She was the avatar of me-ness. She wrote, and convinced many to agree, that selfishness is wonderful. In fact, she argued that taking care of yourself first was essential to making a society work. Though born in Russia, she touted capitalism and it’s focus on individuals, as the only serious economic system. Her fiction was not particularly well-reviewed by critics and her books and essays on her philosophy were considered light by other philosophers. But her books sold to millions of people. Her influence on libertarians and neo-cons was dramatic. Ask most free-market apostles currently alive and they will admit they loved her. And they may not volunteer it, but they internalized her thesis of self interest, survival of the strongest, and an almost religious belief that “money has no conscience,” an old popular saying on Wall Street. Now, we’re hearing about “moral hazard,” and those who would be bailed out and those who wish to profit from it have suddenly become born again sharers.
Make no mistake; this crisis is ideological. Alan Greenspan was a supporter of Rand. George Gilder, the write influential in the Reagan presidency and later, admired Rand. Powerful Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan and Speaker John Boehner channel Ms. Rand. Even if the young investment bankers and slick business school graduates at hedge funds, hadn’t read Ayn Rand and her disciples they bought into the package. “Greed is Good.” Altruism is for Wusses.” Government is always the problem, not the solution. Government is to be manipulated for profit if you can’t get around it. Regulation is bad. De-regulation is a moral imperative. Why there are even preachers who claim “God Wants you to be Rich.” Some of political operatives and the neo-con think tanks were scathingly critical of Hilary Clinton’s best seller, “It Takes a Village.” They thumbed their noses and scoffed, “socialism.” But ah, corporate socialism seems still in vogue and we wouldn’t want to tax or regulate the “job creators” or the very rich.
Back in the 1960s a very smart friend asked if I’d read Rand. She was a certified intellectual; Phi Beta Kappa, Fullbright Scholar. I’d read only a handful of essays and seen Rand interviewed on TV. She gave me “Atlas Shrugged” and ‘Fountainhead” and, especially since she was also pretty, I read them while working in the Buick Factory in Flint, Michigan … or should I say the former Buick factory. It’s history. After I plowed through Rand’s fictional heroes of unfettered capitalism she asked me what I thought. I told her I thought Rand was naïve. I offered that the real world doesn’t work that way, at least for long. She laughed it off, and if I remember correctly we married. But it didn’t’ last…for long.
I wonder now about how these Ayn Rand believers, with their hands out to the government…the Government, for God’s sake, justify their actions and their condescending ideology? Do they believe they are “too big to fail?” Do they still believe government is always the problem? And how do they feel about personal responsibility?
As the portfolios and vanities burn in the economic mess we face one wonders if old, dog-eared copies of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” will be tossed on the bonfire.