Mar 022009

The online commentary/opinion website has just published my latest OpEd entitled, “Ayn Rand and the Tea Party Protests“.

My theme is that the Tea Party protesters must couple their outrage at the government bailouts with a positive vision of a properly limited government based on Ayn Rand’s ideas.

Here is an excerpt:

Ayn Rand and the Tea Party Protests
March 2, 2009 – by Paul Hsieh

Over the past week, an extraordinary wave of “Tea Party” protests has erupted across America. Citizens around the country have expressed outrage at the government’s mishandling of the financial crisis. And one of the most intriguing developments has been a resurgence in interest in Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged.

Denver’s Tea Party protest opened with a reading from Atlas Shrugged. A sign at the New York City protest read, “Ayn Rand Was Right.” One banner at the Atlanta Tea Party said, “Read Atlas Shrugged Before It Happens.” The Ayn Rand Institute reports that sales of Atlas Shrugged have nearly tripled compared to last year due to Americans’ concerns about the economic crisis.

So why has there been such a renewed interest in Ayn Rand?…

Read the rest here.

Two Hsieh LTEs in Rocky Mountain News

 Posted by on 24 February 2009 at 12:01 am  Activism, Government, Health Care
Feb 242009

The Rocky Mountain News has published two (!) of my LTEs on consecutive days.

On February 18, 2009, they printed this letter opposing the latest proposal for “single payer” health care in Colorado:

Single-payer health care has failed in every other country
Paul Hsieh, Sedalia

Response to your story, “Dems’ bill shoots for universal health care” from 2/5/2009 by Ed Sealover.

Single-payer health care has failed in every other country that has tried it. Canada controls health costs by forcing patients to wait months for MRI scans and cardiac surgeries that Americans can get in a few days.

Single-payer advocates mistakenly claim that health care is a “right”.

Health care is a *need*, not a right. Rights are freedoms of action (such as the right to free speech), not automatic claims on goods and services that must be produced by another.

Instead of single-payer health care, America needs free-market reforms, such as allowing patients to purchase insurance across state lines and use health savings accounts for routine expenses. Insurers should be allowed to sell inexpensive, catastrophic-only policies to cover rare but expensive events.

Such reforms could reduce costs and make insurance available to millions who cannot currently afford it, while respecting individual rights.

On February 19, 2009, they printed this letter on the Obama Administration’s expanded welfare state programs:

Heads they win, tails we lose
Dr. Paul Hsieh, Sedalia

When the economy is bad, welfare statists say, “We must expand government programs because everyone is hurting.” When the economy is good, they say, “We must expand them because we can finally afford it.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that they wanted to increase people’s dependency on government programs regardless of the reason.

Glenn Beck on Worst-Case Scenarios

 Posted by on 21 February 2009 at 12:01 pm  Economics, Government
Feb 212009

The February 20, 2009 edition of the Glenn Beck television show featured a chilling discussion of some worst-case economic and political scenarios facing the US in the next 5 years. Beck was always careful to point out that he and his guests weren’t claiming that these scenarios would happen, but rather that they could happen (i.e., they were within the realm of possibility), and that thinking about them was an important part of working to prevent them from occurring.

Dr. Onkar Ghate of the ARI appeared to discuss possible restrictions of free speech if we started heading towards dictatorship and some of the warning signs we should look for. You can watch his segment here:

One of the other topics discussed in detail was the possibility of a large-scale financial meltdown on the order of the Great Depression (if not worse). Given the US government will dig itself into unprecedented levels of debt due to the various bailout programs, it may start trying to print money (i.e., inflate the currency) as a way to “solve” the problem:

Of course, this won’t work. And Beck’s guests pointed out that this unhappy scenario has already played out in other countries in the past, such as Argentina during the 1990s.

(One of the guests was Stephen Moore, the Wall Street Journal financial writer who also cited Ayn Rand in his widely read recent OpEd, “‘Atlas Shrugged’: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years”.)

Although I still believe that an Argentina-style financial meltdown probably won’t occur in the US, I also believe that there is a small but nonzero chance that it might.

Hence, I’d like to point readers towards this very interesting essay by an Argentinian who lived through that country’s crisis. The author dispels some of the extreme right-wing survivalist myths about such scenarios. More importantly, he also discusses the very real threats and challenges that ordinary people have to deal with in such circumstances, and he gives some worthwhile advice and recommendations on how best to cope.

Much of his advice would be applicable to any number of natural or man-made crises. Anyone who values his or her life might want to make it a point to cultivate the mental and physical tools necessary to survive such circumstances.

Again, I don’t think this is the most likely future for the US. And I intend to concentrate my main effort in the battle of ideas, precisely to help prevent this from happening. But just as I think it’s prudent to keep a fire extinguisher in one’s kitchen or a first-aid kit in one’s car as protection against bad events, I also think it would be prudent for Americans to plan for significant economic and political turbulence in the near future. Many of these actions are things most intelligent people would want to do anyways, such as minimizing/eliminating debt, keeping at least 6 months of living expenses in the bank, staying physically healthy, etc.

The recent history of Argentina offers Americans some important lessons. Whether we learn from them is up to us.

(Disclaimer: This is the first episode of the Glenn Beck show that I’ve ever watched. He’s pretty good on some concrete points of politics and economics. But he also fell into the typical conservative error of stating that rights come from God, rather than being a consequence of our nature. But I’m hoping that there will be future opportunities for Objectivists to present the correct philosophic justification of individual rights on shows like his.)

Yaron Brook on Product Safety

 Posted by on 11 February 2009 at 12:08 pm  Economics, Food, Government
Feb 112009

In this video, Yaron Brook answers a question on how to ensure product safety in capitalism via tort law. And he explains why the regulatory state undermines the incentives to make products safe found in a free market.


My PajamasMedia OpEd on Cass Sunstein

 Posted by on 11 February 2009 at 12:01 am  Activism, Government
Feb 112009

The online political commentary website has published my OpEd on Cass Sunstein, who is President Obama’s new director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Sunstein is one of the leading advocates of the philosophy known as “libertarian paternalism”.

Here is the opening of my piece:

Obama’s Regulatory Chief Believes in Paternalistic Government
February 10, 2009 — by Paul Hsieh

The old joke runs, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Most Americans are appropriately skeptical of such a claim, just as they are skeptical when told that they’ve won $10 million in a Nigerian lottery. But President Obama’s selection of Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein to direct the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs threatens to turn this joke into grim reality.

Sunstein is most famous for his approach to government regulation known as “libertarian paternalism,” detailed in his book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (co-authored with Richard Thaler).

The basic premise of libertarian paternalism is that the government should use its power to “nudge” people into acting in their best interest, while leaving them the choice to “opt out.” If the government decides that saving money is good, it would automatically divert a percentage of your paycheck into a savings account in your name unless you explicitly declined. Supporters claim that this preserves freedom because government is only changing the default, while leaving individuals the final choice. It is merely a gentle “nudge,” not a hard push.

However, nudging represents an assault on freedom, because it undermines man’s basic tool of survival — his mind. By creating a default, libertarian paternalism in essence says, “Don’t worry — we’ll do your thinking for you.” Sunstein’s book explicitly compares Americans to a bunch of Homer Simpsons in need of such guidance. If Americans surrender their minds to the government, they become easy prey for demagogues and dictators…

Read the rest here.

Both Tara Smith and Eric Daniels have also written about Sunstein’s philosophy in Fall 2008 issue of The Objective Standard. Tara mentions his in her article “The Menace of Pragmatism”. Eric Daniels has a review of the Nudge book in the same issue.

Niles On Executive Wage Controls

 Posted by on 10 February 2009 at 11:37 am  Economics, Government
Feb 102009

Ray Niles has written a piece for Capitalism Magazine on President Obama’s latest proposal to regulate the wages of executives in the financial sector: “As Wall Street Bonuses Go, So Goes the Liberty of All of Us“.

If Americans don’t oppose this now, we’ll see a lot more of this in the future.

Hsieh LTE in Colorado Springs Gazette

 Posted by on 26 January 2009 at 12:01 am  Activism, Government
Jan 262009

The January 22, 2009 Colorado Springs Gazette published one of my LTEs on government regulation vs. personal responsibility. It’s the 5th one down:

Government paternalism saps desire to make own decisions

I want to thank The Gazette for the nice discussion of individual responsibility in Monday’s paper (“People responsible for safety,” Our View). Too many adult Americans expect the government to treat them as if they were still children and the government was their parents.

It’s only a small step from the government telling you what kind of houses you can build to telling you what food you can eat or what books you can read.

When citizens start asking the government do their thinking for them, it makes them easy prey for demagogues and dictators. That’s why this kind of government paternalism is so dangerous.

Paul Hsieh, Sedalia

It was in response to their own January 16, 2009 OpEd opposing more government home safety regulations, “People responsible for safety“.

Although it’s important to oppose bad ideas, it’s even more important to support good ideas. I’m glad to have had this opportunity to do so.

Underwriters Laboratories

 Posted by on 22 December 2008 at 12:07 am  Economics, Government
Dec 222008

The Decmeber 17, 2008 Christian Science Monitor has a terrific profile of Underwriters Laboratories. This is the private organization that performs safety certifications of an enormous range of consumer products, including extension cord, washing machines, and even bulletproof glass.

Here are few excerpts from the article:

Every product they test is at the request, and the expense, of its manufacturer, who seeks out UL not because it has to — no federal law mandates safety tests for most items — but because it’s cheaper and easier than a product-injury lawsuit, Drengenberg says. In fact, most retailers won’t stock a product if it hasn’t been safety tested. But it’s all voluntary, a tidy case study of the free market at its best: bottom-line drivers of consumer good.

…”We have one weapon in the factory… The UL mark,” says [tester John] Drengenberg. So UL guards it carefully, through a rigorous documentation process. Every product tested is photographed, all of its parts cataloged, and every test performed described in detail. If it passes, the manufacturer puts it on the assembly line — but at some point during production, a UL inspector will show up, unannounced, for a spot-check, making sure the company is using all the same parts UL saw on the prototype

This is an excellent concrete example of how such private certification agencies could thrive and succeed in a free market, because they meet a rational consumer demand for trustworthy and independent product safety certification.

In a truly free market, comparable private agencies can and should replace the current alphabet-soup of costly inefficient government bureaucracies such as the FDA, OSHA, NTSB, etc.

WAAA!!!! Take Care of Me!

 Posted by on 10 December 2008 at 12:11 am  Ethics, Government, Politics
Dec 102008

When I hear of some new government program that’s made available courtesy of working, tax-paying citizens and businesses, I’m left stunned in a state of resentful disbelief. But our government — of the free and brave — provides benefits in the areas of career development, child care, counseling, disability, disaster relief, education and training, food and nutrition, energy assistance, scholarships and grants, health care, housing, insurance, living assistance, loans, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and tax assistance.

Well, that pretty much covers food, clothing, and shelter… wait a minute, no mention of clothing. Oh well.

Since I currently receive no welfare benefits because I work for a living and buy everything I need and then also pay taxes (like millions of other Americans), I wondered what governmental benefits I could receive anyway. So I took a little on-line quiz at

After answering questions about my age, profession, education, veteran status, disabilities, needs I have, etc., I discovered that I would be potentially eligible for 17 government programs! Most of these were for the opportunity to use my educational and professional background to do research in the biological sciences. But I also might qualify for some HUD (Housing and Urban Development) benefits. My favorites, though, were two exciting opportunities, the Prose and Poetry Fellowship and the National Ocean Service Intern Program. Maybe I could combine the two somehow by taking a government-sponsored cruise and write a novel!

It was a dreary and foreboding moment for Juliet as she pondered tearfully with heaving and panting breaths, her longing for Sven, her long-lost beau of an era swept away by the wind which whipped the willows in a wild winter when wondrous wanderings of the heart did happen.

Hey, I could dig it.

Then I wondered what I could get if I decided to quit working, quit paying for health insurance and had $45 dollars in my savings account. I would quality for 32 government programs in my state! Not only would I potentially quality for the Special Milk Program but also the Colorado Summer Food Service program. I’m not sure how as a middle-aged woman those school-based programs would apply to me, but maybe it’s because women are recommended to get lots of calcium in their diet.

But certainly I could qualify for more than that. So I re-took the quiz and claimed to be a “practicing artist.” Hey! I practice my dance steps everyday! I also added that I have an Injury or Illness because the other day I got this nasty hamstring pull from practicing so much. And I also put in my claim to have a “difference of limb length” because I’m pretty sure that my right leg is 1/17th millimeter longer than the left. I added that I would like Mental Health Services because I’ve been so distraught over the U.S. socialist revolution that happened on November 4. I would also like some Women’s Health Care. Oh, also, I answered “yes” to the question, “Do you feel that you’ve been denied housing or financial assistance due to discrimination.” I’m awfully sure that I feel that somewhere along the line I been discriminated against.

Guest what? 37 programs! Oh my gosh! Lots of housing assistance. Food stamps. Health care. Architectural Barrier Act Enforcement (that’s probably because of my limb length difference). Energy assistance. Short-term lending. Job opportunities for low-income persons (hey! I don’t want a job!). Weatherization Assistance for Low-income persons (now, THAT, I could use).

And I would only have to jettison maybe that one Objectivist virtue of “independence” to get my goodies. But hey, as our presidential candidates reminded us, this is the country of sacrifice, right?

Tara Smith in her book, “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist,” presents Ayn Rand’s definition of the virtue of independence: “one’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgements and living by the work of one’s own mind.” Tara Smith adds,

More colloquially, it is a matter of making one’s own way in the world. The independent person supports himself both intellectually and materially, thinking for himself and taking productive action to sustain himself.

As an individual becomes an adult, a psychological milestone of independence is supposed to occur. This is a time when children separate from their parents who cared and provided for them; they strike out their own, choose a career or job, form new social relationships, and pursue their values. Our welfare-minded society enables the dependency of many of its adult citizens, leaving them in a perpetual state of adolescence, unable to survive without sacrificing others to meet their endless needs.

I’ve decided after all not to apply for that government-sponsored cruise to become a novelist (although, I hate to deprive the world of my prose). But a society that sacrifices its citizens so that others don’t have to grow up is an immoral society.

And despite the so-called good intentions of politicians and interest groups who come up with these care-taking programs, they are no different than the parents who enable their unemployed 30-year-old offspring to live at home for free and play video games all day long.

The virtue of independence is a requirement for survival as a moral being. Only in an individual-rights-respecting society, where there is no sacrifice of some to pay for the dependency of others, can the virtue of independence manifest to its fullest potential — a benevolent society of individuals left free to pursue their happiness.

So for now I’ll keep my job and work on that novel on my free time. (I know you can hardly wait for me to finish it!)

Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau

 Posted by on 8 December 2008 at 6:36 pm  Government, WTF
Dec 082008

My friend Bryan Olive — whom you might know as the customer service manager of the Ayn Rand Institute — has been fighting an Orwellian battle against the Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau over a parking ticket issued for a car he no longer owns. Finally, after many inane go-rounds with bureaucrats and after the government refused to consider his definitive proof that he did not own the car when the ticket was issued, he took his case to a local reporter. The result is this excellent story.

As one commenter said, “If the DMV, which is a government agency, can’t handle title transfers, how the heck will government handle the Obama health care system? Scary times!”


Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha