Arthur’s World

AJ attacked the philosophy of government presented in Philosophical Reflections, that the only valid role of the government is to protect individual rights against the initiation of physical force, and therefore the only valid functions of government are the police, law courts and armed forces. His article covered a range of issues, including moral (the “meanness” of such a system), practicality (monopolies are inevitable, many things can only be done by government), and similar kinds of argument as described following.

What an odd parody AJ presents in “Capitalism & Government” (TableAus , Nov/Dec 1997). My philosophy would only work in a world populated by clones of myself? Hardly. All it demands is that the people who are able to produce the requirements for human survival be free to do so. Such people are required in whatever world we have, if men are to live. The difference is that in Arthur’s world, theirs is to give and his and his cronies’ is to take. In my world, all men are free to live and work according to their own judgment and effort: and no benefit is given by force to those who choose not to do so. In Arthur’s, men are ruled by force. In my world, it is honesty and ability that are rewarded: in Arthur’s, the honest and the able exist to serve the dishonest and incompetent, whose existence is an end in itself.

“No little acts of kindness”? Perhaps Arthur should take the trouble to actually read what I write sometime. Values are not purely commercial. People can be a value in themselves for their character and their virtues. And I have said quite explicitly that there is nothing wrong with private charity if in your judgment the recipients deserve your help, and if they do not demand it as a right. It is only in a world where everyone thinks everyone else is essentially worthless that the kind of meanness Arthur describes would happen. I’ve made it clear numerous times that there are plenty of reasons for kindness towards others, and even occasions when to withhold help is contemptible. What blinds Arthur to this? His own view of men?

In Arthur’s world, it is Mother Theresa who is the paragon of virtue. Yet who creates the wealth that she and her kind so “selflessly” distribute to others? The men of my morality: the men and women who produce, who discover, who take the responsibility of seeing the world with a rational mind and creating the requirements for human survival. Do I hear you thanking them, Arthur? Of course not. The first step in depriving men of their wealth is depriving them of honour.

Although much of it has been covered before, I must again refute some of the economic fallacies Arthur relies on. Arthur thinks that both sides can’t profit if you trade value for value. Let me see now. A wheat farmer trades with a pig farmer. Both gain. It’s the result of specialisation (or any other type of comparative advantage). As with any voluntary trade, even if one (or both) parties think they could have done better, if they didn’t both gain why would they trade? Then Arthur says that competition leads to monopoly, which at least fits his general philosophy: competition causes monopoly, freedom causes slavery, seeking happiness causes despair, and production causes poverty. The Zen of Jenner. Yet it is both economically and historically demonstrable that in a free market, monopolies are only possible if and while your ability is markedly superior to everyone else’s: in which case, your customers are better off than if you weren’t there! Destructive monopolies are possible, and have been possible, only by virtue of government action.

At least Arthur finally admits that the people who hired children early in the industrial revolution saved their lives from starvation. Horrible people they were!

But the principles are more important than the details. Arthur makes two fundamental errors.

The first is his inability to tell the difference between freedom and force. He continually lumps together “capitalism” with things like “slavery” and “children sold by their parents into prostitution”. Neither is compatible with individual rights. But Arthur never lets such facts get in his way. But what can one expect, when against historical fact demonstrating the enormous benefits of the industrial revolution, Arthur has a novel written in 1959? All such “arguments” look backwards at conditions then in the context of conditions now: whereas they should be comparing them with what went before . The simple, and blindingly obvious, fact is this: if people were not better off, they would not have voluntarily chosen to work in the factories, mines etc. Of course, anything involuntary is evil, but is also irrelevant to the virtues of a free country: except as further evidence that they are virtues.

The second is his failure to realise that labour is subject to the same economic laws as any other product or service. It is subject to supply and demand, and employers compete as much for workers as workers compete for jobs. In a free country, employment will always tend towards fullness, and wages must and will always tend towards their real level. That means, what the work is actually worth to employers, and indirectly but just as inexorably, what it is worth to everyone else. The myth of absolute employer power that Arthur subscribes to is just that: a myth. As is the myth that all that counteracts it are the noble actions of unions and governments. All that coercive unionism and government interference in the labour market have ever achieved is all that any coercive monopoly or rule of force has ever achieved: temporary, unearned wage increases for a minority, at the expense of lower wages and loss of jobs for other people, or for themselves later on. Unions and governments believe that if they set arbitrary wage levels according to their whims at the point of a gun, someone else will make it work for them. But all they actually achieve by forcing employers to pay people more than they are actually worth , is the destruction of jobs. That is the cause of unemployment. All that any defiance of reality can achieve is destruction. And all you can do by trying to force the best among men to make it work for you, is hasten that destruction (they are best by your own admission, as you claim to need them to live).

Improved “wages” of labour include lower hours and better working conditions, as well as higher pay (as these are all employee rewards and employer costs). Arthur claims that these are the result of force. In fact, they are only possible by increased productivity: which is only possible by the actions of men who think, improve and invent: employers and employees who live by my morality, at whatever level and capacity. Unions and government coercion are no more responsible for better conditions than they are for higher pay. Guns do not increase productivity: look at Soviet Russia. Only creativity and productiveness, the use of man’s mind to improve human life, does. And with increased productivity, increased labour rewards follow inexorably by the action of economic laws.

Arthur then goes on about how terrible it would be to live in a free country, because he can’t think of any adequate free market solutions for roads, railways, hospitals, universities etc. Fortunately, free men are far better at solving problems than Arthur is. It can never be true that a free society can be worse than one ruled by force: because it is freedom that is required to produce the means of human life and happiness: because it is the mind that does that, and force and mind are opposites. But I am not interested in writing a tome presenting solutions even for cases where perfectly adequate solutions existed before government interference began. It is his whole moral premise that I reject. Even if it were true that some men could only survive by robbing other men I would reject it. By what right can you say to another that solely by virtue of his ability to keep you alive, you gain the right to rob him? Arthur calls Ayn Rand’s philosophy “crazy”: then arrogates the right to rule by force those who live by it (consciously or unconsciously), to whatever extent they do live by it. And he does that because they live by it: and thereby create the means of survival, thus bringing into being something worth stealing. Well, I stand with Hank Rearden in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own I would refuse. I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: ‘The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!’

There are two keys to Arthur’s political philosophy. The first is his repeated disparagement (in earlier articles) of the virtue of productiveness. Productiveness is an especially obvious virtue: as the cause of economic productivity and the advance of knowledge (though they are consequences, not its essence or justification), to it we owe all our population, lifespan and quality of life above that of a troop of chimps in the jungle. Arthur repeatedly denies that this is a virtue: yet repeatedly insists on the right to expropriate its results. Arthur speaks as if wealth is some sort of static resource floating in the ether, a causeless thing waiting to be seized by the strongest. But in fact, all wealth has to be produced: and it is produced by every honest man according to his ability, by the virtue of rationality especially in its aspect of productiveness.

The second key is his disparagement of trading value for value. Yet the only alternative to trading value for value, if men are to deal with one another, is getting values for nothing: which means, getting values by theft or begging.

What is the common factor here? It is that to produce wealth is not a virtue: but to take it is. It is that it is mean and soulless to support your own life by your own mind and effort, to keep what you earn and trade value for value: but a high virtue to demand unearned sustenance from those who take the responsibility for living, and an even higher virtue to pander to that demand. It is the creed of the unearned: and its purpose, as Arthur admits so eloquently, is to justify the looting of those who produce the goods that support human life, while hysterically denying that what they do to produce it is a virtue.

The difference between Arthur and I is that in my world, Arthur would be free to employ whomever he likes at whatever salaries he pleases, to form unions, to give away as much money as he wants to whomever he wishes, to set up as many charities as he likes, and to collect money from whomever he could convince of the rightness of his cause. But he isn’t willing to give me the same right. Arthur wants men to be ruled by force: so that by virtue of being a person who can create wealth and employment, you lose the right to your property, which may be disposed of as seen fit by men who create nothing; by virtue of being a man who thinks, you become the property of those who don’t; while by virtue of whatever you have failed to do or to produce, you obtain the right to take from those who have succeeded; and by virtue of being a man who can neither produce nor think, you become the master of those who can.

© 1997, 1998 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.