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Category — Objectivism

Go Industrial, Not ‘Green’ (Part II)

[Editor note: Mr. Epstein, a new Principal at MasterResource, is Founder of the Center for Industrial Progress. Part I appeared yesterday.]

But what about the “environmental impact” of industrial development? Isn’t the “green” movement providing a salutary influence us by helping us combat that problem? Again, no.

The idea of “environmental impact” is what philosopher Ayn Rand called an “intellectual package-deal.” Such a concept dishonestly packages together two very different things—the impact of development on the human environment and the impact of development on the non-human environment.

Industrial development will certainly often harm various non-human environments—but it is a godsend to the human environment. By lumping together concern with the non-human environment (e.g., displacing some caribou to get billions of barrels of the lifeblood of civilization) and the human environment (e.g., air quality), anti-industrialists are able to dupe Americans into thinking that sacrificing to caribou somehow benefits them.

Historically, industrial progress brought with it a radical improvement of the human environment. Indeed, industrial progress essentially is the improvement of the human environment. The reason we develop is to make our surroundings better so that our lives are better, cleaner, healthier safer—in the face of a natural environment that is often hostile to human life.

Contrary to “green” mythology, man’s natural environment is neither clean nor safe. In a non-industrialized, “natural” state, men face all sorts of health dangers in the air and water, from the choking smoke of an open fire made using plant matter (a cause of over a million deaths a year to this day) to the feces-infested local brook that he must share with farm animals.

Industrial development gives men the technology and tools to make their environment healthier—from sanitation systems to sturdier buildings to less onerous job conditions to comfortable furniture to having healthy, fresh food at one’s disposal year round, to the wealth and ability to preserve and travel to the most beautiful parts of nature. And so long as we embrace policies that protect property rights, including air and water rights, we protect industrial development and protect individuals from pollution.

As for the “sustainability” of industrial progress, an accusation that dates back to Marx, this fails to recognize the fact (elaborated on by Julian Simon and Ayn Rand) that man has an unlimited capacity to rearrange nature’s endless stockpile of raw materials into useful resources—which is why the more resources we use, the more resources we have. [Read more →]

September 24, 2011   12 Comments

Atlas Shrugged: Its Philosophy and Energy Implications (Part V: Energy Crises)

“The Arab oil embargo was not the cause of the energy crisis in this country: it was merely the straw that showed the camel’s back was broken.” (1)

“There is no ‘natural’ geological crisis; there is an enormous political one.” (2)

- Ayn Rand, “The Energy Crisis,” November 5, 1973.

The highly regulated society depicted by Atlas Shrugged includes many things energy. Her 1957 novel and now movie (Part I out;  Part II and Part III to come) has had relevance for U.S. energy policy ever since.

Atlas Shrugged describes oil shortages (342–44, 475), gasoline shortages (pp. 272–73), and electricity blackouts (pp. 669, 671). When the 1970s energy crisis hit, Rand commented:

Many readers have been asking whether I intended to write about the energy crisis. I would be tempted to answer: “I already have” – but they anticipate me by adding that things are “just as in Atlas Shrugged.” Well so they are. (3)

Rand was right on: President Nixon’s wage and price control order, extended into phases of price ceilings, caused petroleum shortages before the the Arab OPEC embargo. (4) Rand had earlier lambasted Nixon for his action, this being a president who was elected “on the implicit promise to save the country from a statist trend” who instead “helped and accelerated the march to statism.” (5)

Having seen the march of domestic regulation during World War II and during the Korean Conflict, Rand turned fact into fiction with consequent intervention, much of it stemming from federal price controls (effective ceiling prices).

Atlas Shrugged has energy rationing (pp. 349–50), conservation edicts (pp. 339, 343) and the Industrial Efficiency Award (pp. 44–45). The Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources, in fact, was created in part to combat “a shortage of oil in the city” (p. 273).

There is fair profit legislation (p. 507), anti-profit law (pp. 997, 1074), and public utility regulation (p. 195). There is common carrier regulation (p. 677).

Regulations are gamed by the regulated (p. 217), and trade associations work to limit competition (pp. 46–47, 274). And there is the dynamics of government intervention as one regulation spawns another (pp. 130, 273, 413).

Fiction from Fact

Rand did not invent her scenarios out of whole cloth. She saw government price and allocation controls in action. She also became familiar with free market economics to understand the cause-and-effect of government intervention in the economy. [Read more →]

April 25, 2011   3 Comments

Atlas Shrugged: The Philosophy and Its Energy Implications (Part IV: The Moral Obligation of Capitalists)

“In [Atlas Shrugged], I glorify the real kind of productive, free-enterprise businessman in a way he has never been glorified before…. But I make mincemeat out of the kind of businessman who calls himself a ‘middle-of-the-roader’ and talks about a ‘mixed economy’—the kind that runs to government for assistance, subsidies, legislation and regulation.”

- Ayn Rand (1949) (1)

As the public face of capitalism, business leaders are well positioned to explain the logic of free markets from a moral and economic viewpoint—and to demonstrate by example the non-coercive nature of trade by eschewing the political exploitation of consumers, taxpayers, and rivals.

The words and deeds of corporate executives are quite different, however. Rand was very disappointed in what she saw–and she would be more disappointed today, particularly in the energy industry. Think of Enron’s Ken Lay and BP’s John Browne a few decades ago–and and Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers and T. Boone Pickens today.

Rand did identify “businessmen as the greatest victims of the present philosophical trend (particularly of the altruist morality).”(2)  Muckrakers from different generations, indeed, have criticized and demeaned the great wealth-creators, even those who benefited the masses without resorting to political means, such as John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.(3)

Appeasement

Rand noticed the propensity of business leaders to not stand up for self-interest, individual rights, and capitalism proper. She  complained:

As a group, businessmen have been withdrawing for decades from the ideological battlefield, disarmed by the deadly combination of altruism and Pragmatism. Their public policy has consisted in appeasing, compromising and apologizing: appeasing their crudest, loudest antagonists; compromising with any attack, any lie, any insult; apologizing for their own existence. Abandoning the field of ideas to their enemies, they have been relying on lobbying, i.e., on private manipulations, on pull, on seeking momentary favors from government officials. Today, the last group one can expect to fight for capitalism is the capitalists. (4)

Adam Smith fretted about capitalists-versus-capitalism, and the Adam Smith of our era, Milton Friedman, observed: “The two greatest enemies of free enterprise in the United States … have been, on the one hand, my fellow intellectuals and, on the other hand, the business corporations of this country.”(5)

Appeasement of capitalism’s opponents was philosophical surrender to Rand: [Read more →]

April 21, 2011   5 Comments

Atlas Shrugged: The Philosophy and Energy Implications (Part III: Objectivism)

[Editor note: MasterResource's Atlas Shrugged week began with an overview (Part I–Monday) and has continued with a look at the book (Part II–yesterday) and the philosophy behind the book (Part III–today). The moral obligation of capitalists according to Rand (Part IV-Thursday) will be followed by Atlas shrugging in the energy market (Part V-Monday).]

“Facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes, or fears.”

 - Ayn Rand, “Introducing Objectivism” in Rand, The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought (New York: New American Library, 1988), p. 3.

“Clean energy” and “green jobs” are catch phrases at odds with the affordable, reliable energy required for a modern, expanding industrial society. So-called clean, green energy is politically correct but not very clean or green on close inspection. Yet electricity from industrial wind parks and solar farms–rejected by consumers because of high price and unreliability–are sold to the voters (qua taxpayers) by a political class and special interests (including rent-seeking corporations) as in the common good.

The sell is a shared narrative, a form-over-substance play, of huge proportions. Obama, in fact, seems to be basing part of his reelection prospects in 2012 on “clean” energy. The windpower president, anyone?

The intellectual misdirection of ‘green’ and ‘clean’ energy goes far beyond build-it-and-they-will-come. Entrepreneurs have been trying to commercialize wind turbines and solar farms for many decades. Special interests and politicians have been promising competitiveness for decades too. Why the perenial failure? Basic energy physics is involved with energy density placing oil, gas, and coal on a different plane than the dilute, intermittent energies flows.

One can even ask whether the anti-industrial lobby likes wind and solar precisely because these energies are expensive and unreliable as sources of on-grid (central station) electricity.

The chimera of wind and solar as industrial energy is postmodernism in action. Objectivism can identify and refute the emotional, whimsical nature of anti-energy energy on a philosophical level, complementing the economic verdict of the marketplace.

Objectivism Simplified

Ayn Rand’s novels conveyed a world of human relationships “as they might be and ought to be.” [1] Her stories turn complex personal and economic relationships into triumph and tragedy based on philosophical precepts. And the nature of a just political system is never far from view.

Rand’s passion for political justice stemmed from the totalitarianism she escaped [2] and the personal and economic freedom she relished. The naturalized citizen was a true American patriot. [3] Yet she would always be an outsider to America’s improvisational spirit and always be hypercritical of perceived imperfections. [Read more →]

April 20, 2011   No Comments