Tuesday, November 29, 2011

David Brin Confronts Atlas Shrugged

David Brin points out the parallels between Atlas Shrugged and Occupy Wall Street on Red, Green, and Blue Blog HERE

Brin's essay goes over several issues – follow by clicking on the ‘next page’

(Brin also writes on his own Blog, Contrary Brin, HERE . This Link carries a much more readable summary of his views on Atlas Shrugged and I commend it if you are in a hurry.)

But no one can deny my ongoing campaign to get folks to read Adam Smith, the founding sage of both libertarianism and liberalism. Like Smith, I believe in fair and open and vigorously creative competition - the greatest innovative force in the universe and the process that made us. Encouraging vibrant, positive-sum rivalry – in markets, democracy, science, etc – is one reason to promote universal transparency (see The Transparent Society), so that all participants may base their individual decisions on full knowledge.

That positive aim - also preached by Friedrich Hayek - should be the goal of any sane libertarian movement… instead of fetishistically hating all government, all the time, which is like a poor workman blaming the tools. Anyway, a movement based on hopeful joy beats one anchored in rancorous scapegoating, any day.

(Adam Smith favored feeding and educating all children, for the pragmatic reason that this maximizes the number of skilled, adult competitors, a root motive of liberalism and a role for government that is wholly justifiable in libertarian terms.)
For my full, cantankerously different take on the plusses and minuses of contemporary libertarianism — and other oversimplifying dogmas — have a look at this essay
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Comment
Brin is worth readig for his critique of Ayn Rand’s dismal brand of libertarianism in Atlas Shrugged, book and film, which I have never found attractive, nor motivating. Libertarians of her ilk are more depressingly aggressive than enlightening. Their libertarian anarchism – they hate the idea of government – does not improve on the far left’s anarchism – a pox on both of them say I!

Liberty is more important than democracy; the former cannot be faked, the latter often is. Ayn Rand’s version is more than a few steps towards tyranny.

I much prefer the humanitarian libertarianism espoused passionately by the Adam Smith Institute in the UK, of which I am a Fellow.

I also noted that David Friedman on the Ideas Blog gives David Brin’s piece a bashing over a single sentence that he wrote about Adam Smith HERE: “David Brin and Adam Smith

Long-term readers of Lost Legacy may remember that I had a debate a couple of years back near the end of the summer academic break on Lost Legacy with David Friedman, lasting several weeks (or so it seemed) on Smith’s use of the IH metaphor. He eventually retired from the debate, neither of us giving an inch, but I enjoyed the tussle for the time it lasted.

Whatever the merits of David Friedman’s criticism of David Brin’s single sentence, I remember how mistaken he was on Adam Smith’s use of the IH metaphor. This probably goes to show that the centre-right can be as factious as the far left.

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8 Comments:

Blogger airth10 said...

I was wondering if the "invisible hand" has had a hand in perpetuating the housing crisis in the US. It certainly seems to have started it, with banks thinking of their own self-interests when making 'predatory loans' to unsuspecting and naive borrowers. Now, in their own self-interest, they are reluctance or unwillingness to help correct the situation or lend money, thus hindering an economic recovery.

I think this analogy is akin to the one Adam Smith made when he saw the possibility of businessmen investing abroad, in self-interest, rather than at home because it was more advantages for them to do so.

It seems that the invisible hand is also contradictory in its behavior, as is capitalism and humankind. The invisible hand reflects reality. Reality is contradictory.

4:50 p.m.  
Blogger airth10 said...

I was wondering if the "invisible hand" has had a hand in perpetuating the housing crisis in the US. It certainly seems to have started it, with banks thinking of their own self-interests when making 'predatory loans' to unsuspecting and naive borrowers. Now, in their own self-interest, they are reluctance or unwillingness to help correct the situation or lend money, thus hindering an economic recovery.

I think this analogy is akin to the one Adam Smith made when he saw the possibility of businessmen investing abroad, in self-interest, rather than at home because it was more advantages for them to do so.

It seems that the invisible hand is also contradictory in its behavior, as is capitalism and humankind. The invisible hand reflects reality. Reality is contradictory.

4:50 p.m.  
Blogger byafi said...

"Liberty is more important than democracy; the former cannot be faked, the latter often is. Ayn Rand’s version is more than a few steps towards tyranny."

I have to say up front that I have no idea what that means. Tyranny? From a person who admonishes against any form of coercion? I believe you've missed a significant point or two.

As for liberty's importance compared to democracy, I couldn't agree more strongly. Democracy is a great danger to all, as gang rule leaves everyone without liberty.

11:05 p.m.  
Blogger airth10 said...

Ironically you can't have liberty without democracy. But you do have the liberty to do yourself in.

12:24 p.m.  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

airth
In my view the 'invisible hand' metaphor perpetuates nothing, any more, grammatically, than an adjective perpetuates anything.

Individuals acting in their self-interest need not (contrary to the myth that Smith said that selfish acts, or all acts for that matter, automatically work for the public good. That is an idea from Bernard Mandeville (1724) and, in modern times, Ayn Rand, but certainly not Adam Smith.

Smith spends considerable time in Wealth Of Nations explaining how many actions (in the self-interest of the people concerned) work consistently against the public good, as explained throughout his book.

Consider his 'very violent' (his words) unrelentingly critique of mercantile self-interests in their lobbying legislatures for tariff protection and outright prohibitions, or bankers issuing more debt than their assets can cover, causing bank runs and bankruptcies.

Smith was never deluded in stating that self-interest was always benign. The people who were encouraged to take out 105 per cent mortgages could not repay them (banks were mandated to offer such loans to customers by law in the US, and are about to be encouraged to do so to small businesses in the UK). Individual lenders made bonuses on such dubious loans; their bank's creditors, depositors, and investors bore all the risks and the bonus-stuffed 'smart' lending officers retired as millionaires.

Many home investor's self-interests led them to favour tariffs; others favoured naval power to protect their overseas investments at the home population's expense.

I don't think this reflects a non-existent (because it is a metaphor, not a real entity) invisible hand, or several invisible hands. It is an aspect of moral sentiments, as understood by Smith about human nature.

Gavin

3:26 p.m.  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

byafi,
Thanks for your comment, which gives me an opportunity to explain what I meant by Ayn Rand's libertarianism leading to tyranny.

Galt was not a pleasant person to interact with. Such people attract trouble. He can refuse to oppress others, but cannot force others to refrain from oppressing us without oppressing them. Not all people are likely to share the libertarian philosophy simultaneously (any more than becoming a mystic monk is a permanent antidote to being oppressed).

I am well versed in libertarian philosophy, including its extreme and risky versions. A predilection towards liberty, enforced by the rule of law against tyrannical acts, is a, maybe, regrettable necessity. Not everyone shares the libertarian ideal, as every attempt at utopian communities has found over time. Being ready to defend liberty against those who would take it from us becomes suicidal in the real world which consists also of tyrants who would take it from us.

Gavin

3:44 p.m.  
Blogger airth10 said...

Gavin

I know you are touchy about the invisible hand metaphor and think of it just as that, a metaphor. But sometimes we have to animate and give tangibility to metaphors so we can understand things better. It is like creating models to comprehend the world. Metaphors are models.

Frankenstein is a metaphor. Yet we often use it as a model to explain a reality. And often that metaphor is the reality.

4:21 p.m.  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

airth

I have not explained myself clearly enough to you.

My discussion on Lost Legacy on the IH metaphor is about the attributed meanings by modern economists to Adam Smith contrary to his meanings when he used it, i.e., his clear references to their objects, as per the normal rules of the use and meaning of metaphors in the English language (and what they meant way back into classical times).

I have no interest in attributed meanings to those other than Adam Smith's; after all, popular meanings of the IH metaphor in the 17th-18th centuries were to divine actions by God. That is the difference between us. Post-Samuelson economists have attributed the IH metaphor to Pareto's welfare theorem and to general equilibrium theory in Smith's name for which there is not a shred of evidence. This is a breach of scholarly integrity.

My occasional posts on Looney Tunes shows the extent to which sloppy thinking can stoop. I do not think there is much to be gained by continual re-runs of these arguments between us.

Gavin

10:31 p.m.  

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