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I know that Ayn Rand espoused a benevolent view of human nature and that people would, if educated properly and with a proper philosophy, be properly rational beings. From what I understand, Objectivists believe strongly in the separation of economy and state so one truly has to depend on this "benevolent" view of human nature in an Objectivist society.

The question I am musing about is whether such a society is, in actuality, a pleasant and agreeable place to live in? It's one thing to picture a sunny, delightful Atlantis populated sparsely by incredibly smart heroes and quite another to picture an average desnse-ish city being run by Objectivist principles.

By enforcing some level of "code" we ensure that gas stations are not located next to people's houses. I recoil at the violation of personal property inherent in housing codes but I must confess that sometimes these codes make for a pleasant and agreeable environment for most people. Yes it is a violation of the property owner's right but how many of you would happily smile if an XXX shop opened up next to you ? It's easy in the abstract to speak about being an independent person surrounded by acreage but in practice few people have this option. We are generally more affected by others than some Objectivists would care to admit. I don't mean this in a rights-violating way, but just in the sense that what a neighbor does is not entirely his business alone -- his decisions impact you. If you put pictures of Hitler and Swastikas or Al-Qaeda slogans on your house, that may affect my state of mind/mental peace....

Consider sidewalks. Generally people enjoy having them. I lived in a housing development where 2 out of 10 people had opted out of building a sidewalk in front of their houses. This was horrible when we had tiny kids -- the sidewalk would just abruptly end at someone's house only to resume 2 houses down! What a drag! I am sure they had every right to opt out but I am happy I no longer live there and am now somewhere where basic communal facilities are provided. The point is: does insisting on sidewalks etc. in a normal suburb inevitably end in a Communist Totalitarian dictatorship ?

Think about roads. If they were all privately owned, we'd have some period where someone could buy out the only turnnpike and easily shaft people on their commute to work. Sure, competition could happen but imagine doing this with the NJ Turnpike --there is not a lot of room to build a competing road. If Warren Buffett buys it, you're pretty much at his mercy until you invent auto-helicopters to avoid the road. Not fun.

Think about de-regulated utilities. Sure, I like the idea of many people competing for my business but in practice, this led to a total disaster in California with Enron. I hate the idea of the government providing anything but if I am to have integrity I have to admit, that that Atlantis-like vision seems to be just that: a vision without much practicality.

I truly think the state is way too involved in too many things, but I still cannot see what kind of infrastructure we'd realistically have in a pure Laissez Faire world. The arguments I hear seem to all be delivered at the "individual rights" level versus a "practical life" level. I find myself agreeing with the abstract principles at play but having misgivings about how the world would actually look like if those principles were the blueprint. What do you think ? Would an Objectivist world actually be an upgrade in terms of quality of life or a step back to a "homestead" life on the American Frontier (and this limited to a certain time/place) ? Are Objectivists really saying: "yes, life would be more tough because you'd have to make many, many more decisions for yourself but trust us, it's better for everyone". I already find I am making way too many decisions and don't relish many more.

asked Mar 04 '12 at 18:49

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Danneskjold_repo
2481459

The California energy market was not fully deregulated during the electricity crisis. In fact, it was not anything remotely close to a free market.

I have problems with all your examples above (*), but the one about California/Enron is especially egregious.

(*) The NJ Turnpike is quite avoidable. US 1 north of Trenton and I-295 south of it are the primary alternatives. I fail to see how privately owned highways would be any more difficult than privately owned Internet trunk lines.

(Mar 04 '12 at 22:06) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Perhaps Enron is not a good example... Even CATO Libertarians found major flaws with energy deregulation ( http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/shortcircuited).

Privately owned Internet trunks are fine but given that Ma Bell was a government company for so long distorts the issue: all the competition are midgets and thus we have the crazy spectacle of US Internet infrastructure being just so-so when we're supposed to have a great, open market. Mark me underwhelmed.

While I can see the philosophical points here, I just don't see the brave new world of Laissez Faire.

(Mar 04 '12 at 22:50) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I think that this question is too sprawling, and it should be sharply delimited or broken up into separate questions. The format of this site is question-and-answer, not essay-versus-essay.

(Mar 06 '12 at 09:41) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

I was about to either edit the question to shorten it and/or delete it but the answers proved too compelling so I am leaving it. I would concur that it's not me at my most concise ! Apologies guys!

(Mar 07 '12 at 13:47) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Disregarding that Rand believed an objectivist society would be superior and result in improved life, let us remember that the goal of Objectivism is primarily to be rational- not to create the best possible situation, although that does result.

(Mar 08 '12 at 17:50) Cobashk Cobashk's gravatar image
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The question's dubious presuppositions abound. The question begins:

I know that Ayn Rand espoused a benevolent view of human nature [where did Ayn Rand say that?] and that people would, if educated properly and with a proper philosophy, be properly rational beings. [Not true. Everyone has free will, even those who are well educated.] From what I understand, Objectivists believe strongly in the separation of economy and state [correct] so one truly has to depend on this "benevolent" view of human nature in an Objectivist society. [Absolutely false.]

Key issues in just this much of the question:

1) Objectivism upholds the "Benevolent Universe" premise. If that is what the questioner is referring to, a good introduction can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Benevolent Universe Premise." See also OPAR, p. 342. That premise, however, is a metaphysical issue, not an issue of "human nature" being benevolent or not.

2) Laissez-faire capitalism absolutely does not depend on the good will or "benevolent nature" of people. In fact, one of the great benefits of laissez-faire capitalism is that it leaves everyone free not to deal with those whom one does not consider to be worthy trading partners. People are entirely free to go their separate ways if they cannot come to mutually agreeable terms, or have nothing of value to offer each other in the first place. Capitalism certainly does encourage a pervasive, almost unimaginable good will among people, but that is a consequence, not a root cause. It is a consequence of the fact that people are not forced to deal with each other if they don't want to. It is not a root cause or precondition for the functioning of a capitalist system. If anyone tries to initiate physical force against anyone else under laissez-faire capitalism, he will be stopped from doing so by the government, assuming it is a proper government that upholds everyone's individual rights. Man's basic protector against others is the government in a capitalist society, not some generalized "faith" in the "benevolent nature" of others.

The question concludes:

Are Objectivists really saying: "yes, life would be more tough because you'd have to make many, many more decisions for yourself but trust us, it's better for everyone". I already find I am making way too many decisions and don't relish many more.

More key points here:

3) If you don't want to make decisions for yourself but would rather let others do it for you, capitalism leaves you free to do that, if others are willing to offer such assistance (probably in return for some value that you would need to offer to them). But don't try to infringe others' freedom to make their own decisions just because you are unconfortable with your own freedom and the personal responsibility that comes with it, the responsibility to use your own faculty of reason to the best of your ability.

4) Life would be vastly easier, not tougher, for those who choose to participate in the process of production and trade. There would be far more initiative and achievement by major producers, with correspondingly and vastly increased job and investment opportunities for everyone else. It would be like breaking the log jam that exists today and unleashing the power of unnumerable, very capable "horses" of economic activity who today are heavily shackled and suppressed. Even poor people from the humblest of backgrounds would be free to start businesses of their own, probably on a very modest scale initially, growing in size over time if their businesses are well targeted and well managed. In fact, this isn't hypothetical imagination; it's actual history.

I wonder if the questioner is trying to take Galt's Gulch in Atlas Shrugged as the basic model of a capitalist system. If so, it's not an accurate model for the general case. It would be far better to study the actual history of capitalism in 19th Century America than to rely too heavily on the incredible good will of the very small, close-knit community depicted in Galt's Gulch. Read Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand, and especially check out some or all of the long list of references that Ayn Rand provides at the end of that book in the Recommended Bibliography section.

Some additional points:

5) The question puzzles over land-use issues. There are many ways that land-use concerns can be dealt with on a contractual basis, such as deed restrictions and planned developments governed contractually by "Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions." Under capitalism, over time, homeowners probably would be just as concerned to find out what restrictions govern land-use for themselves and neighboring properties as they already are today, but the source of the restrictions would be more contractual than governmentally bureaucratic, and probably vastly more reasonable and understandable, and potentially easier to change, too, for good reasons, than having to "fight city hall."

Further formulations in the question:

Think about de-regulated utilities. Sure, I like the idea of many people competing for my business but in practice, this led to a total disaster in California with Enron.... I still cannot see what kind of infrastructure we'd realistically have in a pure Laissez Faire world. The arguments I hear seem to all be delivered at the "individual rights" level versus a "practical life" level.

6) Enron was not a California disaster. Enron was based in Houston, Texas. It was certainly a big disaster (resulting from outright fraud), but don't blame it on California.

7) Possible details of capitalism's "infrastructure" are easy enough to project. Check the references provided by Ayn Rand. Check additional references provided by The Ayn Rand Institute. Check several recent books by Andrew Bernstein. And so on.

8) Regarding individual rights, yes, they are the essence of capitalism. Capitalism is best described as the system of individual rights, not the system of private ownership of the means of production or the system of dog-eat-dog competition and law of the jungle, which obfuscates any vision of a capitalist "infrastructure." There is no conflict between a "practical life" level and the level of individual rights. Individual rights are vital to enabling any significant practical life at all.

answered Mar 05 '12 at 02:07

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

The disaster in California was the "Western Energy Crisis" (http://www.ferc.gov/industries/electric/indus-act/wec/chron/chronology.pdf). Enron played a key role in that disaster. The regulations of the state of California also played a key role in that disaster.

(Mar 05 '12 at 07:44) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Utility companies in California were forced to buy electricity from the CA Power Exchange at whatever price the PX offered, and then were forced to sell that electricity to end consumers at the price the government told them to sell it. Utilities in CA were forbidden by the state of CA from entering into long term contracts with energy manufacturers. They had to buy electricity at spot prices and sell at government mandated long-term rates.

Enron manipulated the prices on the PX. The state of California forced utility companies to buy at the manipulated prices. Eventually everything broke.

(Mar 05 '12 at 07:54) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Ideas--- Anthony captured the California issue well so I will leave it at that. Thanks for a really good answer. I learned something.

(Mar 05 '12 at 09:33) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
1

You might be interested to know that Houston, Texas is one of the only major cities in the U.S. that does not have zoning regulations, and yet it is a thriving city. The chaos that some fear will break out if the government doesn't regulate everyone up to their eyeballs simply has not broken out there. Rather than people fleeing the unplanned city, it is growing at ridiculous rates. Also the city has grown to have a sort of de facto zoning plan through private contracts and covenants, just as Ideas for Life suggested might occur in a free society.

(Mar 05 '12 at 10:10) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Yeah... although Houston does have its share of gas stations near family houses ! :-) I wanted to ask the quetsion in its most extreme sense and I think I got a great set of answers here.

(Mar 05 '12 at 18:20) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Irvine, CA is the opposite of Houston. If you run low on gas and don't have a smart navigation system (e.g., like Google maps) to help you find the nearest gas station, good luck.

(Mar 07 '12 at 01:39) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I agree, I prefer Houston to the Stepford Planned Cities (TM) ;-)

(Mar 07 '12 at 13:49) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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Hell yes! Ideas for Life addresses the main philosophical points, but here are some practical specifics:

  • Consider land-use restrictions / zoning / code: today these are enforced by government. In an Objectivist society this would be easily handled via private agreement through property covenants, nuisance laws, and other similar mechanisms.

  • An Objectivist society would have a better understanding of property. In the example you gave of sidewalks, it is likely that the road owner(s) -- in that case probably a company run by the community -- would own the space where the sidewalk would be built rather than the individual homeowners. Therefore, either the sidewalk would be built or it wouldn't, either of which would be a better situation than what you had.

  • Re. roads: there are always alternatives to any specific road, be they other roads or alternative means of transportation, so there would be no incentive for the owner of a single road to raise prices beyond the point where users of the road will use those alternatives. Private roads would be better maintained, most likely safer, and would allow for the owners to provide broadband connectivity, water, sewer, or utility services in addition to their basic roadway service (thus opening up competition in these areas as well). Besides, it is possible and even likely that there has been too much capital invested in roads in our non-Objective society, and in an Objectivist society much of this capital may very well have gone into creating "auto-copters" instead.

  • Deregulated utilities: as some of the comments have addressed, in no Objectivist sense could utilities have been said to be deregulated. In fact, I don't believe it is even possible until rights of way such as roads are freed from government control. Currently a new utility has to deal with the government to provide their service via "public" property, meaning in essence there are always government barriers to new competition.

  • On having to make too many decisions: every such case is an opportunity for an entrepreneur to make someone's life easier. Take government restaurant inspectors as a simple example. One may think that in an Objectivist society the decision on how to choose a restaurant just became more difficult. But in reality, it is highly likely a few organizations would spring up to "certify" the quality and safety of restaurants, similar to the way the (private) UL certifications work today. You will pay these organizations far less than you pay the government for the same service today, and get a far better product in return.

I always find it interesting to imagine what life would be like in an Objectivist society, and even with my limited imagination and knowledge I can imagine many solutions to these sorts of issues. Just think about the kind of innovative solutions that people would come up with in a truly free society!

answered Mar 05 '12 at 12:22

Raman's gravatar image

Raman ♦
548110

edited Mar 05 '12 at 12:24

I am learning that at least some of my own ignorance has to do with conflating anarchy and a paleo libertarian perspective with Laissez Faire. A common enough mistake that you guys are helping me fix. Tnaks for the answer.

(Mar 05 '12 at 12:25) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

It's unclear that UL certifications would be particularly prevalent in a jurisdiction without laws like OSHA and NEC which require devices to be certified by one of the "Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories" if you want to sell them or have them used by employees.

Sure, you could come up with your own certification body to compete with UL. But the barriers to getting yourself designated as a "Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory" would be far higher than the barriers to getting access to a public right of way. This is crony capitalism, not a free market.

(Mar 06 '12 at 07:05) anthony anthony's gravatar image
1

Agreed about UL. The point that private certification agencies can exist still stands, however in an Objectivist society their existence would be driven by market need, not government fiat.

(Mar 06 '12 at 09:17) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
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Asked: Mar 04 '12 at 18:49

Seen: 2,522 times

Last updated: Mar 08 '12 at 17:50