Why Ayn Rand is Compelling, Despite Her Human Faults

Liberals and libertarians have areas of agreement and disagreement. As there is a considerable variation in the views of liberals, some liberals are more sympathetic to libertarianism than others. It also may be a matter of whether particular liberals care to stress their areas of agreement or disagreement, but there is a variety of views with regards to libertarians seen in the liberal blogosphere. While Ayn Rand did not consider herself to be a part of the libertarian movement, the same can also be said about liberal attitudes about her. Some of us respect her for her work to promote liberty, while others object to her for a variety of reasons.

Ezra Klein has recently written of “how utterly astonishing I find it that anyone takes her seriously.” Jake Young has an excellent response. One reason I found his response to be of value is that he recognizes both the strength in Rand’s work as well as her failings, which are often amplified by some of her more extreme followers:

First, we all knew some yo-yo in college freshmen who proclaimed themself an Objectivist on the first day. They were in some cases outrageously selfish, socially inept, and prone to getting other people into long-winded philosophical discussions against their will.

Now, I assure you that I found these individuals as distasteful as you did. It has also been my experience that in most cases they took everything that Rand said to be the Gospel truth without serious analysis. However, I do not consider it wise to judge a philosophy by the inadequacies of college freshmen, and I don’t think it fair to judge an individual by what they were like before they grew into themselves… It has not been my experience that all people who like Ayn Rand are like this.

Second, Objectivism as a movement — particularly in its later years — can be reasonably defined as a cult, by which I mean a body of individuals that enforces extreme ideological conformity by means of excommunication.

I do not deny this. Rand was a human being with many more faults than average. She created a philosophy that has some things with which I agree and other with which I don’t.

Jake notes that “Rand was one of the most vehement deniers of the right of the government to conscript individuals to participate in unjust wars” and suggests that her detractors might just find something to like in her work. He presented three main reasons for finding Rand compelling. Of the three, this is the one I found to be the strongest:

She validates the individual and the power of the individual human mind. In Atlas Shrugged, she describes a world where the intelligent and the capable have made clear that they are not willing to be exploited by the violent, the ignorant, and the incompetent. They argue that this is a world that can be grasped and improved by an individual intelligence and all that is required is the application of effort and logic. As a scientist, a physician, an intellectual, and a human being, I find that appealing.

I am neither the strongest, nor the most attractive, nor the richest, nor the most socially gifted kid in the room, but I am sure as hell capable of using my mind. Rand argues that this is all that is required for happiness.

The Ultimate Blog War Bot On The Loose

Beware, blog wars have now been automated and us human bloggers no longer have a chance. The BlogWarBot has been released!

My fear is that someone will add this to a computer virus and we will have the ultimate blogwar doomsday machine which we will all be defenseless against.  We may need a cyborg from the future to save us.

British Medical Journal Questions Policies of Bush Administration on Reducing Spread of HIV

A recent study in the British Medical Journal adds to the literature which shows that abstinence based education is not a worthwhile use of government money. Previous studies showed that abstinence only based programs do not reduce premarital sex among teens. The British Medical Journal also examined whether there is an impact on preventing the spread of HIV, and found no benefit from abstinence only programs.

In an accompanying editorial, an editor of The British Medical Journal examined “fondly held assumptions” which are untrue but affect public policy. They call into question both the Bush administration’s spending on abstinence based programs and their efforts to prevent the distribution of condoms in Africa, which does reduce the risk of acquiring the HIV infection:

The debate over abstinence only programmes for preventing HIV should also be dead after this week’s systematic review by Kristen Underhill and colleagues (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39245.446586.BE). The review shows that they don’t seem to affect the risk of HIV infection in the developed world as measured by self reported biological and behavioural outcomes. In their editorial Stephen Hawes and colleagues bring this evidence together with the rather sparser evidence from the developing world to advocate programmes that promote condom use, which do reduce the risk of acquiring HIV (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39287.463889.80). This message matters more in the US, where some government funds for AIDs prevention can be used only for abstinence programmes. Here is some clear evidence for policymakers. Will they follow it?

Conservative Pseudo-Science Confuses Evolution and Climate Change

Some on the anti-science right never run out of ways to repeat their absurd arguments that scientists are generally wrong and consensus statements should be ignored. The latest news report to generate such a claim comes from a report in The New York Times. New fossil evidence suggests that once again we have to rearrange the exact pathway in the evolution of modern man.

This is hardly anything new. Dealing with limited evidence from fossils there has always been controversy over the exact pathway, and different views have been predominant at different times. Scientists are quite aware of the limitations of our knowledge here and this report is hardly revolutionary.

The rather misnamed Astute Boggers tries to adapt this to their anti-scientific beliefs on climate change:

These two cases shod;l stand as a warning to anyone and everyone who argues that “warmening”/AGW must be true because “it’s the scientific consensus!”

What is the PC theory at any given time is subject to change because CONSENSUS IS NOT PROOF.

Only the scientific method can offer proof.

Other than that logical arguments and logical conjectures merely make one hypothesis more plausible than another.

We should not wreck our economy and our industries and allow the federal government – or any “world government” to have more control over our lives and liberty because many scientists find one theory more plausible than another. That’s merely “scientific consensus” and it should carry little to no weight in the political realm. Because it is subject to change.

Their first error here is in the misuse of consensus. There has never been a consensus on the pathway of human evolution which is comparable to the consensus on climate change. Many scientific viewpoints do change. A consensus as strong as that on global warming is not very likely to.

The next error is that they are confusing ideology with science. Their political biases are clear as they repeat the usual right wing talking points about “world government” and loss of liberty which are totally irrelevant to the scientific viewpoint. They have bought the right wing propaganda as to what the solution to climate change would be. As they do not like what they falsely believe is the solution, they respond by denying the scientific facts.

Their final error is in thinking the possibility that science can be wrong means that there is a high likelihood that the science is wrong and it can be ignored. Considering that a consensus agreement of this magnitude is very unlikely to be wrong, and considering the consequences if the scientists are right, it is hardly worth risking the survival of much of the planet on the fantasies of a bunch of right wingers with a flat earth mentality. Even if global warming does not turn out to be a serious problem, we would still benefit by changes which would result in energy independence–and which do not require a “world government” taking control of our lives.

Liberal Values First Birthday

The Liberal Values blog is one year old today. Apparently we also share a birthday with Instapundet, which at six years, is ancient in the blogosphere. Liberal Values is tiny compared to Instapundet, but it hasn’t done too badly for a part time solo blog buildt up over only one year. We’ve broken 4000 subscribers to the RSS feed, a Technorati Authority of over 500, and have steadily increased in readers. At this rate, it won’t take me much longer to get the total visits here since the start of the blog up to Instapundet’s average number of visits in just one day. My advice to new bloggers: don’t look at the site meters from the huge blogs.

John Kerry Got It Right on Terrorism in 1997

Conservatives are just learning, thanks to The Washington Times, what John Kerry warned about in 1997. The Washington Times reports:

Islamic extremists embedded in the United States — posing as Hispanic nationals — are partnering with violent Mexican drug gangs to finance terror networks in the Middle East, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration report.

“Since drug traffickers and terrorists operate in a clandestine environment, both groups utilize similar methodologies to function … all lend themselves to facilitation and are among the essential elements that may contribute to the successful conclusion of a catastrophic event by terrorists,” said the confidential report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
The 2005 report outlines an ongoing scheme in which multiple Middle Eastern drug-trafficking and terrorist cells operating in the U.S. fund terror networks overseas, aided by established Mexican cartels with highly sophisticated trafficking routes.

If this comes as anything surprising, I’d suggest checking out The New War, a book written by John Kerry in 1997 which dealt with money laundering from drug traffic helping finance terrorism.

Supporters of the War Misunderstand the Game


Supporters of the war desperately try to come up with arguments to justify their position even though they have been wrong every step of the way. Michael Goldfarb argues in The Weekly Standard that the Democratic leaders are moving the goal posts on Iraq. The problem is not that Democrats are moving the goal posts but that supporters of the war don’t even understand what game we are playing. The video Goldfarb posts (above) contradicts his own argument.

Goldfarb looks purely at military progress during the surge. The surge has included failures and limited successes. Before the surge I predicted that there could be a short term improvement in the military situation. There’s no moving of goal posts here.

The problem is that short term military gains do not change the overall situation. Military progress alone does not help if there is no progress politically. The real battle is over hearts and minds, and we are no closer to winning. Evidence for military progress is limited, and there is no evidence that the small improvements seen will persist without an indefinite American military presence. Meanwhile the limited gains where American forces have been increased are offset in other areas, such as in Basra where conditions deteriorate as the British leave.

To the limited degree that the surge has shown success, such success can only be maintained with an indefinite American occupation, which is not a satisfactory strategy. Continued American occupation with no prospect of ultimate success is wasteful of American lives and money, and ultimately works to the advantage of groups such as al Qaeda and of Iran as opposed to furthering American national security interests.

Paying For Health Care Reform Without a Free Lunch

One reason I’ve been disappointed in Hillary Clinton’s campaign is that, when talking about health care, she has discussed the easy arguments such as promoting preventative health care while avoiding the difficult decisions. David Leonhardt questions the cost savings from preventative care in a column in The New York Times:

The theory goes like this: By practicing preventive medicine, doctors can keep many people from getting sick in the first place. Those who do end up with a chronic illness will be closely tracked so that fewer of them develop complications. These steps will result in less illness, which in turn will require less health care. With the savings, the country can then lower its medical bills or provide health insurance for the 40-odd million people who lack it — or maybe even both.

As Hillary Clinton recently told The Atlantic, it’s possible to “save money and improve quality and cover everybody.”

The would-be reformers have hit on something important here. The current health care system doesn’t pay hospitals, doctors and nurses to keep people healthy; it pays for tests, surgeries and drugs. So Americans often get expensive invasive care of dubious medical benefit while missing out on sensible basic care. Millions of other people go without any care for chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. If Medicare and private insurers paid for more preventive care, Americans would be healthier than they are today and live longer.

But the current presidential candidates go one step further. They don’t merely argue that preventive care delivers good bang for the buck. They argue that it delivers good bang for no bucks whatsoever. And this is where the candidates are overreaching.

No one really knows whether preventive medicine will save money in the long run, let alone free up the billions of dollars a year needed to help pay for universal health insurance. In fact, studies have shown that preventive care — be it cancer screening, smoking cessation or plain old checkups — usually ends up costing money. It makes people healthier, but it’s not free.

“It’s a nice thing to think, and it seems like it should be true, but I don’t know of any evidence that preventive care actually saves money,” said Jonathan Gruber, an M.I.T. economist who helped design the universal-coverage plan in Massachusetts.

This is a tough idea to swallow because better health really does seem as if it should lead to lower medical bills. Indeed, if it were somehow possible to wave a wand and turn people into thin nonsmokers who remembered to take their statins, this country’s health care expenses would fall.

But any effort to promote health has its own costs. Doctors and nurses need to spend time with patients to persuade them to change their behavior. (Ever tried to get someone to stop smoking or drinking?) For a new program to work, it has to reach people who are not being helped by whatever exists now — and who thus will be among the most difficult and expensive patients to treat. The program would also have to treat a whole lot of people who never would have gotten sick.

Jay Bhattacharya, a doctor and economist at Stanford’s School of Medicine, estimates that to prevent one new case of diabetes, an antiobesity program must treat five people — “not cheaply,” he says. Along the same lines, Mr. Gruber found that when retirees in California began visiting their doctor less often and filling fewer prescriptions, overall medical spending fell. People did get sick more often, but treating their illnesses was still less costly than widespread basic care — in the form of doctors visits and drugs. Louise Russell, an economist at Rutgers, points out that programs that focus on at-risk patients cost the least, but even they are rarely free.

As Dr. Mark R. Chassin, a former New York state health commissioner, says, preventive care “reduces costs, yes, for the individual who didn’t get sick.”

“But that savings is overwhelmed by the cost of continuously treating everybody else.”

The actual savings are also not as large as might at first seem. Even if you don’t develop diabetes, your lifetime medical costs won’t drop to zero. You might live longer and better and yet still ultimately run up almost as big a lifetime medical bill, because you’ll eventually have other problems. That would be an undeniably better outcome, but it wouldn’t produce a financial windfall for society.

Certainly, there are examples of preventive care that can save money. As Mrs. Clinton has noted, Safeway and a handful of other companies have held down health costs by emphasizing prevention. (This, of course, is only over the short term.) Perhaps the best examples fall under the category of what Dr. Brent C. James calls “do it right the first time.”

Not only won’t preventative care save money in the short run, it will also cost more to provide such care to people who are not currently receiving care. I believe that in the long run preventative care, as well as more intensive care of chronic diseases, will save money. It is far less expensive to treat problems such as diabetes early, than to pay for renal dialysis, coronary artery bypass surgery, and treatment of stroke patients after years of inadequately controlled diabetes. Not everyone develops these problems, but the number of diabetics has been growing and these costs will increase.

Nobody can say for certain that the overall savings from preventative care will outweigh the additional costs. While I believe they will, ultimately I support preventative care and better routine care of chronic diseases as they are what is better for the patient, not merely because this might save money. Leonhardt is right that such discussion of preventative care does not provide a satisfactory answer as to how a health care package will be financed in the early years.

Rudy Giuliani, Warmonger on Foreign Policy, Warmonger on Drugs

Those who have been following the debates in the comments here have probably seen the disagreements between Eric Dondero, of Libertarians for Giuliani, and other libertarians who agree more with my view of Giuliani as an authoritarian warmonger. Eric’s early comments here made it irresistible stress his rather unorthodox views labeled as libertarian. Eric would inevitably respond with a list of the positions where he is libertarian, including on drugs.

Eric and I disagree over the Iraq War, with Eric backing Giuliani’s views. Opposition to the war on drugs may be one area where Eric and I do agree, but I’m not sure if Eric realizes how Giuliani is as much a warmonger on drugs as he is on foreign policy. Campaigning in Iowa, Giuliani backed escalating the war on drugs:

Giuliani met privately with law enforcement officials who run anti-drug programs, and he told about 300 people at the town hall meeting that it was essential to expand the nation’s anti-drug effort. He said no other presidential candidates has his experience fighting drugs.

“It’s something I understand really well,” said Giuliani, noting his experience as a prosecutor and mayor of New York City. “I’ve been doing this kind of work longer than I’ve been in politics.”

Libertarians for Giuliani? That sounds like quite an oxymoron.

Two Potential Consequences of the AFL-CIO Democratic Debate

With so many debates so far before the election, it is questionable as to how much any of them really matter. If last night’s AFL-CIO debate impacts the race the two effects may be to further harden this as a Clinton vs. Obama battle and to increase the emphasis on health care.

To the extent that the race is perceived as a two-way Clinton vs. Obama battle, John Edwards further slips from the top tier. Last night’s debate was particularly important for Edwards as he has been hoping for the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, but the labor organization has been holding off, fearing Edwards cannot win. Edwards needed to change that perception but was unable to do so. Should members vote with their hearts rather and ignore the question of who can win, Dennis Kucinich out-performed Edwards. Edwards was further hurt by questions of hypocrisy when he questioned the sources of money for other candidates while he obtains a disproportionate share of his contributions from trial lawyers, along with his connections to hedge funds and money received from News Corp.

A fierce two way battle between Obama and Clinton might act to shut out the other candidates, but does leave them with some hope. In 2004 a battle between Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt wound up turning off the voters, giving John Kerry and John Edwards the top two spots in Iowa and ultimately on the general election ticket.

Besides Kucinich, Biden came across the strongest in the battle to follow Obama and Clinton. Dodd and Richardson also had good moments, but Richardson’s pro-business stance helps him far more with independents than among last night’s crowd. The large number of independents expected to vote in Iowa and New Hampshire could give a boost to both Obama and Richardson, while seriously hurting Edwards’ chances.

Debates often come down to one memorable moment, such as the question over negotiations in the You Tube debate. The most memorable moment of the debate last night was a question on health care:


QUESTION: After 34 years with LTV Steel I was forced to retire because of a disability. Two years later, LTV filed bankruptcy. I lost a third of my pension and my family lost their health care.

Every day of my life I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of her life to my family and I can’t afford to pay for her health care. What’s wrong with America and what will you do to change it?

Chris Matthews commented, ““I wonder if that wasn’t a moment that’s gonna change American political history.” Opponents of health care reform sometimes try to place the blame on those who lack adequate coverage, but this provides a perfect example of hard working people who lose coverage due to no fault of their own. The differences between the Democrats on health care are not great enough to affect the nomination, but the lack of any meaningful ideas could seriously hurt the Republicans in the general election.