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Who is John Galt, and Why is He Backpedalling Slightly?

The only moments when I channel Ayn Rand are those when I’m engaged in

fiction. A couple of nights ago, I was playing my new favourite game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

In the game, you play the role of Carl “C.J.” Johnson, who brings about

the second coming of the once-feared Grove Street gang.

One important facet of the game is earning the respect of your fellow

gang members, and one of the most fun ways to earn that respect is to

ruthlessly kill members of rival gangs. I have a mean streak that I try

to keep under control in real life, but in the game world of San Andreas (a really large world comprised of three cities and the rural areas in between), I can indulge it all I want.

My housemate Rob watched in amazement as I “softened up” a half-dozen

members of a rival gang by running over them with a stolen car and then

delivered coups de grace using my submachinegun with a rhythm

that would’ve made Conlon Nancarrow proud.

Another feature of the game is that if you kill someone, you can take

their money. As I helped myself to the cash from their scattered

corpses, Rob said something along the lines of “Wow, that’s cold.”

“Hey, it’ll trickle down,” I reassured him with a smile.

If that was cold, the Ayn Rand Institute published a letter to the editor titled U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims

was sub-zero. It’s been excised from the site, but lives on in syndication and Google’s cache. Written by David “Civil engineer is a contradiction in terms” Holcberg (“You may remember me from such heart-warming letters to the editor as Death of Civilians Should Not Hinder War Effort“), here it is in its entirety:

As the death toll mounts in the areas hit by Sunday’s

tsunami in southern Asia, private organizations and individuals are

scrambling to send out money and goods to help the victims. Such help

may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of those

affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own.

The United States government, however, should not

give any money to help the tsunami victims. Why? Because the money is

not the government’s to give.

Every cent the government spends comes from taxation.

Every dollar the government hands out as foreign aid has to be extorted

from an American taxpayer first. Year after year, for decades, the

government has forced American taxpayers to provide foreign aid to

every type of natural or man-made disaster on the face of the earth:

from the Marshall Plan to reconstruct a war-ravaged Europe to the $15

billion recently promised to fight AIDS in Africa to the countless

amounts spent to help the victims of earthquakes, fires and

floods–from South America to Asia. Even the enemies of the United

States were given money extorted from American taxpayers: from the

billions given away by Clinton to help the starving North Koreans to

the billions given away by Bush to help the blood-thirsty Palestinians

under Arafat’s murderous regime.

The question no one asks about our politicians’

“generosity” towards the world’s needy is: By what right? By what right

do they take our hard-earned money and give it away?

The reason politicians can get away with doling out

money that they have no right to and that does not belong to them is

that they have the morality of altruism on their side. According to

altruism–the morality that most Americans accept and that politicians

exploit for all it’s worth–those who have more have the moral

obligation to help those who have less. This is why Americans–the

wealthiest people on earth–are expected to sacrifice (voluntarily or

by force) the wealth they have earned to provide for the needs of those

who did not earn it. It is Americans’ acceptance of altruism that

renders them morally impotent to protest against the confiscation and

distribution of their wealth. It is past time to question–and to

reject–such a vicious morality that demands that we sacrifice our

values instead of holding on to them.

Next time a politician gives away money taken from you

to show what a good, compassionate altruist he is, ask yourself: By

what right?

He should’ve finished it off with “Hey, it’ll trickle down.”

The Ayn Rand Institute must’ve caught some serious heat from outraged parties, as they published a press release which contains the ever-so-useful line, “We would like to clarify our position” (which should always set your B.S. detector abuzz). Here’s how it begins:

On December 30, 2004, the Ayn Rand Institute released as a letter to

the editor and as an op-ed a piece that condemned the U.S. government’s

use of taxpayers’ money to help victims of the recent tsunami (“U.S.

Should Not Help Tsunami Victims”). That piece was inappropriate and did

not accurately convey the Institute’s position. We would like to

clarify our position.

Obviously, the tsunami, with the thousands of innocent victims left

in its wake, is a horrible disaster. The first concern of survivors and

of those trying to help them is to provide basic necessities and then

to begin rebuilding. The American public’s predictably generous

response to assist these efforts is motivated by goodwill toward their

fellow man. In the face of the enormous and undeserved suffering,

American individuals and corporations have donated millions of dollars

in aid; they have done so by and large not out of some sense of

altruistic duty but in the name of the potential value that another

human being represents. This benevolence, which we share, is not the

same thing as altruism.

The emphasis in the paragraph above is mine. Had the line “potential value that another human being represents” been used by almost any other organization, I wouldn’t intrepret it as “consumer”. And by “consumer”, I mean “industrial age aphid who eats consumer goods and craps out cash“.

The release is standard PR “clarification fare” — get the non-apology

out of the way, and then direct the conversation elsewhere. Once the

piece gets that distasteful business about callousness in the face of

mass death out of the way, it spends its remaining half espousing the

Randroid party line and defending the right to not give a crap.

Hey, it’ll trickle down.

6 replies on “Who is John Galt, and Why is He Backpedalling Slightly?”

Heh. I would have imagined that libertarians knew something about PR and marketing, and would then apply it to their own ideology. But no. Except if the ARI is trying to corner the callousness niche.

I think that what the original author was trying to say was not “Tsunami Victims Shouldn’t be Helped” but “Is the way that the government chooses to dole out money to different causes actually logical”.

I agree with the Canadian government’s recent approach of matching donations, and I think that system should be expanded on and continued to be used in the future.

(my halfassed comments are here and here)


I don’t think that’ Holczer was asking “Is the way that the government chooses to dole out money to different causes actually logical?” but saying that the US government shouldn’t be donating anything. Rather, he’s arguing that giving should be left up to corporations and individuals.

The question then becomes: “Should corporations and individuals give domate money to Tsunami charities?” If you were to peruse the articles on the Ayn Rand Institute site, the answer is “Ehhh, probably not.”

Consider their take on volunteerism. This is an excerpt from an article titled What Young People Really Need: Not Volunteerism but Happiness and Heroes:

The volunteerism campaign of President Clinton, George Bush and Colin Powell marks its first anniversary this April. Volunteerism holds that service to the needy is good for young persons, that it will inspire and motivate them and fill their lives with meaning. “We want to spark a renewed sense of obligation, a new sense of duty, and a new season of service all across our nation,” says the President.

But is volunteerism actually good? Is service in slums and nursing homes a proper moral ideal that will galvanize the young, adding value and significance to their lives?

The answer is: no.

Teaching college ethics courses for the past eighteen years has taught me that the best American students and immigrants, even more so, desire one thing: freedom to pursue their own happiness. They are not excited by the prospect of selfless service at a homeless shelter; they are motivated by budding careers in such areas as business, law, medicine and computer science.

Yup, what motivates people is not helping their fellow human being, but getting ahead in their careers. In Randian logic, the two are mutually exclusive.

Here’s another gem:

There is nothing wrong with an individual doing charity work, if it is not a sacrifice for him. But charity is not a moral ideal, nor does human life depend on it. Achievement is the moral ideal because man’s life does depend on it.

…a question needs to be raised to the advocates of volunteerism. What do you think young people find more inspiring: the sight of Jimmy Carter building churches in the jungles of Guatemala, or the vision of Michael Jordan soaring through the air, winning championships and earning millions, then flashing his joyous, brilliant, life-giving smile?

No! Not Jimmy Carter! Remember that quote from The Simpsons about Jimmy? “He’s history’s greatest monster!”

The essay closes — naturally — with a quote from Atlas Shrugged: “The sight of an achievement is the greatest gift that a human being could offer to others.”

In other words, don’t send money: make money. That’s inspire others to do the same.

It’s a simple moral code to live by, that’s for sure. If could’ve easily have been penned by my three-year old nephew, if he could write. He’s not terribly good at sharing his toys with his younger brother and even swipes his younger brother’s stuff, to boot.

With all that in mind, I strongly doubt that Holczer would even support the government matching private donations dollar-for-dollar. I think he’d rather have the tsunami-stricken areas “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” by allowing our corporations to set up factories there in exchange for aid. And since we’re doing them favours, perhaps they could relax a few labour laws and not be so fussy with human rights.

As long as I’m quoting an article from the Ayn Rand site, take a look at this parable: A Boy’s Life or Death, in which a young computer whiz from the ghetto’s chance at getting out and making something of himself is ruined by lending a helping hand.

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