North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › Dr. Bernstein's lecture and Q&A

Dr. Bernstein's lecture and Q&A

Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 285
I don't know about anyone else, but I found Dr Bernstein's lecture to very enlightening and it brought up several points I hadn't considered before about the effects of capitalism on the nations that practice it. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to the next speaker we have come up.

In the Q&A afterward though, Todd asked a very interesting question; whether the government should be able to step in and restrict trade with countries such as Iran and China. Todd, I am curious what you thought of his answer. I can not yet reconcile allowing the government to restrict trade in some cases and still say the government is allowing it's citizens to trade freely.

- Travis
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 465
Hi Travis,

I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Bernstein's lecture, and I found it generally encouraging and optimistic for the future.

Regarding my particular question, Dr. Bernstein could only give a few sentences in response, of course. If I understood him correctly, his answer was: yes, a government can restrict trade by its private citizens with certain other countries on the basis of national self-defense.

In thinking about his answer, however, my question may have been based on a mistaken premise. The question assumed that the restriction on trade is against our citizens, but I now think the restriction is actually against the citizens of a country that is a naked threat or at war with our own. By analogy, a government does not restrict a free citizen's right to trade with criminals in prison, but rather, it restricts the criminals in prison from free trade with those outside.

-- Todd
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 286
In thinking about his answer, however, my question may have been based on a mistaken premise. The question assumed that the restriction on trade is against our citizens, but I now think the restriction is actually against the citizens of a country that is a naked threat or at war with our own. By analogy, a government does not restrict a free citizen's right to trade with criminals in prison, but rather, it restricts the criminals in prison from free trade with those outside.

-- Todd
I hadn't thought about it in that light. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

- travis
Sherry
SherryTX
Plano, TX
Post #: 436
I really enjoyed it as well. I would love to get this speaker added to a regular "circuit" down here in Dallas for NTOS.

The only downside is that I am growing increasingly irritated with how long it is taking for the book to get here from Amazon.com....grrrrr
David V.
HeroicLife
Shanghai, CN
Post #: 104
In the Q&A afterward though, Todd asked a very interesting question; whether the government should be able to step in and restrict trade with countries such as Iran and China.

This was one of the few things I disagreed with. I think that the government may legitimately block trade only with an enemy state that is engaged in or intending to engage in a war with us. Such a definition includes Iran and North Korea, but not China, or Cuba. In the case of Cuba, you would probably not be trading with an individual, but a slavemaster. This is highly immoral, but it is not the job of the government to go around making such determinations of every state.
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 467
Hi David,

... In the case of Cuba, you would probably not be trading with an individual, but a slavemaster. This is highly immoral, but it is not the job of the government to go around making such determinations of every state.


In case of slavery, I think that a moral government also has the moral right (but not obligation), to come to the defense of the slaves. But the right to trade with the slavemaster?

By analogy, if you are walking down the street and see a person being viciously beaten, I think you have the moral right to come to the defense of the victim.

Walk by and ignore it? OK, maybe you are not physically capable of helping, or maybe you just do not feel in the mood to help.

But what about stopping to offer to sell the attacker a club or a gun to help him continue with the vicious attack? What about merely offering to sell him a pack of cigarettes or a refreshing cold drink? After all, the effort of making a visious beating might make the attacker in need of some stress relief and feeling a bit thirsty. There might be a good chance to make a buck.

Would you argue it is not the job of the government to go around making determinations that it is wrong for a person to knowingly trade with the attacker of another person at a crime scene?

What is the principle here?

-- Todd

Edited to shorten a run-on sentence.
David V.
HeroicLife
Shanghai, CN
Post #: 100
I think it's an issue of jurisdiction. The U.S. government's only authority abroad is to protect the rights of citizens living in the U.S. Protecting the rights of people residing in other nations violates that authority. The enforcement costs for such a policy are not trivial - there are few black and white cases where trade with a whole nation can be deemed immoral - the vast majority of countries are a mix of socialism and capitalism, and adjudicating these cases as well as running an anti-smuggling blockade is costly. How do you know whether your Chinese-made jeans were produced by political prisoners or not? Even in Cuba there is an underground economy (perhaps the largest part of the economy) that could be opened up.

"Walk by and ignore it? OK, maybe you are not physically capable of helping, or maybe you just do not feel in the mood to help."

Besides the issue of jurisdiction, this presents a false alternative of state action/no action. A proper government requires a proper social philosophy, which means that people ostracize slave traders. In a capitalist society, with private property, it would be easy enough to expel such people from society.
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 470
Hi David,

My ideas are not well thought out on all of this, but I owe you a response and this may help us think the issues through and find the principles involved.



I think it's an issue of jurisdiction. The U.S. government's only authority abroad is to protect the rights of citizens living in the U.S. Protecting the rights of people residing in other nations violates that authority.

Instead of jurisdiction, I think this falls under the category of "aiding and abetting." Even if a criminal is outside the jurisdiction of the U.S., aiding and abetting a murderous regime -- or the people who support it -- is an anathema to all values free people should hold dear.

By analogy to a prison maintained in a moral country, the government can and should prohibit a private citizen from trading with a prisoner (assuming convicted of a serious crime that would be against the Objectivist morality of individual rights). While the punishment (i.e., the loss of freedoms, including the freedom to trade) is against the convicted prisoner, it would also be wrong for a private citizen outside the prison walls to try to circumvent the punishment of the prison walls. Should it not itself be a crime for a U.S. citizen to knowingly trade with (i.e., aide and abet) a convicted murderer who has escaped from a U.S. prison to a foreign country?

In the case of nations, certainly one country does not have government power over the foreign citizens living (or held against their will) in another country. But I think it still has the moral right to prevent a U.S. citizen from trading with a foreign government or person in such a country where the foreign government is an anathema to all morality, or with people supporting such a government, and especially where it is a potential danger to the U.S., as more than just a few countries are.





The enforcement costs for such a policy are not trivial - there are few black and white cases where trade with a whole nation can be deemed immoral - the vast majority of countries are a mix of socialism and capitalism, and adjudicating these cases as well as running an anti-smuggling blockade is costly.

The first part appears to be an argument from "there is no -- or rarely -- black and white," so no judgment is possible -- or only rarely. But we do have moral standards, the ability to evaluate how much the standards should be able to deviate from a moral ideal before becoming a crime, and in an evaluation of the facts and making a judgment under such standards, we have such concepts as "preponderance of the evidence" (i.e., more likely true than not).

The second part appears to be a pragmatic argument of some sort. True enough, adjudicating crime and the policing of crime (e.g., smuggling to aide evil regimes or those who support evil regimes) has a cost. But you seem to be suggesting that because it is "costly," we should not seek any such justice at all.




How do you know whether your Chinese-made jeans were produced by political prisoners or not? Even in Cuba there is an underground economy (perhaps the largest part of the economy) that could be opened up.

This part is based on some kind of appeal to ignorance. I think a great deal of evidence is available for making judgments about the nature of a foreign government, and the likelihood (or not) that jeans are made in a slave factory, and even if not made in a slave factory but a factory next to a slave factory, the support that may give to an evil government that so horrendously violates the rights of its own people.

I am not advocating that a moral government must come to the aide of oppressed people under a brutal foreign regime. But I am thinking that a moral government should prevent its citizens, at least while they choose to remain citizens, from aiding and abetting such brutal regimes.




Besides the issue of jurisdiction, this presents a false alternative of state action/no action. A proper government requires a proper social philosophy, which means that people ostracize slave traders. In a capitalist society, with private property, it would be easy enough to expel such people from society.

It seems you are suggesting that in the case of a vicious beating, slavery, murder, etc., even as between the private citizens under the same government, it is not necessary for the state to act, or even for the citizens to intervene, but rather the alternative is for the individual citizens to simply "ostracize," on a purely voluntary basis, whoever acts so immorally.

How exactly would moral citizens "ostracize" slave traders, violent criminals, etc.? What if after robbing you, someone else chooses to provide the criminal food and lodging on his property in "trade" for the gold coins taken from you? The proposed alternative would seem to depend on absolute 100% unanimity of social response, which would be easily subverted for a few gold coins in "convenient" trade here and there by even a very few unscrupulous or intimidated property owners. I don't get how, just because we have private property, "it would be easy enough to expel such people from society."

This suggestion sounds like pure anarchy. Am I understanding this correctly?

-- Todd
David V.
HeroicLife
Shanghai, CN
Post #: 107
I think you misunderstand the argument I am making. My point is that prohibiting trade with totalitarian regimes false outside the proper domain of government. I agree that our government has the moral right to prevent us from trading with slavers, but it does not have the right to make me pay for it.
With that in mind:
and especially where it is a potential danger to the U.S., as more than just a few countries are.
I agree with this, as I pointed out in my first response. It's true that many -- but not all -- totalitarian regimes also represent a threat to other countries due to the nature of statism.
The first part appears to be an argument from "there is no -- or rarely -- black and white," so no judgment is possible -- or only rarely.
No, I am only pointing out that investigating and enforcing such judgments carries a cost.
It seems you are suggesting that in the case of a vicious beating, slavery, murder, etc., even as between the private citizens under the same government, it is not necessary for the state to act, or even for the citizens to intervene, but rather the alternative is for the individual citizens to simply "ostracize," on a purely voluntary basis, whoever acts so immorally.
Not at all. However, ostracism is a powerful response in cases where actions are immoral yet do not violate rights, or where the government does not have the power to punish a rights violation, such as crimes committed abroad.
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