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Is Objectivism Beyond Criticism?

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glynelewis
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An Administrator on this site locked my post in the Poltical Philosophy board called "The Impractical Objectivist" apparently because he thought I was making a drive by shooting.

In the post I criticized Objectivism on the grounds that Rand's axiom that Individual rights can never be violated unless there is a metaphysical emergency, is too rigid and inflexible. I proposed expanding the definition of "emergency" to allow the government to violate individual rights in order to prevent over population and revolution. My post was locked within hours of being posted. This is the type of dogmatism and intolerance I would expect in North Korea.

Is Objectivism beyond any criticism here?

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What is not acceptable here is claiming that Objectivism would be compatible with socialist ideas about government power and altruistic 'responsibilities'. If you think opposing either of those things makes one 'dogmatic', you've clearly missed the crux of what Objectivism is all about.

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In the post I criticized Objectivism on the grounds that Rand's axiom that Individual rights can never be violated unless there is a metaphysical emergency, is too rigid and inflexible.

Axiom? Funny, I don't remember reading about that one. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure such an "axiom" does not exist in Objectivism.

Is Objectivism beyond any criticism here?

You'll notice that honest questions and criticisms are routinely answered on this excellent forum to great length and detail. But people here are only going to bother answering a question for you if you have already worked for it and are truly lost. You clearly have read nothing of Ayn Rand, and therefore you do not deserve to have your question taken seriously. Not to mention the entire structure of your post dripped with the feeling of some typical Marxist attack.

If you want your questions answered, actually read Ayn Rand's work, and also read a few books about Capitalism outside of the Marxist Economics class. You might actually learn a few things.

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There are plenty of threads in criticism of basic Objectivist ideas, which you have little grasp of. Your thread was not only terribly written and showing a lack of any substantive knowledge of Objectivism, but it's been discussed many times before.

The admins don't have to tolerate stupid, repetitive posts on their board.

Oh, and the fact that you think Rand considered individual rights an axiom is pretty damning to your knowledge. Anyone who has read a shred of Objectivist epistemology and metaphysics knows how ridiculous that claim is, whether you agree or disagree with the philosophy.

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People are kind of ripping you to shreds here, but if you really want to learn about Objectivism, don't be too discouraged. If you make a post in the Introductions forum and talk about what you've read concerning, or by, Ayn Rand, some people might be willing to give you more information (though the previous advice - that you should read Ayn Rand if you haven't already - is spot on). I was intrigued that despite your misconceptions, you said you were a "wanna-be Objectivist" or something like that.

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Is Objectivism beyond any criticism here?
No, but it is expected that you will read the forum rules and abide by them, especially the purpose of this forum (as a platform for facilitating trade among Objectivists / students of Objectivism, rather than as a platform for denunciations of Objectivism). If you want to just engage in unfettered denunciations of Objectivism, you can easily post on HPO. Try reading some of Ayn Rand's writings and then take something specific that she said, and ask questions about it to get an understanding. By "ask questions", I mean, "say things designed to actually get knowledge of", not "phrase your declarations in interrogative form". My suggestion is that you get some knowledge of Objectivism before attempting a denunciation (elsewhere). We welcome informed and rational discussion.
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An Administrator on this site locked my post in the Poltical Philosophy board called "The Impractical Objectivist" apparently because he thought I was making a drive by shooting.

In the post I criticized Objectivism on the grounds that Rand's axiom that Individual rights can never be violated unless there is a metaphysical emergency, is too rigid and inflexible. I proposed expanding the definition of "emergency" to allow the government to violate individual rights in order to prevent over population and revolution. My post was locked within hours of being posted. This is the type of dogmatism and intolerance I would expect in North Korea.

Is Objectivism beyond any criticism here?

Hi glynelewis,

I'm going to take the approach that you are relatively new to the philosophy and haven't read much of it. The response you're getting may seem harsh and rude and your question as to whether criticism or questioning of Objectivism is allowed. The answer is that intelligent comments are generally dealt with as such.

The reason you're getting the response you are is that your question whether you intended it or not has the hallmarks of someone who doesn't understand the philosophy or has hostile intentions toward it and is masking those. Here's why.

Individual rights is not an "axiom." Axioms have very specific meanings in Objectivism and IR isn't one of them. It is not an arbitrary commandment or missive. In fact it is developed out of a particular metaphysics, and epistemology and ethics. As such, it is fairly far down the conceptual chain. To call it an axiom is intellectually lazy, because you essentially treat the development of the idea as absent. Which is convenient if you're making an argument against it since in effect one doesn't actually have to argue anything. Next, you present your modifications to the idea as simply little adjustments to a "too strict" axiom. But the problem is that if you had dealt with the development of the idea in the first place, you'd realize that what you are proposing is not a small adjustment (for which our response would be overbearing) but in fact a complete negation of the idea (for which our response is quite appropriate).

Maybe you didn't intend to imply such things, in which case your post seems quite naive, and would better have been phrased as as a series of questions rather than an assertion, but you did whether you'd care to admit it or not. So knowing that, do you want to change your tack a bit?

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Maybe you didn't intend to imply such things, in which case your post seems quite naive, and would better have been phrased as as a series of questions rather than an assertion, but you did whether you'd care to admit it or not. So knowing that, do you want to change your tack a bit?

Maybe I can restate my criticism of Objectivism more succinctly without getting into semantic arguments.

My understanding of Objectivism is that the ideal government Rand proposed in her writings does not have the power to violate individual rights even if it can be proven that such a violation would benefit the individuals in the state.

In my post the Impractical Objectivist I gave the example of government imposed population control, a measure that should be prohibited by Objectivism because it violates individual rights. Assuming that a state has limited natural resources and that more people will result in higher prices for these resources (higher demand + limited supply = higher prices), it would benefit everyone if the population were limited by the government. The marginal utility of having one extra worker would be outweighed by the costs of inflation.

I will phrase the above as a question so I don’t offend anyone. Can the ideal government proposed by Rand ever violate individual rights if that violation benefits the individuals in the state?

I really want to know how an objectivist political platform would be distinguishable from the Libertarian Party political platform - limited government and the enshrinement of individual rights, leaving aside the philosophical underpinnings.

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My understanding of Objectivism is that the ideal government Rand proposed in her writings does not have the power to violate individual rights even if it can be proven that such a violation would benefit the individuals in the state.

Such a thing can never be proven. If it appears that it could, you're working with a false premise or assumption. For example:

Assuming that a state has limited natural resources and that more people will result in higher prices for these resources (higher demand + limited supply = higher prices), it would benefit everyone if the population were limited by the government.

Natural resources aren't truly limited. There is no limit to water, wood, air, etc. etc. However, let's try to think of a resource that is limited. Say oil is actually really running out. It wouldn't benefit every individual for the government to set a price cap on oil - it would hurt those that run the oil company, supply the oil company, work for the oil company, etc. Furthermore, I'd rather pay higher prices than live under a government that coerces productive citizens to benefit the majority.

Can the ideal government proposed by Rand ever violate individual rights if that violation benefits the individuals in the state?

Such a violation would never benefit the individuals in the state, as illustrated above. Try as hard as you want to think of a counterexample.

If you poke around the forum, you'll notice that people complain when someone proposes a false hypothetical. This is exactly why. A false hypothetical assumes reality is different. If reality were different, well, Objectivism wouldn't be Objectivism, because Objectivism is based upon reality as it actually is. So there's no point in talking about false hypotheticals on an Objectivism forum, unless they're within the realm of possibility (e.g. if Obama is elected, if McCain is elected, if we run out of oil, etc.).

I really want to know how an objectivist political platform would be distinguishable from the Libertarian Party political platform - limited government and the enshrinement of individual rights, leaving aside the philosophical underpinnings.

That's a much different question; I'd suggest asking in a new topic or, better yet, try to read up on the issues yourself. In short, though, Objectivism would differ on things like foreign policy, (probably, depending on what Libertarian you're talking to) abortion, (possibly) "marriage," etc. And it would lead to different conclusions in a number of more subtle issues, no doubt, because it has different philosophical underpinnings.

Edited by BrassDragon
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I proposed expanding the definition of "emergency" to allow the government to violate individual rights in order to prevent over population and revolution.
Who would decide what constituted an emergency? Is global warming an emergency? Is health care an emergency? Is gun violence an emergency? And who decides? If the answer is the state, how do you propose stopping them from them declaring a national emergency for any variety of reasons and suspending all rights? It is the role of government to secure rights, not look for creative ways of violating them.
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Assuming that a state has limited natural resources and that more people will result in higher prices for these resources (higher demand + limited supply = higher prices), it would benefit everyone if the population were limited by the government. The marginal utility of having one extra worker would be outweighed by the costs of inflation.

This and all the other problems you refer to are not problem. Your assessment of limited supply leading to higher prices forgets the dynamic of the market, that in a system that preserves individual rights, higher prices lead to innovation because next best alternatives become viable. It is the limitless potential of man's ability to reason that removes any hypothesized "limitation on resources". The marginal utility of having more minds in the pool working on these problems far outweighs anything else. THe only resource we are truly limited in is the Human mind.

When and if any critcial resource become limited, its price rises and people work on alternatives. The only people who wish to destroy this mechanism to "save the planet" are those who want to tell you that if we wait until then it will be "too late." Rubbish! The higher the price of something goes the more people conserve and deploy to find alternatives becuase of the profits that stand to be made. That mechanism is perfectly sound way to address any supposed future looming catastrophe.

Your "solution" in implementation destroys the idea of individual rights, as many have alluded because in such a system, who decides what is beneficial for the whole? Whoever does, will need "resources" to enact their plans, and as such will enslave those who generate wealth in order to appropriate them. But that is the exact mechanism that drives out innovation from areas that need it. Today profits are being sucked out of pharmaceutical firms, and health care firms at the exact time that those who know what to do with them have them to invest. Oil companies are vilified at exactly the time that their profits are needed to fund further explortation.

The Libertarian party doesn't enshrine individual rights, it rallys behind some fuzzy concept called "liberty" without actually defining it. As such, a large contingent of Libertarians are cooks who simply want to be left alone to whatever vice they deem as most important. Should they be left alone to their vices? Absolutely. Is that the way to mount a principled fight for individual rights? Hardly.

It ain't "semantics". Claiming it is is also intellectually lazy since it simply minimizes the argument of your opponent while demanding he answer yours. It is a manner of only taking your ideas seriously, not those who would disagree with you.

Your position, that maximzing general welfare being the good, is simply utilitarianism, and it is a disasterously bad way to defend capitalism. Simply because all one has to do is claim that the market fails in a particular instance and that govt is needed to fix the system in order to maximize utility. If you're really an Objectivist wanna-be you'd know that since Rand addresses it very clearly. Maximum good for the maximum number is not "the good". Starting with that ethics will lead to disasterous consequences. There is a reason Rand deals with the good in a differen manner, and as such ends up with the idea of individual rights as meta-politics, and lasseiz faire capitalism as the proper politics. PLease deal with those reasons and stop making the same "semantic" mistake.

Edited by KendallJ
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It ain't "semantics". Claiming it is is also intellectually lazy since it simply minimizes the argument of your opponent while demanding he answer yours. It is a manner of only taking your ideas seriously, not those who would disagree with you.
I would go so far as to say that the "it's only semantics" claim is fundamentally anti-intellectual. It's based on the idea that it does not matter what you actually say and what the objective meaning of statements is, what matters is your hidden intent. But rational debate cannot operate when one side misleads the other by objectively saying one thing that is plainly false, and then dismissing counter-arguments by claiming "That's not what I meant; you're just arguing semantics". What that person really means is "You're just arguing, and you should just agree".
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Your position, that maximzing general welfare being the good, is simply utilitarianism, and it is a disasterously bad way to defend capitalism. Simply because all one has to do is claim that the market fails in a particular instance and that govt is needed to fix the system in order to maximize utility. If you're really an Objectivist wanna-be you'd know that since Rand addresses it very clearly. Maximum good for the maximum number is not "the good". Starting with that ethics will lead to disasterous consequences.

I am using a utilitarian standard to judge the effectiveness of Rand’s ideal laissez faire capitalist government, not a moral one. Of course Rand’s ideal government is moral by its own terms. Rand’s standard of value at the individual level, do that which promotes your own life, can also be characterized as “utilitarian”. I am applying the same standard of value at the level of an entire society; a government should do that which promotes the lives of all the citizens, which is necessarily the “greater good”.

If you want to compare different systems of government, socialism vs. laissez faire capitalism, and determine which provides a better standard of living (GDP per capita), I think one has to apply a utilitarian standard, not a subjective moral standard.

The average citizen of any state would probably ask the same question. Will my life be better under a laissez faire capitalist government or a socialist government?. He would not ask: is my government ideologically consistent or “moral”? China’s communist government is certainly not ideologically consistent, but manages to stay in power by providing a constantly improving standard of living.

Instead of completely forbidding the violation of individual rights, one could analyze the costs and benefits of a particular law or regulation on a case by case basis. In the case of population control one could weigh the benefits (low price for a limited natural resource like oil) against the costs (discouraging innovation and substitutes for oil, like nuclear power). To take the position that any government intervention always has a negative effect on the economy I think ignores the evidence. For example, government securities laws make it easier for people to trade on the stock exchange using accurate information, resulting in a more efficient allocation of capital.

To reiterate my initial point, individual rights should not be held as sacrosanct for the sake of ideological purity when the government could enact laws that would benefit everyone and provide a better standard of living.

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To reiterate my initial point, individual rights should not be held as sacrosanct for the sake of ideological purity when the government could enact laws that would benefit everyone and provide a better standard of living.

I think you are equivocating on the concept of "everyone". Please recognize that this supposed benefit to the aggregate population ("everyone") is not the same as a benefit which accrues to each individual member of the population without exception ("every one"), even though you speak as though it is. And if, for example, I were to be someone who would not individually benefit from your utility-maximizing scheme, as your aggregate "benefit" makes no guarantee to me personally, why should I consent to such a system? Before you proceed in your argument please clarify in what sense you are using the term "everyone."

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I am using a utilitarian standard to judge the effectiveness of Rand’s ideal laissez faire capitalist government, not a moral one.
There is no such thing as an amoral utilitarian standard. To be a standard, you have to make assumptions about what is considered "good" and what "bad".

Essentially, you are saying: the standard should be "the greatest good for the greatest number". Unsurprisingly, that leads to the conclusion that some type of socialism is a good thing. It's a false conclusion, but it's typical.

I don't understand why you don't simply present this neo-con type position as such. Why go through hoops of saying: if only we redefine what we mean by an emergency, then we can morph Objectivism into some type of neo-con socialism. Why take the Objectivist label for something so different.

It appears you have not read any of Rand's non-fiction, have you? In Objectivism, the purpose of government is not to get the greatest good for the greatest number. That is the starting point for vairous forms of collectivism; but Objectivism rejects collectivsm.

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Instead of completely forbidding the violation of individual rights, one could analyze the costs and benefits of a particular law or regulation on a case by case basis.

How do you propose to do that?

Let's say you ban big box stores from historical neighborhoods in order to preserve the quality of life there and the mom & pop tores there. Do you know all the implications of such a decision, and how they impact other laws or regulations already passed ad-hoc in previous years? Would it conflict with, say, a law increasing the tolls on roads in order to discourage traffic and pollution, if more people need to drive farther away to shop at prices unavailable in their neighborhood?

In the case of population control one could weigh the benefits (low price for a limited natural resource like oil) against the costs (discouraging innovation and substitutes for oil, like nuclear power).

And you don't see the loss of liberty as a cost?

To reiterate my initial point, individual rights should not be held as sacrosanct for the sake of ideological purity

If you mean not for the sake of dogma, you're right. If, on the other hand, you're dismissing ideology as irrelevant and adherence to it as inconsequential or dogmatic, then you're wrong.

when the government could enact laws that would benefit everyone and provide a better standard of living.

What government has ever done that? If you cite examples like China, South Korea or Chile, keep in mind any economic success ahs come from removing or relaxing laws and regulations, not imposing them. The government that governs best is the one that governs least.

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Instead of completely forbidding the violation of individual rights, one could analyze the costs and benefits of a particular law or regulation on a case by case basis. In the case of population control one could weigh the benefits (low price for a limited natural resource like oil) against the costs (discouraging innovation and substitutes for oil, like nuclear power).

Well, now, suppose we accept your premise, that it is OK to violate individual rights in order to have lower costs of crucial products. In that vein, suppose we tell you that you are forbidden to drive, since you utilizing the limited resource of gasoline will drive up the cost. So, qua government policy, we decide that you cannot drive a car, would that be OK by you? Also, the Internet is getting to the point whereby there are going to be too many people on it and too many devices connected to it, unless they change the protocols. So, as a solution, we are going to have the government prevent you from being on the Internet. Food prices are skyrocketing, especially for corn products, because that limited resource is being used to make ethanol; so, you are hereby forbidden to eat. You keep bringing up population control, and you have convinced us that there are too many people, and that the government ought to do something about it; so, we pass a law saying that you ought to be killed, because you are such a heavy burden and we are tired of carrying you on our shoulders.

I mean, you really haven't thought this through, have you? Capitalism and individual rights would protect you from any of those previously stated irrational policies. In other words, do you really want to dispense with your individual rights? and if you don't want to dispense with yours, but somebody else has to dispense with their's, then what gives you the right to make slaves of them or us?

The point is that if you propose that it is OK to violate individual rights, then such laws and procedures ought to apply to you first.

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To reiterate my initial point, individual rights should not be held as sacrosanct for the sake of ideological purity when the government could enact laws that would benefit everyone and provide a better standard of living.

As has been noted, your stated point is impossible. "Everyone" would not benefit from your proposal because the individual or individuals whose rights had to be violated would not be 'benefitting'. Objectivism rightfully opposes the idea of making sacrificial lambs of the few for the sake of the many.

To be clear, what you are discussing is NOT consistent with Objectivism and it offers mounting evidence that you do not know what you are talking about when you use the word Objectivism. I'm not pointing this out to be mean, I'm pointing it out to suggest that if you wish to remain 'intellectually honest' in your criticism of the philosophy, you would be best served by actually learning about what it is you are attempting to criticize. You can do this by reading some of Rand's non-fiction work or to some degree by asking specific questions about the philosophy to clarify your understanding of things.

However, should you continue to discuss this issue from a point of obvious ignorance, Debate sub-forum or not, the thread will be closed again.

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I think you are equivocating on the concept of "everyone". Please recognize that this supposed benefit to the aggregate population ("everyone") is not the same as a benefit which accrues to each individual member of the population without exception ("every one"), even though you speak as though it is. And if, for example, I were to be someone who would not individually benefit from your utility-maximizing scheme, as your aggregate "benefit" makes no guarantee to me personally, why should I consent to such a system? Before you proceed in your argument please clarify in what sense you are using the term "everyone."

To make it simple I am using GDP per capita as the sole criterion of value. I am ignoring the effect a law may have on a single individual. If a law increases GDP per capita it should be enacted, within limits. If legalizing slavery somehow happend to increase GDP that would be wrong for obvious reasons. However, asking people to make "small sacrifices", filling out disclosures for an IPO, not having a second child, recycling, etc., if these sacrifices increase economic efficiency, should not be ruled out just solely because they infringe on an individual's rights and make their life a little more inconvenient.

My goal is not too trash objectivism. I am just pointing out a weakness that I see in it compared to socialism which would conceivably allow such violations of individual rights.

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If a law increases GDP per capita it should be enacted, within limits.

What limits? Set by whom? Can you try to be definitive? You feel the "greater good" is a primary, and you are attempting to rationalize a defense of that feeling. You want to discard individual rights for the sake of "greater good"; defining "greater good" in economical terms doesn't make it any less wrong. Why ignore individual rights some times, but not all the time? I guess it makes it easier to sell Socialism to people who only implicitly value Capitalism and individual rights.

I am ignoring the effect a law may have on a single individual.
If legalizing slavery somehow happend to increase GDP that would be wrong for obvious reasons.

By "obvious reasons" you must not mean individual rights, since you've discarded the value of those. What reason do you have to drop individual rights, but not allow slavery?

However, asking people to make "small sacrifices"...

Asking or forcing? Even though you'll be imprisoned or shot for failure to obey, the government would be asking?

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If you're using an increase of GDP as a requirement for violating individual rights then the government could maximize its GDP today by grabbing everyones savings and immediately spending it in government projects. However the economy would crash in the next week or so. So a rise in GDP is a poor standard, and even if it were your standard perhaps you could give us a physical example of where this has been successfully applied, if it is such an advantage of socialism then why is their standard of living and economic power more poor than freer nations? Also what would keep a government with the power to violate individual rights from getting someone to redefine the concept "GDP" to suit their purposes?

Attempting to control the economy at the expense of individual rights usually ends up in disaster, consider the idea of a minimum wage. When enacted the idea is that the government will create employment. But raising minimum wage doesn't create employment and never will, attempt to enact and employ it only ends up creating more unemployment. For a perfect example of this consider France with its 20% unemployment rate and the increase in unemployment whenever such a measure is enacted. Remember that it is socialist, though I'll be damned to find any advantage in it!

And remember that everyone is an individual, a violation of individual rights is a violation of everyones rights, you aren't sacrificing a select delimited few when you violate that principle, you set a precedent for the government to violate everyones rights in turn depending on who has the governments favor or ear, remember politicians don't care about economics or rises in prosperity now that pragmatism is everywhere, and even when it wasn't mans idea of progress has differed greatly, many priests thought that the dark ages were a blessed time and that man has finally gotten back to godly living eschewing material concerns, now if ideas of progress are so different what guarantees your idea of progress will be the one that remains in vogue?

When you give the government a gun to point at someone to give you money so you don't have to don't be surprised when they eventually point it at you. Because for every one of you who wants to increase "everyone elses" prosperity at the price of a select few, remember those under you who are more numerous and have more votes who will say "wait, what does total GDP matter if I don't have any money in my pocket, let's go after him, after all if he can violate someones individual rights through government why can't I violate his? he has no right to his money if I don't have any money myself!" What you have created in this case is a class of men who thrive on voting to violate rights, and an increasing number of politicians who are willing to violate more and more rights to satisfy this mob who wants to devour the prosperity today at the price of freedom and prosperity tomorrow.

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Glynelewis,

Your proposal (that violations of individual rights may lead to prosperity given GDP as the standard of value) is at odds with, among other things, Objectivist epistemology. This isn't just an ethical/political question. Here is why:

Objectivism holds that man's means of survival is production through the use of his mind (reason). In order for reason to function, man must be left free of physical force - every violation of individual rights is an assault on the thing that makes production possible.

This is why Objectivists will tell you that you can't expect to raise GDP by violating individual rights. Or, in other words, you can't produce by destroying the means of production.

You can ask for us to concede that, in a world where GDP increases when citizens are clubbed, clubbing citizens is the right thing to do to increase GDP. But so long as your premise is false (that you can increase GDP by clubbing citizens), our concession means nothing. In reality, it would still be bad to club citizens.

Edited by FeatherFall
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However, asking people to make "small sacrifices", filling out disclosures for an IPO, not having a second child, recycling, etc., if these sacrifices increase economic efficiency, should not be ruled out just solely because they infringe on an individual's rights and make their life a little more inconvenient.

My goal is not too trash objectivism. I am just pointing out a weakness that I see in it compared to socialism which would conceivably allow such violations of individual rights.

In other words, what you are suggesting is setting up some form a benevolent dictatorship that only violates individual rights when it sees an emergency or when it believes some greater good can be achieved, and you want to know why Objectivists dont buy into it. Is that right? Part of the problem with such a scenario is that you are no longer talking about rights but, rather, privileges. So, in essence, you are asking why we dont just turn our rights over to the state and let it tell us what is best for us and what we will be allowed to do and when. While it is good of you to ask, I think I will pass.
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