Monday, November 24, 2008

Nor Any Drop to Drink

Alex answers his mail, re: "They Don't Know Who Their Friends Are."

Oleg writes:

[Y]ou don't know a thing about Bolivian water story, which took place in a small town Cachabamba. "Bad guys" (Aquas Del Tunari, controlled by International Water Limited, controlled by Bechtel) through corruption (the price of the contract was laughable - 20'000 USD) took control over the town water system, then doubled retail prices for water, then used imported weapons (courtesy of the U.S. embassy) to stifle a "paro civico", then government was forced to rescind the contract with Aquas Del Tunari, then contractor sued Bolivia for the loss of earnings, which was 25'000'000 USD. The loan for the operation came from World Bank. So, you know, those "capitalists" are true parasites, who are not simply "ask another men to live for them", but force them to.


Ted writes:

The foundational principle being ignored on all sides, is that individual liberty, being natural, has also natural limits. When anyone deliberately decides to use their liberty to manipulate and control others, whether the vehicle of that control is religion, politics, philosophy or even "capitalism", the natural boundary has been overstepped.


Steven writes:

Since when is overthrowing governments, doing business with killers or establishing a water monopoly behavior we admire? This sounds like a thoroughly neo-conservative reading of the film not a libertarian one. If you really want to associate Capitalism with Gangsterism, then by all means continue these misdirected, knee-jerk tirades.


Obviously, they still don't know who their friends are.

First off, Steven's remarks are so wrong on so many levels that they merit a blow by blow dissection.

"Since when is overthrowing governments, doing business with killers or establishing a water monopoly behavior we admire?"

We, Steven? Dou you presume to tell me what I admire?

Or is we you and Ayn Rand? Looking at "Egalitarianism and Inflation" (The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. III, No. 18, June 3, 1974) you'll see that Rand didn't believe Allende was better than Pinochet.

Or is it you and some unspecified libertarians? Why would I care what some anonymous libertarians admire?

"Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we.' " — Mark Twain

"Three groups are permitted that usage: pregnant women, royalty, and schizophrenics. Which one are you?" — Hyman G. Rickover

I'm afraid, Steven, you just outed yourself as a closet collectivist.

By the way, does that mean you don't admire the American Revolution?

"If you really want to associate Capitalism with Gangsterism, then by all means continue these misdirected, knee-jerk tirades."

Of course, capitalism, voluntary cooperation to mutual advantage, is preferable over either gangsterism or socialism. Yet if you can't have capitalism, gangsterism sure is better than socialism. Where were people better off in 1926, in Chicago or in Moscow?

Why did Ayn Rand flee from St. Petersburg to Chicago? And why didn't she flee back to the Soviet Union in horror when she saw the Chicago gangsterism?

If you can't have "voluntary cooperation to mutual advantage," "everybody fights for himself" sure is better than "the individual gets enslaved and sacrificed for the common good of the majority."

"Has any act of selfishness ever equaled the carnage perpetrated by disciples of altruism?" — Howard Roark

Who was the worse violator of human rights, Al Capone or Adolf Hitler? I'm not so sure what Steven and his tapeworm may choose, but I'd take Al over Adolf any day.

"This sounds like a thoroughly neo-conservative reading of the film not a libertarian one."

Who told you I'm a libertarian? "Libertarian" is a broad catchall term that includes about everybody who claims to be in favor of liberty, from anarcho-capitalists to objectivists, and then some. Why would I care if a specific viewpoint of mine is neo-conservative or libertarian?

As for the Bolivian water story, it's Oleg who doesn't have his facts straight.

In the Aguas del Tunari case, the corporation raised rates not out of greed, but to be able to invest in the water network. True, poorer Bolivians claimed they could not afford this, and to cut a long story short, an angry socialist mob with torches and pitchforks kicked out the capitalist company.

The upshot: Without the capitalists' capital to fix up and expand the water system, most folks there still have no connection to the water main. And unless that socialist mob finds some idiot who builds water mains for them without getting his money back through higher rates, they won't get any faucet water, ever.

Don't take my word for it. Read the relevant entry at everybody's favorite joke of an encyclopedia.

Then again, while this particular company can be blamed for nothing except maybe for misjudging Bolivians' ability to pay, there are no doubt some shady capitalists just as there are corrupt government officials. However, Hollywood will make you believe that all capitalists are corrupt, while government agents are only corrupted by the need to fight fire with fire.

But neither is my principal point. That point — and I probably did not make that clear enough in my review — is: If someone takes control of a resource and doubles the price on consumers out of pure spite or greed — it's OK. Sure, it's not nice, and cause for censure, but it is not cause enough to resort to the use of force.

It's mind-boggling how ready people are to resort to force at the slightest provocation. People cry, "We cannot live in anarchy. Everybody would go after his neighbor with a shotgun for the slightest perceived offense." Yet that is what people are doing under and through government.

The mere fact that you get a judge or a jury to agree with your peeve, or even a legislature elected by a majority (of those who care to vote) to agree with you that "there ought to be a law," does not give you any "objective" right to have the government use force against others over trifles. The shotgun of anarchy is the litigiousness of archy.

It's the road to Obamastan. Seven billion people believe there ought to be a law against their pet peeve, like their high water bill, or their high gas bill, or whatever.

The result, quite predictably, is world socialism. If the pet peeves of seven billion people are grounds for government regulation by force, what else can the result be but a totalitarian state?

In the water rights case, there are no grounds to use force against the "industrialists," unless you're the victim of outright, overt force or fraud, or dying of thirst. In the latter case, of course the ethics of emergencies kicks in: "[M]any Objectivists say that, if they fell off a building and hung onto somebody's balcony, they ought to die rather than trespass."

But if the matter is of no vital importance to you —

"Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog, than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite." — Abraham Lincoln

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I stand by my statement. The key weakness in your argument which your clarification makes clear, lies in the phrase "taking control of a resource." It presumes what, exactly? That the people did not control it or did not have a valid claim to it? Who is to adjudicate a dispute? Do you maintain that public or collective ownership is not possible and therefore does not exist? That is quite a different matter from whether it is advisable or not.

We can split hairs on how collective claims may manifest or the nature of such property rights (or claims as they are more accurately called) but there is another simpler and more subtle and probably quite superior way of approaching this ethical problem.

That is simply this: I would not want someone to come to my town and drain all the water in the aquifer we have been using into a hidden tunnel then charge me for access to it. By the principle or heuristic of "treat others as you would be treated," I would not do it to some other town and therefore I feel quite safe in condemning this behavior.

The correct behavior for an "industrialist" is to come and negotiate with the people on a fair basis for access to their aquifer.

Your ethics may take a different view. To the extent your ethics are in accord with Objectivism, then I would say that does not recommend Objectivism to me -- not that you care of course.

I am more than passingly familiar with the shades and varieties, distinctions and squabbles of the objectivists and their little corner of the generally libertarian patch of the ideological universe. You may take objection to my use of terminology but I really don't care.

What it comes down to is this: Objectivism is a fine start. It is not the end and it is not sufficient for the development of a mature human being. It's a stop along the way perhaps and it is important to pick up and move on after you've gained everything you can from it.

I applaud your enthusiasm for Reason and Liberty.

Steven Talcott Smith

Ted said...

First of all, it's quite plain from reading all of her works, that Ayn Rand - like most people - confuses "capitalism" with "free enterprise", the economic system Adam Smith advocated. Were Smith's system ever tried, ANYONE would be free to start a business and prosper, without having to contend with reams of restrictions dictated by the children of those who were successful via government. I believe ALL forms of socialism are evil, including those fabricated to redistribute the wealth labor has earned to those already wealthy, and reward political backers, oil tycoons and bankers at the expense of everyone else.
Steven Smith's assertion of some form of "collective ownership" is just another form of this kind of cronyism: When "everything belongs to everyone" nothing really belongs to anyone, except the tiny minority in power holding guns on the rest of "us".

Anonymous said...

"As for the Bolivian water story, it's Oleg who doesn't have his facts straight."

As you may notice, everybody have their own version of that story, so maybe neither me nor you have all "facts straight"?

Who was the contractor to build that dam, and what was the price? Maybe it was possible to find a good contractor to build everything needed for a half of it? Or simply there was no choice, because Aguas del Tunari was controlled by Bechtel?

By the way, do you know something about other Bechtel's projects? Like CANOIL, for example? It's just as funny as Sarah Palin's road and bridge to nowhere... Or maybe that was another Bechtel project?

Isn't that you who said "All that capitalists do is take control of resources or goods — of course by violent, fraudulent, or otherwise shady means — and double the price on consumers". I do understand that was a sarcasm, but hey, take a look at the reality, it's all there.

And one more iteration. The information is one of the resources, which those bad guys took control over.

Oleg

Alex said...

"The key weakness in your argument which your clarification makes clear, lies in the phrase 'taking control of a resource.' "

I deliberately left that vague, because I was focusing on the people's anti-capitalist double standard. People tend to condemn any private takeover of anything and to applaud any government takeover of anything, in either case no matter what the means used to effect it.

"Do you maintain that public or collective ownership is not possible and therefore does not exist?"

"The correct behavior for an 'industrialist' is to come and negotiate with the people on a fair basis for access to their aquifer."

Land is owned by the one who makes it useful. Just happening to live near a resource means nothing.

If you clear a field or build a house on unowned land, you establish ownership of that lot, and presumably of everything under and above it. Yet water and oil are bitches of a resource, as they're liquid and don't stay under your land.

The people in your example do not own the aquifer. The Ogallala Aquifer, for example, extends under several states, and it would be quite unfair to say that the first farmer or "community" that drills into it owns the whole aquifer. That would be like saying that all America belongs to the heirs of the first Indian that built a teepee on the continent.

Everybody has a right to improve unowned land by building a derrick on it and then tap the underlying aquifer. If that means that the community ends up high and dry one day, too bad — they had no better right to the water and thus cannot justify using force against the competition.

"By the principle or heuristic of 'treat others as you would be treated,' I would not do it to some other town and therefore I feel quite safe in condemning this behavior."

Deplorably, the golden rule doesn't work, as preferences vary. Behavior that one man may condemn might be great fun to another, like, for example, a masochist. If he wants to be tortured, that does not give him the right to treat others as he would want to be treated.

"not that you care of course."

The less you tell me what "we" should do, and the more arguments of your own you give me, the more I care.

"You may take objection to my use of terminology"

No — why?

"but I really don't care."

Good for you.

"What it comes down to is this: Objectivism is a fine start. It is not the end and it is not sufficient for the development of a mature human being. It's a stop along the way perhaps and it is important to pick up and move on after you've gained everything you can from it."

Agreed.

"I applaud your enthusiasm for Reason and Liberty."

Thanks.

* * *

"As you may notice, everybody have their own version of that story, so maybe neither me nor you have all 'facts straight'?"

Maybe. Yet I found it striking that the first source I checked (not that Wikipedia is much of a source) completely exonerated the capitalists.

"Who was the contractor to build that dam, and what was the price?"

If I recall that correctly, that dam was forced on the company by a corrupt local politician.

"The information is one of the resources, which those bad guys took control over."

So maybe a Bechtel employee wrote that Wikipedia article? Maybe. But usually information in the media has a decidedly leftist slant, so I doubt the "bad" guys would get away with it.