Quick Roundup 473

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Yaron Brook at Free Market Mojo

Via email, Bevan Sabo has informed me that he posted Part I of his interview with Brook yesterday. Here's his answer to the first question, which was about whether reconciliation is possible between fiscal and social conservatives:

I am not interested in such a reconciliation occurring; I don't think any benefit would be achieved by it. "Conservatism" as a movement is a failure. It promised to move America closer to laissez-faire -- to "conserve" the traditional American economic system -- and it has done nothing but make weak arguments against the growth of government, or take a leadership role in growing government (Nixon's price and wage controls, Reagan's increased spending and expansion of Social Security, George W. Bush's prescription drug bill, education bill, government-subsidized "ownership society," and Sarbanes Oxley). What is needed, as Ayn Rand long ago pointed out in her 1960 article "Conservatism: An Obituary," (reprinted in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal) is to recognize that capitalism can only be defended successfully on moral grounds: as the system that recognizes the individual's right to his own life and his own mind. This requires rejecting the traditional idea that selfishness is evil and destructive, and that altruism -- self-sacrifice -- is good and beneficial. It requires recognizing that, as Ayn Rand argued extensively, the selfish pursuit of wealth and happiness via production and trade under laissez-faire capitalism is the true virtue.
Sabo follows this with four other questions, and promises another installment in a week. I'm looking forward to it!

Not a "Virtuous Cycle"

A commenter to yesterday's post has made me realize that the story of Kamkwamba harnessing the wind resembles many others that are used to advance dubious "virtuous cycle" types of arguments that wrongly discount the vital importance of philosophical ideas in shaping history. Here is part of my reply:
As we are seeing in the West, [cultural improvement or even maintenance] can't happen without an explicit, rational philosophy to serve as a more general guide to life analogous to the physics textbooks [Kamkwamba] read, that can be learned by other individuals in his culture, and passed down from one generation to another. This story actually illustrates that on one level: Kamkwamba might have still done a lot, comparatively speaking, but he would have been set back even more than he was because he would have had to re-discover so many principles (at least on a rudimentary level) that he was able to get just from the textbook. Indeed, I doubt he could have built even his first windmill/generator/lighting system without it! One man can discover only so much on his own.
Interestingly, I'd started out working from a blueprint analogy -- but that is not what science or philiosophy does. Principles are what makes one able to evaluate the blueprints of others or create them in the first place.

I'll also add that one should not discount Kamkwamba as a second-hander just because he did not invent the devices he built. (I am not accusing that commenter of this mistake.) Note, for example, that Kamkwamba independently evaluated the diagrams he used by building and testing prototypes.

[Update: To clarify: It does not detract from my point that, at least at first, Kamkwamba may have relied heavily on the diagrams from these books, and came to appreciate the principles behind them midway in the process or even some time after he started building the windmills. He had to start somewhere, and his approach has been fundamentally rational.]

The Latest Threat to Freedom of Speech

Doubtless, most of my readers have already encountered Diana Hsieh's analysis of a recent FCC ruling on bloggers making product endorsements.
Now the federal government plans to threaten bloggers with massive fines based on the whims of bureaucrats -- who will soon, I guarantee you, write pages and pages of uber-dense and convoluted rules about what counts as "a review" or "payment" and the required form of the disclosure. Soon, almost any speech about a product will be regulated. ...

The inevitable result will be that many honest bloggers will stop discussing products entirely -- or they'll stop blogging. Seriously, how many bloggers make enough money to cover the potential fines? How many bloggers will have the time and the fortitude to read through all the regulations, to know whether they're complying or not with them? Many other people will not start a blog; it would be too much trouble -- and too risky.
This is the kind of thing, though, that one cannot warn too much about, so I note it here again in case anyone missed it or didn't read through it the first time.

Interestingly, this announcement comes on the heels of news that many legislators don't want the laws they plan to pass without reading posted on the Internet. We are getting dangerously close to censorship.

An Amusing Memory

I don't recall exactly what triggered this memory, but the other day, I recalled, as a child of about eight or nine, looking at the huge orange-brown splotch that represented the USSR on a globe and then, reacting to what I'd learned in school, blurting out that I thought we should conquer the Soviet Union and divide it up among all the other countries in the world.

My Dad, upon hearing that, laughed, and said, "How communistic."

I was taught in Catholic school that the communists were "sincere" -- my third-grade teacher saying this is my first memory of the word -- about their threats to conquer the world. However, I was also being taught there the same basic morality -- altruism -- on which communism was based. Fortunately, I didn't get "the full program," of a Catholic upbringing, as one friend later put it on learning that my parents had been converts.

I had more rational influences at home. My dad's reaction, while not exactly a denunciation of altruism, was an indication that he saw that I was thinking like a communist. This was not a formative memory -- I don't recall it affecting my later rejection of collectivism -- but it was typical of how he was always thought rationally. I think his approach influenced me for the better, and I am grateful for it to this day.

-- CAV


: Added a clarification.

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