up on that point at least by telling him that he was clearly thinking of what a tax was in the wrong light. I said that I just look at it as my yearly “freedom bill”. And so just like other bills I have to pay, water, power, etc. If I fail to pay my bill they cut off the service.

    I don’t think I made him change his mind about anything, but at least he stopped arguing that specific point with me.

  2. 2
    Brian Lynchehaun

    My next post will be on that very point, the alleged ‘use of force’ with regards to taxes.

  3. 3
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    You were right about that first sentence.
    - welcome to assumption city -

  4. 4
    rory

    I’m glad you’re doing this, and hope you dig into Objectivism further. I’m currently struggling my way through ‘Atlas Shrugged’ (I like how she quotes herself in the middle of the essay) and while I smell bullshit, you’ve done a much better job of explaining why it’s bullshit than I can. I’ll look forward to your next post on Rand.

  5. 5
    smrnda

    I actually don’t believe that ‘negative rights’ really exist aside from as a meaningless abstraction. Unless we have a government with laws, police on the streets, courts, attorneys and prisons, my ‘right not to be killed’ is just a bunch of hot air. These rights do not exist (in any meaningful way) without enough government agencies that have been paid for by tax money.

    So let’s take ‘right to life’ and ‘right to an education’ in the sense of the first being ‘negative’ and the second ‘positive.’ To me, both exist because taxes are levied which finance certain agencies and workers. True, one can argue that the right to life is stopping other people from killing me as opposed to taking tax money and using it to fund people offering a service, but either way, you have an agency, a service, and someone being paid. I can see a discussion about what should be funded based on social utility or whether it’s necessary, but the ‘negative and positive’ has always seemed like a meaningless distinction to me.

    Also, on property. Labor gives things value, but how on earth does anybody get to control access to natural resources? Why them and not somebody else?

  6. 6
    fentex

    Labour is not the sole source of all value, for if it were water in a stream or wild fruit on a tree would be worthless, which they are not and people would not be able to find value (not put there by labour) in discovered gems.

    Labour is a source of value, there are others.

    Arguing that we owe each other for our combined efforts to create a healthy, educated, safe and mobile community makes perfect sense, but doesn’t require convincing people of the fallacy that value only exists as the fruit of labour .

  7. 7
    fentex

    I finally managed to shut him up on that point at least by telling him that he was clearly thinking of what a tax was in the wrong light. I said that I just look at it as my yearly “freedom bill”. And so just like other bills I have to pay, water, power, etc. If I fail to pay my bill they cut off the service.

    I don’t think I made him change his mind about anything, but at least he stopped arguing that specific point with me.

    He’d likely think he’d won because that sounds like an admission you accept his premise, that your freedom exists solely as a grant, at financial cost, from your government and not something inherent that your government protects.

    The argument that taxes are taken through threat of force is correct, but claiming it is illegal is probably inaccurate (I live in New Zealand and I don’t presume to know U.S tax law), one assumes if was illegal at one time authority remedied that promptly.

    The real argument is whether or not it’s just and wise.

    Given the unprecedented wealth, health and opportunity built on the industrialised worlds tax base I think most people will agree it’s just.

    How wise it is at any given amount, distribution or period is a matter for debate and choice, which elections hopefully serve as a final arbiter for.

  8. 8
    Brian Lynchehaun

    I explicitly stated in the article that “Raw materials are, themselves, of limited value.”

    Any one who considers gemstones to be, in an of themselves, valuable has confused ‘has a price tag’ with ‘has value’.

    Diamonds certainly have value *after* they have been incorporated into a drill or glass-cutting device. They may have value when incorporated into a setting, and have been worked on. All of these processes involve labor.

    An unpolished, uncut gem? Minimal value. Add labour and the value increases…

  9. 9
    G'Day M8!

    Another term that comes to mind is Sophism, the use of clever dialog to make bullshit smell like sweet truth.

  10. 10
    Crommunist

    “Clever dialogue”, eh? You’ve clearly never read Rand :P

  11. 11
    smrnda

    True, though you’ll get into a problem with Randians where they distinguish ‘free and voluntary cooperation’ (which is what people do in deregulated capitalism) and ‘forced cooperation’ (like when we pay taxes to have a road paved.)

  12. 12
    smrnda

    It’s worth asking who is actually more free, people who live in nations with minimal or non-existent tax burdens, or people in nations with higher taxes.

  13. 13
    mynameischeese

    Now if only I could get the Randroids in my life to read this. Or anything besides Rand, really.

  14. 14
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    And this is where their whole assumption fails miserably – ‘free and voluntary cooperation’ is an illusion as it assumes that buyer and seller have equality in the deal: in information, [i]access[/i] to coercive power (be it direct & physical, or withholding of vital resources), etc…

    There is never ‘free and voluntary cooperation’ in deregulated capitalism outside of the political theory books.

  15. 15
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    It may be worth re-phrasing that question:

    “It’s worth asking who is actually more happy, people who live in nations with minimal or non-existent tax burdens, or people in nations with higher taxes."

  16. 16
    42oolon

    Are you saying we should enshrine a right to infrastructure? This would make toll routes and bridges unlawful. I think Rand’s views are extreme, misguided and her philosophy has been shown to be wrong in practice. I think she gets it mostly wrong by her repudiation of “society”. Her rights to property are meaningless without an organized group of humans with authority to implement criminal and contract laws. This is a society. I just disagree with her limit on the coercive force of society. I think it can and should be extended to health care, education, and a social safety net. But the latter, not as constitutional rights. I do not think we should have a right to an income or a job. I think society can agree that providing these benefits by way of public funding. I think we focus too much on rights and justice, rather than practical common sense of doing these things. I think the state should build roads and provide clean water individuals when it makes sense to do so, not as a right.

  17. 17
    rq

    Thank you for this and I hope you continue the series. Finally, I can take delight in the fact that I have some real firepower to use against my libertarian friends. Currently, I’ve managed to halt them using questions about social justice and discrimination, but I see now that you have an entire arsenal of better arguments for me!

  18. 18
    rory

    It might be the first book I’ve ever read where I wished the characters were real just so I could stick their heads into a toilet.

  19. 19
    Brian Lynchehaun

    “I can see a discussion about that should be funded based on social utility or whether it’s necessary, but the ‘negative and positive’ has always seemed like a meaningless distinction to me.”

    Then I strongly recommend further reading, because there is a significant difference between the two.

    A ‘negative right’ simply means that others have the obligation not to interfere with you with regards to the object of this right.

    A ‘positive right’ means that others have the obligation to actively *provide* you with the object of the right.

    So here in Canada, you have a Positive Right to Elementary and High School Education, and a Positive Right to healthcare, but a negative right to housing and a negative right to 3rd level education.

    If the Government decided to change that? To postive rights for education? No more fees, no more student loans. Sweden offers 3rd level students salaries and housing while they are studying.

    To just say that “in Canada and Sweden, you have the right to attend university” fails to capture a significant difference between the two systems. The ‘negative and positive thing’ is a highly meaningful distinction.

    Scroll down to 2.1.8 for more details on this topic. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights/#2.1

    As for property rights, who gets control access to natural resources? That’s not a settled question in Philosophy. There are a number of answers, all with (imo) terminal criticisms. I do not believe that there is a satisfactory answer to this question.

  20. 20
    jesse

    Honestly, taking her apart in the first few sentences is easier.

    As you state, Rand sees to have little understanding of history, or even the way societies worked before kings and such existed. Many societies (granted, small ones) operate on a very “collectivist” set of assumptions. This isn’t because they don’t believe in individual freedom, but because it’s necessary to survive. One of the worst punishments an Inuit tribe can inflict is casting someone out, because the fact is in a harsh environment like that you are dead meat if you are by yourself. That’s one reason why humans (as social primates) operate the way they do.

    Rand simply ignores that, as well as ignoring that one reason societies organized to begin with was that too many of the technological projects we take for granted now are NOT the product of one person’s labor. You cannot build an irrigation project with one set of hands. It just doesn’t work like that — but to grow anything in the Nile valley you need some kind of method of managing water. The Nile floods didn’t just wash over the fields. (The ancient Egyptians were masters at this).

    To make an ax out of metal requires at least a half-dozen people, as well. (the one who digs up the iron ore, smelts it and works it and carves a handle were not always the same people even in ancient times). Rand seems to just ignore this basic fact.

    Since much of her philosophy rests on ignoring the facts, I have trouble taking it very seriously as philosophy. But then I can’t take Anti-Semitism seriusly or racism seriously — that doesn’t make them any less dangerous.

  21. 21
    smrnda

    Rand escapes this dilemma by making ‘government == coercive force’ and ‘control of resources != coercive force’ an axiom of her system, but that’s just creating and using definitions that lead to your foregone conclusions.

  22. 22
    Brian Lynchehaun

    Are you saying we should enshrine a right to infrastructure? This would make toll routes and bridges unlawful.

    Yes, we do, as a matter of fact, have a negative right to infrastructure.

    This does not entail that you can use every single part of the infrastructure whenever you like, but that you are not prohibited from using the infrastructure (generally). That said, having a right to something does not mean that there can’t be limitations on that right: in Ireland, for example, your right to use the roads is predicated on you having up-to-date tax and insurance on your vehicle, and that your vehicle is not likely to break down (to the best of your knowledge, thus regular tests are legally mandated).

    Toll routes are not unethical (I’m not talking about law, I’m talking about ethics), as the government makes a deal on behalf of the people with a company to create additional infrastructure. There is a contract in play, and there are additional limitations placed upon the right to infrastructure with regards that particular part of it. I see no contradiction here.

    her philosophy

    I would not credit her with so much.

    I do not think we should have a right to an income or a job.

    Really? You think it would be ok for someone to refuse to hire a person because they are black? Trans? A woman? A man? Even if they meet all the other requirements of the job, and are the best candidate? “Nope, we don’t hire gay people” is ok in your book?

    If not, then you do think that we have a negative right to employment.

    If so… Then I really don’t know what to say in response to that.

    I think we focus too much on rights and justice, rather than practical common sense of doing these things.

    The part of your sentence that I have emboldened is the part that I do not understand. What is this “common sense” you speak of? It’s often used as shorthand for “people should do things the way I believe they should be done, and I have no actual argument in support of my position”. If you are using it in a different way, I am all ears.

    The bottom line is that arguments about rights and justice are the justification for doing things. “Common sense” does not exist, it’s a noise people make when they don’t have an argument, and (if you spend some time perusing right-leaning websites) it’s commonly appealed to for a wide variety of arguments that I have no doubt that you feel go against “common sense”.

    I think the state should build roads and provide clean water individuals when it makes sense to do so, not as a right.

    Then, as in Canada, you will end up with large sections of the population, typically poor and often an ethnic minority, who do not have access to clean water.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/11/28/f-first-nations-water.html

  23. 23
    Brian Lynchehaun

    I would contend that ridiculous ideas need to be taken seriously, else they grow and warp the political system upon which they prey (c.f. The Tea Party down south).

    Furthermore, merely attacking them on their ignorance of facts is a lose-lose proposition: it turns the conversation into a endless stream of “but this word means X”,”No, it means Y!” and goes absolutely nowhere.

    Additionally, most Libertarians have had this particular argument hundreds of times, and mostly will avoid making historical claims, or will dance around the definitions, or will accuse their interlocutor of merely playing semantic word games, and so on. But they (mistakenly) pride themselves on their logic and reasoning skills, so it’s necessary to show that their argument is not logically valid, so that even if their rewrite of history was true, then their argument doesn’t hold.

    Many Libertarians are just starting out, so it’s not so difficult to shake them out of the nonsense: they just need to be shown that their position is absolutely untenable, rather than be told that they don’t speak English.

  24. 24
    smrnda

    I think Rand appeals to middle class people who like to imagine themselves as these great ‘producers’ who are self-sufficient. But the truth is nobody is self-sufficient. My upper-middle class lifestyle is only made possible through the exploitation of likely millions of people the world over. Who made the food I ate? Who made the clothes I wear? Who worked in the mines? Who is keeping all the workers down so that things run smoothly on my behalf? The problem is that for many privileged people, this labor is *invisible* and the middle class know-nothing comes away believing that he (or she) is really truly self-made.

    The other issue is the notion of ‘free choice.’ Sure, in the job market I’ve got some choices since I have 3 college degrees. But most people on this planet have no meaningful choice in terms of who they will work for and under what conditions.

    Overall, Rand was a total ignoramus. She clearly did no research on how railroads operate when writing “Atlas Shrugged” (really? She believes that if the schedule says the track is clear IT IS CLEAR?) I think she basically thought her ‘premises’ were right, and therefore, all her conclusions are right without any need to learn anything about the world.

  25. 25
    smrnda

    I mostly agree with what you say – a negative right is, for example, my right to freedom of speech, but it’s not a positive right in the sense that I’m guaranteed with a platform. In the US our right to education is only positive for less than a college education.

    My point was that a negative right (like property rights or the right to life) can’t be said to exist unless taxes are levied and some kind of state apparatus for maintaining law and order is put into place. Libertarians argue (at least to me) that negative rights are more legitimate since it’s just a prohibition against what other people do, not something that requires other people actually pay money, but without us paying taxes, our right to property or life would just be the right to fend for ourselves. If I want to be snarky, I ask libertarians why my tax money should be going to protect their property.

  26. 26
    Brian Lynchehaun

    Right, but I don’t know of anyone who is arguing that ‘negative rights’ are anything more than Ethics (certainly lacking the same kind of force as, say, gravity).

    Absolutely, they need to be enforced (much more so than Positive Rights, as Positive Rights typically just need a system setup to provide access, whereas people need to be constantly screened to ensure that no-one is violating the Negative Rights of others), but that doesn’t render them meaningless.

    Finally: I have Rights (in the Ethical sense) regardless of whether or not they are enforced legally. It’s a matter of public record that the Japanese government will only protect the Human Rights (as per the UN) of Japanese citizens, and a non-Japanese person within the bounds of Japan essentially does not have Human Rights in the Legal sense. But this does not mean that they “don’t exist” in the Ethical sense: there are grounds to argue that (putting the legal situation to one side) the Japanese Government is unethical in this regard. If the rights “don’t exist”, such an argument can’t be made.

    The law, when best, is based on and derived from Ethical principles. Those Ethical principles are independent of their legal instantiation.

  27. 27
    42oolon

    Rand and libertarianism is appealing and has some good points. It does require government to exist and says it should be as small as necessary for the state we want. We are disagreeing about the kind of state and the size and role of government.

    I think she was wrong, as Alan Greenspan, her protoge, acknowledged with his famous “flaw in the model” admission.

    I think the American experiment with private health care is another example of this philosophy failing.

    In fact, I can’t think of an example of a policy or state that got into trouble by deciding to provide more benefits to its citizens.

    Can anyone else?

  28. 28
    medivh

    Huh, that’s what ‘altruism’ means when reading Rand? I think I need a Rand-to-English dictionary next time I try reading anything by her, or her followers.

    I noticed that ‘statist tyrany’ doesn’t mean what it sounds like. It sounds like a system of nationalist-big-brother-like governing, where as I assume Rand means any state that takes in taxes.

    But as Brian says, arguing on the basis that they speak not-English is not going to convince them. I’d like such a document purely so that I can actually understand what’s really being said rather than occasionally picking up that there’s a dog whistle being used but not actually knowing what it means to the initiated.

  29. 29
    Brian Lynchehaun

    You pretty much have ‘statist tyranny’ down.

    For Libertarians and Randians, the population is divided into two camps: those who love freedom and seek to minimise the state as much as possible, and those who hate freedom and see to maximise the intrusion of the state. There is no continuum, there is no other valid way to view the situation, there is only ‘us’ (who love freedom) and them (those who hate it, by not hating the state).

    By ‘Altruism’, Rand means forcing other people to give up roughly 100% of all your income/production to everyone else around them, and that lazy people don’t give anything up at all but are merely passive recipients of the wealth of the productive people.

    By ‘Selfishness’ (and ‘greed’), Rand means ‘rational self-interest’. The idea that one can over-reach what is ‘fair’ is not an idea that can be meaningfully expressed in an extreme Libertarian/Randian vocabulary.

    Those are really the main vocabulary differences upon which the rest of her writings build.

  30. 30
    fentex

    I noticed you mentioned trees as an example of limited useful materials, which is why I used what can be eaten as example of things which do not require any labour to be useful and valuable.

    I’m happy to disregard the gems though I think there’s an argument to have over whether a thing can have value because it can be worked, even though it hasn’t been yet.

    But it stands that there are things that have value without having labour vested in them, and I remain convinced that an argument proceeding from the assertion that value only comes from labour fails.

  31. 31
    fentex

    I think it’s a good question because it forces consideration of the benefits of taxation to the fore.

    Asking after happiness is changing the subject to utilitarian philosophy and not addressing the original question of freedoms.

    If freedom is the opportunity to make choices do people in countries with tax paid infrastructure offer more choice to people?

  32. 32
    42oolon

    I was asking you if you think we should have a positive right to infrastructure, of course I agree to negative rights to infrastructure. I think Rand was saying “no, we should not enshrine a positive right to income”. I understood your response to be “there is no negative right to income, without a positive right to infrastructure”. My feeling is that Rand would respond that infrastructure can be achieved privately through, tolls, fees and private companies alone. Whereas I think it is a better idea to provide these publicly through taxes, when it is reasonable to do so, based on evidence, not “rights”.

    Yes, I do think we should continue to prohibit discrimination in employment, but no, I do not think there should be a positive right to employment or income.

    By common sense I simply mean doing something because the evidence shows it will further our shared goals. I should have said “reasonable”. The point is practical empiricism.

    I have time for the argument for water rights. I may change my view on it. Negative right, absolutely. However, if a rich person builds a cottage in a remote location, I do not think the state or society has any obligation to provide infrastructure. We do not need to engage in a discussion about whether his right to clean water or roads is violate by a decision not to extend infrastructure to this location, or whether this is a reasonable infringement of these rights.

    The example of First Nations and water is a good one and I think perhaps a good topic to draw out what we mean a “right to clean water”. It is a bit anomalous however, given the unique situation of Aboriginal Reserves in Canada. I need to check my facts, but my understanding is that in these communities the federal government has a legal obligation to provide infrastructure and has failed miserably. Is it not that the government actually prohibits these communities from providing for themselves and takes on the responsibility itself and then does not deliver?

    I think the endemic problems on Reserves show a serious and obvious systemic problem with the entire regime. This is shown by the difference between a myriad of health and social problems on reserve compared to off. In other words, I think this shows a problem with the Indian Act and especially its implementation, rather than a problem with our lack of a “right” to clean water.

  33. 33
    smrnda

    I’m guessing this would mean that to the Randian, a boss who demands sexual favors in exchange for employment isn’t infringing on freedom (since you can just quit and starve) but the government demanding that a boss NOT do that is tyranny. I actually had a Randian say that to me. So this is a simplification, but is it kind of ‘it’s only oppression when the government does it?’

    To me, this seems a bit like viewing the government as this outside entity, not as something you have a (albeit limited) say in.

  34. 34
    Brian Lynchehaun

    But it stands that there are things that have value without having labour vested in them, and I remain convinced that an argument proceeding from the assertion that value only comes from labour fails.

    I think you’ll find that if you actually discuss what the other person is saying, rather than arguing against something they didn’t say, you’ll get a lot further.

    If you want to actually discuss the topic, feel free. But I’m not going to constantly correct you. It’s tiresome.

    Regarding food: food is also of limited value. Why? Because it’s the distribution of food that makes up the majority of value of food. Apples on the tree are useless to people: they need to be picked (labour), collected (labour), cleaned (labour) and distributed (labour). Processing them (labour) with other raw materials (wheat, water, milk, sugar) increases their nutritional content and flavour.

    Labour is not “the only” source of value. But it’s primary.

  35. 35
    Brian Lynchehaun

    I was asking you if you think we should have a positive right to infrastructure, of course I agree to negative rights to infrastructure.

    I’m sorry for misunderstanding. This was not clear in your prior post.

    I understood your response to be “there is no negative right to income, without a positive right to infrastructure”.

    I do not believe this. A Negative Right to income is entirely independent of any argument regarding infrastructure.

    A Positive Right to infrastructure means that [someone] has an obligation to build infrastructure for me. I believe that we have a Positive Right to infrastructure (water, power, roads), and that the relevant obligation falls at the feet of government.

    My feeling is that Rand would respond that infrastructure can be achieved privately through, tolls, fees and private companies alone. Whereas I think it is a better idea to provide these publicly through taxes, when it is reasonable to do so, based on evidence, not “rights”.

    In a system where all infrastructure is privately owned, the Negative Right to infrastructure vanishes: as they are all privately owned, a company/individual is in the position to toll the road out of reach of the underprivileged, or to simply say “black people can’t use this road”. Without government involvement, there is no way to prevent this outcome.

    Yes, I do think we should continue to prohibit discrimination in employment, but no, I do not think there should be a positive right to employment or income.

    I agree about the employment, I do not agree about income. I believe that an argument can be made regarding welfare as a Positive Right, that the state has an obligation to ensure that no-one is homeless nor without food, power or water.

    However, if a rich person builds a cottage in a remote location, I do not think the state or society has any obligation to provide infrastructure.

    That would be one extreme of the argument, and I agree with you: it is one thing for someone fully capable to intentionally move to a remote locale, devoid of infrastructure, and then demand the state provide these things.

    However, that’s entirely different from a community naturally extending beyond the bounds of existing infrastructure. I would contend that the state, as existing to serve the community (and they pay taxes) has an obligation to extend the infrastructure to meet their needs.

    I am in agreement with the rest of your comment.

  36. 36
    Raging Bee

    Labour is not the sole source of all value, for if it were water in a stream or wild fruit on a tree would be worthless…

    Both of those require at least a little labor to gather and transport them to the people who need them. Either that, or everyone has to do the work of gathering their own water and low-hanging fruit. And of course, once those easy pickings are all picked, more labor is required to get the harder-to-reach stuff. So those two examples — stream water and wild fruit — are pretty trivial and only apply to small pre-civilized hunter-gatherer tribes, not the overwhelming majority of humans.

    As for gems, they need to be mined, cut, cleaned, etc. Didn’t you see “Blood Diamond?”

  37. 37
    Raging Bee

    Are you saying we should enshrine a right to infrastructure? This would make toll routes and bridges unlawful.

    We already recognize a right to use public infrastructure; and no, it doesn’t make tolls unlawful. As long as the tolls are reasonable, they’re a plausible means (though not the only way) of ensuring that those who benefit most (or at least most directly) from a road pay a larger share if its cost. (The same can be said of a car tax.) I don’t necessarily agree with tolls, but they’re not flatly contradictory to a right to infrastructure, as long as we don’t have tolls charged for EVERY public road, big or small.

  38. 38
    Raging Bee

    The bottom line is that arguments about rights and justice are the justification for doing things. “Common sense” does not exist, it’s a noise people make when they don’t have an argument…

    Rights, justice, and common sense go together. Anyone who tries to separate basic justice and compassion from “common sense” is an amoral scumbag using “common sense” to mean “what works best for my own interests.”

  39. 39
    Raging Bee

    Additionally, most Libertarians have had this particular argument hundreds of times, and mostly will avoid making historical claims…

    I’ve noticed that too: their claims make absolutely no reference to history at all. All they do is spout a lot of simple, plausible-sounding generalities, and flat-out refuse to acknowledge that real life is far more complex than their airtight logic (which often resembles theology more than reason) says it is.

  40. 40
    42oolon

    Thanks for the discourse. My only final criticism is you seem to conflate all negative rights with anti-discrimination. You could have 100% private infrastructure (which I suppose is Rand’s wet dream), but also maintain the human rights code preventing discrimination of access on the basis of race etc. Of course the latter is likely anathema to Rand as well.

  41. 41
    Raging Bee

    A few years back I worked with a guy who was a hard core libertarian, fully soaked in the Randian BS…

    Soaked as in, golden shower? Or pearl necklace?

  42. 42
    Brian Lynchehaun

    My only final criticism is you seem to conflate all negative rights with anti-discrimination.

    I’m not conflating them, I’m choosing the most obvious/simple counter-argument as to why negative rights are necessary.

    I could, of course, give examples of companies polluting local property but (compartively speaking) that’s highly abstract and not a point that everyone necessarily agrees on already.

    You could have 100% private infrastructure (which I suppose is Rand’s wet dream), but also maintain the human rights code preventing discrimination of access on the basis of race etc. Of course the latter is likely anathema to Rand as well.

    Completely anathema. :)

    Now, instead of the government enslaving the general population to generate taxes, you have the government enslaving the business owners and stealing their property (i.e. preventing them from discriminating). ;)

  43. 43
    fentex

    I agree with the argument that we do not succeed on our own for we live among and use the fruits of others and our predecessors, but I think starting from the disputable position that all value derives from labour is a mistake when you say your objective is to sidestep irrelevant debate in logically refuting extreme libertarian arguments.

  44. 44
    fentex

    I agree with the argument that we do not succeed on our own for we live among and use the fruits of others and our predecessors.

    But I think starting from the disputable position that all value derives from labour is a mistake when you say your objective is to sidestep irrelevant debate in logically refuting extreme libertarian arguments.

  45. 45
    Brian Lynchehaun

    I think starting from the disputable position that all value derives from labour is a mistake

    Fentex, I’m going to stop discussing this with you now.

    I find it extremely frustrating when someone repeatedly asserts that I’m saying something that I am explicitly not saying. And I have stated that already. I even went to the trouble, in the comment to which you are responding, of emboldening your statement, and explicitly stating that you are misrepresenting my position.

    I have not said that “all value derives from labour”.

    I do not believe that “all value derives from labour”.

    You are welcome to continue to believe that I am arguing that point. But you’re mistaken. I’m done.

  46. 46
    fentex

    Then I must be misunderstanding what you wrote here;

    The root of value (and thus currency) is labour

    For I understood the purpose to be to refute Randians by first asserting, as I think you clearly did, that value derives from Labour. And then proceeding to illustrate how Randian concepts of ownership and property conflict with this idea of creation of value through to an argument we all share in the labours that form society.

  47. 47
    Brian Lynchehaun

    Yes, you are misunderstanding what I wrote there.

    Feel free to incorporate my subsequent statements, should you wish to continue the conversation.

    Or not if you don’t…

    (Questions are welcomed, attributions are not)

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