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Hellboy
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In 'Atlas Shrugged' - the protagonists were men of nobility and integrity. They would never think of taking something that they had not earned.

In light of the nature of Capitalism, where surplus value is necessary, how is this ideal possible?

(especially in the wake of lobbying and corporate cheating)

How do the CEO's today resemble this?

How does an inheritance not present itself as a necessary hypocrisy? Would not a true objectivist find it honorable to reject an inheritance?

Edited by Hellboy
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Have you read Atlas Shrugged? (your criticism sounds second handed, because this is addressed quite a lot in Atlas Shrugged: an inheritance can be earned or unearned, and depending on that it is kept and grown, or lost very quickly - there are quite a few examples of both, in the novel).

Edited by Nicky
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How do the CEO's today resemble this?
I'd say that -- in terms of their roles as businessmen -- the CEOs in Atlas are a pretty good representation of actual real-life CEOs. Since Atlas is a novel, the characters are more clearly delineated than real life. One is shown the CEOs who are extremely occupied with using government influence, and one is shown others who do only the minimal to keep government off their backs. In real life, people who run businesses have a large focus on how to deliver value to their customers as a means to earn profit for themselves. On balance, their approach to their business is more rational than not. Most do not try to change the world. They take most of the politics they find as a given -- almost as a metaphysical fact of life -- and they try to do what they can to deal with it. In non-business related morality, I would guess that they mostly share views of non-businessmen, not having spent much time delving into morality and philosophy.
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I have read Atlas Shrugged - twice.

Yet, in objectivism - what determines value? An inheritance presupposes inestimable value. Who determines what amount is deserved for what work? If an inheritor inherits a business, after working in that business and retains an appriopriate salary - anything above that earned income would be undeserved.

A pure objectivist could not sleep soundly knowing that a billion dollars was overnight - added to their bank account.

If objectivism is about justice for the individual - i.e., liberty; it should follow that it is possible that one could overestimate their value or work thus, creating an injustice.

I cannot see how an inheritance could ever be deserved, justly - as the inheritor - if he/she is a true objectivist - is already earning exactly what they deserve.

In addition, this could translate to charity. It is noble for someone to DESIRE to give to someone who is in need - however, under an objectivist ideal - it is nonetheless DISHONORABLE for anyone to receive it.

It seems to me that in an objectivist socioeconomic system, Social Darwinism would be the inevitable outcome.

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Thank you for your thoughtful response - I was wondering, however - if you could give me one example of one CEO or corporation who could be compared to any of the noble characters in AS.
You can pretty much take the Fortune 400 list (replacing heirs with the original wealthy person) and you will get people who were extremely rational and driven as far as their business goes. There's much to dislike in many of them, because this is not a book. So, the guy who left the biggest computer company in the world and ended up competing with them and becoming one of the richest, may also have some crazy ideas about reincarnation etc. But, if you look at their approach to business, you'll see the same attitudes -- though less stark as a book character -- as display by most of the "strikers" in AS. (You have to think about how these folk would be "pre-Galt".)

Over and above the various strikers, in AS you have the few -- Galt and his two buddies, and Dagny -- who have a great moral philosophy as applied to life outside business. This gives one a portrayal of ideal, integrated people. I'll grant you won't find too many of those, but this is real life. In real life, people make all sorts of mistakes. So, we need to ask about their essence, without holding every little mistake against them.

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... ...undeserved.
Okay, as a counter-question, here's a made-up example that highlights the concept of "deserving" vs. luck.

Suppose there are three spots which look equally-likely for a gold mine. Three Objectivist miners randomly choose this one or that. They each realize that the spot they choose is not a sure shot, but more like a 1-in-3 chance. Imagine that they do not know about each other, or even about the other spots. One hits gold, the other two do not. They all worked equally hard up to that point. In fact, the other two probably worked harder after that, and still came out empty. How would they fell if they fit your idea of true Objectivists?

Edited by softwareNerd
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What's Social Darwinism?

It's the idea of Darwinian evolution analogously applied to socioeconomics. The strongest in terms of economics (i.e. the richest people/families) will survive, much like how the strongest members of a species will likely live the longest. Presumably, economic fitness is transferred through inheritance, not necessarily ability, thus enabling the richest people to have the best quality life due to their fortune of being born into a rich family, hardly any different than being born with certain genetic traits, regardless of "deserving" negative traits. It sounds like Hellboy is saying that inheritance is an unfair way to enable people to get money.

The problem I find in Hellboy's reasoning is that we have to think about how inheritance is decided. Merely because of being born to the right family? Or because the heir earned and demonstrated ability? Atlas Shrugged gets into this point quite a bit! Francisco had to earn the d'Anconia name through hard work and demonstrated ability. He earned his inheritance rightly through taking education and virtue seriously. Jim Taggart on the other hand expected money and reward only because he was a Taggart, which is totally unjust.

I suspect there is no disagreement up to here. But then I will expect Hellboy to ask "It's well and good that Francisco earned his inheritance. But wouldn't the Jim Taggart's of the world be reason enough to ban inheritance, or at best make inheritance useless for a just society?" Sure, it may be true that the original creator of the wealth of a business may determine who deserves what amounts of money, but that doesn't equal a just transfer of wealth. People can and do fail to make just decisions. Inheritance seems to propagate undeserved wealth as well as deserved wealth, with the former creating extreme problems of justice.

In any case, I think the issue here is how one can determine what is a just transfer of wealth in any context, whether it be grocery shopping or passing on an inheritance. Objectivism rejects intrinsic value and would thus reject an intrinsic monetary value for labor or goods, so how can an objective decision be made? My idea is that it entirely depends upon what an individual is aspiring towards.

Edited by Eiuol
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It's the idea of Darwinian evolution analogously applied to socioeconomics. The strongest in terms of economics (i.e. the richest people/families) will survive

As opposed to what: die? So "Social Darwinism" is the theory according to which in Capitalism those who don't inherit wealth would die before being able to breed?

P.S. I am aware of an ideology called "Social Darwinism" which holds it moral to exterminate (or allow the dying of) various categories of people considered "inferior", by extrapolating from the Theory of Evolution. But that's an ideology, not a state of society.

That concept most definitely has nothing to do with Capitalism. Capitalism is the only system in which that ideology would in fact be impossible to put into practice, because of two reasons:

1. The main one, that killing or depriving people of their property is illegal, so the vast majority of people Social Darwinism would target are safe off the bat.

2. Even the very few who truly couldn't survive on their own would be safe from being "left to die", because anyone is free to help them. Even if 99% of the population of a country is social darwinists who think the retarded and the disabled should be left to die, all it would take is the other 1% stepping in and helping them.

In a statist society, on the other hand, all it would take for the weak to be either exterminated or left to die is for 51% of the population to be social darwinists.

Edited by Nicky
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In conclusion, Hellboy, if what you are really claiming is that Objectivism is a philosophy that condones Social Darwinism (the ideology), then you're clearly wrong.

Social Darwinism is altruism and collectivism at its worst. Its goal is to engineer a better society, by sacrificing individuals for the sake of society. Objectivist Ethics and Politics is the exact opposite: its purpose is the liberation of the individual from collectivist notions of subservience to the group.

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Softwarenerd -

I appreciate your analogy, however - it bears little resemblance to the way business is run today. Luck is always subsumed by shrewdness.

In addition, the context of my stament about undeservedness was within the context of inheritance. A pure objectivist understands the variables of risk and luck.

Concerning your mention of the fortune 500, you apologize for character flaws in the various members, however - if one is an objectivist, he is one in principle, first. He cannot transgress those objectivist principles without damaging the whole. This is the moral imperative of objectivism.

If such a member were to use an inheritance to gain the upper-hand in a market - knowing that his competition would be wiped out in the exchange, it should stand as a fundamental transgression of the moral value of objectivism - making it something 'other' than objectivism.

If a Fortune 500 member succumbed to one character flaw and used his position only once, to quell favor from a congressmember or two to give him an unjust advantage over his competition - he too would be a failure - as every profit from that point would be based on the illegitimacy of that action.

This is why I call myself an Objectivist Idealist. I know that it is an ideal and as such, can only work in a morally ideal environment.

I would love to see a living example of pure objectivism.

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Eiuol,

You appear to be someone with the gravitas necessary to make an informed decision about Objectivism. Social Darwinism has always been problematic in socioeconomics. As long as you have a hierarchy - there will always be exaggerations as to who deserves what (Royals v Commoners ~ Brahman v Outcastes, etc.) You know, money corrupts - absolute money corrupts, absolutely!

I don't think Objectivism, as a socioeconomic philosophy, should be concerned with the honor of ones' family name - as in Francisco. Instead, that honor should be recognized in ones integrity with regards to respect for individualism. If I inherited a large sum of money "I" - as the relevant individual would have to decide where the honor was in receiving it.

If I am an objectivist and inherited billions, in addition to a corporation - I would find it necessary and desirous to put that 'unearned' sum directly into the business. I would retain whatever salary I had before the inheritance and continue on as I HAD BEEN.

OR (and this is a big 'or')

I would raise the salaries of my workers, as it would be evident under the great evidence of my companys profitability - that the value of my product/service exceeded the payoff of my workers/laborers.

The value of labor is a complicated area, as in the case of American corporations - the market has become increasingly monopolistic (which is just a fact) - and as such - the market will "bear" lower and lower wages, as the few heads of corporations are increasingly empowered to fix wages without regard to appeal.

In Atlas Shrugged - the protagonists were intensely proud of their product. It was the best - and their moral imperative was to make the best product possible. Compare a sewing machine from the 1900's to one today - there is evidence of a loss of craftsmanship, design, durability and pride. I believe this is so for every imaginable product.

Something is lost when the desire for quality is replaced by the desire for profit. Of course you can have both, but can any individual maintain the moral framework that true objectivism demands?

Edited by Hellboy
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...and Nicky

I do beleive that a misapplication of Objectivism (and this goes for Libertarianism, Capitalism, et. al.) does indeed point straight to Social Darwinism. Objectivism, as an ideal - however, is a necessary element in the application of Capitalism. That is, the moral application of individualism redounds to the general good - necessarily.

Social Darwinism says that if you cannot keep up, you die. Socialistic Capitalism (historically, America's brand of Capitalism) says, "we take care of those who cannot take care of themselves".

Of course, the Devil is in the details, isn't it? Privatizing prisons seems like a good idea on the surface, however, when there is an incentive for incarceration - and profit is ilnked to morality and value - you have an automatic and immediate contradiction. Unless this prison operated under a moral ideal - that is to say, a perfect moral population, the burden of corruptibility becomes such that the potential abuses for such a system outweigh the value of individualism and an individuals' inherent right to express his individuality by purchasing a prison.

In other words - some abuses cannot be allowed to happen - under any circumstances - EVEN in a experiment in objectivist economics. We wouldn't allow - for example, someone to purchase the ingredients for a nuclear missle and the manpower to assemble and launch it.

This is a fundamental as to why regulations and therefore government are necessary.

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... LOL Nicky - Yes! I have read it... And the Fountainhead (I also have the movie) - AND The VIrtue of Selfishness... I also have all of Rand's TV appearances recorded and several of her speeches.

I find her to be brilliant - especially with regards to her atheism.

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Social Darwinism says that if you cannot keep up, you die.

No, Social Darwinism says that the weak should die. But maybe you mean something else by the term. You should explain what.

Either way, the notion that Capitalism facilitates the death of people who "can't keep up" is false.

Privatizing prisons seems like a good idea on the surface

No, it doesn't. Privatising prisons goes against one of the most basic tenets of Objectivist Politics: placing the power to use retaliatory force in the hands of an objective government.

In other words - some abuses cannot be allowed to happen - under any circumstances - EVEN in a experiment in objectivist economics. We wouldn't allow - for example, someone to purchase the ingredients for a nuclear missle and the manpower to assemble and launch it.

This is a fundamental as to why regulations and therefore government are necessary.

I hate to keep harping on this, but none of what you think is Objectivism is actual Objectivism. Objectivism is not against the existence of government, government prisons, government control over nuclear weapons, etc. None of these things you are describing would be "and experiment in Objectivist Economics".

You are building a straw man.

Edited by Nicky
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Nicky,

Social Darwinism says that if you cannot keep up, you die.

My point with prisons was that even individualism needs checks - it's a pointed philosophical statement.

My address of Objectivism is purely philosophical - if it is an ideal, then mankind cannot presuppose to make those ideals actionable.

and lastly - I never said that money was the root of all evil. I could not ever believe such a thing.

From Francisco's speech:

"Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce."

I believe Rand did not go far enough, in that there are not merely moochers and producers, but that what are considered 'moochers' are in fact merely responding to the oppression of the producers - in the form of socioeconomic oppression. I believe that mankind's basic tendency is to excel. When he is corrupted - or a 'moocher' - it is because he sees no way out. He sees himself being held down by an irresistible force.

A moocher is a moocher, therefore, not because he is merely inferior to a creator - rather, he is informed by his socioeconomic standing - juxtaposed against a zeitgeist of power worship and insurmountable oppression.

Money should be evidence of work. Moochers are created by the greedy.

Edited by Hellboy
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I appreciate your analogy, however - it bears little resemblance to the way business is run today. Luck is always subsumed by shrewdness.
I'm not sure what you mean by "shrewdness". It can be a virtue. Business people are "street-smart", which means they understand that life is not simply about having thoughts an ideas, but in figuring out how to put them into action. They may not be the Phds., but -- on average -- they can spot a good idea and pay for it, they can figure out how to implement it, they have the drive to overcome obstacles, they have the self-confidence not to let rejection put them off their course.

These are all great human virtues, and if these had disappeared, we would not have today's world of easy-living, with fascinating stuff all around us.

If such a member were to use an inheritance to gain the upper-hand in a market - knowing that his competition would be wiped out in the exchange, it should stand as a fundamental transgression of the moral value of objectivism - making it something 'other' than objectivism.
The notion that people can use wealth to beget wealth in some sort of automatized way is false. Inherited wealth disappears in a few generations. Essentially, many heirs are distributing that wealth to others while enjoying it themselves. In today's global economy there is no market position that can be maintained primarily through the use of size/wealth and still remain profitable. There is no shortage of capital ready to flow to a good, promising competitive idea. Companies too do not stay at the top for more than a few generations -- at best. In fact, this is becoming ever shorter. Look at top-5 retail chains: every 10 years, one of them loses their top-5 rank. More importantly, the ones that remain do not do so because they have financial muscle. They do so because they understand their customers, they understand what their customer will value, and they find a way to deliver it at as low a cost as possible.

... ...I would love to see a living example of pure objectivism.
Like you, I would like to see many more Objectivist businessmen. They exist and they run businesses. Objectivists are a small fraction of the population, and therefore Objectivist businessmen are a small fraction of businessmen. However, your concept of what it takes to be an Objectivist might reject such people.

I know that it is an ideal and as such, can only work in a morally ideal environment.
There's a bit of chicken-and-egg here, because I read it to say "Objectivism can only survive if people agree with Objectivism".

Stepping back, I'd like to make a broader point: do you think Steve Jobs enjoyed his work and made money? what about Bill Gates of old? and people in finance, like John Paulson to pit their intellect against the market? and Sam Walton? If you think these people were happy, and if you accept Objectivism's idea that happiness is a legitimate goal, then you should question how they achieved happiness without being Objectivists. Also, ask how you can do more of the things they did. Objectivism is not about spending one's life contemplating the state of the world, while a guy in India who accepts a few mystical ideas also enjoys building his business and thriving. You have just one life, and this is personal. The "test-question" to yourself is: when you look back at your life in retirement, will you say you've used your few years on earth the way you really wanted to?

Edited by softwareNerd
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Social Darwinism is not an ideology, though. Some people use the phrase social Darwin to describe supposedly bad consequences of capitalism, in the sense that only a heartless, cruel individual would be a capitalist. The belief that free markets logically lead to the rich being privileged and the poor being denied possibilities such as health care or schooling is based on the premise that wealth is a zero-sum game. If wealth is zero-sum, then certainly the rich are more socioeconomically better off, and the poor are simply going to have to struggle through life due to their lack of privilege. Without government in this circumstance, the poor won't be able to "keep up", so will not gain access to health care or education. Of course, Objectivism rejects that wealth is zero-sum, and also rejects that capitalism/free market leads to a dog-eat-dog world. Regarding value, wealth is limitless; it's not about dividing up a pie. The money speech excerpt has a little explanation as to why that is.

Hellboy, I'm not sure why you mentioned family honor - Francisco didn't support the d'Anconia name because of tradition, but because he believed in upholding virtuous standards that his family members believed in. Francisco received his inheritance because he strived to show himself worthy of running a multi-national business. Earning an inheritence doesn't necessarily have to mean doing manual labor for the company. If you wrote a will so that your child would receive a large sum of money that they need to start a software company and show ability to do, that would be fine even if you earned your money by running a successful local restaurant. At the same time, I agree that it's also partly up to the recipient of an inheritance to decide if they actually deserve it. Francisco, I imagine, would reject his inheritance if he didn't believe he earned it.

The market being increasingly monopolistic (whatever that means) is likely due to the types of government controls in place today - which isn't to say that no controls whatsoever are moral. My only response to your reasoning about justice is that government cannot realistically legislate justice so that someone who doesn't deserve an inheritance does not actually receive in an inheritance. I certainly would rather that *all* people act virtuously, but as the saying goes, "you can't fix stupid"; some people will still act unjustly. Objectivism supports capitalism because free markets are the best way to maintain a just society, by allowing individuals to choose what is a value for value trade (with all the usual caveats; you might not be familiar, but it's a common view around here that no, an individual should not be allowed to buy nukes or other heavy weapons for private use).

Edited by Eiuol
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Nicky,

Social Darwinism says that if you cannot keep up, you die.

Well then, Social Darwinism is obviously false. First, for using a vague metaphor instead of precise language, and second, because people who can't keep up obviously don't die. They are helped. Examples are endless. I personally know people who aren't surviving on their own (or welfare), but due to the voluntary help of others.

My point with prisons was that even individualism needs checks - it's a pointed philosophical statement.

Yes, I know. And your point is wrong, because private prisons are not an example of individualism put into practice. You are arguing against a strawman.

And it's not that original an argument either. Liberals coming up to me and saying "you are a silly idealist, because we obviously need cops and prisons and soldiers because human nature blah blah blah", is practically an everyday occurrence. I of course reply that I agree, and that Capitalism is a system with cops and prisons and soldiers. And then they usually understand the difference between Capitalism and anarchy, and withdraw the argument. Will you?

Social Darwinism is not an ideology, though.

For what it's worth (not that much, I guess), wikipedia agrees with me that it is. But it doesn't really matter, since HellBoy isn't using it in that sense.

Some people use the phrase social Darwin to describe supposedly bad consequences of capitalism, in the sense that only a heartless, cruel individual would be a capitalist. The belief that free markets logically lead to the rich being privileged and the poor being denied possibilities such as health care or schooling is based on the premise that wealth is a zero-sum game. If wealth is zero-sum, then certainly the rich are more socioeconomically better off, and the poor are simply going to have to struggle through life due to their lack of privilege. Without government in this circumstance, the poor won't be able to "keep up", so will not gain access to health care or education.

Right. So let's say all that is true, and the poor can never escape their condition. What does that have to do with Darwin? Being poor, uneducated, without access to cutting edge healthcare tech, etc. doesn't mean your genes will die out. Look at all the countries filled with poor people: Not only are they not dying out, their population is expanding at a much higher rate than those of rich countries. And within individual societies, the poor are having more (viable) offspring than the rich.

So I don't understand the choice of metaphor. If anything, statistics say that being rich and highly educated is what is more likely to lead to the extinction of a bloodline, not being poor.

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If you found an abandoned planet with "a billion dollars" of goodies, you "earn" it by making use of it. You make use of it by having vision for the wealth and putting it to your purposes. You can inherit any amount with no problem. Earning it after the fact is just as well as earning it before the fact. You earn it by using it well, just as the person who gave it to you would have wanted. They wanted you to enjoy life, so they gave you additional means to achieve your goals sooner. Hopefully, your goals do something to elevate mankind. There is more than one way to earn a value. A simple smile has earned many people a cut of an inheritance.

An inheritence is just abandoned property, no different from landing on a continent for the first time and seeing all those trees that could be cut to lumber, or all that iron bleeding out of those rocks. Because it is abandoned, if you don't make use of it, the state will. So, that takes a value from the postive, and turns it into a negative, another reason for abolishing the estate tax and accepting an inheritence. You are keeping resources out of the hands of the state.

P.S. If you have a billion dollars you need to dispose of because it is taking up space or giving you a mental burden, I can collect what you think is garbage, no problem. You have a problem, I have a solution. Thus, I earned the inheritance.

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