Friday, 9 March 2007

My Economic Philosophy - 2 (The Limits to Rand)

(This is the second of n pieces on my emerging economic philosophy called Liquidism.)

I was a latecomer to the philosophy of Ayn Rand. I completely missed reading her novels in college, when everybody else seemed to have their noses stuck between the pages of "The Fountainhead" or "Atlas Shrugged".

Then one day, when I was almost 40, I stumbled upon the website "www.capitalism.org", and the ideas I read there almost blew me away. This site is dedicated to spreading the philosophy of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, which Rand believed was the capitalist ideal.

I was gobsmacked as I read the material on this site because I had till that point always thought of Capitalism as an economic system, as something to do with money and who controlled it. Wrong, it turned out. Capitalism is a political philosophy, and the economic system that is often confused with it springs naturally out of this philosophy.

And what is this political philosophy?

In two words, individual freedom. That's the core value of Ayn Rand's capitalist ideal. At this level, she doesn't talk about money. She does talk about "wealth", but wealth at this level means much more than just money. It is the sum total of all the kinds of satisfaction that one can derive.

There's more.

Reason is the source of all "wealth", and everyone is entitled to the wealth generated by the exercise of their reason. The only thing one may not do is restrict the freedom of others. The initiation of force is prohibited, and one may only acquire the wealth of another by one of these means - willing gifts by the other, through persuasion (not coercion), or through trade. Of these, trade is the best. Coercion and deception are taboo.

To say that I liked this philosophy would be an understatement. It resonated deeply within me. It struck me as the fairest of all possible systems. I even wrote an article defending the Capitalistic credentials of Free/Open Source Software called "The Capitalist View of Open Source", demonstrating the software model's scrupulous adherence to the principles of Ayn Rand.

But even at the height of my admiration for Rand, I was never completely in agreement with her.

She claimed animals had no rights, and I beg to disagree. I in fact expected her to extend her philosophy to include any living creature, not just humans.

She stoutly upheld the right to life as a fundamental right of every human being right from their birth, that no one had the right to take, but instead of expressing honest ambivalence about abortion, she glibly claimed that foetuses were not human and therefore had no such right. The mother, according to her, had the "right" to abort her foetus and this freedom could not be denied. I found this sophistry a little intellectually dishonest. Abortion is a tricky subject and I'm not sure there are any "right" answers. At what point exactly does a foetus with no rights turn into a new-born baby with full rights? For Rand to proclaim one viewpoint with an air of moral certainty didn't do much for her credibility in my eyes.

And then there was the ultimate "What was she thinking?" moment. When I read about Ayn Rand's essay "America's Persecuted Minority - Big Business", I knew that she had either lost her marbles or been coopted by that persecuted minority into advocating their cause.

So I remained stuck with an intellectual model that was almost perfect, but not quite. Until I read the other article, the one that posed the question about the two types of freedom.
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