Who’d pick you up from the roadside if the NHS didn’t exist?

I was asked this question during a discussion on healthcare. My position of course, is that like all goods and property in any economy, healthcare is a commodity not a right. The questioner was a mixed-economy type (despite initially seeming to agree in principle to property rights.)

Despite repeating that private healthcare “doesn’t work” (even though the closest we’ve come is the USA where the level, quality, technology, price, and waiting lists are the best in the world (although this will change thanks to Obama), and ignoring the fact that socialised medicine has disastrously failed in every country it’s employed, e.g. the NHS), I suspect he was becoming exasperated by my rational clear objective logic and the inability to resolve these issues to their natural conclusion: does a man have a right to his own property or not? What level of responsibility to we have to other people, and why?

Unfortunately, many who support a mixed-economy (or full blown socialism) – try to justify it with emergency life-boat dilemmas such as “what if a young girl needs your money to treat leukaemia?” or “who picks you up from the roadside if there are no NHS ambulances?” I believe the tendency to think of these specific hypothetical extreme scenarios is an example of how people are rarely used to thinking in terms of principles: moral truths that are the basis for all other truths, and incidentally, all political systems.

So that latter question was thrown at me and I didn’t immediately have an answer. Of course, it’s not necessary to invent answers to every single question to know that a principle is true and should be applied consistently.

The beauty of thinking in terms of principles is that it opens your mind to consider new fresh possibilities, which is markedly different to how controlled markets stagnate. So I gave the question some thought for about five seconds and came up with this: if healthcare was privatised and there were multiple providers competing for your custom (not to mention that this would drive prices down and drive innovation, research, and technology), there would probably be multiple ambulance services (which would increase the number of ambulances in the country by who knows how many fold!), and any one of them could assist you in an emergency whether you were a member of their company or not. However, they would cross-charge your provider for the cost to them. Compare this to how a cash machine (ATM) works. You can use any ATM in the country, in fact, in the world (almost) – whether it’s your bank’s machine or not; banks cross-charge each other because getting money to you is of benefit to all parties (and you end up paying nothing). I imagine this is exactly how it would work in a non-State-controlled healthcare market. (Incidentally, you often have to pay for NHS ambulances in Britain anyway! And you have to pay for scripts in England if you work full time and therefore already pay into to the NHS. Ironically, if you don’t work and don’t contribute, you pay nothing – but such is the unjustice of socialism.)

The other assertion that needs pointing out was that whilst the NHS service is admittedly poor, “it works”. In this case he meant that at least an ambulance turns up and you don’t have to worry about it. Of course, we could all counter with NHS horror stories where this did not happen. A few years ago, a friend of mine tripped over a wall and broke his hip; he was in a lot of pain. The ambulance took over half an hour to come. If he had fractured his skull instead, he would be dead now.

The point is that it took me five seconds to think up this possible solution; who knows what professional businesses and free enterprises could come up with when the government leash is taken off and the free market allowed to blossom.

Objectivist Roundup 110217

The latest edition of the Objectivist Roundup is now live over at The Playful Spirit blog, go check it out! There are some really good articles on politics, philosophy, child-upbringing, finance, healthcare etc. Definitely worth a read.

http://theplayfulspiritrachel.blogspot.com/2011/02/objectivist-round-up.html

World Cup games to remain on free-to-air TV in the UK

If you think this is good news, you need to reconsider your premises and take a reality check.

It’s not good enough to simply say “oh good, this means I get to watch World Cup games for free” ignoring the far more important, and sinister, premise underlying this.

For once I actually agree with UEFA when it says that the government has created “a disproportionate and unjustified distortion of competition on the relevant market.” Incidentally, this statement could and should be applied to government meddling in ALL markets – but most people usually object only when they feel aggrieved, just as most people turn a blind eye to government meddling when it appears to benefit them in the short term. This ruling unnaturally manipulates the market, and prevents property owners getting value for money, and prevents broadcasters competing fairly over coverage rights. You might say it’s unfair on you to have to pay to watch a certain event (as if you have the god-given Right to someone else’s property just because you’d like it, and what events do you have a “right” to watch and which ones don’t you?), but what about what’s fair on UEFA, FIFA, and all the TV companies? Does your “interest” trump their property?

(Also, there are no “free” channels in the UK, given that the British people are subjected to perhaps the most ludicrous and laughable tax ever invented, the TV License; a license that funnels tax money to the State’s official broadcaster, allowing it to compete with proper broadcasters who must actually earn their income.)

A spokesman for the UK department of culture, media and sport said: “We welcome the decision from the EU and continue to support the principle of protecting sports events for free-to-air coverage.” But why are some events exempt from fair (and free) trade and some aren’t? On what grounds does government decide to make certain events “untouchable” simply because they think a large number of people have an interest in watching such events? What if the government decided that these events are so important you must pay for the privilege and judged World Cup matches to be off-limits to the general public (similar to what North Korean has done)? At what percentage interest of the population does this become legally and morally right?

There is no objective answer to these questions, because it really comes down to what a group of bureaucrats generally feel is good or bad for an arbitrary and undefined group of people – and just as that group may grow or shrink, change interests, or have no say at all – their opinion will vacillate and meander too. In other words, they do whatever they think a large enough group will like. If you want an example of mob rule, this is it.

Make no mistake; if you distil the issue to the core you’ll see it is simply this: the government can dictate what property of others it may dish out free of charge to the mob. The government may decide what is of certain significance and therefore worthy of special State privileges. The other side of this fascist coin is that it thereby decrees what form of event or speech is unacceptable – which it already has done in the form of “hate speech” and other politically-correct nonsense.

The government should be a legal arbiter – not a moral one. So long as UEFA and FIFA sell their property to buyers, there is no dispute to resolve. If that means that certain broadcasters are left behind, that’s business. Remember, the only reason the BBC can compete with anyone in the first place is because of tax money and special government privileges. The BBC can’t compete fairly with proper broadcasters because it doesn’t generate enough of its own wealth (this is just one reason why socialism doesn’t work). If the government gave Sky some special law allowing it exclusivity over TV shows, wouldn’t there be an outrage? Why then is it ok to rule some programmes “off limits” to free and fair trade? Why is ok to give ITV a special leg-up too?

This may seem like a minor issue, but if so, it’s only because government dictatorship has become a way of life. We are so used to it being involved in every field from healthcare to science to sport, that we take it for granted and turn a blind eye. But, since government power is the power to use force against citizens, as its power grows, your liberties will necessarily diminish. And its power is growing all the time. Don’t be part of the mob that cheers for more socialist agendas and promises of “equal wealth” or “equal football broadcast rights” – nothing is free. Government interference always costs you. They say “every man has his price”. What is yours? A free lunch? A free state benefit? A free football match?

What is this “Big Society”?

Ok, so normally I’m cynical and suspicious of anything the government does, because I question its motives and actions, (justifiably so I might add!) But this “Big Society” plan of David Cameron’s has some pros, and a lot of cons. Funnily enough, the reason I’m less hostile about it than I normally would be isn’t so much because of what it says, but because of what its critics say!

Part of the plan is this “Big Society Bank” which is a big no-no: more governmental meddling in the economy, and encouraging banks and borrowers to take out loans they wouldn’t otherwise do in a free market, in other words: the same thing that got us into this economic mess in the first place!

But Cameron does say some good things: ‘The big society is about changing the way our country is run. No more of a government treating everyone like children …let’s treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their lives”.

Sounds good. Will this include giving me the option to choose between the debacle that is the NHS *or* my own private health insurance? Will it treat companies “like adults” in allowing them to set their own prices and reap the rewards or consequences of their business decisions? Will it treat parents “like adults” in choosing the right school and curriculum for their children?

I have my doubts about this Big Society despite the good things being said by Cameron because, at the end of the day, it’s still the State meddling in the personal affairs of individuals and trying to use government power and tax money to manipulate society into some politician’s dream. This is simply not the rightful use of government.

But, when so many socialists are opposed to it, I wonder if it can really be that bad!

“Writing for The Telegraph, Mary Riddell said ‘the sink or swim society is upon us, and woe betide the poor, the frail, the old, the sick and the dependent.’” Ah this old chestnut – the socialist’s final appeal to guilt as the excuse for totalitarianism. So if you’re able and hard-working and productive and independent – you have no claim on the property of others. But if you are none of these things, you magically gain such a claim.

“In The Times, ‘Cassandra’ wrote: ‘ It’s all very well to have the bright idea of the locals running their own bus route […] The trouble is that running a bus route is a professional job, not for a group of local enthusiasts. How many bets that five years down the line, the enthusiasm has run out and there is no more bus route.’” Wow – I’m glad I’m not this cynical about the human race, or I might just take it upon myself to dictate to other people how to live their lives…like a socialist does. The sooner people stop thinking of actual property and services as necessary rights taken from granted, the sooner we can look for practical private alternatives.

“The national office of Unite the Union for the community and non-profit sector, suggested that “The ‘Big Society’ is smoke and mirrors for an avalanche of privatisation under the Tories”. Hang on, goods and services belonging to people and NOT the government?? Heresy!

And Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON says: “Public services must be based on the certainty that they are there when you need them, not when a volunteer can be found to help you.” Unfortunately, reality doesn’t bend to anyone’s “needs”. There can’t be a guarantee to things that must be produced and traded by others. There are no such things as “public” services – only services that the government controls and pays for using the money of people who don’t need them.

“Dr. Lorie Charlesworth, an academic from the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, suggested that ‘any voluntary system for the relief of poverty is purely mythical.’” Once more with the humanity! What these anti-human cynics ignore is that people in this world already support millions of causes with their money, voluntarily!  There is one “solution” to poverty that is truly mythical: charity. Charity is nothing more than hole-plugging. Look at the most prosperous countries in the world during their golden ages and compare them to the poorest countries during their darkest, and ask yourself WHERE wealth and quality of life comes from. I’ll give you a clue, the word is: CAPITAL*SM.

With Big Society, Cameron claims he wants to “take power away from politicians and give it to people.” What kind of power is he referring to? Political power is the government’s remit – rightly so. But the kind of power that “the people” need is economic power; the power over their own wealth and property – the power to reap their rewards and expand and grow as far as their minds will take them – and the responsibility to handle their own failures.

With so many socialists opposing Cameron’s scheme, I’m almost inclined to support it!

If you really want a prosperous productive country of respectful individuals, you don’t do it by trying to manufacture an artificial society by government fiat, but by identifying that all human reforms must start with the individual. Only an attitude of individualism and freedom will accomplish this. In such a culture, people will naturally trade with each other with mutual respect to mutual benefit. For this to happen, government needs to GET OUT of our affairs. Forget Big Society, let’s have Big Individualism.

Edited to add additional thoughts:

Another thing that strikes me is Cameron’s suggestion that volunteerism can take the place of public services. The choice is therefore between impractical profitless volunteer work and impractical tax-funded State work. There’s at least one other idea that isn’t considered by anyone: private profit-driven work. By removing government involvement in this area, we will be open to new and fresh ideas as to how private companies can offer services to people in a profitable way – which is the only practical longterm and sustainable way to do so. Here is just one excellent example of how a free market can profitably service the needs of others: http://www.freerice.com/

Pope blesses “Confessions” iPhone app

I think it’s so great that the Catholic Church is keeping with the times and embracing technology! As if making confession in person for the sin of enjoying your life to a man who’s never lived one wasn’t enough, you can now do it with a Pope-endorsed iPhone app!

I can’t help but wonder if this first for the Church would’ve been less appealing if it already had a stranglehold on the minds and bodies of everyone. I mean, if the iPhone existed several centuries ago, would the Pope endorse the beauty of new technology to reach those in need of confession, or would it send thousands of men on a Holy Crusade to invade a foreign land? I’m just saying…

Where was this harmony of Church and science 500 years ago? I think I hear Galileo spinning in his grave.

And I can’t help but wonder if this adoption of the modern might be a glimpse of things to come? Might the Church also repeal its superstitious protection of a particular type of human cells? Might it also accept the technological wonder of contraception and all the benefits it brings? In the developing world where birth control and AIDS are real problems, I’m sure a condom is more use than the Confessions app on an iPhone.

And are priests allowed to own iPhones? I propose that all Catholic priests be given iPhones with the Confessions app! I wonder what that might look like…

Aliens exist, but you shouldn’t care

Do you believe in aliens?

This is a really vague question. If a “believer” asks you, they want you to say “no” so they can follow up with “how can you believe we’re the only life in the universe?!11one”. But of course – that wasn’t what the question was. The question really means “do you believe we are being visited by aliens?”

I maintain that the same logic that makes alien life so overwhelmingly likely is the same logic that makes me thoroughly disbelieve in alien visitors. In short, aliens DO exist – but you shouldn’t give the matter a second thought.

Why do I believe that aliens exist but that we are most definitely not being visited? It’s quite simple and brief to be honest:

Evolution: if you understand it in any reasonable detail, you’ll appreciate that it’s not luck-based at all. Given the right conditions, and time – evolution is bound to happen. Of course, there are no guarantees over what form that life will take.

Probability: It doesn’t matter if earth-type worlds are rare or common in the universe. Earth is certainly unique of all the planets we’ve charted so far and the solar systems we’ve scanned to date. I think it’s fair to presume that earth-type worlds are rare – but however rare you want to make them you have to appreciate the vastness of the universe. It is a statistical certainty that somewhere out there, amidst the quadrillions upon quadrillions of stars, that an earth-type planet orbits a star like our own. (To be honest, quite a variety of star-to-planet distances/compositions would probably be acceptable.)

So vast is the universe it would actually be a statistical impossibility to not have any other life out there! And if you have life, and time, and enough planets – at least one of them should produce intelligent life – perhaps even rational.

But, this is where the alien fun ends. Remember how vast the universe is. In order for us to make contact with alien life, you not only need another species to be alive, be intelligent, develop space-travel, but do so within observable range of the earth.

Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Try to appreciate just how quick that is. It would still take 100,000 years travelling at that speed to cross our galaxy. Beyond that, at the same speed, the next closest galaxy is 2,540,000 years off. In fact, even the closest star to us would take over 4 years to reach at this speed.

Humans have only been sending out EM transmissions into space for a century. The very earliest transmissions which are nowhere near as powerful as those we send now are only 100 light years away. That’s one 1/1000th the diameter of the galaxy. In order for aliens to even be aware of our existence they’d have to be within 100 light years of earth. As we know, it’s an inconceivably-gigantic universe, and the odds of that life out there being within such a ridiculously tiny radius of earth don’t bear thinking about.

But the real killer, and for me the totally unassailable argument against alien contact (let alone visitation) is time: the universe in its current state of existence is about 15 billion years old. The earth is over 4 billion years old. Life has only been on earth for a few million years. Humans have only been on earth for a couple of hundred thousand. We have only been using electricity for just over a century. We’ve been sending out EM waves for a shorter time than that. We only achieved space-flight 50 years ago. We have only been actively looking for other worlds by scanning a tiny fraction of the heavens for a few decades. Now, even if another intelligent space-faring species actively looking for life existed, or will exist – you need them to be at least at our level of technology, give or take 50 years for either of us, and within 100 light years of earth (at a stretch). And, however we communicate with each other, that signal cannot travel faster than light.

To put this in illustrative terms, let’s use what I’ll call the time-overlap thought experiment: pick a number between 1 and 4 billion: that number is how many years back in time you will travel to a random place on earth. Another person does the same. What are the odds that the two of you will now meet up? And even if luck be damned, and incredibly you both picked the same number, and live at the same time on earth – you need to make contact before you die of old age – but let’s say you’re both different ages, both or either of you could be very young or very old. Where do you look? Which direction do you start out in? What do you look for?

It’s the same with aliens. Maybe they existed but died out ages ago? Maybe they are only now discovering the internal combustion engine? Maybe somewhere out there a CO2-laced volcanic world orbits a yellow star that will evolve intelligent life in many eons to come? Or maybe they are just like us typing blogs on their internet right now, but are just too far away. Who knows?

It’s fascinating to consider, but it’s speculation without resolution. Ultimately, the notion of alien visitors (especially given the total lack of proof) should be dismissed out of hand. The existence of alien life, either good or evil, is totally irrelevant to us. So although it’s overwhelmingly likely they are out there, by the same principle it’s overwhelmingly certain we will never ever know about each other.

Who is good enough to be your friend?

I think I have fewer friends now than at any point in my adult life. I think this is common to most people as they go throughout their 20s. When you’re a teenager, it’s all about your social life. It’s about fitting in, having friends, being in with the crowd, being out and about – and doing so as much as possible! I think when you’re growing up you’re trying to find your own identity, and most often your only reference is those around you. So in a way, young people define themselves more in terms of their likes and dislikes and those of the ones they associate with. I think other people are so important during this time because they complete you; they “top up” the missing parts of your own character. These missing parts are totally natural; no one is born a complete person, in fact it would be wrong if we were. The process of establishing your own identity must be a rational conscious process that takes time, experience, and judgement.

As a result, as one forms concrete opinions on the world, one necessarily starts to select those who are harmonious with those opinions. In youth, before one has strong opinions on anything, the range of personalities one can select from is limitless. A best friend might be one who is a fan of the same football club, or has the same taste in music or fashion. But as we start to pursue our educational and career paths, the “acid test” of friendship begins. It is here that we set our priorities and realise that the choices we make now will affect the rest of our lives – and we either commit to these, do what’s necessary to achieve our goals, or we don’t, or we fail. I think this is the stage of life that starts to separate the “egg heads” from the “dead heads”.

After this, as adults, we necessarily have to form opinions on the world around us; what is right or wrong. Now, I’ve put these choices – which I’ll call philosophical ones – after the ones of career and education, because for me that’s how it went. I also think that when growing up we take many positions for granted – like morality – because we are fed canned forms of philosophy from our parents, school, religion, society etc. The “bigger picture” issues require more maturity to examine and digest which is why I think they come in the late teens and 20s, and because they aren’t forced upon us we find ourselves actively looking for answers, almost as if we are discovering the world all over again. (Incidentally, I think this is why many young adults discover a real joy in learning once the monotony and anguish of progressive state-enforced education is over.)

As we look for answers, we find ourselves assembling something, a foundation, from which we assess the world, our relationships, in short – how we view the world and those values we choose to pursue in it.

This something is what we all need but it often remains unspoken. It’s one’s philosophy. The more specific and objective it is, the more exclusive it becomes – and therefore the more exclusive one’s opinions and relationships become. This is why I think as we get older, we naturally reduce our circle of friends; what we find acceptable becomes more and more restrictive – and what we demand from potential partners becomes more specific. We look for a smaller more intimate group of friends that most closely share our values, as opposed to the vast sea of friends of any kind we desire in teenage years. Essentially, you cannot be friends with someone who has fundamental values that conflict with your own.

Speaking for myself, I find my requirements for friendship so high and my standards for association so exact – that I have (only semi-consciously) limited my choice of friendships (and more) to a very small pool. As one example, I prize honesty above all other virtues (on par with rationality); I cannot tolerate dishonesty in another person, whether they are being dishonest to me or being intellectually dishonest with themselves (which is worse). I also find irrationality extremely off-putting and ugly. Contrastingly, I find intelligence and rationality the most attractive qualities for any relationship. When it comes to intimate ones, no beauty in the world is a substitute for rationality. Of course, if you can find a potential partner who is beautiful and rational, you are very lucky indeed.

But the point I’m trying to make is that having high standards is good. It’s the expression of the fact that what you have to offer as a person is so valuable that you’re not going to share it with just anyone; that being friends with you is a mutual privilege that is based on something real and serious; that you don’t just let anyone into your mind and life. It’s also the highest honour you can do to those whom you call friends, or lovers; it’s the highest compliment you can pay someone – that you want to be around that person and you know they want to be around you, because you share fundamental values and ideals; that of all the people you’ve met, you’ve chosen your friends and partner specially because of what is special about them.

The “downside” (it’s not really a downside) of this is that, like I said above, the number of available associates grows increasingly limited as you become more demanding of what you want in other people. But these demands are an expression of self-esteem; that you hold yourself in such high regard that you believe you deserve the best friends and best partner; that you don’t dish out your friendship like candy, or offer your soul and body up to whoever waltzes by. It means that those you do invest your life in are all the more significant and honoured.

Of course, there are no guarantees that you will have lots of friends, or any. Or that you will get with the person of your dreams, or anyone. But it does mean that the relationships you do have will be genuine and honest, and any other kind is not worth having anyway.

That’s why my friends should be very grateful they have me – precisely because I feel the same way about them.

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