Are our current economic problems an emergency? Politicians in both parties have said so and claimed that we have to abandon principles, act for the sake of action, and when those actions fail we must blindly act again.
In “The Ethics of Emergencies” [Virtue of Selfishness, p. 47], Ayn Rand wrote:
An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible—such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men’s primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.)…The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others.
How does this relate to the current situation perplexing our befuddled President Obama?
First, this situation was chosen. For decades, our government has pursued policies using force in an effort to make contradictions facts. Through careful deliberation by legislators, planning by the executive, and the participation of the electorate, we chose to create this problem. Sarbanes-Oxley, the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac…by our choices, we chose our consequences.
Second, this situation was expected. Attempts by government to use force to violate fundamental contract rights have certain consequences. History has demonstrated this fact. It is not a question of if but when they will be felt. The consequences of our policies were identified by Aristotle millennia ago…didn’t you get the memo on political degeneration? Fools may claim that they did not know, but evasion does not mitigate their crime.
Third, this situation is not a function of time. True, it will end in some fashion, at some point, but it will do so as a consequence of our choices. Having failed to properly identify government’s role in causing this problem, our politicians proscribe poison as a cure. Continued evasion of facts will extend the duration and escalate the intensity of our previous mistaken choices’ consequences .
Fourth, in misidentifying our present circumstance as an emergency, our politicians have hijacked what would be a reasonable response to an emergency and misdirected it towards an illegitimate political end. We have a bipartisan consensus that force by government is a practical way to achieve altruistic moral ends, subordinating the individual to the needs of others.
This orgy of sacrifice characterized the Bush Administration’s rhetoric. Our last election was a choice between a candidate that said that individuals should be immediately forced to sacrifice to others (Obama), and another that said that such force should only be used after individuals failed to volunteer themselves for sacrifice (McCain). As elections have consequences, it should be no surprise that our President and Congress have accelerated the rate of compelled sacrifice as chosen by the electorate.
Fifth, as this situation continues to degenerate in response to ill-conceived government interventions, we risk creating a condition in which human survival is impossible, a political cannibalism of the weak feasting on the strong. This gets to the heart of naming the nature of our current economic problems; we are not experiencing an emergency but instead a suicide attempt.
Contrary to the protestations of our pragmatic leaders, now is precisely the time that we need to act according to principle. In directing government action, this means refocusing on the fundamental question posed by Socrates, “What is Justice?” In the political context, the answer is the protection of individual rights. In order to save our lives and our republic, the Congress must begin by undoing what it has previously done in violation of that principle.
Update 3/14/2009: Dr. Hurd has an excellent post on our current problems. He writes in part:
Human beings possess free will, and there’s nothing inevitable about decline or disaster. The only inevitability is that stupid and wrong ideas–consistently practiced–will always lead to decline and disaster. That, in fact, is what is reaching its climax today, right before our very eyes, with stunning clarity. Reality is crashing down upon us, for all the reasons it must have–for reasons only a few of us dare (as of yet) name aloud. But people can correct and change wrong ideas.
Update 3/17/2009: I have converted this post into a YouTube video: