I’ve heard Stephen Colbert summarize the Objectivist mindset — and by extension, libertarian mindset — as “I’ve got mine, Jack!” This is true as far as it goes, but it is also a lie by omission.
Consider this story in the Wall Street Journal:
There’s no free lunch, goes the old saying. The IRS may take that literally.
The Internal Revenue Service is looking into the “free lunches” that companies like Google Yahoo Facebook , and other Silicon Valley heavyweights provide to their employees, and whether those meals should be subject to taxation.
“It appears for a lot of these companies that they’re not actually including (them) in their employees paychecks or W-2s and therefore the question is whether there’s some skirting of the tax laws,”
I think that illustrates the government mindset pretty well, which could perhaps be summarized as “Oh, you’ve got nice stuff! I’m going to take some.”
You see, what Stephen Colbert and other critics leave out is that libertarians always follow “I’ve got mine” with “and you’ve got yours.” Leaving that out makes libertarianism seem pretty selfish.
To be fair, Ayn Rand also criticized people for giving in to their altruistic impulse, as if helping the needy was some kind of weakness. Then again, even the staunchest Ayn Rand disciple wouldn’t have done this:
In 2006, the City of Las Vegas became locked in a bizarre war with homeless advocates, and decided that no one should be engaging in charity in the public parks. The City began ticketing good Samaritans who shared food with more than 24 people, under the belief that giving food to people already in the public park violated statutes requiring permits for gatherings of 25 or more people. When the ACLU of Nevada took issue with this interpretation of permit laws, the City took a more direct approach: it explicitly outlawed the sharing of food with anyone who looked poor…
Other homeless individuals were being kicked out of parks under a questionable trespass policy called “86”ing, where Park Marshals essentially took photographs of certain people – almost always homeless people – who were then kicked out of the public parks on pain of a trespass misdemeanor if they returned. The 86ing process had no paperwork, no right to appeal, and no due process whatsoever.
I’m not even sure how to summarize that mindset…maybe “How dare you help the poor yourself! You should be paying us to help them.”
(Hat tip: Reason 24/7)
Jeff Gamso says
You probably give Las Vegas too much credit when you say that it insists that it alone provide for the needs of the poor.
The real message, I suspect, is that it doesn’t give a rat’s ass for the poor and that anyone giving them sustenance induces them to stick around rather than either dying or migrating to a less heartless community. And of course, if they’re in a public park . . . .
Might have been OK if they were being fed on a poorly lit-street corner in a ghetto.
Nigel Declan says
I assume that you are aware that Stephen Colbert is not a real pundit, merely someone who satirizes real (mostly conservative) pundits. Suggesting that Stephen Colbert is lying by omission is akin to suggesting that Bob Newhart is lying because he is not actually talking on the telephone during his comedy routine. Technically, the criticism is correct, but it misunderstands the role of the speaker and imputes to him some sort of duty to describe libertarianism in a manner that is both accurate and consistent with your definition of libertarianism. Furthermore, you seem to be the one suggesting that Colbert’s opinions on objectivism (which, given Ayn Rand’s apparent revulsion towards altruism and charity, certainly doesn’t seem to necessarily involve the “you’ve got yours” aspect) are necessarily a commentary on libertarianism. It seems, therefore, that Colbert has made a perfectly reasonable commentary on one political/philosophical view which, although perhaps related, is distinct from libertarianism; you, however, have decided to impute his statements as lying (albeit by omission) about the political/philosophical view to which you subscribe.