Prescient Ayn Rand

Today is my 500th post.  When I started Anthidote in 2006 I did quick reviews of things I liked.  That evolved into more long-form essay style posts on subject matter that interested me.  That evolved into pulling in travel photos from adventures around the world when I blended my personal blog with this one.  For the 500th post, I thought I’d make the subject matter a little bit heavier again since we’re in such an important year in the history of the USA.

I’ve been a fan of Ayn Rand since 1993 when I read Atlas Shrugged.  That book change my life and clearly it has also has an affect on millions of others as well.   In mid-July President Obama gave his now famous speech wherein he basically openly exposed his belief that the collective is more important than the individual (when if he would simply acknowledge that successful individuals freely trading with one other automatically makes for a strong collective).  It’s as if he and his like-minded crowd keep pushing on a door that is marked “pull”.

What continually amazes me is how Ayn Rand foretold so much of what is happening in the world because she had witnessed (lived it) already it first hand growing up in the old Soviet Russia, which she has described as a truly terrifying place the likes of which modern Americans have no real understanding.  How could someone born say after 1990 have any real concept of what tyranny feels like or looks like?  It’s the stuff of history books as far as they know.

There is a scene in Atlas Shrugged that is so similar to Obama’s ridiculous speech last week that I thought I’d lay the comments side by side.

Obama:

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t…. look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.” (Enthusiastic Applause from the audience.)

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t  build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Now look at this scene from Atlas Shrugged – a scene where a government “official” is stating that the smart industrialist Hank Rearden somehow doesn’t deserve credit for inventing the metal he invented.

From Atlas Shrugged:

“He didn’t invent iron ore and blast furnaces, did he?”

“Who?” 

“Rearden. He didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn’t have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His Metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything.”

She said, puzzled, “But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time. Why didn’t anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?”

Looking at Obama’s comments, he loves to talk about roads and bridges.  Is that what Obama believes is the reason people are successful?  Because the country invested in roads and bridges? A lot of countries have roads and bridges – so what?  What Obama fails to grasp is that it’s is smart, competent people that make the world a better place not only for themselves but for virtually everybody.   It’s not because their country invested in roads – hell North Korea has roads, Venezuela has roads.

The absolutely amazing thing about Atlas Shrugged is that no matter what decade you’re in, it reads like it comes straight from today’s headlines – and today more than ever unfortunately.  The good news?  At the end of the book when the government has completely screwed everything up they finally realize that the only way to set things straight again is to get out of the way and let competent individuals forge the new path (again).  It’s a mentality shift that some have made and some other haven’t.   In December 2011 I wrote a piece here on how we should be grateful for entrepreneurs instead of casting them as somehow the bad guys sticking it to everyone else.

Sticking with the “mentality shift” theme, there are two movies worth checking out before the election that shed light on the realities of the day – the first (2016 Obama’s America) dives into why Obama thinks the way he does and how he sees his mission as President to “fundamentally change the United States of America” by essentially realigning the USA in the world.  The second (Runaway Slave) deals with the black experience in America after almost 50 years of Democratic party allegiance.

2016 Obama’s America

 

Runaway Slave

I know a dentist that keeps copy of Atlas Shrugged on his front desk where the patients check in.  The deal he offers his patients is that they can take the book for free on the condition that they pass it on to someone else after they’ve read it.

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Choices

With all of the talk in the USA about the debt ceiling and pending devastation if we don’t lift it, let us remember a few things.  The Congress makes the laws and the President decides what he wants to sign or not.  Yes the USA has raised the debt ceiling before, but the problem this time is that in the past 18 months Presdient Obama has spent trillions of dollars and has pushed the country to the extremes of what it can handle. He says Bush spent to much (which he did) and then proceeds to quadruple down on Bush’s spending.

President Obama caused all sorts of additional debts and damage (his spending) then comes to the citizens of the country lecturing us on how we have to get our fiscal house in order – all the while he continues to spend and resist cuts (real cuts).

As I write this, the US House of Representatives has passed a measure to cut and cap spending and balance the budget.  If that Bill makes it to the President, the choice is his and his alone to sign it or to not sign it.

If nothing happens and the USA does in fact hit the debt ceiling, it is not the beginning of the problem – it’s actually the beginning of the end of the problem because it will be at that point that the USA has no choice but to start actually cutting spending.  The law of tha land will be the debt ceiling level and if Obama chooses to exceed it on his own or otherwise, he bears the responsiblity.  When Obama comes out and says that seniors won’t get their checks, or that military people won’t get paid, this is a.) his choice and b.) blantant pandering.

The President can CHOOSE to start cutting useless spending and keep critical spending in place.  He can easily make sure the interest on the debt gets serviced first, that medicare and the like get covered, and that military families are covered – but unfortunately the programs for Cowboy Poetry that Harry Reid thinks are so critical (see above video) are just going to have to go.  That and the literally tens of thousands of other wasteful programs that government has no business being in.

As far as I’m concerned, the House has done it’s job and has passed a bill that cuts spending.  If we go to the brink, it will be because the President of the USA wants to.  He comes to the American people everyday telling us about the looming catastrophe, but when he is presented with a solution to avoid it he refuses it.

What kind of change would I like to see in the world in 2011?

Going into the new year, I have given some thought to what sort of change I would like to see in the world in 2011 and beyond and as always in line with the theme of rational thinking and living well, I’d like to share the following.

On Government:

I would like to see people worldwide finally understand that they should not look to government to solve every aspect of their lives.  Governments by and large ultimately do more harm than good in most cases because politicians seem to always not see the unintended consequences of their decisions.

We need limited government in our lives not ubiquitous government.  Particularly in the USA we have a Constitution that gives specific and enumerated abilities to Congress and no more.  Our American government today is in some cases so far beyond the scope of what is supposed to do that it is criminal.

The default nature of man is freedom.  Governments get in the way of freedom.  Even “free” governments like here in the USA are far from it (you’re going to tell me how much salt I can eat and what kinds of light bulbs I can have in my house?)  Why?  What business is is of a bureaucrat thousands of miles away to determine what my diet should be like?

In 2010 we’ve seen government stick its fingers into almost every aspect of our lives from healthcare to banking to industry to regulations (and over regulations).  The fact of the matter is that the less government in your life the better your life.  Look at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Certain politicians like Barney Frank fought for these institutions to loan money to people that could not pay these loans back and caused the entire housing market to collapse.

Government has no business being in the arts, nor bailing out automobile companies or taking over insurance companies, nor regulating how many men or women or white or black people there must be at some office or school – just to name a few.

Governments waste more money they you can even imagine.  You work, you pay your taxes, and then your government thinks it is an appropriate use of your taxes to fund the most ridiculous projects from Alaska to Florida and beyond.  Why you should have to be forced to fund projects that have nothing to do with the proper and legitimate function of your government?

The change I would like to see in 2011 is that more and more people continue to understand that they can vote out of office and out of power those who do not serve the country properly.  November 2010 was a great start and in 2012 a good 30% of the Senate is up for reelection – as is Barack Obama (who I firmly believe and hope is destined to become a one term President)

On Barack Obama:

How can I not mention Barack Obama specifically?  We’ve just been through two years under the “leadership” of Barack Obama ans it has been utterly shameful if not outright disastterous.

When he was running for office he talked about “Hope” and he talked about “Change”.  They were empty platitudes and millions of people looked up to this man as the white knight that was going to “save” America.  Remember this video?

We were warned about him time and again but it was useless, he was going to win the race and become President.  He promised to “fundamentally transform” America and many Americans thought that this meant for the better (who wouldn’t?).  I mean any Presidential candidate that says he wants to change America surely means for the better right?  Not in the case of Obama….you have to keep in mind his point of reference.  He is such a non-fit for the office of President of the USA and he is such a non-fit in terms of syncing with the psyche of the American that he almost seems like a trojan horse, put there seemingly as a thoughtful leader who ultimately and deliberately undermines what makes America exceptional.

When Rush Limbaugh famously said that “I hope he fails” when he was asked about the new President he was excoriated but he was dead on.  When your agenda is redistribution of wealth and equality simply for the sake of it not by helping to raise the bottom but instead by lowering the top, he must fail indeed.

Ironically the best thing that may have ever happened to the USA in recent times is the election of Barack Obama.  Only thanks to him have the American people woken up in droves and have started to understand that elections have consequences.  Only thanks to Barack Obama have Americans started to actually take a look at what are the specific and enumerated powers that the Constitution gives to Congress.

Thankfully as we’ve seen in the recent November mid-term elections, the tide is turning.  Barack Obama had two virtually uninterrupted years with full control of the House, the Senate and the White House to jam his insane policies down the throats of all Americans whether we wanted it or not (Obamacare for example).  Kings do that, not Presidents.  Thanks to Obama and specifically thanks to his maniacal drive for socialized medicine, Americans have seen the light and understand that there is no free lunch, nor should there be.   I saw a billboard over Christmas that said “It’s We The People, Not You The President”.  That sort of nails it.

In short, I think Barack Obama is undermining the United States and is trying to remake it in his version of how things should be completely disregarding the Constitution and millions of Americans who want nothing of his program.  Let’s hope that 2011 brings more of the course correction as the next Presidential election will start to heat up this year and there are millions of Americans who are highly motivated to make Obama the next Carter.

On Taxes:

Taxes are too high and the money that is collected is used for too many wasteful projects.  Taxes represent your time and life and in the USA you have to work approximately to May 1st to cover your tax bill.  That’s 5 months.  There are taxes in everything from gasoline to property to hotel stays and on and on.  And that’s on top of the income tax.

I would love to see 2011 be there year that people in the USA understand that taxing income is a losing game.  The more you tax income the less achievement you get.  All politicians know this – even Barack Obama knows this – so much does he know this that when asked about how to get more revenue into the government he responded with an answer to the effect that of course lowering income taxes will generate more revenue for the government, but he wants to “even the playing field”.

Politicians use taxes as a mean to control behavior – buy this car or that HVAC system and get a tax write off.  Contribute here but not there and get a tax write off.  It goes on and on.  If we can get off the income tax system and onto a consumption tax system we can still cover the revenue needed while taking the power out of the hands of politicians to control behavior.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you earned $10,000 and you kept it all?

I heard Obama say that he thinks we should give tax breaks like student loan forgiveness to people who go into public service.  Why?  What is so special about going into public service?  You go into a place for the taxpayers have to support you and that’s supposed to be lauded?  How about if we give tax breaks to entrepreneurs that employ others?  It creates jobs, grows the economy, and doesn’t lean on the taxpayer.  It seems that our tax system is all upside down – there are 54,000 pages in the US Tax Code.  WTF? – we need 54,000 pages to set up a system of funding the government?

On Fairness

2010 seemed to be the year of discussing fairness.  What is fair, what is not fair.  Seemingly everywhere we turned we got some earful about how wealth is unequally distributed (as if wealth is not earned but doled out from some central source).  We heard about how it’s not fair that some people have millions of dollars while others work three jobs.  We heard it was not fair that some CEO makes tens of millions of dollars while the lowest employee on the payroll earns so much less.

I’d rather ask it the other way around.  Is it “fair” that we should tax you more because you’re capable of producing more?  What is fair about that?  Is it fair that we should tax the founder of some company that employs a hundred people more simply because he made it?  Is it fair that we should assume that the weight of responsibility on the CEO equal to that of the lowest employee on the payroll.  Why does the CEO of Exxon earn what he earns?  Could it be because he’s worth it?  Could you handle that gig? Think about it.  Instead of wealth envy, how about considering the fact that these situations almost always involve private companies with private citizens with private boards of directors that decide how their officers are to be compensated.  How in the world does that affect you or anyone?  You may think some people are paid too much but a.) it’s none of your business and b.) if he or she was not worth it their boards would resolve that fast.

I”ll tell you what’s not fair.  That the CEO of Fannie Mae, an organization funded by taxpayers that all but decimated the USA economy saw it’s CEO rake in $90 million in compensation while sending millions of dollars in campaign contributions to lawmakers – and the top 3 to receive these funds where no less than Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, and John Kerry – the three guys who are always telling the rest of us what is fair and what is not.  Where is the outrage here?  Politicians are always telling us that big evil corporations that are not public entities are evil but somehow they miss this one.

What’s fair is to leave people alone to achieve what they can achieve and not penalize them for achieving more.  It is not fair to confiscate from the capable just because they’re capable.  If you steal $100 off the kitchen table of your neighbor you’re a thief but if you use the tax code to do the exact same thing somehow you’re compassionate.  Sorry, I don’t think so.

On Social Security:

Social Security is nothing less than a ponzi scheme.  What social security does to people is exactly the same as Bernie Madoff did to his investors – take in money from new “investors” and pay back earlier investors when they need the cash back.  The difference is Bernie Madoff is in jail for 150 years and the politicians that starting robbing and continue robbing the social security funds are not in jail.  You tell me why not?  You tell me what exactly is the difference in systems?

What I hope for in 2011 is that more American understand how they are being screwed by this system more so than perhaps any other program in government.

People get all bent out of shape when gas costs $4 a gallon or when is costs $2 at the ATM but they don’t flinch when 15% of their lives are confiscated from them in this ponzi scheme.  Here’s hoping more and more of us put more pressure on the politicians to kill off this dreadful program which when you think about it is more social insecurity than security.  Let’s set a line in the sand even if it’s 25 years from now that at X date this system dies.  Let’s keep the promises to those that have been made promises and let not subject the next generation to this hideous program.

If you were simply permitted to keep the money that is confiscated from you for FICA and instead you invested it yourself as you saw fit, you would surely come out ahead.  Social security is a scam and we’re all being had.  That’s change I’d like to see.

On Employment:

Who owns the job at a company?  You or the company?  People always talk about some company moving their jobs overseas.  The jobs belong to the company, not the person doing the job.  If the company wants to move 100 jobs from one country to another perhaps because taxes are too high, that is their prerogative.  Sure it sucks if you’re the one losing the role but the job holders should not get mad at the company but instead get mad at the politicians who create such an environment where a company needs to relocate tasks and talent.

Who wouldn’t love it if more jobs stayed in the USA and supported local economies?  But when companies are taxed too much they look for greener pastures.  Governments that want to keep employment high would be wise to keep taxes low.  Voters that like employment would be wise to vote in politicians that give plenty of reasons for companies to locate in the USA.  If the USA would lower the corporate tax rate, we would see overseas companies put more offices and facilities in the USA as well.

Politicians talk about creating jobs.  Let’s hope 2011 is the year we get the ball rolling so that more people understand that governments do not create jobs, individuals do.  The best way forward for job growth is to get government out of the way and let the private market flourish.  The more the government twists and turns their knobs, the more it screws things up and the less motivated employers are to invest and expand.

On Health:

Here’s hoping that more and more people enjoy a healthier life by cutting out so much of the crap that they currently consume.  The American diet is horrendous.  Walk into almost any major supermarket and look around.  You will see row after row of processed foods in boxes, frozen pre-cooked crap full of chemicals that just get microwaved.  All crap.  The fresh produce section is some small corner of the store with barely anything fresh.  Americans by and large are overweight and under exercised.  This of course leads to higher medical costs, high rates of diabetes, higher insurance costs, and an generally unhealthy populations.  I recently read that in America today if you take 3 people 1 of them now weighs as much as the other two….  think about that.

It would be great in 2011 to see more of us kick the habit of processed foods (high fructose corn syrup – how nasty is this stuff at why the fuck is it in almost everything?) as much as possible, slim down a bit, cut out so many unnecessary medications, and rev up a healthy and productive lifestyle for all.  We do have a choice in what we ingest.  Where do you think a lifetime of eating crap all the time leads to?

On Retirement:

I feel sorry for the baby boomers now going into their sixtes or beyond that have lost 30% or 40% of their wealth over the past decade.  They’ve worked are their whole lives and did it “right” only to get stuck on the last mile.  The stock market is up something like 2% since 2000 and millions of people that were told to sock it all away in stock and then pull it out later were given lazy advice.

A much better approach for those that can do it is to deal in high cash value life insurance and it’s almost always discouraged by traditional financial planners who don’t seem to really get it.  The earlier you get involved with this I think the better but you can do it at almost any age.    Most people think they need to spend as little as possible on a premium and get as much death benefit as possible with it (think term insurance).  When using whole life insurance as a means of preparing for the future, you do exactly the opposite – you don’t need the huge death benefit when you’re 35 or 40 – you need it when you’re 70 or 80.  So use your most productive years to fund the crap out the policy to build up a solid base that pays dividends and is also a great fall-back if the shit hits the fan (you can always cash it out if you had to).

Take someone that is in their 30’s or 40’s.  They can go out and get a $5000 a year premium on a whole life policy and overfund it with paid up additions in some cases as much as 3x face value.  Do this for 10 years and you’ll be in a position to be essentially your own banker, with a high cash value that you can use to fund other income producing activities (such as rental property) while also taking the appreciation and depreciation on property— all the while building a substantial death benefit that you can leave to your kids tax free – unlike your IRA’s and 401ks.

I’ll cover this subject more in 2011 but for now suffice it to say that when it comes to how to plan for retirement, most of us get bad advice.  Check out this book for great initial info on this subject:

Learning to Avoid Unintended Consequences

On Religion:

This is a touchy subject for so many.  Suffice it to say that all over the world people are killing each other and having insane debates about ancient texts that were essentially written by what would be by today’s standards very uneducated men.  Wherever I travel around the world I see the effects of religion on whole populations and it is a very high wall to knock down.

Let’s see 2011 be the year where more and more people realize that while religion offers many good things to many people, we simply do not need religion to be moral or good.  Religion is a tool of control worldwide and the more you travel the more you will see and understand this.

As Sam Harris so sublimely put it in his book The End of Faith – [paraphrasing] let’s hope the gods of today go the way of Zeus and Apollo or else we’re all screwed.

On the USA:

I think and hope the USA is going through its most cathartic period ever.  We can see clearly what the score is, who’s making the rules and for who’s benefit.  We can see that socialistic systems not only are not American but they also do not work.  We’ve seen it overseas for decades and the results are now on our doorstep.  Greece, Spain, Italy et al – beautiful places all but terrible social systems and the results are now laid bare before the whole world to see.  Is that want we want?  More people than ever on are food stamps in America – is that what we want? Is this really the direction our government thinks is the right way to go?

I’d like to suggest that we think about our selves the way we’re told to handle emergencies on airplanes.  I wrote a short piece on this in 2008 that basically observed that we should first strive to take care of ourselves and then help our fellow man.  The greatest honor you can give your fellow human being is to not be a burden on his life.

The whole thing is cyclical – a society is a group of individuals working together and trading together.  What would be nice is that we here in America are finally seeing what the world looks like if we weaken the individual instead of empowering him to be his best on his own terms.  Let’s make the 2011 the year of less government and more empowerment of each individual.   Working in groups is great (and needed) but groups are made of individuals and you can’t have a strong group without strong individuals.

On sex

Have more sex in 2011 and you’ll be happier and healthier – (yeah Tony – no shit).  Read these two books for a great way to see things in what might be a new way for you.

Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex

Mating in Captivity

On the World:

People always talk about peace on Earth and in the age of the internet it is easy to see in real time what’s going on everywhere.  Who doesn’t want peace on Earth?  Let’s see us pull out troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and let the Middle East solve the problems of the Middle East.  Everyone who goes in to Afghanistan gets sucked into a no-win quagmire for years – and especially with the person we have in office at the moment our poor troops are fighting for sure a losing game.  Yes I’m sure we have strategic interests in natural resources there with pipelines crossing from one part of Asia to another but it’s time for a readjustment in the world of us not having to police the world.  I’d rather see our troops on the US borders frankly and us mining our own natural resources here a bit more.

Also, instead of politicians and governments making promises they cannot keep (or should not be promising in the first place) let’s try to push a more enlightened education of people everywhere to understand that they are sovereign individuals and not part of this group or that group.  Let’s see us use the web more to spread education and possibility.  I read recently that there are 240 million people in the USA on the internet and 420 million in China online (and that is only about 30% penetration for China’s population).

People everywhere can now see what works and what doesn’t when in comes to social systems and power grabs by politicians (Venezuela anyone? – There’s a lesson in how to destroy a country in under 10 years).

Let’s hope that 2011 and beyond will see more focus on the importance of the individual and less importance on the group.  Group mentality is mob mentality.  Let’s see more focus on pride in a job well done instead of people thinking that they must turn to government for their every need.  Let’s work to vote into elected office people who understand that they are not there to do as they please but do as they should.  Let’s see in 2011 if more people can spread the word and the idea that the best way for people to grow and achieve is with government mostly out of the way instead of at every turn.

Here’s to a healthy, prosperous, and sane 2011.  All the best to you.

Tony

The Party of No

I was in the car listening to NPR and there was an interview between the host and two people who were complaining that the Republicans have just been the party of “no” for the past two years and that if the Senate remains next week with a Democratic majority and the House goes Republican that the Republicans are going to have to stop just being the party of no for the sake of no.

I don’t think so.  You don’t say “yes” just so its not a “no” if what it is you’re voting on is a bad idea time after time.  If you are presented with virtually nothing but what you think are bad ideas, why would you agree to them just for the sake of agreeing to them?

Would you agree to drive your car off the cliff just so you weren’t called the person of “no”?

What if you were presented with nothing but “drive the car off the cliff” choices time after time, would that make you hard headed to say no just for the sake of it?  No, you say no for a reason.

The past two years, rationally speaking, has been about containing damage.  There is absolutely no reason to cooperate with people that are hell bent on destruction.  You don’t vote with them, you vote against them.  You don’t cooperate, you block, you don’t quietly sit there, you shine a light on the matter.

The premise of the question is wrong.  Since President Obama’s election, and in fact well before that even, the Democrats have been the majority in Congress.  So why all the complaining by the Left?  For the past two years the Left has had all the votes they needed in both houses of Congress plus the White House to pass anything they wanted to pass without any help whatsoever by the Republican in Congress.  So why all the anger?  What gives?

The question in the NPR interview could have also been asked like this.  “Why does President Obama and the Congress continue to propose ideas and legislation that are destructive to the country?  Why have the Democrats blocked the Republicans from contributing their ideas to the agenda?  Do they like to be seen as the party of no?”

The NPR interview had the interviewer asking the genius on the other end if the Republican controlled House would just stop saying no and would start to go along with Obama on important matters.  The answer is that Obama is not going to change, he is who he is.  You don’t “go along” to get along, you contain him, you prevent him from going down the path he wants to force on the country, and you vote him out in two years and relegate him to a nothing but a blip on the timeline of history.

President Obama is an egomaniac, has not the character for the office, could care less about what makes America exceptional, has a chip on his shoulder that he was sent there to make things right, and if you ask me is frankly a trojan horse.  The party of no is actually the party of “yes”.