Thursday, February 21, 2008

GVH on Intellectual Activism

Gus Van Horn has a phenomenal post on Blogging as Intellectual Activism over at the Intellectual Activism blog. A must read for any new blogger. It was incredibly helpful! Thanks Gus!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

OBloggers Syndication

For those of your who have read Objectivist blogs and wondered how you could find more of the same or get quicker, easier access to such content, we've got some help. Diana Hsieh's OBlogger list has recently assembled some syndication tools to give you access to content from the whole OBlogger universe.

There are different ways for you to access the content...

Read the combined Obloggers Newsfeed

If you want to just read all of the OBloggers posts in one place, you can do that either via HTML webpage or via a single RSS Feed. Click the links to get started. This feed will have every post from every blogger on the OBlogger list in chronological order. As we add new members to the OBlogger rolls, the feed will automatically update assuring that you keep tied into all the best Objectivist content.

Download the Obloggers XML file for your favorite news reader

There is a lot of content on the single feed so if you want to sort through the blogs individually, or just keep up with certain favorite OBloggers, then you can pick up an OPML file containing each OBlogger's individual RSS Feed. Import this into your favorite news reader and work with it by individual blog. The XML file will be updated as new blogs are added, but in order for you to get the updates, you'll have to re-download the file into your reader.

The XML file can be found here. Please Right click - "Save target as...", and save the file to your computer. Then, upload it to your favorite news reader.

Surf an OBlogger's Blogroll.

Many Obloggers will start posting dynamic lists in their sidebars to other OBlogger's blogs and most recent posts, like what you see on the sidebar here at The Crucible & Column. These link will use the "OBloggers" name. Look for these links on your favorite OBlogger blog and click through to discover articles by Obloggers you might not be familiar with.

I'm an OBlogger, and I didn't even realize the amount of content that's out there. Some notable blogs in the blog roll include: the latest updates from The Ayn Rand Institute and Randex - a compilation of mentions of Rand in the media updated daily.

Please contact me if you have any problems getting access to this material or if you have an idea for adding additional content.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Endangered Species I'd Like to Save

I was surfing today for pictures of chemical plants (I'm a geek. It's what I do, ok.), and happened across Haiko Hebig's Endangered Machinery blog. He writes,
What started as a journey to forgotten places of closed down heavy industries in Germany's former economic heartland, now is a photographic coverage of both closed down and operating sites throughout Europe. Focus is on iron and steel, coke and coal, energy and transportation.
These are wonderful photos, and the ones showing shuttered industrial plants are poignant, and wistful. This is the one endangered species that I vote to save. Check out a listing of all his photos on one webpage.

Some of my favorites:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Neither does the Mixed Economy, Flibbert.

Today's post was inspired by Flibbertigibbet's "Socialism Doesn't Work" series. From the Randex blog today I spotted a mention of Ayn Rand by New York Governor Elliot Spitzer. In an interview given to CNBC before Spitzer testified before the House Capital Markets subcommittee on the bond insurer financial crisis, Spitzer blames the breakdown on the fact that we were "bowing down to the ideology of Ayn Rand" in decrying regulatory interference in the financial markets. His thesis is that if regulatory agencies had been allowed to act that they could have headed off the crisis that began in the sub-prime mortgage market and reflected the free market gone amok.

If someone was telling me his position in chat, this would be the place to respond with a "wtf?" Government central control or regulation of the economy does not work. It does not work in a socialist centrally planned economy as Flibbert points out and it also does not work in a Mixed Economy such as ours where there are both elements of the free market and centralized planning and regulation. What is especially pernicious in the Mixed Economy such as ours is that the free market gets the blame for economic failures when usually the culprit is government. Witness Mr. Spitzer's analysis of the financial crisis facing us today.

At a sequence of decision points, this [subprime mortgage] crisis could have been averted but the regulatory system broke down because we were bowing down to the ideology of Ayn Rand and, with all deference to Chairman Greenspan, when regulators say 'We believe in Ayn Rand; we don't want any regulatory impact,' you will have breakdowns and crises like this.

As I and others like Steve Forbes and most recently Ayn Rand Institute Director Yaron Brook in a Forbes Op-Ed have argued, the financial crisis was caused by Fed monetary policy. As Brook writes,

Now it is of course popular practice to blame economic problems, not on government intervention but on the free market. But observe that all of the most prominent problems today--problems with housing, financial markets, health care, oil--involve some of the least-free sectors of our economy, those with the most government intervention.

Consider the extent of government culpability in the current subprime meltdown. There is the Federal Reserve, which wrought havoc with the markets by manipulating interest rates, first setting them below the rate of inflation and then quintupling them.

The Fed's initial policy convinced subprime borrowers that if they took out mortgages tied to Fed rates, they could afford homes that they ordinarily couldn't. The Fed's artificially low rates fueled a borrowing spree and housing bubble that were instrumental in the subprime meltdown. Then there is the network of entities backed by the government, like Fannie Mae (nyse: FNM - news - people ) and Freddie Mac (nyse: FRE - news - people ), which were big champions of subprime lending and big propagandists for the idea that everyone needs to own a home to live the American Dream. Finally, there is the government's long-standing policy of assuring large financial institutions that they are "too big to fail," which encourages short-range, high-risk investments.

When central planning and regulation replace even portions of the free market, market forces break down, even if portions of the economy are still relatively free. In the case of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, it is the profit motive's reward of sound decision making that was subverted by the Fed's monetary policy. As Flibbert explains in the 2nd part of his Socialism Series

But the more fundamental problem is the fact that socialistic systems cannot meet even the most basic needs of its participants because failure is a critical aspect of progress.

By "failure," I mean that the old must give way to the new, the inefficient is driven to extinction by the more efficient.  When light bulbs were invented, candle makers were steadily driven out of business.

Failure, and it's brother Success are a key to a functioning free market. The market rewards Success and punishes Failure via the profit motive. Profits accrue to those who make better decisions and they flee those who make poorer decisions, and in that way the market regulates itself. Those who make poor decisions don't get to do so for long because their profits dry up. The Fed's recent weak dollar policy effectively removed the differentiation provided by the profit motive by essentially injecting liquidity into the markets, without regard for who was making better decisions than others. With all this extra liquidity, bankers went looking for ways to use it. They experimented by offering loans to riskier prospects. They experimented by monetizing those loans in the form of new bond instruments, which insurers had to then rate, but never having worked with these new instruments, the knowledge to appropriately quantify the risk they posed was absent. In a truly free market this all would have been done in successive stages by the few who proved successful at it (via the profit motive) and the risks of such new instruments would have become known over time. But in our mixed economy, the free money provided by the Fed was provided to everyone at once, and the result was an awful lot of poor decisions made.

Spitzer argues that there should have been more "cops" watching the candy store when all the "kids" were foolishly spending their money, but the reality is what does one expect when the "parent" gave everyone extra allowance without respect for who had earned it and who hadn't? When one decries the free market run amok, it must be a completely free laissez free market one is talking about, otherwise, you can bet that it's government involvement in the economy that is to blame.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Objectivist Round Up - February 14, 2008

Best of 2007!

Welcome to the February 14, 2008 edition of Objectivist Round Up. For those of you reading this round-up for the first time, the round-up collects posts from a group of intrepid Objectivist bloggers around the world, who have gathered at Diana Hsieh's OBloggers list. Today we present you with some of the best posts from each of these authors from the 2007 year. If you haven't sampled from the Obloggers before, the you need to read these posts. They will hook you!

Stella presents In the battle for universal health care, there are no winners posted at ReasonPharm, saying, "In an election year in which candidates of both political parties are trying to figure out how to expand health care entitlements, what we need is a dose of reason."

Sascha Settegast presents The Virtue of Patriotism posted at Heroic Dreams.

Myrhaf presents Myrhaf: Finding Objectivism posted at Myrhaf, saying, "It took a few hours to go through all of 2007's 292 posts looking for the best. I wrote down 36 that I thought were excellent, but when I came to "Finding Objectivism," I knew it was the winner."

Monica presents Spark A Synapse: Pursuit of Happyness posted at Spark A Synapse, saying, "Many of my posts this year on cultural or political items have simply been too ranty. I wish to highlight a positive, life-affirming entry. Here it is!"

Gus Van Horn presents Gus Van Horn: The Latest Rand Bashing posted at Gus Van Horn, saying, "This may or may not be my best of 2007, but I certainly had the most fun writing it!"

Rational Jenn presents Parenting With Objectivist Principles posted at Rational Jenn, saying, "This one is about how we encourage our kids to exercise the virtue of productivity. I used many of these ideas in an article I recently had published in a homeschooling magazine."

Greg Perkins presents NoodleFood: The Opposite of Googling for Objectivism posted at NoodleFood.

T Ellis presents Salary capping is Evil posted at evanescent, saying, "Salary capping is another symptom of a mind infected with the disease of the altruist morality."

Diana Hsieh presents Dissertation Prospectus posted at NoodleFood, saying, "Of all that I did in 2007, I'm most proud of my dissertation prospectus. It was successfully defended in January."

Ari Armstrong presents "An Extreme Free-Market View" posted at, saying, "After a newspaper columnist mentioned that I have an "extreme free-market view," I explained why that's a good thing."

Kendall Justiniano presents The Crucible & Column: The Ten-Cent Solution posted at The Crucible & Column, saying, "How capitalism works even among the very poor."

Kendall Justiniano presents Esthetics and Commercialism posted at The Crucible & Column, saying, "My most-read post of 2007, surprisingly. At the intersection of art and business lies something wonderful."

Darren Cauthon presents The essence of the webcaster's argument posted at Darren Cauthon, saying, "I started blogging in 2007, and I quickly learned to enjoy the ability to speak out and say things that may not otherwise be heard. Last year, I did that with one particular issue: The internet royalty rate debate. After researching the issue, I made an argument for the intellectual property rights of musicians that I haven't seen in too many other places. I think this post is my best explanation of the problems with the commonly-held views of the issue. I tried to keep it very simple, and I literally draw out what the debate is really about. I don't know if this post is my "best" post of 2007, but it's one that I'm proud of."

John Drake presents The Marketing of Objectivism posted at Try Reason!, saying, "For the Objectivist philosophy to sweep the world, today's religious traditions must be replaced with something more rational. In this post, I explore why weekly church attendance is so popular and how an organization based on Objectivist principles might replace those religious traditions with something more rational."

Ken presents Media Bias? posted at Ad Hoc.

Jason presents The World of Our Dreams posted at Erosophia, saying, "This is my call to everyone who believes that the world is not as it should be."

Dan Edge presents The Benevolent People Premise posted at The Edge of Reason, saying, "I received a lot of great feedback from my posts on the "Benevolent People Premise." In these posts, I argue that it is important to maintain a Benevolent People Premise for the same reason it is important to maintain a Benevolent Universe Premise. This is definitely one of my favorites from 2007."

Flibbert presents My Brain: An Obstacle to Progress posted at Flibbertigibbet, saying, "I don't know if this is my best of 2007, but it's one of my favorites in recent history. It's all about motivation and one's subconscious mind."

Leitmofit presents Morality in the Jungle, saying "It is illogical to confuse the fact that men live and function in society with the false assumption that moral codes have to focus on this social nature of man and be derived from it. A moral code offers a guide to a man’s actions—one man’s actions; each man’s actions."

Leitmofit presents Immoral and Illegal, saying "Few would defend the view that the government should reward men who have moral ideas by granting them (say) free property, health care, trips to the Bahamas, etc. Then, on what grounds can the government legitimately punish a man for immoral ideas, or what it may consider to be "thought-crimes"? "

That concludes this edition. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Letting Drug Reps Do Their Thing

This is why I love Forbes. The February 25th edition has a great guest editorial by Paul Rubin, Professor of Economics and Law and Emory and former economist at the FTC. It's entitled "A Free Lunch: There's nothing wrong with letting drug reps schmooze with doctors." With that subtitle you just know it's going to be good.

And what I found was a fairly principled defense of drug sales. In today's world where "marketing" seems to be synonymous with lying, and the pharmaceutical industry especially is excoriated for its supposedly over-the-top sales practices, it's nice to hear someone defend the practice on a rational basis.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, marketing is about getting the right products to the right people, and when done effectively it has positive results for the patient, and in turn generates additional profit for drug companies part of which they reinvest for new product development. Sales reps perform a valuable service to doctors by providing them direct information on drug performance and value, saving them time and effort. Competing sales reps balance out the claims made.

But here was the item I found astonishing. While many think doctors forego less expensive generics, in favor of newer drugs that are incremental improvements over them, the reality is that newer drugs are more cost effective! drugs lead to better health outcomes. They keep people out of the hospital. A 2007 study by business professor Frank Lichtenberg of Columbia University estimated that a prescription for a new drug (5 years from FDA approval) costs an average $18 more than an older one (15 years on the market) but reduces other medical costs, including hospital and office visits, by $129.

That's right. New drugs are innovative, and they create more than enough value to justify their higher prices. Best kept secret? Only if you're out to smear drug companies. Marketers know that in industries like health care, value is about actual dollars and cents saved, and while many would have you believe sales and marketing types are simply charlatans, it simply is not true.

Thank you Mr. Rubin for defending an honorable profession!

The Journals of Ayn Rand: Sucking out all the Goodness

When I was a little boy sitting with my family after Sunday dinner, my grandfather, then in his seventies, would sit at the end of the table while everyone talked, and pick apart the roast, chicken or whatever was the main course of that meal. And I do mean he picked it apart. He'd dismantle a chicken bone by bone picking and chewing each one clean. To most of us today in our processed, boneless, nuggetized world of cheap and plentiful meat this might seem a bit off-putting, but to a man who supported a family of five through The Great Depression on a postman's salary, it is simply basic survival tactics. By the time I knew him, although he no longer needed to do it, it was an ingrained habit and I always got the sense he actually relished it. He used to needle me about how much "good stuff" I was "leaving behind" on my drumstick.

And as someone who has read Atlas, and The Fountainhead numerous times, along with all of Rand's non-fiction, I feel somewhat like him as I make my way through The Journals of Ayn Rand. It's the same sort of messy, picking through the scraps of Rand's thoughts, but oh the flavor! There's no plot or drama to hold your attention, but if you're willing to sort through it, what you'll find is amazing.

I was always in awe of Rand's writing as finished work, thinking it so perfectly composed and flawless, but a bit intimidating, as though it came from some superhuman being, springing perfectly formed from her mind. The Journals humanize Rand, not to bring her "down a notch" but to show how superlatively rational and tenacious she is, how brilliance does not spring forth fully formed, but rather manifests itself in the tenacious drive to think, connect, integrate, edit, chew and refine until it is perfectly formed.

At the same time even when constructions are still developing you can see the gems of her thought already present. Her own conviction to core ideas already more mature. Although I'm not half through it yet, I had to share with you some examples of my favorite little nuggets of juicy goodness.

I. in 1928 at age 23 (23!), only two years after coming to America, Rand made her first notes in English for a novel. It was a malevolent universe premised novel called The Little Street. It's hero was a criminal, but with Howard Roark's sense of life. Already her in her notes you can see the themes of The Fountainhead, and her early ideas for the concept of a "sense of life."

He has a wonderful "sense of living." He realizes that he is living, he appreciates every minute of it, he wants to live every second, he is unable to exists as other men do. He doesn't take life for granted and live as he happens to be living - just calm, satisfied, normal. For him, life [must be] strong, high emotion: he has to live "on top," "breathing" life, tense, exalted, active...

Most people lack [the capacity for] reverence and "taking things seriously." The do not hold anything to be very serious or profound. There is nothing that is sacred or immensely important to them. There is nothing - no idea, object, work, or person - that can inspire them with a profound, intense, and all-absorbing passion that reaches to the roots of their souls. They do not know how to value or desire...

The boy is just their opposite. He is all passion, will and uncompromised absolutes. He takes everything seriously. Life is very serious and sacred to him. And, as Nietzsche said: "The noble soul has reverence for itself."

II. Her beginning notes about The Fountainhead were about it's fundamental ideas. You can see how thorough she was and how grounded she was in the ideas that would ultimately drive her stories, even as she's still trying to form them properly.

If the higher values of life (such as all ethics, philosophy, esthetics, everything that results from a sense of valuation in the mental life of man) come from within, from man's own spirit, then they are a  right, a privilege and a necessity - not a duty.

III. Her character notes are just delicious. We get to see her talking about her characters, from outside of them. Discussing the key aspects both spiritual and physical of them. Some of this stuff made it into the novel of course but some of it, written in the "he should be like this" form is new or complimentary material.

An important thing to remember and bring out in the book: while Howard Roark, at first glance, is monstrously selfish and inconsiderate of others - one sees, in the end, his great consideration for the rights of others (when they warrant it) and his ruthlessness only in major issues; while Peter Keating, at first glance, is unusually kink, thoughtful, considerate of others and unselfish - in the end, it is clear that he will sacrifice anyone and everyone to his own small ends, whether he has to or not. In other words those who show too much concern for others and not for themselves, have no true respect for either....

[Howard Roark:] Tall, slender,. Somewhat angular - straight lines, straight angles, hard muscles. Walks swiftly, easily, too easily, slouching a little, a loose kind of ease in motion as if movement requires no effort whatever, a body to which movement is as natural as immobility, without definite line to divide them, a light, flowing, lazy ease of motion, an energy so complete that i assumes the ease of laziness.... His clothes always disheveled, disarranged, loose and suggesting an unknown. No awkwardness but a certain savage unfitness for closthes. Definitly red, lose, straight hair, always disheveled...

A quick sharp mind, courageous and not afraid to be hurt, has long since grasped and understood completely that the world is not what he is. Consequently he can no longer be hurt. The world has no painful surprise for him, since he has accepted long ago just what he can expect from it. Indifference and an infinite, calm contempt is all he feels for the world and for other men who are not like him. He understand men thoroughly. And, understanding them he dismisses the whole subject. He knows what he wants and he knows the work he wants. That is all he expects of life. Being thoroughly a "reasons unto himself," he doe snot long for others of his kind for companionship and understanding...

Sex - sensuous in the manner of a healthy animal. But not greatly interested in the subject. Can never lose himself in love. Even his great and only love - Dominique Wynand - is not an all-absorbing, selfless passion. IT is merely the pride of a possessor.If he could not have her, it would not break him or affect him very deeply... His attitude toward Dominique is not: "I love you and I am yours." It's: "I love you and you are mine." It is primarily a feeling of wanting her and getting her, without great concern for the question of whether she wants it.

Nothing can really touch him. He is concerned only with what he does. Not how he feels. How he feels entirely a matter of his own, which cannot be influenced by anything and anyone on the outside. His feeling is a steady, unruffled flame, deep and hidden, a profound joy of living and of knowing his power, a joy that is not even conscious of being joy, because it is so steady, natural and unchangeable...

That last paragraph (bold mine) should have somehow made it into the novel, and I don't remember it. But it is stunningly great already.

IV. Her ruthless editing style is evident. Her desire to make sure everything integrates with her main ideas, that all character details contribute. After she finished a draft of Part I of The Fountainhead, in one of her editing steps she pulled out in outline form, each of the major details of each character in order so that she could examine them and see if what she had written developed each character consistently.

V. Finally for anyone who has ever been troubled by the rape scene in TF, I found this tidbit. There is not much commentary written by Rand on it, and many people I've known have had trouble with the scene. Over the course of reading and re-reading the scene I developed a sense of how I personally interpreted it, that the only reason Roark could be justified in committing such an act is that Dominique wants it to occur as a form of debasement, and he knows it. It's tough to tell from the actual prose since it is all so subtly suggested.

[For the scene by the granite quarry, when Roark and Dominique speak for the first time.]

His mockery in his quiet acceptance of the position she is imposing upon him - and when she attempts (faintly) to bring in the personal, it is he who refuses, sticking to the "Yes, Miss Francon" attitude of a respectful worker.

[Roark:] "You want me and I know it and I'll make it vile, to show you the enormity of your desire, because you'll want me still. I'm obedient to you now, I'm nothing before you - and it won't change things. I'll crush you in spite of it, because of it, when the time comes."

[Dominique:] "I have you in my power. I'll torture you. I enjoy it. I want you to know that. I enjoy debasing you, because I'm debasing myself through it, because you'll conquer me some day - I want it - I hate you and I'll punish you for it."

All this on what appears as a discussion of his living conditions and her interest in the workers.

Ha! I knew it! :)

If you're a fan of Rand, and you enjoy getting every little last drop of goodness out of her work, then The Journals of Ayn Rand will not disappoint.