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Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

Adam Kirsch’s NY Times oped on Ayn Rand is a perfect example of a commentator having absolutely no idea about the person he is writing about. In particular, it contains the following gem:

When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt’s speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls “a comment that became publishing legend”: “Would you cut the Bible?” […] Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life. Politically, Rand was committed to the idea that capitalism is the best form of social organization invented or conceivable. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done.

A genuine capitalist, as Rand used the term, is one who believes that two consenting adults have the right to enter into any transaction they want to.

I cannot make up my mind whether Kirsch does not understand  this or whether he is just that completely lacking in reasoning ability.

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NY Times has an article today about BB&T, a bank that has been doing remarkably well in the crisis, and its charismatic chairman and former CEO, John A. Allison, who is an ardent Ayn Rand follower. Consider these:

• In his spare time, Mr. Allison travels the country making speeches about objectivism and his bank’s distinctive philosophy.

• His bank was forced to take bailout money, even though they did not want it. He returned the money with interest. He says “Everyone thinks we got some kind of subsidy, but it’s going to cost us about $250 million for money we didn’t want.”

• Under Mr. Allison, new executives were handed a copy of “Atlas Shrugged.” All employees get a 30-page pamphlet describing BB&T’s philosophy and values: reason, independent thinking and decisions based on facts.

• After the Supreme court upheld the right of local governments in 2005 to condemn private property and hand it to someone else for commercial development, he says, BB&T refused to make loans to developers who obtained property that way.

• BB&T spends about $5 million a year to finance teaching positions and research on “the moral foundations of capitalism.”

Read more here. Actually it is interesting to read the article for another reason too, for it displays the writer’s biases oh-so-clearly. He clearly finds this whole individualism thing something of a mild curiosity not worthy of too much respect and goes into some length to emphasize that serious philosophers consider Rand irrelevant. But then, he works at the NY Times.

(Previous posts on Ayn Rand’s philosophy here)

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A few weeks ago, I linked to this story of a 22 year old female college student who took advantage of prostitution-friendly Nevada laws to auction her virginity online for $3.8 million. Her explanation?

Like most little girls, I was raised to believe that virginity is a sacred gift a woman should reserve for just the right man. But college taught me that this concept is just a tool to keep the status quo intact. Deflowering is historically oppressive—early European marriages began with a dowry, in which a father would sell his virginal daughter to the man whose family could offer the most agricultural wealth. Dads were basically their daughters’ pimps.

When I learned this, it became apparent to me that idealized virginity is just a tool to keep women in their place. But then I realized something else: if virginity is considered that valuable, what’s to stop me from benefiting from that? It is mine, after all. And the value of my chastity is one level on which men cannot compete with me. I decided to flip the equation, and turn my virginity into something that allows me to gain power and opportunity from men. I took the ancient notion that a woman’s virginity is priceless and used it as a vehicle for capitalism.

Read her whole post.

A chick that loves capitalism and has no moral qualms about selling sex. We need more people like her.

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“The financial crisis is not the crisis of capitalism. It is the crisis of a system that has distanced itself from the most fundamental values of capitalism, which betrayed the spirit of capitalism.”

Nicolas Sarkozy

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Erm..don’t panic, it is not long-term! All Starbucks stores across the country will be closed for three hours this evening to conduct an in-store education and training program for their employees.

This is how Howard Schultz (founder, chairman and CEO of Starbucks) puts it.

We will close all of our U.S. company-operated stores to teach, educate and share our love of coffee, and the art of espresso. And in doing so, we will begin to elevate the Starbucks Experience for our customers. We are passionate about our coffee. And we will revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us.

While the above quote is undeniably cheesy, Schultz, it seems, is rather passionate about the cafe experience. Having single-handedly made Americans addicted to coffee, he has nevertheless often been quoted lamenting that Starbucks has lost some of its charm as it has expanded into the behemoth that it is today.

…one of the results has been stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store. Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee. In fact, I am not sure people today even know we are roasting coffee. You certainly can’t get the message from being in our stores.

Of course, cynics will deride this as a shameless attempt to gain free publicity. While I can’t read Schultz’s mind, there are plenty of blogs out there that tell you how horible Starbucks is, so let me try and be a bit different.

I have always found it amusing how fashionable Starbucks-bashing is. There seem to be two specific accusations (beyond the general rant about capitalism, consumerism, elitism and other horrible “isms”) that people love to make.

One, Starbucks makes terrible coffee and offers a bad cafe experience.

Tastes are of course subjective and so I will only speak for myself. I find the Starbucks experience and their coffee pretty good. In fact, it is always my first choice when I want to go to a cafe to get some work done. I have tried other coffee shops, including chains like Peet’s, Seattles Best and Coffee Bean and nowhere have I found the level of comfort that I get from my neighbourhood Starbucks. In their seating arrangements, lighting, choice of music, balance between privacy and openness … Starbucks gets it right for me.

Two, Starbucks is an evil imperialist monster that ill-treats its workers and runs the local coffee shops out of business.

This is symptomatic of a wider mistrust that people have of the capitalist system, borne out of a basic misunderstanding of how such things work. For the record though, Starbucks treats its workers better than many other chains. It offers better wages and it gives health insurance, not to mention other benefits. As for local independent coffee shops, they, contrary to the claim above, thrive on the existence of Starbucks because it benefits them and drives up their business.

Of course none of this justifies how unenthusing Starbucks’ baked goods range is!

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I. 

Any one who has tried to change another person’s position on a political issue (and I use the word political in the broadest possible sense) will attest to the immense difficulty of the task. Human beings are rational creatures, or at least we like to think we are, and it is expected that two rational beings with the same set of data and the same fundamental axioms will come to the same conclusions. But we don’t, and the primary reason of course is that we don’t live by the same axioms.

That may seem strange, in view of the fact that most people value a few core ideals like freedom, happiness and social and economic well-being, but the fact is that even two people who profess the same ideology tend to put put slightly different weightages on the core components of their axioms. (Note however that I make a subtle distinction between the words axioms and ideology. Broadly speaking, the former is the set of basic assumptions that every person has within himself. They are his reasons to live, the fundamental goals that all his actions drive at. The latter is his intellectual blueprint for achieving these goals. )

Difference of axioms are often difficult to spot. Indeed all debates exist on the presumption that the participants have essentially the same axioms. So Mr. Libertarian rails on about the foolishness of socialism and the merits of free-market while Mr. Left-liberal counters him and praises eloquently the virtues of job-security and protectionism. Each thinks that his methods will make the world a better place and the other’s argument is flawed or naive. And sometimes that is indeed the case. After all, the majority of people are, to put it unkindly, not particularly smart, or have pre-existing biases which clouds their reasoning, or judge policies by their intent rather than results.

Yet there are times when two extremely intelligent and reasonable people, having the same data and having had years to chew on them, nevertheless disagree on ideology and are frustrated by the other’s failure to see the light.

Perhaps they should stand back and ask if they mean the same thing by a better place?

II.

Let me now include a simplistic summary of my own political axioms. I intend this to serve the additional purpose of being a useful reference for future posts.

The basic value I consider most important is individual freedom (using the term in a libertarian or classical liberal sense, thus it refers to negative freedom, as opposed to the so-called positive freedom). Broadly speaking, I view the rights to life, property and liberty (=to do as one pleases with life and property as long as one doesn’t initiate force that infringes upon another’s similar liberty) as natural rights, by which I mean the following : I associate a large cost factor to any law that curtails freedom, and I support such an undertaking only if it can be reasonably demonstrated that there are ample gains (enough to balance out this large cost-factor) in doing so with regards to other values (such as security, social justice, convenience or opportunity). Thus my hypothetical support for any law restricting freedom of contract will always be on pragmatic grounds – as a necessary evil. Needless to say, this account is highly simplistic, as it does not specify the size of the cost factor and more crucially, how I generally compare gains and costs with regard to different values. The reader who wishes to deduce approximately my weightages for these quantities is advised to go through all my posts ;)

There is a fine distinction between my position and more standard flavours of libertarianism. Right theorists tend to take a more moral/fundamentalist view of natural rights and are less flexible with allowances. On the other hand, consequential libertarians (like Milton Friedman, who I revere) believe that actions which maximise freedom of contract also tend to maximise other values, such as economic equality and overall happiness. Consequentialism (when well-researched and well-reasoned) is a powerful tool because it can be used to justify libertarian positions on purely utilitarian grounds. Thus consequentialist arguments are more likely to sway those who do not believe in freedom as the fundamental value. Nevertheless, I feel that an inclusion of consequentialist principles in my axioms would be a limiting force and afford me less flexibility on complex issues. If I have to label myself, I’d call myself a pragmatist libertarian.

III.

Just for the record, here are my positions on some issues.

I support:

a) Complete freedom of expression

b) (A certain level of) mandatory taxation

c) Legalization of drugs, prostitution and other victimless crimes, including the right to die.

d) Some gun-control

e) Most free-market initiatives

In the above list, a), c) and e) increase freedom, and they can also be defended on other, purely utilitiarian grounds. On the other hand, b) and d) decrease individual freedom but I support them as necessary evils. I should mention here that my support of gun control, being purely pragmatic, applies only to the present-day scenario and is based on my belief that the current costs of unlimited freedom of gun possession are sadly, too high (incidentally I differ on this point with most traditional libertarians, who oppose gun-control).

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