Each week I present a round-up of the podcasts I listen to. These podcasts are all centered around the theme of looking at current events through the lens of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. The goal is not to provide all the information they talk about, but rather to highlight the things I found interesting in the hope that it will intrigue others to take a listen.
In this week’s edition:
- Yaron Brook – What is life really about? (Objectivist ethics)
- Yaron Brook – Universal Basic Income
- Amy Peikoff – Either-Or (Reason or Force)
In this episode of Yaron’s Chicago radio broadcast, he discusses the morality of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, starting at the most fundamental level, the choice of either life or death. If you choose death, you don’t need to be concerned with morality since morality is the science of what you need to do in order to succeed at living. Once you choose to live, then you need morality, a code of ethics. Morality should be the science which helps you determine which actions will benefit your life and which will harm it. Notice that the emphasis is on your life. Your life is the standard of value of any proper moral code and any code that mandates that you sacrifice for the sake of others, that you be selfless, is a morality of death.
Today, everyone around us teaches that we should be selfless and sacrifice for the sake others as opposed to being self-interested. Most people, however, do act out of self-interest in their daily lives. (e.g. Why do you marry the person you love? Because they need a spouse or because you can’t imagine living without them?) But because the dominant morality is that of sacrifice, we feel guilty when we do things because we love them.
Objectivism lays out what fundamental required if one is to be truly happy as well as the virtues, the actions, you need to achieve them. Yaron discusses this in some detail, in particular the most fundamental value and virtue pair: reason and thinking. Reason is man’s fundamental means of survival as a few moments thinking about all the things required for man’s life will demonstrate. The way we gain this value is by practicing rationality, thinking. Using the information from our senses, making connections, and then acting on our conclusions. Today, this virtue is under attack, especially in our educational system where students are taught to emote, to rely on our feelings. This rarely works out well, and the results can be seen in many of the campus protests today.
Yaron also covers two other primary values: purpose and self-esteem, as well as the remaining six of the associated virtues: honesty, productiveness, justice, integrity, independence, and pride. If you have never read much about Objectivist ethics, this is an excellent introduction.
In Yaron’s first broadcast since his return from a three-week speaking tour in Europe, Yaron takes on the issue of universal basic income. UBI has been in the news a lot lately with an editorial in the Wall Street Journal and Switzerland holding a referendum to introduce a roughly ~$2300 per month payment to every adult resident.
The UBI is not merely something that the far left advocates for, it is one that some conservatives and libertarians favor as well. Noted thinkers revered by many libertarians such as F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman supported the idea as well. In this program, Yaron lays out the strongest case he can for why such a broad spectrum of people support the idea.
Perhaps the strongest reason why non-leftists would support a universal income for everyone is that it would replace all other programs, federal and state and including Social Security and Medicare, making it a much simpler and transparent system. Replacing hundreds of state and federal programs with a single program would also have the benefit of cutting government payrolls as much of the bureaucracy that currently manages poverty programs would be unnecessary.
Additional reasons given for why a universal income is needed include: advancing technology will put more and more people out of work as more and more low and unskilled jobs are taken over by computers and robots, the Keynesian argument that this sort of program is needed to spur aggregate demand which is lacking, a guaranteed basic income would allow people to be more entrepreneurial and take risks when they don’t need to worry as much about their basic needs, it would encourage charity and individual responsibility. These last are because the basic income would be provided with no strings, other than the requirement for health insurance, on how you can spend the money. (Yaron didn’t mention this, but it might also remove the need for a minimum wage from business as it would be unnecessary.)
For each of these reasons, Yaron provides strong counter arguments until the only one that is left with any plausibility is the first and strongest, that it would replace all existing programs and be much simpler and more transparent. Yaron could support such a system if it were used to phase out the welfare state altogether, i.e. that this would be phased out over time, and there would be no poverty programs or safety net. He would go further and raise the amount given and abolish direct government funding for education which would open up education to free-market innovation. After demolishing most of the reasons set out for a universal income, Yaron continues with more general reasons why this type of program should be opposed. These included that such a program would give philosophical endorsement of entitlement, it would be very easy to raise the benefits (and they would be), massive costs to implement (e.g. how to handle different costs of living between Los Angeles and rural Ohio), and the negative impacts it could have on future growth.
Yaron ended the show with a cultural recommendation, this time, a television series based on a John le Carré novel, The Night Manager. The series is available on iTunes and Amazon Video. It is well produced, acted, and written and the hero is a hero.
As always, Amy has provided show notes with links to all the items in the show on her blog.
This week’s show had an interesting thread running through it, one that was touched on in Yaron’s AM560 Rewind discussed above, the idea that we are faced with either-or choices. The most fundamental choice is, as Yaron noted, the choice between life or death. If you choose life, that implies a certain set of actions you must take, which for a human being involve being rational, using your mind. So on an individual level, you have the choice of being rational or irrational. If you choose the irrational, it is the same as if you chose death. On a social level, this same either-or plays out as either reason or force. You either rely on reason to persuade those you deal with, or you use a gun, metaphorical or physical. Or put another way, between a limited government that protects the rights of its citizens or a statist government that uses force to violate the rights of the citizens.
It is this last either-or which most of the stories Amy discussed are examples of. In the current political campaigns, for example, the use of force is becoming pervasive. Whether it is the indirect use of force being advocated by candidates like Bernie Sanders who wants to use government force to take from those who produce and give to those who do not or a more direct incitement to violence Trump has given at many of his rallies. None of this excuses the actions of the protesters at the Trump rally in San Jose, but it makes the incident less surprising. Or even more telling, the violence between two people at this rally until they realized they were both Bernie supporters who thought that the other was a Trump supporter. These incidents reveal that both sides are willing to resort to force, yet another reason to perhaps go with a third party candidate like Gary Johnson.
Another example of either reason or force is the story about the recent attempt by the California legislature to pass what they called “California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016” would have laid the groundwork so that people who question the government orthodoxy regarding climate change could be prosecuted. We have already seen movement in this direction with states’ Attorneys-General looking to prosecute Exxon and think tanks that question the orthodoxy, here and here for example. (This reminded me of the fight over the soda tax in Vermont last year where one of the experts testifying for the law said, in essence, education doesn’t work so we have to use force.)
Amy had a couple of good news stories, Apple having re-hired a crypto guru to help them in any future conflicts with the federal government. A “Do Your Jobs” bill was introduced in Congress which would require both houses to vote on the 12 budget bills that are supposed to be passed each year or the chamber that fails to do so would forfeit their pay. There is likely not much chance of this passing, but it is encouraging that someone would put it forward.
The show ended with some Atlas Shrugged spoilers as Amy discussed how the either-or question played out in that book. This was an interesting discussion especially with how understanding the villains made the heroes and the strike more understandable. She based a lot of this discussion on an essay by Tara Smith found in Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
I really enjoyed this show as it had an abstract theme running through it with a variety of concretes that illustrated different aspects of it.