We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Samizdata quote of the day

The basic moral issue, however, is that no one has a right to other people’s wealth. Need – even the genuine need of someone suffering through no fault of his own – is not a license to steal. In Ayn Rand’s words `misfortune is not a claim to slave labor; there is no such thing as the right to consume, control, and destroy those without whom one would be unable to survive.’ Does that sound harsh? Consider your own case: Would you regard your hardships as a claim on your neighbor’s paycheck? would you march into his house waving your need around like a gun and helping yourself to his food or his medicine cabinet? Would you think very much of a neighbor who did that to you?

Free Market Revolution, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, page 188-189.

22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Dom

    “Would you regard your hardships as a claim on your neighbor’s paycheck?”

    This is not me speaking. This is the devil. But it is also an argument that will be very common, but you won’t hear among the commentators who post here. Here goes.

    If my neighbor made 10 million dollars last year, and I was a minimum wage employee that he fired in order to increase profits, then yes, I would.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Dom, Devil’s Advocate questions are good to make to ensure no-one gets complacent!

    If the person employing you has not broken any contractual agreement you had (and you cannot claim that your job is a form of property), the fact that said employer made X million is irrelevant. That person might just as easily have lost millions by running a lousy business, or mis-reading the market. The fired employee has no claim on the wealth of the person who used to employ him. My boss isn’t my mother. Also, by selling my labour services to the boss for, say, two years, gives me no claim to the wealth the boss might have made. My only claim is payment for the wages I have contracted for. That’s all.

    One might as well say that if, for example, I switch to a new energy supplier and that firm also loses lots of business from dissatisfied clients, then the employees of the firm are entitled to demand that all the clients who defected should pay them a cheque. Put it this way, people will mostly regard the argument as bollocks.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Dom: If my neighbor made 10 million dollars last year, and I was a minimum wage employee that he fired in order to increase profits, then yes, I would.

    How about if your neighbor made 8 million or 6 million or only 1 million? Where is your cutoff point? Frankly, it’s people like you who make me glad I have a number of firearms and several thousand rounds of ammo.

  • Dom

    Vinegar joe: “it’s people like you who make me glad I have a number of firearms and several thousand rounds of ammo.”

    Put your gun away and look up devil’s advocate.

  • Tedd

    Dom:

    I don’t doubt that there are people who would react as you described. But it’s not actually an argument. To really play devil’s advocate you’d have to make the argument that leads to the conclusion that what you described is a justified action. I can’t be bothered to make that argument here myself, but it would probably either follow a Marxian surplus value/labour theory of value form or a Rawlsian justice-as-fairness form. Both those kinds of arguments have been debated on Samizdata at some length, under other posts.

  • Jamess

    I would want to know why your neighbour made 10 million dollars. What government regulation is limiting competition and giving him some sort of monopoly? (And what government regulations are stopping me/the person who wants to start a business and could hire me, from starting a business). Of course, my neighbour may be making the 10 million dollars completely legitimately – in which case I don’t have a claim on that money.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    No contract is enforceable at the cost of one of its parties’ lives. If I am truly in desperate straits – starving, freezing, what have you – how can the social contract require me to die? Either I am freed from it by necessity, or society is obligated to help me by the legal constraints it places on me.

    The real question is how broadly we interpret “desperate straits.”

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    If you are minimum wage, were you happy on that wage? If you were happy, then someone else will hire you at that wage-level. If this ex-boss was the only employer in town, then move towns! Or become a free-lance artist, and sell your works to people who have money. Even really rich people can’t act like feudal lords and stop you getting a job elsewhere. (They’d have better things to do than victimise an ex-worker, like spending all that money on new toys.)

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Enough people in desperate straits = revolution.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No contract is enforceable at the cost of one of its parties’ lives. If I am truly in desperate straits – starving, freezing, what have you – how can the social contract require me to die? Either I am freed from it by necessity, or society is obligated to help me by the legal constraints it places on me.

    In reality, a free market economy in which people sometimes get fired by a firm that wants to make bigger profits is likely to be the sort of dynamic place where new jobs are available by the very process that led to the profits of the millionaire, so it is unlikely that a person would be in “desperate straits” by losing a job, and hence morally justified in stealing from the millionaire, etc. There are those odd cases where you have a single-industry town where one or two firms dominate the employment market; people are not, however, forced to live and work in such places.

    In general, the example provided by Dom isn’t very much of a response to Watkins/Brook’s rhetorical flourish. As another person said, the other attacks on the legitimacy of profits, such as from Marx, have been endlessly debated here, at the Marxians’ expense. The Marxist argument is based, at root, on the labour theory of value, and the associated idea that only labour creates value, while those who own and direct the use of capital are parasites. This view ignores that in order for something to have value, it must be wanted by consumers, but to know that requires an element of risk, since a business needs to assemble factors of production before the products are actually sold. This risk-taking function is where entrepreneurs come in. Marx completely ignored entrepreneurship; he assumed that managing business was a largely technical, managerial function.

  • Runcie Balspune

    If my neighbor made 10 million dollars last year, and I was a minimum wage employee that he fired in order to increase profits, then yes, I would.

    This is less of a moral argument and really just the politics of envy, it doesn’t matter what the difference between the American neighbour and the devilish employee is, it all about what is considered “unfair”, but doesn’t address the original argument whether there is a point where stealing becomes justified, or if stealing is wrong whatever the case.

    The hardship argument at some point becomes irrelevant, the minimum wage earner devil will also pay tax, and the same envious situation could conceivably exist between the minimum wage earner and the intentionally unemployed on benefit. The leftist spin neatly sidesteps the issue, that a lot of the poorly paid are just as displeased with the terminally lazy making as much, if not more, than they are.

    I would suggest the argument is simple; people either think stealing is plain wrong, or they think it can be justified according to their own morals. The former probably includes all the poorly paid who know they’d be better off sitting on their arse all day (like the latter).

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    There are two problems for those who wish to make this argument. My experience has been thus:

    To most statists (particularly those on the left, but not exclusively) the existence of a coercive government is taken as an a priori fact of life. To wish to undo this foundational principle for your own benefit is regarded as the height of selfishness. They don’t perceive the state as a concept to have any moral character at all (other than vaguely positive), but they do perceive your wish to undo it as having a distinctly negative bent.

    Secondly, this very same argument presents a problem for nightwatchman state minarchism, which is one of the reasons I have swung toward Voluntaryist anarchism – or as Perry likes to call it “suicidal libertarianism” ;-). Why is my inability to defend myself a better claim on my neighbour’s money than my inability to feed myself? If coercive collection of taxes is wrong to fund a welfare state, it is always wrong. The only defence I can think of for tax funded minarchism is that is a necessary evil. But then you’re in the decidedly weak position of having to argue that your necessary evil is preferable to George Galloway’s. It ultimately boils down to a personal preference.

    I think our arguments have to be better than that which is why I opt for the morally absolute, yet all but impossible, position of voluntaryism.

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly I have recently been told that the “vast majority of people in the world” would use the threat of murder (by firearm) to make someone jump in a lake to “save a baby”.

    And it turned out not to be a real baby (this was not an “Operation Rescue” person speaking) – but just any government project that could be argued as for the benefit of the people.

    I am also told that the leading academics support this (no shock there) and that this applies to the population of the planet (not just one country – John Rawls was too moderate….). If you object (even with your facial expression) people in the crowd will deal with you.

    After all you are a “white man” (face of Ayn Rand behind speaker as he said this) who does not care about ethnic minorties (Rand was a Jewess). And on and on…..

    It should be left to the “empirical studies” of academics whether people should be threatened with violent death (not that these “positive freedom” academics will actually be doing the killing themselves – they will have unshaven men in the crowd to do that little job for them).

    What “empirical studies” would these be?

    The “empirical study” in New Jersey that “proved” that increasing the minumum wage law did not increase unemployment?

    Or an “empirical study” that proves that water is dry and that circles are square?

    Still Mrs T. is dead.

    The world is a dark place – but I will go and put out some leaflets for Russell R. (yes I know what a silly response that is).

    As I should have done in 1989 (if I had come home a few days before Mary B. might have kept her seat – I am so sorry about that, and I can never make it up to her now).

    Northamptonshire was lost by one seat – and that seat was lost by a couple of votes.

    Perhaps Mrs Thatcher would not have had such a cruel end the following year if people like me had done their duty.

    Whatever the imperfections of Mrs T. and co (and they were human beings – and we are all fallen beings). They were vastly better than things since then.

    You do not use the imperfections of others as an excuse not to come home and do what it is your duty to do.

    You fight till you can not fight any more.

    And you can not fight any more when you are no longer breathing.

    Randian Objectivists please note.

    Nothing to do with Kant or altruism.

    It is just being a human being – affirming what you are (or, rather, should be).

    Admiring their courage and achievement of others – and doing one’s bit (no matter how pathetic it is in my case) to affirm it.

    As for their faults – that is between them and God.

    No offence meant to Objectivists with this point.

    I have enough faults of my own to deal with.

  • Dom

    I’m not the devil now. Just me.

    Discussions like this sometimes miss an important point, although I think Jamess got close to it. Something is wrong with the free market in America if so much capital accumulates in a few hands. Matt Ridely gets around this by pointing out that capital is not as important as it once was, and isn’t the final measure of prosperity. Businesses have spread a great deal of wealth by creating less expensive, more sophisticated products. Compare a secretary and George Soros. In the private sector, they are pretty much the same. Both own the same iPhones, iPads, and they get the same MPG on their cars. Its in the regulated sectors — like education, or healthcare — where they differ.

  • Midwesterner

    PfP

    No contract is enforceable at the cost of one of its parties’ lives. If I am truly in desperate straits – starving, freezing, what have you – how can the social contract require me to die? Either I am freed from it by necessity, or society is obligated to help me by the legal constraints it places on me.

    You find the answer in your question. The law is a social contract. Certainly the law can require you to die. At that point you may abandon the contract. You become “outlaw”. If enough people find themselves in similar straits at the same time, they draft a new social contract. When/if enough people like JV (whose “suicidal libertarianism” is not very different than my own value system) and me find each other and form our voluntarist social contract, we may declare the forms we abandoned to be “outlaw”. This is the way it has always been in both evolutionary and revolutionary changes in societal order.

    The Contract is dead, long live the Contract.

    That said, I am pragmatic enough to accept US Constitutional originalism as an acceptable alternative. I am far more likely to find a political/physical plurality in that course.

  • Paul Marks

    “The law is a social contract”.

    A “contract to neither do or suffer wrong” – as Lycrophon (according to Aristotle) believed (unlike Aristotle himself – whose conception of the law involved making people “good” a very different thing).

    Of course even the “Outlaw” still has the moral duty to defend others he sees being robbed or murdered.

    Moral duty – not legal obligation.

    Even with the perverted state of the law today (in Britain and America) there is no legal obligation to risk your life to defend others.

    Although there is a moral obligation (the virtue of justice) to do so.

    As for Legal Positivists (such as Thomas Hobbes) who define law as just the will of the state.

    Or (alternatively) people who confuse legal and moral obligations (as if there was no difference).

    Well they are wrong – and bad.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Somewhere Miss Rand did in fact answer the question, “Is it wrong for a starving man to steal a tomato from someone’s garden?” (Paraphrase, could have been a potato, and I don’t recall whether the word was “wrong” “unjustified” or “immoral.”)

    Her answer was, again paraphrasing, “Technically yes, but excusable in the circumstances–but he must go to the gardener the next morning, tell him that he took the tomato, and settle upon an agreement whereby he would make restitution.”

    That sounds about right to me.

    But I note that here–unlike the scenario of Devil Dom *g*–the theft was exceedingly minor (although “minor” is to some extent in the eye of the beholder, come to that) and did not involve any threat whatsoever of violence to the gardener. Miss R. has Reardon say, “One does not argue about inches of evil,” but in her non-fiction IIRC she did indeed note the difference between minor theft and murder.

    Interestingly enough, according to David Kelley in his Truth and Toleration rebuttal to an attack by Peter Schwartz, Peikoff denies that there are degrees of wrongdoing–it’s all evil and that’s that.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Since Paul opened the door…:

    For my sins I am slowly slogging through Roderick Long on “Aristotle vs. Rand” and George Walsh (co-founder with David Kelley of The Objectivist Center–forget its original name) on Kant and Ayn Rand.

    Interestingly, David Kelley (in Truth and Toleration) takes the standard Objectivist anti-Kantian line (although he does allow as how Kant himself wasn’t so far off the mark in talking about one’s “higher self”), whereas George Walsh is presenting Kant in a way that so far sounds to me as if Kant was aiming at the same sort of thing as the famous eudaimonia in Aristotelian (and even earlier Greek) thought.

    Thus “Duty,” for Kant, is recognizing the claims of one’s “higher self” or “best self” as obligatory on one; and that acting in accordance with these claims is the way to achieve “happiness.” It seems to me (thus far) that the aims of this “higher self” are what the Aristotelians would have considered “virtue,” a necessary part of the “good life.” (And the “higher self” sounds a lot like Freud’s “superego,” or, to us unwashed Provincials, simply “conscience.”)

    Dr.Kelley thinks that Kant’s actual words and beliefs were twisted by others at the outset, by the other intellectuals of the day and on through Hegel to Nietzsche and so on; hence the present anti-individualist strain of belief that dominates our culture. (But it takes him some Kant-bashing pages to get there. And there I stopped reading for the night.)

    The problem is, what does any given writer or philosopher mean by “happiness”? Aristotle, and apparently (so far) Kant as well, don’t mean what we today in our general culture and casual conversation mean by “happiness.”

    And the problem also is, Who decides what a “duty” is? Both in the sense of “what is a good definition,” and in the sense of, “what are the demands that duty makes of us?”

    After all, much evil has been done in the name of “duty.” (And not all evil consists of “collectivist” actions. And, who decides what is evil? Especially since the good sometimes appears evil. (Famous illustration: Two men are found knifing the abdomen of a pregnant woman. Is that evil? Well, one is intent upon killing or torturing the woman and the baby; the other is a doctor doing a C-section.)

    I’ll stop–I feel a whole essay coming on. :(

    . . .

    Objectivism is not for me, because I think there are flaws at its very root. But I admire Miss Rand very much, especially for her intelligence and spirit and her grit. And from her writings I learned some very important things.

  • Paul Marks

    I am not a Randian Objectivist Julie – but I would not spend time reading Roderick Long (I do not trust his word). There are many writers on Aristotle and many on Rand – and some make comparison.

    Rand never claimed to be Aristotle – never claimed that Aristotle would have agreed with her on everything. But then Aristotelian does not mean carbon copy of Aristotle.

    As for the lad denouncing pro property rights people as “sexists” (with a picture of a women, Ayn Rand, only a few feet from his head – and the memory of I. Patterson and Rose Wilder Lane ignored as they were not academics) and as “racists” (Rand was a Jewess – and Patterson write for the leading black newspaper in Philadelphia).

    I spit upon him. Accept I would not waste the spit.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yes, Paul. You said awhile back, elsewhere, that it seemed to you he had changed. I quite believe it. And I’ve seen just what you’re talking about above.

    I’m reading the Aristotle piece, and the Walsh piece (which is a little more intelligible at least than Kant-in-the-raw *g*, at least as I remember him from 800 years ago) with very large amounts of salt handy, I promise. And I’m not thrilled with the Kelley piece either, although it’s light years better than Peikoff et al.

    The interpretations, I read mostly to re-acquaint myself with the territory. I don’t confuse Long’s explication of Aristotle, with Aristotle’s explanations of Aristotle, for instance.

    I quite agree with the substance of your warning. (You’re dead right about K.C., too!)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul wrote:

    Northamptonshire was lost by one seat – and that seat was lost by a couple of votes.

    This isn’t the right place for full unexpurgated book, but: So much for the theory of “rational ignorance,” that there’s no point voting because (in essence) “your vote won’t count for anything anyway.”

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Julie.

    I never thought it would happen – but it did.

    I am ashamed of my conduct – messing about at university rather than comming home a few days before and helping.

    But then I am (rightly) ashamed of so many things I have done or not done.

    Although I am not ashamed of things that other people have held against me (recently or in the past). I wish I had done more of that sort of thing.

    “There is a lot of silly talk about being “sound”, being reliable is not important…..”

    [Backed up by, out of context, quotations from Hayek and so on – showing “the Devil can quote scripture”}.

    On the contrary – being true to your salt is of vital importance.

    Without it, the West falls.

    Even George Orwell (a life long socialist) admitted that when the test came – it was “Colonel Blimp” who was prepared to risk his life for civilisation.

    Many (although not all) of the left intellectuals invented complex excuses (at least till 1941).