Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review: Free Market Revolution, How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government

Free Market Revolution –  How Ayn Rand’s Ideas can End Big Government
By Yaron Brook and Don Watkins
Reviewed by Robert Villegas
If you were offered a book about how to live without guilt and be more successful, would you be interested?  If it taught you that success is good and more is better, would you be intrigued?  If it helped you understand the incessant attacks on capitalism by politicians, journalists and social planners, would you check it out?
The book is called “Free Market Revolution, How Ayn Rand’s ideas Can End Big Government”.  Its goal is to clarify some important philosophical and economic issues and convince you that Ayn Rand’s ideas have the solutions we need for a civilized society.  It challenges some of history’s falsehoods and provides a new way of looking at economics.  It can help voters, students, business people and even politicians understand the factors that move society.
The authors, Yaron Brook and Don Watkins point readers toward a new moral and political theory that challenges the corruption of today’s world.  Ayn Rand was an iconoclast who, even today, stirs both anger and respect among the millions who read her books.   Her philosophy is a full-fledged integrated system with all the characteristics of a complete, consistent frame of reference.  Objectivism, as it is called, is entirely original. 
Mr. Brook and Mr. Watkins are enthusiastic salesmen for Ayn Rand’s ideas.  Their presentation is flawless.  Yaron is already famous as the Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute.  His stirring speeches and commentary can be found on youTube.com and PJTV, not to mention Fox News and other networks.  Don is a fellow of the institute and a perennial radio and television guest as well as an op-ed writer for Investor’s Business Daily and USA Today to name a few.
“Free Market Revolution” covers two key aspects of Ayn Rand’s philosophy: her morality of self-interest and her advocacy of laissez faire capitalism.  Rand’s philosophical approach creates an internally consistent and powerful argument for political freedom.  Find an energetic and innovative entrepreneur and you’re likely to find someone who has read Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged”.
Part 1 of the book is entitled “The Problem”.  It begins by setting the context for the book, discussing the recent resurgence of interest in Atlas Shrugged and explains the intellectual and economic malaise that needs Ayn Rand as antidote.  This section also analyzes the essential arguments of the left; especially the argument from need and the argument from greed.  It counters these arguments with the suggestion that liberating the un-free market will restore America’s once powerful place in the world.
Part 2 makes up the rest of the book and provides some of the most fascinating ideas ever put to print. It includes a re-evaluation of the concept of selfishness, the role that it plays in both life and the economy, and informs us of the discovery, made by Ayn Rand, that business success is not accomplished by predatory behavior but by innovation, production and win/win trades.  Brook and Watkins challenge the idea that economic transactions are “zero-sum” (which gets at the heart of the Marxist critique of capitalism).  The authors show that free markets are the engines necessary for improving human life.
In many respects, the book has the feel of a symphony.  It starts with a basic theme, allegro, stays there for a while as it develops; then boldly explores both harmony and rhythm; until finally, at the end, it finishes with a crescendo of energy and power.   By the time we arrive at the last chapter, entitled “Stopping the Growth of the State”, we have thoroughly examined the concept of selfishness and discovered its positive aspects and the role it plays in making society vibrant, innovative and life-enhancing; we've found a solid argument that declares capitalism to be moral; we’ve examined altruism and how it thwarts life and success; we’ve studied the division of labor, supply and demand, prices and their role in creating efficient markets; and we’ve studied how it happened that many people in society have moved from an entitlement morality to an entitlement mentality. 
The last chapter brings us full circle, exploring Rand’s philosophy further, identifying the major contradiction that has created our economic decline and provides a strategy that will end big government.
Both Yaron Brook and Don Watkins are competent writers, able to explain broad philosophical and economic concepts in a way that makes them real for the average reader.  This book is destined to become a manifesto for prosperity and peace in the world.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Should Romney Do Now?

I find it positively admirable that Governor Romney selected Paul Ryan to be his running mate. Ryan’s intellectual abilities will provide the campaign, and hopefully the Romney administration, with new ideas and a fresh perspective. 

Truth, new ideas, and real solutions will help win this election for Romney, Ryan and the American people. If Romney doesn't win, then a collapse of the entitlement state will be the result. You cannot keep spending at these levels and expect things to get better. 

The President is offering an alternative policy.  It is a policy that we've seen in effect for four years.  Just look at the results.  But what is the policy?  What are the solutions? 

The first Presidential debate was clearly won by Governor Romney.   He offered a vision that looks at specific issues and offers specific solutions.  But he needs to keep the momentum going by expanding his criticisms of the President and his impractical policies.  There are many opportunities to do that.  Here are some suggestions:

1.      He should not agree with the contention that the President inherited a bad economy.  He must initiate a discussion of the causes of the subprime crisis of 2008.  Obama was a key player in setting up the regulatory scheme that caused it.  He, Bill Clinton and the Democrats were clearly involved.  Obama was part of the original lawsuit (against Citibank) in 1994 that laid the groundwork for strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).  This strengthening of the CRA mandated that banks should issue more loans to people who did not qualify under threat of prosecution.  It was Bill Clinton’s desire to spur home purchases that created the housing bubble and re-distributed millions of dollars into the housing industry.  Romney should hang the subprime fiasco around the necks of the Democrats especially Obama. 

To accept the premise that Obama inherited a bad economy assumes that the Republicans caused it.  There are plenty of articles on the Internet about the roles of Obama and Clinton in setting the foundation that caused our economy to collapse.  And there is plenty of video footage of Frank and Dodd blocking legislation designed to avert disaster.  Another villain was ACORN, an Obama organization that routinely accused banks of racism and pressured them to make more loans to the poor.  In fact, if you combine Motor Voter programs, ACORN, the CRA and the subprime crisis, you get a clear picture of how influential Obama has been in undermining our economy for many years.  Don’t buy the argument that Obama had nothing to do with the economic collapse.  An argument can be made that he engineered it.

2.      Obama claims that he kept the economy from sinking further.  But there is nothing he did that spurred new economic activity.  In fact, he delayed the recovery with his actions.  Had the government not interfered through further stimulus spending, the economy would have recovered quickly once housing prices hit bottom. By spreading out the damage through TARP and the bailouts, all American companies and citizens were forced to pay for the government-created problem. 

First, stimulus programs are nothing more than re-distribution of money already in the economy, even if newly printed dollars are used.  This means that any new economic activity they might have generated was done at the expense of economic activity already taking place. 

Secondly, Obama blamed capitalism for the economic decline and wrongly created regulations that harmed businesses.  These regulations (Dodd-Frank among others) added billions of dollars to the cost of doing business and severely impacted the profitability of many businesses.  They did nothing to avert another disaster, but, in fact, left largely intact the corrupt framework (Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) that was responsible for the decline. 

3.    Regarding the role of government, the President said, “Government has the capacity, the Federal Government, has the capacity to help open up opportunity and create ladders of opportunity and create frameworks where the American people can succeed.  Look, the genius of America is the free enterprise system and, freedom, and the fact that people can go out there and start a business, work on an idea, make their own decisions, but, as Abraham Lincoln understood, there are also some things we do better together, so in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let’s help to finance the transcontinental railroad, let’s start the National Academy of Sciences, let’s start land grant colleges because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off.  That doesn’t restrict peoples’ freedom; that enhances it.  And so what I’ve tried to do as President is to apply those same principles.  When it comes to education, what I’ve said is we’ve got to reform schools that are not working.  We’ve used something called “Race to the top”; it wasn’t a top-down approach, Governor, what we’ve said to states, we’ll give you more money if you initiate reforms, and as a consequence, you have 46 states around the country who have made a real difference.  But what I’ve also said is let’s hire another hundred thousand math and science teachers to make sure we maintain our technological lead and our people are skilled and able to succeed and hard pressed states cannot always do that.  In fact, we’ve seen layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers over the last several years and Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers.  I do because I think that is the kind of investment where the Federal Government can help.  It can’t do it all but it can make a difference and as a consequence we’ll have a better trained workforce and that will create jobs because companies want to locate in places where we’ve got a great workforce.“

This statement, I submit, lost the debate for the President.  People were looking for an answer here, not this garbled package of collectivist platitudes and deceptions.  This answer can’t be understood by most people; and some people, those who understand what the President is saying, know that this argument can be used for virtually any expenditure.  The statement is as corrupt as the President's administration.  It harkens to a totally unlimited government that can merely create an "emergency" and then offer itself up as the solution.  

Under this scheme, the government could pump millions of dollars into failing auto companies, failing banks and failing green energy companies.  It could enrich cronies and campaign contributors, cover for corrupt union pension programs, hire thousands of government employees to join those unions, cover the costs of unemployment benefits, food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and ObamaCare.  It could funnel millions of dollars to people who claim they tried to farm (Pigford Scandal), pay for voter registration programs that help elect the President, take over student loan programs, the Internet and send millions of dollars overseas to terrorist organizations.  It is “investments” like these that create trillion dollar deficits. 

What does this Abraham Lincoln-approved program consist of?  It is an integrated collectivist society, self-consciously organized by technocrats (czars) that includes political correctness, unlimited majority rule and coerced armies of unskilled people getting paid to do nothing.  In essense, the President is describing a benign fascist dictatorship that, once established, will cease to be benign.  Those who don't agree...well, they'll find a way to deal with "those people".

Governor Romney should expose this vision and explain what the President really meant.  This will communicate that the Governor understands the method in Obama's madness and that he has a sane and workable alternative; the pursuit of happiness and freedom.

4.      The “47 percent” quote has proven problematic for Romney.  According to the left, when he dismissed “the needy” he showed that he was insensitive and detached.  When Romney said that his statement was a mistake or in-artful, he ceded the premise to the left.  Instead, he should say that the statement was part of a bigger narrative for which Obama is responsible.  The President has increased dependency in the USA by putting more people on welfare.  The 47 percent include many people who want to be working and paying taxes but cannot.  What Romney was criticizing was the President’s effort to buy the votes of the 47 percent.  He should talk about how it pains him that so many Americans are being used as tools by the President.  

5.      Governor Romney should take apart the President’s closing statement as pure collectivism, not what America is about.  The President said, “Everything that I’ve tried to do and everything that I’m now proposing for the next four years in terms of improving our education system or developing American energy or making sure that we’re closing loopholes for companies that are shipping jobs overseas and focusing on small businesses and companies that are creating jobs here in the United States or closing our deficit in a responsible, balanced way that allows us to invest in our future; all those things are designed to make sure that the American people, their genius, their grit, their determination is channeled and they have an opportunity to succeed and everyone is getting a fair shot and everybody is doing a fair share and everybody is playing by same rules.”

Governor Romney should point out that spending is not investing.  You cannot have collective goals and help individuals; you wind up enslaving productive people and forcing them to work for goals that are not their own.

He should point out that the President's “channeling” of the American people implies that he knows better what people should do.  He should point out that funding the transcontinental railroad (which was a corrupt and failed endeavor) has now become forcing school children to starve for the sake of Michelle's version of a healthy diet.  No one has the authority or right or ability to decide how people with free will should act.  Re-distributing the money of productive citizens may seem like a good idea to those receiving the sums; but it is not fair to productive citizens.  Doing a “fair share” might seem fair to the person who is not working but it doesn’t seem fair to the person who is barely getting by on his own honest work.  Playing by the same rules might seem great to the person who cannot find a job but it doesn’t seem fair to the person who pays millions of dollars in taxes. When the President says he wants a balanced approach to deficit reduction, he means he wants to continue deficit spending and will not compromise with anyone about it. 

6.      Romney should consider buying television time for policy speeches and interviews in order to get around the media.  Ronald Reagan did this effectively and it could help the Governor have more time with the public without the media filter.

7.      Use humor.  The first debate burst the bubble on the President’s intelligence and competence.  He’s now on the defense.  Use your ads to find humor in some of his statements and gaffes.  People tend not to vote for a bumbling Chaplin-style politician.  Turn the tables on the President and get people laughing at him and you relieve their fears about his supposed invulnerability.

8.      Don’t forget to accentuate the positive and the possibilities of a brighter tomorrow.  Contrast this future with the present and show that you can make it happen.

These are the kinds of things Romney can do that will resonate with people.  Not only do they expose how wrong Obama’s ideas truly are, but they offer a shining vision of a prosperous future.  They offer an alternative opportunity for people to determine their own productive futures rather than have them determined by a faceless government of technocrats.