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Freedom and Individualism Notes

Making Money

"If you are waiting for the government to change, or society to change, or for some program or movement to be successful to find freedom, you will never be free."

Money is a tangible representation of one's independence, the symbol of his productivity, as well as a means to freedom itself.

The man who values money, values every human virtue—wealth is the accumulation of virtue in a tangible form. If you have any doubt about the nature and virtue of money, please read the Money Speech from Ayn Rand's, Atlas Shrugged.

Making Money

Getting money is not a virtue. After all, welfare recipients, government employees, and other assorted crooks "get money."

Making money is very different from getting money. Making money requires producing a product or performing a service that someone else is willing to pay for. To make money, you must produce something of value or perform a service that is of value in a free market, (or an underground market, if an oppressive government controls the economy).

It does not really matter what product you produce or service you provide, so long as whatever you do, you do as well as you can and truly know that what you have produced has real objective value, and you can take pride in your work.

"Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man's independence, initiative and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man." [For the New Intellectual,—The Fountainhead, "The Soul Of An Individualist"] For the independent individualist working for one's self is ideal, but in many societies and markets that may not be possible, at least until some level of wealth has been established. Some careers mean one will always be working as part of some organization—nursing and systems analysis are examples, although private nursing and contracting are exceptions.

Working For Others

If you are capable and competent in your work, you will almost never have a problem, "finding work." Capable competent workers are rare. There is an attitude, however, the independent individualist must always have with regard to his relationship with those he chooses to, "work for."

The independent individualist should never think of the relationship between himself and whoever is paying for his services as an employer/employee relationship. The independent individualist should always regard the "employer" as a customer to whom he is selling his service. It is unlikely most employers will see the relationship that way, (though they would be much better off if they did) and there is no reason for the independent individualist to enlighten the employer.

This attitude is very important for the independent individualist, who should never think of himself as "belonging" to someone or something else, like a company, but always a free agent dealing with others as free agents. A customer certainly has a right to specify what he wants and is willing to pay for, and the individual always has the right to agree with the customer's desires, or go elsewhere. This attitude is not only necessary for maintaining the individual's independence, but is important to his personal integrity, because the independent individualist will honor his agreements.

Others Working For You

There are two reasons this view of the relationship between a worker and the one hiring the worker should always be viewed as someone offering their service (the worker) to potential customers (the one that hires them). If you choose to be an entrepreneur this is the attitude you must have.

The first reason determines how to treat a worker ethically in terms of personal relationship, because the worker is no one's property, but another individual human being. Of course it makes determining what you are willing to pay objective and rationally negotiable.

Another very important reason is because of government. Government never looks at individuals as individuals, but only as "employers" or "employees," placing restrictions, controls, and demands on both. You must never have "employees." You must always only deal with other individuals as individuals who are free to sell you their products or services, or not. [The government continuously makes this moral arrangement more difficult, but it can always be done.]

If you have no employees all of the governments regulations regarding employees and employee records, from withholding taxes to medical insurance do not apply. Along the same lines, unless the "job" is to be someplace for a specified period of time (such as a security guard) never pay anyone for their time and only for actually delivered products or services. Unless you have reason to keep the entire transaction confidential [if your workers are not "legal," for example], have signed receipts for every payment you make for each service or product.

Criteria For Individualist Wealth Creation

Whatever means one chooses to produce his wealth, it must meet at least two criteria: 1. it must be what one wants, or is at least willing, to do and 2. it must be ethical.

The first is necessary, because no one can truly be effective as a producer of either products or services if they personally have no desire or interest in what they are doing. Most people's interests are broad enough so many different things can, at least for a while, be interesting to do, especially when first learning to do it well. Someone who personally cannot stand strong odors, for example, should probably not work at a cosmetic counter in a large store, but working in other areas of retail can be very good learning experiences about people and business organization.

The question of ethics is much more important.

Is It Ethical?

There is part of Ayn Rand's, "The Money Speech," that is most frequently neglected:

"Money is your means of survival. The verdict which you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men's vices or men's stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment's or a penny's worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you'll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect. Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity. ..."

"Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices ..."

The issue is not one of freedom. In a free society every individual would be free to perform any service and produce any product that did not coercively interfere in anyone else's life. In a free society an individual would be free to produce and market pornography if he chose to. In a free society an individual would be free to prostitute themselves if they chose to.

The issue is one's own character and integrity, not what is or is not legally allowed; it is what one's own nature as a human being will allow if one is not to destroy their own sense of self-worth and happiness. Pandering to other's weaknesses is not a way to maintain one's own self-esteem. The unethical is always a compromise (more often, an outright defiance) of one's own moral principles and always a flaw in one's own character.

Is It Legal?

The question of legality only pertains to government, not ethics. Government frequently make things illegal which are morally or ethically good, and often legalizes things which are morally and legally reprehensible. The legality of a thing has nothing to do with the morality of a thing.

Depending on the government of a particular society, a product or service one chooses to provide might or might not be legal, even when that product or service is an ethically good one.

Some examples:

  • Performing benevolent medical services.
  • Manufacturing and selling medicine.
  • Installing or repairing electrical wiring.
  • Installing or repairing plumbing.
  • Transporting packages and goods.
  • Producing or selling products for personal pleasure, such as tobacco or alcohol.
All of these are currently illegal or illegal without some special government sanction and control in many countries, such as the United States. None of these are immoral or unethical.

An independent individual might produce any of these products or perform any of these services even where and when illegal. They are perfectly ethical ways to produce wealth.

There are only two considerations that must be made:

1. Wherever an "occupation" has been made illegal (or controlled), to perform that occupation entails additional risk, (all occupations have some risk), that must be taken into consideration.

2. When a government prohibits a product or service, that prohibition usually inflates the market price of such products and services. It is unethical to take advantage of that inflation.

I will briefly address both of these considerations.

Risk

Everything in life is a risk. One of the most important things we learn is to identify the risk that anything we choose to do entails and how to minimize that risk and how to deal with the worst, if it happens.

When assessing risk, there are two frequent mistakes:

1. Considering the likelihood or the "odds" of the bad thing happening. The mistake is in assuming the cost of a loss or disaster is somehow reduced if the odds of it's happening are less. If a loss or disaster would not be acceptable, the risk is a bad one no matter how unlikely the loss or disaster is.

2. Weighing the risk against the possible gain. The expression never risk more than the prize is worth is sensible only if the true nature of risk is understood.

The true nature of risk is this: One must know if one takes a risk and loses, they are able to cover the cost of whatever loss the risk entails. Except in cases where, "there is nothing to lose," which really means "there is nothing to risk," only if the loss or disaster can be absorb or recovered from, is the risk worth taking.

When the risk is an artificial one created by government policy or laws, it is very difficult to assess the possible costs, because it is arbitrary and can change at any moment. There is nothing ethically wrong with defying government prohibitions and restrictions in the course of earning one's wealth, but the additional risk entailed must be taken into account.

Profit

Generally, the amount of profit one makes from whatever product or service he sells may be determined by whatever the market will bear. The market value of one's products or services is determined by what others are willing to pay for them.

[Note: In a free competitive market, many factors will bear on the "price" of one's products and services, such as the availability and quality of competing products and services. All of these are aspects of the field of economics, which are not addressed here.]

The independent individualist cannot ethically take advantage of other's ignorance or weaknesses, however, and must always know that what others pay for his products and services is just and reasonable in his best judgment.

In those cases where one's products or services are prohibited or controlled by government, the prices of such products and services are frequently inflated by the artificially produced "scarcity" of such products. The independent individualist may not ethically take advantage of those artificially inflated prices and will only seek to cover the cost to doing business plus a reasonable profit. Since the risk of selling such products and services is higher, the expense of marketing them will be higher too, and a price higher than might be available in a free market is justified—an exorbitant price is not, however.

In most cases an independent individualist will not have to defy the law to carry on the kind of business he chooses, but the fact there are laws limiting or controlling the products or services the honest individualist chooses to produce or offer should not prevent him from doing what is right, provided he has properly assessed the risk and knows his choice is ethically correct.

Only A Beginning

How you choose to produce is really how you choose to live your life. What you do to create your wealth is what you are, what you have made of yourself. No one can advise you about how to live your life because only you can discover what is right for you. It is not necessary that you find one particular occupation or profitable activity and be bound to it for life. More likely you will discover a particular class of physical and intellectual activities that you both enjoy and excel in, the particulars of which will change over time as you and the world around you change.

—(02/12/16)