Browsed by
Tag: benevolence

David Kelley’s Three Greatest Hits – Article by Edward Hudgins

David Kelley’s Three Greatest Hits – Article by Edward Hudgins

 The New Renaissance Hat
Edward Hudgins
October 28, 2017

David Kelley is retiring from The Atlas Society, which he founded in 1990 under the name of The Institute for Objectivist Studies. But I can’t imagine David with an “emeritus” moniker retiring from the world of ideas that he has helped to shape.

I was at the founding event in New York City that February nearly three decades ago. I spoke at Summer Seminars and attended one-day New York events in the 1990s, and I had the privilege of working for many years with David at the Atlas Society. Knowing The Atlas Society and David as I do, I offer my own picks for his three greatest intellectual hits.

First, in The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, he explained that Objectivism is an open philosophy—indeed, that to be “open” is what separates a philosophy from a dogma. Objectivism originated with Ayn Rand, is defined by certain principles, but has its own logic and implications that might even be at odds with some of Rand’s own thoughts. The philosophy is open to revision and new discoveries. One implication of David’s understanding—and of the virtue of independence—is that individuals must come to the truth through their own minds and their own paths. David, therefore, rejected the practice of too many Objectivists of labeling those who disagreed with some or much of the philosophy as “evil.” In many cases they are simply mistaken. He rejected the practice of refusing even to speak with individuals who called themselves “libertarians,” arguing that the only way to change someone’s mind is to address that mind. David saved Objectivism from becoming a marginalized cult.

Second, David advanced Objectivism by showing that “benevolence” is one of the cardinal virtues of the philosophy. He argued that the logic of the ideas that constitute the philosophy leads to the conclusion that it should take its place among other virtues like rationality, productivity, pride, integrity, honesty, independence, and justice. His book Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence is an intellectual gem that has yet to be fully mined for the value it can offer to those who want to create a world as it can be and should be, a world in which humans can flourish.

Third, David identified three world views in conflict in today’s culture. The Enlightenment ushered in modernity, which values reason, with its products of science and technology; individuals, with their rights to pursue their own happiness; liberty, with governments limited to its protection; and dynamic free markets, with their opportunities for all to prosper. Opposing modernity, David sees premodernists, who emphasize the values of faith, tradition, social stability, and hierarchy. He also sees postmodernists, whom he describes as “vociferous foes of reason, attempting to undermine and expunge the very concepts of truth, objectivity, logic, and fact.” They see these and all values as “social constructs”—all except their own left-wing dogmas and their desire to use force to bend all to their soul-destroying whims. Those wanting to understand the values battle in our culture in order to win it for civilization must have David’s essay “The Party of Modernity” in their hands and its ideas in their minds.

David Kelley created The Atlas Society to further develop and promote Objectivism, the philosophy he loves. As he steps back from the day-to-day responsibilities of his position, I know he’ll devote more time to pursuing the ideas that give him so much joy and the rest of us so much enlightenment.

Dr. Edward Hudgins is the research director for The Heartland Institute. He can be contacted here.

In conjunction with other department directors, Hudgins sets the organization’s research agenda and priorities; works with in-house and outside scholars to produce policy studies, policy briefs, and books; contributes his own research; and works with Heartland staff to promote Heartland’s work.

Before joining Heartland, Hudgins was the director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society, which promotes the philosophy of reason, freedom, and individualism developed by Ayn Rand in works like Atlas Shrugged.  His latest Atlas Society book was The Republican Party’s Civil War: Will Freedom Win?

While at The Atlas Society, Hudgins developed a “Human Achievement” project to promote the synergy between the values and optimism of entrepreneurial achievers working on exponential technologies and the values of friends of freedom.

Prior to this, Hudgins was the director of regulatory studies and editor of Regulation magazine at the Cato Institute. There, he produced two books on Postal Service privatization, a book titled Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, and a book titled Space: The Free-Market Frontier.

Celebrations of the Creator-Individual in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (2007) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Celebrations of the Creator-Individual in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (2007) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 19, 2014


Note from the Author: This essay was originally published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 19, 2014

Few books offer as resounding a manifesto of the individual’s value and potential as The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The image of Howard Roark, the serene architect who refuses to build anything that does not meet his criteria of esthetic excellence, who takes on the culturally prevailing attitudes of collectivism, compromise, and mediocrity, and wins, is a tribute to one man’s determination in resisting the gargantuan pressures exerted by his society to render him just like everyone else.

The Fountainhead presents a masterful philosophical exposition of the mind of the creator-individual as the root of all human accomplishments, and as a treasure that one must not allow to become tarnished by the impulse to conform. It additionally provides a model for how rational men can interact with one another, as value-traders who seek from each other, rather than blandness and conventionality, the profoundest and most impeccable work their minds can produce.

The Fountainhead teaches that the source of man’s productivity lies within himself, and Roark’s struggles have demonstrated that adhering with integrity to the desire to be productive and independent often involves overcoming great obstacles. Nevertheless, with the proper fortitude, consistency, and resolve, the creator-individual will have his way.

The journey of the creator-individual from struggle to ecstatic accomplishment is, too, reflected in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Beethoven’s monumental, dynamic, and logically intricate passages are capable of conveying both struggle and tension in the first three movements and an outpouring of joy, benevolence, and triumph in the fourth.

The symphony is a tribute both to Beethoven in particular, as he had written this ultimate of compositions a time when he was wrestling against crippling cases of deafness and disease, and to Man in general, for man’s proper occupation, in his life and in his work, is to struggle and to prevail. The vigor of man’s resistance against gloom, chaos, and decay will bring about a directly proportional result of glory, happiness, and accomplishment.

The works of Ayn Rand and Ludwig van Beethoven celebrate those creators and creations which affirm the highest possibilities open to man, and provide the intellectual fuel for audiences to pursue them. What Roark built with steel and concrete, what Ayn Rand captured in words, is also what Beethoven expressed through music. Using his or her medium of choice, the creator-individual strives to transform the world in an ennobling, enlightening, life-affirming manner – inspiring other creators to further heights of accomplishment.

That Cold-Hearted Discipline – Article by David J. Hebert

That Cold-Hearted Discipline – Article by David J. Hebert

The New Renaissance Hat
David J. Hebert
November 6, 2013

But of all the duties of beneficence, those which gratitude recommends to us approach nearest to what is called a perfect and complete obligation. What friendship, what generosity, what charity, would prompt us to do with universal approbation, is still more free, and can still less be extorted by force than the duties of gratitude. —Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

A recent article by Wharton Professor Adam Grant has been popping up here and there, most recently in Psychology Today. Grant suggests that studying economics breeds greed, and he cites several studies to support his claim. The studies conclude economics professors give less money to charity than other professions, economics students are more likely to deceive others for personal gain, and people who study economics have less of a concern for fairness and tend to think that “greed” is okay.

To his credit, Grant does consider the alternative: that maybe economics actually attracts greedy people or that greedy people tend to thrive by studying economics. He dismisses these possibilities by noting that “there is evidence for selection . . . but this doesn’t rule out the possibility that studying economics pushes people further toward the selfish extreme.” He goes on to chide practitioners of the discipline for teaching self-interest in the classroom.

Finally, he concludes with four points that are meant to provide evidence of the social harm in studying economics, which can be summarized in two overarching points:

1) Economics justifies greedy behavior, and

2) Studying economics makes people less altruistic.

I want briefly to discuss these two points here.

Economics Justifies Greedy Behavior?

Studying economics, and specifically the role of incentives, teaches us that relying on altruism is a brave assumption that has but limited applicability. For example, among people we know, we can rely on a certain degree of altruism or benevolence. I know, for example, that my family and friends will be there for me not because I pay them to do so, but because they care about me. Similarly, they know I will be there for them. However, I don’t know the same thing about random people I encounter on the street.

And yet in order to enjoy the immense wealth that the division of labor affords us, society demands that we have interactions both with people we know well and people we do not know at all. These two distinct spheres of activity require two distinct forms of cooperation, which one might get from reading Adam Smith’s twin pillars of economics: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations.

More tidily, perhaps, F. A. Hayek describes this situation in The Fatal Conceit by noting the difference between the macroeconomy and the microeconomy. Macro, in this context, refers to society as a whole, while micro refers to just the people to whom we are close. Hayek says that if we were to apply the same rules of the family unit to the macro, as would be the case if we were to allocate resources altruistically, we would destroy the macro. This is because there would be a complete lack of economic calculation, resources would be misallocated, and plans would fail to be coordinated (see these articles for more on economic calculation).

Hayek also notes that the reverse is true: If we were to apply the rules of the market to the family, we would destroy it as well. We don’t need prices and incomes at the dinner table to allocate the food. Even the most ardent defender of markets would agree that having prices and such as the means of allocating food at the dinner table would be wrong, just like paying your friends to help you move across town would be strange. (Beer and pizza don’t count.)

Instead, students of economics recognize not that greed is good, as the saying goes, but that greed can be transformed into the service of others given the proper institutional setting. That institutional setting, which has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, is one that celebrates the role of property rights, prices, and profits (and losses) and recognizes their role in creating the incentives to properly husband resources, generates the information about the relative scarcities of various goods and transmits this information to consumers and producers in a quick and efficient manner, all of which provides a feedback mechanism to drive continued innovation.

Economics Makes People Less Altruistic?

Grant cites a 2005 article by Neil Gandal et. al. as concluding that “students who planned to study economics rated helpfulness, honesty, loyalty, and responsibility as just as important as students who were studying communications, political science, and sociology,” but that by the third year, economics students rated these values “significantly less important than first-year economics students.”

While the Gandal study does include such conclusions, it also includes much more. For example, economics students attribute less importance to fairness. Evidencing this, Gandal points out that, when questioned about the allocation of radio frequencies to different mobile-phone service providers, students who study economics are more likely to advocate selling the rights to the highest bidder while students of other disciplines are more likely to advocate for allocating the rights to “anybody who meets some minimal eligibility criteria.”

Students of economics do not advocate for property rights because we are greedy; we advocate for property rights because we understand and take seriously potential incentive problems in politics. The notion of minimal eligibility requirements may sound nice, for example, but problems may lie in who gets to draw that line, by what process that line gets drawn, and the incentives faced by the line-drawers. As Madison points out in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

Economics students know men are no angels. And as Nobel laureate James Buchanan points out, government officials are human beings, too, with their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations—and yes, forms of avarice. Supporting the allocation of resources to the highest bidder sidesteps the issues raised by these potential incentive problems. This means that the choice of how to allocate resources fundamentally comes down to a choice of institutions.

We can have a central authority establish guidelines by which anyone who wants can use the radio frequencies, or we can let the market decide. The former leads to a standard tragedy of the commons problem, whereby the radio frequency gets overused. In the case of cell phones, this means that the frequency would be crowded with multiple conversations simultaneously; imagine trying to shout to your friend across a crowded bar. The latter leads to the frequencies being allocated to the person who is best able to utilize them to serve the general population. So AT&T, for example, gets exclusive rights to a certain bandwidth and then tries to figure out how to best serve its customers. In this case, the customer gets to enjoy a clear phone call without the distraction of several other conversations in their ear simultaneously.

In any case, these are not examples of quelling altruism, but of keeping it in its place.

Less Greed, More Cooperation

Viewed in this light, economics does not so much teach greed but rather the beauty of cooperation. How else could we explain how a woolen coat gets made, how Paris gets fed, or how a pencil gets made? And if allocating, say, radio frequencies based on highest valued use makes people learn to discard fairness, well, how exactly is that a bad thing?

David Hebert is a Ph.D. student in economics at George Mason University. His research interests include public finance and property rights.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.


Editor’s Note by Gennady Stolyarov II: Mr. Hebert’s article is excellent in focusing on the true significance of economics and the need for private property rights. In one important respect, though, my position differs from his when it comes to the allocation of radio frequency to highest bidders such as AT&T and other entities exercising similar coercively granted monopoly and quasi-monopoly powers.

My position, arising out of similar libertarian principles, is that the allocation of radio frequencies to AT&T (and similar local/regional telecommunications monopolies) through the political process would not result in an economically optimal allocation, even if AT&T were the highest bidder. The reason for this is that AT&T’s very bidding ability arises out of (1) its decades-long history as the telephone monopoly in the United States and (2) the protections from competition that it enjoys in certain jurisdictions as a local or regional monopoly provider of certain services wrongly considered “natural monopolies” – such as high-speed cable services. In a pure free-market system, there would likely need to be some sort of allocation process for radio frequencies, so long as the use of radio frequencies by some parties has the physical ability to interfere with the use of the same frequencies by other parties. However, the outcome of such a free-market allocation process would differ considerably from the outcome of a bidding process in today’s status quo, conditioned by decades of deleterious path-dependency arising out of the privileges granted to AT&T and similar local/regional monopolists. Probably, an auction of radio spectrum on a purely free market would result in many smaller firms buying up many smaller ranges of spectrum and competing with one another more vigorously to provide superior customer service than do a handful of large, politically privileged telecommunications companies (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, et al.) today. In this path-dependent, partially unfree environment it may be, in some cases, that allocations to lower bidders would result in better uses of resources and improved consumer outcomes, as long as institutional political privilege (e.g., enforced monopolies or historical insulation from competition) of the higher bidders can be incorporated into the bidding process in the form of some reasonable handicap used in considering their bids.