Hiwa Alaghebandian, who professes to be “an avid follower” of this blog, added the video links below to a comment to the recently published anti-capitalist manifesto, asking whether I’d consider publishing them. Well, here they are.
The videos represent the view of the Cato Institute which, despite a few ‘progressive’ elements in the Institute’s thinking, it is a conservative think tank; it is important to keep that in mind when watching them (for some background on the Institute’s philosophy go to the end of the video listing).
For example, if you believe in minimal government, one that should not provide free education, health care and social benefits to the disadvantaged, you will also see no reason why governments should have a high tax base. If it does though, and you also also happen to believe that wealth is created through the ingenuity of the individual entrepreneurial spirit and not, for example, also because others work for him or her, then you will also believe that these magnificent beings have a right to protect what they think is justly theirs. And if a government is so ignorant and doesn’t want to honour such astounding and fabulous individuals, for example by not taxing ‘their’ fruit at all or at the most just a tiny bit, it will seem only fair that these shining representatives of humankind go to places with a low or no tax base to stash away their wealth.
But that’s not the end of the story; it important to understand the thinking behind it and to realise that, apart from some ludicrous arguments put forward in these videos (like tax haven help people in oppressive societies to safekeep their money), many make sense within their philosophical context. It’s the philosophy we need to critically reflect on.
One of it’s assumptions is that there is an objective reality out there to which we gain access through our senses. In that process we gain knowledge through forming concepts and applying logic. The second assumption is not that we gang together and learn and grow together, but that we are driven by rational self-interest in our pursuit of happiness. In other words: our morality is one of selfishness. We are born as individuals, learn as individuals, face a world full of individuals, and reap the benefits or misfortune of our actions as individuals. In this world it’s each for oneself.
This in turn means that we need a social and political system that is consistent with this morality, ie one that puts the respect of individual rights over the respect of collective rights, and that provides a laissez fair economic environment (capitalism, free market, unfettered liberalisation, etc.). This philosophy of objectivism, developed by Ayn Rand, elevates the free individual’s activities to a level of artistry: he (mostly, of course ;)) ingeniously reproduces objective reality in new ways, transforming what could be described as exploitation of his workers into HIS work of art, thus generating for example personal wealth, which in turn might be expressed in the grand architecture of his mansion or the multi-million dollar paintings on his wall by another kind of individual artist.
In this worldview there is neither place for creative collaboration nor for social justice, the plight of the poor and disadvantaged or the questioning of the defensibility of financial scams that make billions for a few and bring the rest of the world to its knees by destroying economies, robbing millions of people of their life savings and making millions more lose their jobs. That’s simply seen as part of life and the fault of those who lose because in the objectivist’s dreamworld everyone has the same rights, the same chances, the same possibilities and opportunities. And, of course, not everyone can be a great artist. Therefore those who are should be rewarded, for example by gaining access to tax havens – to shield their money from the lesser geniuses, the unskilled and non-glamourous but parasitic masses.
Watch with discretion!
The Cato Institute promotes traditional ideas of market liberalisation, celebrates entrepreneurialism and individual liberty, advances the notion of limited government and has joined the climate skeptics brigades. Its philosophical roots stretch as far back as to the liberal tradition of John Locke and Adam Smith, while its newer ones connect it to the works of Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, James M. Buchanan, of course Ayn Rand, but surprisingly also John Rawls.
It seems though that the Institute doesn’t toe the neocon line of the Thatcher & Reagan era anymore after being its past its standard bearer. It also promotes some progressive views on civil liberties, like the support for liberal immigration laws and equal rights for gays and lesbians, while supporting part-privatisation of social security. The Institute has been critical too of the Bush/Cheney foreign policy and their war in Iraq, Clinton’s war in Haiti and Kosovo, G.H.W. Bush’s 1991 Gulf War and, while supportive of the what seemed to be the removal of al Qaeda and the Taliban, it doesn’t advocate an open-ended, indefinite war in Afghanistan. None of these ‘progressive’ views of course contradict objectivism – why wouldn’t the artisan of life want to make his/her dough in peace, or why shouldn’t a gay or lesbian be able to express his/her individuality?
Cato scholars ague in favour of policies that advance ‘individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.’ They are libertarian in their policy positions, typically advocating diminished government intervention in domestic, social, and economic policies and decreased military and political intervention worldwide. Specific policy proposals advanced by Cato scholars include such measures as abolishing the minimum wage, reforming illegal-drug policies, eliminating corporate welfare and trade barriers, diminishing federal government involvement in the marketplace and in local and state issues, enhanced school choice, abolishing government-enforced discrimination, including both traditionally conservative racial profiling and traditionally liberal affirmative action, and abolishing restrictions on discrimination by private parties [wikipedia].