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Ayn Rand Endorses Big Government

From LRC blog

Ayn Rand Endorses Big Government

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on May 31, 2009 06:33 PM

Following up on my earlier post, several readers wrote me about my query about the Randian comments that a large government is okay in some cases. Jeff Keller writes:

I think the originator of that quote was Roger Donway (from David Kelley’s Atlas Society/TOC, not the Ayn Rand Institute). He wrote…

“Limited government” means a government restricted to certain purposes, namely, the defense of individual rights; “small government” means a government that absorbs a small percentage of the gross national product. If a country has been invaded, its government might absorb 50 percent or more of the nation’s product to mount a defense—and yet remain a “limited government” in the relevant sense. Conversely, a government that abandons its military and police missions might spend very little of the national output, but if it spends that little on health, education, and welfare, it is not a “limited government.”

The above is from a piece called Government, Yes! Leviathan, No!

I recall hearing David Kelley make a similar point: that smallness of government isn’t the primary concern, but whether it functions within its legitimate authority (Kelley, et al.’s view of legitimacy, of course). That was at the 1999 TOC Summer Seminar, which I attended. I think it was during a debate Kelley had with Randy Barnett over anarchism vs. minarchism, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

In The Libertarians’ Albatross, Butler Shaffer recalls John Hospers who “recently wrote that ‘voting for George W. Bush is the most libertarian thing we can do,’ and that ‘a continued Bush presidency . . . might well succeed in preserving Western civilization.’ Kerry ‘will weaken our military establishment,’ he went on, quoting favorably from a statement made by Rand, in 1962, to the effect that paying 80% for taxes was justified ‘if you need it for defense.’”

As Stan Lee used to say: ’nuff said.

Update: See also Anthony Gregory’s skewering of Randian statism (including the 80% tax remark) in The Ideal Randian State.

See: Objectivists on War and the State and Rand on Collateral Damage.


The latest: Why “Big Government” is Not the Problem, by Eric Daniels, stating:

We who wish to defend liberty need to dispense with the shibboleth of “big government.” Size is not an essential aspect of government’s propriety or impropriety. The proper measure of government concerns its function. A government—or any aspect thereof—is good or bad depending on whether it is directed toward the proper end of government: the protection of individual rights by means of banning physical force from social relationships. Insofar as size matters at all, its significance lies in whether a given government or department or program is the optimal size for the ultimate purpose of protecting rights.

To begin making this clear, consider an analogy. A doctor observes that a patient’s weight has been increasing steadily for some months. The doctor announces that either a weight-loss diet or weight-reduction surgery will be necessary. The growth, he says, must not only be stopped; it must be reversed, and the patient returned to a previous size.

Is the doctor right? . . .

I’m so glad these alleged allies in the cause of liberty focus on the right question: what is the “optimal size” of “government”. Elohim, Elohim, lama sabachtani.

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