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03 November 2009

Is It Just The Economy, Stupid!?

We all converge on what we believe is a civil society, how we count ourselves and identify ourselves, how we believe we behave and our fellow citizens will behave within this society we call ours. Yet, we do not look at it as a lesson in sociology, but in values, in politics, in economics. I share with you another item on Ayn Rand from Anne Heller, author of a newly published biography of Ayn Rand. The interview on NPR puzzles me and frustrates me further. Perhaps though my gripe is with Ayn Rand and not with any interpreter of her philosophy. She has written (and this jives with Michael Sandel's writing on libertarianism, which I have already quoted in this blog), that there are basically three (3) and only three proper functions of government:
  • defend against a foreign enemy (which means she believes there are discrete societies to which someone belongs which may be hostile to each other)
  • police the nation for crime (what is the definition of a crime, Ms Rand? and does not the definition of "police" include oversight, monitoring, and enforcing the laws of the society?)
  • enforce voluntary contacts between free parties (would involuntary contracts then be crimes or free-for-alls?)
Biographer Heller then goes on to say that Ayn Rand was totally against regulation, that "government regulations [are] responsible for everything that's wrong." Again, maybe we need the proper definition of "regulation." Was Ayn Rand against traffic lights? Did she think motorists would all very kindly stop for each other? Most of the time, I observe in Chicago that motorists don't follow the law voluntarily, like stop when there is a pedestrian waiting in a crosswalk. They say it's dangerous to stop when the car behind you won't. And, as Larry says to me when I doggedly walk across the street as oncoming cars appear to be gunning for me, "I'll tell them at the funeral that you were in the crosswalk." (By the way, we have the book for 20% off!)

I believe there is a little "libertarianism" in all of us Americans. We are the home of the free and land of the brave, the Wild West. We don't want shackles. We don't even want anyone putting a hand on our arms and saying, "Hold on, mate."

And, we certainly don't want any of our hard-earned money on anything for which we did not personally assent. Any funds spent on anything for which we do not see immediate benefit to ourselves is being wasted.

Yet, when something horrible happens to us personally, what is the first thing someone says? "There ought to be a law." "Who was supposed to be watching this? Why isn't anyone investigating why this happened?" "Who's to blame? They should be sued." "That intersection is so dangerous; 'they' should have put up a traffic light long ago." Let's close the barn door after the horses leave, shall we? Is that the role of government, to be reactive? And who's that "they?" Isn't it "we?" Aren't we collectively the government?

As Brooksley Born had pointed out, our government needs to know what's going on so that we can police crime and enforce voluntary contracts, not to rely on an honor system which by human nature is naturally imperfect and then, react to resulting chaos. There is the debate of 'a public good' to be discussed someday.

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