Audio: The Moral Case for Capitalism with Yaron Brook

Yesterday was a productive day for Libertarian Home topped off nicely with an evening lecture at the LSE by Dr Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute (hashtag #LSEcapitalism). As regular readers will know, I regard myself as an Objectivist (though some more dogmatic Objectivists would want to disown me) so this was quite special for me. I was also able to grab the speaker from his extensive extra Q&A in the corridor at LSE and take him over to the London Ayn Rand Meetup, which is a relatively new meetup that I would like to see grow. I think some of you would agree, which is presumably why I found you there.

Yaron received an impressively warm welcome, which is nice to see, the crowd at the LSE was more mixed. It’s important that we make VIP’s like Dr Brook feel welcome, and like there is an activist base in Europe they are able to work with. I do hope everyone had a great evening quizzing Yaron after I left.

Before continuing, I suggest you grab headphones or shut the door or whatever and start up the following audio. This is my quick scruffy badly encoded iPhone grab of the lecture. The official LSE podcast promises better.

Yaron’s basic argument is familiar to anyone that has looked him up on YouTube, and this recording promises little new. His delivery last night though was clear passionate and laced with engaging humour and semi-rhetorical questions. It was powerfully done. If you’d like to get the most of listening to his delivery, I would certainly suggest waiting for the superior audio. It does not come across especially well on my scruffy echoey version.

The argument is like this: history tell us that capitalism is bloody wonderful. It’s not exactly the best thing since sliced bread – it preceded sliced bread by 150 years and enabled it’s creation. It also enabled us to see at night, to be spared hours of repetitive labour, to really gain the majority of all the luxuries of today in a very very short period by historic standards. This is one reason to think that capitalism should be a really popular idea. It is not.

Economics tells us that capitalism is great and that planned economies are simply not possible. It tells us that it is stupid to flog that particular dead-horse, yet flogged it is, and the blood on the pavement is that of the poor vulnerable and sick that were not saved (this is my imagery, Dr Brook was not quite as graphic). It also explains why, as a solution to information gathering, communication and decision making problems capitalism works wonders (again not explored in any depth by Dr Brook). Rather than going to detail with the LSE audience he simply argued that the award winning economists on the side of free markets have good solid explainations for it’s success. Yet this is not that popular either. Despite all the libertarians coming to the movement via Mises and Hayek, the mainstream dismisses this.

Yaron Brook LSE Talk

Yaron argues that our objection to capitalism is based on a moral stance against self-interest. Because trade works on account of mutual self-interest, because it generates “win-win” outcomes, Yaron said we clearly identify traders as self-interested, and correctly so. Yet our moral code, taught to us by family and religion, is that selfless behaviour is a virtue. Yaron named some religions that do this, but I don’t think he meant to blame them exclusively since, in the corridor, he later spoke about the New Atheists in similar terms. The point is that the moral consensus is that selflessness is good and selfishness is bad. Though traders are really self-interested in the sense of seeking their private flourishing – something we all seek – Yaron argued that the package deal of that kind of self-development with “lying cheating S.O.Bs” is enough to cause society to distrust businessmen as a group, as if they were all crooks we are yet to catch.

Dr Brook ended the talk by describing two of the seven objectivist virtues. He argued that rationality was the source of all human value. We “suck as a species” when it comes to downing buffalo and taking on sabretooth tigers. All our achievements, from the time of savages with spears, to the computers of the information age, come from our minds, from observing reality and forming strategies to deal with it. This is how Yaron justified the second Objectivist virtue – honesty – because if your survival and flourishing has always been dependant on dealing with facts then dealing with lies is a foolish and wasteful strategy.

This focus on rationality is also the source of the one anti-value that Yaron described – force. He showed that force, be it a gun to the head or a Government regulation, negates reason and rationality. It denies us our autonomy and forces us to respect an authority, even if we think it is wrong. It is this that we ought to be extracting from society – coercion in all it’s forms – and instead we should focus on helping each other to be rational and learning how to apply that, because from rationality and self-interest all else follows.



UPDATE: The LSE podcast is now online, the Q&A (the official one) begins at 46:30


  1. My experience with Yaron Brooks was the exact opposite. I was quite sympathetic towards Ayn Rand when I came to this country. Although the idea of absolute objective truth never made sense to me. But I liked Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. However, when I moved to London one of the first ‘libertarians’ that I met was a group of die hard objectivists that invited me to a talk of Yaron Brooks. Topic was natural rights. He started to give a good talk on why you have rights by natural and not by the government. But then in the Q&A he got asked about foreign politics and he totally lost it. He argued that the problem with the war on terror is that the west is not killing enough people. Because, you see those arabs are very irrational and they are all collectively responsible for the crimes of their governments and islamists. Therefore, they deserve to die and we should just nuke them. I have never been so disgusted by a speaker than at that moment. And to my surprise my objectivist friends cheered all these opinions of him. That is the problem. If you think you are objectively right, why continue to argue or make compromises. Why not simply spread the objective truth with violence. But of course he did not even seem to realize that what he said about arabs was the total contradiction to his talk he just gave on individual rights. So he was totally irrational. I don’t believe in objectivity. That is why I do not believe in a black and white view of the world. That is the only reason I haven’t given up on Ayn Rand. But Yaron Brooks is the best example of her philosophy going very very wrong in my view.



    1. I agree to an extent. The objectivist foreign pooicy does seem to slip into methodological collectivism which sees them make an apparent reversal on collective punishment. It seems to be driven by the desire to undermine competing ideological communities that offer a physical threat. This is only valid for an American frame of reference that includes the notion that your state is founded on an idea, which it was, but again does not seem to justify collective punishment of other states’ citizens (a possible exception is if they are founded on an ideology, but it is still very weak given the consequences).

      Mostly I ignore the foreign policy, but did listen to Yaron duke it out in the corridor Q&A, and found him to be both softer (not calling for the nuking of anyone) and more reasoned, focusing as he did on the fact that terror groups get funding from certain states and we need to cut off that support.



  2. Well that’s that’s the great thing about objectivism, your going to have different points of view on matters which are complex.

    But I don’t think that either are you are really doing justice to his stance of war. You seem to be seeing something you find unpleasant and trying to fathom a way around it.

    If government is a product of the people then it is the peoples responsibility to ensure they are not electing dictators or tyrants. Perhaps nukes broad in use and lack specificity, but if the government’s responsibility is to keep each and every single life free from coercion, then that means responding to threats against those lives they are to protect.

    If a culture or a country shows a general trend of violence against the people you are employed to defend- you fight back, you do what it takes to send a clear and firm message to the culture, that the only death it has the right to call for is its own.

    It may sound harsh out of context, but in the context of saving your life, the lives of your friends and family, it’s important, it’s vital.

    But in sure you heard this stance before, sure I won’t be convincing you any time soon.

    Nice blog by the way, think I sat next to you at the talk.



    1. “If a culture or a country shows a general trend of violence against the people you are employed to defend- you fight back, you do what it takes to send a clear and firm message to the culture, that the only death it has the right to call for is its own.

      It may sound harsh out of context, but in the context of saving your life, the lives of your friends and family, it’s important, it’s vital.”

      No it is not. It is pure collectivism and therefore the opposite of individual rights. People have no responsibility for what governments are doing. Not even in a democracy and certainly not in a dictatorship. If that was the case, well then 9/11 was more then justified. All those people in the twin towers were guilty of the horrible crimes the US is committing around the world for decades. I will not commit to this perverse logic. It is the logic of collectivists and terrorists. Sure you can defend yourself. But self defence needs to be both not preemptive and proportionate.



  3. I feel that there’s been a misunderstanding over the “collectivist” vs “individualistic” moral debate, and Yaron Brooks clarified to me where this misunderstanding finds its roots.

    He explains: “we are taught that…being ‘selfless’ is being moral. Capitalism is founded on self-interest, the opposite of being ‘selfless’. Therefore capitalism must be morally wrong.” Critics of Libertarianism often state that we’re advocates of a ruthless, dog-eat-dog world where we only care about ourselves and not others.

    This is a huge misunderstanding.

    The Christian institutions have made a blunder in preaching “selflessness” as being synonymous with “self denial”. Two different things. What fallacy.
    The Gospel of Thomas accounts for some of Jesus’s teachings. Shame this Gospel wasn’t included in the Bible:

    Loving yourself and loving others is one and the same. Loving others begins with knowing yourself.

    If you know yourself; you’d know that bringing happiness to others makes you feel good: You’d know that being loved by family and friends is vital to your own happiness: That, essentially, caring about others is in your best interest not because it’s morally right, but because it makes you feel good. Doesn’t it? No man is an island.

    And if you look truthfully into yourself you’ll also notice things you don’t like about yourself (because who’s without fault?), and if you can accept, forgive, and love yourself even as you understand your own hatefulness (or whatever it is), then, (according to the Tao te Ching, Krishnamurti, Osho, Gospel of Thomas, etc) those things which you don’t like about yourself naturally fall away like a shadow, and somehow you end up loving and accepting everybody, faults and political affiliations and Arab terrorists and all.

    One of the things that the Tao says, is not to judge the action, nor the consequences of that action, but see the intent behind that action. It also says, who are you to judge?

    How will you know another person’s intent? Are you aware of your own intentions? We have no right to judge others, no more than any government or any institution does.

    Such spiritual awareness as these teachers are talking about, can’t be enforced on anyone. Truth is only learnt through experience, via nobody else but that individual. That’s why Libertarianism is the closest thing to the best form of governance. It trusts the individual to make his own mistakes and learn Truth, as long as (s)he doesn’t infringe on the right of others.

    The danger of rationalism is to get pedantic, leading to extreme conclusions.

    facts and truth – (Fact is one specific aspect of reality, truth points to the morphing, ephemeral nature of reality. It’s easy to get pedantic when talking about facts. There’s more to truth than any one set of facts can elucidate).



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