Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why is Atlas Shrugged selling well again?

I don't know for sure, because I have no real data. But that doesn't stop lots of people from speculating.

Take Reason senior editor Brian Doherty in Why Ayn Rand is Hot Again :

"Readers and pundits alike look at America and see a world scarily reminiscent of Rand's government-choked dystopia in Atlas. It's a world with a struggling economy where political pull matters more than success in the free market, where the government blithely takes over huge transportation industries."

His claim about readers and pundits might be absolutely true. But somehow he doesn't point out that the readers and pundits he's discussing are idiots. Because the real world is NOT like the conspiracy plot of Atlas Shrugged. If government "looters" WANTED to take over transportation industries, it would take over the most profitable ones. Not the losers. Likewise the banking industry. Did government take over the profitable rail freight industry? No. It took over the unprofitable passenger rail industry. Did government take over the profitable foreign-owned auto industry? No, it took over our failing domestic auto industry.

The right-wing echo chamber is full of stupid assertions that the economy is behaving as in Atlas Shrugged. They're patently false, but ought to pump the sales up as a side effect.

Another factor that would push up sales of AS are the Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand. I don't think the publicity of these two biographies is nearly as effective as the right-wing echo chamber, because the media are saturated with the latter.

A third possibility is that sales to Asia have increased. With around 3 billion people in India, China, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, one thousandth of a percent would be 30,000 sales.

Of course, book sales are a bad measure of how many readers a book actually has. Atlas Shrugged is such a miserable read that I suspect most people don't finish more than a small fraction of it.

The libertarian movement crested around 10 years ago, and has been conspicuously declining ever since (judging from the collapse of the US libertarian party.) Its strongest economic claims have been usurped by neoliberal corporatists who want economic liberty for corporations, and the hell with real people. They're already very powerful (plutocrats have always been powerful), and Rand is just more grist for their continuous propaganda efforts. A bump in the sales of AS is nothing I worry about: all it signals is that AS is a talking point for this month.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Bitch is Back

GQ magazine has a reasonable article about Rand believers titled: The Bitch is Back.

There is no denying the effect of Rand's writing on teenagers. It's characteristic of propaganda aimed at teenagers. If they only believe in these true principles, they will find their triumphant place in life leaving their worthless competitors in despair! How exhilarating! Thus the emotional hook which fosters belief resistant to criticism, logic, and reality.

This sort of propaganda works on teenagers and other ignorants because they have not yet been vaccinated with enough worldly cynicism, let alone been exposed to more sensible alternatives and counter-arguments.

Even if you are not ignorant, it is difficult to answer Randian "when did you stop beating your wife" assertions that you must believe or you are a looter. The perverse framing is pervasive in Rand's books.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reason Magazine has a hard on for tobacco

A reader emailed me this list of 4 recent articles from Reason Magazine. They illustrate a consistent opposition to government efforts to reduce smoking. We'd expect that sort of corruption from organizations that receive (or have received) large amounts of funding from tobacco companies.

He writes:

Apparently reason mag. has a serious hard on for second hand smoke. You know how cigarettes have a filter to take a bunch of gunk out of the smoke you breathe, apparently being on the other end breathing unfiltered smoke is less harmful. In fact, they argue that smoking bans increase heart attacks, no joke.

"has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer.", they challenge this, well they really don't, but they really do :)

This article seems to be of a type that helps carefully brand anyone who opposes smoking into emotionally driven idiots like environmentalist or liberals, great ad hominem while accusing the opposition of ad hominems. Apparently questioning smoking and cancer might cause the public to brand you something they don't like.

2) The science is irrelevant to the policy question of whether the government should dictate smoking rules on private property.
Classic your only freedom that is to buy argument. Property worship. If your only freedom is to buy or not, do you really have any freedom?

Apparently flavored cigarettes don't cause teens to start smoking, "duh!".

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Ostrom Nobel and organ donation

I was delighted to see Ostrom win a Nobel. I knew of her work from my previous researches into the nature of rights, when I found her descriptions of the rights bundles associated with common resources (Schlager and Ostrom, 1992).

Reviewing the various summaries of her work, I'm delighted that she's finding good support for non-market solutions. That should stick nicely in the craw of many market-uber-alles libertarians and neoliberals.

Now, some libertarians may claim that the solutions she documents and researches are not government solutions: and indeed they are not. However, they rely upon government supported special privilege to coerce rule-following behavior in ways libertarians would not consider freedom. In the frequent example of the alpine pastures, there is an enforced rule that you may not pasture more animals in the summer than you can maintain over the winter. Such coercion (I'm using the libertarian sense) is unjustifiable for libertarians, since there is either no ownership or communal ownership of the commons. Unless a commune is granted governance powers, it has no legitimate power to direct any behavior than any partner in a partnership does, nor even the power to exclude endless newcomers.

I also wondered if organ donation, which is strongly regulated and prohibited from markets, might benefit from this alternative approach. So I searched in google, and lo and behold:

"The Puzzle of Private Rulemaking: Expertise, Flexibility, and Blame Avoidance in Regulation." By David L. Weimer, 2005.
"My approach to the analysis of private regulation as an institutional form, although much
less ambitious, follows in the spirit of Elinor Ostrom’s study of self-governing common property

Libertarians (and others) proposing marketization of transplant organs are opposed to Ostrom's sort of system in this case.