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Dustin86

The Problem with Objectivism in a Finite World of Limited Resources

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The biggest problem with Objectivism is that there is only so much oil, only so much natural gas, only so much lithium, only so many rare earth metals, etc. in the Earth's crust. And even as new resources are discovered, these are almost always more difficult and expensive to extract than the old ones that just got extracted and used.

 

Economically, what this finite resource reality means is that for every Hank Rearden who "makes it", there are many more who are just as talented and just as hardworking who are just barely hanging on, and still more who are completely unemployed, because there simply are not enough resources (oil, natural gas, lithium, rare earths, etc.) for the world's 7.2 billion people to live the lifestyle of a middle-class American, let alone a Hank Rearden, no matter how smart, talented, and hardworking they are. (By the way, this is fundamentally why so many Americans have gotten dumped out of the middle class since 2008.) This is why I find Hank's callous attitude toward the underprivileged (p. 42, Atlas Shrugged) quite disturbing. Rand tries to defend this attitude in terms of meritocracy when really it can't be.

 

Eventually what will happen is that industrial society will wholly cease to exist as the remaining resources will be too difficult to extract by any reasonable method. I know not whether this will happen in my lifetime, my children's lifetime, or many centuries hence, but happen it will.

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Have you tried reading the Objectivist literature before declaring "The Problem with Objectivism"? Even if any of your claims are true, could you please explain what they have to do with Objectivism?

Edited by oso

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This would be the fallacy of “One Pie” and we all live off of that one pie.  It is an easy trap to fall into.

 

We are not all eating the same pie and if I take a piece you get less.

 

We each make our own pie, that way we can make it as big as we want and choose the flavor as well.

 

The first collectivist scenario is a world of limited opportunities and forced association for the privilege of someone else telling you the flavor (happiness) you can have. 

 

The second is the product of wanting to live in the proper sense of the word since you build the life you want and choosing your own happiness. 

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... there is only so much oil, only so much natural gas, only so much lithium, only so many rare earth metals, etc.

... ...

Eventually what will happen is that industrial society will wholly cease to exist as the remaining resources will be too difficult to extract by any reasonable method. I know not whether this will happen in my lifetime, my children's lifetime, or many centuries hence, but happen it will.

This will never happen. It has been a constant fear, made popular by Malthus and refuted effectively by Julian Simon.

Edited by softwareNerd

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Hi Dustin86,

Welcome. Please be aware that some people who contribute here are disrespectful and surprisingly unreasonable. Don't let this give you cause to think this forum has no value.

I have considered the problem you refer to as well.

In short, Objectivism does not call for hatred of poor people.

I would point out Rand considered altruism an evil moral code. She often refers to moochers and looters in this context. Moochers are people who claim your wealth by tears. Some less wealthy people are moochers - but not all. It is the mooching aspect she loathed. Rand was clear that the way to judge a person is by their character and their virtues (or lack of). Objectivism doesn't measure a man by his wealth but by his virtue.

Due to the society we live in, great proportions of the wealth created is taken in taxes and economic rents, forcing even the productive into bare subsistence living in some locations. I have added some discussions about rent on unimproved land as a cause of poverty despite tremendous progress - following on from arguments by Henry George - a C19th political economist. Objectivists here hate it, but the theory is I think consistent with Objectivist philosophy.

George also addressed the question of Malthus, which Snerd refers to above. Like with land ownership, I think George addressed the topic well.

http://www.henrygeorge.org/pchp9.htm

The only defense against finite or locally limited resources is the ingenuity of the human mind to find new resources, more effective ways of getting to them, or finding substitutes. Objectivism shouts louder than any philosophy about reason as an absolute. I would say Objectivism is part of the answer, not the problem. It celebrates the intelligent who are also practical.

Edited by Jon Southall

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Due to the society we live in, great proportions of the wealth created is taken in taxes and economic rents, forcing even the productive into bare subsistence living in some locations. I have added some discussions about rent on unimproved land as a cause of poverty despite tremendous progress - following on from arguments by Henry George - a C19th political economist. Objectivists here hate it, but the theory is I think consistent with Objectivist philosophy.

Well it is premised on a theory of trade or production as a matter of intrinsic value in the goods and services, such that land has no intrinsic value, making land improper or force with something that is valued by one's declaration alone. Except, no value at all as intrinsic, a major point of Rand's. Whether that's right is another question, but the Objectivist view is that land to be valuable in a real sense takes production and/or maintanence. Putting a fence up and declaring everything inside as yours is not productive at all, while if it were farmland, it's easy to see how land is used, used to produce, and maintained. To say it is consistent with Georgism is to misunderstand the Objectivist view on property.

 

To answer Dustin: Resources are traded and consumed, which is to say desired values have demand associated with them. The amount available goes up in price if more people want, say, oil. Long ago, this was a non-issue. Now, it is increasingly expensive by being harder to acquire. If oil were the ONLY resource left on the planet, you may have a point. Yet, what is or is not a resource varies over time! The reason resources aren't zero-sum is because people have the ability to discover new forms of resources or technology, unless you choose to say development is always static.

 

And anyway, there isn't a lack of natural resources for people to be able to work. If there really weren't enough resources, the world would be a lot more like Africa. The thing is, Africa doesn't lack resources, although you may say African people can't get even resources like clean water. That is true - but is it because the resource is finite, or because of other issues pertaining to rights? Or something else.

Edited by Eiuol

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Please read George yourself if your interested - Eiuol hasn't given a good summary.

However I agree with Eiuol's other comments.

Interference by the government in an economy causes resourcing issues. A famine in Gambia's past was due to a government directive to export foodstuffs to benefit from higher prices outside of the local market. Leaving it's people to starve. There are many examples.

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EC    16

Yeah this argument leaves out the development of new technologies, new or unused ways of extracting old resources, and finding resources in new places (on asteroids for instance). It also assumes that just because a given resource is physically limited within a certain region that it is "running low", which is unproven. For instance, a group uses x amount of oil but the actual amount of oil is a huge number then the tiny amount a group uses (the population of earth) can be a tiny negligible amount of the whole amount available.

 

The first statement above points to the truth mostly though. Humans have an "infinite" ability to use their minds to develop to technologies and new energy sources. The amount of energy and other resources available even locally (say in the planets surrounding earth is virtually limitless) and available given the correct technological advancements. Put the two together, the human mind and essentially limitless resources, and this "problem" is shown for what it is.... non-existent.

Edited by EC

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EC    16

In other words, the world Earth is finite and so are it's resources but the amount of those resources are generally a huge number. Any amount that a relatively small population (like the human population in this case) uses is generally going to be negligible relative to this huge number. In the odd (and extremely rare) case that it isn't just opens the door to the development of other technologies and/or sources of energy. If that is not sufficient because a resource truly is limited locally then the group can just use newer technologies to get the needed resources from other places that have them. This argument is assuming that the time scales of a hundred years or so is irrelevant which over the course of human history it is of course.

Edited by EC

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Resources = (naturally-occurring-items) + (technology)

 

A lot of things we do not consider to be resources now can be resources in the future when new technologies emerges, just as a lot of things we consider to be resources now were not considered resources in past ages due to lack of technology (e.g. fossil fuel).

 

Also, if all the metals on earth gets mined out, that just means the increased metal price will give huge incentive to interstellar mining of metals from other planets.

 

The universe is an infinite place. As long as humans are willing to think, potential resources are nearly infinite.

Edited by VECT

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The biggest problem with your view of wealth is that wealth is not physical, but configuration. Even though there is only a finite amount of so-called resources, and we have never consumed more of it than we do now, the price of almost every single commodity is lower than ever before in history, and the standard of living of people is higher than ever before.

 

The source of wealth is man's mind, not the earth, the soil, the rocks, the inanimate matter around us. What man's mind does is master the matter, and configures it as her will's it, and makes it into wealth where before it was nothing of value at all. And the consumption of wealth is not the consumption of matter, but of the configuration of that matter.

 

There are no limits to wealth creation and consumption. Even on a finite planet. And we needn't keep to this planet.

Edited by Peter Morris

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I have a couple of question and am hoping you could help me with what's Objectivism's view about it. 

 

Resources occur naturally. Its is up-to man to make their use in order to survive or make wealth. Therefore any land is up for grabs unless anybody has already claimed it. Same goes with all other natural resources including animals, minerals, oils, woods, etc. Now, 

  1. If there is total freedom; no restriction on usages of resources by a government like entity, wouldn't some resource become extinct ? Examples for restrictions, I can think of are preserved wildlife sanctuaries, tiger hunting (only ~1000 left in India), elephant killing for Ivory, deforestation, etc. 
  2. And shouldn't there be a restriction on how much property a person can establish his claim upon ? And if so how ? For example : Let's say there is 20,000 hectares forest area abundant with trees. So can I just walk up there put boards stating private property all around and restrict anybody from using it ? 

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Examples for restrictions, I can think of are preserved wildlife sanctuaries, tiger hunting (only ~1000 left in India), elephant killing for Ivory, ... ...

I don't think Tigers etc. would become extinct if left to market forces. Rather, the price of a tiger would rise to be close to the cost of bringing that tiger to adulthood. I figure this might be expensive, since they eat lots of meat every week. I don't know how one might go about breeding Tigers. The Wiki says they are ready to breed somewhere between 3 and 5 years old, their gestation time is 16 weeks, and a typical litter has three pups. Since humans have been so successful in breeding chickens and cows, and since the number of these animals is the result of their being almost industrial products, I assume bright humans will be able to figure out how to do something similar in the case of tigers.

The folks who want to preserve tiger populations, could try something creative like allowing private individuals to take the three cubs from a litter on the understanding that one will be returned after two years, and the other two can be disposed of as the adopter thinks fit. This won't go down well, because these people don't want those other cubs killed. But, the example of cows and chickens teaches us this: the desire to kill and eat individual animals is the main reason we have so many of those species alive!

 

... a restriction on how much property a person can establish his claim upon ?

Yes, that makes sense when it comes to original claims. Otherwise Neil Armstrong could claim rights to all the cheese on the Moon. Edited by softwareNerd

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But, the example of cows and chickens teaches us this: the desire to kill and eat individual animals is the main reason we have so many of those species alive!

 

An interesting point. This is not related but..

 

Just a couple of days back, the Government of Maharashtra (India) imposed ban on beef. So as per your logic this would only decrease population of Cows, apart from the income lost by those citizens who rely on meat for trade.

Edited by Anuj

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So as per your logic this would only decrease population of Cows,...

Yes, to the extent that anyone was breeding for cow-beef. (There's still the case of animals being sent to slaughter-houses when they're older, but still had utility when they were younger.)

Consider a larger operation: India's second largest agro-export (after basmati rice) is buffalo beef. If the government bans the export, why would people continue to breed? The herds will be culled within years, because it costs money to keep them alive. It is no different from basmati. If the government went crazy and banned exports and internal consumption of basmati, why would anyone grow it (except the few who are wiling to risk the penalties of selling it on the black market).

 

This tables shows the population of various live-stock animals in India. Consider which ones are eaten, and which ones are the largest populations. They're the same by far... we're talking 100 times. It's safe to say that if Indians made Rogan Josh and so on out of camel rather than goat, camel populations would be way higher than they are today.

Edited by softwareNerd

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Extinction or "over consumption" is largely an issue of the "Tragedy of the Commons" which is a problem of communal ownership, not property rights.  The Price mechanism alone solves the problem when it is allowed to flow free.  If something becomes scarce (short supply) but is valued highly (in demand) it will naturally go up in price and in a  free society you can count on a lot of people rushing in to take advantage of that higher price.

 

Example: When I was a kid my mom would buy chicken wings while my father (who worked concrete construction) was laid off in the winter becasue they were cheap and a bag would go a long way (early 70's).  Today they are the most expensive part of the bird.  Why?  Demand.  It is also why there are significantly more chickens then elephants.  

 

You want to save Stampy?  Harvest him for parts and let the market work.  

Edited by Spiral Architect

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I couldn't help noticing the lack of response by the initiator of this thread.

On 10/14/2014 at 11:31 PM, Dustin86 said:

The biggest problem with Objectivism is that there is only so much oil, only so much natural gas, only so much lithium, only so many rare earth metals, etc. in the Earth's crust. And even as new resources are discovered, these are almost always more difficult and expensive to extract than the old ones that just got extracted and used.

 

Economically, what this finite resource reality means is that for every Hank Rearden who "makes it", there are many more who are just as talented and just as hardworking who are just barely hanging on, and still more who are completely unemployed, because there simply are not enough resources (oil, natural gas, lithium, rare earths, etc.) for the world's 7.2 billion people to live the lifestyle of a middle-class American, let alone a Hank Rearden, no matter how smart, talented, and hardworking they are. (By the way, this is fundamentally why so many Americans have gotten dumped out of the middle class since 2008.) This is why I find Hank's callous attitude toward the underprivileged (p. 42, Atlas Shrugged) quite disturbing. Rand tries to defend this attitude in terms of meritocracy when really it can't be.

 

Eventually what will happen is that industrial society will wholly cease to exist as the remaining resources will be too difficult to extract by any reasonable method. I know not whether this will happen in my lifetime, my children's lifetime, or many centuries hence, but happen it will.

Dustin86,

The question on this, and other threads of your creation, have attempted to put the eventual fall of Western Civilization primarily on the backs of Objectivists. The scarcity of resources and other social-economic-political problems of the world existed long before Ayn Rand, her philosophy, and, for that matter, any persons who may have claimed to have been influenced by her philosophy. What I gather from your other posits, Objectivists should abandon their free-thinking/free-market mentalities, and join your imaginary military junta for the purpose of engaging an apocalyptic Holy War. (Is there any part of this that I got wrong?)

Time after time, well-reasoned and factual explanations made by others on this forum are met with either baseless accusations and name-calling, or as in this thread, blank out. Why is this? Given the fact that the problems of the world are centuries old, what proverbial axe have you to grind with Objectivism?

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Probably the reason why I didn't respond is that around this time is when I began having severe medical problems, meaning that when I could and couldn't be on the forum around this time became very erratic, although it was unknown to me at this exact time just how severe my situation would become. I am a lot better off now than at that time, but still I never completely conquered my medical problems, although I hope to eventually.

Edited by Dustin86

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But I'm glad you dug this up again because it's an issue that I was thinking about today, actually.

I don't think you guys realize how much sway people like you have over Western civilization. It is nigh impossible for a movement such as "Objectivism" to have arisen in any other context, this is basically admitted by Rand and her closest followers such as Peikoff.

The truth is that for every person that "makes it", there are at least one or more other people who are equally talented who get stuck in long term unemployment or in dead end McJobs that do not pay enough to live on. I've seen it time and time again. And yet I see Objectivism teaching its followers to scoff at these people when the reality is that there is simply not enough in the world in terms of natural resources and global atmospheric carbon capacity for everybody, no matter how talented, to live the lifestyle of a Hank Rearden or even a contemporary middle class American.

As for my personal attitude toward Objectivism, there are parts of it that I really agree with. There are other parts that are clearly just rubbing salt in the world's wounds while scoffing at everybody who is affected by that.

Edited by Dustin86

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6 hours ago, Repairman said:

Time after time, well-reasoned and factual explanations made by others on this forum are met with either baseless accusations and name-calling

I have never called others names on this forum, that is just a straight-up mistruth.

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9 minutes ago, Dustin86 said:

Probably the reason why I didn't respond is that around this time is when I began having severe medical problems, meaning that when I could and couldn't be on the forum around this time became very erratic, although it was unknown to me at this exact time just how severe my situation would become. I am a lot better off now than at that time, but still I never completely conquered my medical problems, although I hope to eventually.

While that may explain your evasion of military training or other physical activities, you seem rather bold in your responses to opposition to your confrontational posts. The majority of your inquiries seem to suggest you have little regard for free-market economic principles, as in this thread and a few others. But rather than frame the question as addressing the principle, (in which case you could do some independent research), you frame the issue as a problem caused by Objectivists. Or, you image some conspiracy of Objectivist design. Either why, I'm just curious to know why you are prone to writing these accusations, when in every case, the participants here pretty well level your argument. Why is that?

3 minutes ago, Dustin86 said:

But I'm glad you dug this up again because it's an issue that I was thinking about today, actually.

I don't think you guys realize how much sway people like you have over Western civilization. It is nigh impossible for a movement such as "Objectivism" to have arisen in any other context, this is basically admitted by Rand and her closest followers such as Peikoff.

The truth is that for every person that "makes it", there are at least one or more other people who are equally talented who get stuck in long term unemployment or in dead end McJobs that do not pay enough to live on. I've seen it time and time again. And yet I see Objectivism teaching its followers to scoff at these people when the reality is that there is simply not enough in the world in terms of natural resources and global atmospheric carbon capacity for everybody, no matter how talented, to live the lifestyle of a Hank Rearden or even a contemporary middle class American.

As for my personal attitude toward Objectivism, there are parts of it that I really agree with. There are other parts that are clearly just rubbing salt in the world's wounds while scoffing at everybody who is affected by that.

This assertion, that the world's scarce resources will result in some Mauthusian disaster has been addressed quite nicely in earlier posts, if you cared to read them. But in any event, you are giving Objectivism way too much credit for the state of global affairs.

So, in part, your personal attitude explains your reasoning. At that I should remind you that wishing it doesn't make it so. You are entitled to your attitude, but it will not change reality. 

3 minutes ago, Dustin86 said:

I have never called others names on this forum, that is just a straight-up mistruth.

I'm sure it's just a figment of my imagination.

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