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The Unproductive In Capitalist Society

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Long time reader, first time poster.

I'm relatively new to Objectivism and while in a discussion about it the other day, someone posed a question I couldn't come up with an answer for. We were talking about Capitalist society and producing value for rational exchange being the moral behavior of your typical citizen. His question was,

"...suppose that I have nothing that anyone else demands (I have no skills, no property, no creative ability, and, let's say, I cannot direct calls or lift bales of hay, etc.). Nevertheless, I require food and shelter, health care and other modern necessities. How do I get these things?"

Beyond just how to get them, I've found I can't really form a coherent answer to how any unproductive member of society (whether by accident of circumstance, physical or mental defect, or otherwise), with no real ability to engage in that rational exchange, is supposed to survive, morally. Can anyone help me out here?

--Ben

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Beyond just how to get them, I've found I can't really form a coherent answer to how any unproductive member of society (whether by accident of circumstance, physical or mental defect, or otherwise), with no real ability to engage in that rational exchange, is supposed to survive, morally. Can anyone help me out here?

--Ben

Private charity is the only recourse. In a fully capitalist society, this should not be a problem.

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Long time reader, first time poster.

I'm relatively new to Objectivism and while in a discussion about it the other day, someone posed a question I couldn't come up with an answer for. We were talking about Capitalist society and producing value for rational exchange being the moral behavior of your typical citizen. His question was,

"...suppose that I have nothing that anyone else demands (I have no skills, no property, no creative ability, and, let's say, I cannot direct calls or lift bales of hay, etc.).  Nevertheless, I require food and shelter, health care and other modern necessities.  How do I get these things?"

Beyond just how to get them, I've found I can't really form a coherent answer to how any unproductive member of society (whether by accident of circumstance, physical or mental defect, or otherwise), with no real ability to engage in that rational exchange, is supposed to survive, morally. Can anyone help me out here?

--Ben

Is this person of legal adult age? Children have a right to be taken care of by their parents.

If an adult, then all they can do in a rational society is to either work for a living, or live off of their existing resources, or depend on *voluntary* charity. He would not have a right to stick a gun in somebody's face to get money or other valuables.

You should take such examples with a boulder of salt. There are very few, relatively speaking, adults in today's world that cannot do anything to earn a living. I am disgusted by able bodied people who whine about not being able to find any job at all (this is distinct from finding a job you *want*) when there are genuinely crippled people who heroically acquire skills needed to partially or entirely sustain their lives.

Ultimately, nobody has the right to force another to pay for their existence (unless they're a legal dependent, in which case they do have the right to demand at least basic food and shelter and safety.) The simple fact is that, in a rational society, an adult incapable (or unwilling) to pay for their own lives is at the mercy of charity. If they're so unappealing that nobody is willing to help them out, they die, without being given some supposed right to stick a gun in other peoples' faces for their wealth.

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If an adult, then all they can do in a rational society is to either work for a living, or live off of their existing resources, or depend on *voluntary* charity. He would not have a right to stick a gun in somebody's face to get money or other valuables.

But where do we draw the line between charity and the selflessness that Objectivism considers a sin? I realize it's in the best interest of every citizen in a society to have happy, healthy peers in a clean environment, but it seems sort've contradictory to tell someone they're at the mercy of charity while condeming self-sacrifice.

Hmm.. Is there some minimum level that every citizen should be willing to contribute to his society in the form of charity, to make it better? Some amount equal in value to how much he values his environment and those around him? I suppose that's the only way I can reason out the answer to the above.

--Ben

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Hmm.. Is there some minimum level that every citizen should be willing to contribute to his society in the form of charity, to make it better? Some amount equal in value to how much he values his environment and those around him? I suppose that's the only way I can reason out the answer to the above.

--Ben

Benevolence from charity is not alturism, the people that donate their earned money do so willingly in order to recieve an emotional value greater to them than whatever amount they donated. There is no "minimum" anything you can make someone pay from his earnings to provide for someone. And how is it that you assume that everyone cares for 'those around him'?

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But where do we draw the line between charity and the selflessness that Objectivism considers a sin?

Charity becomes selflessness the instant it becomes a sacrifice instead of a trade. Deciding the point at which that occurs is up to each individual, not "we".

I realize it's in the best interest of every citizen in a society to have happy, healthy peers in a clean environment, but it seems sort've contradictory to tell someone they're at the mercy of charity while condeming self-sacrifice.

Why is that contradictory? The giving of charity isn't automatically self-sacrificial, as you seem to be implying. If some individual or cause is important to you, and you can afford to contribute money and/or time to it, you are making a trade, not a sacrifice, when you do that. This is exactly the same, in principle, as deciding to spend money on anything else, except that what you receive in return for your money is spiritual instead of material.

Mark Peters

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"...suppose that I have nothing that anyone else demands (I have no skills, no property, no creative ability, and, let's say, I cannot direct calls or lift bales of hay, etc.).  Nevertheless, I require food and shelter, health care and other modern necessities.  How do I get these things?" --Ben

It should be noted that in a highly industrialized voluntary society, the threshold of the ability to achieve productive values nears the threshold needed to have values. In other words, the mental/physical capacity needed to desire and enjoy material values implies the ability to engage in the productive effort necessary to earn them.

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I realize it's in the best interest of every citizen in a society to have happy, healthy peers in a clean environment, but it seems sort've contradictory to tell someone they're at the mercy of charity while condeming self-sacrifice.

Best interest how? Is it in my best interest to work myself into an early grave to support the indigent? That would make them "healthy and happy," right? What if they outnumber me ten to one? A hundred to one? How many people could I support? It's impossible. Men need to work in order to survive. It's a fact of nature.

In order to sacrifice, you have to have something to sacrifice; men who engage in no production by definition have nothing to sacrifice. Even their own life does not belong to them; life requires sustenance, and sustenance requires work. If they do not work, they will be without a life in short order. Human beings cannot survive by the method of a sponge, passively absorbing whatever comes along.

Even paraplegics can do productive work, so what is the basis for saying that someone could even theoretically reach a stage where they cannot? A vegetable? If someone is born that way, what is the basis for stating that this person is a human being? It's a corpse that for some reason hasn't stopped breathing. People that weren't born as vegetables have an opportunity to work, save money, or provide value to others who may care for them if they do reach that state. So what sort of person exists that can do no productive work of any kind whatsover?

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I frequently encounter this position in debates as well. I find that it is important to make explicit the premise that you operate from: that there is such thing as an objective poverty level. Usually, your opponent, whom is defending whatever form of welfare statism, will stand on the premise that poverty is relative. This means that the welfare statist can always point out the endless amount of people in need, without ever defining need. Does poverty mean an inability to even acquire bare subsistence? Or is poverty not being able to afford a new car, a new microwave, or the latest computer?

You need to convince your opponent to open his eyes and look around him and observe the bountiful supply of goods and services produced in a (semi)-capitalist society and that even the poorest fare better today than the rich of generations ago. This is easier said than done because most people want to cling to the notion of relative poverty as a justification for the continual expropriation and redistribution of wealth...regardless of it's consequences such as the never ending growth of arbitrary government power.

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Okay -- I think I understand now. Let me try and restate this, let me know if I'm still a little off.

Selflessness may be a sin in Objectivism, but there's a difference between selflessness and voluntary charity. The line is drawn at a different point for every person -- a point where the act becomes a sacrifice rather than a trade for an emotional value greater than or equal to that which they donated. If an individual or cause is important to you, and you can afford to contribute time and/or money to it, to do so is essentially the same as spending money on any other object. The only difference is an emotional return rather than a material one.

That said, the only recourse of those who cannot, for whatever hypothetical reason, produce value, is to rely on voluntary charity for their means of survival. Barring that, one dies -- no man has the right to force another to provide him with his means of survival.

Is that about right?

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His question was,

"...suppose that I have nothing that anyone else demands (I have no skills, no property, no creative ability, and, let's say, I cannot direct calls or lift bales of hay, etc.).

LOL! "I cannot write, I cannot read, I cannot count, I cannot lift ... but I can mooch."

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That said, the only recourse of those who cannot, for whatever hypothetical reason, produce value, is to rely on voluntary charity for their means of survival. Barring that, one dies -- no man has the right to force another to provide him with his means of survival.

Is that about right?

Yes. Ayn Rand said, "Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work." ("The Objectivist Ethics," p. 23)

As an Objectivist I am opposed to any "method of survival" that is not "proper to a rational being." Therefore, it is appropriate that those who can survive only by mooching cease to exist.

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His question was,

"...suppose that I have nothing that anyone else demands (I have no skills, no property, no creative ability, and, let's say, I cannot direct calls or lift bales of hay, etc.).  Nevertheless, I require food and shelter, health care and other modern necessities.  How do I get these things?"

--Ben

You have recieved some good answers to this question. Here is one more. "You are free to ask for help. Anyone who wishes to help you will not be stopped."
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That said, the only recourse of those who cannot, for whatever hypothetical reason, produce value, is to rely on voluntary charity for their means of survival. Barring that, one dies -- no man has the right to force another to provide him with his means of survival.

Is that about right?

The word "voluntary" is redundant in the term "voluntary charity". There is no such thing called "involuntary charity".

Would it be possible for someone who is unable to be productive to initiate force on others who have the ability to be productive? I think it would be accurate to say that nobody has the right to initiate force on someone else in the name of those who are unable to be productive.

In a capitalist society, anyone who seeks to help those who are unable to produce values will be expected to do so using whatever values they themselves produce.

Initiating force is not something that comes effortlessly. It requires a lot of purposeful activity. When a person depends for his survival on somebody else who continuously devotes his time, effort and energy towards forcibly acquiring values, is that person really free of the need for charity?

In other words would it be correct to say that a person is free of the need for charity in a socialist or semi-socialist society?

The only difference between capitalism and socialism in this case is that in a capitalist society, an individual unable to produce values will depend on the real charity of producers while in a socialist society he will depend on the fake "charity" of the looters. (Looters are those who forcibly acquire the values created by productive men.)

There is no reason to suspect that the fake charity of the looter is less likely to be withdrawn than the real charity of the producer. Therefore there is no reason to suspect that those who are genuinely unable to produce values are going to be worse off in a capitalist society.

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Therefore, it is appropriate that those who can survive only by mooching cease to exist.

What do you mean by this comment?

I consider myself moderately acquainted with Objectivism however I have never heard anything like such an utterance made by Rand or any other Objectivist. An adherent to Objectivism need not hold such callous sentiments. People in a free society would hold it in their self-interest to help those (especially family and friends) whom are helpless (ie. children, elderly parents, victims of mental illness). I know I don't want to live in a society in which people hold callous disregard for others.

Comments such as the one above only perpetuate the negative image of Objectivism and feed fuel to enemies of Rand.

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Comments such as the one above only perpetuate the negative image of Objectivism and feed fuel to enemies of Rand.

Note the status of "Banned" under his name.

Even still, there's no reason to take anything that anybody posts here as being the official Objectivist position.

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