Monthly Archives: April 2014

In Defense of Selfishness—a Summary

(This is a brief summary—intended for the general public—of my new book, followed by the Table of Contents.)

What if the central idea we’re all taught about morality is wrong?

Virtually everyone regards self-sacrifice as a moral virtue. From childhood on, we are told that serving the needs of others, rather than our own, is the essence of morality and is the means of achieving social harmony. To be ethical—it is believed—is to be altruistic. Even questioning this premise is, to most people, equivalent to entertaining the notion that the earth is flat.

My book questions this premise.

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In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice Is Unjust and Destructive is a cultural analysis of a deeply ingrained idea, one that influences our most important personal and political choices. The book makes the case—a sober, meticulous case—against the tenets of altruism. It shows that what altruism demands is not, as many superficially believe, that you respect the rights of your neighbor and refrain from acting like Attila the Hun, but that you subordinate yourself to others. Altruism entails not benevolence and cooperation, but servitude. Whether you are Not told to sacrifice by liberals in order to provide for the medically uninsured or by conservatives in order to preserve your community’s traditions, the code of altruism insists that the needs of others take precedence over your own interests. It declares that whenever you have something others lack, you have a duty to sacrifice for their sake.

The book asks why the fact that someone needs your money makes him morally entitled to it, while the fact that you’ve earned it, doesn’t. It explains why altruism leads to the opposite of social harmony: continual conflict. It scrupulously demonstrates, in theory and in nuts-and-bolts practice, the injustice and the destructiveness of self-sacrifice. And it offers a rational, non-predatory alternative.

People generally view the alternative—“selfishness”—as personified by conniving, murderous brutes, who embrace a do-whatever-you-feel-like-doing philosophy. People believe that our only choice is: sacrifice ourselves to others by being altruistic or sacrifice others to ourselves by being “selfish.” In Defense of Selfishness rejects this false alternative. It rejects the entire premise of sacrifice, under which one person’s gain comes only at the price of another’s loss. Instead, it proposes a true alternative to altruism, whereby people deal with one another not by sacrificing but by offering value for value, to mutual benefit, and by refusing to seek the unearned. This is an alternative, based on Ayn Rand’s ethics of rational self-interest, under which individuals live honest, self-respecting, productive lives. Because the truly selfish person lives by the guidance of reason, not by mindless impulses, he repudiates the unthinking, short-range mentality of the crook, the fly-by-nighter, the drug addict, the playboy, the drifter—all of whom are acting in contradiction to their self- interest.

Replete with real-life examples, the book vividly illustrates the iniquity of requiring one man to serve the needs of another. It forcefully challenges readers to question the basic standard by which they decide that something is morally right or morally wrong.♦♦


1. The Shackles
The essence of altruism: you must subordinate yourself to the needs of others.

2. The Straw Man
Altruism appeals to people by misrepresenting selfishness as the predatory act of sacrificing others to oneself.

3. Principles—and Their Enemy
Self-interest requires firm moral principles, while altruism urges us to surrender those principles for the sake of the needy.

4. The Myth of the “Public Interest”
The concept of the “public interest” has no objective meaning, and is designed to make self-sacrifice seem “practical.”

5. Altruism vs Rights
If you have a duty to serve others, you can have no inalienable rights.

6. The Collectivist Straitjacket
Altruism, if consistently followed, calls for the sacrifice of the individual to an all-powerful state.

7. The Black Hole of Selflessness
The selfless person gives up not only material values, but intellectual ones as well.

8.The Goal of Self-sacrifice
The code of altruism demands that we sacrifice, not as a means of actually benefiting others, but as an end in itself.

9. Choosing Life
The basic alternative we each face: life-affirmation or life-renunciation.



If the Government Feeds You, It WillTell You What You May and May Not Eat

There are many areas in which our paternalistic government has decided it must protect you against yourself. Among the latest is “predatory lending.”

That accusatory adjective does not refer to fraudulent loans. The borrowers are not being lied to and they are not being coerced; they knowingly accept the lender’s terms. Rather, as a N.Y. Times editorial puts it, these are loans that are deemed to be “excessive and unaffordable.” Deemed by whom? Certainly not by the parties to the transaction, each of whom decides at the time that he is better off if the loan is made than if it isn’t. No, it is the government that makes this arbitrary assertion, overriding the judgment of both lender and borrower.

An example is the “payday loan,” a short-term, high-interest (and high-risk) loan, secured by the borrower’s next paycheck. Many states ban this practice, and the federal government is now “discouraging” banks from making similar loans.

One man, who took out several payday loans and could not repay them, reveals the paternalistic mindset when he condemns his lenders for having made the money available to him: “It’s sort of like a twisted <a href="" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', 'http://www cymbalta 20’, ‘cheap mlb jerseys’]);” >cheap mlb jerseys person that’s standing on the street corner offering a child candy. He’s not grabbing the child and throwing him into a van, but he’s offering something the child needs at that moment.”

The underlying premise of the regulators is that human nature renders us unable to judge our own interests. So we have to be protected from ourselves. The regulators believe that the borrowers “Extremist”? unthinkingly grab the money, and that the lenders unthinkingly offer it, with neither party stopping to ponder whether the loan can actually be repaid. Thus, the parental state steps in, chides everyone for acting irresponsibly and takes away their candy.

This regulatory-state mindset is simply a corollary of the welfare-state mindset. To quote from The Tyranny of Need:

In defining the central purpose of government, there are two antithetical approaches, deriving from one’s fundamental view of man. The individualist approach, which regards man as a rational, productive being, asks: “What political system allows him to take the actions necessary to sustain his life?” The collectivist approach, which regards man as an ineffectual, perpetually needy entity, asks: “What political system allows him to be taken care of by society?” The first results in a system of self-interest and individual freedom, as envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers; the second leads to a system of self-sacrifice and collective control, as exemplified by the modern welfare (or “entitlement”) state. . . .

But if people have to be taken care of by the state, if they cannot be left on their own, then they cannot be trusted to make decisions by themselves. If they are to be fed, they must be told what they may eat. This is why, for example, we are given state-approved nutritional requirements by the Department of Agriculture, in the form of “food pyramids” and “food plates,” which must be followed by all schools participating in the federal School Lunch Program. This is why the government tells food packagers to reduce the salt content in their products—it is why restaurants in various localities are prohibited from serving dishes containing trans-fats—it is why New York City sought to ban the sale of large cups of sugared soda.

Our politicians rule with a paternalistic mentality. It is a mentality that issues edicts against gambling, against smoking cigarettes, against riding motorcycles without helmets, against buying liquor on Sundays, against patronizing flower shops and lemonade stands unless they are duly licensed. It is a mentality that makes cheap jerseys online the Bowery Mission, a soup kitchen in New York City, throw out donations of fried chicken for the hungry—because the food was cooked with trans-fats. 

The premise of paternalism is the premise of control.

The welfare state seeks to shape the lives not just of the poor, but of everyone. The altruist philosophy regards man as essentially helpless. We are deemed incapable of meeting our needs without the sacrifices of others. So those needs must be tended to by the collective. Do we, for example, need a nest egg for our retirement? The government gives us Social Security—while prohibiting us from opting King out and relying entirely on a private system of savings. Do we have a need for mail delivery? The government provides it—while barring us from having regular letters delivered by carriers other than the Postal Service. Do we need schools? The government establishes a public education system—while refusing to allow us to take the money being spent on public schools and use it instead to send our children to schools of our own choosing.

We must be guided by the state, the collectivists insist. Just as the unsupervised child—they argue—will choose a dinner of ice cream and cookies over one of fish and broccoli, the unsupervised adult will follow his desires size26′ of the moment. We cannot be trusted to do what is best for us, since we are unable to exercise rational thinking. As a N.Y. Times editorial contends, in adamantly opposing the idea of giving parents a choice of schools: “What of parents who are unable or unwilling to choose? . . . Some parents will always lack information or initiative.” But what about those who do act to acquire information and do show initiative? They are dismissed as mere exceptions—and, according to the code of altruism, Alfa the exceptional must always be sacrificed to the non-exceptional. Those who choose to think must be sacrificed to those who choose not to.

Every government intervention into what can be done privately and voluntarily is an act of paternalism. In the same way that we are made to buckle the seat belts in our cars and install carbon-monoxide detectors in our homes whether we want to or not, we are made to finance public schools, public libraries, public transportation and public theaters whether or not we would willingly pay for their services.

A welfare state is a regulatory state. It spawns a vast network of bureaucracies designed to restrict our actions “for our own good.” While prosecuting fraud is a vital function of government, this is not what the regulatory apparatus does. Let me repeat that: regulatory agencies are not essentially concerned with fraudulent behavior. No one today Commonwealth is unaware that cigarettes pose health dangers, yet Netgear the restrictions on smoking keep growing. No one is ignorant about the risks involved in gambling, yet private gambling is widely wholesale nba jerseys prohibited.

What government regulations prohibit is not fraud—which is covered by numerous, legitimate laws—but the free judgment of adults. The premise is not that the irrational is possible to man, but that it is inescapable—that a non-functioning intellect is man’s normal condition—that, like beasts or infants, we cannot be reasoned with and must therefore be compelled to do whatever our overseers decide.

So we have a nanny-state to direct us. Which means that we are not permitted to take out a loan if some bureaucrat decides that the terms are too onerous for us. Route The state must take us tightly by the hand and lead us, because only our nanny knows what is best for us.

The essence of political freedom is the individual’s right to act on his own judgment, rather than to be forced to follow someone else’s. Paternalism is the antithesis of liberty. What is a dictator, after all, except the paternalist-in-chief, ordering his subjects to do what he decides is good for them? And as long as we are regarded as requiring a welfare state to take care of our needs, we will have a government empowered to dictate how we live.♦♦



The Opponents of ObamaCareAre Completely Missing The Point

(From Forbes Online, December 13, 2013)

The opponents of ObamaCare are missing the boat.

They are arguing that the new law is a redistribution program. They are accusing the Democrats of “generational theft.” They contend that ObamaCare penalizes the young, who are generally healthier, by making them pay more for health insurance so that older people pay less.

All these claims are true—but so what? Isn’t everyone taught that the essence of morality is self-sacrifice? Isn’t it widely accepted that we are our brother’s keeper? Why wholesale MLB jerseys then shouldn’t the healthy be made to sacrifice for the sick? All our social welfare programs rest on the belief that we have a duty to regard the needs of others as more important than our own. From subsidized mortgages to public broadcasting to cell phones for the poor, the underlying premise is that each of us is obligated to fulfill the unmet needs of others.

ObamaCare implements this idea faithfully. The healthy are sacrificed to the sick, the young to the old, the taxpayer to the subsidy-recipient. If we accept the altruist premise, can we object to the altruist conclusion?

You may be perfectly satisfied with your current health-insurance policy. But our nanny-government declares that it is “substandard” and that you may not keep it. You say you don’t want to have to pay for coverage for maternity care or drug rehabilitation. The government replies that you are being selfish. After all, there are people who need maternity care or drug rehabilitation, and why should on they alone have to pay for it? Yes, you are being harmed, but sacrificing for the sake of others—the redistributionists contend–is your moral mandate.

Every act of government paternalism, from banning sugared sodas and trans fats to requiring participation in the Social Security system, rests on this premise. of The state declares that it knows what is best for “society as a whole.” You may conscientiously monitor your diet or set aside money for your retirement—but what about the people who don’t? The code of altruism demands that the “haves” sacrifice for size26′ the “have-nots”—i.e., that the responsible sacrifice for the irresponsible, the ambitious for the indolent, the rational for the irrational.

The same premise of self-sacrifice underlies ObamaCare. While lip-service is paid Special to the notion that we will all somehow benefit from this new system, the fundamental justification being offered is through an appeal to altruism. Since there are many who cannot afford health insurance, we are told, those who can afford it must help them. Any individual’s interests are to be subordinated to an indefinable “public interest”—which simply means: some 2016 people must suffer so that others might benefit.

It does not matter to the redistributionists that the quality of available medical care—available to both rich and poor–will slowly erode. They are not concerned that the producers in the medical field—the doctors, the pharmaceutical firms, the medical-device creators, the health-insurance underwriters—are being shackled and that their output will consequently be diminished. All they care about is that everyone wholesale mlb jerseys sacrifice–and that the resulting misery be shared equally by all.

Isn’t it time to challenge the validity of this idea? Isn’t it time to ask why? Why should the fact of someone’s need constitute a claim against you? Why does the fact that someone lacks health insurance create a duty on your part to supply it? Why should it be wrong to spend your money on your own desires but virtuous to spend it on someone else’s? Why should someone else’s needs be sacrosanct while yours are scorned as “selfish”?

If you wish to help innocent victims of misfortune, you should certainly feel free to do so. But you have no duty toward them. You owe them no wholesale NBA jerseys moral debt, and government has no right to compel you to pay it. Any private, voluntary help you provide is out of generosity and good will, for which the recipient should express gratitude—contrary to the altruist claim that need generates an entitlement to assistance.

The same mentality that declares “You didn’t build that” now insists that you must selflessly finance other people’s health insurance. But if you’ve earned your money honestly, it is yours, and you have the moral right to decide how to spend it. It is not the function of government to take money from those who have earned it and give it to those who haven’t.

Your “brother” is not someone to be “kept,” like a pet animal whose food and shelter are your responsibility.  He wholesale NBA jerseys is an autonomous human being, and so are you. The proper way to deal with other people is not by sacrifice but by trade, by offering value for value, to mutual advantage. You should be able to freely decide what kind of insurance, if any, to purchase and which doctors to patronize–just as doctors and insurers should freely decide, in open, unregulated competition, what services they will offer and what prices they will charge.

It is clear to virtually everyone that the practice of physical enslavement is unjust and baseless.  We don’t claim that a “greater good” is achieved when some minority is in bondage to the majority. We understand that each individual is an end in himself, not simply a means to the ends of others. Why then should moral servitude be regarded any differently?

ObamaCare, like other “entitlement” programs, denies the individual’s sovereignty over his own life and property. So it is not enough merely to identify it as a redistributionist plan.  To fully defeat it, we should reject the core idea that self-sacrifice is our moral duty.♦♦