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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.

Delegated rights are not surrendered

Recently there’s been some discussion about the delegation of rights to the government, and some have expressed concern about the need to retain rights (especially the right to self-defense) rather than delegate them.

But that is a wrong notion of “delegation.” The meaning of “delegation” is the authorization of someone to act as your agent. Think of delegating a task to an employee. I’ve delegated the task of proofreading the posts, especially mine, to Stephanie Bond. In no way does that mean I have lost the right to proofread!

Likewise, when I delegate to the government my right of self-defense, I don’t lose that right.

Objection: But don’t you lose the right to apprehend and punish those who initiate force against you?

Answer: No, because I never had that right. In “the state of nature,” the state before government, it was moral, given certain circumstances, for a man to forcibly punish another, but it was never a right. You have no right to threaten another individual, but that’s what acting as your own judge, jury, and executor would be doing.

All that “delegating your rights to the government” means is: authorizing a third party (the government) to protect your rights more powerfully than you could and, crucially, to do so in a way that will not be threatening to others, because they will not have to guess at the motivation and reliability of some exponent of “frontier justice.”

You retain the rights that you delegate to the state.

A humble moment of pride

As I said in another post, I recommend using New Year’s Eve as a time to review and write down your accomplishments over the year. When I did that, I realized that I wanted to take public note of the fact that in my OCON 2021 talk, I made a sizeable contribution to the cause of freedom.

My talk identified, defended, and applied what I believe to be a new point in political philosophy: all government regulation is wrong. The title of the talk was “All Regulation Is Over-Regulation”—playing off the lame conservative desire to “cut the red tape” and pare back “unnecessary regulations.”

You may object: “Wait, lots of people for a long time have said that government shouldn’t intervene in the economy.” Yes, but my talk was much wider than that. It didn’t cover just economic interventionism, and it defined the whole issue in terms of what is force, what is the threat of force, and what makes for an objective threat. Consequently, I see the same principle in far-flung issues: gun control, immigration control, building codes, food and drug regulations.

I stressed that evidence of potential harm has to be about specific individuals, drawing upon this passage in OPAR:

information about the capacities of a species is not evidence supporting a hypothesis about one of its members. From “Man is capable of murder” one cannot infer “Maybe Mr. X is the killer we are seeking.”

However, it was the following statement of hers that inspired me, and it was in my notes to quote in the talk, but somehow I overlooked it.I don’t think you can find anything in Ayn Rand dealing with all regulation, regulation per se, rather than just economic controls.

the legal hallmark of a dictatorship [is] preventive law–the concept that a man is guilty until he is proved innocent by the permissive rubber stamp of a commissar or a Gauleiter.


“Who Will Protect Us from our Protectors?” The Objectivist Newsletter, May 1962

Looking at issues from the standpoint of whether or not they constitute preventive law is immensely clarifying.

I will check on whether ARI is selling the recording of “All Regulation Is Over-Regulation.”

Biden talks with the dictator

Is there any non-Objectivist commentator who is not a Peter Keating? Keating’s psychology is the only thing that can explain the insane view that cozying up to homicidal maniacs, such as the Chinese dictator, is going to “improve relations.”

I’ve been politically aware for over half a century, and throughout that time I’ve seen nothing but praise for “talks” and “summits” and “relaxing tensions” with the evil.

Actually, I can think of one man who understands the real situation. It is one of the Soviet dissidents, I think Natan Sharansky, but maybe it was Gary Kasparov, who tried to explain to American audiences that the policy decisions of Soviet leaders were motivated by a single need: to keep the populace from overthrowing them. He explained how the leaders live in constant fear of an uprising from the people whom they are victimizing.

But that is from a different universe than the one our Keating officials and Keating commentators inhabit. In their cosmos, smiles and frowns are the means of inducing others to produce the desired behavior.

Once President Xi comes to understand us and see that we have the same underlying concerns as . . . wait, he does understand us and that’s why he hates us.

The philosophical input to this understanding-means-peace approach and the (always refuted) belief that “quiet diplomacy” can work is Kant. He is the philosopher who “taught” us that formal structure and process are all that matter, that we deal only with appearances, never with what an entity is. His philosophy leads to ignoring the nature of the entities that act, so we don’t have to hold in mind that our co-summiteer is a murderous villain.

Values as threats

I posted the fascinating email exchange that a member had with a union organizer. One of the organizer’s claims commits a form of the equivocation between the dollar and the gun—i.e., between economic power and political power.

It has helped me to a deeper understanding of the equation of the dollar with the gun: it is the fallacy of regarding the values achieved by others as a threat to oneself.

When named that way, it sounds bizarre—except psychologically, where we do understand it. Psychologically, the envy-ridden loser fears and hates the achievements of others because those achieved values confront him with his own self-made failures.

Values as threats is the meaning of the union organizer’s claim that workers need collective bargaining to gain “bargaining power.” Otherwise the employer has all the bargaining power.

This kind of stuff works by cartoon thinking:


You can’t see there the face of the supplicating “little guy.” But we all know the image of “the downtrodden” from the movie of “Grapes of Wrath”:


The employer’s “power” is the power of the dollar, not the power of the gun. It is the power to offer payment. It’s the power to offer some of one’s achieved values in trade. It’s the power to pay you.

But what about “bargaining power”? Presumably, that’s a greater ability to dictate the terms of an exchange.

Logically, all trades are win-win.

Morally, there’s no principle concerned with comparing the wins of each party. The outcome of buyer gaining ten times what the seller gains is just as moral as the reverse. And rarely acknowledged is that everyone is both buyer and seller.

Economically, negotiations for business expenses such as wages and salaries are not governed by emotions (greed or pity), but by the facts (the worker’s contribution to production). But in the sticky spider web of Leftist economics behind the “bargaining power” conception, let me set the metaphysics right-side up.

If “bargaining power” means the ability to fine-tune the terms of the deal in one’s favor, then the poorer you are, the greater your bargaining power.

No, that’s not a typo. If we’re talking about an individual deal made between a rich person and a poor one, then dollar for dollar the poor man has greater power.

Why? It has to do with the proportionality of the value of a dollar.

To a billionaire, $1000 is essentially nothing. It’s one one-millionth of his wealth. That’s below his threshold of even thinking about (see my post on thresholds).

To a person of middle income, $1000 is a figure to be reckoned with. It is maybe a week’s income.

To a penniless immigrant, $1000 is everything.

So you want to trade with people much, much richer than you. The poorer person has an advantage: amounts of money that are big to him are small to the wealthy—and the wealthier they are, the smaller that amount of money is to them.

Everyone knows this on some level. If you want to sell your services as a chauffer, are you more likely to be hired by someone as poor as you or someone wealthy? And if you are hired, is it more in your financial interest to work for the comfortably wealthy or for the super-rich?

The less wealth you have compared to your potential trading partner, the more bargaining power you have.

The values possessed by others are what they have to pay you with. The more they have, the better for you. Out of sheer, naked greed, you should wish everyone to get rich. You should want them to have so many cars, yachts, homes, computers, and rockets to space that they wouldn’t at all mind giving one or two to you.

Remember the old expression, “He’d give you the shirt off his back”? That was from a time when you couldn’t just call an Uber to take you to a nearby Walmart to buy a replacement shirt for $15. What made the difference? We’ve got more stuff—and more ability to make still more stuff. All of us have a whole lot more wealth.

The fact that others have earned a lot of values is immensely valuable to you.

Back to the union organizer on a different aspect: the issue of individual, one-to-one hiring vs. collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining decreases your bargaining power.

If you are negotiating one-to-one with someone hiring you, you can ask for more than the average. If your ability is above average, you’ll probably get it. But if the employer has to deal with all of his employees as a block, you can’t get more than the average.

This supplies the answer to a question that puzzled me about this passage in Atlas:

“We all have the same problems, the same interests, the same enemies. We waste our energy fighting one another, instead of presenting a common front to the world. We can all grow and prosper together, if we pool our efforts.” “Against whom is this Alliance being organized?” a skeptic had asked. The answer had been: “Why, it’s not ‘aga inst’ anybody. But if you want to put it that way, why, it’s against shippers or supply manufacturers or anyone who might try to take advantage of us. Against whom is any union organized?”

“That’s what I wonder about,” the skeptic had said.

For many decades I couldn’t figure out against whom unions are organized. Now I see the answer: collective bargaining is aimed at those with higher-than-average ability. If the aim is to force the employer to pay one wage rate for everyone having the same “seniority,” then the employer can’t discriminate on the basis of productiveness.

This means the more productive are forced to subsidize the less productive.

Of course, some unions don’t operate that way. And all unions do some things, however sporadic and meager, to provide real benefits to all that are not a part of the aforementioned “leveling.” Those things don’t change the fact that collective bargaining reduces the rewards for those with greater productive ability.

Not only is that disgustingly unjust, it holds back the rise in living standards across the economy.

So you see that underneath the simple claim that workers need to organize in order to pose a counterforce to the huge bargaining power of the fat cats, there is an entire, inverted, irrational philosophy.


My work on the philosophy of mathematics has sparked a recognition of a new epistemological-ethical principle: establishing thresholds is essential to success in thought and action.

A “threshold” is a lower bound of significance–a degree below which something has too little cognitive or existential impact to be entertained.

For instance, your chance of buying a winning lottery ticket or of getting hit by falling space debris is sub-threshold, so you should take no action based on that and give it no thought (beyond the judgment that these events are sub-threshold).

This supplements the Objectivist understanding of the arbitrary. The arbitrary has no evidence and is asserted on the premise of “evidence—who needs it?!” Entertaining the arbitrary is treating imagination as if it were cognition.

But the sub-threshold is different. “You have a 1 in 12 million chance of winning this lottery” is put forward on the basis of mathematics, not emotion. One could argue that by implication acting on this mathematics is emotionalist, but that presupposes the point about thresholds that I’m going to make: to grant significance to things with too little evidence or too little value is to engage in context dropping.

What context is dropped? The context of all the other things that have, in the mathematical sense, a 1 in 12 million chance of happening. There’s a a much better chance (1 in 2.6 million) chance of being dealt a royal straight flush in poker, so before one buys that lottery ticket one would have to consider betting the limit, sight unseen, on the next poker hand. There’s no doubt at least a 1 in 12 million chance that while you are in the store to buy the lottery ticket, an armed robber will enter and you will get shot. There’s a 1 in 12 million chance that you will receive a fortune in the near future in some other way. There’s a 1 in 12 million chance you will be struck by lightning, that building you are in will collapse, that a talent scout will decide you are have just the right look for a certain role in the next blockbuster movie. Etc.

There are far too many things to think about and do if all sub-threshold chances are to be taken as significant. And in practice what happens is that whatever fantastically unlikely scenario is talked up becomes the one that is treated as if it were the only one.

Many people are impressed, for instance, with the thousands of cases of, alleged or real, bad reactions to the Covid vaccines. But they have forget that one thousand bad outcomes out of one billion vaccinations is one in a million. And they drop the context of the greater than one in a million chance of experiencing severe medical problems from being unvaccinated and contracting Covid.

Thresholds are contextual. A very slight chance of getting a cold is, for most people, negligible. The same chance of dying is quite significant. At the end of We the Living, we see Kira taking a high degree of risk trying to escape Soviet Russia, because the alternative was unthinkable.

It is important, therefore, to determine whether a given degree of evidence (and when to count statistics as evidence) or a given degree of value or disvalue is entitled to one’s attention.

In mathematics, I promote the concept of “nil,” which is a magnitude that isn’t zero but is too small to detect or too small to matter—to matter in application.

For instance, in measuring rugs for your home, the threshold length may be a half foot, it may be an inch, it could even be an eighth of an inch. But it cannot be a millionth of an inch. But in measuring the size of molecules that can cross a given cell membrane, a millionth of an inch may make all the difference.

There’s the flip side of “too small too matter”: so big that increases don’t matter. This is the rational meaning of “infinity” in one sense of that term. Something is infinitely big if additions to it make no difference. (In effect, for any n, ∞+n — ∞ = nil.)

It is good to apply thresholds to establish what’s “enough.” Perfectionism is precisely the error of dropping the context and thinking any improvement, no matter how small, is significant. For the perfectionist, infinity is never reached; his work is never good enough, because there’s always more polishing of it that can be done. (As an advocate of contextual perfection, I must add that the charge of “perfectionism” is often hurled at those who simply demand more of themselves and others than the accuser wishes they did.)

Perfectionism is the same issue as thinking one “just might” win the lottery: it’s failing to consider what the operative threshold of significance implies as to other things. Yes, by spending more time editing this post, I could add some to its value; but what are the other things I could be using that time for? Yes, by working an extra hour longer a billionaire probably can make an extra $1,000 dollars. But what else could he be expending that hour on? Are the selfish rewards of increasing his wealth from $1,000,000,000 to $1,000,001,000 greater than the selfish rewards of dinner with friends? Improving his tennis game? Thinking about a philosophic topic, such as the need to set thresholds?

The point is not what answer one gives to those judgments; the point is the need to face these issues consciously and deal with them rationally.

Note that overconcern with the threshold being “exactly” right is itself a violation of the threshold principle. In the region of the threshold, small differences are way sub-threshold. Suppose our billionaire is trying to set a monetary threshold for what amount of money begins to matter to him. Suppose his estimate is: $1,000. Anything below that is, to him, what less than a penny is to us. But then he wonders: “Maybe my threshold should be $1200 per hour. But $200 has to be nil to him. The difference for him between a threshold of $1,000 and $1200 isn’t, for him, worth worrying about. It would be like, for us, worrying about the difference between a penny and 1.2 pennies.

So, thresholds are normally approximate, because differences close to the threshold make no difference.

Between “nothing’s there” and “something’s there, what do I do about it?” there is a third condition: “something is there, but it’s too little to devote any of my scarcest resource—time—to thinking about or dealing with.”

Vaccine skepticism is arbitrary

Belief in something without evidence is invalid. It leads to total skepticism, which in turn opens the door to mysticism (if nothing can be known for certain, you are “free” to indulge in whatever nonsense you like).

Doubt of something for which there is conclusive evidence is also arbitrary. “I have no counterevidence, but just maybe . . .” is fully as wrong as “I have no evidence, but just maybe . . .”

Let’s apply this to Covid vaccines. I will limit it to the mRNA vaccines of Moderna and Pfizer because I know most about them and they are the most commonly used ones (at least in my survey of HBLers).

The safety and efficacy of the mRNA Covid vaccines are established beyond any reasonable doubt. Remaining doubts are either uninformed or unreasonable. Here are some of the facts that make up the conclusive evidence.

1. The mRNA vaccines are known to be safe, from our understanding of how they work biochemically, how they performed in the clinical tests on 50,000 people, and what has happened to the more than 100 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated with them, which means 200 million shots administered.

What have been the bad results? [Sound of crickets.]

If you inject anything, even a saline solution, into 100 million people, there will be a few subsequent (not necessarily consequent) bad experiences. How many have there been to the mRNA vaccines? I don’t know, but it can’t be many or it would be all over Fox News.

Let’s say that there have been 1000 non-transitory bad results, which we could say are possibly caused by the vaccine. That means a random person in the U.S. has a 1 in 100,000 chance of a bad result. Can there be a rational worry about facing those odds? No.

2. Your doctor, I bet, wants you to get the vaccine. Dr. Amesh Adalja, the Objectivist infectious disease specialist, is strongly pro-vaccine.

3. 637,000 Americans have died from Covid, so if we do the same kind of individual-blind statistics I did in step (1), we get your chance of dying from Covid as 1 in 1900 (vs. not death but some kind of serious trouble with the vaccine for 1 in 100,000). Yes, you can say this kind of raw division of numbers doesn’t take account of individual differences, but that doesn’t help: healthy, vigorous, young people will do better with the shots just as they will do better in not dying from Covid.

4. Are there long-term effects of mRNA that will show up years later? No, it does not get inside the cell nucleus and it degrades quickly.

Facts about COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines

They cannot give someone COVID-19.

–mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19.

They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.

–mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept.

–The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions.

Now that is from the CDC, but it’s not contested or controversial.

5. The CEOs of both Pfizer and Moderna got shots of their own vaccines. This by itself is strong evidence of safety. It’s impossible to think that a layman following internet chatter knows as much about these vaccines as the CEOs of Moderna and Pfizer.

Here are a couple more facts to consider from the University of Alabama website, beginning with a statement by the director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

“Many people worry that these vaccines were ‘rushed’ into use and still do not have full FDA approval — they are currently being distributed under Emergency Use Authorizations,” Goepfert said. “But because we have had so many people vaccinated, we actually have far more safety data than we have had for any other vaccine, and these COVID vaccines have an incredible safety track record. There should be confidence in that.”

Unlike many medications, which are taken daily, vaccines are generally one-and-done. Medicines you take every day can cause side effects that reveal themselves over time, including long-term problems as levels of the drug build up in the body over months and years.

“Vaccines are just designed to deliver a payload and then are quickly eliminated by the body,” Goepfert said. “This is particularly true of the mRNA vaccines. mRNA degrades incredibly rapidly. You wouldn’t expect any of these vaccines to have any long-term side effects. And in fact, this has never occurred with any vaccine.”

This adds up to a case as strong as the case against OJ Simpson. Maintaining, in the face of that evidence, that the vaccines are unsafe is like maintaining there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Simpson.

Should you be non-confrontational in arguing for Objectivist ideas?

Is it a good strategy to be avoid confrontation in arguing for Objectivist ideas, so as not to set off your discussant’s defenses?

You can’t answer that question as stated. First, make this crucial distinction: ideas vs. people.

In criticizing ideas, such as altruism, you need to be forceful and call a spade a spade. This includes being clear and objective: defining altruism in terms of self-sacrifice, duty, etc., and giving reasons for your conclusion.

In other words, you would not in conversation or to an audience or in writing say something like, “Altruism’s not my cup of tea.” No, you would make such points that altruism means the surrender of your values for the benefit of anyone who is non-you, that altruism has been the justification for every modern dictatorship, that full sacrifice of your values means your death. You would point out that there has been no argument ever given as to why we should sacrifice.

That’s being “confrontational” in regard to the idea of altruism. But it would be wrong to attack the person you are talking to: “You are an altruist and therefore are on the death premise.”

If you regard the person or people that you are talking to as evaders, as seriously immoral, then you should not be talking to them.

Conversely, if you are talking to them, it has to be on the premise that they respect rational arguments and that you share some starting point with them.

It’s neither practical nor morally proper to discuss ideas with those who reject reason.

So, it’s a mistake to think you have to be “non-confrontational” in discussing your ideas. That’s coming at it from the wrong perspective. You should give reasons for true, positive ideas and condemn and invalidate the wrong ideas. But your discussant or your audience has to be taken as open to reason and sharing with you some rational values if you are going to have or continue a discussion of ideas with them.

Confront the ideas not your audience.

Identity and Motion

The following is reprinted from the “Q & A Department” of The Objectivist Forum, December 1981. It was inspired by a private discussion with Ayn Rand on this issue. Subsequently, she read this piece and expressed no disagreement with any of it.—Harry Binswanger

Q: Does the law of identity imply that at every instant in time a moving object must be located at a definite point in space?

A: No. The law of identity implies that there are no such things as “instants in time” or “points in space”—not in the sense assumed in the question.

Every unit of length, no matter how small, has some specific extension; every unit of time, no matter how small, has some specific duration. The idea of an infinitely small amount of length or temporal duration has validity only as a mathematical device useful for making certain calculations, not as a description of components of reality. Reality does not contain either points or instants (in the mathematical sense).

By analogy: the average family has 2.2 children, but no actual family has 2.2 children: the “average family” exists only as a mathematical device.

Now consider the manner in which the question ignores the context and meaning of the concepts of “location” and “identity.”

The concept of “location” arises in the context of entities which are at rest relative to each other. A thing’s location is the place where it is situated. But a moving object is not at any one place—it is in motion. One can locate a moving object only in the sense of specifying the location of the larger fixed region through which it is moving during a given period of time.

For instance: “Between 4:00 and 4:05 p.m., the car was moving through New York City.” One can narrow down the time period and, correspondingly, the region: but one cannot narrow down the time to nothing in the contradictory attempt to locate the moving car at a single, fixed position. If it is moving, it is not at a fixed position.

The law of identity does not attempt to freeze reality. Change exists: it is a fact of reality. When a thing is changing, that is what it is doing, that is its identity for that period. What is still is still. What is in process is in process. A is A.

Pandemic Post Mortem

Unless some of the mutant strains are able to elude many of the vaccines—which I doubt—the pandemic is over.

New cases have plunged to one third of their peak value. The 7-day moving average was as high as 255,000 new cases and is now (February 16th) about 82,000. This is not well reported, because “Things are returning to normal” is like “Dog bites man.”

So, now is a good time to look back and assess what happened.

This was a nature-made disaster. But its harm was so magnified by government that one has to view the bulk of the suffering and deaths as due to disastrous government policy.

Above all, responsibility for the destruction has to be assigned to the FDA.

There are five levels here.

Level 1. The FDA as such

Had there been no FDA for the last 50 or 100 years, it is beyond question that medicine would have been so radically advanced that no virus could have created a pandemic. One factor accelerating medical progress would, of course, be the elimination of the years or decade of time wasted waiting for bureaucrats to permit offering medications on the market.

But the much more potent accelerator would be the Big Data doctors and researchers would get if the public were permitted to ingest whatever they wanted to. A huge pool of mini-experiments like that gives rise to quantum leaps of progress.

If a government bureau, like the FDA, wants to issue recommendations, that’s one thing. But it’s something else entirely when they seek to gain control over your health decisions. By what right, and at what cost, does a government agency stop you by force from taking the medication you think best?

And it is force: government is the agency whose rulings are mandatory, being enforced by the police. Government is the social institution in charge of the use of physical force within its territory. Laws are not suggestions or recommendations.

No individual has the right to use force to stop you from taking a medication, and neither do 100 million individuals, and neither do the politicians who appoint the panel of experts. Your life is your own, your mind is your own, your body is your own.

Using the police power of the state to enforce even a distinguished panel’s conclusions about personal health is totally improper and destructive. Placing science under political control can only lead to the corruption of science and to popular distrust, as we have seen in regard to the vaccines.

Level 2. The FDA on efficacy

As of mid-February, 1000 times more Americans than were in the clinical trials have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Had Moderna and Pfizer been permitted to sell their vaccines while clinical trials were being conducted, the vaccination process that began in December would have begun in May. Those additional six months cost many thousands of lives. And scientists would have tens of millions of informal data points to consider.

Note: the Phase III trials were not for safety but for efficacy. The government was satisfied on the safety of Moderna’s vaccine (reference) after the Phase I trials of March through early May. (The company then looked at efficacy for its own information and found that every single one of the 45 subjects developed high levels of antibodies to the coronavirus by two weeks after getting their second dose.)

Your right to act on your own conclusions about your health was taken away by 1962 legislation expanding the FDA’s role to cover not just the safety but also the effectiveness of medicines and medical treatments. That was an immoral and deadly enlargement of state power over the individual. The premise was paternalism: “We experts won’t permit people to waste their time and money on things that, even if safe, don’t work.” It doesn’t matter whether the experts do know better or are an ossified establishment: decisions regarding your health are yours to make.

Back near the beginning of this nightmare, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed pleading for the FDA, in this emergency, to drop the efficacy requirement and revert to the pre-1962 standard: safety. Tragically, the plea was completely ignored.

Level 3. The panic over hospital overcrowding

The public and politicians alike over-reacted to the possibility that hospitals could be temporarily unequipped to deal with a surge in Covid cases. In the ensuing hysteria, the country was locked down for month after month, businesses were bankrupted, jobs were lost, people’s lives were shaken, and there was a massive loss of wealth—all to prevent hospitals from being unable to handle all the Covid cases.

Why is shutting down the whole country preferable to hospitals not having enough staff or beds for all the Covid sufferers? The answer is: the tragedy at the hospitals is visualizable in contrast to the less easily visualized but even-greater tragedies resulting from extended shutdowns of the economy.

Plus, the ethics of altruist self-abnegation made intolerable the prospect of doctors having to decide whom to treat and whom to crowd out. “We can’t have some doctor or his staff deciding who will live and who will die.” (Why not? No answer.)

The absolute was: hospitals must not be overloaded. That would have made sense if mass vaccination had been just a week or two away. Then you could have argued that the government would accomplish something in its desire to “Flatten the curve” But the FDA made sure that the vaccines would not be released until “adequate testing” had been conducted, written up, forms filled out, and ruled upon by faceless bureaucrats. So the effect of all the lockdowns and general havoc the government wreaked was merely to add a slight delay to what was inevitable: the spread of the virus through the unvaccinated population.

Level 4. Capitalism non, socialism sí

Right from the beginning, the responsibility for everything having to do with the pandemic was taken away from individuals and made into a collective—i.e. governmental—responsibility. Even the military was involved in what should have been business activity on a free market. Never considered was the free-market solution: profit. The selfish search for profits would have resulted in many resources being pressed into service, and their owners highly rewarded, which is what justice demands.

We needn’t have strangled everyone with “flatten the curve” lockdowns. We needn’t have let the bureaucracy go power-mad. Instead, the same quest for profit that fills the supermarkets and clothing stores could have turned that hospital capacity line sharply upward, instead of destroying the economy for the sake of spreading out the same number of cases over a longer time frame.

As I wrote back then, why not pay physicians and health staff ten times the normal rate to attract out-of-state and out-of-country physicians, nurses, and hospital personnel? During the February crisis in New York City, it would have been much cheaper to offer out-of-state doctors $1 million per week to come to NYC to help with the crush.

Regarding distribution of the vaccines, the free market would have speedily and efficiently gotten the vaccines from the lab into production and into people’s arms. Businesses pursuing high profits do not exhibit the incredible bungling we’ve witnessed from government taking over distribution and injection of the vaccines.

Level 5. The FDA and testing

All that I have said about how government coercion prevents us from getting vaccines applies just as much to government coercion preventing fast and accurate testing from being made available. Often during the last year, we heard about newly developed fast, easy, at-home testing. But it never seemed to materialize. The cause: government paternalism, prohibitions, and the government’s disastrous tort law system, which make it almost impossible to sell any medical product. Just this morning, the WSJ’s story was headlined: “Rapid Covid-19 Tests Go Unused”:

The U.S. government distributed millions of fast-acting tests for diagnosing coronavirus infections at the end of last year to help tamp down outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons and allow schools to reopen.

But some states haven’t used many of the tests, due to logistical hurdles [that for-profit companies seem always to surmount] and accuracy concerns, squandering a valuable tool for managing the pandemic. The first batches, shipped to states in September are approaching their six-month expiration dates.

Bear in mind that the Moderna vaccine was created in a couple of days back in February 2020. There is no scientific problem in devising a vaccine effective against the coronavirus. The problems are political, which means ideological, which means philosophical. For two centuries the philosophy of self-abnegation and coerced submission to the collective has been replacing the original American philosophy of reason, self-interest, and individualism. The predictable calamity was in fact predicted by Ayn Rand through the hero of Atlas Shrugged, who says, in a different situation:

It was man’s mind that all their schemes and systems were intended to despoil and destroy. Now choose to perish or to learn that the anti-mind is the anti-life.

Nature produced the virus. The philosophers and intellectuals preached the collectivism that barred free individuals—patients, doctors, researchers, pharma companies—from taking rational action to defeat it.