“self-interest is the mainspring of human nature. It must be clearly understood that this word is used here to designate a universal, incontestable fact, resulting from the nature of man, and not an adverse judgment, as would be the word selfishness.”
Two Kinds of Selfishness
by Scott Lazarowitz
In a recent debate CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul who should pay for the health care of someone who doesn’t have insurance and who is seriously ill. Blitzer asked Dr. Paul if, in a society presumably in which the government doesn’t fund health care, should the society just let the patient die. Dr. Paul replied, “No,” and explained how, in the pre-welfare statist days, hospitals, churches, friends and neighbors never turned away sick people, and he addressed the root causes of the high cost of health care: the impoverishing and stifling regulations and red tape, the corporatist special interest influences of the drug and insurance companies, lack of competition, and the consequences of inflation. But apparently Paul Krugman missed that part of Dr. Paul’s explanation.
One philosopher who tried to clarify the ignorance and myths about capitalism, and whose ideas contributed to the discussions of the differences between free market capitalism and socialism, was Ayn Rand. Her controversial book The Virtue of Selfishness sought to clarify the ethics and morality of selfishness, in contrast to the destruction of altruism.
To this day, it seems that many people – including very highly educated and supposedly informed and sophisticated people – believe that the “enlightened self-interest” aspect of free market capitalism amounts to the businessman selfishly taking away money and opportunities from others.
It is sad that mainstream America’s general view of voluntary exchange has been based on anti-free market propaganda, and not based in reality. In his review of Part 1 of the movie version of Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, Roger Ebert summarized this misunderstanding:
“I’m on board; pull up the lifeline.”
Due to a century’s worth of propaganda, the mainstream view of capitalism is really of State-capitalism or corporatism, in which the Established businesses – medical-related and otherwise – lobby for the government to impose laws, taxes, fees, and regulations that severely impair the newcomer entrepreneur’s ability to enter one’s field of interest, as such governmental interventions protect the established businesses’ profits and shield them from prospective competition.
Now, that’s “I’m on board; pull up the lifeline” selfishness: Using the armed power of the State to restrict the lives and liberty of others as a means of protecting one’s own economic interests.
That is not the kind of “enlightened self-interest” selfishness in which Rand defended free-market capitalism.
In State-capitalism, the established businesses align themselves with the government and, through the back door, they steal away through coercive legal restrictions the opportunities that entrepreneurs would otherwise have in the absence of the State’s restrictions. But, further than that, it is the consumers – including medical patients – who must pay the higher prices that are artificially kept higher via the State’s protection of established businesses. In such a socialistic, back-door redistribution-of-wealth scheme, those consumers’ wealth is being stolen from them by the government’s limitation of their choices.
In contrast, in a truly free-market capitalist system, there would be no government restrictions on the people’s right to earn a living, do whatever they want with their own money, or buy or provide whatever forms of medical care they want, period. In the truly free-market way of life, individuals are free to use their own minds and bodies, their own efforts and labor, and their own capital, for their own ends by trading their efforts, labor and capital with customers, clients, patients, businesses or employers, in a mutually-beneficial voluntary contract. This is what Ayn Rand referred to as virtuous selfishness.
Thus, it is not through free market capitalism, but through direct welfare-socialism and State-capitalism that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” In contrast, with free-market capitalism, the rich and the middle-class could not use a compulsory governmental apparatus to restrict the poor from using their own minds and bodies, their labor and capital from entering the same markets that have been seized by established businesses.
But unethical corporatist/welfare-state selfishness hasn’t just been happening in medicine, but in many other areas of life.
For example, minimum wage laws prevent an employer from being able to hire low-skilled workers in entry-level jobs, because many employers can’t afford to pay the higher wages. This especially prevents teenagers from getting a part-time job to get early experiences toward entering the “adult” job market later on. What the bureaucrats and the corporatist unions are doing is stealing away from teens the opportunity to capitalize on their own labor toward better opportunities down the road. The bureaucrats and unions work to protect their own established special interests by restricting others from entering the labor force. The real selfish ones here are the government bureaucrats and the unions, not the employers who are trying to give young people an opportunity to learn a skill or trade.
The government bureaucrats, special interest establishment businesses and unions are the ones saying, “We’re on board; pull up the lifeline.”
According to economist Walter Williams, author of Race and Economics, these kinds of government wage mandates and other regulations against businesses have hurt those at the bottom of the economic scale and contributed to preventing them from prospering. Further, Dr. Williams believes that the welfare state has “destroyed the black family.”
The welfare state has destroyed the family, period.
The corporatists and statists’ minimum wage laws and other tax and regulation trespasses, as well as affirmative action policies, have restricted not only black youths’ prospects for getting entry-level jobs to prepare them for the real world, but have also restricted black entrepreneurs from entering markets to compete on a level playing field with established businesses. Now, who is more immorally selfish: the established businessmen who benefit from government restrictions on others, and the professional politicians and bureaucrats who benefit from reinforcing the poor and minorities’ dependence on government? Or the free businessman who can pay a young person a lower wage that gives the youth much needed work experience toward later full-time employment?
In the absence of all the government programs and regulatory restrictions, would there be as much unemployment and despair as there exists today? Would there be as much violence and flash mob beatings amongst inner-city youth as there is today? Contrary to what those in Krugman world believe, these are consequences of government interventionism and State-business protectionism.
State-capitalism is destructive in other areas as well. For example, government bailouts of irresponsible financial institutions are also immorally selfish. In Krugman-Obama world, workers and producers are forced at gunpoint by the government to bail out irresponsible banks (and irresponsible individuals as well). Or, the central bank prints new money from nothing as an extra handout for the big banks. In this act of Keynesian, present-oriented selfishness, the Federal Reserve’s money-printing devalues the dollar, forcing future generations to have to use worthless paper as their medium of exchange, and causes price inflation, which hits the poor and middle-class the most, all while the Big Banks rake in the bonuses.
Other Keynesian present-oriented policies include Congress’s deficit spending and debts, which are nothing more than Congress selfishly using its credit card and enslaving future generations to pick up the tab.
This Orwellian statism now includes a president touring the country asking for higher taxes and begging Americans to help him pass a “jobs bill,” in which the government will further siphon more private wealth to redistribute to the government bureaucrats, and will result in further unemployment.
In striking contrast, the free-market capitalism, voluntary exchange way of life requires individuals and businesses – and banks – to take responsibility for the consequences of their own risks, which includes bankruptcy. While State-capitalism and Keynesianism involve immediate-gratification spending sprees at the coercive expense of taxpayers and consumers, free-market capitalism encourages long-range planning through saving and investing, and doesn’t allow for government theft of private wealth. So which group is the more selfish here?
The free-market, voluntary exchange way of life lives under the rule of law that protects the life, liberty and property of the individual, and forbids theft and fraud, trespass and physical aggression. It is the socialists and progressives’ regulatory trespasses that have encouraged the growth of America’s current police state, with police raids on guitar companies and raw milk producers, as well as doctors who do not conform to the medical fascists’ dictates.
To conclude, back to Wolf Blitzer’s question to Ron Paul as to whether society should just let the uninsured, severely ill medical patient die, implying that it would be out of selfishness to not have the force of government impose its will:
Establishment doctors and their high salaries are protected by State-licensing requirements and other guild-like monopoly protections. They are the ones who say, “I’m on board; pull up the lifeline” (away from alternative-medicine practitioners, whose right to earn a living and care for others is restricted by the government, and also at the expense of medical care consumers).
And the establishment Big Pharmaceutical companies’ high profits and unaccountability are protected by the corporatist, revolving-door FDA and patent laws, and by stifling restrictions against alternative nutritional medicine and supplement makers. The Big Pharmaceutical companies are the ones who say, “I’m on board; pull up the lifeline” (away from people who need better alternatives to the government-protected prescription drugs, many drugs of which make people worse off).
And medical licensing does not “weed out bad doctors.” On the contrary, it protects the bad doctors from the competition of better doctors and from the scrutiny of the free market. The exclusive Medical Establishment of government-protected doctors is far more selfish in their locking out the competition – and charging patients artificially higher prices – than it would otherwise be with medical freedom.
If only the government would remove its anti-competition, regulatory and price-fixing shackles from medical providers and insurers, allow pro-consumer competition to thrive once again, and end the corporatist State-protection of insurance and drug companies’ and doctors’ high profits. Then, prices would come crashing down all across the board, and even the poor and middle class would be able to afford medical care again. With freedom, it is the consumers – rich and poor – who would benefit from deciding which doctors and other medical providers should stay in business and which ones should get out.
When it comes to the ideological battle between the Krugmaniacs and the Ayn Randians, call me an ardent Randian.
Why? Because I love freedom.
Freedom to die? NO! Freedom to live!
September 23, 2011
Copyright © 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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