Saturday, October 30, 2010

Liberty vs. Socialism Debate

In the question of Liberty vs. Socialism I choose Liberty! What will you choose? Does Ayn convince you like she convinced me?

This is a debate between me and Emil Ostrovski, a relative from united states, that happened over the following link that I posted on my Facebook account:

Emil is a student studying Philosophy. His political views are, as described on his page: Independent, but I lean left on most issues.

Here is Emil's reply to my initial post:

Emil Ostrovski:

She was a smart lady, but I'm not convinced. She says herself that we are moving in the general direction of socialism as a result of our "altruist morality." What she has to prove, then, is not just that she feels the result of this morality (full collectivism ) will be bad because it compromises liberty, but that an altruist morality in and of itself is bad.
If she only proves the result will be bad, then we can simply dispute whether the result will ever actually be brought about. There is also the question of whether the world she proposes will be any better, even with regard to her fundamental pillar of liberty.

All we have to do is look at America and Europe in the nineteenth century/industrial revolution period to see that laissez-faire capitalism is hardly the champion of individual liberty Rand wants us to believe it is, despite the way she tries to skirt the topic (certainly not all abuses were due to legislation.) A mixed-economy may not be a perfect system, but, as pointed out, it evolved due to the failures of the previous system (laissez-faire). Even a fairly conservative western democracy like America has many socialist elements. Yet, it is important to note, we are very far from full collectivism. What socialist elements do we have? Well, take social security. Why do I have to pay my hard earned dollars to support some old fart who didn't have the sense to plan ahead for his retirement? Well, because under the laissez-faire model, older folk in greater and greater numbers were put in situations where they were starving and homeless and their families who, according to laissez-faire, again, would ideally have taken them in, were not always doing such a good job at that (especially during periods of economic hardship. It is not a coincidence that Social Security legislation sprang up during the Great Depression.)

So the question became, is it necessary, in order to pursue the preservation of human life, to ask our citizens to pay for a program which everyone will be able to make use of, and in the process, make life better for older generations? Yes, it is a sacrifice of liberty in the sense that it is compulsory, but the alternative is sacrificing life itself.

My response to Emil was:

Igor Portugal:

Dear Emil,

I believe that in her numerous works Ayn was proving exactly that "altruist morality" in itself is actually immoral.

I personally can see nothing wrong in giving to others and deriving satisfaction from giving. I've done that plenty of time in my life and will hopefully do more. However, it is way too often demanded from people that they give to others and people's property is taken away from them by force in the name of altruism. That is when altruism itself is bad.

There is no question at all if the world she proposes is better than the alternative simply because it offers personal liberty as the fundamental right. Liberty is better than being enslaved, no matter what the motive is for the enslavement.

Laissez-faire capitalism is the only champion for individual liberty, by its definition. It is the only system derived from liberty – you can't derive any system from any imposition on personal freedom by a government, and call it “liberty”. The definition of personal liberty is that the person is free to do what they want with their life and their property, as long as they don't initiate force on other's or take other's property. The minute you bring a regulation in place, you take the liberty away.

The abuse of liberty can only stem therefore from a government body, based on legislation. Any abuse that comes from a non-government organization or a person is simply braking the law, and should be prosecuted. Do people ever break the law? Of course they do, in every society. Those who break the law should be prosecuted – that is the only proper function of government.

The point is, governments, like all people, will abuse power. Only there is no-one to prosecute them – law enforcement is the function of government.

Neither America nor Europe ever had fully implemented laissez-faire capitalism, it was always mixed system at best. The mixed economy did not grow from laissez-faire capitalism, but from government's and people's desire to control other people. Each new legislation was imposed to remedy badly drafted old legislation. Bad legislation is when one group of people gets unfair economic privileges over another group of people and exercises the unfair right to their benefit and other's detriment. Instead of removing the unfair advantage from the original lot, people prefer to demand an unfair legislation that favors them instead. They always do it in the name of altruism – they find a “poor person” to whom we all have to “give” and guilt-trip everyone into agreeing with yet another enslaving law. This is why altruism is bad.

As for the old folk – they haven't been dying in droves in the economies like Singapore and Hong Kong where there is no social security for them – none whatsoever. However, I have seen old folk struggling very hard in the economies where the governments taxed them up to their ears, promising to look after them in their retirement, and than neglecting to deliver. This is when usually those governments also blame the situation on capitalism - “I didn't mismanage the economy, it failed … hrm... laissez-faire!”

And many periods of economic hardship, as is very well documented, are delivered to us by undue government controls imposed on the economy. The great depression is the greatest example of all – was a direct result of paper money and centralized reserve banking. So is the recent recession, contrary to what governments want us to believe. This kind of economic hardship just doesn't happen if there was no centralized reserve, if money were a gold or a silver standard, and if fractional reserve banking was treated appropriately by the enforcement agencies – as a fraud.

So here is a prime example of what I was describing earlier – government went ahead and created a legislation to favor an elite group of bankers so they “government” could “stimulate” the “growth” in the economy. Than when their experiment failed, they blamed it on the bankers (not the government, of course, they had only … tried to stimulate the economy....mmmm... do good , eh?) Than, instead of removing failed legislation, they go and introduce legislation to “help” those affected by that government failure, the poor unemployed. They take away the money from everyone else, and give it … to the unemployed... wonderful idea – rob everybody to fix your own screwup. The fact that the particular unemployed didn't really exist before that original legislation was introduced... well... everybody conveniently forgotten about that.

In a society where your liberty is respected you can always find something to do. Nobody guarantees full employment, but, if you are struggling, you can always find yourself a piece of land and work it for it to provide you with the basic necessities (metaphorically speaking....)

So, is it ever necessary to rob people and steal their property? Only if you are an evil person who likes power over people and take joy at their suffering.

I am not like that.

Emil responded:

Emil Ostrovski:

Igor, sorry it took so long to get back to you. With school about to start up again (we had a week-long break) I figure I better respond lest I not have another chance! Ha.

“There is no question at all if the world she proposes is better than the alternative simply because it offers personal liberty as the fundamental right. Liberty is better than being enslaved, no matter what the motive is for the enslavement.”

Ah, but organized society is all about curtailing liberty. I think social contract theorists like Locke had it right. We give up certain rights, under the assumption that everyone will give up certain rights, and that the society as a whole will be better off. An example of this would be murder. I do not have the liberty to kill anyone. I give up that liberty, under the assumption that everyone else in my society gives it up as well. Now, it is possible to argue, I think, that a world of complete liberty, aka, anarchy, is the best of all possible worlds, because the good that exists in that world is of the very highest, purest order.

What I mean by this is simple. Let’s imagine an anarchic world in which our friend, Bill lives his life doing everything in his power never to hurt or harm anyone else. There is something incredible in that. Bill is something of a Saint, because he performs good (Or at the very least, refrains from bad) without any guarantee of reciprocation. Without entering into any kind of social contract. He is something of a martyr, a hero. Whereas in the modern day world, with our social contracts, there is very little we find extraordinary in a man who tries not to harm others. In fact, we all think of ourselves, more or less, as such men.

You could argue that the goodness that arises from a system of limitation, curtailment, control, and social contracts is an artificial sort of goodness, and if you wanted, you could apply this to taxes vs giving to charities (taxes are required, thus, you are forced to be good, whereas charity is given freely.) I would be sympathetic to this view. However, when it comes to practicality (yes, a philosophy major is about to get practical), the simple fact is that I would not want to live in an anarchic world, and I would not wish such a world on anyone. Why? Because we know from social psychology that situations greatly influence peoples’ actions.

If there is nothing that compels people to be good, then there will be a lot less good in the world. True, the good in the anarchic world, on average, will be of a purer, more natural sort than in our controlled society. But the anarchic society, on the whole, will be a much uglier place than our controlled society, because the majority of people will not go out of their way to do good, if there exists nothing to compel them to do so. And so, the reality is, unless we want to live in a world where rape, murder, robbery, etc are commonplace, we need, and for this reason have developed, systems which curtail our natural liberty.

We see this in other animals, as well. A wolf pack, for example, has a very specific hierarchy, and by virtue of this hierarchy, a very specific set of rules that all the wolves must follow. To put it bluntly, in order for any animal to live socially, it must give up certain liberties. A wolf pack cannot function, cannot cooperate if each wolf does not know its place. I cannot have a friend, if the friend thinks at any moment I may try and murder him.

So what we really want is a system which curtails our liberty yet allows us to remain as individuals. We are looking for a happy medium between a society of robots and anarchy. To champion individual liberty over the good of the society is to advocate for anarchy. What we should champion instead, is mediation. Individual liberty within certain limits. So yes, Igor, I support your right to free enterprise.

I support your right to have a company, to make your own money on the basis of your hard work, etc etc. AS LONG AS you are not employing your workers in dangerous conditions (see industrial revolution.) As long as you’re paying equal pay for equal work. As long as you’re paying your full time workers enough so that they can actually afford, at the very least, the bare necessities. Etc.

A democratic government, far from being the tentacled monstrosity conservatives like to paint it as, is the only organ that is intended to serve the interests of the entire society. It is not a perfect system, but a government striving for democracy will always serve the interests of society better than a bunch of businessmen who are only interested in profit (again, we saw this with factory owners in the industrial revolution.)

True, America and Europe never had full laissez faire capitalism (though they were certainly far more laissez faire than they/we are now), but that’s because full laissez faire capitalism is as much of an ideal as Marx’s vision of communism.

Here’s what would happen if we had complete laissez faire capitalism. Over time, oligopolies and monopolies would emerge, and the country would be run completely by them. Instead of looking to politicians as the most powerful men in our country, those who can effect change, we would be looking to the businessmen. And unlike politicians, businessmen are not interested in serving their constituents. They are interested in maximizing profit.

Eventually, people would grow discontent and 1) look to government for some kind of intervention 2) look to change the system, aka, revolt (Marx did not come up with communism in a vacuum, it was a response to the abuses that he saw perpetrated on a daily basis in the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The businessmen, in response, or perhaps preemptively, would look to infiltrate the government (or establish a new one themselves) that would allow them to maintain their power.

Regarding old folk. Bringing in new examples does not refute old examples. In an America during the great depression, when unemployment was 20-25% and where there were virtually no safety nets for older folk, YES, older folk were starving. Still, a quick internet search showed that not everyone views the situation of the elderly in those countries in the same way you do.

You take a look at the elderly in countries like Britain, Sweden, Canada, etc—none of them are struggling the way it seems some of the elderly in Singapore are, doing menial labor into their seventies and possibly beyond.

I can’t comment much on the Great Depression, because I just don’t know enough about economics to discuss it intelligently. I will say, however, that if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a lot of my classes, it’s that no one thinker/writer manages to get the whole truth right. If there are a sizeable chunk of people arguing against you, then the chance is better than not that they have at least a few grains of truth to what they’re saying.

Ultimately, I believe in the search for the happy medium between two extremes. I think that compelling people to be good (to a certain extent) is preferable to allowing them to be bad, and unless you want to advocate for complete anarchy, that’s something you’ll have to swallow. Once you’ve swallowed it, then it makes no sense not to adopt a system which looks out for all the people, the entire demos. In order to look out for the entire demos, regulations are necessary. As James Madison, one of America’s founders, wrote in the Federalist Papers, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

My response to that was:

Igor Portugal:

Dear Emil,

Thank you for the time taken to research and reply - I am enjoying this.

From Wikipedia (yes, I know, not the best source for making assumptions, however a good quick reference point): Anarchy (from Greek: ἀναρχίᾱ anarchíā, "without ruler") may refer to any of the following:

1. "No rulership or enforced authority."
2. "A social state in which there is no governing person or group of people, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder)."
3. "Absence of government; a state of lawlessness due to the absence or inefficiency of the supreme power; political disorder."
4. "Absence or non-recognition of authority and order in any given sphere."
5. "Acting without waiting for instructions or official permission... The root of anarchism is the single impulse to do it yourself: everything else follows from this."

When you are referring to word “anarchy”, which of the above are you referring to? My understanding that the anarchy you are referring to is "Absence of government; a state of lawlessness due to the absence or inefficiency of the supreme power; political disorder."

I don't advocate lawlessness – I absolutely advocate law and obedience to the law. In my view, however, the authority's powers should be limited to enforcing property rights and stopping violence and aggression. That, in my books, is NOT the “anarchy” you are painting.

You say that the organized society is all about curtailing liberty. That is a misconception that has absolutely no foundation, and quite the opposite is true. An organized society functions perfectly well without curtailing people's liberty - provided that you don't consider violence against another person or another person's property as liberty.

All your examples of why liberties should be given up are based on examples of violence. What you are advocating for is that society is based on the premise that violence is a liberty. The society you are advocating for is therefore based on violence! That is worse than the “evil of anarchy” that you are painting and are scared of – it is institutionalized, legalized violence, lawlessness and theft. I don't want to live in such a society – been there (USSR), done that, got the t-short, had enough!

Unleashing evil on the world in order to force people to “be good” is an oxymoron and doesn't achieve any good at all. If you fall for that kind of line, you are naïve and opening yourself up for being taken advantage of by people, wanting to control you and use you for their own purposes, in their own interests and potentially against your interests.

What is good for one person is often evil for another, so for the society as a whole “being good” should not be the rule, as it is an impossible goal to achieve. One must find good in themselves for the benefit of themselves and their loved ones and practice it for the benefit of themselves and their loved ones. That is the only kind of good I recognize.

However, when someone wants to harm me in the name of “good” for somebody else I must question their intentions, and if indeed that “good” is any good at all, or is it a wolf in sheep's clothing – and when you dig deeper it almost always is!

When you compare humans to other animals you fail to recognize the basic difference between humans and other animals. We, humans, have the capability of turning the produce of this earth into more useful goods for ourselves. We apply our labour in order to sustain and improve our lives. We can survive, adopt, and provide for ourselves. We are not parasites living of whatever has been fed to us by nature ready to eat. We will not die if we are not spoon fed. A human is perfectly capable of producing enough goods to sustain their life. What we have recognized however, long time ago, is that if we specialize, we can produce a lot more and infinitely improve our quality of life and increase our power. When you specialize you are dependent on other people producing things that you need and want. That is why we need to live socially. However, all those relationships are perfectly well guided by entering into voluntary contracts between people to trade their labour.

When I look at the pack of wolves I see a pack of parasites – roaming the world, murdering and eating their prey; dying, when there is nobody else to murder and eat. This is the society you are advocating for – a society of parasites who don't want to produce and prey (slaves) who are forced to produce. That society is unsustainable, because eventually the prey realize that it is better to be a parasite and stop producing.

I will refuse to produce for the benefit of parasites. I refuse to have a company where I have to provide employment for parasites – I would rather go on strike and do nothing at all. Thankfully, I live in reasonably free society, so I don't have to.

I will only have a company which employs free people, who agreed, in contract, uncompelled, based on free choice, to trade their labour for the company's money. It is up to them to decide if the money is enough – not me, or some third party who has no business sticking their nose into our relationship. It is up to them to decide and participate in ensuring the environment is safe.

I want to work with free, responsible people – I don't want to have slaves or be enslaved by others.

The industrial revolution began as a good thing, and produced lots of advantages for our lifestyle. However, it is the legislation, that given some industrial tycoons unlimited powers and brought enslavement to workers, that is at fault in the examples that you are providing. Don't confuse government sponsored slavery with the free market! Capitalists who seek government protection of their monopoly are taking away the liberty of the workers – that is not the world I am advocating for at all, so please don't confuse liberty and slavery.

Yes, it is true, that some times throughout the history America and Europe had more laissez faire than other times. It is also true, that the economic and lifestyle improvements we enjoy now, came from those laissez faire times. So we need more laissez faire not less.

Governments always blame laissez faire for each of their monumental failures to govern. Those failures and blame is good for the government as it gives them the ability to strengthen their power even further as people fall for that blame game.

The fact that oligopolies and monopolies emerge in a laissez faire society is a fallacy that has no single example in history of man kind. In fact the opposite is true – all oligopolies and monopolies that ever existed were created by government sanction or legislation. Of course when the government enslaves people like that at a barrel of a gun, otherwise known as legislation, the only way for people to respond is rebellion and revolt. This is exactly what happens to create the environment you and Marx describe as leading to revolution.

The problem is that every time people revolt, their leaders, now in power, undertake identical abuses against which they revolted in the first place – often even worst abuses.

Ditto – your old folk examples. The great depression which was caused by government regulation of the blood of free society – money – is the great example that proves my points above. Guess what happens when people like me get enslaved and stop working – there is no production, food and people are dying, and the weakest, the elderly get hurt first. That is the exact scenario of a world you are advocating – a world where the liberties are given up in the name of “good”.

And if you look at the examples of stories that you've provided around Singapore, they all claim that increase in homelessness “not linked to financial crisis”??? A thinking man has to wonder.

How many homeless people has America produced out of the financial crisis? How many homeless people who struggles in Europe that were created by the crisis?

That is another example of government regulating money supply, hurting people – exactly what economists like Hayek and Mises predicted. And what is the result? The usual – the governments blame laissez faire.

How do they get away with it? Simple: most people don't understand and don't want to understand economics. Laissez faire is counter intuitive – to understand that laissez faire and liberty is the best option for people you need to understand economics.

So, your statement “I just don’t know enough about economics” is representative of what is going on in the world. You are building a whole opinion and philosophical framework about how the economics of the world should work without the understanding of economics!

There are no “two extremes” here. There is liberty, and than there are evil people that want to take it away from us by manipulating us into believing how bad the world is, by creating devils that don't exist. If you understand economics, you understand that there is nothing to fear in laissez faire economy.

And when you understand that there is nothing to fear, you will see that liberty is the happiest medium!

1 Nov. 2010

There was a response from Emil. Unfortunately it is too long for the comments below, so here it is:

Emil Ostrovski:

“Thank you for the time taken to research and reply - I am enjoying this.”

Likewise, thanks to you, Igor, for having this dialogue with me, and thanks to all readers and commenters. Bob and Another day in Paradise, I apologize for not being able to address you specifically, but this response will be lengthy as it is.

Before I begin, I’d like to point out something I should’ve pointed out a while ago. This really is not a debate of socialism vs liberty. This is more of a debate between laissez-faire and any kind of regulation. The way Rand has framed it is misleading, purposefully incendiary, and part of a long tradition of conservatives calling everything they disagree “Socialism.” Socialism, I will remind you (according to is “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”

Nothing I’ve said here, and nothing Rand’s interviewer said, is advocating for the adopting of a socialist system.

Regarding anarchy. I suppose I should have been clearer. What I meant was closest to "A social state in which there is no governing person or group of people, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder),” except without that last bit in the quotes. Anarchists feel there will not be disorder, because social relations/relations of reciprocity will develop naturally, in an un-coerced manner, within an ungoverned state.
The example I was making, for the purpose of our argument, was a sort of “absolute anarchy,” in which there are no reciprocal relations (this is an ideal state, and obviously impossible to actually achieve. It was meant to be taken primarily in an illustrative sense.)

“I don't advocate lawlessness – I absolutely advocate law and obedience to the law. In my view, however, the authority's powers should be limited to enforcing property rights and stopping violence and aggression. That, in my books, is NOT the “anarchy” you are painting.”
So then, you are not making liberty foundation at all. Rather, you are advocating constraining liberty via law, for the purpose of something more foundational than liberty (which is basically what I said myself.)

Now, I already know you will protest this characterization, because you go on to protest that liberty is only ever a good thing, and express indignation at my calling the ability to do violence a liberty. So before we can progress, we must tackle that roadblock.
We’re going to tackle it in the Socratic tradition. By asking questions.

What is liberty?

My answer is that liberty is the ability to act and think of one’s own accord.

For me, having liberty is having freedom (to act, think), and freedom from constraints (on acting, thinking.) To be free, autonomous, have free will. This conception of liberty is not by any means new, and is largely agreed upon. includes a number of definitions for liberty, including “freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.” NOTE, nowhere does it talk about reciprocity.

Now, you seem to define liberty as such: The ability to live, own property, and act and think of one’s own accord, *as long as one does not infringe upon someone else’s life, property, or ability to act and think of their own accord.*

The highlighted part is a qualification. The part you are qualifying is “The ability to act and think of one’s own accord,” and you are qualifying it in such a way so that it constitutes a reciprocal relationship.
Now, it’s worth it here to take the time to state, explicitly, that the difference between us, so far, is that I argue for qualifying liberty (freedom of action, thought) through law, whereas you enclose within the definition of liberty itself, something that qualifies it.

Before we go on, here’s something for you to consider. This is mostly an aside, and not 100% necessary to my actual argument. What would you call “the ability to act and think of one’s own accord?” What word would you use to describe this? Freedom? Autonomy? Whatever word you would use, that is the word that is more foundational than your version of liberty, because whatever word it is, you have to make it reciprocal in order to get your version of liberty. In other words, what you’re calling Freedom, or autonomy, or (insert word here) I’m calling liberty. This is a debate of semantics.

The next question then, is, WHY are we both qualifying liberty (you are doing it internally within its definition, I am doing it externally via law)?

The answer that I actually should’ve given you before, but didn’t, and the answer that I think you’ll agree with, is that a world that does not qualify liberty (either internally or externally) is an immoral world. THAT is the real reason why we don’t want to live in such a world.

The next question is, why is such a world immoral?

We can answer this by restating what we’ve established already: “This world is immoral, because liberty is not made reciprocal.”

But WHY must liberty be reciprocal, in a moral world?

Because we believe all humans have an equal right to life, liberty, and property.

Why do all human beings have an equal right to life, liberty, and property?

Because human beings are all rational, intelligent beings, who have autonomy/free will, and in making the conscious decision to accept/respect the autonomy of other rational intelligent beings, we are doing what no other animals can, and thus affirming our humanity. To be moral, then, is to be human. To be immoral, to act in an animalistic fashion, is to act, as you say, like a “parasite.”

Now the question is, how do we ensure that every member of the society’s rights life, liberty, and property are equally protected? (note, when I say everyone has an equal right to property, I’m NOT saying everyone should own everything/advocating for communism/socialism.)

Well, we do this through our social contracts and our laws.

Up to this point, we should largely be in agreement. As I said before, the main point of disagreement seems to me to have been on the level of semantics.

So the point at which we diverge is the next question, which is, “What constitutes a violation on someone’s equal right to life, equal right to liberty, and/or equal right to property?”

I believe that having a system where the quality of healthcare available to its citizens varies according to how much a given citizen makes, is a violation of an equal right to life. Such a system seems, rather, to give those who are more financially endowed a higher right to life than those less financially endowed.

I believe that having a system in which the employer is not required to provide (reasonably) safe working conditions does not make due on the promise of an equal respect for life. If the owners in some of these industrial age factories had to spend one day a week working in their own factories, I bet you all my money that safety conditions would have been on a much higher level.

Your claim that the abuses of the industrialists all stemmed from government regulation is off-base to say the least. There was no legislation that said, “It is okay for an employer to put the worker in needlessly dangerous conditions if the worker is desperate enough to agree to it.” Rather, the problem was that there wasn’t enough legislation to protect the worker. There was no regulation that said, “It is okay to pay women half of what you pay men.” Rather, the problem was, there was no regulation that said, “Equal pay for equal work.”

I believe that having a system in which a company saves money by polluting indiscriminately violates the equal rights to liberty, life, and property of the people living in the affected region. The company GE, General Electronics, over the years dumped tons and tons of chemicals into our local Hudson River, with little regard to the consequences, and even after it was discovered that the chemicals they were dumping were a “probable cause of cancer,” they didn’t stop until the government made them.

“For 30 years, General Electric dumped PCBs into New York's Hudson River from two plants that made electrical capacitors. In 1976, when PCBs were found to be a probable cause of cancer, GE didn't stop the dumping - until ordered to do so by the federal government in 1977.”

I believe that there needs to be a federal public education system, and that this system should strive to provide all students throughout the country with an equal level/quality of education (the higher the quality, the better, of course.) Because to have poor schools in poor regions and rich schools in rich regions, is not to give all students the same opportunities to succeed, but rather to privilege students on the basis of their economic situation. And at the point at which you give some students opportunities while denying other students those same opportunities, simply on the basis of how much their parents make, you are not treating them equally.

I can go on, of course.

Regarding the Great Depression. I have a friend who is a senior economics major, vice president of some economics/business club, applying to Grad School to study economics and/or political economy. I asked him what caused the Great Depression. He told me

1. The contraction of the money supply by the Fed
2. The failure of the banks, which came about as a result of people withdrawing their money when the stock market crashed and the fed’s contraction of the money supply.

So, fair enough. But nowhere did I say that the Federal Government should have the power to play with the money supply. All I said is that it must enact regulations that allow for the equal right to life, liberty, and property. So you have a point. It's just not one that I intended to contest.

Unfortunately, then you go and say this. “Guess what happens when people like me get enslaved and stop working – there is no production, food and people are dying, and the weakest, the elderly get hurt first.”

This is just kind of silly, Igor. People didn’t stop working in some great act of rebellion against their enslavement via government regulation. People stopped working, because there weren’t enough jobs. And at the time, the country was completely unprepared to deal with the social ramifications of an economic failure of such a magnitude, and did not have the safety nets in place to prevent widespread suffering.

I’d recommend you read the novel, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. It’s perhaps my favorite novel, and it deals with an average family from Oklahoma and how they navigate the Depression. It is NOT a partisan novel. It merely gives you an idea of what was going on.

All this said, I also asked my economics major friend the following.

Me: What do economists attribute the rise/existence of oligopolies to in our modern day, mixed economy?

Him: Natural competitiveness. Oligopolies arise out of collusion. It’s easier to make a buck with a few companies all fixing prices together.

Me: And why wouldn’t this happen in a hypothetical, modern day laissez faire economy?
Him: It would.

Regarding Singapore.

First you say there is no homelessness problem in Singapore.

When I show you there is, you change your tune a bit, and say, well, the homelessness is not linked to the financial crisis. I just want to clarify that this is a point you’re ceding me.

Now, my response is, well, from what I understand, Singapore, broadly speaking, has been relatively unaffected by the financial crisis. So, if Singapore as a country was largely unaffected, why would we expect their homelessness rates to be affected? In the event that Singapore suffers a major economic meltdown, you can bet homelessness rates will be affected.

“So, your statement “I just don’t know enough about economics” is representative of what is going on in the world. You are building a whole opinion and philosophical framework about how the economics of the world should work without the understanding of economics!”

I am building a philosophical framework on how to have a moral society, and applying that to the economic field (among others), yes.

I’m not saying that the economy should be controlled by the state. All I’m saying is essentially what you’re saying, that the equal rights to life, liberty, and property must be respected. The difference is, you’re making all regulation out to be evil, which is simply not the case. It’s a vast oversimplification and highly misleading.

And here is my response:

Igor Portugal:

Dear Emil,

This last reply of yours is excellent and your discussion on definition of liberty is a masterpiece, I must admit I really enjoyed your philosophical argument about liberty. Unfortunately your conclusions from that argument are not so logical and the facts you present later are incorrect. Let me explain.

Before I do, I will attempt to reply to your philosophical discussion on definition of Liberty (naturally, I disagree with your logic. However, unlike you, I haven't studied philosophy, so you are actually giving my brain a workout – I love that, thank you!)

Your logic somehow goes against some of the greatest thinkers in history on what Liberty is. According to John Stuart Mill, on Liberty:

“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

Perhaps he got it wrong?

Another great thinker, Frédéric Bastiat talks about Liberty:

"In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so?"

Perhaps he got it wrong too?

So, excuse my inexperience, but others before me had fallen into the same trap.

A definition is a kind of a limiting thing. When you define something, you are qualifying what it is, and what it isn't. If you have to go on qualifying it externally, the definition is incomplete. If you need a process to keep adjusting your definition – you haven't defined anything at all!

If your definition of liberty requires a government to continue passing laws to qualify what it is, then it is not a definition. I fully agree with your assessment of the morality of the world that you are advocating to build, based on your definition of liberty – it is immoral. As I previously argued, it is also violent.

I will stand by my definition of liberty, for the purposes of this debate, unless you can come up with a complete one, that does not require further qualification - a definition upon which we both can agree. At the end of the day, you replied to my statement that uses the term “Liberty” - so you must abide by my definition of the word for the purposes of the debate, unless you can show that there is a universal definition accepted by everyone.

You agreed with me that I don't advocate for anarchy. Great, lets leave it at that.

It is funny, however, you should try to distance this debate away from socialism, “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”. There is a certain stigma about it in the world, as the history unequivocally has proven to us that economically socialism doesn't work – it brings about poverty. Politically, it brings oppression.

One must replace “community as a whole” in the above definition with “government” - I hope you agree with me on this minor alteration of your definition as being synonymous. So if you argue for “ vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in government” than you are arguing for socialism (that is what you seem to say)

When you are talking about purely philosophical matters, I grant it to you, I can't relate what you are talking about to socialism. However, every single argument and example you bring on practical implementation of your philosophy absolutely falls under the definition of socialism you yourself adopted.

Also, without much explanation or philosophical foundation you suddenly work a notion of “equal rights” into this debate. The “rights” you are talking about are usually a “right” for one and a “wrong” for another. Do I need to go into the history books and find you the count of how many buckets of blood was spilled in the name of “equal rights”? Nobody has a right to help themselves to my property or my liberty or my life. I don't recognize that right.
“Equal rights” are the primary motto of socialists.

An “equal right” to healthcare means government equally dishing out healthcare, means “ vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution “ of healthcare in government – that is socialism according to your definition, as advocated by you.

A system whereby government bureaucrat decides what is safe and what isn't safe in a workplace is, again, vesting control of production in government – falls perfectly under your own definition of socialism.

You advocate for a federal public education system, thus “vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution “ of education in government... no matter how sound your argument and logic is, you are still advocating for socialism.

So this is absolutely a debate of Socialism vs. Liberty, and you are advocating for Socialism time and time again.

The proof for my claim that abuses by the industrialists stemmed from government regulation can be found in history. The nature of what the conditions of workers during industrial revolution were was studied and described by Ludwig von Mises in his book “Human Action: The Scholar's Edition” (excerpt can be found here:

Of course nobody explicitly passed a legislation to put workers in “needlessly dangerous conditions” - just like people didn't explicitly call for murder while advocating for “equal rights”.

It is the legislation that granted to privileged few a monopoly over production, that has led to scarcity of work, was fully responsible in the creation of the conditions of abuse.
Is a company by polluting indiscriminately violates the property of the people living in the affected region? Sue the bastards! Get them to repair the damage to the property! Why can't you sue? Because the government legislated against that! In New Zealand, for example, we have legislation on ACC – a universal government “insurance” - that stops people from suing any business for accidents happening from neglect to provide safe environment. In other terms, the government protecting industrial negligence. Under that pretense they also given themselves the right to regulate and police workplace safety. So when they fail to police good workplace safety practices, the impacted worker has no right to ask “the industrialist” to repair the damage. All done in the name of “equal rights” and “protection for workers” - now, how is that logical?
In the US it was the so called “public nuisance laws” that were used to stop people from suing industrialists. Why? Because government wanted industry to develop, to increase GDP, so they “induced” the development of industry by stopping people from defending their liberties.

“For 30 years, General Electric dumped PCBs into New York's Hudson River from...” - ditto – how many years did General Electric and its businesses enjoy government protection, laws that given it monopoly rights?
Here is at least one example where government is trying to undo its own doing – a patent GE had on making lightbulbs apparently makes them a monopoly... dohhhh:,9171,718128,00.html

When PCBs were found to be a probable cause of cancer, why could the people affected not seek compensation for their health? Or could they? If it was in New Zealand they wouldn't be able to – based on that ACC legislation.

Fact is that governments around the globe control the money supply. Fact that it affects business, often destroys it, thus affecting jobs everywhere! I am glad you are not advocating for that to continue. I hope you can also see how governments created banking oligarchies (or the oligarchies bought governments?) - well, whichever point of view you take, the banking oligarchies enjoy government protection of their monopoly position. Ditto – problems with jobs and plunging some people into poverty.

You say “People didn’t stop working in some great act of rebellion against their enslavement via government regulation.” - metaphorically speaking, they did in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged – a great novel, I would recommend anyone to read it who hasn't.

In reality – of course they do! Don't be silly – if my business gets regulated out of existence, I will not carry on risking everything I have for the greater moral good. I'll shut it down and either go work for someone else, government if I have to, or perhaps collect social security benefit. The only reason I'll need the benefit is because government regulated the business out of existence in the first place.

“People stopped working, because there weren’t enough jobs” - not enough jobs? what an absurd concept! Why is there not enough jobs? There is always plenty to do! Who do you think is creating jobs? We are! By us, I don't mean me, I mean all of us, people. The only reason there isn't enough jobs is because government regulated jobs out of existence.

There is very good scientific proof offered by many modern economists that existence of monopolies and oligopolies is impossible in laissez faire economy. Here is one:
“One of the worst fallacies in the field of economics—propagated by Karl Marx and accepted by almost everyone today, including many businessmen—is that the development of monopolies is an inescapable and intrinsic result of the operation of a free, unregulated economy. In fact, the exact opposite is true. It is a free market that makes monopolies impossible.”
Read more here:

So, I am afraid, IMHO, in this particular matter your student friend doesn't really know what he is talking about.

Don't get me wrong – businessmen are often as much to blame for influencing protectionist legislation to grant them monopolies. That is done to shut down competition – and because of the natural competitiveness. But it is only possible because the rest of the public advocates for government controlled economy. It is impossible in laissez faire environment.

I never said anything about homelessness in Singapore. We were talking about the old folk, and I simply pointed out a surface theme of the articles that you provided, without doing much further research. So your last comment is not very relevant to the discussion – perhaps neither is my earlier statement.

I am advocating, and agreeing with you that rights to life, liberty, and property must be respected – and protected by government!

I just don't like the word “equal”. That word is loaded and it justifies all sorts of nasty behavior. By perceived inequality bloodshed and oppression are justified.

To me “equal rights”=“ultimate evil”.

“The difference is, you’re making all regulation out to be evil” - no, I don't. Only the regulation that takes life, liberty or property away from people who did not violate other person's life, liberty or property. All other regulation is good.

“I’m not saying that the economy should be controlled by the state.”

Alleluia! We finally agree – our Facebook dream come true!

If there is a reply, I will publish it.

To the reader, whoever you are, if you are reading this, feel free to join the debate by posting a comment below.


  1. I'm very much enjoying this respectful discussion. This is exactly the type of discussion that would lead to more understanding between people who have different views. Here are some thoughts and comments based on years and years of studying this topic:
    1. Where there is liberty, people as a whole flourish. Not equally, but even the poor in a free-er society are significantly better off than than their counterparts in less-free societies. The more government control (socialism) the more poverty and strife, especially for the poor.
    2. As brilliant as Ayn Rand was, she unfortunately used terms that could/would be misconstrued by those who did not follow her work. When she spoke out about "altruism" she was really not defining the word as most people do. She was talking about force, not individual giving based on that giving being of free will and in alignment with a person's values. She was talking about force. This is unfortunate as it has caused great confusion and has resulting in people closing their minds to her many great ideas...that have proven to be true.
    3. Igor explained that liberty means that one can do whatever they please in pursuit of their personal happiness PROVIDING they don't infringe upon the rights of others. Unfortunately, Emil did what most people do and that is ignore that part (about infringing upon rights of others) and equated murder and such with freedom. Again, that's such a shame that people do that. Obviously, one's liberty does not mean they can infringe upon the rights and liberties of others. Please, one must pay attention to these things. They are vital in having a productive conversation on this topic.
    4. The Depression was indeed caused by government meddling; NOT the free market. Emil, not having read about it is not an excuse. It is absolutely necessary to read about it in order to understand it and form opinions for the present.
    5. Liberty works for the benefit of all; socialism works only for the politicians and those who have access to controlling the politicians. The information is out there. But, again, it takes some study to work past the surface issues.
    6. Government, in a free society, does have it's legitimate functions; to protect against force (internally and externally) and fraud. Other than that, it is only there to provide an environment where people are free to live their lives however they see fit...providing of course that they do not infringe upon the rights of others. We've never totally had this kind of society. However, to the degree that we and any society has, we/they have prospered as a nation. To the degree we/they have not, the people have suffered (all except the politicians and the politically connected).

    Best regards,


  2. Freedom.
    This is a very strong word.

    I think too many people paint captialism and large corporations as villians. This upsets me.

    Our world has changed so much, it is almost beyond measure for most. And as technology changes, and currency changes, and more people acquire more wealth...our world looks different.

    We will never experience the "depression" that my mother lived through. When you can go to the drive-thru window at McDonalds after hours and pick up enough change to purchase food at the Dollar store.....that would have been a miracle during the great depression. Many of the farmers bartered during the great depression. My mother came from a family that farmed and her father was also a blacksmith and mechanic of sorts. They bartered for everything because few people had paper money and everything was so inflated that even if you did have money, it didn't buy much. So, when Farmer Jones slaughtered the hog, he shared with Farmer Smith. And when the crops were harvested at Mr. Smith's farm, he shared with Farmer Jones. They had community canneries.....where all the ladies in the community shared the "facility" to get canning done. And they all helped one another. The ladies had quilting bees; getting together with scraps of fabric & worn out clothing to sew quilts.

    Under these types of conditions, everyone relies on everyone else. STILL, if you are more skilled, then you still have the advantage. There will ALWAYS be more intelligent people, but those people are generally the more generous when they obtain more wealth. They are the charitable.

    There is a lot of wealth in our society today. And I am happy there is still the opportunity to obtain wealth. Either by thrift, intelligence, skill, or sheer luck. And anyone that has obtained wealth in any way related to work - should not have it taken by the government and "politicians" who decide that ART is a necessity and part of my money needs to go towards art....of which these same politicians will define art.

    Communist and socialist societies breed laziness. And there will ALWAYS be someone with too much power - making decisions for everyone - whether the majority likes it or not. I like to think that in a capitalist society, we all have a fair shot at the wealth. Perhaps social settings put some at a disadvantage....that would happen in a socialist society as well. Furthermore, if the government dictates the salary of doctors, there will be fewer doctors. I guess few people will want to subject themselves to the rigor of that position without the decent salary that goes with it. And if you have a doctor that is particularly good at something....let's say heart transplants....that is a horribly demanding job. Why would a politician decide what pay scale that person deserves?

    There are many things that would correct themselves if government would step back and get their hands out of the pot. Taxes should not be taken from citizens for anything short of necessity. Welfare recipients should have to take the same drug tests that any government employee is subjected to.

    I also refuse to play the politically correct game. I call a spade a spade. It is not racism. I am not a bigot. I am not a homophobe. I simply try to speak the truth as I see it...with a little understanding about economics, some common sense, and a kind heart.

  3. A friend asked me related to this debate: well... what about Conservatism?

    Again, even here, it all depends on your definition :)

    You can take one from Wikipedia:
    "Conservatism (Latin: conservare, "to preserve")[1] is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports minimal and gradual change in society."

    The question is a change in which direction? This is wide open to interpretation and leads to confusion.

    At the moment conservative movement (at least in New Zealand) is about taking baby steps from socialism to liberty. However, it hasn't always been that way. Having learned about political history I discovered that conservatives used to push states into religious fanaticism and oligarchical control. I must point out here: I have nothing against religion!

    I used to view myself very much as conservative, however couldn't agree with everything that conservatives were doing, and was always writing it off to "seeking a happy medium" - as Emil very well put it in our debate.

    Having learned a little bit of economics and history I have a much better foundation and understanding of politics now.

    Conservatism may be one of the possible pathways to liberty in the modern world. But we need to keep an eye on it as without solid foundation it may take a u-turn on us at any time.

  4. Another friend said to me:

    "If you are debating right vs. left, I think a fairer label to use is "liberalism" as opposed to "socialism". Socialism is a loaded term, which is unfair to use because not all liberals are socialists, just like not all libertarians are conservatives (as you pointed out). You have already tipped the scales in favor of yourself from the point of view of liberals (who are not socialists) so the playing field is not even."

    My answer was:

    The debate started from a link that I posted which was to a video interview with Ayn Rand titled "Liberty vs. Socialism", however that is not to say I disagree with the title, it is to say that I can't take the credit or the blame for the title of this particular debate ;)

    However, I disagree with the use of the word "liberalism" - to me it is confusing matters.

    Originally (17th / 18th century meaning) "Liberal" used to mean someone supporting "Liberty" = personal freedom. That is exactly what I am advocating for. Unfortunately the word was hijacked by socialists when they were fighting governments at the turn of 19th century - they were promising "freedom" to the "working classes", hence the use of "liberty". From my point of view the "working classes" were cheated, and were enslaved under the presences of "freedom" - ditto, USSR.

    Later in the last century, when the west developed a stigma associated with socialism, due to what was happening in the Soviet Union, the western socialists dumped socialism for liberalism. So to me modern liberalism is a mis-labeled socialism.

    Conservatism to me is not a philosophy on how to build a society, but a philosophy on how to adjust it. Not a part of the debate.

    What we are debating about is not a pathway from where we are now to where we want to be. That is a whole different conversation. What we are debating is about the destination, not the journey, fundamentals on how our society can work. A few people at the top ruling everyone else, or everyone being responsible for themselves. The former you can call socialism, dictatorship or whatever else. The latter I call liberty, freedom, personal responsibility.

    You can argue for a "happy medium" - but as soon as you move an inch away from everyone being responsible and free, you are taking liberties away from people - so must drop the "liberal" label or risk being a hypocrite. "Socialist" works since the argument is to take away liberty from some people for a wider social benefit. So to me the use of the term is very fair.

  5. My friends answer to the above response was:

    "Liberty may have been misused by USSR by the communists but the slogan of France and US during their respective revolutions "liberty, equality, fraternity", did not have socialist connotations to the same degree. You are equating communism/socialism with liberalism and its just WRONG. Even if I am wrong based on my historical argument, talk to any modern liberal academic and they will say the same thing. In fact there are distinctly communist, marxist movements both in academia and in the world generally. So this equivocation of terms is completely misguided and rather simplistic.

    FYI, Socialism was never dumped by the western world. It was always liberalism to my knowledge."

    To which I replied:

    The misuse had nothing to do with USSR - in fact they didn't use "liberty" at all - they proudly used socialism and communism. Well, except for, in relation to French revolution, they did use "liberty".

    And how can't you see that French misused the word too - a liberty that washed Paris in blood - I don't want that kind of liberty, that is not liberty at all! Look at what is happening in France now - they are burning tires and smashing people's livelihoods in the name of "liberalism". That is socialism in its prime! So the slogan in France absolutely had socialist connotations.

    As for the US - I couldn't find any reference to "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" in relation to their revolution, other than the fact that it was French revolution slogan - please find a source of reference for that. But somehow I think if Americans were using the slogan during their revolution, their meaning of "equality" and "fraternity" was completely different from the meaning drawn by French egalitarians, socialists or modern day "liberals".

    You also said in your other email "FYI, Socialism was never dumped by the western world. It was always liberalism to my knowledge." - that is not quite true, as "socialism" was prosecuted in some parts of western world for a brief period of time many "socialists" re-branded themselves into liberals. That is a historical fact:

    All of it is semantics though and it is a whole different debate. Look at classical liberalism vs. modern libertarianism - makes your brain boil what is liberal and what isn't... and here is another example: why confuse people?

    Also, please note - I use "socialism" not "communism" - there is a difference. Again, another debate.

    I advocate for true liberty though, where every body is free, not just privileged few. If you tell me that there is any other kind of liberty, I will call you a hypocrite (with all due respect, and somehow I don't think this is what you are saying :) You can call it simplistic, but why unnecessarily complicate things?