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Debating First Principles: Demos vs. Ayn Rand on the Proper Role of Government

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

WNYC

Starting March 10, WNYC's Brian Lehrer will be moderating First Principles, a series of three debates on the moral underpinnings of today's politics. The event co-sponsored by Demos, The Ayn Rand Institute and It's A Free Country.

The opening debate explored the question: "Government: What is Its Proper Role?"

»» Take the 20 Question First Principles Poll on the Proper Roll of Government

»» IAFC Bloggers Offer Their Takes on the Proper Role of Government

»» Debate II: Freedom - For Whom and From What?

Watch the First Principles Debate: What is the Proper Role of Government?


 


Yaron Brook is the President of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, a division of the Ayn Rand Institute. He speaks about Ayn Rand's ideas around the world and is frequently interviewed on television and radio. Ayn Rand was a philosopher and novelist, whose most acclaimed work is "Atlas Shrugged."

Miles believes the proper role of government is determined by whatever a society collectively decides it wants government to do. I believe the proper role of government is not determined by majority sentiment but by the moral truth that “each individual's life morally belongs to him.”

Miles contends that a government limited by the principle of individual rights would lead to a society ravaged by tainted food, pollution, sickness, and economic insecurity.

Hardly.

When I wrote that “the only proper, moral role of government is to protect the rights of each individual against coercive interference by others,” that certainly includes protecting rights against those who sell tainted (i.e., fraudulent) food or who pollute the land, water, or air of others.

My objection to the FDA is its coercive power to control drug development, drug testing, and what drugs go on the market. Similarly, my objection to the EPA is its coercive power to control property development and evict property owners on the basis of things that have nothing to do with pollution. Miles's blanket endorsement of the FDA and EPA conflates government rights-protection (using force in retaliation against force) with government rights-violation (using force in initiation against peaceful, rights-respecting citizens).

The same is true of his characterization of Medicare and Social Security as not force but "insurance.” If these were in fact genuine insurance programs, they could be offered by private companies on the free market (not to be confused with today’s government-distorted market), and we would be free to take them or leave them. But we aren’t; Social Security and Medicare are force--they take some 15% of the earnings of employed individuals, without their consent, and give the individual no choice about how to save, invest, or spend the money.

What would we do without such programs? Thrive.

Consider: The early government of the United States, the most limited government in human history, gave rise to a society of unprecedented prosperity, goodwill, and harmony. Why? Because freedom gives individuals the ability to create and exchange values to the best of their ability. When individuals agree, they can cooperate in magnificent ways on whatever scale they choose (as the hundreds of millions of cell phone and computer users do every day). When they disagree, they can go their separate ways. Without Social Security and Medicare, individuals would be free to provide for their health and retirement in far more rational ways, such as buying health care in a free market with true price competition, or putting their retirement savings in non-Ponzi-schemes.

Miles and I disagree on two fundamental questions: Can a majority vote away the rights of an individual and thereby control his life? And is the “will of the people,” expressed through government edict, sovereign, or is the life of each individual, with his rights to liberty, property and the pursuit of his own happiness, beyond the reach of government, i.e., something on which no majority and no vote may lawfully trespass?

Miles characterized my view as “an individualized view of rights and freedom,” which is true. What then does his view of government amount to? A collectivistic one—and it is collectivism that he must morally defend.


Miles Rapoport has been the President of Demos since 2001, and recently became President of The American Prospect magazine. Prior to joining Demos, he spent ten years in the Connecticut legislature, and then served as Secretary of State from 1995-1998. Rapoport is a frequent commentator on the role of government and its potential to foster increased opportunity and prosperity among all.

Yaron Brook takes the most limited and individualized view of rights and freedom possible, and says that government’s only role is to defend the rights of one individual against coercive interference by another—entirely ‘freedom from.’

But an entirely different frame of freedom is possible, and far more relevant today. It is a more affirmative view, the ‘freedom to’ achieve happiness and well-being, and if one supports that view, government’s role in paving the way for those possibilities is far more robust.

Yaron’s examples of government overreach are almost unbelievable. The FDA, which ensures foods are not poisonous and toxic? The EPA, which prevents chemicals from spewing without limit into the air we breathe? These are not examples of government as our master. They demonstrate a government that serves as protector of our rights.

And the claim that Medicare and Social Security are examples of programs that steal from some and hand it to others? Disregarding the fact that they are insurance programs that we all pay into, these are the fundamental guarantors of a retirement free of destitution. It’s hard to believe they are equivalent to stealing.

Government’s proper role is to help individuals and communities achieve the fundamental elements of a good life for us all. Government allows us to plan together, and its ability to function effectively contributes to our prosperity.

While arguments should not be won or lost by fragmentary references to our founding documents, the preamble of the Constitution states that government’s purpose is “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Sounds like a pretty important role to me.


Yaron Brook is the President of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, a division of the Ayn Rand Institute. He speaks about Ayn Rand's ideas around the world and is frequently interviewed on television and radio. Ayn Rand was a philosopher and novelist, whose most acclaimed work is "Atlas Shrugged."

As Republicans and Democrats feud over what should and shouldn’t be cut from budgets, an underlying question is surfacing: What types of activities should and shouldn’t the government be engaged in? What exactly is the role of government?

A definite answer to this question gave birth to our country. Jefferson’s Declaration announced to the world a new view of government. No longer was government seen as a sovereign master lording over the individual. Instead, the individual was sovereign and his rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, unalienable. Government was servant of the individual: “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

America today is but a distant echo of the Declaration. The government increasingly sees itself as master commanding its subjects. Through an alphabet soup of regulatory agencies, for instance, it tells us what we can and cannot eat (FDA), manufacture (EPA), trade (FTC), and say (FCC). Walk into your local Costco and look at the plethora of government permissions it needs to display just to operate one store. Then of course there are the huge government programs designed to take the property earned by some and hand it over to those who didn’t earn it (Medicare, Social Security). And now the government sees itself in charge of the whole economy, manipulating interest rates and the money supply, bailing out some companies and letting others fail, and spending trillions of taxpayer created wealth.

What makes government government — as against a debating society, a suggestion box, or a corporation — is that you are not free to go against its verdicts. Behind every law, judicial decision, executive order, tax form, and regulation is the ability to force you to obey it, under threat of seizing your money, throwing you in prison, or even taking your life. When the government proposes some new “benefit” for “the people,” like Medicare, there is no getting around the fact that it is engaging in what is called “stealing” when done by private citizens. But what if it’s done in the name of the “will of the people?" It’s still force, and might doesn’t make right — anymore than the “will of the people” in Athens to kill Socrates was right.

In our view, the only proper, moral role of government is to protect the rights of each individual against coercive interference by others. In doing so, government recognizes that each individual’s life morally belongs to him, and its sustenance and happiness are his responsibility. In future posts, we’ll elaborate on how this American principle, properly applied, is the key to solving our policy problems.


Miles Rapoport has been the President of Demos since 2001, and recently became President of The American Prospect magazine. Prior to joining Demos, he spent ten years in the Connecticut legislature, and then served as Secretary of State from 1995-1998. Rapoport is a frequent commentator on the role of government and its potential to foster increased opportunity and prosperity among all.

“What is the proper role of government?” is a critical question. How we view the role of government ultimately derives from a larger question: “What kind of a society do we want to live in, and how do we achieve it?” In classical philosophy, individuals came together to create a social contract, a set of shared understandings about the kind of society in which they wanted to live.
 
Throughout our history and to this day, there have been certain fundamental principles and values about what America should strive to be for all its inhabitants. What basic opportunities should every person have access to in order to live a dignified life? These include, by no means exhaustively:

  • The rule of law, and protection against physical harm, disaster, and theft.
  • An economy with growth and opportunity.
  • An education to enable a full life.
  • Access to health care as it is needed.
  • Opportunity for employment at fair wages.
  • The ability for our children to succeed.
  • An old age free of destitution

Today, we face nothing less than the dismantling of the social contract that has made us a decent country with opportunity for all. The agenda being promoted is virtually not at all about solving deficit problems, or about keeping taxes low, or stopping excessive government spending, or limiting public employee pensions, though these are all prisms through which the agenda presents. They are a smokescreen for a far more troubling agenda, which springs from a worldview that places private wealth over public good, consumerism over civic responsibility, and corporate success over the common good.
 
America today is as or more unequal than during the Great Depression. Huge numbers of people are economically struggling or insecure. The question we face now is whether our signal achievement, a broadly shared prosperity and a middle class society, can survive.
 
Our belief is that it can — we can — but only if we have a government with the ability, the funding, and the public support needed to countervail the forces pulling us apart, and effectively work for the common good.

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Comments [27]

P Brandt from NYC

@christopher from Manhattan...

We can draw conclusions about how it would be here if schools were provided by private businesses.

That is the way it is in India right now. There is no compulsory state school system in India, and the vast majority of young people do not get educated. The poverty in India is clearly a result of lack of development of human capital. It was also the setup by the colonizing British for these mass poverty dependency conditions.

It is also the way it was in England for most of its history until state schools were introduced in the 19th century, and the US too until state education was introduced. It was in the interest of ruling elites and their churches to keep only 10% literate throughout most of history of these countries. The Jesuits in Europe only educated maximum 10% of the population, as did the Church of England. They went after the Protestants everywhere in Europe because they taught both boys and girls to read from age 5. Their prosperity in trades, business, banking, law, diplomacy, scholarship, etc and influence for social reforms attests to the dangers of this widespread education. They were targeted by the Inquisition in Hapsburg countries.

Like roads, transportation, electricity, private capital will always under-provide a good that everyone needs. This is called "market failure for public goods" by Adam Smith in 1776.

This notion of market failure for these kinds of goods from Adam Smith himself is conveniently buried in the US by academic economists mostly paid off by the ruler elites to keep things the way they are. Randian theory leaves these matters out too!

They want the US to become a once again undereducated bunch! Our highly educated years after the GI Bill and the Baby Boom led to some big troubles for the rulers pocket books, Civil Rights, Great Society, shutting down the Vietnam War, Clean Air, Clean Water, OSHA.

They have been working to prevent that again ever since Reagan and the first assaults on education as "too expensive" and their drive to put it into private capital hands. That is just like the "public schools" sector in Britain, that bastion of the ruling elilte, and the training ground for future tools of the ruling elite plucked out of middle class-dom!

Here is a great quote from Plato about what purpose is served by all this under-provision of education and what has been going on here with all this "kill the beast", privatizing education, and deregulating media so Murdoch and American Idol etc can degrade America's youth:

"...for the interests of the rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit, there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love, above all other motives, is likely to inspire, as other Athenian tyrants learned from experience, for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength which undid their power."

Plato: Symposium circa 385–380BC

Apr. 10 2011 08:26 PM
P Brandt from NYC

Interesting conversation with Mr. Yaron Brook last night. He justifies the Koch Bros and their wealth and political power over elections with "money as speech" because they've run a successful business empire. He claims they have no power, yet the evidence today shows that their Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Cato wield tremendous power to create the Tea Party and move Reactionary candidates into seats in WDC and every State House.

He doesn't seem to know that the Koch Brothers' Georgia Pacific benefits from timbering licenses on Federal lands, and always has. That business couldn't exist without Federal lands. Obtained at what kind of market price? He also seems to forget that the Koch Bros Georgia-Pacific got started by state legislatures in the 1880s giving away free state land for railroad right-of-ways that those shareholders ran as monopolies to gouge the real producers in this country! That is how their business got started. They never would have bought it had not 1880s "political capitalism" created it in the first place.

They also benefit from US military spending to keep oil flowing and put in place and control Central Asian dictators where they now build their pipelines. Their financial entities benefit from freedom to speculate rather than invest in real productive assets to create jobs for Americans.

He probably doesn't realize that Freddy Thyssen and his pals did the very same thing in Germany to pluck Hitler out of obscurity that the Kochs are doing right here today. The courts here, as they are there, allowed them to do so in a weak failing notional democracy.

These theories can't deal with the facts of the case. Mr. Brook also claims he doesn't know the Aristocrats in this country. Perhaps because he's a foreigner and really doesn't know the people who run this country. He is instead suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome to the Uber-menschen which is the great benefit of immigration here. Our families do know these people and their methods of divide-and-rule, and have for generations! He may not know them, but I am sure though they send him cheques. His stuff serves to keep their no-tax debate going while Rome burns. He just doesn't know their names after a few generations of married names!

Apr. 08 2011 12:04 PM
Mark from Bronx

I think it's quite evident that leftists like Mr. Rapoport don't have any principles.

Mar. 12 2011 10:41 AM
Mark Dohle from Cambridge, MA

Great debate! I was impressed with both speakers, however, I would have liked Mr. Rapoport to define his principles more explicitly. It seemed like he was meshing individual rights to life liberty and happiness with a lot of "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs." It is hard for me to fathom how the two can be meshed without sacrificing individual rights. On the other hand Yaron was very clear and to the point. His answer to the slavery question was perfect example for his point of view.

Mar. 11 2011 02:43 PM
Christopher from Manhattan

I can honestly say that I went to this debate with a open mind. I new something of the Ayn Rand Institute but not much. Overall I felt that Mr.Brook explained all of his points extremely logically, and in many cases he made me re think my own personal views. I thought that his view on public education was pretty interesting. I was educated in a public school and thought it was a worth while experience, but you cant help but wonder what schools would be like if completely left to the free market. Would kids be more creative? Would out of the box thinking be more encouraged? My only complaint about the whole debate had to do with the audience. People need to leave their egos at the door and just listen. Your not on stage, we or I should say I am not their to hear your comments or snide remarks. It was utterly offensive when the 87 year old man got cut off by someones outburst during the Q and A.

Mar. 10 2011 09:37 PM

As part of his arguments Mr. Yaron Brook, President of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, a division of the Ayn Rand Institute, states that "The early government of the United States, the most limited government in human history, gave rise to a society of unprecedented prosperity, goodwill, and harmony". I tend to agree with Mr. Brook, but he should have stated who benefitted from this limited early government. Let us try to answer this question: i) Native Americans? Certainly not, in fact the early Government of the United States expended considerable effort to remove Native Americans from their land. The suffering and deaths caused by this policy of forcible removal is nearly beyond imagination. ii) African Americans? Certainly not. In fact, at that time African Americans were held as slaves, who were forced to labor for the white European population, frequently under unspeakable conditions. The suffering of this group is only too well known although it seems that many whites are still in self-denial to the horror they imposed on African Americans. Moreover, while other countries gave up slavery in the early 19'th century primarily because it was morally indefensible. in the United States slavery could only be abolished at the point of the bayonet. iii) Women? Certainly not. Women at that time were simply not seen. Nor were they allowed to vote. Their role was to have and raise children and be found in the kitchen or at church. iv) Landless males? No, only white males with property could vote.

So you see Mr. Brook, you are correct, but in a very limited way, because the governmental beneficence you allude to was enjoyed by a tiny fraction of the population, while the rest were, in many cases, deprived of even the most basic necessities of life.

Mar. 10 2011 07:00 PM
Enzo from Brooklyn, NY

Question for Mr Rapport. Are you not giving "average citizens", and businesses too much trust to conduct themselves at a high moral rectitude when capitalism in its nature is amoral, and can often be immoral? Or perhaps you find that some protective regulation may be necessary?

Mar. 10 2011 06:07 PM
Alesia from London

@gabby weiss
Gabby, it is not the issue of being caring or not, it is the issue of choice.
I don't mind giving if I am not forced to give. Besides, why should anyone be forced to give indiscriminately and unwillingly, when, evidently, there are many people (like youself, for instance) that are willing to help.

"... the only proper, moral role of government is to protect the rights of each individual against coercive interference by others. In doing so, government recognizes that each individual’s life morally belongs to him, and its sustenance and happiness are his responsibility."

Mar. 10 2011 05:01 PM
gabby weiss from North Jersey Shore, NJ

to let his 'opinion' that the great depression was caused by government interference go unchallenged was a mistake Brian.

So... what about the social contract? should there not be such a thing? should we not attempt to raise ourselves and our fellow man up? doesn't it benefit all of us?

those with money are always afraid someone is going to take it away from them... scared as hell that somebody is going to get something for nothing. it's self-interest to it's utmost degree. why the greed? why the outrageous self-interest? I understand that if I am not for myself, who will be.... however, being for myself also means being for my fellow man. It is only to my benefit when my neighbor raises himself up. Should I not help him?

ayn rand institute... yikes. let's go back to the days of laissaz faire capitalism... we're not far from it right now. let's follow Mr. Brook and his compatriots as they dismantle what's left of the New Deal? No thanks.

Mar. 10 2011 12:02 PM
mc from Brooklyn

@geTaylor: You are confusing Medicare with Medicaid.

This is a debate that will go on forever. The left conflates human rights with entitlements. You are theoretically born with human rights such as speech, freedom of worship, freedom not to be killed or tortured. Those cost nothing. Entitlements cost something. Housing, education, health care are all examples of entitlements. We have a disagreement over what the minimal level of entitlements we want--how terrible we want people's lives to be before the state intervenes.

Mar. 10 2011 11:23 AM

The devastating effects of the morality of altruism have been proven by the historical examples of every nation that ever tried to legislate for the common good.The wars, the famines, the concentration camps, enforced slavery, execution without trial, mass slaughter, and poverty are the insignia of the literal implementation of the policies that act for, by and through the welfare of a collective - be it the welfare of the unborn, the poor, the aged, the ignorant, the incompetent, the jobless, the less endowed. This is the age of guilt because the principle of the common good has been seen to produce devastation, corruption, disaster and the collapse of civilization in every country that ever inaugurated a strong central governing body of immune and sacrosanct officials that proclaim universal scholarship and rule with the subconscious expectation that privilege, prestige and the nobility of an elected status will somehow insure omniscience and infallibility. The only choice I find open to myself as a victim of the oligarchy, plutocracy and the quibbling of the bureaucracy that amounts casuistry and sophistry is to place myself squarely behind Yaron Brook.

Mar. 10 2011 11:07 AM
Alesia from London

“Huge numbers of people are economically struggling or insecure.” - And why is that Mr Rapoport, is that because you've "helped" and "allowed" us to plan “together”?
If concern with poverty is the actual motive upheld by you, then surely you would be the first to denounce that foggy concept of common good, which was accepted so easily in Soviet Russia precisely because it was so vague and evasive; you would recognise the importance of both – political and economic freedom and the need of separation between the two.

What’s more, should one choose “stability” over freedom one only needs to turn a bit to the East and observe the bitter look on people's faces. To give you an example, Belarus will be a good place to start with.

The place where they would drill your teeth, cut out your adenoids without a local anaesthetic, where they would give you tablets for epilepsy, rapped up in toilet paper with no name nor prescription; where you would stay in line for hours in hope for fresh food.
Where legal racketeering became so common now that a businessman, when inspected, would only sign with a blank, docile face: “Yes…How much?”. Where workers in the private sector are paid their real salaries in envelops filled with cash. - Do any of them feel guilty? No. Do you think that they really care about their country’s economy is in a shambles? I doubt it. Do they feel bitter? Yes. Wouldn’t you? Why? Because they remember the time of ration cards too well, of equal distribution, starting with pants and socks and ending with towels and bed-sheets and pillow cases and kettles. Six pairs of socks per year, three shirts: one long-sleeved, two short-sleeved, two towels…
Because there was once a kind man - Lenin, who talked of “all for all”, of common good, of needs, of WE and altruism…and of “an entirely different frame of freedom”, that was “far more relevant today” then it was yesterday.
- So is freedom - a question of adjustment, of adaptation ...of relativity, or, of being true to one's own values and principals consistently and unchanging?
- It surely is possible, only is it reasonable or desirable?

You say: “Access to health care as it is needed.” - And how would you know what one needs? What would be the criteria you judge that by? And at whose expense?
That reminds me of something…of Robin Hood? - Steal from the Rich, from those who produce, and give to those who don’t. Once the Rich go, who will be next to loot, Mr Rapoport?

If America won’t stand up to itself, and won’t believe in itself, then what chance do other nations have? If people would read Mr words without reading the meaning behind them, and worse, blindly believe him, think what consequences would be there to observe later.
America, what’s happened to you? - To be self-critical is one thing, to be self-hating – is totally something else. How did it come to this that people stopped knowing the difference? Stopped wanting to know, to care?

Mar. 10 2011 09:21 AM
Brian Gates

I'm sick and tired of living in chronic fear the government will decimate our economy and our lives with debt-fuled inflation. It isn't a debate anymore. The sitaution is now so serious that if you do anything other than support strict respect for individual rights, you are a bad person.

Mar. 09 2011 09:50 PM
Marcello from Brooklyn

Miles Rapoport says that Brook's examples of government overreach are unbelievable.
I would say that the whole idea that Brook is somehow defending some sort of philosophical point is laughable.
He claims not to believe that "the proper role of government is determined by a majority sentiment" but isn't that the basic principle of democracy?
Brook's alternative view is that "each individual's life belongs to him" which, in spite of being a very nebulous concept, seems to mean that anybody should be free from government coercive action.
This sounds to me as literally believing in fairy tales. He feels that the role of Govt. includes "protecting people from those who sells tainted food or pollute water and air". Ok...but how exactly, without anybody enforcing it? Just by wishful thinking?
The ultimate comic assertion is that the "early government of the United States, the most limited government in human history, gave rise to a society of unprecedented prosperity". But where is the evidence that this prosperity was due to the limited role of government? Isn't morel likely that it was due to a relatively small number of smart, industrious people having the fortune to occupy a huge, quasi-virgin territory with enormous natural resources and completely marginalizing and replacing the native population (unlike what happened in Latin America for example)?
If this view was true, many Western European countries, where government presence is strong, would be trailing the US on many social metrics but, in fact, the opposite is true. Their life expectancy is higher, their education levels are superior, their crime rates are lower, and yes...social inequality is lower.
So it is hard to buy this peculiarly American, right wing pseudo-philosophy unless one takes it for what it really is: the intellectually pathetic attempt on the part of the wealthy minority of the country to preserve their privileges by manufacturing some sort of doctrinal justification for the status quo.

Mar. 08 2011 10:57 PM
Charles R. Anderson from Columbia, MD

The Preamble to the Constitution speaks of justice, tranquility, security, and the general welfare. In order to secure these benefits of our federal government, it recognized that the government must have very limited powers, which it prescribes carefully. This was done because governments were recognized as historically very inclined to use their power of coercion to take from the many and give to the few connected to the government power. Democracy was seen as unable to prevent this.

Today, because we have ignored the Founders insights, we have a kleptocracy which constantly trades in power with confiscatory taxes on some (the wealthy), mandates to make our fossil fuel energy very expensive, subsidies to useless ethanol production and wind and solar electric power generation, corporations forced to give campaign donations to politicians in hope those politicians will not go after them with extortionary bills, and workers forced to join unions they do not wish to be represented by in their employment discussions. We have lost right after right to enjoy our equal, sovereign right to life, liberty, property, the ownership of our bodies and minds, and the pursuit of our personal happiness. Instead, we lose our individuality by being assigned to identity groups by all-powerful central planners who cannot be bothered to know us as individuals, yet deprive us of the freedom of association with others in a free market and private sector that would allow us to pursue our personal happiness. The central planners are constantly raiding our private sector to steal away its wealth and our individual choices.

Mar. 07 2011 02:23 AM
joe blowe from canada

continued....

The socialist view for society always implies subjectivity. Below I reprinted parts of the text of the article pointing out the subjective judgement required for each item.
------------------------------------------------------------

* An economy with *growth*(s - how much is good enough) and *opportunity* (s - how ??).

* An *education*(s- how much do you want of this ? Ph.D. paid for? elementary school ?) to enable a *full life*(s - what is it?).

* *Access* (s - what is 'access' ? someone paying for your risks ? mountain climbing ? skying ?) to health care as it is needed.

* *Opportunity* (s - desirable, but...) for employment at *fair*(s - what is fair ?) wages.

* The *ability*(s) for our children to *succeed*(s- define success...).

* An old age free of *destitution* (s- by whose standards, in which epoch ?)

Today, we face nothing less than the dismantling of the *social contract* (s- show me the contract...) that has made us a *decent*(s- what is decent ?) country with opportunity for all. The agenda being promoted is virtually not at all about solving deficit problems, or about keeping taxes low, or stopping excessive government spending, or limiting public employee pensions, though these are all prisms through which the agenda presents * (these problems were brought about by these subjective policies). They are a smokescreen for a far more troubling agenda, which springs from a worldview that places *private wealth*(s- how much is enough ? too much ?) over *public good* (s-what is it ?), consumerism over *civic responsibility*(s- wow what is its definition ?), and corporate success over the *common good*(s- how much should we contribute ?).

America today is as or more unequal than during the Great Depression *(s - should we strive to go back to those days ??). Huge numbers of people are economically struggling or *insecure*(s- that's life...). The question we face now is whether our signal achievement, a broadly *shared*(s- how much should we give ?) prosperity and a *middle class society*(s- how do you define ??), can survive.

Our belief is that it can — we can — but only if we have a government with the *ability*(no subjectivity here, force!), the *funding*(s- paid by ?), and the *public support*(s- the takers soon outnumber the givers...) needed to countervail the forces pulling us apart, and effectively work for the *common good*(oh no- again...).

Milton Friedman in one of his appearances on tv asked the host 'where are your angels?' - all these subjective questions can only be positively answered by angels endowed with godly wisdom.

Mar. 06 2011 10:01 AM
joe blowe from canada

The socialist view for society always implies subjectivity. Below I reprinted parts of the text of the article pointing out the subjective judgement required for each item.
------------------------------------------------------------
“What is the proper role of government?” is a critical question. How we view the role of government ultimately derives from a larger question: “What *kind of society* (subjective) do we want to live in, and how do we achieve it?” In classical philosophy, individuals came together to create a *social contract*(s), a set of *shared understandings*(s & ?) about the *kind of society*(s) in which they wanted to live.

Throughout our history and to this day, there have been certain fundamental principles and values about what America should strive to be for all its inhabitants. What basic opportunities should every person have access to in order to live a *dignified*(s) life? These include, by no means exhaustively:

* The rule of law, and protection against physical harm, *disaster*(s & ?), and theft.

Mar. 06 2011 09:59 AM
Doug

Who "wins" this debate will depend on what the readers' view of principle is and how it functions. If one agrees that (true) principles are objective generalizations of observations/knowledge of reality that must be applied consistently to serve their purpose of guiding human action, then one would tend to agree with Dr. Brook, whose argument is clearly more consistent and logical (regardless of whether one agrees with it). If one believes principles are just pragmatic guides that have no firm tie to reality and must be adjusted as "reality" changes, then one will tend to be swayed by Mr. Rapoport's essentially emotional appeal.

I hope Dr. Brook can demonstrate that principles are not the simple dogmas that most treat them as -- likely under the influence of religion -- but rather contextual absolutes that summarize vast knowledge and that can take hard work to apply sometimes.

I hope Mr. Rapoport can present the strongest possible case for his view, explicitly identifying his principles and assumptions and tying them to the fundamental realities they are based on (if any). If he must ultimately rely on appeals to emotion ("would you let your mother die from lack of medical care?"), he should defend this approach explicitly and not pretend it constitutes logical argument.

Mar. 05 2011 03:56 PM
Doug

Who "wins" this debate will depend on what the readers' view of principle is and how it functions. If one agrees that (true) principles are objective generalizations of observations/knowledge of reality that must be applied consistently to serve their purpose of guiding human action, then one would tend to agree with Dr. Brook, whose argument is clearly more consistent and logical (regardless of whether one agrees with it). If one believes principles are just pragmatic guides that have no firm tie to reality and must be adjusted as "reality" changes, then one will tend to be swayed by Mr. Rapoport's essentially emotional appeal.

I hope Dr. Brook can demonstrate that principles are not the simple dogmas that most treat them as -- likely under the influence of religion -- but rather contextual absolutes that summarize vast knowledge and that can take hard work to apply sometimes.

I hope Mr. Rapoport can present the strongest possible case for his view, explicitly identifying his principles and assumptions and tying them to the fundamental realities they are based on (if any). If he must ultimately rely on appeals to emotion ("would you let your mother die from lack of medical care?"), he should defend this approach explicitly and not pretend it constitutes logical argument.

Mar. 05 2011 11:54 AM
Doug

Who "wins" this debate will depend on what the readers' view of principle is and how it functions. If one agrees that (true) principles are objective generalizations of observations/knowledge of reality that must be applied consistently to serve their purpose of guiding human action, then one would tend to agree with Dr. Brook, whose argument is clearly more consistent and logical (regardless of whether one agrees with it). If one believes principles are just pragmatic guides that have no firm tie to reality and must be adjusted as "reality" changes, then one will tend to be swayed by Mr. Rapoport's essentially emotional appeal.

I hope Dr. Brook can demonstrate that principles are not the simple dogmas that most treat them as -- likely under the influence of religion -- but rather contextual absolutes that summarize vast knowledge and that can take hard work to apply sometimes.

I hope Mr. Rapoport can present the strongest possible case for his view, explicitly identifying his principles and assumptions and tying them to the fundamental realities they are based on (if any). If he must ultimately rely on appeals to emotion ("would you let your mother die from lack of medical care?"), he should defend this approach explicitly and not pretend it constitutes logical argument.

Mar. 05 2011 11:53 AM

Mr. Rapoport,

How do you define "insurance" to include an enterprise that pays for pre-existing conditions?

How do you distinguish Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from the ordinary "Ponzi" scheme?

Why not be honest with the electorate and state your claim as a naked demand for the "haves" to deliver what they have to the "have nots" so that they can enjoy the benefits?

(And aren't the government mandated "benefit" programs rigged so that the already well-off are able to qualify for the benefit funded by the taxes of the less-well-off?
[e.g., medicare provisions that allow the wealthy a time period to transfer their assets to family and friends so that their legacies are not depleted in spending for their end-of-life medical and custodial care at the expense of middle and low income taxpayers who have no way to establish such an inter-generational transfer of wealth; farm "subsidies" that artificially increase the price of food at the expense of the poor; billion dollar bailouts of badly managed financial institutions whose executive employees are continuing to receive the compensation they were able to command while they negligently ran their businesses to ruin.])

Mr. Rapoport,

Your bogeyman of of a world without the EPA and / or FDA (or their non-governmental equivalents) is akin to the cheap politician's who lay off the police officers and firefighters as a way of defending the budgetary shenanigans they practice.

Your Gaddafi-like arrogance will soon be disappointed.

Это скоро будет свободная страна снова!

Mar. 04 2011 04:07 PM
Jen from Connecticut

I look forward to this debate but I'm hoping that Mr. Brook and Mr. Rapoport will both take the time to better consider what is the role of government. The role of government to provide a stable society. It's not about making life comfortable or fair except to ensure stability. The moral values, cultural diversity, life-opportunities, and life-challenges that individuals face influence kind of government will or won't work to provide that stability. We can't pick and choose which of our personal values or our personal priorities government should service if we want it to really work. The society as a whole needs to be considered.

Unfortunately, we've allowed political Machiavellians to overrun our government by buying into a two-party system. Both parties polarize the public on important issues to turn this into an "us-or-them" game. We deserve better leadership than that but we'll only get it by participating in the civic process. We need to be willing to:
- try to understand the other side of issues, especially ones that provoke a strong emotional response in ourselves
- stop looking at candidates as a teammate or opponent; they are job applicants
- research candidates
- seriously consider 3rd party candidates
- if no candidates look acceptable, be willing to run
- most importantly, make a considered and informed vote

Mar. 03 2011 11:13 AM
Marcello from Brooklyn

I have no idea what any of the authors of the previous posts are talking about.
Rapaport comment was very clear and straightforward. The question was: "What is the proper role for Government?".
His answer was: "To provide law enforcement and national security; education; health care; to foster a growing economy and to take care of the elderly".
How to pay for it? The same way all other advanced economies pay for this: through taxes.
Specifically through a progressive taxation system that works like this: Those who have more, contribute more and those who have less contribute less.
Pretty shocking uh?!....
You don't think that is fair? Fine!
Let's put your concerns on the tables and let's hear your alternative proposals but with a full explanation of what the real life consequences of this alternatives are going to be for everybody. Then let's go to the polls and let's see what happens.
I guess this is how democracy works.

Mar. 02 2011 11:06 PM
Randy Garrett from Florida

I have no clue how far one must put their head into the sand to be able to ignore the fallacies in Mr. Rapaport's argument. As someone already pointed out, he lists freedom from the use of force among the first fundamental principles and then proceeds to contradict himself by offering up rights to 'stuff' that FORCES another to provide or to pay for. I fully expect Mr. Brook to utterly demolish this tool, but it won't matter, he is obviously devoid of reason and one cannot truly reason with the unreasonable.

Mar. 02 2011 03:37 PM
Tom

Mr Rapoport lists the "basic opportunities every person should have", starting with "...protection against physical harm...".

He then goes on to list education, medicine, a growing economy, etc.

Education, medicine, etc., _paid for by whom?_ There are only 2 ways the government can provide education: 1. Force teachers to teach, or 2. Force taxpayers to pay teachers. Either way, Mr. Rapoport has contradicted his very first list item. Such are the moral contradictions in the socialists' view of the proper function of government.

Mar. 02 2011 02:45 PM
Brian

Summary of Rapoport: "Here is how it has been done before. Here are some nice things. I assume we can only get those nice things through traditional means. So we need to do it the way it has always been done."

Mar. 02 2011 02:44 PM
Ryan Murphy from Oshkosh, WI

Can't wait to see Yaron Brook show Mr. Rapoport what freedom really is.

In this short statement, Mr. Rapoport does not mention the protection of individual rights once. It is all about the collective, the common good. He obviously completely ignores the fact that whenever you provide for the common good (what ever that may be on that particular day) you are always leaving someone out. Someone paid for the common good, or was not a recipient, or was directly harmed by it.

One needs look no further then the massive bank bailouts, argued on the basis of the common good, to see all the suffering it caused.

Rapoport's ideas are as fuzzy as the photo posted above. Speaking of which, how is that the best photo of him?

Mar. 02 2011 01:45 PM

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