Politics & Law

Hazlitt on the U.S. Housing Crisis

WHAT AN ECONOMIST SAID ABOUT THE U.S. HOUSING CRISIS – DECADES AGO

 “The case against government-guaranteed loans and mortgages to private businesses and persons is almost as strong as, though less obvious than, the case against direct government loans and mortgages [for homes]. … Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to ‘buy’ houses that they cannot really afford. They tend to eventually to bring about an oversupply of houses as compared with other things. They temporarily overstimulate building, raise the cost of building for everybody (including the buyers of the homes with the guaranteed mortgages), and may mislead the building industry into an eventually costly overexpansion. In brief, in the long run they do not increase overall national production but encourage malinvestment.” — Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (1979)

Sam Harris: Causal Connection Between Islam and Islamist Violence is Undisputable

Liberal atheist Sam Harris writing in the Huffington Post has penned an important piece on the connection between Islam and Islamist violence called Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks. Here are some quotes

What about all the civil, freedom-loving, moderate Muslims who are just as appalled by Muslim intolerance as I am? No doubt millions of men and women fit this description, but vocal moderates are very difficult to find. Wherever “moderate Islam” does announce itself, one often discovers frank Islamism lurking just a euphemism or two beneath the surface. The subterfuge is rendered all but invisible to the general public by political correctness, wishful thinking, and “white guilt.” This is where we find sinister people successfully posing as “moderates”—people like Tariq Ramadan who, while lionized by liberal Europeans as the epitome of cosmopolitan Islam, cannot bring himself to actually condemn honor killing in round terms (he recommends that the practice be suspended, pending further study). Moderation is also attributed to groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamist public relations firm posing as a civil-rights lobby.

Even when one finds a true voice of Muslim moderation, it often seems distinguished by a lack of candor above all things. Take someone like Reza Aslan, author of No God But God: I debated Aslan for Book TV on the general subject of religion and modernity. During the course of our debate, I had a few unkind words to say about the Muslim Brotherhood. While admitting that there is a difference between the Brotherhood and a full-blown jihadist organization like al Qaeda, I said that their ideology was “close enough” to be of concern. Aslan responded with a grandiose, ad hominem attack saying, “that indicates the profound unsophistication that you have about this region. You could not be more wrong.” He then claimed that I’d taken my view of Islam from “Fox News.” Such maneuvers, coming from a polished, Iranian-born scholar of Islam carry the weight of authority, especially in front of an audience of people who are desperate to believe the threat of Islam has been grossly exaggerated. The problem, however, is that the credo of the Muslim Brotherhood actually happens to be “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

The connection between the doctrine of Islam and Islamist violence is simply not open to dispute. It’s not that critics of religion like myself speculate that such a connection might exist: the point is that Islamists themselves acknowledge and demonstrate this connection at every opportunity and to deny it is to retreat within a fantasy world of political correctness and religious apology. Many western scholars, like the much admired Karen Armstrong, appear to live in just such a place. All of their talk about how benign Islam “really” is, and about how the problem of fundamentalism exists in all religions, only obfuscates what may be the most pressing issue of our time: Islam, as it is currently understood and practiced by vast numbers of the world’s Muslims, is antithetical to civil society. A recent poll showed that thirty-six percent of British Muslims (ages 16-24) believe that a person should be killed for leaving the faith. Sixty-eight percent of British Muslims feel that their neighbors who insult Islam should be arrested and prosecuted, and seventy-eight percent think that the Danish cartoonists should have been brought to justice. And these are British Muslims.

Link: Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks

Immigration and Individual Rights

Craig Biddle has a great article on Immigration and Individual Rights. Here is a sample:

Open immigration does not mean that anyone may enter the country at any location or in any manner he chooses; it is not unchecked or unmonitored immigration. Nor does it mean that anyone who immigrates to America should be eligible for U.S. citizenship–the proper requirements of which are a separate matter. Open immigration means that anyone is free to enter and reside in America–providing that he enters at a designated checkpoint and passes an objective screening process, the purpose of which is to keep out criminals, enemies of America, and people with certain kinds of contagious diseases. Such a policy is not only politically right; it is morally right.

Definitely worth a read.

Sam Harris: Causal Connection Between Islam and Islamist Violence is Undisputable

Liberal athiest Sam Harris writing in the Huffington Post has penned an excellent op-ed defending Geert Wilders criticizing Islam called Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks:

He even goes out to point out the duplicity of “civil, freedom-loving, moderate Muslims”:

What about all the civil, freedom-loving, moderate Muslims who are just as appalled by Muslim intolerance as I am? No doubt millions of men and women fit this description, but vocal moderates are very difficult to find. Wherever “moderate Islam” does announce itself, one often discovers frank Islamism lurking just a euphemism or two beneath the surface. The subterfuge is rendered all but invisible to the general public by political correctness, wishful thinking, and “white guilt.” This is where we find sinister people successfully posing as “moderates”—people like Tariq Ramadan who, while lionized by liberal Europeans as the epitome of cosmopolitan Islam, cannot bring himself to actually condemn honor killing in round terms (he recommends that the practice be suspended, pending further study). Moderation is also attributed to groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamist public relations firm posing as a civil-rights lobby.

Even when one finds a true voice of Muslim moderation, it often seems distinguished by a lack of candor above all things. Take someone like Reza Aslan, author of No God But God: I debated Aslan for Book TV on the general subject of religion and modernity. During the course of our debate, I had a few unkind words to say about the Muslim Brotherhood. While admitting that there is a difference between the Brotherhood and a full-blown jihadist organization like al Qaeda, I said that their ideology was “close enough” to be of concern. Aslan responded with a grandiose, ad hominem attack saying, “that indicates the profound unsophistication that you have about this region. You could not be more wrong.” He then claimed that I’d taken my view of Islam from “Fox News.” Such maneuvers, coming from a polished, Iranian-born scholar of Islam carry the weight of authority, especially in front of an audience of people who are desperate to believe the threat of Islam has been grossly exaggerated. The problem, however, is that the credo of the Muslim Brotherhood actually happens to be “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

The connection between the doctrine of Islam and Islamist violence is simply not open to dispute. It’s not that critics of religion like myself speculate that such a connection might exist: the point is that Islamists themselves acknowledge and demonstrate this connection at every opportunity and to deny it is to retreat within a fantasy world of political correctness and religious apology. Many western scholars, like the much admired Karen Armstrong, appear to live in just such a place. All of their talk about how benign Islam “really” is, and about how the problem of fundamentalism exists in all religions, only obfuscates what may be the most pressing issue of our time: Islam, as it is currently understood and practiced by vast numbers of the world’s Muslims, is antithetical to civil society. A recent poll showed that thirty-six percent of British Muslims (ages 16-24) believe that a person should be killed for leaving the faith. Sixty-eight percent of British Muslims feel that their neighbors who insult Islam should be arrested and prosecuted, and seventy-eight percent think that the Danish cartoonists should have been brought to justice. And these are British Muslims.

Link: Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks

Sharia Law in the UK

BY DOUG REICH

It is reassuring to see the overwhelming backlash that occured in the wake of the Archbishop of Cantebury’s statements related to allowing Sharia law in the UK for Muslims in civil matters. However, keep in mind that historically new ideas are always at first rejected. If they are not defeated properly, that is, defeated in principle by a proper understanding and logical refutation of the underlying premises then the ideas will come back. Unfortunately, as evidenced in the linked article, the so-called critics continue to get it wrong:

The most damaging attack came from the Pakistan-born Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali. “English law is rooted in the judaeo-chrisitian tradition. It would be impossible to introduce a tradition like Sharia without fundamentally affecting its integrity.” Sharia “would be in tension with the English legal tradition on questions like monogamy, provisions for divorce, the rights of women, custody of children, laws of inheritance and of evidence. “This is not to mention the relation of freedom of belief and of expression to provisions for blasphemy and apostasy.”

Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler, a liberal who would normally be expected to defend Dr Williams, said the archbishop had been entering a minefield and added: “It will take a great deal of thought and work before I think it is a good idea. I remained to be convinced of the feasibility of the incorporation of the Sharia into the English legal system as it would raise many difficulties.” [source]

So it appears that two arguments are being made here. One argument is that the West was founded upon Christian traditions but Sharia was founded on Muslim traditions so they are in some way incompatible. The second argument made by Bishop Butler is that implementing Sharia is just not practical, i.e., he doesn’t reject the idea in principle but only needs to be “convinced of the feasibility”. These two arguments will not stop the implementation of Sharia law in the West. Rather, they will hasten it.

The “practical” problem argument is ridiculous on its face. This is like telling Socialists that the only reason you are against them is that it would be “impractical” to implement an income tax and nationalize industries. Or, it would be like telling the Nazi’s that their plan to take over the world and systematically murder millions of people is not feasible. I’m confident that Muslims so inclined would eagerly craft a “feasible” plan for implementing Sharia within the British legal system. Rejecting an evil idea on grounds of its “feasibility” and not rejecting an idea on principle is a deadly error.

The more complex argument is the claim, often repeated by conservatives on the religious right, that America and here the British common law was founded on “Judaeo-Christian values”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The concept and realization of individual rights occurred despite Christianity not because of it as I imagine Giordano Bruno, Galileo, and millions of other “heretics” persectued by the Church will attest.

If individual rights can not be supported logically then we have no chance. The argument that liberty and capitalism are based on Judaeo-Christian values is worse than no argument at all. It is not only historically inaccurate it places the basis for rights on grounds of faith based claims which are arbitrary. In fact, it can be logically demonstrated that rights are necessitated by man’s nature and necessary for our survival and happiness. The secular argument for rights has historically been associated with unreligious periods for a reason.

The best piece I have seen on this topic is “Religion vs. America” by Leonard Peikoff at: http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2page=NewsArticle&id=5360&news_iv_ctrl=1225

Dr. Peikoff traces the philosophical history of the West to show that the concepts of individual rights and the the pursuit of happiness are ideas associated with unreligious periods and statism, misery, and oppression are associated with religious periods. Dr. Peikoff writes:

What effect does this approach have on human life? We do not have to answer by theoretical deduction, because Western history has been a succession of religious and unreligious periods. The modern world, including America, is a product of two of these periods: of Greco-Roman civilization and of medieval Christianity. So, to enable us to understand America, let us first look at the historical evidence from these two periods; let us look at their stand on religion and at the practical consequences of this stand. Then we will have no trouble grasping the base and essence of the United States.

He goes on to trace the fundamental ideas of each major historical period:

Greece created philosophy, logic, science, mathematics, and a magnificent, man-glorifying art; it gave us the base of modern civilization in every field; it taught the West how to think. In addition, through its admirers in ancient Rome, which built on the Greek intellectual base, Greece indirectly gave us the rule of law and the first idea of man’s rights (this idea was originated by the pagan Stoics). Politically, the ancients never conceived a society of full-fledged individual liberty; no nation achieved that before the United States. But the ancients did lay certain theoretical bases for the concept of liberty; and in practice, both in some of the Greek city-states and in republican Rome, large numbers of men at various times were at least relatively free. They were incomparably more free than their counterparts ever had been in the religious cultures of ancient Egypt and its equivalents.

What were the practical results of the medieval approach? The Dark Ages were dark on principle. Augustine fought against secular philosophy, science, art; he regarded all of it as an abomination to be swept aside; he cursed science in particular as “the lust of the eyes.” Unlike many Americans today, who drive to church in their Cadillac or tape their favorite reverend on the VCR so as not to interrupt their tennis practice, the medievals took religion seriously. They proceeded to create a society that was anti-materialistic and anti-intellectual. I do not have to remind you of the lives of the saints, who were the heroes of the period, including the men who ate only sheep’s gall and ashes, quenched their thirst with laundry water, and slept with a rock for their pillow. These were men resolutely defying nature, the body, sex, pleasure, all the snares of this life–and they were canonized for it, as, by the essence of religion, they should have been. The economic and social results of this kind of value code were inevitable; mass stagnation and abject poverty, ignorance and mass illiteracy, waves of insanity that swept whole towns, a life expectancy in the teens. “Woe unto ye who laugh now,” the Sermon on the Mount had said. Well, they were pretty safe on this count. They had precious little to laugh about.

What about freedom in this era? Study the existence of the feudal serf tied for life to his plot of ground, his noble overlord, and the all-encompassing decrees of the Church. Or, if you want an example closer to home, jump several centuries forward to the American Puritans, who were a medieval remnant transplanted to a virgin continent, and who proceeded to establish a theocratic dictatorship in colonial Massachusetts. Such a dictatorship, they declared, was necessitated by the very nature of their religion. You are owned by God, they explained to any potential dissenter; therefore, you are a servant who must act as your Creator, through his spokesmen, decrees. Besides, they said, you are innately depraved, so a dictatorship of the elect is necessary to ride herd on your vicious impulses. And, they said, you don’t really own your property either; wealth, like all values, is a gift from heaven temporarily held in trust, to be controlled like all else, by the elect. And if all this makes you unhappy, they ended up, so what? You’re not supposed to pursue happiness in this life anyway.

There can be no philosophic breach between thought and action. The consequence of the epistemology of religion is the politics of tyranny. If you cannot reach the truth by your own mental powers, but must offer an obedient faith to a cognitive authority, then you are not your own intellectual master; in such a case, you cannot guide your behavior by your own judgment either, but must be submissive in action as well. This is the reason why–as Ayn Rand has pointed out–faith and force are always corollaries; each requires the other.

Dr. Peikoff attributes the beginning of the Renaissance to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who reintroduced Aristotelian logic into philosophy. The rebirth of interest in the ideas of the Ancient Greeks and Romans effectively ended the Middle Ages. The Magna Carta issued in 1215 and the British common law which originated in the 12th and 13th centuries were important milestones in establishing the rule of law and first steps toward undoing the absolute power of the monarch and Church. However, politically, as the Roman and Spanish Inquisition’s made clear, much of Europe and Puritan America remained in the grip of Christian theocracy. Over the next 500 years, the power of scientific discovery as evidenced in the works of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton would lead to the period known as the Age of Reason or Enlightenment. It was the gradual rejection of religious dogma in favor of reason during this period that ultimately led to the founding of America. Dr. Peikoff continues:

The consequence of this approach was the age’s rejection of all the other religious priorities. In metaphysics: this world once again was regarded as real, as important, and as a realm not of miracles, but of impersonal natural law. In ethics: success in this life became the dominant motive; the veneration of asceticism was swept aside in favor of each man’s pursuit of happiness–his own happiness on earth, to be achieved by his own effort, by self-reliance and self-respect leading to self-made prosperity. But can man really achieve fulfillment on earth? Yes, the Enlightenment answered; man has the means, the potent faculty of intellect, necessary to achieve his goals and values. Man may not yet be perfect, people said, but he is perfectible; he must be so, because he is the rational animal.

Such were the watchwords of the period: not faith, God, service, but reason, nature, happiness, man.

Many of the Founding Fathers, of course, continued to believe in God and to do so sincerely, but it was a vestigial belief, a leftover from the past which no longer shaped the essence of their thinking. God, so to speak, had been kicked upstairs. He was regarded now as an aloof spectator who neither responds to prayer nor offers revelations nor demands immolation. This sort of viewpoint, known as deism, cannot, properly speaking, be classified as a religion. It is a stage in the atrophy of religion; it is the step between Christianity and outright atheism.

This is why the religious men of the Enlightenment were scandalized and even panicked by the deist atmosphere. Here is the Rev. Peter Clark of Salem, Mass., in 1739: “The former Strictness in Religion, that . . . Zeal for the Order and Ordinances of the Gospel, which was so much the Glory of our Fathers, is very much abated, yea disrelished by too many: and a Spirit of Licentiousness, and Neutrality in Religion . . . so opposite to the Ways of God’s People, do exceedingly prevail in the midst of us.” (10) And here, fifty years later, is the Rev. Charles Backus of Springfield, Mass. The threat to divine religion, he says, is the “indifference which prevails” and the “ridicule.” Mankind, he warns, is in “great danger of being laughed out of religion.” (11) This was true; these preachers were not alarmists; their description of the Enlightenment atmosphere is correct.

This was the intellectual context of the American Revolution. Point for point, the Founding Fathers’ argument for liberty was the exact counterpart of the Puritans’ argument for dictatorship–but in reverse, moving from the opposite starting point to the opposite conclusion. Man, the Founding Fathers said in essence (with a large assist from Locke and others), is the rational being; no authority, human or otherwise, can demand blind obedience from such a being — not in the realm of thought or, therefore, in the realm of action either. By his very nature, they said, man must be left free to exercise his reason and then to act accordingly, i.e., by the guidance of his best rational judgment. Because this world is of vital importance, they added, the motive of man’s action should be the pursuit of happiness. Because the individual, not a supernatural power, is the creator of wealth, a man should have the right to private property, the right to keep and use or trade his own product. And because man is basically good, they held, there is no need to leash him; there is nothing to fear in setting free a rational animal.

This, in substance, was the American argument for man’s inalienable rights. It was the argument that reason demands freedom. And this is why the nation of individual liberty, which is what the United States was, could not have been founded in any philosophically different century. It required what the Enlightenment offered: a rational, secular context.

When you look for the source of an historic idea, you must consider philosophic essentials, not the superficial statements or errors that people may offer you. Even the most well-meaning men can misidentify the intellectual roots of their own attitudes. Regrettably, this is what the Founding Fathers did in one crucial respect. All men, said Jefferson, are endowed “by their Creator” with certain unalienable rights, a statement that formally ties individual rights to the belief in God. Despite Jefferson’s eminence, however, his statement (along with its counterpart in Locke and others) is intellectually unwarranted. The principle of individual rights does not derive from or depend on the idea of God as man’s creator. It derives from the very nature of man, whatever his source or origin; it derives from the requirements of man’s mind and his survival. In fact, as I have argued, the concept of rights is ultimately incompatible with the idea of the supernatural. This is true not only logically, but also historically. Through all the centuries of the Dark and Middle Ages, there was plenty of belief in a Creator; but it was only when religion began to
fade that the idea of God as the author of individual rights emerged as an historical, nation-shaping force. What then deserves the credit for the new development–the age-old belief or the new philosophy? What is the real intellectual root and protector of human liberty–God or reason?

— Doug Reich blogs at the The Rational Capitalist with commentary, analysis, and links upholding reason, individualism, and capitalism.

The Solution to Ilegal Immigration

Writes Harry Binswanger on The Solution to Ilegal Immigration – Capitalism Magazine:

The problem of “illegal” immigration can be solved at the stroke of a pen: legalize immigration. Screen all you want (though I want damn little), but remove the quotas. Phase them out over a 5- or 10-year period. Grant immediate, unconditional amnesty to all “illegal” immigrants.

[…]

I admire those who broke our rotten, rights-defying anti- immigration laws to come here. These brave people knew it was better to live in America under a stigma, in the semi-shadows, than as “legals” in their native countries.

The Moral and Practical Case for Open Immigration

by Harry Binswanger, Ph.D.

This is a defense of phasing-in open immigration into the United States. Entry into the U.S. should ultimately be free for any foreigner, with the exception of criminals, would-be terrorists, and those carrying infectious diseases. (And note: I am defending freedom of entry and residency, not the automatic granting of U.S. citizenship).

An end to immigration quotas is demanded by the principle of individual rights. Every individual has rights as an individual, not as a member of this or that nation. One has rights not by virtue of being an American, but by virtue of being human.

One doesn’t have to be a resident of any particular country to have a moral entitlement to be secure from governmental coercion against one’s life, liberty, and property. In the words of the Declaration of Independence, government is instituted “to secure these rights”–to protect them against their violation by force or fraud.

A foreigner has rights just as much as an American. To be a foreigner is not to be a criminal. Yet our government treats as criminals those foreigners not lucky enough to win the green-card lottery.

Seeking employment in this country is not a criminal act. It coerces no one and violates no one’s rights (there is no “right” to be exempt from competition in the labor market, or in any other market).

It is not a criminal act to buy or rent a home here in which to reside. Paying for housing is not a coercive act–whether the buyer is an American or a foreigner. No one’s rights are violated when a Mexican, or Canadian, or Senegalese rents an apartment from an American owner and moves into the housing he is paying for. And what about the rights of those American citizens who want to sell or rent their property to the highest bidders? Or the American businesses that want to hire the lowest cost workers? It is morally indefensible for our government to violate their right to do so, just because the person is a foreigner.

Immigration quotas forcibly exclude foreigners who want not to seize but to purchase housing here, who want not to rob Americans but to engage in productive work, raising our standard of living. To forcibly exclude those who seek peacefully to trade value for value with us is a violation of the rights of both parties to such a trade: the rights of the American seller or employer and the rights of the foreign buyer or employee.

Thus, immigration quotas treat both Americans and foreigners as if they were criminals, as if the peaceful exchange of values to mutual benefit were an act of destruction.

To take an actual example, if I want to invite my Norwegian friend Klaus to live in my home, either as a guest or as a paying tenant, what right does our government have to stop Klaus and me? To be a Norwegian is not to be a criminal. And if some American business wants to hire Klaus, what right does our government have to interfere?

The implicit premise of barring foreigners is: “This is our country, we let in who we want.” But who is “we”? The government does not own the country. Jurisdiction is not ownership. Only the owner of land or any item of property can decide the terms of its use or sale. Nor does the majority own the country. This is a country of private property, and housing is private property. So is a job.

American land is not the collective property of some entity called “the U.S. government.” Nor is there such thing as collective, social ownership of the land. The claim, “We have the right to decide who is allowed in” means some individuals–those with the most votes–claim the right to prevent other citizens from exercising their rights. But there can be no right to violate the rights of others.

Our constitutional republic respects minority rights. 60% of the population cannot vote to enslave the other 40%. Nor can a majority dictate to the owners of private property. Nor can a majority dictate on whom private employers spend their money. Not morally, not in a free society. In a free society, the rights of the individual are held sacrosanct, above any claim of even an overwhelming majority.

The rights of one man end where the rights of his neighbor begin. Only within the limits of his rights is a man free to act on his own judgment. The criminal is the man who deliberately steps outside his rights-protected domain and invades the domain of another, depriving his victim of his exclusive control over his property, or liberty, or life. The criminal, by his own choice, has rejected rights in favor of brute violence. Thus, an immigration policy that excludes criminals is proper.

Likewise, a person with an infectious disease, such as smallpox, threatens with serious physical harm those with whom he comes into proximity. Unlike the criminal, he may not intend to do damage, but the threat of physical harm is clear, present, and objectively demonstrable. To protect the lives of Americans, he may be kept out or quarantined until he is no longer a threat.

But what about the millions of Mexicans, South Americans, Chinese, Canadians, etc. seeking entry who are not criminal and not bearing infectious diseases? By what moral principle can they be excluded? Not on the grounds of majority vote, not on the grounds of protecting any American’s rights, not on the grounds of any legitimate authority of the state.

 

THE MORAL AND THE PRACTICAL

 

That’s the moral case for phasing out limits on immigration. But some ask: “Is it practical? Wouldn’t unlimited immigration–even if phased in over a decade–be disastrous to our economic well-being and create overcrowding? Are we being told to just grit our teeth and surrender our interests in the name of morality?”

This question is invalid on its face. It shows a failure to understand the nature of rights, and of moral principles generally. Rational moral principles reflect a recognition of the basic nature of man, his nature as a specific kind of living organism, having a specific means of survival. Questions of what is practical, what is to one’s self-interest, can be answered only in that context. It is neither practical nor to one’s interest to attempt to live and act in defiance of one’s nature as a human being.

Yet that is the meaning of the moral-practical dichotomy. When one claims, “It is immoral but practical,” one is maintaining, “It cripples my nature as a human being, but it is beneficial to me”–which is a contradiction.

Rights, in particular, are not something pulled from the sky or decreed by societal whim. Rights are moral principles, established by reference to the needs inherent in man’s nature qua man. “Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival.” (Ayn Rand)

Every organism has a basic means of survival; for man, that means is: reason. Man is the rational animal, homo sapiens. Rights are moral principles that spell out the terms of social interaction required for a rational being to survive and flourish. Since the reasoning mind cannot function under physical coercion, the basic social requirement of man’s survival is: freedom. Rights prescribe freedom by proscribing coercion.

“If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work.” (Ayn Rand)

Rights reflect the fundamental alternative of voluntary consent or brute force. The reign of force is in no one’s interest; the system of voluntary cooperation by mutual consent is the precondition of anyone achieving his actual interests.

To ignore the principle of rights means jettisoning the principled, moral resolution of conflicts, and substituting mere numbers (majority vote). That is not to anyone’s interest. Tyranny is not to anyone’s self-interest.

Rights establish the necessary framework within which one defines his legitimate self-interest. One cannot hold that one’s self-interest requires that he be “free” to deprive others of their freedom, treating their interests as morally irrelevant. One cannot hold that recognizing the rights of others is moral but “impractical.”

Since rights are based on the requirements of man’s life as a rational being, there can be no conflict between the moral and the practical here: if respecting individual rights requires it, your interest requires it.

Freedom or force, reason or compulsion–that is the basic social alternative. Immigrants recognize the value of freedom–that’s why they seek to come here.

The American Founders defined and implemented a system of rights because they recognized that man, as a rational being, must be free to act on his own judgment and to keep the products of his own effort. They did not intend to establish a system in which those who happen to be born here could use force to “protect” themselves from the peaceful competition of others.

 

ECONOMICS

 

One major fear of open immigration is economic: the fear of losing one’s job to immigrants. It is asked: “Won’t the immigrants take our jobs?” The answer is: “Yes, so we can go on to better, higher-paying jobs.”

The fallacy in this protectionist objection lies in the idea that there is only a finite amount of work to be done. The unstated assumption is: “If Americans don’t get to do that work, if foreigners do it instead, we Americans will have nothing to do.”

But work is the creation of wealth. A job is a role in the production of goods and services–the production of food, of cars, computers, the providing of internet content–all the items that go to make up our standard of living. A country cannot have too much wealth. The need for wealth is limitless, and the work that is to be done is limitless.

From a grand, historical perspective, we are only at the beginning of the wealth-creating age. The wealth Americans produce today is as nothing compared to what we’ll have two hundred years from now–just as the standard of living 200 years in the past, in 1806, was as nothing compared to ours today.

Unemployment is not caused by an absence of avenues for the creation of wealth. Unemployment is caused by government interference in the labor market. Even with that interference, the number of jobs goes relentlessly upward, decade after decade. This bears witness to the fact that there’s no end to the creation of wealth and thus no end to the useful employment of human intelligence and the physical effort directed by that intelligence. There is always more productive work to be done. If you can give your job to an immigrant, you can get a more valuable job.

What is the effect of a bigger labor pool on wage rates? If the money supply is constant, nominal wage rates fall. But real wage rates rise, because total output has gone up. Economists have demonstrated that real wages have to rise as long as the immigrants are self-supporting. If immigrants earn their keep, if they don’t consume more than they produce, then they add to total output, which means that prices fall (if the money supply is constant).

And, in fact, rising real wages was the history of our country in the nineteenth century. Before the 1920s, there were no limits on immigration, yet our standard of living rocketed upward. Self-supporting immigrants were an economic benefit not an injury.

The protectionist objection that immigrants take away jobs and harm our standard of living is a solid economic fallacy.

 

WELFARE

 

A popular misconception is that immigrants come here to get welfare. To the extent that is true, immigrants do constitute a burden. But this issue is mooted by the passage, under the Clinton Administration, of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which makes legal permanent residents ineligible for most forms of welfare for 5 years. I support this kind of legislation.

Further, if the fear is of non-working immigrants, why is the pending legislation aimed at employers of immigrants?

 

OVERCROWDING

 

America is a vastly underpopulated country. Our population density is less than one-third of France’s.

Take an extreme example. Suppose a tidal wave of immigrants came here. Suppose that half of the people on the planet moved here. That would mean an unthinkable eleven-fold increase in our population–from 300 million to 3.3 billion people. That would make America almost as “densely” populated as today’s England (360 people/sq. km. vs. 384 people/sq. km.). In fact, it would make us less densely populated than the state of New Jersey (453 per sq. km.). And these calculations exclude Alaska and Hawaii, and count only land area.

Contrary to widespread beliefs, high population density is a value not a disvalue. High population density intensifies the division of labor, which makes possible a wider variety of jobs and specialized consumer products. For instance, in Manhattan, there is a “doll hospital”–a store specializing in the repair of children’s dolls. Such a specialized, niche business requires a high population density in order to have a market. Try finding a doll hospital in Poughkeepsie. In Manhattan, one can find a job as a Pilates Method teacher or as a “Secret Shopper” (two jobs actually listed on Craig’s List). Not in Paducah.

People want to live near other people, in cities. One-seventh of England’s population lives in London. If population density is a bad thing, why are Manhattan real-estate prices so high?

 

THE VALUE OF IMMIGRANTS

 

Immigrants are the kind of people who refresh the American spirit. They are ambitious, courageous, and value freedom. They come here, often with no money and not even speaking the language, to seek a better life for themselves and their children.

The vision of American freedom, with its opportunity to prosper by hard work, serves as a magnet drawing the best of the world’s people. Immigrants are self-selected for their virtues: their ambitiousness, daring, independence, and pride. They are willing to cast aside the tradition-bound roles assigned to them in their native lands and to re-define themselves as Americans. These are the people America needs in order to keep alive the individualist, hard-working attitude that made America.

Here is a short list of some great immigrants: Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, most of the top scientists of the Manhattan Project, Igor Sikorsky (the inventor of the helicopter), Ayn Rand.

Open immigration: the benefits are great. The right is unquestionable. So let them come.

 

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is a professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. Special Offer: Dr. Binswanger moderates Harry Binswanger’s List (HBL)–an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues — a free one-month trial is available at: www.hblist.com.

Olympic Gold All Around Gymnast Paul Hamm: Only Human

By Mark Da Cunha

After three out of six rotations in the Men’s All-around Olympic Gymnastics, American gymnast Paul Hamm was ranked first place in the standings. His next event was the vault. Hamm’s vault was to be a Tsukahara–named after Japanese gymnast Mitsuo Tsukahara. It was ranked a 9.9 out of 10 for difficulty, in part because of its’ two and a half twists leading into a blind landing. No easy feat. But Hamm had never missed a vault landing in competition. Ever.

The expectation that Paul Hamm–the reigning world champion in Men’s gymnastics–was going to win the gold medal in the Men’s All-around Olympic Gymnastics was more than halfway to becoming a reality.

That expectation was shattered as Hamm crashed into the Judge’s table while stumbling during the landing on the vault. Hamm dropped from 1st to 12th place as he finished 22nd on the vault (out of 23 competitors) with a score of 9.137.

With only two events left to go, a depressed American crowd in the Olympic Hall looked on in silence. Surely Hamm’s dream of being the first American to win the Olympic all-around gold medal was over.

Or was it?

As least I thought so as I watched Hamm–the reigning world champion gymnast–ever the perfectionist, stumble as he tried to stick a landing that could have perhaps been partly saved with a small adjustment step. But Hamm is a perfectionist. He is the kind of man who pushes himself not merely to victory, but to greatness. A great gymnast does not take small adjustment steps, but sticks their landings. So rather than take a small step to prevent his fall, Hamm consciously held his feet in place in order to make a perfect landing. Unfortunately, in this one instance, the price of failing to take that small adjustment step was an even larger fall, as Hamm’s body did not obey his mental directions. Or in the gymnast’s own words, “In the air I felt fine, and then when I landed I felt weak in my legs and just lost control…”

I walked away from my television unable to watch. I do not mind seeing great athletes lose because their competitors achieved something greater. But, I hate to see an athlete lose because of the kind of mistake that an athlete of Hamm’s caliber performed. It’s like watching Pete Sampras crash out in the second round of Wimbledon to a low-ranked journeyman. That kind of stuff is not supposed to happen.

Ever since he was a young child, Hamm had “day-dreamed about winning the Olympics thousands of times.” How would you feel in such a situation? Hamm felt a huge wave of depression as he struggled to fight back tears. “I was really depressed because I thought I ruined everything with the vault” said Hamm of his psychological state after the fall.

Many a mortal at this point would have folded. But not Hamm. Rather then blaming the Athenian Gods, or complaining about the malevolence of the universe, or crying foul at being a puppet to The Fates, Hamm chose an alternate course of action: he chose to think. Hamm realized that he was the master of his destiny. The results of that philosophy brought on a new set of possibilities: he could salvage his Olympics by performing greatly in the next two rotations; he could achieve a strong finish; he could win a third-place medal. Or, in Hamm’s words, “At that point in time I decided I was going to go after the bronze medal.” (NBC)

In the face of embarrassment and failure, with the flick of a mental switch, the young American gymnast’s dreams were reborn from the ashes.

The next event for Hamm, was the parallel bars. His goal was to give it the best performance of his life. He did. With little left to lose, Hamm achieved his best score of the night on the parallel bars–a 9.837. This score moved Hamm into fourth place. Commented Hamm later, “I realized that I had brought it back from a point where I felt I had no chance…I brought it back to a point where I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going up on high bar, I have a chance to win an Olympic medal here, I’m going after it.’ That’s the mindset I went into that event with.” (NBC)

It was in the last event of the rotation–the high bar–that Hamm left the crowd, and I, nearly speechless. Where the previous gymnast spun around the bar with both hands, Hamm circled it even faster as he held on with one. The American flew through the air, effortlessly spinning around the bar while precariously attached to it by five small fingers. He was like a large planet orbiting a long cylindrical moon held to it by a string. Hamm followed the one-arm maneuver with an even more difficult one of three blind release moves as he let go of the bar only to come back and catch it as he spun around it. This time there was no string to hold the orbiting planet in place–only the laws of physics and Paul Hamm’s ability to use his mind and body to demonstrate them. All that was left was his dismount–and landing. And then–unlike the vault–Hamm stuck his landing with both arms raised proudly in the air. The crowd roared in approval.

Hamm needed a score of 9.825 to achieve gold–he scored a 9.837 in the high bar for a total score of total score of 57.823– a mere 12-thousandths of a point ahead of his closest competitor (South Korea’s Kim Dae Eun whose total score was 57.811) in the closest finish ever in Olympic Men’s Gymnastics history. Paul Hamm had pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Olympic history.

Said Hamm of his victory,

“I think I probably day-dreamed about winning the Olympics thousands of times…I did not every picture myself having a mistake and then winning. I would have loved to have finished the competition flawlessly, but at the same time it shows how strong my character was. I wasn’t going to let it go. I really had to fight for what I wanted.” (NBC)

In a world where to be “only” human is to be a “Hero” defeated by a “tragic flaw”, or a “sovereign” dictator that murders innocents, or a moocher seeking welfare off the backs of others, Paul Hamm’s quest for gold is an example of what makes a human being human: the ability to apply ones’ mind in concentrated physical effort over an extended period of time to achieve a long-range goal in the face of obstacles. Thank you Mr. Hamm for proudly demonstrating the actuality of the human potential in all of us. Be proud of your achievements–you earned them.


Update (August 21, 2004):
According to the BBC:

Three gymnastics judges were suspended on Saturday for a key scoring error which resulted in American Paul Hamm winning the men’s all-round gold. The mistake on Wednesday cost South Korean bronze medallist Yang Tae-young a tenth of a point needed to win. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) upheld the South Korea’s protest but said Hamm would keep his medal. After reviewing the results, FIG officials confirmed he should have been awarded a start value of 10. He scored a 9.712 on the event, but with the extra .1, he would have finished with 57.874 points and defeated Hamm by .051….Yang finished third, another .037 behind Kim. [BBC]

However, MSNBC reports:

The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Olympic officials said they would consider supporting South Korean officials in a bid to award duplicate gold medals to Hamm and Yang. The International Gymnastics Federation suspended the two judges who determined the start values — Benjamin Bango of Spain and Oscar Buitrago Reyes of Colombia — along with the judge who oversaw the panel, George Beckstead of the United States. But the federation said the results will not be changed. Hamm believes the problem started when FIG decided to review the videotapes of the event after the South Koreans complained. Reviewing tapes to handle protests is not allowed in international gymnastics.

…USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said he wasn’t taking a stand on whether Hamm should share the gold medal with Yang. He did, however, reiterate that he didn’t think the result should be changed. “In a sport where things are decided by thousandths of points, there are zillions of places for little mistakes,” Colarossi said. “I’m proud of Paul. I stand behind Paul.” Hamm and his coach, Miles Avery, said they looked at Yang’s routine and saw a place where he should have received a 0.2-point deduction that the judges didn’t take.

As NBC’s gymnastics commentator Tim Daggett–who reviewed the tape of Tae-Young’s parallel bar routine–showed, Tae-Young made four holds on his parallel routine as opposed to the maximum allowed: three. For this mistake, Yang Tae-Young should have received a mandatory 0.2 deduction. So even with the adjustment for the 0.1 added to his starting score, Paul Hamm would still remain the Olympic Gold medalist. Yang Tae-Young does not deserve the gold medal, Paul Hamm does.

— Mark Da Cunha is a photographer who admires heroes and seeks to learn from them.