Part 16 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 16: Miracle Metal

This chapter is annoying. Annoying not in the standard Rand sense of teenage characters having pretend angst, but rather in the sheer number of obvious stupidities it crams into relatively few pages.

We’ll start with the opening section, which deals with what Rand clearly considers to be a council of evil. It consists of the various strawmen we’ve encountered so far; James Taggart, Wesley Mouch, Orren Boyle, and more ridiculous chaps with silly names. There’s also a representative of the unions, Fred Kinnan, who just appears at this point without any prior reference to him in the book. Given that he’s now responsible for much of the ensuing, this seems something of an oversight (i.e. something Rand forgot to put in because she was too busy raving about other things, and couldn’t be arsed to go back and correct her mistake, because it’s her work so must already be perfect, dammit).

The strawmen mince around their subject rather pathetically for a while, talking about how making sure peoples’ needs are fulfilled is the most important thing in the world, while Kinnan (who for some reason is presented as the embodiment of knowing evil; the evil that’s happy to deliver men into socialist bondage in the full knowledge of what it’s doing) makes occasional sarcastic remarks about their pretensions. They commit to a directive that institutionalises socialism in the USA – or rather a Randian version of socialism that involves various insanities like not being able to fire anyone at all any more or demanding that all invention and innovation stops. Kinnan is the enabler of this directive, inasmuch as he agrees to commit the workers he represents to it and by weight of numbers will ensure its enactment. In exchange he gets control of the Unification Board, the body discharged with overseeing the wacky new employment laws.

I don’t understand Rand’s antipathy towards unions. The free exchange of goods in the marketplace is her moral standard, and unions merely improve the relative position of the worker selling their labour by virtue of collective bargaining. This is free association – while closed shops would obviously be immoral to Rand, someone paying for the representative service that union membership represents is exchanging value for value. Many of Thatcher’s anti-union reforms were anti-libertarian in this sense; they curtailed the freedom of that private enterprise. This, much like the janus-faced moral argument in preceding chapters, implies that libertarianism is nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with class. Hence the title of this post.

The directive is implemented, and Dagny quits, refusing to deliver men into bondage. She retreats to a cottage in the country. Rearden stays in position, intending to defy a requirement that he surrender his patent to Rearden Metal to the State.

Dr Ferris comes to collect, and reveals to Rearden that the strawmen know about his relationship with Dagny and will reveal it to the world if he does not voluntarily surrender his patent. Rearden gets lost in a reverie, which begins with:

‘It was not to Dr. Ferris that Rearden was speaking. He was seeing a long line of men stretched through the centuries from Plato onward, who heir and final product was an incompetent little professor with the appearance of a gigolo and the soul of a thug.’

This is yet another Randian slander on philosophers. Plato’s political philosophy involved no reference to need, and in fact celebrated reason above all other qualities – as Rand does. His aristocracy of reason bears more resemblance to Rand’s aristocracy of talent than she appears to realise.

There follows some of the most tortured reasoning it has ever been my misfortune to read in any attempt at moral prose. The net result is that Rearden signs over his patent to protect Dagny, on the grounds that he placed her in jeopardy in the first place and so is culpable on the grounds of his own moral failure. He should’ve divorced Lillian and married Dagny, to avoid this very situation.

But this makes absolutely no sense under Rand’s moral system. Self-flagellation is unreasonable, as one’s moral worth is judged by one’s ability to produce and exchange goods. There is no exchange here, no demolition of property. Dagny’s perceived morality in the eyes of the world is not something one can exchange – rather, from earlier chapters, it’s a form of public relations and so is irrelevant. It is noble of Rearden to take the act he does, to sacrifice himself – but self-sacrifice, and a moral system which demands it of oneself, has previously been condemned by Rand.

I suspect that Rand, at the last, couldn’t permit her hero to be ignoble to a lady. This betrays a certain latent morality deep within a confused attempt to be ‘rational’; certainly the passages in which Rearden makes his choice are the most human of the book so far. I doubt Rand will permit herself any more.

Part 17 is here.

Part 15 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 15: Account Overdrawn

All those dreadful things the Government has been doing in the previous chapters have led to the near-breakdown of society, as commerce falters and state action is unable to take its place. The management of the key commodity concerns (i.e. the ones whose talents have resigned) begins to collapse. The Government responds by placing even more onerous demands on the remaining enterprises; Taggart Transcontinental is threatened with simultaneous demands for higher wages and the refusal of the Government to countenance higher rates for freight and passengers. To attempt to forestall this, James Taggart tries to use Lillian to deliver Rearden into the hands of the Government.

Lillian sets up a rather pathetic scheme in an effort to identify Rearden’s lover, and discovers that Dagny has been his mistress all along. Suddenly, Lillian’s evil twin is revealed…

Okay, I made up that last sentence, but this chapter is almost pathetically soap opera-like in character. It’s a set-up so that Rand can have Rearden realise again that no-one has any call on you based on their need alone, and this applies to lovers too. You can’t commit to anything unless there’s been an exchange of equal value. Once more, I can see why this creed appeals to stroppy teenagers unable to determine an appropriate balance of self-interest and subjugation in their romantic adventures.

Analysis

This chapter is largely a retread of old ground; the only item of note being the onset of Rand’s socialist dystopia. This allows us to compare it to other dystopian classics like 1984 and Brave New World; the obvious point is that AtlasWorld doesn’t contain recognisable humans – rather impossibly adept titans and spiteful shades. This is a similar flaw to communism; you can’t develop a political philosophy to be used for the government of humans without basing it on, well, humanity.

Part 16 is here.

The left has gone a little bit mad over the IFS briefing note that claims Osborne’s June was regressive, rather than progressive as he claimed. To be fair, so has the right. They’re both engaging in the traditional political game of yelling ‘But!’ when the other says ‘Ha!’. Impartial commentators (which, as a Lib Dem, I am clearly not) might like to point out that any budget involving reducing state expenditure isn’t ‘progressive’, in the debased ethical sense of the term rather than the fiscal one. This is a simple consequence of the math of power: the relative ability of a poor person to influence society is significantly less than the rich. The impact of one’s vote on society is directly proportional to the power of the state, so reducing the influence of the state reduces the influence of the less well off on society relative to the rich. As a consequence, I have never claimed that the Coalition’s acts have been progressive, although I have claimed that they were necessary.

The missing factor in this discussion is, of course, the alternative to Osborne’s budget, which one can clearly infer would be a Labour one – the ‘cuts deeper than Thatcher’ line uttered by Darling rather implies that Labour budget wouldn’t be progressive either. Indeed, if we look at this statement on Labour’s deficit reduction plans we find that they too planned to cut benefit spending, alongside other cuts. We don’t know which part of the benefit system they’d take the knife to – but given they’d already looked at cutting housing benefit, it seems likely Labour would’ve cut that too.

We’re back in a situation in which the left is mindlessly jumping up and down without presenting any real alternatives, and the Conservatives are probably wondering why they bother. This is mindless oppositional politics without any constructive engagement, as I’ve said before.

Part 14 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 14: The Sanction of the Victim

The title of this chapter refers to Rand’s argument that socialism functions by fostering a moral climate in which the successful feel guilty for their success and so accede to having their wealth removed from them. This moral climate is, to Rand, a mechanism of control over the productive. The inverse argument, which is that Rand’s own morality functions as a mechanism of control over the less productive, doesn’t seem to have occurred to her.

The argument is illustrated by Rearden’s appearance in court in this chapter over the matter of his illegal dealings with Kenneth Danagger. Rearden and Danagger had traded amounts of the commodities they produced in excess of the limits imposed by the Government, because otherwise both of them would’ve found it very difficult to continue trading – Rearden needed coal for his furnaces, and Danagger required metal supports to shore up his mines. This particular law is a ridiculous conceit dreamt up by Rand to illustrate how appalling socialists are – constraining successful individuals because they can’t achieve that much themselves. This violation of reality would be more acceptable if Rand hadn’t decided to ignore how US law actually works in order to make Rearden the hero of the courtroom.

Rearden refuses to co-operate with the trial, refusing to enter a plea and refusing to offer a defence. He does this because he wants the ‘real face’ of the court to be seen – i.e. force to be used to control him. Unfortunately for Rand, under US law a plea is submitted on the defendant’s behalf by the judge, and refusing to defend yourself normally means you simply lose. Consent is not required; sanction is not sought. The law is backed by force; the idea that men would quibble over its use is a conceit only found in the mind of Rand.

I have, previously in this blog, talked about Rand’s bizarre attitude towards sex and how it entails a man wanting to despoil a woman and that women should be happy to surrender to that. This chapter adds another facet to that women-hating concept, courtesy of Mr d’Anconia, claiming that real men only want women who are difficult to conquer and in possession of purity. Yes, for Rand, sexual purity is a virtue women should possess. It doesn’t matter what other virtues you possess, if you’re a slut then Rand doesn’t think you’re worthwhile woman. Good going on the sexual liberation front, there!

This does work both ways, to a certain extent. Rand’s male Mary Sue (Marty Sid?) Francisco d’Anconia who in previous chapters has been portrayed as a playboy, is revealed to have only slept with one woman ever and to have worked to make up his reputation. So that’s alright then; despite Rand’s attestations to the pleasures of the flesh, she doesn’t really believe in actually doing it.

Part 15 is here.

Anatomy of a Wind Myth

August 23, 2010

Crossposted from my work blog at EmbraceMyPlanet, this is lengthy examination of the bizarre world of the anti-wind industry. This article is written in my professional capacity.

There are plenty of myths around wind power – variability, noise, costs and so on. But where do they come from? We’re going to analyse one particular myth to find out.

The myth we’re going to look at is one that’s been hanging around anti-wind sites for some time – we’ll call it the No Displacement myth. It’s the belief that because the variability of wind power results in fossil fuel power plants needing to raise and lower their output rapidly to compensate for the variations in wind power, the extra carbon emissions caused by this actually outweigh the emissions displaced by using wind power.

A key current advocate of this myth is the website MasterResource. MasterResource is a free-market energy blog with a range of high-profile contributors, including Robert Bradley Jr., an adjunct scholar of the libertarian think-tank The Cato Institute and a former Director of Public Policy Analysis at Enron. The ideological underpinnings of this site can be demonstrated in Bradley’s belief in the economic doctrine of ‘resourceship’, which claims that resources are not limited by the quantity present in the Earth but rather the ingenuity of man to extract them. This means, in essence, that if peak oil becomes a reality it’ll be because we weren’t intelligent enough to find more – not that there was no more to find. We’ll leave it to the reader to decide on the merits of this doctrine.

MasterResource has published a series of posts by former management consultant Kent Hawkins on the No Displacement myth. They deal with two studies which ostensibly show that the emissions caused by power plant ‘cycling’ (i.e. raising or lowering output to match wind generation) are greater than the emissions that would’ve been caused if the plant was left to generate that amount itself.

The first study is from the Netherlands, and is by C. le Pair and K. De Groot. It’s hosted Dr. le Pair’s personal website, which bears an anti-wind logo at the top, and doesn’t appear to be peer-reviewed. The study raises the valid point that inefficiencies are caused by cycling power plants, which isn’t under dispute. The study claims that these inefficiencies outweigh carbon savings from wind when they rise over 2.5% if wind power makes up more than 5% of the amount of electricity that’s used to meet demand. Their maths, in this regard, seems correct – but the problem arises when they try to prove that these inefficiencies actually happen in practice. They admit that they were unable to find data on this subject, but that doesn’t stop them trying to estimate what the efficiency drop required to make using wind turbines to generate electricity result in more carbon emissions would be.

Their discussion section goes through a series of complex-looking equations to find that the drop in efficiency necessary is exactly equivalent to the amount of electricity the wind turbines actually produce. This seems rather obvious. They then produce a table which purports to demonstrate that a relatively small drop in efficiency for the overall system would result in a significant drop in efficiency for the power plant that the wind turbines displace. This table was compiled with help from… Kent Hawkins.

How to make your own Wind Myth #1: Think Ouroboros – Refer to articles that you helped to write as evidence for your myth!

We’ll go into the roots of Hawkin’s calculator that the Dutch study relied on in a moment. The second study in Hawkin’s series of blog posts is one carried out by Bentek Energy, on behalf of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States. The third page of the report bears the disclaimer: “BENTEK DOES NOT WARRANT THE ACCURACY OR CORRECTNESS OF THE REPORT OR THE INFORMATION CONTAINED THEREIN.”

Bentek focus on the experience of the PCSO company in Colorado, which has added significant amounts of wind power capacity to its electricity grid since 2007. Since that time, the heat rate (the amount of fuel used per unit of electricity generated) has increased by around 1% across the entire set of PCSO’s coal plants. Bentek claim that this disguises the situation at individual plants, and presents two graphs of heat rate from Cherokee Plant in 2006 and 2008. They claim that these graphs indicate increased variability in heat rate – but this would be more convincing if both graphs used the same scale. As it is, the 2008 one looks a little stretched.

The next part of the report focuses on two scenarios from a PCSO training presentation. Both show a rapid variation in wind power over the course of a few hours, leading to coal electricity production being quickly ramped up and ramped down. Why these particular scenarios were picked from the presentation is unclear; there are four scenarios given in the presentation, but the other two show much less dramatic shifts in wind power.

Older coal plants like Cherokee have difficulty coping with their emissions following cycling – their emissions control systems are predicated on maintaining a constant boiler temperature. Every coal generator in Colorado is over 30 years old – Cherokee is over 50. This means that following cycling, emissions control systems can frequently fail and lead to a significant increase in emissions of various pollutants – and this is what Bentek claims happens on the two days it examines. Using the amount of pollution emitted by Cherokee over the full day (rather than just the pollution emitted during the wind variation event), Bentek claims that the extra emissions released by the plant as a consequence of cycling are more than are displaced by using wind. They then claim that this is a strong justification for replacing the coal plant with a new gas plant. This is what the plant’s owners are actually doing, which must come as welcome news to the gas companies who commissioned the report.

This implies that adding wind to an electricity grid that contains lots of old coal plant would not result in many emissions savings. Unfortunately for Bentek’s analysis, the emissions from Colorado’s electricity generating plant have been decreasing since wind came onto the system, by nearly the same amount as the added wind capacity. Wind events of the magnitude used by Bentek’s report are rare – far more common sources of cycling are daily changes in demand levels, which you can see in Figure II-7 in Bentek’s report. Indeed, Bentek did not present us with the changes in generation for the days they analysed beyond the times of the wind event, making it very difficult to claim that only that event caused the rise in emissions. It’s therefore not clear at all that cycling caused by wind leads to a net rise in emissions even from old coal plants. However, this doesn’t stop Kent Hawkins from claiming that using gas to balance wind leads to a net increase emissions.

How to make your own Wind Myth #2: Refer to articles that disagree with you as evidence for your myth and hope no-one checks your references

Hawkins uses a methodology similar to that used by Warren Katzenstein and Jay Apt in their article ‘Air Emissions Due To Wind And Solar Power’. Somehow he neglects to mention that Katzenstein and Apt find that renewable energy does result in a net carbon emission decrease – although not as much as has been previously claimed. Katzenstein and Apt’s article relies on a model containing four wind farms, a solar plant and a single gas turbine generator. For comparison’s sake, there are 51 gas plants in the UK, many containing multiple generators, and 264 operational wind farms.

Using data from a very small sample of wind farms presents a problem for their model – wind power variability from a small geographic model is very different from wind power variability from widely distributed wind farms, as this report for Greenpeace shows. Hawkin’s response to this issue as raised by Michael Milligan in ‘Wind Power Myths Debunked‘ fails to get to grips with the reasons why this has an impact on emissions rising as a consequence of variability. He claims that more wind on the system results in more absolute variability from wind – which is trivially obvious, as there’s more scope for the power output to go up and down. However, what’s relevant in calculating the increased emissions from cycling plant is the speed and the intensity with which wind events happen – as the Bentek report showed. Ramping up fossil fuel plants more quickly results in increased emissions, whereas being able to increase or decrease generation more slowly reduces the heat rate of plant. That’s why a small-scale model won’t properly capture the real impact of wind on cycling emissions.

How to make your own Wind Myth #3: Imply that small-scale models are the same as the real world

To demonstrate how wind power works in the UK, consider this wind speed map. It is immediately obvious that not only is the wind always blowing somewhere, but also that it is not the same everywhere at the same time – which Hawkin’s assertion that wind power is stochastic implies. Rather, wind is a series of flows of varying intensity. To illustrate how this affects the variability of wind generation, imagine you’re throwing tennis balls at a small-scale turbine, causing it to turn round. The frequency by which you throw tennis balls will cause different amounts of generation from the turbine. If you suddenly start throwing them at a faster rate, then the turbine will produce a generation ‘spike’.

Now imagine you’re throwing tennis balls at a series of turbines, one behind the other. Each ball hits the blade of each turbine in turn. If you suddenly increase the speed at which you’re throwing, it won’t cause an instantaneous increase in all the turbine – rather, it’ll cause generation to increase on a slower curve. It’s this system-wide slower increase that gas turbines will have to compensate for – not the sudden spike of generation from an individual turbine. That’s one of reasons why a wide geographic spread of wind farms is so important, as the Danish experience shows.

Given that no real-world data appears to support Kent Hawkin’s contention, what inspired him to take this approach to wind power? According to a piece he put up on MasterResource in February, his derived the information supporting his work from a document put out by the Renewable Energy Foundation called ‘Reduction in Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Estimating the Potential Contribution from Wind-Power’, by former senior Esso manager David White. The article makes the same claims – and same mistakes – as the above, by raising the power plant cycling issue but making no quantitative assessment of its impact. It fails to do so because it claims insufficient research has been carried out into this field – although a UKERC report on the same subject identifies a wide variety of papers available when REF’s 2004 report was originally released.

REF is an odd organisation. Despite its name, the majority of its activity involves disseminating anti-wind propaganda. Its funding comes from a variety of wealthy anonymous donors, only a few of whom have been publicly identified. Those we know about include the property magnate Vincent Tchenguiz, whose Consensus Business Group is the major supporter of the core funding of REF. Mr Tchenguiz has previously publicly discussed the likelihood of increased arms spending by Western governments to guard against the enormous floods of people fleeing countries rendered uninhabitable by global warming. He aims to make himself indispensable to arms companies that will be recipients of this increase in spending by functioning as a co-investor on ‘flow-back’ investments these companies are compelled to make with countries who purchase their products.

Curtailing the development of the most mature renewable technology – wind – will result in higher carbon emissions, increasing the likelihood of dangerous climate change.

How to make your own Wind Myth #4: It never hurts to find a rich businessman who stands to benefit from your myth

Mr Tchenguiz isn’t the only public figure associated with REF. The organisation’s first chairman – who only stepped down in February of this year – was Noel Edmonds. He joined REF following a prospective development near his home in Devon when the organisation was formed in 2004. We can therefore pinpoint the origin of the No Displacement wind myth quite accurately – it comes from Crinkley Bottom. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere…

Part 13 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 13: White Blackmail

Rearden’s wife, Lillian, discovers his infidelity by sneaking back to New York in the early hours of the morning following James Taggart’s wedding, having told Rearden that she was heading back home. Rearden’s paltry effort at deception – telling her he had business in town the next morning and so was staying on at the hotel – allowed her to surprise him when he returned to the hotel in the morning after spending the night with Dagny. Rearden refuses to divulge the name of his mistress, which Lillian assumes cannot be Dagny because Dagny is only interested in business. Lillian refuses Rearden a divorce in order to retain her position as a kept wife of a prominent businessman, and to torture Rearden with the knowledge that he’s broken a contract – which, to a man convinced of the sanctity of contract, is tantamount to demolishing his integrity.

Of course, the problem is that the only proper contract is a business contract involving exchange of value – social contracts like marriage are not exchanges of values, but moral commitments. Luckily, everyone’s favourite genius Franciso d’Anconia is along later in the chapter to point this out to Rearden.

Dr Ferris, he of the State Science Institute, comes along with more threats for Rearden to ensure that he hands over enough Rearden Metal for the Government’s Project X. This time he’s armed with knowledge of Rearden’s illegal business deal (illegal under one of the bizarre new laws Rand’s government of socialist strawmen decreed) with a coal mine owner, Kenneth Danagger. He threatens Rearden with the full force of the law if he does not comply – wait, no, actually, he doesn’t. He just threatens him with ruining his reputation by taking him to court. This is intended to spur Rearden into obedience, and leads to a passage that every libertarian everywhere quotes whenever they’re talking about civil liberties and the state:

“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against – then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way or rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand, it you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

The argument is that the only way a government can control people is by making ill-defined acts illegal and capitalising on the guilt as a form of social control. Remember this argument, because joined together with the more general form of this argument that comes later in this chapter it quite comprehensively demonstrates that either libertarianism is a massive practical joke played on the world by Rand (i.e. like James Delingpole’s career), or she’s ignored the Janus-like quality of this sort of meta-ethical argument.

Rearden of course stands up to Dr. Ferris, and is indicted.

Dagny has been tracing the progress of the mysterious disappearances of the men of industry, and has worked out a formula. The ones to disappear are the one who at any given time the remainder of the structure of the economy rests upon. She intuitively realises that the next person in this chain is Kenneth Danagger, and rushes to his office to prevent him from departing.

She is pipped to the post by a mysterious individual, who persuades Danagger to retire, and leaves his office just before Dagny is allowed in. Dagny cannot persuade him to stay – whatever he’s been told has unseated even his lust for industry.

Rearden, still in his offices late into the night, is surprised by Francisco d’Anconia, who launches into an exposition of why he’s so much more moral than anyone else, because all his actions were aimed at producing the best products for exchange. There’s one passage in particular I want to pick out:

“Did you want to see [Rearden Metal] used by men who could not equal the power of your mind, but who would equal your moral integrity – men such as Eddie Willers – who could never invent your Metal, but who would do their best, work as hard as you did, live by their own effort – and riding on your rail – give a moment’s silent thanks to the man who gave them more than they could give him?”

“Yes,” said Rearden gently

Bask in Rearden’s glory, little people!

d’Anconia goes on to tell Rearden that since his efforts are necessary for life (i.e. non-violent productive activity is what supplies us with food, because humans have never hunted anything ever), his opponents are using their own moral code to guilt him into supplying them with the products of his labour with providing fair exchange. By accepting their code he has caused himself guilt for something that wasn’t wrong, because the only moral value is derived from productive activity.

During this exposition, the tap-hole on one of Rearden’s furnaces blows open, and hot metal comes rushing out. Rearden and d’Anconia rush down and beginning filling the hole by throwing clay at it; d’Anconia is obviously superb at doing so in the way he is with everything else. Afterwards Rearden washes and cleans d’Anconia.

This section is a bit, well, homoerotic. We already know that Rand likes rough sex; it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to say that she also likes the thought of two titans of industry getting hot and sweaty together.

Analysis

Rand’s strawmen are using morality to control the titans of industry our main characters represent. They do this in order to extract value from them. The Government is criminalising things as a means of social control. The way to overcome this is to identify the correct morality, which d’Anconia presents to Rearden as the morality of the producer; property is accrued according to one’s effort of production for the purpose of fair exchange. This enables life to exist, so anything opposed to it must necessarily be a morality of death and destruction.

The problem comes as soon as one reads the first part of the argument alongside the morality & social structure Rand is supporting. This is that Government exists to enforce contracts and protect property rights and that taking of the products of another without fair exchange is immoral.

This achieves exactly the same social control goals for the rich, as opposed to the poor. It ensures that value is always concentrated in the hands of Rand’s aristocracy of talent, and like poor Eddie Willers, the less able have to be content with what they can achieve from their own effort. It is a morality that rejects others in society as only worthwhile inasmuch as they can produce; it is only pro-life for those lives who demonstrate their own worth. Under this system, Government exists to protect the rights of the rich against the depredations of the poor – and the poor should feel guilt for desiring the goods of another. It’s social control following exactly the same pattern Rand gave above; it merely reverses who’s in charge.

With this argument, Rand has demonstrated that either libertarianism is a joke, or that she is an enemy of freedom. The only freedom one really has is the freedom to author one’s own morality, and Rand seeks to take that away in the name of the rights of the rich. The self-authored life is how morality must function in a liberal society – anything else intrudes on an individual’s freedom.

Part 14 is here.

The Guardian today put up a piece asking ‘What is Cameronism?‘, and offering up answers from a wide variety of ‘worthies’ including David Milliband, that well-known scholar of the Tory party. These answers range from the moronically vituperative (“I doubt he has a seriously ideological bone in his body”) to the slavish (“It is a belief in enterprise and aspiration”). None of them use the expression “One Nation Conservatism“, which is a pity, since it appears to be what Cameron himself thinks he believes.

This is the philosophy of Government that puts in the state in the role of a benevolent stand-offish parent; only intervening when you’ve messed up or done something particularly naughty. It is designed to counter growing divisions in society by providing everyone with the tools they need to achieve the goals they seek; it aims at unity and solidarity across class barriers. This is the root of Cameron’s concept of the Big Society: the notion that everyone in the country will share responsibility for delivering morally worthwhile goods. It stands in contrast to the emphasis on social divisions implicit in both Thatcherite and Old Labour models of thinking; where the poor are labelled as unworthy and workshy, and the rich are cast as vicious and uncaring.

Cuts in benefits should be seen in this context – they are aimed at reducing the social division caused by the existence of long-term unemployment funded by the State’s largesse, which creates a clear ‘Other’ in the minds of the middle classes. Claiming that the Tories are picking on the poor only makes sense if you believe the Tories have a clear determination to earmark particular social classes for particular opprobrium; under this philosophy, they do not.

This philosophy is, in many ways, superficially similar to liberalism, which is why the coalition has taken. However, the key contrast between it and a more classically liberal approach to government is that a liberal does not believe it is the role of the state to promote a particular type of living that’s conducive to unity across classes – witness the debate over the marriage tax rebate, for example. This implicit recourse to moralism is one of the many reasons I would never consider voting for the Conservatives.

One nation conservatism has been Cameron’s intuitive philosophy for years – his Broken Britain rhetoric referred not to e.g. sink estates themselves, but to the lack of unity and social divisions they engendered. Labour – and the Guardian – does not understand this, and are likely to continue portraying the cuts as the rich attacking the poor. The nature of these cuts will give the lie to this claim, ensuring that Labour have many years in the wilderness ahead of them.

While I still think of myself as nominally left-wing (although my despair at the insanities perpetrated by both sides of the political spectrum is pushing me into being an avowed centrist), I am nonetheless taken aback by the sheer scale of the vitriol that has been visited on the coalition government by the likes of the Guardian. It reminds me of nothing other than the petty little madmen who haunt the comment threads of Daily Mail articles, spewing venom about the dreadful things those foreigners are doing to our green and pleasant land. There’s something particularly pathetic about the intellectual laziness of simply opposing that which you don’t like while offering nothing positive by way of exchange.

That’s why Sunny Hundal’s decision to join the Labour Party came as something of a disappointment. I’d always rather liked the standard of debate on LibCon, and went so far as to submit an article of my own to it last weekend. The project of providing a proper alternative to neoliberalism – a real contribution to the national debate – is one that’s close to my heart. Instead, Sunny has decided to oppose, giving opposition to the coalition as the prima facie reason for joining the Reds. This visceral opposition has been playing out across the pages of the Guardian since the election, and thus far has done nothing but attempt to downplay any achievement (witness the BBC’s description of falling unemployment as ‘unemployment has so far failed to rise) and hypothesise awful futures based on nothing more than that opposition.

This is not the left. Like many young people, I viewed myself as left-wing because I believed it referred to a politics of constant change, constant revolution – not vicious reaction against it. The left puts forward ideas, the right opposes on the grounds of their love of stasis. This is what I believed the political wings represented. This is clearly no longer the case.

I choose to remain radical. I choose to remain for, not against. I choose to remain a Liberal Democrat.

Part 12 of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 12: The Aristocracy of the Pull

The Pull Aristocracy referred to in the title here refers to the victory of Rand’s socialist strawmen over the men of commerce – now, the path to influence is dependent on who you can lean on to follow your will, rather than what your will can produce. They’re all on display at the wedding of James Taggart to the ambitious floozy he picked up in a department store. The poor floozy is secretly a good character – there’s no such thing as a morally ambivalent person in Rand’s world – who wants to succeed on her own terms, but is incapable of resisting Jim’s money.

Rearden’s wife, Lillian, guilt-trips him into taking her to the wedding reception, to demonstrate her value to Jim in terms of being able to deliver her husband to social occasions at which, other will interpret, Rearden will be paying tribute to Jim. Rearden’s reaction to all this is once again teenage, but I’m not going to dwell on that because the meet of this chapter is Rand’s male Mary Sue, Franciso d’Anconia, giving a speech about the virtue of money.

d’Anconia is still hilariously superhuman, effortlessly dominating rooms and parties by the sheer force of his presence. Exactly the sort of man, in fact, that socially awkward adolescents would aspire to be. His speech – or rather, Rand’s monograph – is at turns glorious and infuriating; Rand has chosen a belief system that is internally inconsistent and so is a conglomerate of wonderful truths besmirched by insidious lies. Let’s analyse it piece by piece.

“So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only be the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?”

When I started reading this spiel, I was quite impressed at Rand’s stalwart defence of trade as a system of social interaction, presaging the arguments of evolutionary psychologists that we’re set up to instinctively act in a way which produces mutual benefit.

“When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honour – your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on the moral principle which is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil?

Then I realised that Rand is committing the classic failure of turning an ‘is’ into an ‘ought’; we instinctively aim for deals of mutual benefit without actually performing the calculation ourselves. This means that by interpreting our intuitions as a principle, Rand is overlooking the way in which they actually function for the collective good while often screwing over the individual. An instinct to protect your children even at the cost of your own life is good for the species, but not necessarily good for the individual. Rand’s rhetoric here is designed to fasten on to only part of our intuitive morality, and ignore the rest. ‘Moochers’ exchange emotional satisfaction for money. This is a valid exchange of value, one which Rand’s cash-focused principle fails to identify. I will move on to the reference to gold a little later.

“Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions – and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.

Here, Rand is again capturing part of our intuitive sense of ‘knowledge’ while excluding the rest. She divides fields of endeavor into physical and mental categories – and assumes that there can be no link between the two. There are a number of unspoken philosophical commitments there – not least a very strong dualism of the mind, which is unusual for a philosophy which pretends to only believe in an objective reality. This gives rise to the obvious fallacy of this passage: non-rational animals can still procure food. Expertise, rather than simply knowledge, is a combination of physical capacity to achieve married with the knowledge of how to do so. The latter can be derived from instinct, putting the notion of rationality at the heart of Rand’s argument at serious risk.

“But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of fund or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made-before it can be looted or mooched-made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.

Quite how Rand squares this with her clear endorsement of unearned income from investments is unclear. Simply putting your money somewhere and relying on the work of others to add value to it doesn’t appear to producing anything yourself.

“To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labour that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but not more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgement of the traders. money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss – the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery- that you must offer them values, not wounds – that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade – with reason, not force, as their final arbiter – it is the best product that wins. The best performance, the man of best judgement and highest ability – and the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward. This the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

This paragraph contains a fundamental flaw in Rand’s position – that talent and demand are necessarily conjoined. It is not the case that a man’s productiveness is correlated to his reward, as the reward is determined by the choices of others – not that man. A struggling artist, who wishes to do nothing except paint, may have no demand for those paintings because of their subject rather than the skill put into their composition, and be forced to sell them at a lower price. That artist may be able to make more money from stacking shelves. His reward is not correlated with his productivity – or his talent. This is necessarily the case within a market-based system – your productivity and hence your reward is almost wholly determined by the wishes of others. And yet Rand rails against that very failing in socialism.

“But money is [snip, nothing new in this para].”

“Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he’s evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he’s evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing judgment, ends by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come clocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

This is just stupid, and once again betrays Rand’s utter ignorance of how the world actually works. If you’re not Leonardo da Vinci, at some point you’ll need to hire someone with the expertise you lack. Obviously, it’s difficult to judge the work of someone in a field in which you’re not an expert yourself – but to say that you’ll necessarily destroy yourself if you do so ignores the fact that this is how almost every single business in the world operates.

“Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth – the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. if an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will serve the mind that cannot match it. is this the reason why you call it evil?

I suspect this paragraph is the reason why a lot of young trust-fund Americans and old Etonians love Rand – it’s a reason to not worry about taking Daddy’s money! The argument Rand presents here ignores her own principles – I’ve written about this separately here.

“Money is your means of survival. The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned you own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering men’s vices or men’s stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or a penny’s worth off joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, nut a reminder of shame. Then you’ll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity? Is this the root of your hatred of money?

Rand clearly hates advertisers, who do exactly this. Ironically, Atlas Shrugged was featured several times in Mad Men.

“Money will [snip – merely rhetoric]

“Or did you say it’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil? To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men. It’s the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money – and he has good reason to hate it. The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know they are able to deserve it.

This, of course, is why rich men never ever resort to force or fraud to increase their fortune. This is so unspeakably dumb I can barely be bothered to say that Rand would probably condemn rich men who did do such a thing as not really loving money. In fact, everyone at the Taggart wedding in this chapter loves money and aims to get more of it, which they’re doing by force and fraud. It seems bizarre that Rand doesn’t realise that greed doesn’t always come out in the form she wants it to. I have no idea how else she can conceptualise a love of money, unless it’s love of the principle and indifference to the fact. Mind you, the indifference Rand has displayed to facts has been a feature of this chapter so far.

“Let me [snip, same as above]

“Run for [snip, again]

“But money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or keep it. Men who have no courage, pride or self-esteem, men who have no moral sense of their to their money and are not willing to defend it as they defend their life, men who apologise for being rich – will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait foe swarms of looter that stay under rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will haste to relive him of the guilt- and of his life, as he deserves.

I can only assume that Rand is referring to the likes of the ‘new generation of philanthropists‘. I can’t think of any real-world example of someone who’s earned their wealth but just feels awful about it. Of course, it’s pretty clear that AtlasWorld is not the real world, and has little relationship to it.

“Then you will see the rise of the men of the double standard – the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money – the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In amoral society, these are the criminals and the statues are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters- by-law – men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims – then money becomes its creators’ avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenceless men, once they’ve passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

Rand has this utterly confused. A man can live by both violence and production. This is so obviously true that her bizarre dichotomy isn’t really worth analysing further, except to point out that the world is full of mixed economies who haven’t succumbed to armageddon.

“Do you wish [snip, rhetoric on the above].

“Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who expected to produce it. paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: ‘Account overdrawn.’

When I read this paragraph, I had to put the book down for a little while. This paragraph is responsible for all the gold-standard dullards in the libertarian movement, and relates in no way to the earlier parts of Rand’s argument. To give you a couple of examples from the earlier paragraphs: “Money is a tool of exchange… Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.” This is exactly right, and glorious in itself. Money is a representation of intersubjective value – value arrived at through mutual bargaining. It is a tool to represent that value more easily. But what Rand fails to realise is that because money is a tool, any physical manifestation of it has value in itself as a tool of exchange. The value of any given type of money is dependent on how useful it is – for example, you’ll need more euros if you want to buy things in the eurozone, so you’ll change more pounds into euros. This increase in demand raises the pound against the euro – you’ll get fewer euros per pound because more people want to buy things using them. Gold’s value is given by the marketplace, and as such is not an objective standard.

“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, “Who is destroying the world”? You are.”

The final part of the speech I’m going to reproduce here (the rest is some wanking off about America) is, perhaps, the most accurate: when you punish independent production, production falls. This is why collective production is less effective than market production. But this is not a moral principle in itself, merely an observation. Rand, again, is unable to move from the ‘is’ to the ‘ought’.

Analysis

Rand’s rhetoric is very powerful if one is instinctively liberal – it deceptively leads one into feeling that any form of state intervention constitutes force, and thus is immoral. But she can only reach that conclusion by ignoring so many facts and aspects of human experience that her conclusion itself is unproveable – it relies on supposition and emotion, rather than logic. This is peculiar for a ‘philosopher’ who prizes reason above everything else.

Part 13 is here.

Atlas Blogged #11

August 9, 2010

Part 2: Either-Or

Yes, we’ve reached the second part of this mighty tome! The title is a little odd: it’s either a bizarre reference to Kierkegaard’s work of the same name, or a poncey reference to Rand’s Manichean approach to individuals – they’re either worthwhile or they’re not.

Chapter 11: The Man who Belonged on Earth

I’ve realised, following my reading of annajaneclare’s blogging of The Fountainhead, that I haven’t been sharing with you much of Rand’s writing – which is a shame, as it’s through metaphors as brazen as the Sun that she constantly reinforces her narrative. For example, at the start of this chapter Dr Stadler is pacing his office…

‘Spring had been late in coming. Beyond the window, the dead gray of the hills looked like the smeared transition from the soiled white of the sky to the leaden black of the river. Once in a while, a distant patch of hillside flared into a silver-yellow that was almost green, then vanished. The clouds kept cracking for the width of a single sunray, then oozing close again.’

Wow. In AtlasWorld, even the seasons respond to the economic climate, as though socialism causes global cooling. Wyatt’s patch of green grass has been snuffed out. You know, in case somehow the metaphor passed you by. Perhaps you’ve been struck temporarily dead.

Stadler is raging against a pamphlet produced by Dr Ferris, the lobbyist for the State Science Institute. The pamphlet is a collection of aphorisms that Rand seems to believe count as socialist wisdom:

‘Thought is a primitive superstition. Reason is an irrational idea. The childish notion that we are able to think has been mankind’s costliest error.’

‘That gray matter you’re so proud of is like a mirror in an amusement park which transmits to you nothing but distorted signals from a reality forever beyond your grasp.’

‘So you think you’re sure of your opinions? You cannot be sure of anything. Are you going to endanger the harmony of your community, your fellowship with your neighbours, your standing, reputation, good name and financial security – for the sake of an illusion? For the sake of the mirage of thinking that you think? Are you going to run risks and court disasters – at a precarious time like ours – by opposing the existing social order in the name of those imaginary notions of yours which you call you convictions? You say that you’re sure you’re right? Nobody is right, or ever can be. You feel that the world around is wrong? You have no means to know it. Everything is wrong in human eyes – so why fight it? Don’t argue. Accept. Adjust yourself. Obey’

The ‘reality forever beyond your grasp’ bit is particularly irksome to me, because of who it’s a reference to. Rand hated Kant. Really, really hated Kant. She dubbed him a ‘monster’ and ‘the most evil man in history’. This is something of an achievement for a chap who never left Konigsberg.

However, as anyone who knows me knows, Kant is my favourite philosopher by a long stretch. Rand is here referring to Kant’s distinction between noumena and phenomena, between the object in itself and the object as perceived. We can never know the noumena fully, as we can only access it via the modes of our senses. Rand railed against this distinction as denying one’s ability to access the objective world, thus reducing its importance. To Rand, material acquisition is everything, and denial of one’s knowledge of one’s acquisition is tantamount to labelling it meaningless.

Unfortunately for Rand, she’d radically misunderstood Kant, and placing an aphorism associated with his work alongside others proclaiming the impossibility of reason is an insult so grievous that I’m half-tempted to say that anyone who follows her philosophy should be made to suffer for it. Rand didn’t realise that saying one couldn’t know a thing in itself is not equivalent to saying that one cannot know the thing. Kant merely claimed that we can only interpret objects via the modes we use to interpret the world – you cannot consider anything without placing them into the categories of time and space, for example. You can never know an object spacelessly and timelessly. But this doesn’t mean that everything you receive from your senses is rendered meaningless – far from it. Rather, we combine information about an object to synthesise new concepts about it. Direct access is impossible, but conceptual access is available to the rational.

My little Kant rant (ooh, rhymey) over, let’s get back to the pacing Stadler. He’s waiting for Dr. Ferris, with the intention of berating him. Ferris is late, because everything’s stopping working in the absence of motive force – i.e. Rand’s aristocracy of talent. Stadler finds himself befuddled by Ferris, mostly because Stadler finds himself unable to demand that Ferris stop behaving like a little shit. Ferris acknowledges that the book is worthless tripe, but claims that it’s useful as an agent of social control.

Dagny summons the pathetic Stadler to New York, to help her figure out her magic static engine. Stadler claims that the chap who designed it ‘discarded our standard assumptions’ and ‘formulated his own premise’ – i.e. did magic.

This is not how science works. You can’t convert a lower level of energy into a higher level of energy without inputting additional work, or tearing a hole in the universe. Maybe I’m being too hard on Rand’s engine; for the rest of my readthrough I shall assume the magic engine rips the universe a new one to make itself work.

Stadler is portrayed as seeking Dagny’s approval in a bizarre way, much like the Government operative who comes to Rearden’s office to demand his sells 10,000 tonnes of Rearden Metal to the Government for something called ‘Project X’.

In Rand’s defence here, this was the 1950s and Project X was still a serious name, rather than a porno channel.

Rearden makes short work of the lackey, refusing to sell the Metal and daring him to use force. The lackey refuses, still seeking Rearden’s consent.

So non-titans need the consent of titans to take their stuff. Why?In the real world, people just take things when they have more guns than the other chap.

Dagny and Rearden spent some time enjoying themselves with the trappings of wealth – actually enjoying them mind, not like those playboys who are meant to be enjoying them.

Rearden is again a teenager, this time discovering alcohol and clubbing for the first time – ‘My enjoyment is special, because I’m awesome!’

Analysis

More weird consent stuff. More insults to proper philosophers. More pathetic teenage egotism. I’m not a fan of this chapter. Can you tell?

Part 12 is here.