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An old friend's new power

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Hotu Matua
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A very good African friend that you met in college went back to his country, (say, Equatorial Guinea) after obtaining a degree in Harvard. That's the last thing you heard about him.

However, years later, he finds you in Facebook and asks you for an urgent meeting in a nice hotel in Manhattan.

You show up, you hug him, you spend some minutes remembering the good old times, drink a beer in the lobby, and then comes the surprise.

Your good old friend is now the President of Equatorial Guinea! ;)

He tells you that after a dark era of a bloody dictator, that used all taxes from oil companies to fatten his bank accounts in Switzerland, he is the first civil president elected by democratic means. And not just that: he happened to have read Atlas Shrugged and other Objectivist basic materials, he got deeply impressed, and he is extremely interested in getting YOUR advice as how to rule his inpoverished country on the grounds of freedom, rationality and capitalism. You tell him that he should seek advice with ARI philosophers, or at least with Kelley's Atlas Society. But he says they have been busy to take his call, and he doesn't trust them as much as they trust you, because you are his friend.

His dilemma is this: his countrymen are as miserable as you can imagine. Literacy is 10%, infant mortality rocketing, no roads, no secured property rights, malaria and HIV killing thousands, etc. However, huge oil fields were discovered on the shore. The oil fields are being exploited by foreign oil companies that are paying the government 20% of their revenues as taxes. This is not something he established, but left as a legacy from the former dicator. So, he has come to office and suddenly realized that the Treasure is being flooded by literally millions and millions of dollars. This money was used by the former dicator in girls, cars, and real estate in Dubai and Miami, but he is an honest man who wants to really make a difference in the life of his people. The Consitution of his country gives him a lot of power, and the Congress is anyway dominated by his followers. So basically he can do whatever he wants.

As a result of his reading on Objectivism, he believes that he has to focus on building a robust police, robust legal system (including a robust way to ensure property rights) and a robust army to prevent further coup-de-etats or inestability.

But, shouldn't he use these millions of dollars from oil companies to also build schools, roads, hospitals, powerhouses, ports, etc that are so much needed?

He is really tempted to do it, trying to solve old problems, gain quick recognition, and become a hero among his fellowmen.

Should he stop taxing the oil companies, since taxation would be a form of looting them?

Or should he use the taxes to build the courts, police and army, but nothing more than that? Should he then reduce the taxation to the oil companies?

What would be your advice to translate that wealth into building a prosperous society?

Remember, investors are already there. The oil companies are already making a big profit. They are already creating jobs, although only for the lowest paid jobs, as there is no qualified manpower, nor universities or schools to develop that manpower. Engineers are being brought from abroad. Remember as well that society in Equatorial Guinea is still dominated by mysticism and expects a Big Father, a Messiah who will somehow turn money from the oil into prosperity for them. There is nothing here like the a pioneer spirit of Americans in the conquest of the West.

So your advice must be compatible with reality.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Remember as well that society in Equatorial Guinea is still dominated by mysticism and expects a Big Father, a Messiah who will somehow turn money from the oil into prosperity for them.

Why would an electorate like that vote for a rational man running on an Objectivist platform? In order for our advice to be compatible with reality, your scenario must be compatible with reality.

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Why would an electorate like that vote for a rational man running on an Objectivist platform? In order for our advice to be compatible with reality, your scenario must be compatible with reality.

Say he was the most charismatic of all candidates: handsome, young, eloquent and with a title in Harvard. Quite in contrast with the former dictator, who was old, fat, almost iliterate, and with a face that expressed cruelty. Your friend was the characterization of hope, whatever the level of understanding the electorate had on his platform. In addition, he doesn't know Objectivism well enough as to design a consistent Objectivist platform. In fact, he ran under a liberal platform*, not an Objectivist one. He is a novice like me, full of "good intentions", convinced that Objectivist principles are true, but still unable to translate those principles into specific policies. That's why he needs your help.

(meaning, that's why I need your help, folks!)

*liberal in the sense it is understood all over the world: pro-capitalist, pro-freedom, although not based on a sound metaphysical, epistemiological or ethical foundation. This is why my friend floats among altruist motivations he's still having difficulties to get rid of.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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In order for our advice to be compatible with reality, your scenario must be compatible with reality.

In reality, Nguema was elected and proceeded to become one of the worst kleptocratic dictators in Africa, rivaling Amin as a butcher. He was overthrown in a coup which resulted in the reign of the authoritarian Obiang, who distinguished himself as an equal of Bokassa in (ir)rationality, in many ways worse than Moi or Mugabe. Obiang maintains power by the same means that Moi and Mugabe maintained power: electoral fraud and being the only candidate.

Now then, we're to suppose that by magic, free and open suddenly happen, and what happens is the masses irrationally elect the cute guy? In reality, that's completely insane. The way African electoral irrationality works is tribal in nature. Well, the overwhelming majority of the country is Fang (as is the current dictator who we must assume died), so we'll assume that your friend Mfokwan is Fang and the opposition candidate is Bubi, so Mfokwan wins by dint of being from the proper tribe. He didn't win because of his ideas, he won because of an unchosen fact, thanks to an irrational population.

If you start by first establishing the rationality of the society, then realistic advice would be possible.

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[...] but he is an honest man who wants to really make a difference in the life of his people.[...]

That is where I see the mistake. Nobody can make a difference in other people's lifes. The life of anybody is his own responsibility. So what the other posters hinted at is this: a rational ruler follows from a rational society not the other way round. Even if for the sake of argument some ruler got to power by whatever means and then realized his mistakes and started to think rational, which I guess might be a possible scenario, he can't make that same desicion for his subjects/citizens.

So my advice would be to publicly step down from his office and declare why he does it ("I cannot rule a society which is based on false premises. No leader can live your life for you."). And then either try to advocate reason within his society or get out.

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In order for our advice to be compatible with reality, your scenario must be compatible with reality.

In reality, Nguema was elected and proceeded to become one of the worst kleptocratic dictators in Africa, rivaling Amin as a butcher. He was overthrown in a coup which resulted in the reign of the authoritarian Obiang, who distinguished himself as an equal of Bokassa in (ir)rationality, in many ways worse than Moi or Mugabe. Obiang maintains power by the same means that Moi and Mugabe maintained power: electoral fraud and being the only candidate.

Now then, we're to suppose that by magic, free and open suddenly happen, and what happens is the masses irrationally elect the cute guy? In reality, that's completely insane. The way African electoral irrationality works is tribal in nature. Well, the overwhelming majority of the country is Fang (as is the current dictator who we must assume died), so we'll assume that your friend Mfokwan is Fang and the opposition candidate is Bubi, so Mfokwan wins by dint of being from the proper tribe. He didn't win because of his ideas, he won because of an unchosen fact, thanks to an irrational population.

If you start by first establishing the rationality of the society, then realistic advice would be possible.

Suppose my friend was from the right tribe, and in addition, he managed to attract people from other tribes because of his charm, look and eloquence.

He was not chosen by a rational decision process, of course. People were just crazy after him as if he were a rock star. It was not what he said, but how he said it.

They believe he is smart enough to do something to improve their conditions. That "something" is still as vague as it can get. In this case, the new Messiah wears suit and tie, has read Atlas Shrugged and is consulting objectivists. They, the people, don't know the implications of this. But they are in love now. They just know that Capitalism should be something good, that Harvard should be something good, that his new Messiah should be right, and therefore they are willing to follow his instructions.

Ayn Rand knew that there will be a time for a country ready for an Objectivist government, and that her time was not that time.

If this was the situation in the USA, you may imagine the situation in Equatorial Guinea.

But then we have the problem in our hands: A novice Objectivist-friendly President with all powers and hopes on him, and a people that has no clue on how freedom, capitalism work.

Should he resign?

Should he try to implement the right policies only one by one, small step after small step? Or should laissez faire capitalism be implemented all at once?

In a society that values witch doctors and Catholic priests, how reason could take hold to support his policies?

Should your advice sound like "you are the right man but at the wrong time. Go back, resign and restart as a student of Objectivism, then as a teacher for your fellowmen. Your country might fall again under the next bloody dictator, but it seems to me this is the only life your people is ready to accept... sad to say, but you must work your life out, and this is only what is left to you now..."

Edited by Hotu Matua
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That is where I see the mistake. Nobody can make a difference in other people's lifes. The life of anybody is his own responsibility. So what the other posters hinted at is this: a rational ruler follows from a rational society not the other way round. Even if for the sake of argument some ruler got to power by whatever means and then realized his mistakes and started to think rational, which I guess might be a possible scenario, he can't make that same desicion for his subjects/citizens.

So my advice would be to publicly step down from his office and declare why he does it ("I cannot rule a society which is based on false premises. No leader can live your life for you."). And then either try to advocate reason within his society or get out.

Beautiful response, but then I have a moral issue bothering me.

Equatorial Guineans are human beings with rights. Those rights need to be protected. Equatorial Guneans need a government that can protect them.

Thus, by stepping down, I am also deciding that others will take my place. And I know those others will be, most likely, bloody dictatros, again...

It is not just the decision of the crowds.

By stepping down, I am also deciding. I am deciding with them to have another government instead of mine.

What about handing my country over to the United Nations? In which respect that would be right or wrong?

And then, if we change the scenario and have Barack Obama turning into an Objectivist, should he resign because most Americans are still not ready?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Can one man change a culture? No. But if he were to try I would suggest that his efforts be in baby steps.

Education, the rule of law, and proper government/institutions... not necessarily in that order and certainly not all at once.

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So your advice must be compatible with reality.
That's ironic; is it possible to take an example that is not compatible with reality and give an answer that fits the example and is still compatible with reality?

Of course it is possible for an Objectivist to become President of a country. However, he cannot do it qua Objectivist. How then can he move too far from the basis and power-structure that brought him to power? It cannot work. He will either see himself out of a job or worse!

On the other hand, if he is going to work within the existing framework of tribes and mysticism and statism, and wants to know how to start moving away, then he must primarily address the issue of individual rights. While hunger, poor health and ignorance appear to keep these countries back, they are not primary to a politician. There are always some few bright mavericks who can do well, and who will raise everyone's standard, if they're allowed to do so. These people are held back by old tribal/feudal power, imposed by modern governments. Such power comes via corruption, via the way certain powerful people control the police and courts, by licensing regimes, by protectionism, by foreign-exchange restrictions, by wage and employment laws, etc. To the extent that this ruler can hold such power in check, in a way that allows people with initiative to rise, he would help his country.

Thus, by stepping down, I am also deciding that others will take my place.
You do not have a responsibility to make this country better. You may choose to do so. However, there are many countries that would not be worth it: the grief and danger one would run, combined with the small improvements one might be able to make would mean that immigrating abroad and working in some other field would be a better source of happiness. Neither do you have a moral obligation to step down just because you cannot make a country into your conception of the perfect place. One has to weigh the two. Most importantly, one has to consider one's tastes and career goals; not everyone can have fun in such a role.
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Tordmor got it right. An Objectivist ruler is pointless outside an Objectivist society. As such, there isn't a perfect solution to this problem, or even a particularly desirable solution, at least that I can see. The best solution I can come up with right now is this: Educate the masses. Install public schools (yes, I know, but bear with me) to teach them about their natural rights, capitalism, and science. Develop a just court/police/military, and work towards the time when a fully Objectivist society is actually possible. (And private schools.)

I am a little rushed right now, so this might not be as well thought-out as it could be. I will check back later.

Edit: Ninja'd...

Edited by Rorschach
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You do not have a responsibility to make this country better. You may choose to do so. However, there are many countries that would not be worth it: the grief and danger one would run, combined with the small improvements one might be able to make would mean that immigrating abroad and working in some other field would be a better source of happiness. Neither do you have a moral obligation to step down just because you cannot make a country into your conception of the perfect place. One has to weigh the two. Most importantly, one has to consider one's tastes and career goals; not everyone can have fun in such a role.

Well, hasn't he taken the responsibility to make his country a better place by accepting the responsibility by becoming president?

He is responsible, not for the individual happiness of each of his fellowmen, but for doing his job as best as possible: he is responsible for improving the safety, justice, and order in his country.

He ran for president, he already risked a lot of things, and he is now with the problem in his hands.

As you all say, he can still step down and give up that responsibility, but by doing that he will be also take his share or responsibility for the emergence of the next dictator (in the most pessimistic scenario), or the next moderate collectivist (in the most optimistic scenario).

The basic question here is: in the face of irrational people all over te world needing the best possible governments to protect their rights, shouldn't this guy try his best as president even if he cannot persuade all his people to walk all the way with him to build a totally free, rational and capitalist society?

Is it Objectivist politics a sort of ALL or NOTHING, or can it accept partial goals and gradual improvements?

What does an Objectivist schoolteacher do when in front of a class of mystical students? Resign?

What does a father that has embraced Objectivism do with his mystical, socialist-minded family? Give up his role as leader?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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The basic question here is: in the face of irrational people all over te world needing the best possible governments to protect their rights, shouldn't this guy try his best as president even if he cannot persuade all his people to walk all the way with him to build a totally free, rational and capitalist society?
He may but one cannot say that he obliged to do so. He must examine the possibilities and his values and decide accordingly.

Is it Objectivist politics a sort of ALL or NOTHING, or can it accept partial goals and gradual improvements?
Well, your question is not about the subject of politics, but about a person choosing among less than perfect actions. Objectivist politics is a set of principles; it is what it is. However, it does not follow that an Objectivist must accept only perfect situations. Similarly, a Christian may think it is immoral for people to use birth-control, but may dispense it if it is a job-requirement in his role as African aid-volunteer; perhaps he thinks that the good he does is far better than that one downside. The same with anything: the principle itself is inflexible, but one often has to choose between imperfect alternatives.

What does an Objectivist schoolteacher do when in front of a class of mystical students? Resign? What does a father that has embraced Objectivism do with his mystical, socialist-minded family? Give up his role as leader?
No, it does not follow that these people must give up. On the other hand, without knowing more, one cannot say that they should stay put either. The particular mix of good and bad may be pretty good, or it could be so bad that they're better off quitting and looking for other options.
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Henry Hazlitt wrote a novel about a similar situation. His person was the son of a monarch, so he didn't have the "how did he get elected" problem. Nor was he an Objectivist. The character wanted to be something other than a monarch so he tried to free his country. The novel went on about the problems he experienced weaning citizens from being dependent on the government.

I think that there is an important question here. How do we go from the mess we are in to where we should be without a collapse? I think that the assets are there for a change. But convincing people that they can live through it will be difficult.

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Henry Hazlitt wrote a novel about a similar situation. His person was the son of a monarch, so he didn't have the "how did he get elected" problem. Nor was he an Objectivist. The character wanted to be something other than a monarch so he tried to free his country. The novel went on about the problems he experienced weaning citizens from being dependent on the government.

I think that there is an important question here. How do we go from the mess we are in to where we should be without a collapse? I think that the assets are there for a change. But convincing people that they can live through it will be difficult.

The novel was ""The Great Idea", 1951 (titled "Time Will Run Back" in Britain, revised and rereleased with this title in 1966)

http://www.mises.org/books/time.pdf

You can use the taxes to create a new constitution, a sound legislative and judicial power (including police)

After that, you can develop infrastructure, and then privatize it. If your only source of income are the oil companies,

you can use the funds collected from privatization to return excessive taxes to them.

After that you can create banks and the privatize their operations, all in order to seed a capitalism.

You can also create schools, universities, hospitals, etc and the privatize their operations, also to speed up capitalism.

If you have a low tax rate, free trade laws, and previsibility, you can also create attractive conditions

for global enterprises to establish in your country. That will bring training and economic opportunities.

Given the actual wave of stupidity/socialism in the world, nowadays a little freedom is a competitive advantage for a country.

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The Consitution of his country gives him a lot of power, and the Congress is anyway dominated by his followers. So basically he can do whatever he wants.

The best thing he could do is attempt to "perfect" the country's constitution. He could complete this by working with his followers who will do whatever he wants (as described). They could project, with vigorous and passionate support, a vision for a civilized society where all individuals will be free to pursue their own happiness with a concretely limited government that is organized around the protection of individual rights.

Here, send him this: http://wiki.objectivismonline.net/wiki/New_constitution

Let me know how it goes. If they can get that established, I'll be on the first plane to my new home. :thumbsup:

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Thank you, Lucio and freestyle.

Indeed, I think a lot can be done, just as you have pointed out.

Writing a Constitution, Building robust institutions, sending young talented people to learn economics and objectivism abroad and bring them back to train local people.

In addition, the basic functions of a government (police, justice, defense) require certain basic infraestructure to operate.

You can't have courthouses without electricity and computers, and you can't get the police or army where it is needed if you don't have telecomunications, roads and ports.

Certain sanitary infraestructure could improve health quickly without resorting to providing actual health care.

For example, you could buy mosquito nets and have proper sewage and lavatories.

How can justice be brought to people, if your judges and attorneys and policemen are sick of malaria?

But all permitted expenses should be clearly established on the law, as well as when these expenses should be stopped.

For example, one thing is to build a road to get your judges, policemen and soldiers moving among main towns, and another thing to keep building roads as traffic goes heavier.

There should be some specific milestones that should be achieved by the money obtained from oil fields, and thereafter taxes should be either drastically reduced or eliminated, to keep oil industries and other investors coming.

In countries where no solid institutions to protect rights are in place, extreme misery is widespread, and big money is already flowing to Treasure due to the exploitation of natural resources by companies that are anyway making a lot of profit (were it not the case, they would be fleeing the country), initial government investment in basic infrastructure, training and institution-building to secure freedom and promote capitalism would be compatible with Objectivism.

Does anyone disagree?

Is anyone willing to say: No, looted money is looted money. Taxes must be returned to the big oil companies and you have to convince your people to pay you taxes to build up your police, justice and defense system. :thumbsup:

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