Andrew Bernstein’s London Speaking Tour

While Objectivist speakers are not a rare sight in London, this week will see one of the most ambitious endeavours to bring Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and the various ways in which it can be applied to our lives, to audiences throughout the capital. Dr. Andrew Bernstein, one of the leading experts on Miss Rand’s philosophy, will embark on a week-long speaking tour, giving talks at seven events over the course of seven nights.

Dr. Bernstein is the author of several books, most notably The Capitalist Manifesto, in which he presents not merely the practical arguments for liberty with which we’re all familiar, but the moral foundations on which it rests, and which so many attempts to promote free market ideas lack. His full biography is available on his website.

The first of Dr. Bernstein’s talks, Sunday at the Admiralty (tonight 19th Feb) in Central London, will present The Trader Principle, the idea that a proper human exchange involves trading value for value, as opposed to one side coercing or defrauding the other, or the notion that life is a zero-sum game.

On Monday, in a special Libertarian Home event, Dr. Bernstein will give a talk titled Religion Versus Morality, in which he will argue that not only does religion not lay the foundations for a valid code of ethics, it is in fact its antithesis. You can purchase Live Stream access to this event, if you are not able to travel to London.

The Moral Basis of Capitalism, a talk based on The Capitalist Manifesto, will be delivered twice: Tuesday, at the London Philosophy Club, and Friday, at the LSE Hayek Society. As the title suggests, the talk argues that Capitalism is the only just system, and as is rarely the case, it begins by clearly defining the relevant concepts. Those who are able to attend Dr. Bernstein’s first two talks have a great opportunity to delve deeper into the philosophy on which this case rests.

Wednesday’s talk is titled The Truth About Climate Change, and will suggest something often missing from how many people think, and certainly talk, about this issue: looking at the historical evidence as an essential part of the process of forming an opinion, and judging the issue based on its impact on humans, rather than “the planet”.

The Adam Smith Institute will host Dr. Bernstein on Thursday for Black Innovators and Entrepreneurs Under Capitalism, a fascinating look at how great minds produced incredibly beneficial results that advanced their own lives as well as mankind, and did so in the face of bigotry and discrimination the extent of which is almost inconceivable to those of us living in the West today.

Dr. Bernstein’s final event, on Saturday, will be a Q&A on the philosophy of Objectivism. This will be a four-hour-long in-depth discussion, intended for those who seek to understand the ideas presented by Ayn Rand to a degree which some may find hard to achieve even after reading her books. Some knowledge of Objectivism is highly recommended for those who plan to attend.

Copies of many of Ayn Rand’s books will be sold at most of these events at heavily discounted prices. Pamphlets featuring some of her most popular and philosophically ground-breaking essays will be available for free.

Trump vs The World

In a video message recently posted on Facebook, US President-elect Donald Trump vowed to introduce a rule by which at least 2 old regulations are eliminated for every new regulation introduced. While this may seem like a sound policy, further examination of his pre- and post-election vows show that for every good policy, Mr. Trump has at least two bad ones, some of which are very bad, especially for those of us living outside the US.

In that same Facebook address, Trump alluded to one of the central issues of his campaign, his opposition to free trade, when he vowed to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a planned free-trade deal with 12 nations. Leaving aside the merits of this particular deal, Trump’s position on trade forms part of his strategy to force companies to move manufacturing jobs to America, whether or not doing so is economically feasible for them.

Days later Trump announced that he had reached a deal with air conditioner manufacturer Carrier Corporation to keep nearly 1,000 jobs, which the company had planned to move to Mexico, in their current plant in Indianapolis, Indiana, which was set for closure. The nature of “negotiations” between a company, which creates value, and a government, which holds a monopoly on power, is clear.

Should Trump follow through on his promises of forcing more companies to move manufacturing to America, with its high taxes and minimum wage laws, and of restricting immigration and sending millions of immigrants (in mostly low-paying jobs) back to their countries of origin, the economic ripple effect will be unimaginably grave; with manufacturing costs rising drastically, so, inevitably, will prices.

While Trump’s policies on trade may cause damage that would take many years to repair, the potential damage of his foreign policy, in particular with regards to Russia, could be irreversible. The applause with which news of his victory was received in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislature, undoubtedly only increased the legitimate concerns of America’s allies in Eastern Europe, who find themselves facing the threat of Russian military advancement, which is more real now than it has been at any time since the end of the Cold War.

Beyond the obvious risk posed by the improvement of relations between the U.S. and Russia, Trump has also repeatedly expressed what can best be described as a lukewarm position on NATO. The military alliance, the existence of which has served as a deterrent for Russian military aggression since it was formed, may very well be the only thing stopping Putin from attacking its Eastern European members. Ukraine and Georgia, who are not members of NATO, can attest to that.

If the author of The Art of the Deal needs a powerful ally in his planned trade wars with China, he surely realizes that he must offer something of high value in return. What that something might be is anybody’s guess, but it’ll be Putin’s choice, and unlike the popular Trump slogan, it will put Russia first.

The Uber verdict

An employment tribunal ruled that transportation service provider Uber must pay drivers who work with the service as employees, rather than self-employed, as is currently the case. The company is likely to appeal the decision.

With around 30,000 drivers and 2 million users in London alone, Uber has completely transformed the private hire vehicle business, making taxis a viable transportation option for many people for whom it previously was not one.

And while private hire license laws mean that becoming a driver in the UK is not as easy as it is in some other countries, and not as easy as both drivers and the company would have liked, this ground-breaking app has provided a source of full or part-time income for so many. As is always the case when people engage in honest transactions, both drivers and passengers have benefitted greatly from Uber.

Enter unions and government. The idea of people dealing with each other, in the words of Ayn Rand, “by mutual consent to mutual advantage”, is unacceptable to central planners, who wish to control every aspect of every individual’s life. But in this scenario, where passengers benefit from cheap rides, drivers benefit from a source of income, and Uber benefits from both, becoming a multi-billion dollar business in the process, we’d be hard pressed to find a victim, on whose behalf government needs to step in. And yet, such “victims” have managed to find us.

The two Uber drivers listed as claimants in the tribunal had signed a contract with the company of their own volition. They were paid 75% of what they earned according to that contract. Such a deal insures that drivers get paid for their actual work, and that Uber doesn’t lose money employing them. The only reason for them to demand government intervention forcing Uber to pay them a minimum (or, as it’s now called, “living”) wage is if they don’t believe they can actually create a value equal to or greater than the one they’re demanding. The issue of how they expect Uber to pay them while operating at a loss (as the very fact of their claim would suggest is the scenario they foresee) has yet to be addressed.
Self-assessed incompetent Uber drivers won’t be the only ones thrilled with this verdict. Drivers of over-priced black cabs have been complaining about Uber since the service was first introduced in London. The realisation that if passengers can get the same exact service for a third of the price they’re likely to choose to do so, served as an immediate call to action for these drivers.

But the action taken by black cab drivers wasn’t to lower their prices or improve their service; instead, they have been lobbying government to intervene in a way that would severely limit Uber, thus raising the company’s prices. The fact that this would put drivers out of work and would force passengers into longer and less safe journeys does not concern protesting black cab drivers, who want to bully customers into using their service by removing the competition.

This verdict could negatively impact other service providers who are self-employed. Where the less competent among them would try to claim they should be considered employees, this decision by the tribunal would serve as precedent. Much like in the case of private hire vehicles, the effect would be less work for the competent self-employed, fewer options for the companies who use their services, and lower quality / higher priced goods and services for the end customer. When that day comes, possibly much sooner than we anticipate, remember who to thank.

Image © David Holt

Identity Politics New And Old

As Jordan Lee pointed out a few weeks ago, one of the many unfortunate side effects of Donald Trump’s successful bid for the Republican nomination has been the rise of identity politics on the right, so called alt-right movement. From neo-Nazis to people who merely want to express “pride” in their race (a sentiment the socially acceptable expression of which is currently granted only to racial and ethnic minorities), these people, who share every fundamental moral view with feminists and Black Lives Matter thugs, have come out of the closet recently, in many cases to show their opposition, ironically, to their aforementioned ideological brethren. This is the “right wing” version of “identity politics”.

But what exactly is identity politics? Specifically, what “identity” are they so proud of? This is where it gets really scary.

Feminists believe that for their “achievement” of having been born with a vagina, they should be rewarded with special privileges at the expense of those who lost out in the genitalia roulette. The Black Lives Matter movement, many of whose activists are anything but peaceful, is as explicitly racist as any white supremacist group, and demands that government grant special privileges for people who look like those who were oppressed in the past, at the expense of people who look like those who were oppressors in the past.

These two vile movements can be easily discredited, and their arguments (when they’re kind enough to present arguments) thoroughly dismantled, using logic. They use specifically those characteristics with which they were born, and which they can never change, as a blank check justifying any action they choose to take. But if you’re not a fan of logic, you can always oppose them by doing exactly the same thing, and only changing a few words (resulting in ideologies and tag lines such as Meninism and White Lives Matter…).

This is what the alt-right is: an ideological mirror image of the left, differing from them only in their gender and racial “identity”.
When Milo Yianopolous, the alt-right’s unofficial and incongruous leader, participated in a White House press briefing, he asked what the administration intends to do to “encourage” Twitter and Facebook to apply First Amendment principles to their business model. It took Barack Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest to explain to Milo that the government has no business intervening in the policies of specific businesses, basically educating him on what free speech and the free market are.

In essence, the alt-right is only right wing under the left’s definition of what right wing is, namely: racist. Beyond their racism, they are socialist / mercantilist / protectionist, against free-speech (despite their opposition to hate speech laws, presumably because these laws don’t currently favour them) and pro-Russia. They consider causing offence an end in itself, a feat achievable nowadays with statements as benign as “there are only two genders”.

The worst aspect of this hopefully short-lived movement is the fact that it has managed to position itself as the apparent alternative to feminists and anti-white racists. When they go away, social justice warriors will feel emboldened by their “victory”, and even more justified in their anti-reality and anti-life views.

A week of Objectivist events 

Low taxes and drug legalisation are not merely uncontroversial positions among free market advocates, they’re pretty much the consensus. What is controversial, and in fact denied by most people, is the notion that such policies, or indeed any political views, are part of the philosophy we hold (whether explicitly or implicitly), and derive from our view on ethics, which in turn derives from our view of our nature and of reality.

The exception to this consensus is Objectivism, the philosophy identified by Ayn Rand, in which she shows how our fundamental view of life and the world in which we live it necessarily lead to how we think about politics, and where she presented an entire system based on acceptance of – and adherence to – the fact that our consciousness is a tool of perceiving reality and processing the evidence of our senses, not of shaping it.

This Sunday, at the Battle of Ideas in Barbican Centre in London, Dr. Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, will apply this philosophy to three issues as a participant in three different panels. The first of these will be a midday panel on the war on drugs, titled The War On Drugs: Time For A Truce? He will then take part in an afternoon panel on Tax Wars And Inequality, and will close out the conference in an evening panel titled Is Utopian Thinking Dead? Attitudes To The Future. Tickets are available on the Barbican Centre website.

For those who want to explore Ayn Rand’s philosophy further, the Adam Smith Institute will hold its annual Ayn Rand Lecture on Tuesday in Mayfair. This year’s speaker is Julie Meyer of Ariadne Capital, who’ll be speaking on the topic of “Why Society Works Best When It’s Organised Around the Entrepreneur”.

On Wednesday, Yaron Brook will be speaking to the King’s College London Libertarian Society about his latest book, Equal Is Unfair.

“Sexual Microaggressions”: Yes Means No

In an article for Fusion, feminist writer Lux Alptraum recalls her harrowing tales of sexual escapades, revealing how time after excruciating time, her encounters with men left her feeling violated and, despite having consented to the encounter, considering her subsequent regret over consenting a valid reason to put her male partners in the same moral – though admittedly not legal – category as rapists. From a boyfriend who “insinuated” he would break up with her if she didn’t sleep with him, to a date who drove from afar and “expected” sex as his reward for doing so, Alptraum repeatedly found herself wilfully participating in sexual encounters which she ended up regretting.

But rather than trying, through introspection, to understand why she makes the choices she makes, and/or why she later regrets them, Alptraum found the perfect scapegoats for her “traumatic and damaging sexual experiences”: the men with whom she slept.

In her article, Alptraum fully acknowledges that none of these encounters come anywhere near meeting the legal definition of rape. And yet, she somehow contends that the men, through “small acts of boundary-pushing and coercion”, are at fault.

Leaving aside her blatantly dishonest use of the word “coercion” in this context (since an act of sexual coercion is, by definition, rape, or at the very least sexual assault, and is certainly always criminal), and her intentional use of the highly ambiguous concept of “boundary-pushing”, Alptraum’s entire piece is an exercise in the now all-too-familiar attempt by feminists to portray all men as rapists. When a man has sex with a woman against her will, that is obviously rape. But when a man has sex with a woman who, as far as he knows (because this is what she chooses to convey to him), is as willing a participant in the act as he is, he may, unwittingly, be committing what Alptraum calls a “sexual microaggression”.

This is the feminist version of original sin: all men are sinners, and their sin is that they’re men. Whether they’re paying a woman a compliment, buying her a drink, or showing affection in a physical manner, if a man is trying to get a woman to have sex with him, he is encouraging her to make a choice she may later regret.

While claiming to advocate gender equality, feminists keep portraying women as intellectually inferior to men. A woman, by their logic, is incapable of knowing whether or not she’s making the right decision. A man, on the other hand, should not only know what’s best for him, but should also be more aware of his female sexual partner’s emotional process than she is.

I do not consider women inferior. Therefore, I am not a feminist. Despite feminists’ implications to the contrary, women are volitional beings, just like men, with the capacity to be rational (and, as Alptraum proves, irrational). And just as a woman is not at fault if a man regrets having sex with her, men should not be considered villains because some women change their mind after the act.

Avoiding Civilian Casualties is Treason

A common claim among those who try to delegitimize bombing our enemies during a time of war is that when such bombings result in civilian deaths, they constitute “murder”. This, much like every other time leftists use words, isn’t a misunderstanding of the concept represented by the word, but rather its intentional misuse, designed to cover up the left’s true agenda, and reverse the roles of victim and perpetrator.Only a monster would advocate the murder of innocent civilians. And they do. These monsters now have a presence in every major western city. But their bases are in other countries. And they have financial backers in yet other countries. These can be dealt with at any time using our far superior firepower. But we aren’t dealing with them. They hide their worst operatives and their most devastating weapons among civilians, because they know their allies in western countries will make sure they’re safe there, and accuse any country that takes the necessary action to defend its citizens in such a situation of “murder” and “war crimes”.

In every question the human mind ever attempts to answer, a valid conclusion can only be reached if the facts are dealt with within the context in which they exist. The context for the question of what actions a government should take and what actions it should avoid is the overall role of government, namely what limitations should there be on its power, if any.

In laissez faire capitalism the answer to this question is clear: government exists to protect its own citizens from force. When faced with a foreign power trying to kill its citizens, therefore, the individuals in charge of such a limited government should be limited in the scope of choices available to them. Just as they may not start a war for any interest other than the security of the country’s citizens, so they may not stand idly by while their citizens are being butchered, certainly when they have the military might needed to prevent, mitigate or end the threat.

Understanding this position also helps clarify just where those who want us to avoid killing civilians in enemy-controlled territory truly stand: firmly on the side of our enemies, no matter who those enemies are, no matter what war is being fought. Don’t let them fool you when they downplay the significance of the current wave of terrorist attacks. If we were nuked, their position on civilian casualties would be no different: we should live (or die) with the fact that our own citizens and soldiers are getting massacred by the hundreds of thousands if the only way to prevent such a massacre is to bomb a school or a hospital, and certainly if it is to nuke the enemy.

When the government faces the choice of killing civilians in enemy territory or allowing the enemy to kill its own citizens, choosing the latter is, by definition, treason.