Jeffrey Tucker

Anthem by Ayn Rand

I’m pleased to see Laissez Faire Books publishing a new edition of this book. I may be unusual in this, but Anthem happens to be my favorite of Rand’s four major works of fiction. It is pithy, pared down to essentials, and more poetic. This guest editorial was originally published as the editorial preface of the new edition. — GAP

Anthem by Ayn Rand

“The author does not understand socialism,” read the letter from MacMillan in reply to the submission of Ayn Rand’s novella, Anthem. They turned it down. Actually, the publisher didn’t understand socialism. Hardly anyone did in 1937, when this book was written. Rand, however, did understand socialism. She understood it so well that she knew it would result in the opposite of what it promised and that its proponents would eventually come to embrace its grim reality, rather than repudiate the system of thought.

In many ways, this book is one of the best dystopian novels ever written because it puts the central focus on the key failing of socialism: its opposition to progress. How is that possible given that progress is a central slogan in socialist thinking? The problem is that by collectivizing private property, socialism removes the machinery of progress itself. It abolishes prices and profits and calculation and the incentive to create. It puts a premium on political control, and politicians resent the revolutionary implications of entrepreneurship. Therefore, a consistently socialist society would not only be poor and backward; it would revel in those features and call them the goal.

Think about it. This was the 1930s, long before the environmental movement and long before the primitivist streak in socialist thinking was to emerge as an outright agenda to be imposed by force. But as a child in the old Soviet Union, Rand had seen it in action. She had seen how entrepreneurship and creativity had to be sacrificed for the collective, and how this drove civilization straight into the ground. A totalitarian society would not be a world with amazing technology and flying cars, but would exist only at a subsistence level. And it would try to stay that way.

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Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

Before the third of the Batman trilogy hit theaters, I had heard that The Dark Knight Rises was a film without hope, with a long and dreary narrative that never loosens its grip. It leaves the viewer without a sense of answers.

I saw it and left confused. It saw it again, and left confused again. All the while, I kept wondering if this interpretive effort would pay off. Maybe it’s just another movie and lacks the ideological significance of the previous two.

I too had read several reviews that had condemned the film from a left-wing point view, arguing that it took a cheap shot at the Occupy Wall Street movement, suggesting that it consists mainly of brainless menaces who are easily manipulated by a strongman leader. The filmmakers deny this.

Regardless, this was probably the best political feature of the film.

However, the merit of its warning about left-wing populism was seriously compromised by the portrayal of the Gotham cops as saintly guardians of the social order. Neoconservatives loved this part of the film, made all the better to them because the prisons are full and Gotham is ruled by a civilian-led authoritarian regime of tight law and surveillance — the neocon dream come true.

What’s going on here? Why is the movie so full of mixed messages and, in the end, so unsatisfying?

Finally, it hit me. And this will be perfectly obvious once you hear it.

The problem is that the film gives Gotham (and us) a choice between two forms of despotism, one “left wing” and one “right wing,” and asks us to choose the lesser of two evils. We can have one of two systems: bureaucratic/authoritarian or revolutionary/dictatorial. The idea of a self-managing society is just out of the question. The film biases that choice by showing one as offered by the evil villain and the other by a corrupt, yet stable status quo.

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ARTICLE | Market Failure? The Case of Copyright Thumbnail

Government Failure by Gordon Tullock, Arthur Seldon, and Gordon L. Brady

How gigantically humongous and intrusive is the federal government? A traditional measure is to look at the pages of regulations in the Federal Register, which is, by now, probably the world’s largest book collection. The problem with this approach is that it takes no account of how a single bad regulation can have monstrously deleterious effects.

Copyright regulation is a good example of this. There was no universal enforcement until the very late part of the 19th century, and terms were mostly short in the early days of this regulation. In the course of the 20th century, regulations became ever more tight and the copyright terms ever longer, so much so that today, the words you sign away to a conventional publisher are theirs to keep for your lifetime plus 70 years!

One standard argument for doing this is that noncopyrighted works will not be efficiently exploited. You have to assign ownership or else the resource will vanish into the ether. No one will care about it, and civilization will lose extremely valuable literary works. Our market for ideas will be impoverished.

Now, to me, this argument seems obviously false, but that’s probably because of my own experience in publishing. I’ve seen it happen — so many times that it is predictable — that once a work has fallen out of print but is still under some kind of protection, it is mostly neglected by the heirs. No one who “owns” the work has the incentive to bring it to light, while those who care about it fear the law or don’t want to pay some arbitrary price set by the owners.

Meanwhile, when a work is public domain, there are dozens of people bidding to get it into print. This was true all throughout history, actually. The reason American school kids in the 19th century read British literature is that it was not regulated in the United States, and therefore, it could be sold very cheaply and distributed very widely. It is true today: Whether music or books, the material in the commons is far more in demand than that which is regulated. And the demand leads to the supply.

In other words, the opposite of the conventional exploitation theory is correct. The copyrighted works drop from memory, while the public domain works last and last. But of course, this observation draws from my deep involvement in the industry, and we can’t expect academic scribblers to understand anything about how the world actually works in real life.

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Sharis Pozen

DoJ Assistant AG Sharis Pozen

Sharis Pozen
DoJ Assistant AG Sharis Pozen

Get this: The federal bureaucrat who last month started the litigation against Apple and book publishers for ebook pricing is the same person who, back in the stone age, represented Netscape in its lawsuit against Microsoft.

Recall that Microsoft was trying to give away its Internet Explorer to computer users for free. Netscape went nuts and got the government to clobber Microsoft for being so nice to consumers. It put the company through litigation hell and even demanded that Microsoft change its operating system code to untie it from IE.

The person’s name is Sharis Pozen, and she is acting head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division and a political appointee of the Obama administration. She claims that she is threatening state violence against Apple and publishers for pricing collusion — and that it’s her job to protect consumers.

Interesting. She began her career trying to protect the rights of an old-line company to rip off consumers. To her, a price of zero was unfair competition. She was sure that a browser should be a paid product. The progress of history flattens that argument. Today, dozens of companies beg you to download their browser for free. Browser use is all over the place, sort of like a free market. There is no Microsoft monopoly, contrary to the overheated predictions.

Given that history, one might suppose she would retire from public life and maybe go into flower arranging or something. Instead, she is still at it. Last year, she denied a proposed merger between T-Mobile and AT&T that would have improved your cell service. This year, she says that a deal between publishers and Apple is harming consumers, so she has to act.

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