The Horror of Modern-Day Benevolence
Published May 18, 2011  printer-friendly

       [Speech given at USC OT January 2011]

          I’ve been fortunate enough to get the chance to speak to you about what I call the Horror of Benevolence. I approached Dr. xxxxx last semester about this because there were certain things the department was doing and teaching that I thought was promoting a certain kind of bigotry. It’s a bigotry that they are unaware of, and it’s one that as far as I know no one has given a name to. But it’s what I call Bigotry Against the Productive. It is a bigotry towards business people and financially successful people and this is something I’ll address a bit later. I want to make clear though that by making this claim, I’m not saying your professors are bad people, because the complete opposite is the truth. They are the kindest group of professors I have encountered in over a decade of schooling at five different universities. I’m not criticizing anyone’s character, I’m criticizing an error in thinking. And it’s easy to confuse this because the error in thinking I’ll be addressing originates in a specific moral philosophy. When criticizing someone’s moral philosophy it’s easy to confuse that with criticizing the person because one’s moral philosophy affects the totality of how one thinks and acts.

       I’ll show that the moral philosophy promoted by the department has bad consequences for public policy. My presentation could apply to public policy in any area, but I’m going to show how it has awful consequences in the realm of housing, because the case there is so clear cut and extreme there that it will serve as the best example.

       I also want to make clear that there’s nothing wrong with practicing true benevolence. True benevolence is when you express your generosity and compassion directly by either giving of your time or your money to the people you think deserve it.

       But that’s not how benevolence is mainly practiced today. The common way it’s now practiced is that people have outsourced their benevolence to the government; they have delegated their compassion and generosity to a bureaucracy. In other words, people now use their belief in a public policy as a substitute for their own benevolence, feeling entitled to moral pride simply because they have an opinion. And this is where the horrible consequences of the modern practice of benevolence come in.

       Before we get to the issue of housing, it’s important to understand a fundamental feature of public policy. Keep in mind I’m not giving a definition, but pointing out something that is central to public policy. This is that public policy deals with rules that are backed up by government force. They are rules that use the government’s power to take your money or your freedom to compel you to follow the rules. That is the nature of having a rule of law. And we do need some centralized authority with the power to control people’s behavior. But the issue is when and to what extent is it legitimate to exercise this power. In the end I will argue that if our goal is a consensual society where no force is used to exploit some people for the benefit of others, then the only legitimate use of this power is to prevent people from harming each other through violence or theft.

       Now, in the realm of housing, one way people like to outsource their benevolence is to use government force in restricting how much rent a landlord can charge for an apartment. Notice that generally no one wants to freely help poor people with their housing by giving them money for it or building them homes as does Habitat for Humanity. This is what I mean by outsourcing benevolence.

       People have the freedom to help others by giving their own time and money voluntarily for housing, but they don’t do it. Instead they’d rather just pass along all the trouble to the person who already owns a building, using the threat of government force to make sure the landlord pays the costs of someone’s else’s benevolence. The way rent control laws typically work is that they limit the amount you can raise the rent each year. And in the first few years of a rent control law the politicians who enacted them and the people who voted for them feel very proud of themselves – they feel they have helped poor. The poor are also happy to be living in a cheap place. Little do they know how cheap a place they will get. Over the years, as things get more expensive, the rent no longer covers what a landlord needs in order to make a profit. So the heater may break, but the owner won’t fix it because he loses money by doing so. Windows may break but they’re not worth replacing. Eventually the rats and roaches call the place home too because the landlord doesn’t want to pay for an exterminator. And why should he? Would you continue going to a job if at the end of your shift your boss came to you and said you owed him money? No you wouldn’t. You would abandon that job, and that’s what landlords did.

       This was a major problem in New York in the 70s and 80s because it had some of the most stringent rent control laws in the country. Because the law made owning these buildings unprofitable, the owners just abandoned them. But they were still responsible for the mortgage payments and taxes. So how do you think they resolved that problem? Well many landlords just started burning down their own buildings to collect the insurance money.

       The situation became so obvious that even liberal economists started to recognize the problem. One self-avowed socialist economist said that aside from dropping bombs, the second best way to destroy a city was through rent control.i More recently, Paul Krugman, the most militantly liberal economist writing today, says that rent control “is a textbook case of economic stupidity.” And I hope you see why it’s stupid – it’s stupid because the result of the law was that those people who provided housing to the poor weren’t allowed to make money from it and if they’re aren’t able to make money from it then they’re not going to do it, just like you’re not going to go to a job that costs you money.

       In researching this presentation I found an article from 1982 that left me a bit addled. Let me read from the highlighted portion:

       “The story of the final days of [this apartment] is part of the chronicle of burning and abandonment, once confined to the South Bronx and now spreading northward …The devastation has proceeded building by building… In a city where housing is precious, it is a process no one can fully explain – turning sturdy decent apt houses into useless, dangerous piles of masonry.”ii

       This statement caused me to wonder because of this book, Economics in One Lesson. It’s a book that’s been in print since 1946. And when I read this article I had a sense of déjà vu that I had read almost the exact same thing in this book:

       “It may reach a point where many landlords not only cease to make any profit but are faced with mounting and compulsory losses. … They may actually abandon their property and disappear so that they may not be held liable for taxes. When owners cease supplying heat and other basic services, the tenants are compelled to abandon their apartments. Wider and wider neighborhoods are reduced to slums. [This is why] In recent years, in New York City, it has become a common sight to see whole blocks of abandoned apartments, with windows broken or boarded up… Arson becomes more frequent, and the owners are suspected.”iii

       Now let’s go back to the article from 1982 and look at the last highlighted paragraph. It says “it is a process no one can fully explain.” Can’t “fully explain?” – but it’s been explained and explained by economists on both sides of the political spectrum. So why wouldn’t this reporter mention the problem created by rent control laws? I can only speculate and I have two guesses. One, The New York Times is a liberal newspaper, written by liberals for liberals. Liberals would have been the most ardent supporters of rent control because the main political project for liberals is to use the power of government to extract as much money as possible from those who have it and give it those who don’t. One way to achieve this is through rent control laws. But no one wants to hear how their well-intentioned policy wreaked havoc, so perhaps this reporter knew about it but just left it out. That’s one guess. Or, my second guess, is that this reporter simply wasn’t aware of what experts were saying was a major disaster in public policy.

       And why wouldn’t he know? Perhaps because as student at a university he was never exposed to such ideas because the content of what he was taught was controlled by his professors. And professors are overwhelmingly people who tilt to the left to one degree or another.


 • in History and Psychology: 80% liberals.
 • female social science professors: 70% liberal.
 • at Liberal Arts Colleges: 61% liberal, 4% conservative.
 • at elite PhD granting institutions: 56.6% liberal, 10.2%conservative.

      With this kind of ideological slant my guess is that this reporter would have never been exposed to ideas that challenge the liberal orthodoxy. The consequences of having such an ideological slant is a soft indoctrination. It’s a process that often works by omission. That is, professors simply leave out ideas that are contrary to their basic values. Any time political issues come up, you only get reading material that promotes a liberal agenda. If you get speakers, they will be liberals. If you see videos, they’ll push you to the left.

      Now do you guys think you’ve been exposed to this kind of indoctrination? Do you think that just like that newspaper reporter, you won’t be exposed to ideas that show some well-intentioned public policy might be a disaster. I think the answer is absolutely, yes. And at times this kind of indoctrination it’s not soft at all here. This was the case the week before the election last November when the department sent us a voter guide promoting every left-wing ballot measure and every Democratic candidate for statewide office, and then the department had people come into Medical Lectures to tell us to vote for Democratic candidates and left wing ballot measures. We were even sent an email with a photograph of Dr. XXXX and Democratic senator Barbara Boxer telling us to vote for the senator.

       So there’s no subtlety about it in this department. I think it’s clear that the department’s goal is to turn you into liberal activists for healthcare. I think that’s a grave mistake and a disservice to you. An education is supposed to make you informed and sophisticated thinkers on issues that require you to choose between alternatives. That is the intellectual work that we’re supposed to be doing. That can’t happen when an academic department becomes an active supporter of a specific public policy and actively recruits its students to vote for it. The department is promoting the most left-wing type of reform in health care, the single payer initiative that will probably be on the ballot the next election.

       The department even offers scholarships to attend conferences that teach you how to manipulate others to support their initiative by referring to it as “Equal Access to healthcare.” The reason they purposely phrase it like that is because if you’re ignorant of the issues involved, you will never say “I am against equal access to healthcare.” You see it’s a linguistic trick to corner you into agreeing with them, it’s not about educating you. The goal is not to teach you but to manipulate you and indoctrinate you.

       Occupational therapists need not believe in occupational justice anymore than eye surgeons have to believe in Ocular Justice, whatever content eye surgeons want give to such a term. And Occupational Therapists don’t have to become liberal activists for health care anymore than Physical Therapists have to be conservative activists for health care, or dentists have to be Buddhists. We’re supposed to be learning how to provide a medical service, and that doesn’t require us to have any specific political or religious ideology.

       Now, I think that Occupational Justice is an awful idea, not only does it promote the outsourcing of one’s benevolence, I think it also promotes a bigotry against business people and bigotry against economically successful people. These people are mainly ignored in the discussions of Occupational Justice, and if present they are present only for the sake of denigrating corporations or capitalism or for the purpose of arguing why they should be exploited in order to fund those activities that the supporters of Occupational Justice refuse to fund themselves.

       And this brings me to the content of the indoctrination. So far I’ve just addressed the process of the indoctrination, the process why the reporter didn’t know or wouldn’t mention the problems of rent control and we looked into why you wouldn’t know of any of the potential problems with the health care policies promoted by the department. That was a discussion on the process; now it’s time to deal with the content.

       In addressing the content of what’s being taught, I’ll also present what I think is a unifying explanation not just for the specific public policies being advocated, but also for the practice of outsourcing one’s benevolence.

       I think that the fundamental explanation responsible for everything I’ve discussed is the morality of altruism. Altruism means “other-ism.” It’s a morality that holds that in order to be moral one must act to satisfy the needs of others without intending any benefits to yourself. I want to distinguish this moral philosophy from the idea of merely caring for others as part of your work or engaging in act of compassion. There is nothing wrong with compassion or caring – that’s not what I am saying. When used to talk about compassion or caring, altruism just means being kind to someone. The morality of altruism, on the other hand, requires that moral dignity depends on the extent to which you give up your selfish desire to benefit personally while taking actions to help others.

       If you pursue your own interests in the process of helping others, you do not get any moral credit according to altruism. For example, Bill Gates revolutionized the world by creating Microsoft; he made the entire world incredibly more productive, raising the living standards of 100s of millions of people. People who invested in him became billionaires and millionaires. In the process he employed tens of thousands of people and he has paid billions in taxes.

       If altruism judged people just by how much they improved the lives of others, Bill Gates would be a moral hero as would all business owners. But no one thinks of him as a moral hero and in fact you’re taught to think of business owners in general as immoral people because they act to benefit themselves. We don’t think of Bill Gates as a moral hero because he did not suffer in the process of making money and his goal was not to help others but help himself. That’s the distinctive feature of the morality of altruism – you should not benefit from helping others.

       People now praise Bill Gates because he has decided to dedicate his life to giving his money away. I’ve always found people who praise others who give their money away a bit bizarre. If you find an activity morally praise worthy, why wouldn’t you give your own money away too. I know people always say that only if they had more money, then they would definitely help others because helping others is so important to them. But I’m going to show you that you can actually help others now and that you, even as students are loaded with luxuries you can do without. But for now I just wanted you to notice this dynamic – that is of morally praising something that you would not do yourself. Does that sound rational? That you would praise something that you can actually do but won't?

       So the question is, can you give? Of course you could if you wanted to, but not if you choose to spend your money on a bunch of meaningless luxuries. A recent book by Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, called The Life You Can Save argues that you should be an altruist and he shows how you can literally save a life by donating about $300 to one of the several organizations he lists in his book. These organizations either buy food or in one case provides corrective surgery to women who have had their genitals mutilated as is common in parts of Africa – all for just a few hundred dollars.

       Now let’s look at some common choices we make in our private lives that if we made differently, we could free up our money to save a life. We’ll start with a computer. Do you need a computer? No. It‘s a total luxury. Computers and internet are free at school or at public libraries. Aristotle, Einstein and Shakespeare were all super productive geniuses and never used a computer. You can earn a degree in occupational therapy without one. But as private individuals, are any of us going to give up our computers?

       What about a car? Another luxury. Many of our classmates don’t have cars and they’re all alive and well. In fact they seem to be the healthiest people in our class. Now how many lives and how many surgeries could we buy if everyone sold their car? But are any of us going to give up the luxury of having a car to do help others?

       Now let’s look at our education. Do you need to go to such an expensive school when tuition for the same education is about $70,000 cheaper at a state school? There is no substantive reason to go here. It’s not financially justified because USC OTs will make the same amount of money as OTs from the state school or even OTs who have degrees from other countries.

       Will you be a better OT for going to USC? Let’s define better. Better means that because of your education here your patients will recover sooner or improve their functioning to a greater degree than from being treated by a non-USC OT. That’s what better means. There’s no reason to think that. There‘s no special USC way of doing range of motion or providing any other treatment that results in better outcomes for patients. So there’s no financial justification to be here or any patient health-outcome reason to be here.

       The main reason to come here is that it is a prestigious school due to the reputation of your professors for their scholarship and it’s a fun school that does a great job at creating a warm and supportive environment. It is a luxury to be here – like driving a Porsche, like staying at the Ritz. But if you want to be an altruist, then spending money here on tuition is not a very altruistic choice when you think of how much homeless people, and mentally ill people and the starving people around the world need your money.

       So it should be clear that in all these choices our concern for the poor, and the sick and the needy is non-existent in any meaningful way when we make choices about how we live our lives. We are more concerned about our luxuries than the poor. And I’m not suggesting things should be different. As psychologically healthy people we need to pursue happiness and joy in life and you can’t do that as an altruist – practiced with any integrity, altruism would make you miserable. So you simply ignore altruism as you live your life on a daily basis. But altruism plays a different role in your public life, when you are socially interacting with others.

       People do talk a lot about helping the poor, but it‘s more of a linguistic ritual and a requirement of social interaction, especially in a university classroom, because altruism is our basic moral code and such a code does not let you say you care more about your own luxuries than you do about the poor and the needy and so on. So there is a lot of talk but no action, except when it comes to voting for public policies with altruistic aims – that is we are only really for it if we can outsource our caring and generosity, which is not really caring or being generous – it’s just a way to exploit others and get the credit for what others have to pay for. It leads to a situation where one group of people can live a life of maximizing the luxuries they indulge in, claiming to care for the poor but pushing for policies that will deny another group of people, people with businesses and money, the ability to maximize the luxuries they indulge in.

       Altruism ends up promoting hypocrisy on an individual level and the threat of government violence on the social level because all the social policies established by altruism require the threat of the government’s power to take your freedom away in order to compel your behavior.

       And this now leads to the question, is there an alternative to such a corrosive moral code? I think there is and that is what I’d like to turn to next.


       I’d like to present a view of morality and society that respects individual life and individual freedom. It’s a view with the goal of creating a consensual society, that is a society based on voluntary interaction with others. It’s a society where we don’t use force or the threat of force to make one person live for the sake of another. And this is how I approach it.

       I start with the question, “Who owns your life?” Historically, and currently, the answer is that the group owns your life, whether the tribe or the collective or the state. I think that’s nonsense. I think that the only right answer to that question is that you own your life. I own my life and you own yours. Each person owns his or her own life.

       The second question is, What are you supposed to do with this thing that you own? If you own your life then there is only one way to answer the question. And that is that you’re supposed to engage in those activities that give your life meaning, whether that’s being a mom, having a career, being a surf bum or anything else that brings meaning to your life. It’s not how many others will be served by your life, but how your life will serve you. If you have to serve others, then it’s not your life; if you have to serve others then your life belongs to those others, it’s theirs. And why is it good to serve others but not to be served yourself? And why should we only look at it in terms of others serving or being served? That is the altruistic approach, where others come into the forefront of everything. But morality should be about you.

       These two statements, that you own your life, and that the purpose of your life is to engage in those activities that give your life meaning, are my fundamental moral premises.

       As humans however, we don’t live like Orangutans, in isolation from one another. We are like chimpanzees. We live in complex overlapping groups and because of that we need a principle of social interaction that encapsulates our fundamental moral premises. That principle is that social interaction must be voluntary. Our interaction must be consensual so that no one can be used as a tool for serving the needs of others.

       With our principle of social interaction in place, we need a government to enforce this principle. And in creating a government we need a clearly defined system of rights, because a system of rights is what establishes the type of relationship a government will have with its people.

       But before we can get into discussing rights we need to understand the nature of stuff. As human beings, our survival depends on having stuff. Unlike a daffodil that’s free to bask all day getting all it needs from sun and soil, we need to survive by taking action to get stuff. It’s stuff that keeps us alive and makes our lives comfortable. Luckily, we live in a modern world and a free country where getting stuff is not so difficult. But having stuff is not an automatic. Stuff is not like air that you can just suck in and blow out as much as you want for free. Just ask North Koreans or Haitians if you can take the existence of stuff for granted. A society needs to respect how we create our stuff, and how we come to own our stuff. And it’s in the failure to recognize this where the essence of the bigotry promoted by Occupational Justice lies; it assumes the inevitable existence of stuff, ignoring those who create the stuff by taking them for granted. It posits business people and financially successful people as entities to be consumed by the good intentions of others.

       Now regardless of time and place, there are only four ways to get stuff.

       1. We can make it ourselves
2. The more common way to get it now is to work for the money to buy it.
3. Stuff can be given to us as a gift.
       4. Or stuff can be taken from us by force – what is now euphemistically called “access” in public policy.

       With an understanding of the role stuff has in our life, we can now look to a system of rights to see what kind of relationship we need from our government. And although I can’t explain it more fully, you also need to know that government does not create stuff, it does not create wealth. It serves an administrative function, not a wealth creation function – wealth creation is the function of private individuals. If governments could create wealth, there would be no poor countries in the world. Governments also do not create jobs; if they did there would be no unemployment in any of the countries of the world. The money for government jobs come from the private sector.

       Now the way people use the term Rights today I think is meaningless. All they do is imagine something they think is nice or necessary to have like food and housing and education, and call it a right, so then everything becomes a right. I don’t think that makes any sense and it’s intellectually indefensible. These kinds of rights, the rights to stuff, are known as Welfare Rights. Notice that if you say someone has a right to stuff then the government must use its power to take stuff from someone and give it to someone else. And this is what Occupational Justice is about. But if you can take from someone to give to someone else, it results in saying that you do not own your life because some people have the right to exploit you.

       The opposite kind of rights, where everyone’s right to their stuff is respected, and everyone’s right to own their life is also respected, are called Liberty Rights. Liberty Rights say the government cannot interfere with a person’s right to do certain things; they are rights to liberty or rights to freedom of action. A good example are many of the rights in our constitution. Our constitution gives us the right to contract, the right to get together in a group, and the right to free speech and religion and so on; Notice that none of these are rights to material things. Even the right bear arms is not the right have guns given to you. You have to work for the money to get them yourself. Our Declaration of Independence does not say you have a right to have all the stuff you need to be happy. It says you have the right to pursue happiness. It is the existence of these kinds of rights and the absence of welfare rights at least at the beginning and through most of our history that have made America the richest and freest country in the world.


       I wish the system of morality and society I just described to you were called puppies and ponies because puppies and ponies sound nice and everyone would like something called puppies and ponies. But what I have just described to you is called Egoism and Capitalism, and tragically these have been given a bad name. But I hope you can see that egoism does not have as its goal hurting others or exploiting others, which is how it’s presented in a philosophy class. Egoism just recognizes that your life belongs to you and that you should pursue the things that give your life meaning and that in order for you to be free to do those things, you need to grant others the same freedom with their lives.

       Capitalism is a more complicated term to explain because it means so many things to so many people. Even conservatives are trying to avoid the term and are using the term Free Enterprise instead because in polls people say they like the phrase better than capitalism. I don’t like that way of dealing with the problem. I’d rather just take the time to explain the substance of the political and economic system I’m talking about.

       First off, you shouldn’t confuse the actions and statements of corporations and CEOs with what capitalism is about. A corporation is just a form of organizing a business; it is ultimately run by people. And the group of people who own corporations are the same as any other group of people, whether their seniors, fishermen, teachers, homeowners or even members of AOTA. All people want some special favor from the government, and they all have some special reason for why they deserve special treatment. Under the type of capitalism I’m talking about, free market capitalism, this dynamic wouldn’t exist. The government’s job under free market capitalism is not to do special favors for anyone, but only to protect people from stealing and doing violence to each other. What we have now is Crony Capitalism, where politicians join forces with certain groups to try to take money away from other groups. It’s what I call “Troughism.” Every group goes to the government like a hog approaching a trough with only one goal in mind: to eat as much as you possibly can. And that’s what business people do. Farm companies want their farm subsidies, car companies want cash for clunkers, internet companies want to be free from taxes on internet sales and so on. But these companies act no differently than old people who want free pills, homeowners who want a mortgage deduction, or members of AOTA who are looking to get more money for OT regardless of whether that means less money for cancer research or diabetes. Every group is in the game of muscling in on every other group, declaring they’re truly special.

       This type of crony capitalism is not what I am advocating. I am advocating a system of free market capitalism where there are no special favors to give because the government is not involved in taking money from one group and giving it to another. So there would be no welfare for corporations and no welfare for single mothers. It’s not a system of bailouts; there will be no bailout for reckless businesses and no bailout for reckless people. It’s not fair to take money from companies or people who act responsibly and give it to the unsuccessful and the reckless.

       Today we do not have free market capitalism. It should be clear from all the types of bailouts that have been in the news the last couple of years that there is no free market - it‘s a highly regulated market that permits the government to interfere in economic life and that encourages groups to beg and bribe politicians for special favors.

       I want to be clear though that what I am advocating is not primarily an economic system, but an ethical system. My main concern is morality, not economics. I am at root an advocate of egoism. But egoism at the level of the individual logically requires free market capitalism as its economic system.

       I also want to be clear that what I’m advocating is not what Republicans or conservatives advocate. On the surface it may seem like that, at least for now, but Republicans go back and forth on these issues and right now it seems like they’re very different from Democrats. But on a fundamental level conservatives actually share the same morality as those on the left, which is why conservatives and liberals often wind up with the same public policies. The best example of this is the health care plan Obama pushed through congress and that Republicans fought so much against and are now trying to repeal is the same plan instituted Republican Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, a plan that the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation supported until it was proposed by Democrats. This is also why Republicans support Medicare and social security and unemployment insurance. Conservatives tend to be what are called utilitarians – that this that they believe that the right thing to do is to create the greatest good for the greatest number. This is really just another form altruism in that it puts others first. It is another form of otherism. Also the altruism of the right is diluted by other traditions such as belief in a limited constitutional government and the Christian value of individual charity to the needy. These things cause some divergence with typical altruistic schemes from the left, but these will generally not be fundamental differences because they both value otherism as their fundamental moral code. 

       Now I understand all this is probably a little confusing and overwhelming if it’s new to you or if philosophy class was a long time ago. So to give you a clear idea of what kind of value system I’m advocating, I’d like to end with a hypothetical that I hope you will remember because it clearly lays out the what and why of egoism and how it differs from the typical liberal and conservative approaches to ethics and to public policy. And this is the hypothetical.

       You are on a boat with your ten-year old son, the boat captain and two other boys your son’s age. You learn from the captain that the two other boys are child prodigies; they are geniuses in medical research. One has discovered the cure for cancer and the other the cure for AIDS. They are now on their way to a press conference to reveal their findings because they have never bothered to write them down – it’s all in their heads. And this makes you think about your son.

       Your son has severe mental deficits that make it unlikely he’ll ever graduate high school, much less have a job. He also has severe psychological problems. He reacts violently to everyone who gets too close to him, except you. He is affectionate with you and can play and communicate with you. Aside from these problems he functions at a moderately high level and you have a great relationship that brings you lots of fun and lots of joy. And at that moment you hold his hand and realize what’s the best gift life has to offer someone. That’s the opportunity to feel love and express it for another human being and have those feelings of love reciprocated. That’s life’s best gift and you have that with your son.

       And at the moment you realize this, a small piece of an airplane falls from the sky killing the captain and ripping the boat apart. Everyone is thrown into the water. Your son is thrown to one side of you and the two boys on the other. They’re all crying for help because none of them can swim. There’s only one life preserver and it’s right next to you. You don’t have time to save them all. You now have to make the choice of which way to start swimming. But how do you choose?

       Altruism requires you to help others but not benefit in the process. Good altruists have to ignore their selfish desires and sacrifice themselves to help strangers. Here you need to consider the feelings and needs of these two others boys and their parents and because their feelings are more important than your purely selfish desire to save your son, who is of no value to anyone else in the world but you, under altruism you have to let your son drown.

       What does utilitarianism require you to do? Well you have to do the greatest good for the greatest number. Your son is only one person. They are two boys and they have two parents each so they outnumber your son 4-1. Plus these boys have the cure for cancer and AIDS and will wind up saving the lives of millions of people. Under utilitarianism, of what significance are your feelings and your son’s life in the light of millions of people being saved. So utilitarianism too requires that you let your son drown.

       In this case your only friend is going to be egoism. Under egoism you own your life. You did not put those drowning boys in that situation. You are not responsible for anyone’s cancer or anyone’s AIDS. Unlike what Occupational Justice promotes, you are not responsible for the misery and misfortune in the world. Under egoism you are first and foremost responsible to yourself. Under egoism, you have to engage in those activities that give your life meaning, and the most meaningful activity you can engage in here is swimming to save your son’s life. Under egoism, the only right thing to do is save your son, to save the one person who fills your life with joy. It’s a shame to lose the cure for cancer and AIDS, but the world will just have to wait for that another day. And it’s a shame that two boys will drown instead of one – but when the one boy is your own son only a vicious morality would dictate that you let him drown.

       Of course you’ll never be confronted with such a drastic situation. But you are confronted every single day and every single second with the question, who should I act for, for myself or for others. And it’s obvious, since you are here at USC, how it is that you’ve answered the question. All of you will keep your cars, none of you sell your computers. You need to face reality: You are closet egoists and fabulous people and it’s time to come out of the closet, it’s time to embrace who you are in your private choices and raise that to the level of your social interaction, and ultimately public policy decision-making.

i- Assar Lindebeck – Swedish economist and self-avowed socialist: “In many cases rent control appears to be the most effective technique presently known to destroy a city – except for bombing.”
ii- New York Times: “A Scavenged Building
Reflects Bronx Decay,” Feb. 22, 1982. iii- Henry Hazlitt: Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics (New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks: 1979) p. 130. iv- Neil Gross and Solon Simmons: “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” Working Paper, Sept 24, 2007. Found at


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