Going Valjean

Balloon Juice defines “going Galt” as:

Withdrawing one’s unique brilliance from the economy in protest of tax rates which are actually abnormally low for the post-war era. Discussed and encouraged by bloggers such as Dr. Helen and Meghan McArdle, but never actually preformed, because even they can tell it would be a fucking moronic thing to do (h/t commenter Steve S). Wholly ineffective and counterproductive, outside of poorly-written midcentury fantasy novels.

For those of us who have not read Atlas Shrugged and/or who are unfamiliar with the concept of “going Galt”, it originates from the 2008 work of one Helen Smith, a creepy-looking, fake-smiling “doctor”. From the original post that birthed the term:

Perhaps the partisian politics we are dealing with now is really just a struggle between those of us who believe in productivity, personal responsibility, and keeping government interference to a minimum, and those who believe in the socialistic policies of taking from others, using the government as a watchdog, and rewarding those who overspend, underwork, or are just plain unproductive.

Obama talks about taking from those who are productive and redistributing to those who are not — or who are not as successful. If success and productivity is to be punished, why bother? Perhaps it is time for those of us who make the money and pay the taxes to take it easy, live on less and let the looters of the world find their own way.

Going through the comments over there at Dr. Helen’s and measuring the levels of entitlement, uncompromising self-righteousness, baseless notions of victimhood, and B-team Scrooge McDuckery might be an appropriate exercise for Introduction to Physics students. As if the baby boomers haven’t already been doing this in spirit for years, advocates of going Galt suggest the appropriate response to the democratic government not doing exactly what you-the-one-citizen-among-many like is to sit back and be pampered, as if the baby boomers haven’t already been doing this in spirit for years. Dr. Helen’s opus is a veritable Swiss cheese of conceptual holes, none of which we will discuss here, because just *this much* analysis makes me want to impale my face on my computer’s Logitech USB desktop microphone right there in front of me.

So, anyways, Tod Kelly asked a few blog-years back:

What is the single lesson you have learned in your life that most informs the way you view political races today?

Maybe that lesson can be part of a book you read, be it Animal Farm or Atlas Shrugged, Walden or The Road to Serfdom.  Maybe it was an event, either public or private.  Maybe it was something your mom used to say to you when you were growing up.

I responded:

I’d say my life experience so far has lacked anything anchoring my political thought. Perhaps the closest thing for me was reading Les Miserables. Nothing I’d ever read before compared to the effect that book had on me, and nothing has since.

Tod asked me to go into more detail about why this is, and I will use this space to do just that. For those of you who have not read the beautiful, beautiful work that is Les Miserables, I suggest you take a few moments to consider whether you want to continue reading this post and thereby deprive your cold, cerebral self of perhaps one to five percent of the last 1400-page, profound emotional experience that remains for you (because that’s about how much I’m capable of spoiling)…

Done considering then? Good. Let’s start.

Victor Hugo himself lived a very public and very political existence: a Romantic like many of us here; a liberal and a Republican in the un-spun, continental senses of those words; and a vehement opponent of the paleo-neo-Neocon dictatorship of Napoleon III. Like many great and provocative writers throughout the ages, Hugo was punished for his vorpal pen’s snicker-snack: he lived almost twenty years in exile at Jersey and then again at Guernsey during Nap III’s reign. After this, Victor Hugo actively participated in the restoration of the Third Republic as a public intellectual and member of the French National Assembly and Senate. Here and elsewhere he was a vehement opponent of the death penalty, a luke-warm supporter of intellectual property rights, and a rationalist-deist à la Voltaire.

This summary of course is a hastily-crafted gloss: the breadth of worldly experience in the one life of one Victor Hugo is simply breathtaking: accordingly, Hugo’s ultimate mark on the world is his tremendous empathy for the entirety of the human situation, the most polished expression of which is the universal charity, magnanimity, and that greatest of virtues -compassion – espoused intuitively in his magnum opus Les Miserables.

Les Miserables is an epic work, deftly dealing with politics, war, poverty, religion, intentions and realities, youth and age, tragedy and comedy, fate and volition, and more or less any subject that ever enters any serious conversation anywhere. The content of Les Miserables, spanning multiple generations, is framed by and concerns principally the fate of one Jean Valjean, a man repeatedly punished and redeemed ad infinitum. Jean Valjean’s story opens with his getting let out of prison on parole after spending nineteen years there for stealing bread as a young man to feed his sister’s children during a time of great economic depression. As part of his parole, Valjean must comply with existing law and tell everyone he meets that he is a former and dangerous convict. As you can imagine, he has a hard time of it (and the parallels with our modern prison system are uncanny).

On one of his first nights out of jail, Valjean stays at the home of Catholic Bishop Myriel, who – as a man sworn to charity – is the only person among those Valjean solicitates to allow a convict to sleep in his home. In the middle of the night, Myriel hears some noises in the dining room and comes in to see Valjean in the process of stealing the home’s silverware. Valjean knocks the old man out and escapes, only to be brought back to Myriel by the police shortly afterwards. When Bishop Myriel is confronted about Valjean and the silverware, Myriel decides to show Valjean mercy, and Myriel lies to the police officers, saying that he gave the silverware to Valjean as a present and that it’s good he came back because he forgot the candlesticks. After the police have gone, Myriel lets in to the nonplussed Valjean (Remember, this man has experienced nothing but poverty and punishment.):

“‘Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.’ Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded. The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them. He continued solemnly,’Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!

To really oversimplify the ensuing 1400 pages (and to gloss over several other major characters’s intertwining stories): Valjean takes Myriel’s silver, uses it to start a business, and begins a new life. For our purposes, the vector of the state is represented by the book’s antagonist, the indefatigable and law-respecting Inspector Javert; Javert is an honest and relentless machine. And so Jean Valjean must spend his entire life on the run from his past and the law personified as Javert. It is always Valjean’s altruism and kindness that calls the attentions of Inspector Javert to him, yet, in spite of the state as it exists in the text being in direct opposition to this altruism and kindness, Valjean continues to do the right thing inconsequentially: he builds a factory that employs an entire city and keeps the people out of poverty, he personally saves countless lives throughout the book, he becomes a mayor and a great philanthropist; he even gets rich.

Granted, Les Miserables is a novel, but it’s one helluva novel, and it stands in stark contrast to Atlas Shrugged by being in a way its foil. In both of these novels, the government really is evil, not at the least incompetent and at the most morally gray like ours is in the real world, and each novel has its protagonist handle this facet differently.

So, to get back to Tod Kelly’s question “What’s your “go-to” lesson in politics?” I’d have to say it’s the idea, conveyed by Les Miserables and Jean Valjean in contrast to Atlas Shrugged and John Galt, that, despite all the forces around us, our lives are ours to live justly and properly. The economy, or government, or society, or the collective, or the herd, or whatever you want to call it is really just you and me and what we want to make it, despite what others may tell us we can and can’t do and despite what the media may often call our attention to or whatever. Feeling like a victim of politics is both natural and easy, but going through life as a victim is a waste of a life. Let’s not go Galt and withdraw in disgust. Let’s go Valjean and engage.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.

164 thoughts on “Going Valjean

  1. A telling contrast, Chris. One of the most frightening aspects of so-called Objectivists is that they subscribe to a complete moral system that is almost entirely devoid of love.

    In her last public appearance, Rand was asked about love. She sneered, and said that her opinions of love could be understood from her novels. If that’s true, then she has no understanding of love at all.

    BTW: “…those who believe in the… policies of taking from others, using the government as a watchdog, and rewarding those who overspend, underwork, or are just plain unproductive.”

    Sounds a lot like the modern-day financial and industrial elite to me! If this lot would really go Galt, we might be better off. When Atlas shrugs, maybe Venus can take over.


    • My experience with Objectivism indeed stands in stark contrast to my experience with the Jesuits. It was my first week of college, and there was an activities fair on the Freshman main quad. I approached the Objectivist Student Union table and asked what it was. After learning a little about my background, the girl manning the booth said: “You know all that stuff about giving to charity and helping other people out and doing stuff for the least of God’s creatures and whatnot?”


      “We believe in the exact opposite of that.”

      “Oh,” I said and walked away.


      • The Sanction of the Victims, DVD from the Ayn Rand Institute, AR34DV, in the Q&A. 53 minutes, and a chilling fifty-three minutes it is, too.

        She maintained that she didn’t like to talk or argue about the subject of love, and the best definition could be found in the “love stories” in her novels.

        They are not love stories. They are tales of rape and humiliation.

        That said, she has approached the concept of love in her non-fiction writings, from time to time.

        Love is “…the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.” Love is a price to pay? Has the author of this statement ever experienced love?

        That’s from For the New Intellectual, BTW.

        “Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man’s character.” That’s at the beginning of The Virtue of Selfishness.

        All I can say is that one would hate to be a child in a fundamentalist Objectivist household.

        A child who, for his very survival, relies on the love of others before he or she has a chance to develop the “virtues…of his character.”

        McSweeny is a wise man. He knows that the moment you introduce the very existence of children into theoretical Objectivism, its philosophical foundations begin to crack. Children are moochers, after all, and thus worthy of our contempt.

        Rand mentions children a number of times in The Sanction of the Victims. The most memorable is when she says that she has held her ideas since the age of two and a half.


        • Love is the end of happiness. Because one day, you’re watching the game, drinking a beer, and everything is okay.
          But the next day, you’re watching the game, and you’re drinking a beer, but it ain’t the same, because Zena ain’t in the room with you. And you ain’t happy. So love is the end of happiness.

          — Louie DePalma


        • Thanks. I don’t think your original characterization was quite accurate. She was clearly uncomfortable with the question, but not really in the sense of expressing contempt for the concept of love in general. I suspect that the backstory here was that she was still bitter over the whole Nathaniel Branden kerfuffle.

          Love is “…the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.” Love is a price to pay? Has the author of this statement ever experienced love?

          What you have to keep in mind here is that Rand didn’t have the disdain for commerce that permeates much of our culture. One might even say that she regarded voluntary exchange as a sacrament of sorts. When she says “price” here, she doesn’t mean it in in the sense of a cost, but rather in the sense of one thing given in exchange for another. Here’s the full sentence:

          Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.

          This was specifically in response to the idea that people should love indiscriminately.


          • Many thanks for this interesting discussion, Brandon.

            Rand disowned Branden as her lover and intellectual heir in 1968. This video was made in the early eighties. That’s a long time to be bitter.

            I rather think, given her writings about love and her performance on camera, that she was pretty bitter about the whole idea in the first place. Or just plain bitter, period.

            No knocking that; it was her right. But bitterness makes for a poor philosophical platform.

            The very existence—nay, abundance—of love in the world is something Objectivism finds difficult to explain away.

            Interesting to see that Branden actually became a leading practitioner in humanistic psychology. That point is important, as we’ll see in a moment.

            The full quote doesn’t change my stance. Quite the contrary. The idea that love is earned rather than given is at the heart of most family and emotional dysfunction.

            Love is some kind of commodity which we can buy with our so-called virtues? And unbidden kindness does not count as a virtue? This is so contrary to the human experience of love as to be laughable.

            How many people haughtily remind us of how well they uphold their own values, how admirable they are, and go through life unloved? Unloved, because they couldn’t squeeze out a kindness to people they judged less virtuous?

            As you point out in your last sentence, Brandon, love must be freely given. “Indiscriminate” love is a nonsense; it devalues the very notion.

            There are people you don’t love, and people you do, and even with the ones you love you sometimes have to draw the line. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and even humble twelve-steppers know about a thing called personal boundaries.

            Most healthy individuals work this out.

            Rand often returns to the image of the panhandler on the footpath, to whom you might, or might not, give a dime. If it’s your last dime, you won’t. That would be counterproductive, rather like not putting on your own oxygen mask first. If you’re feeling flush, you might toss him a quarter. Or you might not, still, if you think he’s a drunk who ought to sober up first.

            Most people have little trouble making such decisions, because they use their hearts as much as their heads to decide. To Rand, the panhandler is a flea in her philosophical armpit. Using only rational tools, she is forced to condemn him vigorously for his lack of values, rather than remain indifferent to him, pity him, or perhaps even seek to understand him.

            Rands heroes and heroines are classic boundary violators. Judgement is one-way, them over you. Heroes or tyrants? Leaders or bullies? Sages or psychopaths? Howard Roark blew up his own building—sorry, blew up someone else’s building—because he felt slighted. The heroes in her novels brutalise women.

            Such patterns are unproductive for a private company, or any other mutual enterprise. And positively toxic in relationships that involve love. I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that families which practise these power games turn out seriously disturbed people.

            No wonder Branden’s choice of alternative career so affronted her. But if he no longer displayed the virtues she originally saw in him, why should she be bitter? She couldn’t admire a person with different values, so there would be no love any more, right? Why didn’t she just scrape him off the bottom of her shoe?

            You won’t count me as one who holds a “disdain for commerce”, quite the contrary. But I certainly maintain that a commercial transaction is a poor, and inaccurate, metaphor for an act of love.

            I think the characterisation is fair.


  2. The thing that frustrates me about the concept of “going Galt” is that it manages to completely mangle the actual reason taxes discourage economic activity.

    The key, like most of economics, is marginalism. Raising taxes isn’t going to cause a mass exodus from the system, but it will cause a few nudges here and there, some people will work less, a small number might quit entirely (those people who were almost indifferent between working or not), but the effect is subtle, especially at low tax rates. There is never a sudden moment where everyone gives up and buggers off.

    The whole “going Galt” myth also doesn’t consider that the primary driver of wealth is exchange, not production. All those brilliant entrepreneurs in Rand’s books would be a whole lot less productive if they had to make their own food or do their own laundry. Indeed productivity has much more to do with general economic conditions than any personal virtues.

    Of course, that last comments pertain somewhat to “going Valjean” as well. In much of the world Valjean would have starved to death long before he could have gotten permission to build that factory. Or a local warlord’s thugs would have blown it up. Or the government would have taken the factory from him and given it to a crony who runs it into the ground.

    There are some games you just can’t win, I speak not of the US but of the genuine 3rd world hellholes. In those places quitting is the only winning move, ideally by moving to a country that actually allows for success (if you can manage it).


    • Surely, Jason, this is an unfair reading. The OP was in response to the question raised by Tod, yes?

      I did not read Chris as posting because bothered by not being able to “stop these people from idling” but as expressing an appreciation for a political philosophy diametrically opposed to the (facile) Randianism of “Dr. Helen” and her tribe.

      For myself, while I concur with everything Chris has said above, I personally have no problem whatever with these folks idling themselves as much as they want to. What becomes tedious and tiresome to me is their incessant whining about it.

      I also align myself wholeheartedly with the comment of The Honorable Husband above: as a political thinker, novelist, and human being, Victor Hugo succeeds far beyond Ayn Rand, because he understands what it means to be a member of the human family. She, as evidenced by her work and by her life, does not.


      • It seems reasonable to conclude that the first third of a post is likely to contain — somewhere within it — what the post is “really” about. But I couldn’t quite decide, admittedly, whether this was a post about Victor Hugo or about going Galt. It was a bit incoherent, both thematically and in places syntactically.

        What made me tip the scales in favor of the latter was simply that a post about Victor Hugo didn’t need a section about going Galt, but a post about going Galt might benefit, just possibly, from an added contrast, like Valjean.

        It bears mentioning that Victor Hugo was Ayn Rand’s favorite novelist, although she disagreed vehemently with the Christianity and socialism that Hugo displayed to varying degrees throughout his life.

        During her own life, Rand never advised anyone to “go Galt” in the real world, and I certainly don’t see people like Helen Smith as understanding what Rand was getting at. Atlas Shrugged is not a realistic novel, as its author would be the first to insist, with very great pride in that fact. The characters within it are not human beings, but dramatizations of abstract ethical and political principles. Living by those principles, not their dramatizations, is what’s demanded of the reader.

        But anyway, if these people are foolish, and if they’ll never amount to anything, what gives with taking them so seriously? If not, that is, that Mr. Carr is tremendously bothered by talented individuals not working as hard as they possibly can for his own benefit.


        • Fair enough. Chris’s post certainly did have a surprisingly long set-up. The lede (as I took it) was buried.

          And yes, “going Galt” is, as I said, a facile, even purile, understanding of Rand (if it’s an understanding at all.)

          But this: “what gives with taking them so seriously? If not, that is, that Mr. Carr is tremendously bothered by talented individuals not working as hard as they possibly can for his own benefit.” puzzles me.

          Are you really suggesting that admiring a philosophy that encourages people to involve themselves in the struggle to make a better world for all of us is the exact same thing as being bothered by people not working as hard as they possibly can for Christopher Carr’s personal benefit? Really?

          But then I am a Christian and a Socialist. And when I preach on Sundays I am encouraging people to emulate Jean Valjean rather than John Galt.

          As taking them so seriously–I don’t know. I think they take themselves way too seriously, which is what makes it fun to mock them. (And exasperating when people do take them seriously.) These “galt-goers” are of much less importance in the cosmic scheme of things than they think they are. They would make a larger contribution by getting jobs at Walmart and volunteering in a soup kitchen once a week than they probably do now.


          • The thing is, I suspect plenty of people who adore Rand have a facile understanding of “going Galt”. I was listening to Hannity the other day and a woman called in and said that not only would she not give her employees raises if taxes were hiked on her, she would think about just closing up shop altogether. Somehow I think this is more bluster than anything else. There is a pretty big leap from making less money and making no money. Few people will take it and fewer still will go become seastedders.


            • There is a pretty big leap from making less money and making no money.

              Especially when the whole point of ‘closing up shop’ is an act of protest against ‘confiscatory taxes’. It’s the threat of Going Galt that makes it so ridiculous.


          • An individual can, in some circumstances, choose to go Valjean. For everybody to go Valjean, or most people to go Valjean, requires GOP governance in America.

            In general, our ability to do the things Valjean did, on a large scale or small, requires us to go places Javert can find us. To empower the likes of Javert (who in many ways is better than the tentacles of the current Demo-Leviathan) as the essence of public policy is dangerous to our spirits as well as our material wealth.

            The GOP should be hitting this angle harder than they are. But we don’t have to wait for them.


        • Jason, I should just let CC respond to you since he will know better than anyone what he was trying to say. But fwiw, I didn’t read this as being a post about Rand or about Hugo. I read it as a post about CC.

          As he stated, I had asked him what was the well he always came back to draw from, and this is his response. His response it seems to me can be summed up not in a ideological argument, so much as a noting of personal choice:

          CC sides might agree with the Helen Smith type libertarian that the State is often a tool for evil; but the way the way that Jean deals with that truth speaks to him more – and seems to him more moral – than the path John does.

          I am not understanding your objection to this declaration.


      • Of course, it’s unfair. I’m not sure there’s enough information in this piece to say that A) Christopher Carr believes he should be stopping people from going Galt or B) he’s emotionally disturbed about his inability to do so.

        FWIW, I’m glad to hear such a full-throated fart-in-the-general-direction of going Galt. It’s a dumb idea and while I support the freedom of people to do dumb things, they’ll get no encouragement from me.


        • Christopher Carr believes he should be stopping people from going Galt

          Support: He actually urges people not to do it. (What am I supposed to conclude from this fact?)

          he’s emotionally disturbed about his inability to do so.

          Support: He resorts to shaming them.


          • None of the people he’s talking about has actually “gone Galt” – for the reason, as Christopher points out, that it would be stupid and irrational. But they should be ashamed of supporting an ideology of selfishness and disregard for the well-being of one’s fellow man.

            So he’s not trying to prevent them from going Galt – they wouldn’t anyway. He’s pointing out that their ideology is immoral and inhumane, and that they have massive entitlement complexes about how society should treat them. We shouldn’t let their self-absorbdness shape our economic policy.

            What amuses, and also aggravates, me is that those people who talk most about “going Galt” and about “punishing success” are those people who are most useless to society, and who we would miss the least. Investment bankers, CEOs, hedge fund managers, professional players of the stock market – let them go Galt! We’d do better without them.


                    • That’s a different issue than you initially brought up. You said ‘what are people entitled to?’. My answer was psychological: whatever they think they deserve. And I meant that as a baseline of some sort, a level beyond which analysis can’t go.

                      Now, whether those perceptions of entitlement are rational, or defensible, or conform with other principles is another matter. And I don’t see how the one bears on the other except given a presupposition that political advocacy must be rational, defensible, and/or consistent in addition to being emotionally felt. And more importantly, I guess, I reject that it must be rational, defensible and consistent according to another person’s preferred ideology.

                      (You ought to like this argument JB: it seems very congenial to your analysis of culture and prescriptive social policies.)


                    • You use the word “entitled” the way that I would use the term “feel entitled”.

                      It seems to me that you would see “What are people entitled to?” and “What do people feel entitled to?” as pretty much identical questions.

                      I see them as very, very, very different questions. Very different indeed.

                      The first is asking a moral question. The second is asking a question about the people’s internal states which, it seems to me, isn’t likely to necessarily have any relationship to the first question *AT ALL*.


                    • ISTM you’re using the term ‘entitled’ in a theory laden way: that the justification for believing that a person is entitled to X is of primary importance. (Or an important distinction to maintain.) Because of this you (and I) get to ask someone else on what grounds they feel entitled to X. But that very question presupposes that they already feel entitled to X, and that we’re really just curious about or critiquing the reasons for holding that belief.

                      I don’t see it that way at all. In fact, I don’t think it’s a useful distinction (or even a possible distinction) to make wrt answering the question ‘what are people entitled to?’. At the subjective level, people may (or may not) have a rational justification for feeling entitled to X, but even if they had a rational justification … they still (subjectively!) feel entitled to X! And they would then vote/advocate/attack opponents views/lobby/write about what not only what they feel entitled to, but how other people’s conflicting views are wrong.

                      Other than that, I don’t know what the utility of the distinction is. People advocate for all sorts of things. To ask the question ‘what are people entitled to?’ as if the answer wasn’t reflected by the myriad forms of advocacy which groups and individuals engage in seems like it misses the point. I mean, the answer is just in the advocacy, isn’t it? You get a multiplicity of answers that are often mutually inconsistent.

                      Or maybe this is a better way to say it: There’s no one single correct answer here that doesn’t presuppose a rigid ideological theory.


                    • Under my definition, a woman can be entitled to speak her mind, even though she may think that it is not her place to do so.

                      Under your system, a woman who has been taught by society that she should not speak her place and who has internalized that lesson would not, in fact, be entitled to speak her mind.

                      This alone tells me that your definitions are less useful than mine.


                    • Adding: But if your question is really the following: ‘what ought people be entitled to?’, then the theory-ladenness of the question becomes apparent. And it gets a theory-dependent answer.

                      Is this the question you’re asking?


                    • I’ll rephrase: are you asking the meta-question ‘What ought people be entitled to according to a correct and practical political theory?’ This answer is theory-dependent.

                      If your just asking what people think they’re entitled to, on a psychological level, you’ll get divergent answers usually reflected by the types of policies they advocate for.

                      Is there a third option?

                      To narrow the ground we’re covering, it might be helpful if you said what you think people are entitled to.


                    • Thank you for the opportunity to repeat myself:

                      For the record, the way I use the term “entitled” implies nothing more than “what are people obligated to provide?”

                      I try not to take what people feel into account when it comes to this question.

                      For either the giver or the receiver.


                    • For the record, the way I use the term “entitled” implies nothing more than “what are people obligated to provide?”

                      Hmmm. So what’s the definition of ‘what are people obligated to provide’?

                      I hope the answer isn’t ‘other people’s entitlements’.


                    • I heard you just fine, JB. What does society owe the individual vis-a-vis welfare, etc; how much freedom from taxes and regulation, etc. does the state owe the “productive” individual?

                      Rights and duties. We make an absolute claim on the former and head for the exits at the latter.


                    • Ahh Jaybird, it always ends the same way, doesn’t it?

                      I’m calling you out for a potentially circular definition. I’ve given one account of what people think they’re entitled to – a psychological one. You rejected it as being worse than your view, which you then circularly defined. Don’t you see that?

                      In clear language, in your own terms, what are people entitled to, and what are people obligated to provide? I bet you can’t do it without creating a tight little circle.


                    • No, Stillwater, I see it as a relational definition.

                      If I am entitled, you are obliged.
                      If you are entitled, I am obliged.

                      The obligation on your part follows, I suppose, the entitlement of mine.

                      Which is why it is oh-so-very important of me to get an answer to question I asked:

                      What are people (and I include myself in that group) entitled to? (And, by extension, what are people (and I include myself in that group) obliged to provide?)

                      You’ll note that Jason answered earlier that he thinks he deserves a pony.

                      He did this for humorous effect because you and I both know that he is not entitled to a pony and we are not obliged to provide one (though, I suppose, were he to purchase a pony and handed over coin and never got his pony in exchange, we could agree that he had been a victim of fraud and is entitled to a day in court to try to get either his money or his pony… which would mean that, if nothing else, we’ve hammered down that people are entitled to their day in court! At least!!! Right?)

                      Given that the answer to the question “What *ARE* people entitled to, by the way?” entails obligation on my part, it’s very important to me that I get an answer to that question.

                      Though, I suppose, if I defined “entitled” in such a way that reflected instead the inner state of the person wishing for stuff, I could remove myself from that relationship entirely… turning the concept of “entitlement” to a solipsistic one.


                    • Jaybird, I’ll try one more time (foolishly, I admit). You most recently wrote

                      The obligation on your part follows, I suppose, the entitlement of mine.

                      If that’s the case, then entitlements exist prior to the obligations which result from them. So they require an analysis which doesn’t include or refer to ‘obligations’ in order to not be circular.


                    • But I’m wondering if your definition of “good faith” is as different from a common understanding of the term as your definition of “entitled”.

                      If the definition of “good faith” includes defining terms when asked, clarifying when asked, and answering questions when asked, then I *HAVE* been arguing in good faith.

                      I’m wondering if “good faith” means “agrees with Stillwater” at this point.


                    • I can be entitled to something (a vote, perhaps… passing out literature without fear of arrest… the integrity of my body) and you can violate that.

                      You can keep folks from voting.
                      You can confiscate flyers.
                      You can mug a guy.

                      This does not mean that the guy is not entitled to vote, that he is not entitled to freedom of the press, and that he is not entitled to the integrity of his body.

                      Just because you are obliged to not hit him over the head and take his wallet does not mean you will.

                      He is still entitled to his bodily integrity.

                      These things seem fairly self-evident but, I suppose, if you believe that entitlements exist solely in the heart of the black hole of need that is the human being, you could see differently.


                    • I’m wondering if “good faith” means “agrees with Stillwater” at this point.

                      Ha! I put cards on the table JB. I gave you a pragmatic account of entitlement. I have another that’s more theory laden, but that wasn’t the topic of discussion.

                      Here’s what you’ve done: define ‘entitlement’ in terms of ‘obligations’; walk that back to merely saying their ‘relationally defined’; and then say that entitlements are conceptually prior to obligations. That’s three mutually inconsistent accounts of your understanding of the relationship between entitlements and obligations. And you’ve expressed this mish-mash of reasoning while insisting that it’s other people who need to get clear on the issue.

                      I have no idea what your arguing here. It’s not a matter of agreeing with me, it’s about making a clear argument and providing answers relevant to the questions asked. You argue like a shadow, dude.


                    • Here’s what you’ve done: define ‘entitlement’ in terms of ‘obligations’; walk that back to merely saying their ‘relationally defined’; and then say that entitlements are conceptually prior to obligations. That’s three mutually inconsistent accounts of your understanding of the relationship between entitlements and obligations. And you’ve expressed this mish-mash of reasoning while insisting that it’s other people who need to get clear on the issue.

                      I originally asked a question.

                      What are people entitled to?

                      I clarified what I meant by entitled when it was apparent that we weren’t using the word the same way. I’m not giving three different definitions, I’m giving three clarifying sentences… I’d say that all three of those things are true about what it means to be entitled.

                      It means to have a right to something.

                      If I have a right to free speech, say, you have an obligation to not violate it. So I can speak my piece without fear of violence. You are obliged to not punch me in the nose because of something I say (let’s assume that I wasn’t using fighting words, of course). This right is, of course, relational… it instills in you an obligation to not violate it. It also exists conceptually prior to your obligation to not punch me in the nose.

                      I don’t see how those things are mutually exclusive.


                    • [Crawls out from under rock]

                      1. I quite enjoyed the OP. I think Chris gets Rand’s argument in Atlas Shrugged wrong (though I’m not certain she’d disagree with the whole “Going Galt” thing in her later years), but that’s ok because he’s more addressing the way in which the conservatarian masses use Rand.

                      2. Now to my main purpose – interjecting on this debate over the meaning of “entitled.” Hopefully, I can help Stillwater out here.

                      At root, “entitlement” is a purely legal concept (the word “title” in there is a pretty good tip-off) meaning in effect “that to which one possesses a legal right which supercedes anyone else’s legal or moral rights (if any),” with the verb “entitled” meaning in effect “a superior legal right.” It is thus a word that ordinarily should be devoid of moral meaning.

                      This, however, is not the meaning that is being argued over here. If it were, this discussion would have never occurred. Why not? Because by and large we all agree on how we define a legal entitlement, and we certainly agree upon the process by which one obtains a legal entitlement; in those occasional instances where we disagree, we even have pretty well-accepted ways of resolving the dispute once and for all by hiring a lawyer or writing a letter to the producers of The People’s Court.

                      The trouble seems to be – and I think this is largely what Jaybird is trying to get at – that it is often used as not only a legal concept but also as a concept imbued with moral authority justifying the alteration of legal rights. This, of course, is not only impossible, but also begs the very question that an “entitlement” seeks to resolve, namely “where do we draw the legal line between competing moral claims”?

                      Imbuing “entitlement” with moral meaning in effect seeks to short-circuit the entire process by which we determine to what one is in fact entitled. When imbued with moral meaning, the word “entitle” winds up defined something like “a moral right that must* be recognized as a legal right superceding other rights.” In this meaning, the moral right is so strong as to be an imperative, and the failure of the law to recognize it as superior to any other claims simply unacceptable.

                      In short, when one uses the word “entitled” as if it has moral authority, one: A. Trivializes the relevance of any other moral claims; and B. Justifies disobedience to the law to the extent the law does not perfectly embody the moral right. Used as a noun, it becomes, in effect, a synonym for what one might call a “natural right” or a “universal right” in other contexts. At that point, people tend to start talking completely different languages – we’re arguing whether truths that one or the other of us may strongly believe are “self-evident” are, in fact, “self-evident.” That tends to not end well.

                      If, however, we stick to the purely legal (and more accurate) definition of “entitle,” we can start talking in terms of “how do we resolve whose perceived or actual moral right ought to be granted legal recognition.” We can start asking whether the moral rights must, of necessity, compete or whether there is a way to resolve the problem without stomping on either moral right. If the moral rights must, of necessity, compete, we can start asking whether there is a way to give lots of recognition to one moral right that at least minimizes the stomping on the other moral right in a manner that is at least tolerable for the stompee (by which I mean that the stompee is likely to accept the resulting legal entitlement rather than seeking to resist it by any means possible, legal or illegal). If the answer to that final question is “no,” then -and only then – do we get to the question of whether one of the competing rights is a moral right at all.

                      *I say “must” instead of “should” because to define it as “should” would be to deprive the word of any meaning whatsoever; quite literally, using the word “should” here would result in “entitlement” meaning “that to which one should be entitled.”


                  • Mark, thanks for interjecting on this. I didn’t have time to carefully over the comment, but I thought I’d ask you this: if ‘entitlement’ has an exclusively legal meaning, then why are there any issues regarding it’s meaning at all? Isn’t looking up the relavant statutes and case law enough to settle the issue?

                    In fact, I think that morality creeps back in. individual morality, and how basic rights are understood. So in the end, I would say that legal terms have legitimate grounding only insofar as they are justified by rights and other moral terms. But that brings us back full circle: people differ on what their basic rights and opportunites are, and what the role of government is in furthering them. Democracy is a fuzzy-bounded bundle of competing interests after all.

                    Re: the suggestion that Jaybird meant that all along: I disagree. If it were that clear to him, he would have expressed it just as clearly and corrected my ‘error’ in supposing that an entitlement could reduce to merely an emotional state of ‘feeling deserving’.

                    And that was my larger point: not a dispute about substantive content, but about argument and clarity.


                    • So we’re back to your argument that people are entitled to whatever they think they’re entitled to.

                      So there are women who are not entitled to vote and slaves who are not entitled to be free… because they have internalized what society has said about women not being fit to vote and slaves not fit to be free.

                      I don’t accept that, and still don’t.

                      My definitions still strike me as more useful than “Whatever they think the deserve.”


                    • JB, Let’s rehash this a bit. You asked a very legitimate question: what are people entitled to?

                      Fair enough. Knowing your views on this issue, I tried for another angle as a legitimate response: I answered not by providing an analysis of what constitutes an ‘entitlement’ or what constitutes its legitimate grounding. Instead, I answered by providing an account: that people (subjectively!) feel entitled to the things the think they deserve.

                      So what’s your disagreement with what I said? It’s that you reject the suggestion that ‘analyzing’ entitlements in terms of emotions is correct.

                      But I never proposed the answer to be an analysis of ‘entitlement’. It’s an account of entitlement that answers the political question ‘what are people entitled to?’ And I think it’s a descriptively accurate account that explains quite a bit of political activism and policy advocacy (especially when people subjectively argue what other people aren’t entitled to.

                      Pointing this out leads to more substantive disagreement that was never really discussed: on your view, presumably, disputes over entitlements can be decided by invoking a notion of obligations and rights. So if you were to provide an analysis of entitlements, you would (eg) say that an entitlement is the in principle ability to act on a right constrained by onerous obligations entailed. (That view, btw, is simply a rights based moral philosophy containing the harm principle.)

                      Here’s what I would say in response to you’re clearly stated analysis of ‘entitlements’: consistent with the view you put forward (maybe something like the one I just wrote above, but it doesn’t matter), people can differ wildly on what constitutes an entitlement, on what constitutes a positive obligation, on what constitutes harm, and more importantly on how to balance all those often competing rights and principles.

                      So saying in the abstract that an entitlement is grounded in a right constrained by the harm principle doesn’t get you very far in determining an answer to the initial question, unless you presuppose a narrow ideological theory as being correct. Which may (and quite likely does) beg question being asked.


                    • So, on a political level, people can vote to give themselves whatever they want, so long as they get a majority (and there is no moral component to this observation)?

                      I would agree wholeheartedly with this.

                      I would submit that this is not sustainable.


                    • Basic rights are a constraint. The harm principle is a constraint.

                      People differ on how those terms are understood, the role they play in governance, how to balance competing rights and competing harms, etc., etc.

                      Look, (I think) I get your argument here and on other threads. One point I would repeat – that maybe you disagree with – is that a rights based theory constrained by the harm principle doesn’t yield determinate answers to the types of questions we’re discussing, unless additional constraints are introduced to the theory. And people disagree on whether those constraints ought to be introduced or even whether they can be independently justified (or even if they matter at all).


                    • Ooops. I didn’t give the proper weight to the final sentence you just wrote.

                      Maybe you’re right about that: it seems like an empirical issue requiring some evidence. But why do you think it isn’t sustainable? Do you mean it’s politically unsustainable or economically unsustainable? And what constitutes a solution to the problem of ‘too much democracy’?


                    • But why do you think it isn’t sustainable? Do you mean it’s politically unsustainable or economically unsustainable? And what constitutes a solution to the problem of ‘too much democracy’?

                      Someone pointed out the other day that the rich man’s conscience is clear long before the poor man’s belly is full… I would submit that there is more going on here than the limitations imposed by the rich man’s conscience.

                      Economically unsustainable. It seems politically sustainable enough.

                      Problem? I imagine the unsustainability is a problem that resolves itself. Anything that cannot go on forever… won’t.


              • People are entitled to
                – hold whatever opinions they wish on matters political, economic, religious, etc.
                – have enough food to eat, clothing to wear, and a roof over their heads
                – have the opportunity for a decent education, regardless of their financial situation
                – be able to receive medical treatment for illness or injury, regardless of their financial situation*

                That’s the fundamentals. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to buy these things for themselves. But we don’t live in an ideal world – we live in a world where the people who sew our clothes, make our shoes, pick our vegetables, assemble our electronics, et cetera make a pittance; the people who care for our health, teach our children, build our houses, and fix our cars make moderate amounts; and the investment professionals who do nothing of value make billions.

                We could reorient that system so that the people who produce value were in charge and made the money, but history has shown that’s trickier than it looks, so we use taxation in lieu of that in hopes of achieving some level of equity.

                *Within reasonable limits. In Canada we recently had a debate over whether the government should fund the medication for one man who’s treatment cost $1 million / yr. But most medical situations aren’t remotely so expensive.


                • Assuming scarcity, do we have an obligation to see that these things are provided in any particular order?

                  I mean, should we really be worrying about $1million dollar medication while there are still homeless people?

                  Do we have an obligation to folks beyond our borders? Should we see to finding clothing for people in India before we go providing subsidized Master’s Degrees in (Whatever) Studies for people in our country?

                  Or do we only have obligations to “our” people and to see that they get what’s coming to them?


                  • What people think they’re are entitled to, in the way you’re using the word, doesn’t have any bearing on what people are obligated to provide.

                    People (individually or in groups) advocate for policy they will benefit from, for state of affairs they think they deserve. Other people (individually or in groups) may or may not resist that advocacy, and in part by saying that they don’t deserve those things, hence they’re not obligated to honor the other groups claims.

                    Isn’t this part and parcel of social interaction?


                    • The Randers and the “welfare rights” folks seem to be mirrors of the rights vs. duties question.

                      In some sense that’s right. But the Randers like to think they’re rugged individualists who ought to be praised for creating wealth as if that wealth didn’t derive from collective social action; and the welfarers clammer for better opportunities as individuals, which comes at others expense. In some non-trivial sense, the arguments can get turned on their heads: Randian overlords are the product of the collective (the entirety of society), and welfarers are championing individual rights.

                      Not the I necessarily expect anyone to agree with this view.


                  • I believe we (“we” being “human beings with substantially more than the average amount of money”) have an obligation to the rest of the world in terms of ensuring everyone has food, education and basic health. I’d like to see a substantially larger amount of money (the 0.7% target of the Millennium Development goals strikes me as a good minimum threshold; that’s $0.70 cents for every $100 each person makes) going from us to the developing world.

                    It is not politically possible to spend all our money on the developing world until their people reach a standard of living equal to our own; humans are inherently selfish. But we should be putting more toward that.

                    I think that all of the things you list are achievable with the amount of money that exists now, and am quite fine with somewhat higher taxation (it’s been falling for decades) if that helps with such achievements.

                    Your choice of examples hits close to home, as a fully-funded masters’ program (in international affairs / international development, no less!) is why I’m currently in Ottawa studying rather than sitting at home being unemployed. And I like having that scholarship, even though all that money could have fed a lot of Africans. Like I said, selfishness.


                    • That was not intentional (but I am always pleased when I manage to do something like that).

                      It seems to me that most of us agree on the whole benefits of selfishness thing (usually making an exception for this one case).

                      Which is fine. I cannot condemn such a thing. But then… I wouldn’t.


                    • I don’t agree on the benefits of selfishness. I just agree that it has to be dealt with.

                      If everyone considered others before themselves, the world would be a far better place. But they don’t. And they won’t. A major point in my political evolution has been the realization that every political system predicated on the idea that people are fundamentally good has failed, sometimes with horrible consequences.


            • What amuses, and also aggravates, me is that those people who talk most about “going Galt” and about “punishing success” are those people who are most useless to society, and who we would miss the least. Investment bankers, CEOs, hedge fund managers, professional players of the stock market – let them go Galt! We’d do better without them.

              Get rid of them, and the world will make more.

              Sorry to depress you, but you know I’m right.


              • Which precisely proves Christopher’s point – they’re never going to actually go Galt, because the system works in their interest – they just like complaining about it to pressure the government to reorient the system to benefit them even further.

                It’s an indication that the Western, and global, economic system is deeply screwed up. We need policy changes that incentives actual production of value, and disincentivize just moving money around. I recommend taxing capital gains at an equal or higher rate than income, and bringing in the Tobin Tax (a few cents per stock trade); you can lower income taxes in compensation in compensation if you don’t want the government to have any additional revenue.


          • “What am I supposed to conclude from this fact?”

            There’s a wide gulf between urging people from doing something and forcibly preventing them. What part of the piece leans towards the latter?

            I think it says something that the proponents of “Going Galt” think it’s such a great idea that themselves do not do it. Is the “shaming” due to poorly-diagnosed psychological disturbances or the air self-righteous hypocrisy?


              • Seasteaders….ha! Of the 15 people on this planet who are seasteaders, I’m guessing that most of them will tell you that yes, living on an abandoned oil derrick really IS paradise because you don’t have to deal with any of that icky society stuff. I have to assume that half of these guys really believe what they’re preaching and the other half say Waterworld and said, “I wanna live just like that.”

                As an animal lover, I’m somewhat embarrassed by PETA and the Whale Wars gang. Yes, we shouldn’t be putting perfume in little bunny eyes, but we shouldn’t be drenching people with red paint either. Save the whales? I’m for it. But throwing stink bombs at people? Nah….

                I would hope that the same instinct creeps up with libertarians and some of their goofy ideas, but usually I see this defensive crouch. Seasteading and Going Galt are lame, counter-productive and juvenile ideas. No reasonable person should find the need to defend them. Even when the liberals laugh…


                • I doubt it will be dramatic or planned — it will be more like “driven Galt” as those who can’t stand the control gradually do less or find other ways to satisfy their ambition and expend their energy, or follow some carrot from nations which catch on to the dissatisfaction and offer a better environment for producers, entrepreneurs and innovators. If the global economy continues to unwind and decline, and if the US fails to maintain a relatively free environment, some nations will offer such an environment, and it will attract talent from the US.


                • I’ve actually listed to a couple of interviews with Patri Friedman, so I think I’ve got a decent handle on what the goals of the Seasteading Institute are. Friedman is quite clear that he sees seasteading as a way of experimenting with new and different models of government and society, so he’s not trying to go Galt so much as go Jefferson. The oil rig part only comes in because the only way to acquire new territory these days is to take it of an existing country (which is a dicey proposition at the best of times), or go into international waters.

                  Furthermore Friedman has emphasised that for seasteading to work, there will need to be some kind of export industry on these seasteads to help generate the economic activity they’ll need to be sustainable. That’s engaging with the rest of the world, not fleeing from it.


                  • Interesting, James. Thanks. I think the most we’ll actually see from seastedding is perhaps a new hedge-fund / investment banking nexus on the high seas. Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman at its helm. Not a lot you can export from a seastedding colony I imagine, but finance is an exception. Maybe. Maybe even the logistics of that would be too difficult (and would likely rely on some sort of state-subsidized communication network even so).


                    • Finance would work (after all, one who lives by their stock of capital is a citizen of the world), but Friedman spoke of hospital healthcare as his best idea. His idea was a seastead just parked outside the sovereign territory of the US, running a hospital. Want healthcare that doesn’t cost ridiculous amounts of money? It’s only a short plane flight away.

                      I have no idea whether it would work, but that’s what he’s thinking anyway.


                  • I can’t say I’m too familiar with the Friedman interviews, but I know marketing when I see it. “A way of experimenting with new and different models of government and society?” That’s marketing.

                    They will be “experimenting” with a single model of government, one which they already KNOW would work if only it was implemented. It’s not, “let’s go live on a boat and see what happens.”

                    They’re trying to reinvent the wheel. There’s a whole social infrastructure these people will probably miss once they move out to the derrick. They might not miss the marginal tax rates, but I bet they’ll miss ethnic restaurants.

                    If it’s about policy, why not stay and try to make things better? That’s what Jefferson would have done.


                    • This is the primary interview I was thinking of. Have a listen, if you’re interested, and have a spare hour.

                      If not, here’s my summary: Friedman’s entire argument for seasteads is that existing political structures can’t make substantial changes from the status quo because of capture and the inertia of policy-making. He likens existing states to moribund monopolies who provide poor services with little innovation because they have no competition (it’s nearly impossible to start a new government). Friedman want to lower barriers to entry in government services provision by making it easier to start new countries on the only piece of unclaimed real estate left – the ocean. Greater competition will bring new innovations in government and better services for everyone.

                      Will this actually work? I have no idea, but I suspect not. First off, everything is harder to implement than it first appears, and secondly if it starts to work I expect established governments will shut them down . But whether I think it will work or not, there is more to the idea than simply a desire to pay less in taxes.

                      As for Jefferson, he did leave – the Founding Fathers concluded (probably correctly) that they couldn’t resolve their problems through the political framework of the British Empire, so they seceded from the Empire to form their own polity. This is exactly what seasteaders are proposing to do, only they’re not trying to take the ground they’re standing on with them.


  3. I’m not a bidnessman but in the Obama Market, where the production of energy is under assault, the market’s going to hell, and the dollar following closely behind, with a certain uncertainty regarding employee healthcare, and whatever new regs Commissar Barry and his minions have in mind, it may be the smartest move to ‘go Galt’. Or, at least to stop spending money on capital equipment, quit hiring, and just sit back and see how long these commies are going to be around. That is unless you’re one of Barry’s capitalist cronies.


    • Robert, you are such a partisan hack at times it’s just galling. Were you born in 2008? If not, did you get hit with something hard and blunt in 2008 that shattered every last piece of historical information left in your cranium?


      • Well Erik, President Obama is threatening the production of energy. The market is going to hell (at least this week). Confidence in the stability of the dollar is down. Employee health care is under threat.

        And there’s more where that came from. It’s easier to criticize Bob than to accept President Obama’s responsibility for those things (and by extension your own).


      • E.D. ‘ouch!’
        While it’s true I enjoy peeing in our H-K Marxist president’s punch bowl I think ‘partisan hack’ is a bit strong. After all I don’t call you an equivicating, effete, little twit who’s so timid and unsure he can’t figure out wtf he is.
        Besides, I’m pretty accurate on this stuff and I’m glad you pay attention. I might point you to Koz’s remarks below! Thanks Koz…we’re here to hep!


  4. The reason Ayn Rand sticks in the craw of libs is that in strong contrast to the real world, Galt and the Galt-like characters (Roark, Rearden, et al) spend a great deal of personal energy in ideological opposition to liberalism and collectivization. In the real world there’s lots of people who could contribute more to the economy disengage to some extent for prudential reasons. There’s also a few who invest a great deal of personal energy in opposition to collectivization. Nobody goes Galt.


    • The reason Ayn Rand sticks in the craw of libs

      Is that she’s a crude propagandist who’s been elevated to the status of artist, guru, and God. It’s as if Glenn Beck was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.


  5. I can’t speak for Chris. My response to people who threaten to go Galt is: “Have fun! But if you expect me to change my mind about anything because of that stupid, idle threat, you have another think coming.”


  6. Going Galt strikes me that it would look like something very, very different in “the real world” (given that the vast majority of us are, at best, Willerses rather than Galts).

    I suspect that it would look like someone working 50 hours a week instead of 55 because those 5 hours are worth more to him than the money he’d get… when, before, the money would have been worth more. Being closed on Sundays. Opening at 11 instead of 10. Closing at 6 rather than 8.

    I suspect that it would look like someone laying off 10% of his workforce because the rewards of managing their managers is not worth the trouble and it’s easier to consolidate work and hours.

    I suspect that it would look like someone getting a job at a company that has good benefits rather than someone going into business for himself.

    I suspect that it would look like someone going back to school to get a degree in law rather than a degree in medicine or to get a degree in business rather than a degree in engineering.

    I suspect that it would look like someone waiting to see if he has to hire someone rather than saying “well, we’ll give them a six-week transition period”.

    The worst thing is that it would look like stuff that people wouldn’t call “going Galt” and the people doing it probably would never have sat down to read Atlas Shrugged because they’d rather have read something from Tom Clancy or Stephen King.

    In the real world, anyway.


    • Being awfully generous to the concept of “Going Galt” by including that stuff, but you make some points about how it would work in the “real” world. (That we have to wall reality off from the Galt fantasy is telling….)

      That said, I think in the “real” world the motivations for any of these actions will be something OTHER than the desire to dial it back on the productivity level, which you hint at with this:

      “because those 5 hours are worth more to him than the money he’d get”

      Making these kinds of value judgements doesn’t mean you’re “Going Galt.” If you didn’t work those extra 5 hours because the reward for doing so just isn’t good enough…well, that might qualify.


      • “Making these kinds of value judgements doesn’t mean you’re “Going Galt.” ”

        After all, no true Scot would ever go Galt.

        The point made earlier in the thread–that “Atlas Shrugged” is not meant to be a fictional depiction of real people doing actual things–cuts both ways. The idea of someone saying “working harder just means I pay more taxes so therefore I won’t work” is indeed ridiculous. But the idea that Jaybird proposes, of someone saying “I’d rather just keep working at ConHugeCo than quit and start a business selling the SuperWidget I invented in my basement because running my own business is such a pain in the ass”, that’s much more likely.


  7. “…one Helen Smith, a creepy-looking, fake-smiling “doctor”. ”

    That’s the nuanced, tolerant, intellectual way of thinking; criticize a woman’s appearance and claim that it makes her less credible. Good job with that “being the change you want to see” thing, there, ace.


  8. BTW, lost in all of this is props for linking to the McSweeney piece. Had not seen it before.

    This in particular was bloody brilliant:

    If you saw Johanna, her knees buckling, her arms trembling but still trying to hold aloft the collective weight of an entire Tot Lot’s worth of Elmo balls with the last of her strength, what would you tell her to do?

    To shrug. Just like we’ve instructed her to do if Child Protective Services or some other agent of the People’s State of America ever asks her about what we’re teaching her.


  9. These conversations about “Going Galt” always make me think of the “I want it now!” song from Willy Wonka:

    I want the world
    I want the whole world
    I want to lock it all up in my pocket
    It’s my bar of chocolate
    Give it to me

    I want today
    I want tomorrow
    I want to wear ’em like braids in my hair
    And I don’t want to share ’em


  10. Jason, you have a lot of comments above that sort of converge on a few species of criticism here, so I’ll address them all in this new thread.

    1. First, I apologize if you didn’t like my structure or syntax. Some of it was limited by this post being a direct response to Tod Kelly. The rest is just artistic license and taste, which I’m afraid there’s no accounting for. I’d be happy to go into more detail on my aesthetic of this post or any other if anyone cares to read.

    2. I’m a bit surprised by your reaction, not only for what I see as a lack of charity in a post about charity, but that you don’t agree with me. To clarify, I am a libertarian in that for the most part I don’t believe there should be any legal checks on behavior that we as a society may find undesirable provided that behavior does not infringe upon what we’ve agreed are the rights of citizens. That form of legal tolerance says nothing about whether or not we have to be nice to people who exhibit undesirable behavior, and I don’t think we do.

    “It seems to bother you that you couldn’t actually stop these people from idling, if that was what they chose.” – I don’t care if they idle, just that they think their idling is noble while real people with real problems starve. Not being a hero is okay with me, as long as you don’t think you’re a hero.

    “During her own life, Rand never advised anyone to “go Galt” in the real world, and I certainly don’t see people like Helen Smith as understanding what Rand was getting at.” – I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, so I’m clearly not attacking the text here. I can have a problem with self-proclaimed Objectivists and the idea of going Galt without having a problem with the source text, just as I can have a problem with fundamentalist Christians without having a problem with Psalms.

    Katherine puts it quite well in a comment above: “(These people are) never going to actually go Galt, because the system works in their interest – they just like complaining about it to pressure the government to reorient the system to benefit them even further.”

    Going Galt is a non-credible threat that deserves to be called out and mocked as such.


    • “2. I’m a bit surprised by your reaction, not only for what I see as a lack of charity in a post about charity, but that you don’t agree with me. To clarify, I am a libertarian in that for the most part I don’t believe there should be any legal checks on behavior that we as a society may find undesirable provided that behavior does not infringe upon what we’ve agreed are the rights of citizens. That form of legal tolerance says nothing about whether or not we have to be nice to people who exhibit undesirable behavior, and I don’t think we do.”

      This is very interesting. It’s a shame that relatively few commenters have picked up on the Valjean angle, because that’s actually important imo.

      The Rand books and Les Miserables both tap into the person’s need for heroism, though they attempt to satisfy it in different ways.

      As it relates to mode of government, it’s illustrative of the failures of both liberalism and libertarianism, as presently constituted. Both of these are motivated by fear of the people, in that they both attempt to reengineer society in ways to make up for the failure of citizens.

      That’s a mistake. It’s the job of government to do as best as it can, but content of society will ultimately be determined by the capabilities, virtues, and disposition of the people living in it. If the people are racially discriminatory, incapable of being productive in the modern economy, insular, tribal, stupid, or whatever it is that we’re afraid of, we should the consequences before us in society at large. It’s unrealistic to expect that government can wave it’s magic wand and everything will be better.


  11. Going through the comments over there at Dr. Helen’s and measuring the levels of entitlement…

    By “entitlement,” you mean wanting the government to refrain from taking their money and giving it to other people, right? As opposed to people want want the government to take other people’s money and give it to them, which is totally cool.


    • By “entitlement”, I mean the notion that these people are owed something for their unique brilliance, that they’ve suffered for soooo long while the homeless people and the welfare whores and the people with AIDS who’ve got it so good just mooch off them.


  12. It’s worth noting that Galt didn’t actually quit; he emigrated. Granted, he emigrated to an enclave within the US, but it was beyond the reach of the US government due to the fact that they couldn’t find it.

    A broader definition of “going Galt” could include emigrating to a freer country, seasteading, or establishing and moving to a charter city.


  13. Just had to de-lurk to say great post. Les Miserables has long been my favorite novel of all time – I saw the (full 4 hour) TV movie in 1978 as a teenager and have read and re-read the unabridged version numerous times.
    Javert = today’s typical Republican: incapable of mercy or pity, and taking pride in being ruthless.


    • TomG, thanks for de-lurking, and welcome. To greatly oversimplify just to the threshold of making inaccurate statements: I think taking pride in being ruthless is one aspect of Javert that happens to overlap with the Republican Party more than it does with the Democratic Party. However, another aspect of Javert, that unquestioning idea that government is the final authority, tends to overlap more with the Democratic Party.


  14. > One point I would repeat – that
    > maybe you disagree with – is
    > that a rights based theory
    > constrained by the harm principle
    > doesn’t yield determinate
    > answers to the types of questions
    > we’re discussing, unless additional
    > constraints are introduced to
    > the theory. And people disagree
    > on whether those constraints ought
    > to be introduced or even whether
    > they can be independently
    > justified (or even if they matter at all).

    Next time you two go around the maypole, start here.

    You always seem to start back there, and then get here, and then stop. This is where the conversation gets interesting!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *