Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Free Market and Morality

Ayaan Hirsi Ali : Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I’m a Resident Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.


Question: Have you always been a classical liberal?


Ayaan Hirsi Ali : No, I was not always a classical liberal. I would say, from the time I started to think independently of my parents that I started out as a radical Islamic fundamentalist.

Then I came to the Netherlands and I was very much taken, and I’m still impressed by the system that the Dutch put in place. I’ve now come to see its weaknesses. But I started out as a social democrat after I finished, after I graduated from university. When taking the theory of politics, it all added up, it all made sense. It’s only in practice that I realized the weaknesses of social democracy. People become apathetic, depend on the government, and the system tends to be vulnerable when confronted with external effects, such as immigration, globalization. The system tends then to become very weak.


Question: Can America learn from the Dutch economic system?


Ayaan Hirsi Ali : When I came to the Netherlands you wouldn’t see them because, like I told you, if you don’t have work, you’re provided for. The mentally ill are housed. When I came to the Netherlands the first time, I got a place to live. I got… My health was taken care of. I mean, I got so much, and I don't know how I would have responded to the reality of the United States where you have to, you know, do it all by yourself. Having lived in Africa, having lived in the Netherlands and now in the United States, I think if you use heterogeneity as a measure, meaning a mixture of people from many different cultures, different ages, heterogeneity in its most broad form that the American system of a free market is not a perfect system, but it’s the best system.


Question: Has the current economic crisis altered your views about the free market


Ayaan Hirsi Ali : I don’t see this crisis as anything that will lead me to change my mind about the superiority of the system of free markets. The alternative would be a government run and planned by the government. Look at Russia. By the way, a number of other European states, in my country, Holland, the government has kind of nationalized all banks. Again, it takes away… The Dutch participant in the market who was irresponsible isn’t going to be punished as much as the American irresponsible Wall Street trader, and the difference is the American economy will come out of the slump, at one point, and those lessons of the past few months are so well learned that I think it’s going to stay in the memories of Americans for generations to come, whereas I fear that for people in Holland, for instance, they would forget it because it’s easily taken care of by the government and there’s going to be a time when welfare states in Europe will not be able to pay for that amount of government intervention.


Question: Is the free market responsible for class warfare?


Ayaan Hirsi Ali : I will give you the example of the man who murdered Theo van Gogh, who was on welfare. Based on that principle, a 26-year-old, healthy young man, and what I took from that and I think what many Dutch people learned from that is he had the time to plot a murder, which in the United States he would not be.

He would be busy trying to feed himself and find a roof over his head. And so the idea that the free market makes the rich richer, the poor poorer, that creates a class antagonism and that that will become a showdown between the two classes and you’re going to have the crime rate go up, and anyway the rich people deserve it. Why don’t they share? I think it’s too simplistic and it’s been tried all over again. It shows that that’s not really how it works.


Question: Should private philanthropy replace government?


Ayaan Hirsi Ali : Not only does it replace government, it’s also far more efficient. If a philanthropic organization, say the Gates Foundation, fails in its stated mission, it will correct itself much faster than if this were a government, you know, if that mission statement was run by a government. What you get in programs provided by government, very often, is an entrenched interest comes about for the people who are supposed civil servants and any other group of people who have an interest. And so, there’s no point in solving the problem, the social problems, because if you solve those problems, you don’t have that income from government.

There’s no reason for you to exist, and so I tend to agree more with the Americans who are suspicious about government and who say, hey, we are going to take care of whatever social issues that our country is facing by collecting money and then by allocating that money much more efficiently than if it were government. Government in the United States and anywhere else has been running public schools, and just read the history of public schools and I come out thinking if these were, I mean, from, say, by the Gates Foundation, that would have made much, much more sense.


Recorded on: November 10, 2008


The author and American Enterprise Institute Fellow answers the Big Question "Does the free market corrode moral character?"

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The direct collapse theories

Glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud

Image source: ESA/Hubble and NASA

The favored theory about the birth of supermassive black holes up to now has been the "direct-collapse" theory. The theory proposes a solution to a cosmic riddle: Supermassive black holes seem to have been born a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang, not nearly long enough for the standard normal black hole genesis scenario to have played out, and on such a large scale. There are two versions of the direct-collapse theory.

One version proposes that if enough gas comes together in a supermassive gravitationally bound cloud, it can eventually collapse into a black hole, which, thanks the cosmic background-radiation-free nature of the very early universe, could then quickly pull in enough matter to go supermassive in a relatively short period of time.

According to astrophysicist Shantanu Basu of Western University in London, Ontario, this would only have been possible in the first 800 million years or so of the universe. "The black holes are formed over a duration of only about 150 million years and grow rapidly during this time," Basu told Live Science in the summer of 2019. "The ones that form in the early part of the 150-million-year time window can increase their mass by a factor of 10 thousand." Basu was lead author of research published last summer in Astrophysical Journal Letters that presented computer models showing this version of direct-collapse is possible.

Another version of the theory suggests that the giant gas cloud collapses into a supermassive star first, which then collapses into a black hole, which then — presumably again thanks to the state of the early universe — sucks up enough matter to go supermassive quickly.

There's a problem with either direct-collapse theory, however, beyond its relatively narrow time window. Previous models show it working only with pristine gas clouds comprised of hydrogen and helium. Other, heavier elements — carbon and oxygen, for example — break the models, causing the giant gas cloud to break up into smaller gas clouds that eventually form separate stars, end of story. No supermassive black hole, and not even a supermassive star for the second flavor of the direct-collapse theory.

A new model


Image source: NAOJ

Japan's National Astronomical Observatory has a supercomputer named "ATERUI II" that was commissioned in 2018. The Tohoku University research team, led by postdoctoral fellow Sunmyon Chon, used ATERUI II to run high-resolution, 3D, long-term simulations to verify a new version of the direct-collapse idea that makes sense even with gas clouds containing heavy elements.

Chon and his team propose that, yes, supermassive gas clouds with heavy elements do break up into smaller gas clouds that wind up forming smaller stars. However, they assert that's not the end of the story.

The scientists say that post-explosion, there remains a tremendous inward pull toward the center of the ex-cloud that drags in all those smaller stars, eventually causing them to grow into a single supermassive star, 10,000 times larger than the Sun. This is a star big enough to produce the supermassive black holes we see when it finally collapses in on itself.

"This is the first time that we have shown the formation of such a large black hole precursor in clouds enriched in heavy-elements," says Chon, adding, "We believe that the giant star thus formed will continue to grow and evolve into a giant black hole."

Modeling the behavior of an expanded number of elements within the cloud while faithfully carrying forward those models through the violent breakup of the cloud and its aftermath requires such high computational overhead that only a computer as advanced as ATERUI II could pull off.

Being able to develop a theory that takes into account, for the first time, the likely complexity of early-universe gas clouds makes the Tohoku University idea the most complete, plausible explanation of the universe's mysterious supermassive black holes. Kazuyuki Omukai, also of Tohoku University says, "Our new model is able to explain the origin of more black holes than the previous studies, and this result leads to a unified understanding of the origin of supermassive black holes."