An Objectivist Christmas Carol

  One of my odd holiday season traditions is to re-read Charles Dickens’ festive classic, “A Christmas Carol”.

After today’s re-run of this tradition, I felt – as I often do – that it’s not quite the appeal to a religious/social democratic way of life it’s often portrayed. Is there something of the libertarian – if not Objectivist in Ebinezer Scrooge by the end of the story?

Turns out, I’m not the only one who’s had the same thoughts. Here’s a comprehensive look at this idea from the very thoughtful Robert Davidson on the Rebirth of Reason site.

Davidson makes some thought-provoking points, this one really caught my eye:

Dickens argues here for an integrated rational, full-faceted individual who is as comfortable in the counting house as he is with spiritual values and the fulfillment and happiness they provide. The spirit of Christmas is a metaphor for the integrated life. Dickens describes Christmas as “the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” 

Whenever I think of that powerful scene, when pre-transformed Scrooge asks the two gentlemen soliciting charity for the needy, he asks “Are there no prisons? Are there no work-houses?…I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

Is that really the attitude of an Objectivist? Or is it more someone who relies on the state, to perform the functions of charity and forbearance? If you want a large state to redistribute wealth, look after the poor, and support us from cradle to grave, then you’ll be the sort of person who wants taxes to provide those services; those institutions. It would be someone who believes in self-reliance and thinks that charity should be precisely that: charity, then you can’t support Scrooge’s sentiment.

Anyway, I’m jotting this out of my phone on Christmas Eve night, so maybe I’m not thinking it through.

Either way, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, happy holidays.

Andy Jones TV Season 5 Episode 3

The trouble with the philosophy of Objectivism is that many have a hard time divorcing it from Ayn Rand, the philosopher who advanced the concept. I think that’s a mistake – and leads to a lot of misunderstandings about an essentially decent and moral philosophy:

Welfare and Friendly Societies

One of my favourite (and delightfully brash) libertarian bloggers, The Devil’s Kitchen makes a very good case for the concept of the “friendly society” here.

I can’t say I totally agree with everything he says here (you’ll never get a bunch of libertarians to totally agree on anything), but I thought he made some great points. I don’t agree with all of them, but am very glad to see them be made.

I’ve always felt it was simple: when we see a beggar on the street these days, we say “gee, the council/government/society should really do something about that.” That line reminds me of the Ghost of Christmas Present, when he sarcastically paraphrases Scroodge’s sentiment in the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol: “Are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?”

If we dislike things happening in our society, then we should do something to change it. Don’t fob off your obligations to the state. What are YOU going to do about it?

There is no doubt in my mind that our first (and only true) priority is to the rigorous pursuit of our rational self-interest. If we all did that, then the need for any charity or state-welfare would be minimal. But of course, there would always be people who really need help. My point still stands though: The state shouldn’t play any role in this.

In Britain, 40% of the money they collect from us is in income tax. The welfare state accounts for 40% of yearly government spending. If we abolished income tax, 85% of the people who used to get welfare would be either just as well off or better off. As for the remaining 15%, how many do you think would stay poorer off in a society that had NO income tax?

The answer is a very small number. And that small number would be MORE than taken care of by the voluntary actions of individuals who had more money to spend on such charity. And raising money to say, buy equipment that lets a disabled person live a better and more dignified life, is in my rational self-interest because they become a more successful and productive person and thus, as either an employee or employer, another wealth-creator. If I (and a load like me) put 50p towards that purpose, it’s not too much to bare, considering in this scenario I don’t pay income tax any more.

Similarly, if we had a total free-market of education, then we’d have better choice, higher quality and lower prices. That’s what happens in every other private sector free of corporatism and government controls. And the remaining few who couldn’t afford despite their best efforts, well, what are YOU going to do to help them? And surely you’ll benefit from these educated kids when they end up contributing to the marketplace…

The more I think about it, the more I realise just how terrifyingly spot-on the Objectivist and female comb-over pioneer Ayn Rand was. We need a moral revolution for freedom and self interest. Once we’ve had that, the political and economic revolution will be easy.