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Rand on "Quality of Life" Concept

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[I wasn't sure where this question belongs. It refers to the Anti-Industrial Revolution (essay) so maybe Science and Technology? At the same time, it's about the environmentalist movement, but it's not current. So I flipped a coin.]

In the AIR, Rand says: "If you consider, not merely the length, but the kind of life men have to lead in the undeveloped parts of the world—'the quality of life,' to borrow, with full meaning, the ecologists’ meaningless catch phrase—if you consider the squalor, the misery, the helplessness, the fear, the unspeakably hard labor, the festering diseases, the plagues, the starvation, you will begin to appreciate the role of technology in man’s existence."

Why does she believe that "quality of life" is meaningless? Does she just mean that the way environmentalists use it is meaningless? If so, why is that? The other day I was debating a friend over "minimum standard of living," trying to convince her that it was an arbitrary designation, like "ecosystem" or "pollution" or "monopoly." Is that what Rand is referring to? Or is she saying that "quality of life" is a useless metric and that we ought to be evaluating societies by their moral standards?

On another note, it seems - in the passage about oil spills in Alaska harming the Eskimos - that Rand, while not in favor of oil spills, does not regard them as all that unfortunate. I would think that any kind of oil spill could be seen as a disaster for all species involved. Is she making a utilitarian argument here for industry? I would think not. Does she regard the ocean as a legitimate dumping ground? The libertarian part of me thinks that the only proper way to address the handling of unowned resources is to create an ownership designation for any areas of concern.

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Not being or ever having been an ecologist and with only a dim recollection of the “subtext” of ecologists’ rhetoric in the 70’s, all I can suggest is that she is referring to a hidden contradiction in the ecologists’ ideology, that one can have one’s cake and eat it too. “Quality of life”, for them, refers to an idyllic world free of the signs of man’s existence. Of course they would not admit that they want to see man deleted from the universe, but they clearly opposed many signs of man’s existence qua man. I would be okay for man to exist in small bands of stone-age hunter-gatherers, but agriculture starts to disturb the “natural order”, meaning “the way things would be if man did not exist”. Preserving “quality of life”, maintaining the man-free wild nature of the planet, becomes an absolute principle for the ecologist. I do personally enjoy a hike in the mountains and love to watch eagles harvesting crows, so I consider that idyllic wild state to be aesthetically positive – in appropriate doses, usually not more than a week, and with a comfy chair at the campsite. Living as a dirt farmer in Cambodia would be the most horrifying loss in actual quality of life, but that is what the ecologists are pushing for. “Quality of life” as an expression doesn’t actually mean quality of life, just as “justice” no longer means justice.

I guess I’d have to see your reasoning behind the conclusion that an oil spill in Alaska is a disaster for all species involved.

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My guess as a layman, is that an oil spill of unrefined crude would likely be relatively temporary , especially in a marine or coastal area as ecological processes break down the hydrocarbons without the more toxic chemicals associated with ‘final products. Transportation and handling of refined petroleum, not to fail to mention the refining process, are the locus of more ‘toxic’ harms or threats.

I think crude is about organic as you actually ‘get’.

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4 hours ago, HowardRoarkSpaceDetective said:

I just assume that no one benefits from an oil spill

Okay, I see what you’re thinking. There are probably no (known, rational) benefits to anyone coming from a spill of crude. I think “disaster” is not the right adjective, but it would be “bad” rather than “good”. Of course the fact that there is a possible bad outcome is not a valid argument for not exploiting that resource. There is a whacko argument that “Spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers”, an argument supposedly offered by Kinder Morgan, Inc. to the Canadian Government. But Bastiat addressed the Broken Window fallacy almost 200 years ago.

A more credible argument was that oil spills result in fishery closures, also hunting closures, which is a benefit to fish and ducks, but still the net effect ends up being negative.


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The broken window fallacy is one of those that seems like it might be just one conceptual step removed from what the public is capable of processing, so it'll keep resurfacing until people gain a better appreciation of basic economics.

So am I to take it that Rand viewed non-private wildlife as 'free game'? I can sympathize with that, but would I be wrong in saying that that non-private land(or sea) should be privatized sooner than later? Until then, I imagine it would be used less-than-economically. Not that dumping isn't a vital economic function -- privatization just seems more efficient. Of course, this leads into issues concerning first acquisition, but I figured I'd pose the question.

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Oil has done a great deal to improve human lives. The oil industry has been a net positive for mankind in spite of occasional oil spills and the costs of cleaning them up.

There are nevertheless ecologically-motivated people who think that oil spills are so bad that we should prevent them at any cost, even possibly at the cost of giving up oil altogether. (And they say the same thing about nuclear power, and agriculture, and just about anything humans do.)

The oil industry loses money from oil spills, and therefore the industry has an incentive to prevent them, and they will welcome cost-effective technologies to reduce the frequency and/or severity of oil spills -- but this incentive only goes so far, because the industry only loses so much money from oil spills, and so there is a limit to how much they are willing to spend, and there is also a requirement that when they do spend money it has to be "worth it" by actually reducing oil spills, and all this can be quantified.

Some ecologists, however, consider it a moral failure to think in monetary or quantitative terms; they prefer to go by emotions alone, and make "whatever sacrifice is necessary."

I think the emotionalism is the main thing Ayn Rand objected to.

Edited by necrovore
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