Friday, October 30, 2009

The Moral Meaning of Capitalism

From Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

This is a statement made by Hank Rearden at his trial for an illegal sale of a metal alloy which he had created and which had been placed under government rationing and control:
"I do not want my attitude to be misunderstood. I shall be glad to state it for the record... I work for nothing but my own profit - which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them, nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage - and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner. I am rich and I am proud of every penny I own. I have made my money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary consent of every man I dealt with - the voluntary consent of those who employed me when I started, the voluntary consent of those who work for me now, the voluntary consent of those who buy my product. I shall answer all the questions you are afraid to ask me openly. Do I wish to pay my workers more than their services are worth to me? I do not. Do I wish to sell my product for less than my customers are willing to pay me? I do not. Do I wish to sell it at a loss or give it away? I do not. If this is evil, do whatever you please about me, according to whatever standards you hold. These are mine. I am earning my own living, as every honest man must. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it better than most people - the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability - I refuse to apologize for my success - I refuse to apologize for my money. If this is evil, make the most of it. If this is what the public finds harmful to its interests let the public destroy me. This is my code - and I will accept no other. I could say to you that I have done more good for my fellow man than you can ever hope to accomplish - but I will not say it because I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I recognize the good of others as a justification for their seizure of my property or their destruction of my life. I will not say that the good of others was the purpose of my work - my own good was my purpose, and I despise the man who surrenders his. I could say to you that you do not deserve the public good - that nobody's good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices - that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will achieve nothing but universal devastation - as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won't. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own - I would refuse, I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I posses, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being's right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!"

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