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The world is socialist (medium.com)
79 points by moonlighter 339 days ago | comments


glesica 339 days ago | link

If you want to go back to the point where we decided to be socialist and try to undo it, you're going to have to kill most of the people on the planet who depend on the current system for sustenance. And like it or not, that probably includes you. It certainly includes most of the idiots running around preaching Ayn Rand these days.

This is my favorite part. So many people who claim, or seem to have taken inspiration from Rand would, in fact, be "bad guys" in Atlas Shrugged. A nice example is Paul Ryan, who has spent his entire life in politics instead of actually creating anything useful. There are also a number of nice examples of people who would almost certainly be "good guys", but who are Democrats in real life (not that a Democrat can't be selfish, but the GOP seems to have claimed Rand lately). Bill Gates is the most obvious example, right down to getting blind-sided by government regulators in the 90s (whether the regulators were right or wrong, legally speaking, is immaterial here BTW).

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gnosis 339 days ago | link

"So many people who claim, or seem to have taken inspiration from Rand would, in fact, be "bad guys" in Atlas Shrugged."

Case in point: Rand hated Libertarians.[1]

Some typical examples from the article:

- She called Libertarianism "a mockery of philosophy and ideology"

- She accused Libertarians of "slinging slogans and trying to ride on two bandwagons"

Later, she accuses them of entertaining "amateur political notions" and "rushing into politics in order to get publicity".

She says that Libertarians

- are based on "half-baked ideas, and in part on borrowed ideas".

- "spend their time denouncing me, while plagiarizing my ideas".

- "are perhaps the worst political group today, because they can do the most harm to capitalism, by making it disreputable."

- would "like to have an amoral political program"

[1] - http://iowntheworld.com/blog/?p=113321

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yummyfajitas 339 days ago | link

The libertarians of her era were closer to the anarchists that this essay is attacking. Rand explicitly disagreed with them on issues like blizzard cleanup.

Both Ayn Rand and most modern libertarians have little objection to the government provision of public goods like blizzard cleanup. They simply object to the government provision of private goods, such as diabetes treatment.

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kaoD 339 days ago | link

How is blizzard cleanup public and diabetes treatment private?

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yummyfajitas 339 days ago | link

Blizzard cleanup is non-rivalrous (we can both simultaneously enjoy a snow free street) and non-excludible (if I pay to have the street cleaned, I can't tell you not to walk on it).

Diabetes treatment is rivalrous (insulin goes into your vein or mine, not both) and excludible (if you don't pay for insulin, you don't get any).

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foobarbazqux 339 days ago | link

Obviously blizzard cleanup affects everyone and so is public. Diabetes treatment is private because if you get diabetes it doesn't affect me. You just have bad genes or ate too much sugar, not my fault and I'm not suffering for it. Really though it doesn't affect me because I basically don't care about anyone that isn't friends or family. Why should I help take care of your problems? Use your own bootstraps. I'd rather save my money for me and my own.

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kaoD 339 days ago | link

Blizzards are also localized. Why should I help take care of your blizzard if it didn't hit my location?

Everything is as private or public as you make it.

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yummyfajitas 339 days ago | link

True - there is no reason why people in Florida should pay for blizzard cleanup. Is anyone arguing that they should?

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glesica 339 days ago | link

Well, federal disaster funds are pretty commonly used to pay for things like blizzards and hurricanes. So, while I agree with you that no one specifically mentioned it, I can understand how it would be an issue if we were to really dig into the whole "disaster cleanup" issue further. It is also the case that politicians who call one disaster aid package "wasteful" are quick to call for aid when their own regions are hit, so there's that.

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foobarbazqux 339 days ago | link

So don't take care of my blizzard. I'm sure almost everyone else in my town will agree to give money to a local government that takes care of it. Basically my philosophy is that only the individual matters. Society is for the weak, and it only makes sense when a collection of rational men decide that it doesn't infringe on individual ambition.

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foobarbazqux 339 days ago | link

Sorry, I was possessed by Ayn's ghost for a bit today.

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KaiserPro 339 days ago | link

Rand hated everyone apart from tall, arrogant & selfish men.

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coldtea 339 days ago | link

And those only if she could convince to have sex with her or obey her otherwise. Else, she hated them too.

Basically, she hated everyone apart from herself.

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foobarbazqux 339 days ago | link

> Basically, she hated everyone apart from herself.

No evidence, but my gut says that self-hate was at the root of it all. Arrogance usually masks feelings of inferiority.

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WalterSear 339 days ago | link

"spend their time denouncing me, while plagiarizing my ideas".

She hated people who were doing what she was who didn't put here on a pedestal, that all. This doesn't make libertarianism fundamentally different to her philosophy. It just puts up a mirror to her narcissistic batshittedness.

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aero142 339 days ago | link

Sometimes I feel like there are two different versions of Atlas Shrugged out in the world and different people read different ones. I just don't understand how someone can read the book I read and think that "snowplow drivers" is a complete rebuttal. The book has a lot of themes and I don't agree with all of them but lets hit a few that I took away.

Rand is best viewed as a reaction to the abuses of Russian Communism. Atlas Shrugged is extreme in the opposite direction but offers some good critiques of collectivism as she saw it practiced. Communism was always at the point of a gun, so one of her primary complaints was the the use of force by the incapable to demand things from the capable was immoral. So, it's immoral to force those who have snow plows to plow your road just because you have a gun.

Using a snowstorm is a funny example because I think that is exactly one of her main points. Nature doesn't care about your feelings or what you think you deserve. You will either use you mind to find solutions to problems or you will die. If you choose not to think for yourself, you don't have a right to take from those who do just because you have a gun. So, to answer the article's question, "Who is supposed plow the streets during the snowpocalypse?" Whoever the hell has a snowplow and has the ability to drive it. Probably in exchange for money. That's some crazy talk right there. Did I just blow your mind? It's not "a detail she never seemed to have gotten to", it's just a stupid question. You don't plow streets with Rearden metal. You plow it with a snow plow. Rand's point was that streets didn't get plowed by moochers and people who claimed they "deserved it". It got plowed by every great person that designed a combustable engine and metal and manufacturing processes and ultimately applied their mind to the challenges of nature(snow storms) and created an f'ing snow plow. The point is that it is the human mind is what makes the world work, not whining about your "rights".

As for "great individuals", yes, I think she over sold it a bit. However, very focused productive people applying their minds to problems have more influence and leverage today than ever before. She also spends a lot of time talking about "teaching men to think". So she talked a lot about everyone using their talents to create things, not just the John Galts. There are lots of characters who play bit parts in Atlas Shrugged that are respected in the book. Same for the fountain head. Lets talk about the exceptional though. No Bill Gates may not be francisco d'anconia, but he did have a big influence on the world. Now he is using his money to have an even bigger influence. Just for fun, and in the spirit of Rand, think about the difference between how Gates is spending his money, vs the way the Government has spent it. Compare the way a person that earned his money is spending it vs "looters" that took it from others. Plus, Gates seems less John Galt than someone like Von Neumann or Newton.

I just get really sick and tired of people knocking down Rand strawmen. No, she didn't offer the solution all the hard problems of balancing individual liberty and collective action, but if you read it with some context and think about it for yourself, you may find that she did offer some good ideas about the perils of collectivism and the potential of human ability. If you are curious about Rand, go read Fransico' Money Speech, http://capitalismmagazine.com/2002/08/franciscos-money-speec... and skip this stupid, pointless blog post.

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pearkes 339 days ago | link

Ayn Rand's philosophy is widely criticized for being contradictory. This seems pretty accurate to me.

But I don't think modern readers of Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, Anthem, et al., are listening to her as a preacher, to apply her ideas to the entirety of their lives, but rather as inspiration for their own philosophy. That is, after all, one reason to read literature that challenges your opinions.

That's why I read and appreciate Rand. It's not because the American Libertarian movement made her a mascot.

Take her introduction to The Fountainhead that she wrote in 1968, years after it was published and became successful:

> It is not in the nature of man--nor of any living entity--to start out by giving up, by spitting in one's own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whose rapidity differs from man to man. Some give up at the first touch of pressure; some sell out; some run down by imperceptible degrees and lose their fire, never knowing when or how they lost it. Then all of these vanish in the vast swamp of their elders who tell them persistently that maturity consists of abandoning one's mind; security, of abandoning one's values; practicality, of losing self-esteem. Yet a few hold on and move on, knowing that that fire is not to be betrayed, learning how to give it shape, purpose and reality. But whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man's nature and of life's potential. There are very few guideposts to find. The Fountainhead is one of them. This is one of the cardinal reasons of The Fountainhead's lasting appeal: it is a confirmation of the spirit of youth, proclaiming man's glory, showing how much is possible.

By posting this I hope to defend Rand in the sense of helping people realize she does more then what the modern political landscape has created for her. I was certainly inspired by her approach to self, as I imagine countless others have been.

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pron 339 days ago | link

I love that quote. So pure; so childish. Ayn Rand was, at heart, a little girl (and who of us isn't at heart a small child?). Of course Rand is inspiring, just like "Jack and the Beanstalk". Inspiring children is easy. I just hope that as her readers mature, they come to realize that Dr Seuss's work, has more sophistication and truth to it than Rand's writing, while being no less inspiring.

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johnnyg 339 days ago | link

1. Can we agree that both full socialism and full rand style capitalism end in tears?

2. Token rebuttals.

a. Someone lives irresponsibly, I live responsibly. The sick that comes for us all devastates them early and I'm told "since we all get sick, they got sick much earlier due to all the crack and booze, they can't pay because they were grasshoppering it up while you worked, so now you pay". This is an extreme example, but I work in healthcare and I think I'm no stable ground saying that you can substitute cheeseburger for crack and get a majority. Is this how we want to set things up and call it just?

b. Snow comes. I get out my shovel and go help my neighbor. I don't think doing this flies in the face of Rand. I do it because it is right to do in my gut because I know I'm fit to do it and they aren't. I don't think Rand says not to shovel, I think she says it is MY CHOICE to shovel or not and I own that moral choice after I make it. There's still a right and a wrong choice.

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dreamfactory 339 days ago | link

When somebody gets TB, regardless of their lifestyle, is it in your best interests that they get a full course of treatment in an isolation ward in hospital, or that they wander the streets coughing blood all over the place and incubate a new drug-resistant strain? Is it in your best interests that tap water is maintained by competing for-profit companies (see Victorian Britain and cholera), and is it better for you to pay 'insurance' to competing for-profit fire services?

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true_religion 339 days ago | link

> is it in your best interests that they get a full course of treatment in an isolation ward in hospital, or that they wander the streets coughing blood all over the place and incubate a new drug-resistant strain?

That's a false dichotomy. An example of a 3rd option is to put them in an isolation ward, and allow them to simply die if they can't pay for treatment.

When it comes to medical care, the question of how to allocate resources on quality of life improvements is never so simply and black and white.

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dreamfactory 338 days ago | link

> That's a false dichotomy.

No it's not, it already happened in New York in the 90's.

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scarmig 339 days ago | link

With regard to 2.b.)

Rand, however, also condemned voluntary communal activities, depending on individual participants' motivations.

E.g. on charity: "To view the question in its proper perspective, one must begin by rejecting altruism’s terms and all of its ugly emotional aftertaste—then take a fresh look at human relationships. It is morally proper to accept help, when it is offered, not as a moral duty, but as an act of good will and generosity, when the giver can afford it (i.e., when it does not involve self-sacrifice on his part), and when it is offered in response to the receiver’s virtues, not in response to his flaws, weaknesses or moral failures, and not on the ground of his need as such."

If it were truly merely a matter of voluntary choice, there would be no moral blame on me if I chose to help someone, regardless of my motivations as such. If I were giving handouts out of the apparently perverse reason that someone needs it, Rand would condemn that; in contrast, a libertarian emphasis on choice would mean it's as valid as any other motivation, so long as it's non-coercive. (In the same line of argument, she would condemn me for advocating communitarian policies, because speech, even though it's inherently non-coercive, can be morally stained.)

Overall, though, I like the concepts you're pushing for in 2, though I don't think Ayn Rand would have embraced them. You're looking for someone closer to Elinor Ostrom, who is much less inflammatory and not at all focused on moral questions but also much more thoughtful and interesting.

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solistice 339 days ago | link

c. Insurance. Ayn Rand did actually state her opinion on health insurance. According to her, it's completely proper if a group of people choses to create a system of insurance as long as they're not forcing anyone to use that system.

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ororlrlrlylyly 339 days ago | link

I assume that by "full socialism," you're referring to Stalinism, something that's actually rejected by most socialists, and any serious socialist.

To answer your question, no, we can't.

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falk 339 days ago | link

It doesn't help that there are varying definitions of all these words. I have always understood socialism in the Marx sense. It's the stage after capitalism but before communism where the workers control the means of production. There are still markets, but things are run as cooperatives. I'm not saying if it's right or wrong, just that a lot of people get the definitions confused and what not.

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pron 339 days ago | link

Ayn Rand was a strange and interesting woman who, among other things, sexually abused her most devoted fans and manipulated them in horrible ways. She was never considered an important, serious, or good writer, and her works were ridiculed pretty much as soon as people first first laid eyes on them. But, her novels are, to this day, bestsellers, especially popular, as you write yourself, with teenagers. They are meant to spark a feeling of grandeur, which they effectively do as the task is not hard by any means in people of that age.

Refuting her claims and observations may be a bit redundant as they've never been taken seriously outside a very specific circle, but since her ideas have been influential inside that circle, and because said circle is not small in the US, where, quite amazingly, Rand's works are liked even by some adults (it's hard to believe but it's true), you can always shoot some more arrows into that corpse, for whatever good that would do. She does make an easy, and fun, target, and there are all those teenagers you can upset, which is always fun to watch. As to those American adults still fond of her works well into their mid-twenties and even beyond, well, it's best to keep a safe distance from them. Once you do, you might want to go back for a more sober look at Ayn Rand because she was a fascinating person, and her ideas have influenced some of the more colorful branches of American politics. Here's a famous interview she gave Mike Wallace in 1959: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouBZ-YqOnsU

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bloody_pretzels 339 days ago | link

Your post does nothing but put down and ridicule an entire philosophical and political branch of thought without any rationale at all. It's a shame that this type of comment can receive so many upvotes in a community that alleges to care about quality discussion.

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pron 339 days ago | link

> Your post does nothing but put down and ridicule an entire philosophical and political branch of thought without any rationale at all.

Not every quip or fart deserve serious attention, and Rand's "philosophical branch of thought" would not have garnered any attention at all if not for the popularity of her books among American teens. Her "philosophy" is hardly recognized as such. I am not comparing Rand to Hitler, but the intellectual rigor of their "philosophies" is about the same. Would you consider an offhand dismissal of Hitler's ideas as not befitting a quality discussion? Nevertheless, Hitler's work has had quite an impact on society, as has Rand's, and for that reason, and that reason only, they are interesting subjects of study. No one is supposed to take their "philosophies" seriously, and frankly, hardly anyone does. Taking the time to refute Rand's philosophy is giving her too much credit and too little at the same time; too much, because her philosophy is not considered as such by philosophers; too little because her accomplishments lie away from intellectual rigor, in the realm of successful ideological fervor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivism_(Ayn_Rand)#Intellec...

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pandaman 339 days ago | link

You know that the "Godwin's law fail" rule was derived to deal with exactly the type of argument you are making?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law#Corollaries_and_...

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pron 339 days ago | link

Ugh. I would propose to apply the recursive Godwin's law on any invocation of Godwin's law if only Godwin's law weren't more trite and, worst of all — boring — than the comparisons Godwin's law tries to outlaw, and so, by induction would be any recursive Godwin's law.

And when have Hitler comparisons, if you think I made one, ever been more apt? ;)

EDIT (if I need to spell it out): It was claimed that an offhand dismissal of a famous "philosophy" is inappropriate in a quality discussion. I then offered a famous example of an entirely different "philosophy", undeserving any serious merit and discussion on its own, and yet important historically for its effect on society. Rand is considered a childish, ridiculous "philosopher", so people rarely take the time to argue with her beliefs as their falsehood is apparent to almost anyone with a pair of eyes and/or ears, but her writings have played a part in recent American history. In no way other than in her intellectual rigor, should Ayn Rand (who, BTW, is one of my favorite historical characters; she was so deliciously cruel and lost at the same time) be compared to Adolf Hitler, the Nazis, the SS, the SA, the Luftwaffe or any of their affiliates.

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pandaman 339 days ago | link

It seems I need to spell it out too: The Godwin's law is not about Hitler in particular. It's about making a (non-)argument based on some superficial and irrelevant observations. Thus, as you aptly noticed, it's inherently recursive as it's dismissing arguments based on no less superficial and irrelevant observations i.e. mentioning Hitler or Nazis.

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kamaal 339 days ago | link

>>Her "philosophy" is hardly recognized as such.

That's almost like vegetarians saying, meat is hardly recognized as a source of nutrition because they don't eat it.

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valtron 339 days ago | link

> sexually abused her most devoted fans

Source?

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pron 339 days ago | link

Sources aplenty. There are probably other authors who could claim the same, but I doubt there are any women among them :) An interesting character, indeed.

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coldtea 339 days ago | link

Check any biography or article on her life.

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solistice 339 days ago | link

Nathaniel Branden for example.

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ef4 339 days ago | link

When you attack capitalism by attacking Ayn Rand, you are attacking a terrible straw man.

You'll notice that people rarely start by attacking the works of von Mises or Hayek or Rothbard, because those guys were actual serious academics who knew what they were talking about.

Much easier to poke holes in the eccentric philosophy of one novelist.

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guard-of-terra 339 days ago | link

I doubt the point was attacking capitalism.

Capitalism and socialism are not mutually exclusive in a society.

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kungfooguru 339 days ago | link

They are. Socialism is an economy where production is owned and run by the workers for the benefit of the working class, which would be the ruling class at that time.

Simply having a welfare state or some nationalized industries is not socialism. The source of power and ownership of production is still in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

Mises as serious? Hah. But yes, he and the others are attacked less but only because they are less famous. Their ideas are as worthless.

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guard-of-terra 339 days ago | link

"Socialism is an economy where production is owned and run by the workers for the benefit of the working class"

Isn't that communism?

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falk 339 days ago | link

No. There's a reason why they are two different words. Socialism is after capitalism but before communism in terms of Marxist theory. From my understanding the big difference is there is still competition in socialism and things are privately owned by the workers, where as everything is publicly owned in communism. Remember that during Marx's time it was unusual to have the boss down on the production line working with his employees. Now a days people have become what Seth Godin like to call linchpins. It's not rare to have your boss coding or designing with you if you work at a start-up.

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cscurmudgeon 339 days ago | link

>Their ideas are as worthless.

Just like Socialism which ruined India.

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thelastuser 339 days ago | link

>Simply having a welfare state or some nationalized industries is not socialism.

Yes it is. It is a matter of degree. When you have an income tax, you have socialized income. If you have a "workers factory", you have socialized the means of production.

Your first paragraph seemed like you had the right insights, yet you contradicted yourself by the second.

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kungfooguru 339 days ago | link

No, I didn't. Even co-ops that exist today must sell on the capitalist market.

There is no use-value based economic planning today.

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dnskw 339 days ago | link

Could they not exchange goods with other co-ops?

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thomasz 339 days ago | link

Well, yes. But that could only provide for a tiny amount of goods - at least if theco-op doesn't want to live in a primitivist hell.

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dnskw 339 days ago | link

There could be coops around the world that trade with each other to get everything they need?

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thomasz 335 days ago | link

Yes, if we agree on a primitivist definition of "everything they need", which most likely includes food, shelter entertainment and some artwork - perhaps even basic medicine. But no electric energy, electronics, cars, farm machinery, refrigerators, antibiotics and so on. Building this stuff requires massive amounts of capital.

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dnskw 339 days ago | link

Socialism and capitalism can be occurring at the same time in the same city. If one company was worker controlled and one company was hierarchically controlled then it would be fine. As long as nobody is forcing somebody into a different system both could work together.

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icebraining 339 days ago | link

Socialism is more than the worker's ownership of the means of production.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/ch06.ht...

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dnskw 339 days ago | link

Depends on whose definition of socialism you are using.

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huherto 339 days ago | link

I think the current wisdom is that neither is perfect, they have different strengths and weaknesses. Some aspects of the economy are better managed using open markets with some regulation and others are better managed centrally by the government. A more current debate is to find the best mix.

It would be very hard to argue in favor of pure capitalism or socialism.

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dragontamer 339 days ago | link

Ayn Rand represents a growing philosophical movement in America. Attacking Ayn Rand is attacking Ayn Rand... and that is good enough for me.

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dreamfactory 339 days ago | link

Apart from supporting Fascism, didn't von Mises miss the rather fundamental question of economy of scale and resultant monopoly domination?

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ef4 335 days ago | link

Supported Fascism? Mises personally had to flee the Nazis. He also wrote a whole book about why fascism in general is bad ("Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War").

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dreamfactory 331 days ago | link

I'm sure there are shades of gray here, but he was an adviser to the Austrofascists and wrote in support of Mussolini. He certainly actively supported fascism in his lifetime.

Mises: "It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history."

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jessriedel 339 days ago | link

> All these people who are so great aren't really that much greater than the average schmuck on the subway. There really isn't that much range in the smartness or fitness of human beings.

Whelp, you've lost me. The difference in productivity and smartness---as measured by the consistent ability to impact the world---of people is enormous (the additional importance of luck notwithstanding). I'm not sure why you thought you were going to make progress on these deep philosophical issues with a 400 word blog post, but you're even more sunk if you throw in empirical claims that contradict both intuition and the data.

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GuiA 339 days ago | link

I've taught programming to kids from very poor classes of society who grokked it and excelled at it. But, guess what– a lot of them will be stuck working at McDonald's because they can't go to college, or because even if they could go to public universities their family didn't understand why they should spend 4+ years not bringing in any money when they could work at McDonald's right away.

I've also taught/privately tutored CS students from some of the US's best universities. The range in intellectual capacity between the two groups is shockingly consistent. I've had students who attended Stanford who would have been put to shame by some of my "first of the family to finish high school but can't go to college" students.

If Bill Gates hadn't been born to lawyers and bankers, data says he would likely be part of the "average schmucks on the subway".

Successful people consistently underestimate how lucky they are.

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dollar 339 days ago | link

> Successful people consistently underestimate how lucky they are.

Meanwhile mediocre people consistently attribute other people's success to luck. As luck would have it, they are both right and wrong. I am a high school dropout who never went to college, yet I sold 2 companies in the last 2 years. Is my success just a matter of luck, or am I that much better than the average population. Maybe the answer is that neither are that important. What I can say for sure that I work harder than the average population, much, much harder. And that's my general problem with those who champion socialism, they never seem to want to work as hard as I do. Among ditch diggers, there are always a few men leaning on their hoe handles.

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GuiA 339 days ago | link

Well the solution seems to be pretty simple then- if everyone worked as hard as you did, we wouldn't have to worry about poverty, unemployment, and so on! :)

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jorgecastillo 339 days ago | link

I have another real life anecdote of my own. My younger brother and I grew up more or less under the same conditions barring our individual personalities. Yet he is way smarter than me, he is about to finish college in two years, while I just got into college this season. I don't even know how well I will do, I might fail this semester who knows. We have already had two very different life trajectories and they might diverge further, even though we are brothers.

Some decades ago the per capita income of South Korea was on par with some of the poorest nations in the world. Today South Korea is a rich nation. Japan was devastated after the WWII, but it experienced an economic miracle afterwards. China was an under achiever in the last century, but in the next decades it will become a superpower. We can talk all day about how equal we are, but not everyone thrives equally, even under the best of conditions.

I can not but held the believe that among individuals, families, nations and ethnic groups, there are innate differences. Differences that are deeply rooted within our genes, we're all thinking beings but not everyone can be Newton, I sure can't. Of course you may beg to differ with me, after all individuals tend to distort the reality to their views. I might have a distorted view of reality, though I doubt it.

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jessriedel 339 days ago | link

Your claim is orthogonal to mine.

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rtpg 339 days ago | link

If you had a group of near-equivalent individuals, but you still had to elect a leader, the leader would end up being de facto more productive if only by his position.

There are also extremely productive people and very unproductive people, but I think it's safe to say that a very large percentage of the population falls in a specific productivity window. And the very skilled can "take one for the team" on the issues described here.

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solistice 339 days ago | link

I'd like to ask whether it's "take one for the team", or "take everything of everyone's shoulders till I perish" because I've been in groups with the latter dynamic.

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heurist 339 days ago | link

I think the author is saying that there isn't much difference on a relative scale. For example, humans typically weigh between 100 and 300 lbs and have a certain range of strength (say, deadlifting between 50 and 1000 lbs). Compare that to an elephant or a mouse and you can see that humans represent a very small range of weight and strength, even if it seems like lifting more than 1000 lbs is impossible in the same way lifting 10 lbs would seem impossible to a mouse. Similarly, we see intelligence on a subjective scale where the smartest humans seem brilliant. But we have nothing to compare them to. If another species (or artificial intelligence or alien) that was vastly more intelligent than us came along and compared human-level intelligence to its own then even geniuses would seem simple and stupid. There would be effectively no difference between the smartest humans and dumbest humans.

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briancaw2 339 days ago | link

Productivity and smartness are measured by the consistent ability to impact the world? And there is data linking "productivity", "smartness", and "consistent impact on the world"? Does Will Hunting abandoning math to go see about a girl make him an idiot?

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tokenadult 339 days ago | link

Since almost all the comments in this thread are about Ayn Rand rather than about other details of the submitted article, I may as well share here from Kung Fu Monkey "Ephemera 2009 (7)"

http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2009/03/ephemera-2009-7.html

a quotation I may have learned about first here on HN:

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

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aetherson 339 days ago | link

We all get hungry, but we buy food from farmers on the market. We all need shelter, but we're buy our rent our homes. We all need clothing, but we clothing manufacturers are for profit.

There are a variety of good arguments for socialized health care, but "we all get sick" is not among them.

This article is banal in the extreme, and I'm not sure why it's on the front page.

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drewblaisdell 339 days ago | link

> There are a variety of good arguments for socialized health care, but "we all get sick" is not among them.

I disagree. The more specific "we all can get very sick, and being very sick is very expensive" is a very good argument for pooling our resources to make sure that we all get help when we need it.

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icebraining 339 days ago | link

Playing Devil's advocate, there are other ways of pooling resources, such as insurance or mutual-aid societies, the latter of which were mostly crowded out by state provided healthcare. There was a recent Econtalk podcast which touched on these issues: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2013/07/michael_lind_on.htm...

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GuiA 339 days ago | link

Do you feel the same about housing projects, food banks, soup kitchens, food stamps, battered women's shelters, etc.?

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aetherson 337 days ago | link

Do I feel that there are good arguments for them, but "we all need X" is not a good argument for them? Sure I do. Don't you?

That said, note the difference between, say, housing projects or food stamps and a traditional vision of socialized healthcare: it is not expected that 90%+ of the population get most or all of their food from food stamps.

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yummyfajitas 339 days ago | link

This essay is attacking a straw man, not Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was not an anarchist and did not oppose government entirely:

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=arc_ayn_rand...

I'm a having a little trouble believing the author actually read Atlas Shrugged - in it, one of the productive characters (Ragnar, if I remember right) explicitly lists many legitimate functions of government. One of them is maintaining public roads.

The author also deliberately fails to acknowledge the difference between public goods (blizzard cleanup) and private goods (medicine and financial services).

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davewiner 339 days ago | link

The piece was written in the middle of a presidential election campaign where there were a lot of idiots running around saying we should eliminate government for all kinds of reasons that didn't make any sense. If it attacks anything, that's what it attacks.

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czr80 339 days ago | link

Medical care is not unequivocally a private good.

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yummyfajitas 339 days ago | link

True, but epidemic prevention is an extremely small problem (and a very cheap one to address), at least in the US. Virtually no one across the political spectrum (including most libertarians) opposes it.

Near as I can tell, the OP wasn't talking about it either.

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mpyne 339 days ago | link

But the same morals and 'ethical guideposts' apply throughout, do they not?

By way logic does a libertarian say that e.g. government coercing people to obey quarantines is acceptable, but that the government coercing people to pay for cheap public preventive care (before expensive specialist treatments become necessary) is not?

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yummyfajitas 339 days ago | link

Quarantine prevents others from getting sick, while preventative care only prevents you from getting sick.

For comparison, compare laws against punching other people to laws against punching yourself.

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mpyne 338 days ago | link

And if you prevent someone from getting sick via preventable care you prevent them from spreading that sickness to others. Additionally even non-communicable diseases often have large impacts on those related to the person with the disease, so I don't see how you can truly separate the logic.

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bdcravens 339 days ago | link

These discussions on HN are a bit ironic to me. HN seems to cut across several areas of discussion, and a large one is the startup world (principally the SF one). In general, the culture seems to be very liberal and sympathetic to socialism. Socialism isn't necessary mutually exclusive with capitalism, but it tends to be opposed. At the very least, it aims to level out the bell curve a bit, eliminating capitalistic excess.

Today's startup scene: Talk about capitalistic excess. Everyone's running around with MacBook Airs and Pros, iPhones, and iPads. The true "rebels" running Android: they're cheerleading for a phone that's backed by a mega-corp with a $300B market cap, so from an excess perspective, not much different.

The culture wants home runs. 9 or 10 figure exits. Built a photo sharing app or game moving blocks around on the your phone? Is $1B for your company really the best way for society to allocate its resources? VC's throw money away everyday on dumb companies that they know will fail; they're just keeping skin in the game knowing that if they do, they'll inevitably hit some home runs.

tl;dr Went all meta on the idea that startup culture that drives HN is capitalistic excess, opposite of socialism

edit "opposite of capitalism" should have been "opposite of socialism"; some grammar

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pandaman 339 days ago | link

I wonder why some people cannot stop saying how wrong Ayn Rand had been in general and how wrong is Atlas Shrugged in particular.

If it's a book of lies then why do you care so much? Don't you think for the book to have any effect on you it has to be true, at least in your own opinion.

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briancaw2 339 days ago | link

People care about books not only for their truths but also for the lies that influence others. The former should be lauded while the latter needs to be combatted.

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pandaman 339 days ago | link

I don't see every other liberal blogger going on and on against the whole host of lying books (e.g. astrology, esoteric etc). And please don't tell me they are not influential. Much more people know their astrological sign and how bad is to hurt one's Karma than people who know who is John Galt.

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briancaw2 339 days ago | link

When you say liberal you are referring to a political leaning. Rand's growing influence is on politics. If people started electing astrological evangelist preachers to government positions and it resulted in policies that they disagreed with, then people would spend a lot more time combatting the phony astrology that the movement is based on. That focus wouldn't make astrology any truer.

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pandaman 339 days ago | link

Thanks, this is the point I am trying to make. If you are opposing an ideology then have balls to attack the ideology straight on. I don't see people often attacking Marxism on the basis that Karl Marx was hiding from child support obligations and that Lenin had syphilis. Yet it's par for the course to dismiss whatever ideology Rand is representing just by attacking her character.

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briancaw2 339 days ago | link

If the point you're trying to make is that attacking a person's character is a poor substitute for an argument against their beliefs, then point taken. But you weren't doing a very good job getting that point across.

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6d0debc071 339 days ago | link

Syphilis and child support payments aren't communicable by economic ideology in the same sort of way that lifestyles are by moral dictates.

Without taking a side either way of the AR thing - taking advice on how to live your life from people whose character you detest seems like it might be a bad call. Living your life in the manner they approve of, at least if they did so themselves, stands a good chance of making you more like them.

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pandaman 339 days ago | link

I don't think I understood. In the first paragraph you are saying that Marx's and Lenin's lifestyle choices are not going to affect their followers but in the second paragraph you are saying that following an ideology is going to make you like the ideology's leaders.

I don't think both of these can be true simultaneously so I guess I did not get what are you saying right.

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6d0debc071 339 days ago | link

You've dropped several conditionals that I placed in there.

The general theme is that things like macro economic theories place fewer constraints on individual action than moral ideologies - and that, provided that the person expounding the moral ideology claims to follow it themselves, your perception of their character counts as evidence for whether it's a good idea for you to accept it or not.

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pandaman 339 days ago | link

Ah, you believe that Marxism is a macro economic theory? Understood.

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ls6 339 days ago | link

As I have spent (too) many years living in such a system, let me explain what I've observed in practice.

First of all there would be, in principle, differences per culture but it will level down when troubles strike -- then it is universally everyone for himself. The only difference being how big the trouble must be for this to trigger.

Generic problems observed in practice:

- ownership by everyone means in practice ownership by no one as proven every single day by comparing the same business run by a state or a city or privately -- it is always worse and more expensive

- maybe it is strictly separate subject but in socialism somehow people are expected to be equal; since this is obviously a wrong assumption people will be forced to be equal which is never pleasant for the "better" onces (whatever that means); economically it will include taking from richer and giving to poorer (again, regardless whether these differences would be labeled fair or not and whether the reacher earned it by working hard or the poorer was just lazy)

So, unless your culture isn't aready "trained" in putting the good of the group above individual and, believe me, US population is not, socialsim will not work for you on a long run.

P.S. I wouldn't write this if this article wasn't so painfully stupid -- I'm not calling the author stupid, only this idealistic view. Socialism is NOT about dishing the same stuff to everyone like a storm or a disease. It is a much more complex system that is incompatible with human beings. Maybe permanently, maybe just not right now. It is not wrong, it is not bad on its own. It just doesn't work today for most of us. In addition any stystem that attaches an adjective to the word "justice" -- as in "social justice" -- needs a very, very careful investigation. At least.

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trimbo 339 days ago | link

I think I must be the only person ever who read Atlas Shrugged and thought it was a very entertaining book, but didn't either love it or hate it because of the politics.

Is there anyone else out there who just loves the book like I do without applying the politics in real life?

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rdouble 339 days ago | link

As the book is so poorly written, those who enjoy it as literature are indeed in a small club.

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scarmig 339 days ago | link

As a writer, Rand gets better as she gets shorter. I'd say she never gets to the point where she could be called a good writer, but she does sometimes reach for and achieve passable.

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trimbo 339 days ago | link

Heh. More along the lines of a good story. Though I have to admit, I had to skim John Galt's 50 page monologue.

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gnaritas 339 days ago | link

She's a bad writer who tells bad stories with unrealistic and poorly written characters. The politics are the only reason the book is read by anyone rather than forgotten as bad writing as they should have been.

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mindslight 339 days ago | link

Why do people get so intensely attracted to Ayn Rand's philosophy, even if for just a short time? Because it resonates with their attempting to understanding of the world.

The necessary social systems that interlink us all have become overly complex and maladapted in their treatment of individual people, and by stepping back from "must" and asking "why" one begins to see this everywhere. But the only blessed means of change is democracy, and nuanced intellect doesn't win mob consensus - vague feel-something arguments do.

So the idea of taking one's ball and going home becomes very attractive - even if it's just a single croquet ball - because it's the final option available to avoid supporting the broken game. And morally, systems should be setup to make this base case as easy as possible, even if it initially increases costs for the remaining players, for if the system is truly beneficial then it is still in most people's interest to participate.

But the mob has no concern for individuals, so our social systems lack this capability. Going against the grain is tiresome and unproductive, so most people eventually conform to what is demanded of them. And once you've given in, you're likely to stop dwelling on the faults of the systems you support and instead view them in a positive light for what they do accomplish.

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