Why immigration is a right

A member asks why immigration is a right. Another member asks why it isn’t. Who has the burden of proof?

Every human action is a right, unless it initiates physical force against another.

So, does the act of immigration initiate force? No, not per se. Does it threaten the initiation of force, since the threat of force is force? No, not qua immigration. That is, some people walking or driving across the border do so in a way that threatens force, such as driving recklessly or coming in with weapons brandished. (This has to be rare.) Some come in planning or going to plan criminal acts.

But it’s not qua immigration that this happens. Sometimes natives of Newark, NJ, present an objective threat of force as they enter Manhattan. Or as they enter Union, NJ. Or as they cross the street in Newark.

Some people who are immigrants will commit crimes. Some people wearing Nike shoes will commit crimes. If we have to regulate immigration, vet the immigrants, check their criminal records, do we have to do the same for those wearing Nike shoes?

And how about those people who are traveling within the country to destinations beginning with the letter P? Some of them are bad guys. Some of them have communicable diseases. So if you are planning a trip to Patterson, Peoria, Pittsburgh, or Paducah, you need to present your papers at the gates of these cities and maybe have a medical exam.

Actually, it’s a known fact that some percentage of people who play the accordion take jobs away from the rest of us. They have to be closely watched, lest they try to get jobs.

When  there’s a particular point of origin where Ebola or some such disease is rampant, it makes a certain sense to screen people (even returning citizens) who are coming from there. But it’s perverse and absurd to make a special threat-category for those who prefer your country to the one they want to leave.

As to the effect on culture, if that’s the standard then the entire faculty of every university in the country should be deported. (Not a bad idea!) The university professors are the culture-destroyers — not the people who value this country enough to move here, often risking death in the process.

All regulation—gun regulation, medical innovation regulation, immigration regulation—is preventive law. It is not the case that people, natives or foreigners, are to be presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence.

Incidentally, to uphold the right of immigration is not to say that immigrants should be soon (or ever) given the vote. The privilege of voting should be delinked from the right of free transit.

How is there a right of immigration? Just ask yourself: Would you, as an individual, have the right to stand at the border and stop by force people who were passing by you?

Unnoticed contradictions

It is the job of a nation’s intellectuals to connect current events to principles and to past events. Rarely is that done. Look at three examples.

1. Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago that we learned that campuses were concerned about students’ need for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” had to be given, for instance to alert sensitive students that the speaker was going to mention something that could be disconcerting to them, such as that he was going to use the word “individualism”?

But now it’s fine for “Palestinians” to celebrate the October 7th atrocities, to hurl the word “genocide” at the children or grandchildren of those who witnessed actual genocide, and to harass and threaten Jews on campus.

What happened to the concept of the college student as a “snowflake” who shouldn’t have to endure the prospect of any unpleasantness?

2. Ceasefires. There have been ceasefires all my life, and I heard the term as far back as the Korean War. Out of the hundreds of cease-fires that have been tried, none have worked. All have been broken at the convenience of the more evil side. Hamas broke a ceasefire on October 7th. Just half a year ago.

Put into the same bucket all “deals” that the good makes with the evil, all “quiet diplomacy,” all “peace processes” and all detentes. After the unbroken record of failure of these things, the call for them goes out unabated. “That was then, this is now” is the mantra.

3. We constantly hear that man can know nothing for certain, that truth is relative to the individual, that observations are “theory-laden” so cannot claim to be objective, that no scientific claim can be proved true, that we can say only it hasn’t been refuted by the data so far. At the same time and from the same people, we hear that catastrophic climate change is beyond doubt, that those who question it are “deniers” who should be kicked out of any position of consequence.

How does the same mind hold, “Nothing is certain” and “Climate catastrophe is certain”?

Free speech is not the issue

The public voices opposing the campus mayhem are writing only about freedom of speech. They point out that freedom of speech doesn’t include the freedom to occupy a campus or use violence.

That’s better than nothing, but it misses two points: on any private property, the free speech right is that of the owner, and any speaker on his property speaks by permission, not by right.

If there’s a pre-existing contract between the owner and the speaker, a contract governing this, then that rules. But I can’t believe there’s any contract between any private university and the students that gives them the right to do what they are doing.

Columbia and MIT are private universities, and they can eject any of these rabble-rousers at any time. (Note they are not “protestors” or “demonstrators,” they are agitators or hooligans or some such value-laden term.)

A government school is a different case, but even with government property, as Ayn Rand has pointed out, taxpayers are stand-ins for the owners, and the actions of the agitators are contrary to the very purpose of an institution of higher education.

But free speech is not the only issue, and not the main one. The issue is this: To side with Hamas against Israel is immoral. To side with the sub-humans who committed the atrocities of October 7 is obscenely evil. And Hamas is the elected government of Palestine.

Have any of the editorials and opinion pieces opposing the campus “protestors” made this point? I have seen defenses of Israel against Hamas, but none that denounce the position of the campus goons as an evil not to be sanctioned or debated. You don’t debate whether or not one should side with those who gleefully roasted babies in ovens.

Events and relations over entities

A member asked a few days ago whether anyone really held the event-to-event view of causality. Two unfortunate examples of it appeared the same day (4/4/24) on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal.

“Ideology, ‘Information’ and the New Censorship” counter-attacked recent attacks on free speech. The author deals with a supreme court Justice’s hypothetical question about what could be said on social media:

Suppose someone started posting about a new teen challenge that involved teens jumping out of windows at increasing elevations. . . . Kids all over the country start doing this. There is an epidemic. Children are seriously injuring or even killing themselves in situations. Is it your view that government authorities could not declare those circumstances a public emergency and encourage [!] social media platforms to take the information that is instigating this problem?

The op-ed writer’s response? He says there’s no information involved here, it’s opinion.

What’s cool to confused kids is a matter of interpretation and judgment, which are far beyond mere information.

Look at what both sides are evading: What kind of entity is government? What kind of action of that kind of entity is encouragement? What is the function of government? What are the limits of government action? What kind of entity is a teenager? Since the answer involves it having parents, what is it to be a parent? What are the responsibilities of a parent? What kinds of entities are on social media? What might they do, given their natures? What should they do? Why can only government act here?

If you put these and other issues about the natures of the entities involved, you come up with an entirely different answer: teenagers who allow themselves to be influenced by others, even to the point of doing self-destructive acts, can be influenced by others not to do. Parents are responsible for their children. Government may not use physical force to interfere with private activities, unless they involve force.

There is the issue of government protection of minors, but that is not an essential here.

The second article had the encouraging title “Climate Alarmism is Bad Science.”

But it was about a single climate nonsense article, asserting a patently event-to-event claim:

The authors claim that there is an optimal average temperature of 55.5 degrees Fahrenheit for economic growth.

And they “prove” it by that event-to-event staple: statistical correlation!

Worse: the debunking of it by the author of the WSJ op-ed consisted of showing that the statistics were fudged!

What would an entity-based view be? It asks questions about the nature of things: What is wealth? What is growth? (An increase in wealth; whose wealth?) Is it per capita, as the alarmists assume, or can we use some other measure? Who are the entities who create wealth? (Human beings.) If the cause of wealth is production (“the application of reason to the problem of survival,” in Ayn Rand’s definition), what conditions make it possible? (Individual freedom, including property rights.)

Instead of all this analysis of the nature of the entities involved, all that’s looked at—and all that the conservative can think of to criticize—is relationships, relationships between events. Here now higher GDP numbers and here now cooler temperatures.

You might as well have related the economic growth (government collected) statistics to the average number of termites in each country.

“What is it?” is the question that precedes and informs “How do its statistics compare to these other statistics?”

Constitutional Republic

Re: Member’s post 52106 of 3/9/24

Member wrote:

  The difference between a constitutional republic and a democracy is in the charter or constitution that protects the individual’s right to life and liberty against the whims of a majority. Some claim that the U.S. is a Representative Democracy in that the government is elected by citizens.

From my myopic point of view, it seems that we have a little bit of both, but we can’t seem to get the concept correct.


That’s because one needs to use the right method of concept formation. The right method allows one to validate one’s concepts, rather than merely picking one term from those available.

A proper concept classifies by fundamental similarities and differences. Fundamentals cut through the tangle. In this case, the surface topic is whether the U.S. is a democracy or a constitutional republic. But we are classifying political systems, so let’s ask: what is the fundamental in political philosophy?

Answer: individual rights. Such issues as the manner of voting, the parts of government, and the function of a constitution are details and derivatives. They concern how to best implement some end. The end is fundamental to the means. Things become means because they help get the end.

So the poles are rights-protecting and rights-negating political systems. The term for the former is “capitalism” and for the latter “statism.” The political spectrum must be divided between capitalism and statism, because that is the division between rights and rightlessness, hence between the mind-respecting and the mind-negating. Since man’s mind is his basic equipment for surviving, the capitalism-statism division is also the life-death division. And that is the existence-nonexistence division. You can’t get more fundamental than that—systems permitting your continued existence and systems geared to wiping you out of existence.

All of that deeper background is what makes capitalism vs. statism the fundamental issue—the right Conceptual Common Denominator—for classifying political systems.

Where on the capitalism-statism spectrum does “democracy” fall?

That depends on what you mean by “democracy.” Okay, suppose someone says that by “democracy,” he means “a system in which the leaders and the laws are selected by a vote of the people”? Where does that fall?

In the trash. That is not a valid distinguishing characteristic. It ignores the fundamental: what does the government do to or for the individual; and substitutes the superficial: how do things happen?

Linguistically, in Ancient Greek, “demos” meant “the people” and “kratos” meant “rule.” So “democracy” meant (and still is taught as) “rule by the people,” as opposed to “aristocracy” and “oligarchy,” which are rule by the excellent and rule by the few.

But the issue is not how many or how wonderful are the rulers; it is whether the citizens are to function as order-takers or free agents.

Ancient Athens, the paradigm case of a “pure” democracy, killed Socrates following the majority vote of the Athenian General Assembly. Socrates’ crime? “Impiety” and “corrupting the youth” (by getting them to think). The murder of Socrates should make one want to distance oneself from the name of the system that carried it out: democracy.

Instead, people love the term and bask in its warm rays. Why?

Metaphysically, the cause is the social version of the primacy of consciousness, which is Kant’s baby. The People, when they get together, are superior to any mere fact of external reality.

Epistemologically, Kant’s effect was to socialize consciousness; “objective knowledge” no longer meant reality-based knowledge, something he argued could not be achieved, but only shared delusions.

In ethics, one’s primary focus became: how are my relations to others? Am I doing my duty toward them? Am I being a good neighbor, a valued member of the community, a good citizen?

Politically, “rule by the people” is collectivism. “Vox populi, vox Dei.”

Psychologically, collectivism is the theory of, by, and for social metaphysicians. A social-metaphysical clinger seeks the warmth of the herd. He dreads the prospect of facing reality alone, unbuffered.

Thus the paeans to “the democratic process” and the endless calls to “get out and vote,” no matter which way and no matter how confused one is. Only if we can get vast numbers of people to participate, will the election tap into the General Will, a free-floating consciousness powerful enough to constitute “social reality.” Ordinary reality, they assume, has no chance against social reality.

Democracy accepts no limits on majority rule, which means it rejects the very concept of individual rights. The will of the majority is supreme.

A particularly surprising manifestation of that premise is the Supreme Court’s doctrine of “deference to the legislature.” From the head of the judicial branch of the goverment, in defiance of the system of checks and balances, we get the doctrine that the courts must bow before the Will of the People.

Ayn Rand characterized democracy as “unlimited majority rule.” I taught it as “dictatorship by the majority.” Actually, democracy is thinly disguised mob rule.

Could we keep the word “democracy” but define it in a way that would make it compatible with capitalism? No. The term “rule” implies statism, not capitalism. Capitalism is freedom, not the “rule” of anyone. Rights are moral principles forbidding any man or group to rule over others.

Limited Government

The essence of any government, good or bad, is the use of physical force. What distinguishes government from other social institutions—from schools, churches, and bowling leagues—is that a government uses physical force. In fact, it maintains a monopoly on the use of force within its borders.

Under capitalism, the sphere of government action must be limited to using force in retaliation, to protect us from force. Protecting rights includes protecting them from government. Rights are precisely the barrier that stands between governmental force and the freedom of the citizen.

Force used in retaliation protects individual rights; force not used in retaliation is necessarily force initiated. Being subject to initiated force means being treated as rightless. So the government under capitalism may never reach beyond retaliatory force. That is what “limited government” means.

Selfish Randsday to all

February 2nd was Randsday. As the creator of that holiday, I set up and put the following text on it.

February 2nd is the birthday of Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand developed and defended Objectivism, a philosophy that advocates “rational selfishness.”

To celebrate Randsday, you do something not done on any other holiday: you give yourself a present. Randsday is for getting that longed-for luxury you ordinarily would not buy for yourself. Or for doing that long-postponed, self-pampering activity you cannot seem to fit into your chore-packed schedule.

Randsday is for reminding ourselves that pleasure is an actual need, a psychological requirement for a human consciousness. For man, motivation, energy, enthusiasm are not givens. Psychological depression is not only possible but rampant in our duty-preaching, self-denigrating culture. The alternative is not short-range, superficial “fun,” but real, self-rewarding pleasure. On Randsday, if you do something that you ordinarily would think of as “fun,” you do it on a different premise and with a deeper meaning: that you need pleasure, you are entitled to it, and that the purpose and justification of your existence is: getting what you want—what you really want, with full consciousness and dedication.

In The Fountainhead, Peter Keating comes to realize this:

Katie, I wanted to marry you. It was the only thing I ever really wanted. And that’s the sin that can’t be forgiven—that I hadn’t done what I wanted. It feels so dirty and pointless and monstrous, as one feels about insanity, because there’s no sense to it, no dignity, nothing but pain—and wasted pain. . . . Katie, why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world—to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want. As I wanted to marry you. Not as I want to sleep with some woman or get drunk or get my name in the papers. Those things—they’re not even desires—they’re things people do to escape from desires—because it’s such a big responsibility, really to want something.

Randsday is the time to challenge any duty premise, re-affirm your love of your values, and honor the principle that joy in living is an end in itself.

Have a selfish Randsday!

Border crisis?

How many years, or how many decades are the Fox newscasters going to refer to the “crisis” on our borders? I guess as long as there’s a fear of foreigners to cater to.

There can’t be a “crisis” that goes on for at least 10 years, as this one has (in 2014, a “crisis” was officially declared by government).

One site breathlessly reports that 169 people on terrorist watch lists were spotted and/or apprehended. The same site reports 3.1 million “encounters.” But the two facts are not put together: 169 of the “encounters” is 1 in 20,000.

So, conservatives want to stifle the lives of 19,999 people to block entry to 1 person on a terrorist watch list.

The answer to terrorism is not retreating to a bunker. It is moral certainty in the rightness of America combined with decisive, overwhelming military action against the states that sponsor terrorism.

Criminals? I have pointed out that this issue is bogus. If they have been convicted in their native countries, they are in jail there. If they are ex-cons, they should be accorded the same rights as native born ex-cons. Only prison escapees are criminals whom we could screen for. And how many prison-escapees show up at our border per year? Two?

As to crimes committed by immigrants, the answer is the same as for terrorism: moral certainty and more/better retaliatory force, which means in this case: policing. Even more effective than better policing would be repeal of the drug laws. That would cut crime in half or more than in half.

The only crisis on our border is the outrageous refusal to recognize that “All men are created equal, endowed . . . with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

P.S. The cry to “secure” our border is senseless. We are not under attack. We are not even threatened. Unless you count the threat from the professors at our universities.

It’s a little arch and very gruesome to express worries about incoming South Americans when none of the  three university presidents testifying before Congress could bring themselves to say that calling for the mass murder of Jews is against school policy.

We need to secure America against the Kantian professorship, not foreigners seeking a better life here.

Bari Weiss’ great speech

I belatedly listened to Bari Weiss’ November 17th talk to the Federalist Society. Others on HBL have found fault with it, but those flaws are of no consequence compared to the two extraordinary virtues of the talk.

But there is a prefatory virtue: she gives us a benchmark for the decline of Western civilization. After 9/11, everyone in America was on the right side. There was an outpouring of American flags and genuine patriotism.  People and government officials around the civilized world said things like, “We’re all Americans now.”

People woke up to a new (to them) menacing evil: militant Islam. Yes, there was a terrible reluctance to name it (supposedly, what we were fighting was “terrorism”). Yes, President Bush described Islam as “a religion of peace.” Yes, the American sense of “solidarity” evaporated in a few months. But what Bari Weiss observed was the marked contrast in Western reaction to 9/11 and October 7th.

I don’t think I have to enumerate the shocking pro-slaughter demonstrations that swept the university towns immediately after the 10/7 massacre. I had not thought to compare the two. But that chilling comparison is the benchmark I was referring to. We see how far, far down America and the West have come in 22 years. It is gruesomely fitting that on social media, Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America” has received almost 200 million views.

After describing the difference in the two public reactions, she asks the cause. And that’s when she makes the point that is never made, the connection that we most need to hear: the decline of the West, concretized in the pro-slaughter “protests,” is due to one thing: the ideology coming out of the universities.

Although she doesn’t get to the basic philosophic roots (unreason and anti-selfishness), the evil ideology she condemns is not just the latest wrinkle (“wokeness”). She goes to a mid-level set of ideas: de-constructionism, multiculturalism, anti-colonialism, identity politics, and the hatred for “power” even when it is the power to create, produce, achieve values. She is quite clear that these doctrines are anti-civilization. She identifies the rot as coming out of “academia” but now having spread throughout society, mentioning not only secondary education but the “human resources” departments of all large corporations. (A sobering thought.)

The second extraordinary virtue in the talk was the call to the audience, and to all those who treasure civilization: “Fight, fight, fight!” Stand up and counter the lies, she said. Don’t be silent when they are being spread. And—since she was speaking to an organization of lawyers—enforce the law. The rule of law, even when the law is (somewhat) wrong, is part of civilized existence. And she is right.

The moral confidence and righteous determination of this woman are a pleasure to behold. So, I urge you to listen to the video:

Altruism and Hamas

Many people find it hard to comprehend the widespread approval being showered upon Hamas. How, they wonder, can the perpetrators of unspeakable atrocities, captured on video for all to see, elicit the sympathy of tens or hundreds of thousands in the civilized West? Isn’t the evil of Hamas—and all its Palestinian supporters—indisputable?

Certainly, a growing anti-Semitism is at work. But the more fundamental explanation is the one provided by a schoolteacher in Atlanta, as reported in the Nov. 5 NY Times (“Across the Echo Chamber, a Quiet Conversation About War and Race”). She posted the following message on Facebook, defending her unequivocal backing of the Palestinians against Israel:

“The actual history of this situation is NOT COMPLICATED.  I will ALWAYS stand beside those with less power. Less wealth, less access and resources and choices. Regardless of the extreme acts of a few militants who were done watching their people slowly die.”

She is stating the essence of a moral code that is accepted by virtually everyone today: the code of altruism. According to that code, need is the ultimate standard of morality. If others are in need, nothing else matters—you have a duty to satisfy their needs.

Altruism is not a code of benevolence and goodwill. It is a code that says your life belongs not to you, but to anyone who displays a need that you are able to fulfill. It commands you to devote yourself, not to your own goals and your own happiness, but to the demands of all who are needier than you. It does not matter why someone is in need—it does not matter that fulfilling that need would be an act of injustice—you must sacrifice your money, your energies, your judgment in the name of altruism. You must subordinate everything to which you are justly entitled, in order to provide what someone is not justly entitled to. That is what self-sacrifice means: surrender everything, including your convictions about what is right, so that someone else’s needs can be met. And the more unjust your surrender is—i.e., the more unworthy, the more guilty, the recipient—the greater is the sacrifice and therefore the more imperative it is that you make it. That’s what altruism requires.

By the standard of justice, Israel is deserving of support. But by the standard of altruism, since Hamas needs your support—since Hamas is poor and besieged and helpless— you must take up its cause.

In stark contrast to Gaza, and the rest of the Arab world, Israel is a basically free country. Its inhabitants are free to express opinions without being jailed or executed, and an independent press, including many Arab publications, flourishes there; no independent press—Arab or non-Arab—is allowed in Gaza. Israel recognizes the freedom to practice one’s religion, and dozens of active mosques exist there; in most Muslim states, the public practice of religions other than Islam is not tolerated. Israel has free elections, and even Arab political parties are represented in the Parliament; the Arab world is dominated by dictatorial theocracies, kingdoms and emirates.

Every Arab living in Israel enjoys far greater freedom than any Arab in the Muslim countries of the Mideast.

Yes, the residents of Gaza live in poverty and oppression—but their condition is the product of the choices they and their governing body have made. According to altruism, however, it does not matter why someone is suffering. It does not matter that the homeless bum down the street is responsible for his misery because he is an alcoholic or a drug addict—he is needy, and you must sacrifice for his sake. It is selfish of you to insist that he clean up his life and find a self-supporting job—he is in pain, and you have a duty to relieve it.

Similarly, it is deemed irrelevant that Hamas is the cause of the suffering endured by Gazans as Israel retaliates for the Oct. 7 barbarism. It does not matter that the Palestinians’ commitment to aggressive war against Israel is the overriding cause of their plight. It does not matter that, by the standard of justice, Israel is the true victim. All that matters is that the Palestinians have “less power . . . less wealth, less access and resources and choices.” I.e., because their need is greater, their moral claim on us is stronger.

No, most people—unlike this teacher on Facebook—do not fully embrace altruism. But it is she who is applying that code consistently. And those who do not agree with her conclusions need to start questioning the validity of that code at its root.

HB: You nailed it. The other factor is loss of respect for—loss of the very concept of—reason.

Neither infallible nor omniscient

In ITOE and elsewhere, AR makes a point whose significance is massive, but is not easily available:

Man is neither infallible nor omniscient; if he were, a discipline such as epistemology—the theory of knowledge—would not be necessary nor possible: his knowledge would be automatic, unquestionable and total.

It’s easy to see why fallibility—the possibility of error—gives rise to the need for standards. One needs a way of distinguishing correct from incorrect conclusions. But what is non-omniscience doing there?

Omniscience, after all, is just a dreamed-up attribute of a dreamed-up divinity. Why make a point of denying it?

Well, this week I gave my ITOE students (at ARU) the assignment to concretize “neither infallible nor omniscient” and two students, Tom Ho and Shea Levy, in their answers made a connection between non-omniscience and fallibility, a good connection that I had not suspected.

Let me put the point in my own terms, with my own context. Error is an idea in the mind that contradicts the facts of reality. If you knew every fact there was, you would, by that fact, exclude the possibility of error.

For instance, you wouldn’t make the error of thinking that all cats have tails, because you would know that Manx cats do not. So your omniscient knowledge would be: “All cats, except for the Manx breed, have tails.”

Could there be an unrealized contradiction in your omniscient knowledge? “Unrealized,” brother? That would be an unknown contradiction. But you know everything.

Could you know everything but also, on the side as it were, hold some additional false beliefs? Not if you knew everything, because then you’d know that those beliefs were false. And you can’t believe anything that you know is false. “It ain’t so, but I believe it” is a contradiction.

Well, what if you knew everything but failed to activate some of that knowledge? Just as we non-omniscient beings may know that having a big slice of chocolate cake a la mode with whipped cream is not good for us, but fail to make that knowledge as real as the knowledge that gustatory bliss is available? (A hypothetical example only, you understand.)

Yes, free will and the crow limitation mean that the mere possession of knowledge does not guarantee one activates that knowledge and holds to it in action.

That’s why the next sentences after the ones quoted are:

But such is not man’s nature. Man is a being of volitional consciousness: beyond the level of percepts—a level inadequate to the cognitive requirements of his survival—man has to acquire knowledge by his own effort, which he may exercise or not, and by a process of reason, which he may apply correctly or not. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of his mental efficacy; he is capable of error, of evasion, of psychological distortion.

Now, that concerns volition in regard to the acquisition of new knowledge, but it applies also to free will in the activation of and holding onto any item of knowledge.

There is no fact-value dichotomy. Our possession of free will gives rise to the possibility of both factual error (including factual errors about what is valuable) and wrong behavior.

Without free will, whether we knew everything or not, our every thought and our every action would be as unjudgeable as the laws of physics.

This is not to say, absurdly, that every mistake one makes is due to irrationality; there are “errors of knowledge,” a phrase AR canonized as the opposite of “breaches of morality.” But notice that “errors of knowledge” arise only because man is not omniscient!

Free will, fallibility, and non-omniscience are bound together in these and other fascinating ways.

I’m glad that I gave the assignment to concretize “fallibility and non-omniscience.” And congratulations to Tom and Shea for seeing an important point that concretized non-omniscience.

Economic ignorance in WSJ reporting

“Miami Is Booming But Population Falls” is the (ungrammatical) headline in a front-page story of the August 1st Wall St. Journal.

It opens thus:

Miami, a global hot spot with ambitions to be a business and financial hub, is driving away more residents than it is attracting.

Why? The reporters proceed to tell you:

Surging housing costs . . . Home prices in Miami have soared 53% since June 2020 . . .

And we know what causes that, right? Landlord greed.

The reporters don’t say that directly, but here’s how they elaborate:

“The median asking rent has increased by 27% since 2019 . . . despite the shrinking population because of a chronic shortage of affordable rental housing.”

Oh-oh, looks like there’s too little greed here! Builders are too uninterested in money to meet the “chronic shortage of affordable rental housing.” And no builders from outside Miami, and outside Florida, are greedy enough to enter the market and fill the pent-up demand.

It’s totally incoherent: homeowners are getting big gains from selling their homes, but landlords are pricing rentals too high, so there’s a “shortage.”

The article’s claim is that Miami population is shrinking because people can’t afford to live there. But why can’t they afford it? Because other people are outbidding them! What’s “driving” people out? The opportunity to sell their homes at a great price (and move outside Miami, to a lower-cost region). It’s not a case of being “driven out”–it’s the reverse: a case of wanting to move out in order to enjoy a big profit.

The high cost of housing (rental and purchase) is due to the fact that a lot of people want to live there. You don’t find high housing costs in places where few people want to live, like Yucca Flats, Nevada.

So the reporters’ actual complaint is that the wealthy are outbidding the non-wealthy.

Yes, and I think that happens for luxury automobiles, too. Maybe also for dinners at fancy restaurants.

What’s called “gentrification,” can indeed result in falling population: the rich generally have several homes, but they count in the population of only one home, their domicile. So a native Miamian might sell a property that is his sole residence to a rich person who is in Miami only one month a year. The seller moves to a cheaper area, outside Miami, and the rich buyer doesn’t replace him in the population count.

As a long-time Manhattan resident, I can tell you that, in the evening, it is striking how many fewer lights you will see in the higher-floors of the tall residential buildings; the more expensive the real-estate, the less often it is occupied! It is the poor, not the rich, who live in crowded conditions.

The Wall Street Journal has a pretty decent editorial staff, but the reporters, like most all journalists, are leftist. This was less true when Rupert Murdoch was in charge. But now we see the resurgence of anti-capitalist economics.

Plus, there may be a sinister side. There’s a leftist campaign to bring rent-control to Miami. There’s a problem: the state of Florida expressly prohibits rent-control. But, alas, the prohibition includes an “unless there’s an emergency” clause. So the left is trying to paint this entirely benevolent outcome as a “housing emergency” (as if one’s inability to afford eating out very often at the toniest restaurants were an “eating crisis.”)

Here’s what Google turned up:

People also ask:

Are rent controls legal in Miami-Dade County?

Although Florida law is stacked against them, Miami-Dade County commissioners are considering studying the issue. Florida law largely prohibits rent controls unless there’s a “housing emergency.” Some on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners are beginning to explore that option.

Rent control is something I would wish on my worst enemy. It’s like bombing your own city.

Update, I took a look at the follow-on on page 4, and it’s nothing but an appeal to Christianity–i.e., Marxism (which is based on “The Sermon on the Mount”):

sending many . . . working and middle-class residents searching for a more affordable place to live . . . the highest share of ‘cost-burdened renters’ [!] of any major metropolitan area . . . High rents sting . . .

For propaganda pieces, I always look to the last paragraph because savvy propagandists put there the thought, or feeling, they want you to take away. This article’s last paragraph quotes “Billy Corben, a local resident and gadfly documentarian who often criticizes local politicians’ push for rapid growth [my emphasis]. Here’s what ol’ Billy says:

The people who built this city [the proletariat] cannot afford to live in their own homes that they spent their entire lives in. . . . Once those people are gone, then what is Miami? What is left of this place?

What is left? Oh, maybe a home for people more productive than “the people who built this city.” Maybe people of more refined tastes and more cosmopolitan background. Maybe a better class of people than Joe sixpack.

But regardless of that, there’s no vested right to stop people from selling their homes for more than they had hoped [i.e., rising housing prices] or renting to people who outbid you.

Government coining or guaranteeing money is initiated force

Re: a member’s post 49365 of 6/8/23

I have always thought the importance of the government-minted gold “standard” was just as with the standardization of the meter/gram/litre (or yard/stone/pint). The minted coins were of a reliable and standardized purity. Without this, everyone would need to test the purity every time they paid for something. Iron ore is by nature of variable purity and is bought as such. Smartphones either work or they don’t. But 18K v 22K v 24K makes a big difference.

People could obviously still trade with whatever they wanted.

The principle of government acting pre-emptively to prevent fraud, where there is no “probable cause,” is behind the regulatory state. Compare:

– since some people might accept fraudulent coins, the government has to regulate coinage

– since some people crossing the border will perform criminal acts, the government has to regulate immigration

– since some people use guns to initiate force, the government has to regulate guns

– since some people would be swindled by quacks selling snake oil, the government has to license doctors and run a Food and Drug Administration

– since some people would put up shaky buildings that would fall down on the neighbors, the government has to enforce a building code

– since some people will publish falsehoods and libels, the government has to regulate speech

All of these are preventive law. They are evil and must be completely abolished. The role of the state is to retaliate against crimes that are occurring, have occurred, or are objectively being threatened (by specific individuals who are acting wrongly).

Incidentally, there is no problem of fraud regarding gold coins. Anyone can verify the gold content of a coin by several methods, including that used by Archimedes (density-measure).

In the early U.S., private banknotes were often counterfeited, and services existed to list the discount rate to apply to given brands of bank, dependent upon that bank’s solvency and the prevalence of counterfeiting.

The same applies to weights and measures. There is zero justification for government to maintain standards. All government-maintained standards are inferior to private ones. The ounce? The liter? The standard can be specified in the contract (“by the standards set by J.P. Morgan” or the like), and one’s remedy is the courts.

There’s no difference in objectivity between “ounce” and “tomato.” Does the government have to set aside a standard tomato and a standard shoe, book, screwdriver, apartment, credit default swap, so that the parties know what they are contracting in?

Government is the police, the military, and the courts. The police and military have no role in defining anything, and the courts merely interpret whether there was or wasn’t fraud; they don’t maintain any national bureau of standards. That bureau should be abolished.

Not entirely inductive

I agree with [one HBLer’s] basic thesis: rights are contextual, and the context must be judged by reference to both the facts of the case and the purpose of the principle. An example is: rights do not apply on overloaded lifeboat.

Another way of putting this is that all moral principles, including rights, are objective not intrinsic.

The objective nature of principles, including rights, is the answer to the libertarian anarchists. They maintain that one’s private knowledge of, or beliefs about, the rightness of one’s use of force cannot be held to account. For Joe to use force, and to claim you can’t interfere, he doesn’t have to be objective, it’s enough that he knows (or feels) that he is right. The rest of us have to bow before his unproved, unevidenced, unvetted conclusions about, in the end, who should be killed and who should not be.

But I don’t really agree that moral principles are mainly induced:

In other words, they [rights as moral principles] are inductively formed and validated with the same method, and based upon the same kind of “inductive material”–that is, observations of cause and effect.

I think there are inductive inputs, but it’s not the case (despite some people’s suggestion) that one concludes that, say, dishonesty is wrong by following the life course of dishonest people. People past about 5 years old know that deceiving others is wrong. In the biographical interviews, Ayn Rand tells the story of a boy who promised her “very solemnly” that if she’d give him her turn on a swing, he would surrender the swing back to her after his turn. But then he wouldn’t give it back to her and laughed at her.

. . . that was my first encounter with dishonesty. All I remember is: First enormous astonishment and then such a murderous rage that if they hadn’t started swinging, I probably would have scratched or choked that kid.

One knows, by introspection, the meaning of gaining a value by deceit. One also knows the meaning of compromise vs. integrity and, from experience, of productive achievement. Now, the introspection is based on experience, but there’s a lot of deduction involved. E.g., to get a value from someone by deceit is to victimize the person; to victimize people is wrong. Therefore . . .

[Another HBLer] is right to point out that we neither derive nor apply rights by looking just to practical consequences. In fact, without principles, how would we know the consequences? Principles are the means of grasping the consequences.

A particularly brilliant example of the role of principles, whether intended or not, is Keating’s statement:

always be what people want you to be. Then you’ve got them where you want them.

If you think about the meaning of that advice, it’s exactly backwards: if you always try to be what people want you to be, then they’ve got you where they want you.

Clearly, Ayn Rand intended the reader to get that reversal—and for Keating not to get it. But my point is that you don’t induce “being what people want is letting them run you” from an examination of cases; you get it from a thinking-in-principles analysis of what he’s proposing.

You do use examples—imaginary ones, normally: “What would it mean for my life if I tried to impress people by being what they wanted me to be, rather than what I decided it was right to be? What if, for instance, I tried to manipulate my mother by being the obedient, God-fearing son she wants me to be?”

You know the answer, as soon as you pose it. What is that form of reasoning? It’s thinking in principles by thinking in examples. It involves keeping to essentials and naming fundamentals. One doesn’t think, for instance, “Well, if I were to try to look like the boy Mother wants, I’d be meeting a lot of people my age in Church.” Or, “I’d spend more time reading the bible.”

Suppose one thought, “Mother would beam at me and praise me to everyone.” A boy with any self-esteem would be sickened by thought.

Choice is Choice

A member states:

with friends and acquaintances who barely have a clue who Ayn Rand is, who are decent and/or good people, but mistaken, I often pronounce in my mind: all he needs is an hour with John Galt.

You are, alas, mistaken. Atlas Shrugged gives readers many hours with Ayn Rand, yet not one in a hundred readers become persuaded of the philosophy.

Ayn Rand quipped that she was more generous in populating the world of Atlas with heroes than God was in populating the real world. In other words, in the real world there’s Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett—who are great creators but are not the likes of Rearden, Danagger, and Mulligan. So more—much more—is required of potential “converts” than that they be “decent and/or good people.”

Rearden is the archetype of the heroes Galt reaches: he’s lived in full focus, with complete honesty, integrity, and independence, but he didn’t demand the same of others. What Francisco and Galt teach Rearden is that his moral code is objective, that it is the code of life. Accordingly, he should not allow the use of his own virtue against him (of which the most obvious example is how he is treated by Lillian and his family).

Dagny asks Galt your question: “What did you tell them to make them abandon everything?”

Galt answers:

I told them that they were right. . . .I gave them the pride they did not know they had. I gave them the words to identify it. I gave them that priceless possession which they had missed, had longed for, yet had not known they needed: a moral sanction.

So it was not some method (other than ordinary logic) that Galt used. It was the content of what he said, and their readiness to hear it. On their readiness, he says:

I went out to become a flame-spotter. I made it my job to watch for those bright flares in the growing night of savagery, which were the men of ability, the men of the mind — to watch their course, their struggle and their agony — and to pull them out, when I knew that they had seen enough.

“. . .when I knew that they had seen enough.”

As to method, consider what Francisco tells Rearden:

your virtues were those which keep men alive.

This identifies a causal connection: some virtues (the ones Francisco practiced) cause survival, and without this kind of virtue there is no survival. Take rationality as the sum of the virtues Francisco practiced. Then he is saying: rationality and only rationality keeps men alive.

But not only is Francisco identifying a causal connection, he is subsuming it under the widest possible abstraction. For suppose he had said: “Your virtues were those which bring financial rewards.” That would be true and of some importance, but subsuming Rearden’s virtues under the very wide abstraction, “survival,” opens the door to an induction: “For moral codes, the fundamental issue is whether it is pro-life or anti-life.”

And Francisco next says:

Your own moral code—the one you lived by, but never stated, acknowledged or defended—was the code that preserves man’s existence. If you were punished for it, what was the nature of those who punished you? Yours was the code of life. What, then, is theirs?

That’s deduction with an implicit call for the induction. In pattern, the whole thing is this:

Your moral code is required to live.
Their moral code is against yours.
Therefore, their moral code is against what life requires.

Any moral code that is against what life requires is anti-life.
Their moral code is against what life requires.
Therefore, their moral code is anti-life.

If a moral code is anti-life, it is pro-death.
Their moral code is anti-life.
Therefore their moral code is pro-death.

Inductive implication: All moral codes are to be analyzed and evaluated on the basis of whether they are pro-life or pro-death.

The induction is the new generalization, which has to do with a previously unthought of relationship between moral codes and the alternative of life vs. death.

Ayn Rand was thinking of morality from the aspect of it being pro-life or anti-life as far back as her late 20s, when she wrote We the Living. As far as I can recall, the only other philosophers who did were Spinoza and Locke, both of whom wrote about “self-preservation.”

Thinking about her method in terms of what’s deductive and what’s inductive is not particularly helpful. What she did is to “think in principles”—which involves always going wider and seeking to know what depends upon what. It’s the difference between: “This moral code keeps men alive” and “This moral code puts bread on the table.”

Then, of course, there are the mixed-up wider “principles”: “This moral code keeps society functioning.” Or even, today, “This moral code keeps the climate from changing.”

To return to the original issue, the reason I titled this post “Choice is choice” is that you are under-estimating or overlooking the role of free will. People have to have made a lot of the right choices to have the premises to respond to Ayn Rand’s themes. And they have to continue to choose to focus in order to follow her logic in what they are reading or hearing from you.

You can lead a man to reason, but you can’t make him think.

My teaching for ARU

I’m pleased to announce that I will be teaching two courses at Ayn Rand University for the next two quarters (16 weeks total): Logical Thinking and ITOE, starting April 17. Each class will meet twice a week for 1 hour 15 minutes (that’s the amount of time I’ve found, empirically, to be right for my teaching brain).

These are regular university courses, which can be taken either as a graded student or as an auditor. There are tuition fees. Check the ARI/ARU site for details on fees and admissions.


Objectivist Logic: Monday and Wednesday, both run from noon to 1:15 pm ET.

ITOE: Thursday and Friday, both run from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm ET.

The logic course has no prerequisites, but ITOE (on Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology) is an intermediate / advanced course with prerequisites.

The logic course will cover some points in Aristotelian logic but from an Objectivist perspective, and will focus on Ayn Rand’s unique contributions to logic, because this is where the most helpful part of logic is to be found. The logic course features homework assignments that give practice in the principles and techniques taught.

Here are the course descriptions:

Objectivist Logic:

Ayn Rand embraced Aristotelian logic but took it much further. This course, through lectures and homework exercises, reviews the three most important ideas of Aristotelian logic and then focuses on the new principles of proper thinking developed by Ayn Rand. Topics will include: concept-formation, axioms, the syllogism, the need for and rules of proper definition, hierarchy, context-holding, thinking in principles, thinking in examples, and logical fallacies from equivocation to the stolen concept.

April – September 2023

A careful, systematic study of Rand’s monograph, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (ITOE). The course goal is to get fully clear on what the theory is, why it was needed–i.e., the failure of all previous solutions to the “problem of universals”; how Rand’s theory represents a revolutionary approach to consciousness as such; and how the Objectivist view of concepts underlies the entire Objectivist philosophy. Students will be taught how to chew and digest Rand’s philosophic writing, using homework exercises and very brief writing assignments. This is an intermediate to advanced course (“300 level”) and presupposes successful completion of at least two other philosophy courses.

April – September 2023

Each course meets for a total of 40 hours and costs $1,000.

More information at:

The real answer to monopoly – It’s none of the usual ones

I have just read a FEE article on monopoly vs. free markets and it has me riled up. It’s got a couple of good points but it misses everything important. So let me set it out.

1. If you are calling for an end to something you call monopolies and monopoly pricing, you can go straight to hell. Who are you to tell producers what they should do with their property and their lives?!

Put more decorously, businesses don’t make demands on you regarding what you must buy or what line of work you should go into, so have the same respect for rights and dismiss any thoughts about what business should be doing with their production, their output, and their lives.

If you don’t like the “monopoly price” (an invalid term), don’t pay it: don’t buy the product.

2. That ends the discussion of what ought to be. But for those who are interested in how a free market operates, and are not open to plans to violate individual rights by interfering with it (i.e., negativing the choices of buyers and sellers by the muzzle of a gun), several never-considered points are of interest.

a. There are no more or less competitive markets under laissez-faire. All markets are equally “competitive” or equally “uncompetitive.” Production for sale is not like sports. In sports, more entrants can mean a more competitive game. Or, increasing the prize money can stimulate more effort, more training, more search for winners, etc.

But life is not a game. Production is not a game. A market is not a playing field. For one thing, sports are zero-sum. There’s only one winner. Everyone else is a loser. And it matters little what the score is: 10 to 0 is a win, and so is 10 to 9. The 9 points scored by the loser have no consequence. In production for sale, the reverse is true: if Home Depot earns $10 per share and Lowe’s earns $9, both can be almost equally happy. Nor is it the case that if Home Deport had earned only $1 per share, that would per se have meant Lowe’s earned $18.

In business, every dollar of profit made is a positive good and that good is essentially unaffected by how much more or how much less competitors make.

The goal of business is profit, not beating others.

All of this is to shake the idea of more competitive vs. less competitive markets. Every dollar invested is a dollar seeking sales (sales revenue of more than a dollar). But every dollar spent by the buyer is part of his budget and impacts every other buying decision he makes. If he spends $1,000 for a new laptop, that’s $1,000 he doesn’t have to spend on, say, dining out or buying tickets to the Superbowl, or flying business class instead of coach or . . .

Economists talk, with some justification, about “substitutes” for particular goods. As butter becomes more expensive, people start to switch to margarine. As Corvettes become more expensive, people start to substitute Camaros (sometimes called “the poor man’s Corvette”). That’s a real phenomenon but hardly worth mentioning. The real substitute is the next most valued item in the person’s hierarchy, which may not be margarine or a Camaro but a new Apple Watch or a vacation in Switzerland or a combination of three other things. Dollars are fungible; when X becomes more expensive, people may choose to buy X’, a substitute, but often they’ll buy something entirely unrelated, B.

So, it doesn’t matter whether the “monopolized” good has “close substitutes” or any substitutes. There may be a few exceptions (clean water comes to mind) but they are irrelevant, and the antitrust laws are not aimed at them.

3. Barriers to entry. This is a ridiculous idea, pushed by anti-capitalists and bought into by pro-capitalists (to their discredit). There is only one barrier to entry: physical force. The fact that producing something requires factors of production is the opposite of a barrier to entry: it is the means of entry. You want to enter the steel industry to compete with existing steelmakers? Nothing is preventing you. That is, nothing is stopping you from buying the iron, blast furnaces, equipment, factory, and paying the wages, as the existing steelmakers are doing and have been doing for as long as they’ve been in business.

“But, but . . .” sputter the economists, “it may not be a barrier in some high-falutin’ philosophical sense, but what we economists mean is that the existing steelmakers know that they can raise their prices a little, and make an above-average rate of profit, because it would take a lot of capital to start a new firm to compete with them.”

It’s mind-boggling how divorced from the actual facts that conception is. In actual reality, the alternative isn’t a software engineer deciding to ask his buddies and families for loans to start a steel mill. In actual reality, the alternative is somebody in a closely related industry (nickel producers?) or suppliers (the equipment manufacturers) or the buyers (Ford) moving into steelmaking.

And even more mind-boggling is the economists’ (Left and Right) blindness to a gargantuan sector of the economy that’s reported on minute by minute and which they probably follow in their personal lives: the capital market. Have they not heard of the New York Stock Exchange, of Goldman Sachs, of the stock exchanges around the world, of the market for commercial paper, of venture capitalists, like Peter Thiel, Mark Cuban, of Bain Capital and Blackrock and Berkshire Hathaway and . . . ?

There are many trillions of dollars sloshing around daily in the capital markets. What are they looking for? An above-average rate of profit. What is it that the supposed monopolists are supposedly restricting output in order to get? An above-average rate of profit.

Those dwelling in the fantasy world of the Left would try this comeback: “But as soon as Goldman started arranging for a competitor to the steel cartel, the cartel would lower their prices to forestall them.”

Correctement! And the threat of amply financed competitors is why they don’t try to raise their prices in the first place.

Leftist comeback: No, the threat of the cartel temporarily lowering prices (“predatory price cutting”) is what makes Goldman turn down proposals to finance new entrants.

My answer: Gee, poor passive Ford. Poor, passive Toyota. Poor passive customers buying steel in construction and other fields. I guess there’s nothing they can do but pay the “monopoly price” for steel. Oh, wait, they can make advance contracts with the new entrants before the cartel cuts its price?! This is permitted?!

In other words, in a capitalist economy, where ambition and initiative are rewarded, buyers don’t have to roll over or play the victim. If cartels of producers form in the attempt to raise prices, cartels of buyers can form to attempt to lower them. In reality, neither would have any real clout, and there are no organizations on a free market attempting to twist the law of supply and demand—not for long, anyway.

In principle: every buyer is a seller and every seller is a buyer. Present consumption is paid for by past production (Say’s Law). That’s value-for-value economics 1.01.

From that perspective, there’s no “power” or “clout” possessed by businesses over “consumers” or sellers over buyers or “bosses” over “labor”—these are all just traders. And what they trade is: value for value, each judging what is or isn’t a value by using his own mind to make his own “teleological measurements” applying his own hierarchy of values.

There’s only one entity with a special “power,” the power to disregard the minds and value-hierarchies of those it interacts with: government. Government is and ought to be a literal monopoly. It does not and must not allow “competitors” in the wielding of force.

The actual, proper, non-package-dealing concept of “monopoly” is: a field insulated from competition by government-enforced barriers to entry.

It’s not a matter of numbers. Lawyers number in the tens or hundreds of thousands, but they have monopoly power, courtesy of the government licensing laws. The same of course is true of doctors, psychotherapists, engineers, barbers, and all those in the hundreds of fields limited by government-imposed licensing requirements.

Thus, the sickening perversion of using government—the source and embodiment of all monopolies–to combat alleged business monopolies.

Not a good way to argue

One HBLer said that to be a fine art something had to meet requirement R.

Another HBLer gave a counter-example: architecture doesn’t meet R but is still a fine art.

The counter-example approach is not a good one, except in the fields of math and logic because they don’t require weighing competing factors in a complex whole.

When someone makes a philosophic claim, a single counter-example does not at all refute the claim. It does provide a reason to think about the issue, but doesn’t call the claim into doubt. The reason is that the counter-example could be:

1. A clear refutation of the principle

2. A special case to be handled as such, which doesn’t refute the principle

3. A misinterpreted case that actually does not serve as a counter-example

An example of 1: “You say religion is the only base for morality, but Objectivism has a full moral code without religion.” Notice that this only forestalls questions on both sides: 1. Really?! How, based on what? 2. Why do you think religion provides any base for morality? What does “morality” mean to you? So the relation of the counter-example isn’t clear and thus even this prima facie proper counter-example settles nothing.

An example of 2: “You say everyone under capitalism could deal with each other by voluntary consent and free trade, but a four-year-old can’t.” Obviously, this is context-dropping. Or, “Ayn Rand defines capitalism using the phrase ‘all property is privately owned,’ but the tanks of the military and the White House aren’t.”

It doesn’t really matter whether you reply by saying that this is an exception, and definitions don’t have to cover every case (which is true), or you reply by saying that in some sense these things are owned by the voluntary financers of the government (which may be true, I haven’t decided); either way, the counter-example does not show anything one way or the other.

An example of 3: “A complete separation of state and economics? Then there’d be no Bureau of Printing and Engraving and no government currency!” Here the answer is: “You bet!” Another example: “If everything were voluntary, then there could be no law and no government.” There, the conclusion drawn is false, and the person needs to told about the distinction between initiated and retaliatory force.

So, in no case does a counter-example bring understanding—at best, it provides material to think about. At worst, it’s a distraction.

Now in the case of architecture, the first thing to ask is: “How can one be sure it is a fine art?” I doubt that it is. And if it is, it is still “a special case.”

But the counter-example overlooks the huge difference between using beautiful calligraphy on an existing poem and using architecture to create out of whole cloth one’s own answer to the assignment (“build a home for a family of 4 on this hilltop”). Architecture is not re-modeling. The David is Michelangelo’s creation out of whole cloth (or whole marble) even though it takes an existing legend as its subject.

The David is not a decorative rendering of something. Neither is Wright’s Fallingwater. But Wright’s furniture inside his structures, though stylized by his sensibilities, is still a way of presenting a utilitarian object whose overall shape leaves limited scope for variation.

A final thought: borderline cases do exist. There are things that are difficult to judge as to whether they are fine art or decorative art. A good example is movie music. Some of it is clearly free-standing (Raindrops are Falling on My Head, Carousel Waltz from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical), but some of it has to be judged as not (the familiar shark-approaching theme from “Jaws”). But what about sections of movie music like the theme from Star Wars or Rocky?

My point is that those are just like ITOE’s example of reddish orange: they are borderline cases whose classification is optional.

How does context-holding work?

Context-dropping is a major fallacy, perhaps the number one fallacy. Context-dropping is the attempt to have cognition without looking at all the relevant data you have. To know, rather than to merely believe, is to integrate into the full context. (See OPAR, Chapter 4 for why and how knowledge is contextual.)

How does one “hold context”? What are the specific mental procedures for integrative thinking?

I know of at least three things to do: concretize, clarify, and challenge.

  1. Concretization as context-activation.

To “hold context,” one has to activate the context. To “activate” is to potentiate it—i.e., to increase its likelihood of coming into conscious awareness.

To know an item entails connecting it into the network that is one’s knowledge. There’s no revelation simply seeing how one thing relates to others. The storage of your knowledge is neural. In response to something being (forcefully enough) in conscious awareness, the brain and nervous system change in some physical way that encodes the consciously grasped relationship. Subsequently, given sufficient activation and given an appropriate trigger, the brain can do what we call “recalling” or “bringing to mind.”

(60 years ago, we had basically zero knowledge about how memories are laid down in the nervous system and how things are caused to appear again in conscious awareness. I am no longer well informed about what neuroscientists have learned about storage and recall. A lot of claims of advance have been made, and I can’t assess them.

Fortunately, I don’t have to. I’m talking here on the level of facilitating something to enter your mind—i.e., an idea occurring to you—and that can be discussed solely from your standpoint as the operator of your brain.)

Introspectively, it is clear that you can activate a context by bringing things connected to it into conscious awareness.

If I am to think about cars I might buy, or about how to better organize my computer files, or why capitalism is the only proper social system, I can “activate the context” by consciously ranging over examples.

For cars, I ask myself: “What are some brands?” and into my mind pop: Toyota, Ford, Porsche, Tesla. As these show, I try to get a wide range of examples because I want to activate the whole context. Toyota is Asian, the others aren’t. Ford is a long-standing, center-of-the-page, standard American automaker. Porsche is both foreign and exotic (vs. Toyota). Tesla is an obviously quite different case.

Each name I think of activates car brands closely associated with them. Toyota activates (makes it easy to think of) Lexus, Nissan, Hyundai, and other Asian brands. Ford very strongly activates GM, its biggest domestic rival. Porsche activates Mercedes Benz, Miata, and Corvette (as sports cars), and Tesla, for me, is apt to bring up Prius.

Similarly, for computer files, I think of some files. But because I’m thinking about organizing them, what comes to mind are not individual files but types of files: text files, jpgs, apps, mp3s, Excel files, Powerpoint files, old .BAK files (the preceding version of a saved text file). Your example of types will be somewhat different.

But for each of the types on my list, particular files are activated. I just downloaded a jpg file that is a photo of me from about 1972. It’s in my “downloads” folder. I made a text (.txt) file of a brief essay on math that I’m composing. “Mp3” activates the song titles on my iPhone, for instance “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” which I just listened to. “Powerpoint” activates my files from all the OCON conferences that used them, and .BAK activates the vast knowledge I accumulated for my favorite old word processor (XyWrite), including its user-function file (ending in .u2).

For why capitalism is the only moral system, I think of Ayn Rand’s essays on this such as “Man’s Rights” (which then highly activates “The Nature of Government”). I activate many of the points made within those, such as that rights are rights to action—specifically to freedom of action—not to objects as such (no right to “a decent wage,” a doctor’s services, etc.). But I also need to think of real concretes: capitalist systems: notably 19th Century America, which increases the potentiation of many things, some relevant like Antitrust law, which was an abrogation of capitalism, some not particularly relevant such as billboards and Dagny’s comment on the people who dislike them.

I also need to think of negative instances: Soviet Russia, contemporary Iran, North Korea. And they activate a lot of other things, such as Gulags, Mullahs, no electric lights (darkness over North Korea when seen from space).

In all three cases (cars, files, social systems), I bring particulars to mind posing a question to myself: What are examples? Each example that comes to mind raises the potentiation of the things they are each connected to and to a lesser degree the things connected to them, and so on.

Here’s a common sense example of the whole thing. Imagine that you are a contestant on a TV Quiz Show like Jeopardy. A category is named. Let’s say it’s World Cuisines. How would you “warm up?”

That means: how would you activate the context, so that answers to specific questions are ready to pop into mind? Obviously you would quickly review them in your mind: “World cuisines? Well, there’s French, Chinese, Thai, Middle Eastern . . .”

“Warming up” means activating a context—using your conscious awareness to bring into mind things that are relevant. And each of those things is connected, neurally, to many other things—each of which gets a vicarious jolt of energy, as it were.

Everything you know is connected by some pathway or another to everything else you know. But the activation energy decreases with every node in the network that is crossed. (This fact is what I call “the raven,” keeping to black birds because we already have “the crow.”)

That’s enough for now. In a future post(s), I’ll deal with the other two procedures: clarification and challenge.

Hatred of Big Pharma

In a discussion on a medical website of rejuvenation research, I found one pretty good comment amidst the Pharma-haters, so I wrote this (edited here for clarity).

Thank you for posting the only rational comment I’ve seen in the sea of anti-science, anti-tech, anti-capitalist, anti-freedom comments preceding yours.

To demonize “Big Pharma” is an amazing and horrifying act of ingratitude for the minds that have kept us alive longer and healthier. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

And these people’s delusions about “greedy corporations” somehow keeping medical breakthroughs off the market show a comic-book level of thinking. Do they seriously think that the researchers who are toiling to reverse the aging process hate mankind? Do they think that researchers would withhold the de-aging treatment from their own families? And their own friends and colleagues? Then what about the friends and colleagues’ friends and families? And how would the knowledge, once discovered, be kept secret and hence kept off the market?

Why wouldn’t the inventors want to get fabulously wealthy from their discovery, which would require selling to the mass market?

People talk about greed meaning (somehow) selling these pills or shots or whatever only to the wealthy at very high prices. Yeah, I hope they do that at the start. Maybe they can find a thousand people willing to pay $1 million each to become young again.


Wouldn’t the greedy capitalists want to make another fortune by selling to 10,000 people at a $100,000 each?


How about greed leading them to want more, more, more? So, they drop the price by 90% again and sell it at $10,000 to a hugely wider public?

In a couple of years, the inventors’ greed will mean the de-aging treatment would be sold at Walmart and CVS for just above its costs of production (which incidentally, would be dropping due to economies of scale).

I say to the anti-greed crowd: don’t be greedy! Don’t expect to rip off the inventors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and chemical industry employees who are laboring mightily to save your lives and make you young again.

It would be unjust and immoral if we, who will have done precisely nothing to create this wondrous treatment, reap all the benefit, while those who worked decades to conceive it, bring it into existence, and get it to a mass market get virtually none.

A new fundamental subchoice

The primary volitional choice is to take charge of your mind or not—i.e., to focus or not. “Focusing your mind” is a broad abstraction; what are the basic acts you use when you are in focus?

To change the metaphor, the primary choice is to manage the operations of your mind or not. What are the basic tools of mental self-management?

It is clear that one basic volitional operation is directing your mind: enacting your purpose by giving attention to this or that. If the primary choice is to direct your attention at all, rather than letting go and letting what passes through your mind be determined by chance, short-range factors, this basic subchoice is taking the wheel and steering.

As I’ve discussed, “steering” involves the choice to either keep in focal awareness one or more of the items that are already in focal awareness, or to bring into focal awareness material of which one is less clearly or only dimly aware—things on the periphery of awareness. Further, the conceptual level gives man the possibility of actively seeking material that was completely out of awareness, being neither focal nor peripheral, through the use of words, concepts, propositions and reasons of which one is aware. Thus, I can order myself to think of animals in a zoo or how to play a C chord on a guitar or whether or not I should stop working now—none of which were in even the periphery of my awareness a minute ago.

But the choice of what to attend to presupposes the primary choice: to take charge of the operations of my mind, pursue a purpose, and work to attain full awareness of reality.

So, riding with a stray thought, apropos of nothing, just because it feels good to do so is not to make a choice at all, neither to focus nor to direct the object of one’s attention.

The choice of subject, of what to attend to, is something that I and others have “chewed” for many years. But a couple of days ago, I thought of another basic operation of consciousness that’s under direct, immediate volitional control: scope.

If the choice of subject is the choice of where to point the searchlight of your mind, the choice of scope is the choice of how broad or narrowly focused is that light.

You have the power to “zoom in” and to “pan back”—to narrow the beam to give more attention to a part or aspect of a subject or to widen the beam to get a wider, integrative view. When one pans back, the illumination per square inch (so to speak) drops, which causes particulars and details to be dropped, but the surrounding material is now given some attention.

Think of a map on your smartphone. For a given screen that is displayed, you can move north east south or west. But you can also spread your fingers on the screen, to get a closer view, or pinch your fingers on the screen to pan back and see more territory at once. And, as I’ve mentioned, moving in closer reveals more details or specifics; but pinching to get the larger-scale view brings the wider context into view.

The ability to control the scope of your attention in this way is crucial for your general sense of self-control. Indeed, it’s crucial to your experiencing your self, itself. And in terms of cognition, your control of the scope of your attention is a big factor in explaining the difference between examination and mere gazing.

An animal gazes at things, looks at things, but does not examine them. A human being, from early infancy, can use the ability to zoom in on an object to consider the basic question of all thought: What is it?

To answer that question, one has to both analyze and integrate—i.e., both zoom in to perceive parts (and, for an adult, to consider aspects) and to pan back to observe how the item relates to the wider context, how it fits into (or contradicts) the network of one’s knowledge.

In the Objectivist literature on free will, the point is emphasized that the choice of subject is not a primary: it depends upon one’s knowledge, interests, circumstances, and psycho-epistemology. The same is true of the choice of scope: whether one zooms in or pans back (or neither) depends on, but is not deterministically set by, the same factors. We are all familiar with this in detective shows. The detective notices some apparently innocuous detail that has been in the field of view of everyone, but given attention by none. But the reason the detective can choose to zoom in on it is that he has a background of knowledge and values. He would have had no purpose in doing so when he was two years old. Lacking the motivation, he could not have focused on it (except by wild chance) and even if he did — even if someone else showed the clue to him and asked him to think about it — he could have made nothing of it.

Adjusting the scope of one’s attention to match the requirements of gaining full awareness is a basic subchoice that one makes if one is in focus, pursuing knowledge, striving to deal with reality.

Step aside, Plato

I have been promising a book on Free Will for about a year, maybe more, so I think in good conscience I should give a progress report.

I haven’t yet decided whether the book will be on the free will—determinism debate (and thus be largely polemical) or will be a positive book explaining free will to the minds ready to seize the idea and improve their own lives.

If it’s the first, the title that seems to me the best marketing copy is:

  • The Free Will Book

If it’s the second, I have several leading candidates:

  • Control Your Mind, Control Your Life
  • Full Focus
  • To Think or not to Think, That Is the Question . . . of Free Will
  • The Fully Focused Life

(I favor the first of these.)

But more interesting, I think, is that I found a way to make the writing more pleasant. In fact downright enjoyable. I’m casting it, mainly or wholly, as a dialogue. (Which means I’m leaning to the polemical book.)

I have two characters, a man and a woman. They are identified only as “He” and “She.” The woman is the one with all the right answers. The man is well intentioned but has absorbed all the bromides of the culture. But he is refreshingly honest.

There’s an overlay of potential romance coloring their discussion. I’ll give you the opening “set up”:

He liked talking with her.


She never failed to startle him with a fresh perspective that challenged his comfortable assumptions. On so many topics, she would crush the safely conventional slogans he would float out. He liked that.


She cut through his verbiage. She gave no quarter, brooked no compromise. “If it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” she would always say. He liked that.


It didn’t hurt that while delivering the thrust home, she would show a slight smile, as if they were co-conspirators in some subversive scheme. Which, in a way, they were.


They had no agenda, but no matter what sparked the discussion, things always seemed to go back to the deepest questions—to philosophy. Today, a discussion beginning with the issue of Affirmative Action moved quickly to the issue of individualism vs. collectivism, and from there to one of the deepest and most consequential of all topics: free will.


Why I’m not a Republican

Sadly, I voted for Trump for President. I panicked over the idea of the Dems packing the Supreme Court, which Biden pointedly wouldn’t deny they’d do.

But after January 6th, I rescinded my vote. Which of course is impossible. But I did it “in software.”

Sometime later, I followed up by changing my voter registration from “Republican” to “Independent.”

Now, after the anti-Roe v. Wade decision, I don’t even want the Republicans to win the Senate. And it looks like the Republicans have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by this Supreme Court decision. It will definitely lessen, and maybe eliminate, their gains in the mid-term election.

(I know, the Supreme Court is not an organ of the Republican Party; the Justices have to rule as they think right. But Trump nominated judges who were expected to deny a woman’s right to her life.)

Trump is a traitor, and a very cheap one at that. In order to fan a ridiculous hope of staying in power, despite the election, he announced on election eve, that he knew, using his super-powers, that there had been fraud—enough fraud to make him the actual winner. God gave him a mystical vision of what really happened in all the key election headquarters in five states. He didn’t have to wait for any court determinations: he knew then and there what had happened.

He knew because he felt it.

He felt really strongly, in the deepest chambers of his heart, that the majority of American voters wanted him.  They loved him. They were wearing his MAGA hat. They didn’t care what he did or said, they loved him for himself. James Taggart could only envy Trump’s effusion “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” []

Therefore, when the vote tallies didn’t bear that out, it was proof, PROOF, that the tallies were rigged. A simple syllogism.

With an equally ardent mysticism, he announced repeatedly that despite the vote, he would be the President come inauguration day. And that’s why Jan. 6 happened. And that’s why he’s responsible for the assault on the Capitol by creatures from the age of Vandals and Visigoths.

Had he said that he accepts the people’s vote, that he follows the rule of law and the peaceful transfer of power, then there would have been no barbarian storming of the gates. Several people who died would still be alive. The Republican Party might have been a supportable party of opposition.

But Trump continued his ongoing war against reality, and now we are at the point that Ayn Rand warned us about when the protagonist was not a demented thug but that gentlemanly, soft-talking, avuncular figure, Ronald Reagan:

The kind of Halloween-like creatures who are trying to take over today’s intellectual arena were not created by the Reagan Administration; they exist in any period, in the dark, unventilated corners of history. But in the periods of philosophical default, they come crawling out into the full, open moonlight. Today they are organized under many pretentious names and slogans. The most presumptuous of the names is the “Moral Majority,” and the falsest of the slogans is the claim that they are “pro-life.” What all these people have in common is that they are militant mystics who have learned to be arrogant by encountering no opposition. Their common ideal, the unacknowledged embodiment of their political goals, is the man who has succeeded in uniting religion with politics and establishing a religious dictatorship; he is known as Ayatollah Khomeini.

No, the Reagan administration did not create those militant creeps—but it sponsors and supports them to an embarrassing extent. Mr. Reagan has been declaring that he agrees with some of their ugliest demands, such as the anti-abortion issue and the “creationism” issue. It is embarrassing to hear a president of the United States endorse the plain, crude, illiterate superstitions of the populace of the Middle Ages. [“The Age of Mediocrity,” Ford Hall Forum, April 26, 1981; reprinted in The Objectivist Forum, June 1981.]

The concrete occasion for writing this post is the FBI raid on Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago. Fox and Friends were outraged. Trump supporters assume that this is an attempt by a politicized FBI to keep Trump at bay, and prevent him from running in 2024.

Yet that theory is as nonsensical as its leftist counterpart. Remember when the Left was screaming that Bush knew all along that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? “He lied! He lied!”

But if he had known, why would he have launched a mission that would find nothing? Why would he set up a massive military effort that would show him to have been colossally wrong?

I asked a Leftist that, and he literally screamed at me, “Because he’s a MORON!”

Now, the Right is saying that the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago knowing that there was nothing of importance there to get in the raid—or at least without a solid reason to think they would find “documents of mass insurrection” or whatever.

But—entirely predictably—this has drastically improved Trump’s position. Why would the Left want to energize Trump’s base and undertake another failed attempt to discredit him (like the Christopher Steele fiasco)? I know . . . Because they’re MORONS!

No, you don’t do something as dramatic and theatrical and unprecedented to a man almost half the country already regards as a victim of governmental misconduct unless you either have to or you know what you are going to find.

(By the way, the denizens of Fox and Friends made the argument that “He was already cooperating with them,” because “He had already turned over many documents.” Yes, all the documents that are neither important nor incriminating. If he were holding back materials, that would have made the raid necessary. At least that’s the claim I’ve heard from the other side, and it’s the obvious claim that would have to be rebutted if you’re are going to say, “He was cooperating.”)

Sensational new book

Lifespan is one of the very, very few books that can be life-changing.

It is a report on the exciting developments in eliminating—and reversing—aging. And it’s written by one of the pioneers in the field, David Sinclair of Harvard and MIT.

Sinclair’s credentials are staggering. Here’s just part of them, from the book’s end matter:

a tenured professor of genetics, Blavatnik Institute, Harvard Medical School; co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging Research at Harvard; co-joint professor and head of the Aging Labs at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia; and an honorary professor at the University of Sydney. . . . He has published more than 170 scientific papers, is a coinventor on more than 50 patents, and has cofounded 14 biotechnology companies in the areas of aging, vaccines, diabetes, fertility, cancer, and biodefense.

This book was written in 2019, so it is fairly up to date. Its message is: age-reversal and hundreds of years added on to your lifespan is coming, it’s unstoppable, and it will be here soon.

Although he doesn’t stress it, the barriers are political not scientific or technological. Every nation in the world has an FDA-type government body devoted to stopping medical progress. As I understand it, in no country on earth can a researcher even inject himself with his own creation.

But there are loopholes and ways through the briar patch of controls. One such is to get an age-fighting or age-reversing substance approved as a treatment for one particular disease, say diabetes, and then use it “off label” as a general remedy.

Sinclair’s conclusion:

It’s also hard to know what I know, to see what I’ve seen—the results of experiments and other clinical trials around the world years before the rest of the world learns about them—and not believe that something profound is about to happen to humanity.

The value of this book is its evidence that we will get young again and its explanation of how and why. You’ll learn about “longevity genes,” animals that already live centuries, why aging is a (curable) disease not “just man’s fate,” the role of the “epigenome,” vigor-enhancing lifestyle changes you can make now, and good food supplements to take now (nothing weird).

I know you’re still skeptical, to put it mildly. So here is visual evidence:


The mice, as I understand it, are the same chronological age, but look how much younger the one on the right looks. Compare the hair on their backs, and their eyes.

I’m not sure if this particular mouse had looked older (like the one on the right) and then was de-aged, or it just has aged much more slowly. That’s an important distinction for some of us who are already the mouse on the left. But other studies with other treatments have shown mice de-aging.

Mice are mammals, like us. They are actually very good representatives of human biochemistry and physiology. And we’re talking about something fundamental, something having to do with how DNA works, not anything pertaining to how mice differ from men.

That picture is not from the book, but here’s a passage that is:

“David, we’ve got a problem,” a postdoctoral researcher name Michael Bonkowski told me one morning in the fall of 2017 when I arrived at the lab. . . . “The mice,” Bonkowski said, “They won’t stop running.”

The mice he was talking about were 20 months old. That’s roughly the equivalent of a 65-year-old human. We had been feeding them a molecule to boost the levels of NAD, which we believed would increase the activity of sirtuins. If the mice were developing a running addiction that would be a very good sign.

“But how can that be a problem?” I said. “That’s great news!”

“Well,” he said, “it would be if not for the fact that they’ve broken our treadmill.”

As it turned out, the treadmill tracking program had been set up to record a mouse running for only up to three kilometers. Once the old mice got to that point, the treadmill shut down. “We’re going to have to start the experiment again, Bonkowski said.

It took a few moments for that to sink in.

A thousand meters is a good, long run for a mouse. Two thousand meters—five times around a standard running track—would be a substantial run for a young mouse. . . . Yet these elderly mice were running ultramarathons.

The book has 50 pages of footnotes. I would skip Part III entirely—it’s on social political implications and he brings in his own political ideology, which is badly mixed (to put it optimistically).

There’s a co-writer, who’s a journalist and writer, not a scientist. The result is a very readable book.


Inflation: What people don’t understand

A symptom of the almost universal misunderstanding of inflation is the belief that people are unable to pay the inflated prices or at least are unhappy about paying them. They aren’t.

(I’m not talking now about that minor part of the price rises that are due to lessened production; that is a completely different matter—and is not inflation. The great bulk of today’s price rises are due to the government flooding the market with phony dollars—which is exactly what inflation is.)

As a first approximation, the general price level is determined by the ratio of the money supply to the volume of goods offered for sale—including services under “goods.” For simplicity, take services to be included under “goods.”)

(It’s a first approximation because the actual causal factor is people’s expectations about the future ratio, but the main thing shaping those expectations is the current ratio.)

Changes in the denominator of that ratio—i.e., changes in the quantity of goods offered for sale—are determined by factual conditions, such as the state of technology and whether or not there’s a war . . . or a pandemic. But things are fundamentally different in regard to changes in the numerator—i.e., changes in the quantity of fiat money. That’s based on the subjective, politically motivated rulings of government officials.

Incidentally, changes in the gold supply are in the category of objective phenomena, not politically dictated ones. So, in a gold-based system, changes in the gold supply cannot be taken as inflation or deflation.

Inflation is a government-created phenomenon by definition—i.e., by its fundamental difference from any objective, economically-governed occurrence.

For ease of communication with the public, I use the phrase “price inflation” to talk about the upward change in the general price level and “monetary inflation” to refer to inflation by a proper definition.

Then the point can be formulated as: monetary inflation causes price inflation.

That causal identification remains true despite the fact that a decline in production also causes price inflation. Here, “causes” means: “is one causal factor in creating.”

One causal factor can counteract another. And that has been the story, I believe, for the last 20 years: technology’s expansion of production has kept pace with the government’s expansion of the fiat money. The result has been: little price inflation—but with several other bad consequences, including a lower rate of progress.

Recently, however, the harm done by trillions showered down as “Covid relief” plus the decline in output due to shutdowns have overwhelmed technology’s advance.

Despite the shutdown’s interruption of production, the main cause of price inflation today is government’s monetary expansion. The money supply has maybe doubled (it’s nearly impossible to find any exact data), and the decline in production has been bad but not that bad. Remember, the U.S. government sent out thousands in the mail to virtually everyone. Plus there’s the Fed’s expansion through the banking system—which has been required to keep interest rates near zero for years and years.

So, if you are willing to grant that this price inflation is essentially due to monetary inflation, I can go on to make good on my opening point: high prices are high because people are happy to pay them.

Yes, of course, they would prefer to pay less, but the price at which any good is actually sold is the price someone is happy to pay. Yes, happy: the buyer is gaining a value. At the higher price, he would prefer to have the good rather than keep his dollars. That’s why anyone buys anything. In his judgment, paying the price will increase his well-being. It will make him better off. He’s glad to pay it.

The customer’s desire to pay is what pushes prices up.

It is claimed that sometimes costs push prices up. But that is wrong in two ways: 1) a cost is a price, so it can be pushed up only by the demand of the buyers—i.e., demand of the businesses who want to pay that cost, 2) the people who are paid the higher costs get more money per unit, so they can bid up prices for the final products.

For instance, there’s a labor shortage, so wages and salaries are going up. But they don’t go up unless the employer knows that he can pay more—i.e., he must expect to get more sales revenue, due to price inflation.

And when wages go up, the employees receiving the extra funds spend them mostly on consumer goods. So in most cases, the employers will indeed be able to sell at higher prices and get higher sales revenue. The whole change in prices is an adjustment of prices throughout the economy to the monetary expansion. It is not a change in the average person’s (short-term) well-being.

Psychologically, it seems like one is worse off when price inflation hits, because one has not adjusted to, say, $5-per-gallon gasoline. But the main reason gas is at that level is that people are bidding it up that high with the newly printed dollars they have been given by the government.

And consider: $5 per gallon is 5 times the price it was in 2002 (in Austin, TX). But the gold price today is 6 times higher than it was then. So, if you paid in gold, you would be getting more gas for your money today than in 2002. And much more than in 1962 (gold being 45 times higher). The gold-price of gas continues to fall.

The essential problem with monetary inflation is not rising prices. One essential problem is the forced sacrifice of some to others: those who don’t get or don’t spend the new money until later are sacrificed to those who get and spend it first. The other essential problem is inflation’s distortion of production. Inflation wrecks the plans of borrowers and lenders, especially the plans of those who borrowed to finance businesses.

The Austrian economists are right: inflation creates malinvestment. Inflation works by faking the cost of capital. By fooling people into thinking more factors of production are available than actually are, lots of never-to-be-profitable projects get undertaken, and there will have to be an eventual liquidation of the malinvestment. (This can be a rolling re-adjustment or a sudden crash.)

A fascinating issue here is the decisive role of inflation-expectations. The so-called “velocity of money” is actually the influence of anticipated inflation.

If the rate of monetary inflation were (impossibly) known with certainty for 100 years in advance, all market prices would reflect the anticipated effects and the adjustment would occur smoothly and painlessly. But then the monetary expansion would not have the effect the statists “planners” want it to have. To achieve its “stimulus” effect, the inflation has to surprise people, including bankers, financiers, traders—everyone. To “stimulate,” the government has to trick people, fool them, defraud them.

For example, if you’re a lender, you expect the money you lend to be worth a certain amount when it’s repaid. Your inflation-expectations guide your decisions. For the government to stimulate the economy, to call forth extra loans and extra investment, it has to fool the lenders and investors into thinking they have more real funds (as opposed to paper funds) than they do. They have to trick the lenders and investors into thinking the real value of their future return will be more than it actually will be.

Suppose you have $100 to lend. If you anticipate a 2% rate of inflation, then if you expect an investment to earn a risk-discounted 6%, you subtract that 2% and figure the nominal 6% is only a 4% real return. How does the government get you to lend more?

By sending you $1,000 in the mail. Now, if you don’t realize that the money is being depreciated by that act, then you are willing to invest, say, $100 out of that $1,000 if you can get a nominal 6% return. Well, maybe not 6% this time, because those high-return projects are already funded and also because you are not the only one with extra savings, thanks to the government’s check-mailing program. So you lend another $100 at 5.5%, let’s say. That’s still okay with you, as long as you expect the value of the money to depreciate only 2%.

But due to the check-mailing program, the value of the money depreciates more. Maybe 4%, maybe 8%. Suddenly you find that both of your loans have lost you money. If the cost of living has gone up 8% (as it has recently), your first $100 got you a 2% loss, and your second got you a 2.5% loss.

At that point, if they are concrete-bound, lenders subtract 8% from the nominal amount of dollars they will be repaid, and that means fewer loans, and that in turn means the bust cycle begins.

(I say, “concrete-bound,” because they are just reacting to the past concrete rather than realizing that the government will inflate at a higher rate to trick them into maintaining the false boom. Savvy traders know that 8% is yesterday’s rate, and that to avoid a recession, it’s likely that the government will inflate at much more than 8%. How much more, they can only guess.)

One wealth-protection strategy is to put money that would be going into productive ventures into “hard” assets such as real estate and gold. In the early stages of the price inflation, the stock market is a good bet, but in the later stages, when the chaos hits and businesses can’t plan, only hard assets preserve real value.

But before you rush to buy gold or make any other investment decision, remember Ludwig von Mises’ dictum: in order to make a higher-than-average rate of profit, you must know something that the market does not. And I think “the market” here means: the major players in the market, those whose decisions control the most funds—the Warren Buffets, the Blackrock Capitals, the Citibanks, the big hedge funds.)

To return to where we began, I hope it is now clear how superficial and silly is the oft-heard complaint: “The price of things has gotten to where people can’t buy them.” Prices are that high because people are buying them at that price. That’s the price things have been bid up to.

Give people more paper dollars and they are going to spend them.

A new proposal on gun-danger

A member gave voice to the way I used to think of it, until about 15 years ago:

In a civilized society, the use of force is banned except in emergency self-defense. In other words, gun ownership requires justification. Actions that do not involve force, such as crossing the border or using drugs, do not need justification, but acquiring a weapon does. One needs a reason to seek the means of killing people. And there is a justification: self-defense.

But one can’t say, “I just want to amass weapons and it’s none of anyone’s business.”

Then I came to view it more procedurally, so that I now think the issue is one of preventive vs. proper law.

Here’s the procedural issue. Congress or regulatory agencies should not be debating over and making lists of controlled vs. uncontrolled substances and objects. Not even for bioweapons. That is not the way to write law. Every time a new substance is synthesized, should its inventor have to get clearance from every state and the federal government?

Rather, it is illegal to injure someone or damage his property. And it is illegal to threaten damage, i.e., to give any man objective reason to fear that damage may be coming to him.

The burden of proof is on the person claiming that someone’s purchases and/or activities pose an objective threat. But all of the cases people are worried about meet that test. E.g., some random citizen wants to store dynamite in his basement (which adjoins yours), someone buys a bioweapon, an 18-year-old boy buys an AR-15 and a lot of ammo for it. Those things would scare anyone. And the police can intervene without there being some law against those concretes.

The principle I’ve come to accept is that you don’t illegalize objects, you illegalize acts.

If I walk a rabid pit-bull on a thin leash on the city sidewalk, I’m properly going to be stopped by the police (if it comes to their attention). But to get this result, you don’t need laws against walking rabid pit bulls or regulations relating the weight of the dog walked to the strength of the leash used, you just have law about being responsible for harm caused by an animal you own.

The only counter-argument that I can think of is the idea that we can prevent crimes or prevent mass killings by outlawing certain objects. Specifically, that argument would be: even if the police would act when they saw what was happening, that’s too little too late: let’s stop these weapons from ever getting into the hands of a potential spree killer.

My answer is two-fold:

  1. At what cost? Minimizing crime, even massacres like the Uvalde shooting, is not the most important thing to consider. Preventing dictatorship is far more important. So is preventing civil war/anarchy. But accepting the principle of preventive law leads toward dictatorship. Having government boards to determine which new invention belongs on “the list” serves as the entering wedge for an ever-growing, ever-more-stultifying bureaucracy.
  2. It doesn’t work. Assault-weapon prohibition will have the same failure as alcohol and drug Prohibition.

One consequence of all these Prohibitions is the funding of criminals; they get to make huge profits by supplying the banned substance.

Here’s a novel suggestion. Assume that a certain object really shouldn’t be sold to a certain kind of buyer. E.g., assume that the regulations you want to write would have illegalized selling the AR-15 used in Uvalde to the shooter, Ramos. Assume that the wrongness of this 18-year-old boy getting such a weapon is obvious. Okay, then the parents could sue the gun dealer who sold it to Ramos.

Don’t illegalize the object. Don’t even illegalize the sale of the gun to a kid. Just let the seller know that he will be held liable for any wrongful use of the weapon.

That arrangement enlists the seller’s mind on the side of man’s well-being.

P.S. Subsequent discussion in the HBL Members Forum made me realize that my wording of the proposal left it open to imposing “strict liability.” I should have said: “Just let the seller know that he will be held liable for any wrongful use of the weapon, provided it is shown in court that he was negligent to have made that sale.

You can’t eat gold, but . . .

This is a column I wrote for in 2013

In Praise of Gold

Keynes sneered at it. Preachers damn it. Bitcoin dreams of transcending it. But free men inevitably choose it. Gold.

Whenever men have had a free, uncoerced choice of the medium of exchange, gold has won the competition, along with its sister element, silver.

Why? Only in recent times has gold had any utilitarian value. The Ancient Egyptians couldn’t use it in computers, but they prized it nonetheless, as did the faraway Aztecs and the Chinese. Men in every place and time have valued gold.

Why? Of what use is gold? You can’t eat it.

No, and you can’t eat a Rembrandt, either. A Chopin Ballade is not something you can eat, drink, or ride in.

It may surprise the spiritualists who damn gold to hear this, but gold, like music and painting, is a spiritual value. Gold is a value because it is radiantly beautiful. It is the esthetic pleasure gold brings that makes men esteem it.

Other of gold’s inherent attributes fit it to be the money commodity, but let’s pause to answer the great unanswered question: what is beauty?

Beauty is intelligibility—a sensory-level version of intellectual intelligibility. What looks beautiful or sounds beautiful is what features an intelligible pattern formed out of pure, simple elements.

Why the pleasure in pattern-recognition? Men’s lives depend upon their minds. The essential mental work that is required is integration: finding the one in the many, the theme behind the variations, the principle behind the concretes. But transforming a bewildering plurality into a clearly understood unity often means going through a difficult, doubt-ridden process. So, there is a definite delight in the easy, doubt-free microcosm provided by sensory pattern-recognition.

I’m generalizing here from what Ayn Rand wrote about why music moves us emotionally:

“Music offers man the singular opportunity to reenact, on the adult level, the primary process of his method of cognition: the automatic integration of sense data into an intelligible, meaningful entity. To a conceptual consciousness, it is a unique form of rest and reward.”

Beauty has been called “unity in variety.” The beautiful is that which features clear elements made into a clear, consistent whole.

The clear elements can be pure musical tones, or it can be shining pieces of gold. The pattern is supplied by fashioning musical tones into a melody or pieces of gold into jewelry, or into gold leaf to make the pattern it coats glisten. Gold nuggets are only the means; the end is a lustrous, intelligible esthetic object.

The other aspect of gold is its unique purity—purity both in its color and in its incorruptibility. In a world that features decay along with growth, degeneration along with too-rare improvement, gold’s imperishable, radiant luster offers the experience of purity, of unfailing reliability, and of stainless consistency. Gold remains gold; it does not tarnish or rust.

Thus, gold is not “a barbarous relic” (Keynes) or “filthy lucre” (preachers) but an objective esthetic value, a value rooted in the nature of how our minds work and in the need for incorruptible moral integrity. Why are wedding bands made of gold? Because gold is the symbol of remaining pure and true.

Gold jewelry is just as objective a value as utilitarian goods, such as bread or automobiles. But those goods provide value by being consumed—by being used up. You eat bread and it is gone. You drive a car and it wears out. Gold is almost unique in being an Unconsummable Consumable. Like Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, gold provides value without being itself affected.

The oft-heard sneer, “You can’t eat gold” expresses a cynical materialism. Both artistic beauty and sensory beauty have their source in the nature of man as a conceptual being, a being who must use concepts and reasoning to survive and prosper. Animals cannot respond to artworks, or to the beauty of a brilliant sunset, or to the radiant, patterned purity of gold jewelry.

The objection “You can’t eat gold” confesses a mind-body dichotomy. In fact, material value requires spiritual value, and vice-versa. For man, “value” always involves a spiritual component. Even to value food, a man has to want to live—which takes an inner resolve to fight for his own happiness.

Gold is the ultimate expression of mind-body integration. It is denigrated as “crassly material” because it is beautiful—i.e., because gold is a spiritual value.

“You can’t eat gold” turns things upside down: gold is extra valuable because you can’t use it up. Gold as an Unconsummable Consumable does not have to be replenished. The gold jewelry of Ancient Egypt retains its value, bringing renewed pleasure to museum visitors daily. Because gold is, like a Rembrandt painting, an object of contemplation, it is used without being used up.

All this is why gold has monetary value. Because gold is of imperishable, objective value, it can serve as a store of value. And given that base (which bitcoin lacks), gold’s other inherent properties make it uniquely suited to serve as a medium of exchange. Unlike salt, gold has a high unit value. Unlike iron, gold does not rust. Unlike diamonds, gold can be easily divided into very small pieces without losing value. Unlike a computer chip, gold is homogeneous. And because it is ductile and malleable, gold can easily be fashioned into jewelry and gold leaf.

Salt and cigarettes have served as money, but their value rests upon their ultimately being consumed, which destroys them in the process. Gold can be used as money without ever being used up, without needing to be re-produced.

You don’t have to eat gold to get objective value from it. Beauty, though not material, is a rational, objective value, because its sensory beauty provides a spiritual pleasure.

Gold has esthetic value and—as men’s free choices demonstrate—monetary value. That is the power and the glory of gold.

16 years of wrong Gore

It was in January of 2006 that Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was released. The film predicted looming climate disaster. What happened? Nothing.

This is what I don’t understand about the “common man.” He knows, or should know, that he has been told for either his whole life or the biggest part of it that monstrous, cataclysmic planetary disaster was looming. The drumbeat started in about 1969. Back then it was pollution and overpopulation, with a little climate hysteria on the side.

The cover of Newsweek, of January 26, 1970, featured a picture of Earth from space with arrows of destruction attacking it from all sides. The cover text was “The Ravaged Environment.” It contained a warning about climate change—both warming and a new ice age.

What happened? Well, some claim that the catastrophe has been pushed back a little by the measures we took. What measures? Well, recycling. And the Clean Air Act and the establishment of the EPA, they say.

But that doesn’t hold up at all. It’s impossible to believe that these trivial things in the United States change the monumental forces that were supposedly going to end life on this planet.

And how do people deal with the fact that, aside from the interminable back and forth in the scientific debate, everybody knows that nothing significant has happened to climate in the past 100 years?

I mean, who doesn’t know the following? Paris in 1922 had weather indistinguishable from Paris 2022. Same for Sydney, Buenos Aires, Miami, Los Angeles, Jakarta, Vienna, Oslo, Calgary, Bombay, Honolulu, Wellington, Juneau, Moscow, Santiago, Helsinki . . . you name it.

But, but, but . . . they sputter . . . what about the melting of the ice caps? What about rising sea levels?

I’m not going to cite scientific facts (though I’m sorely tempted to) but just ask: is there anywhere on any coastal city where sea-level rise over the last 100 years has been a problem? Have the low-lying streets of San Francisco, New York, Miami, etc., been flooded?

How about changes that affect anybody since Al Gore’s thundering “sky is falling” film? Nope. There must have been some changes somewhere that at least came to the attention of local residents. Someone on HBL said the growing season in his area has lengthened a bit. But where is the apocalypse?

If there had been a looming disaster 16 years ago (or 52 years ago), shouldn’t it be at least noticeable by now? Since it has not been noticeable, wouldn’t the rational thing to be now exhibiting increasing skepticism about climate disaster? Yet that’s not what we see.

Words speak louder than actions

Ayn Rand wrote,

There is nothing so naïve as cynicism. A cynic is one who believes that men are innately depraved, that irrationality and cowardice are their basic characteristics, that fear is the most potent of human incentives—and, therefore, that the most practical method of dealing with men is to count on their stupidity, appeal to their knavery, and keep them in constant terror.

The corollary is: there is nothing so practical and realistic as moral integrity. There is nothing so powerful as principled, uncompromising moral judgment.

That’s why the world’s unusually forceful condemnation of Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine may lead to his downfall. And why rather than emboldening Xi, the morally righteous damnation of the invasion seems already to be throwing Xi into retreat-mode.

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Putin’s invasion. More important were the condemnations from private American firms like Apple, Shell Oil, Boeing, ExxonMobil, and Netflix, to name a few.

Words speak louder than actions. This reversal of the traditional saying follows from the understanding that men’s actions are dictated by the ideas they hold. The traditional order—actions speak louder than words—is valid, but its application is to judging what ideas actually drive an individual. If he says, “We should do X” but secretly does Y instead, we know his actual belief is that Y is more important than X.

But on a national scale, what counts is not the judgment of any given person’s honesty and sincerity, but the evaluation of the actions and the identification of its premises.

No dictator can stay in power once he loses a moral sanction. If a man like Putin comes to be viewed as evil by the people he is trying to rule, he is lucky to elude the guillotine.

Monetary sanctions mean little. Moral sanction means everything. And I’m referring to moral judgment that is clear, rational, and convincing. That isn’t hard in the present case of a bloody, murdering, ex-KGB man who runs a giant slave pen.