Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ayn Rand's Revenge

Under the headline "Ayn Rand's Revenge", The NY Times put a bio book,”Ayn Rand and the World She Made” on the cover of its Book Review today. It seems that only the Bible sells more copies per year than her magnum opus of unfettered, soaring phallic power. To quote from her hero, John Galt:

“We have granted you everything you demanded of us, we who had always been the givers, but have only now understood it,” Galt lectures the “looters” and “moochers” who make up the populace. “We have no demands to present you, no terms to bargain about, no compromise to reach. You have nothing to offer us. We do not need you.”

According to this article, Atlas Shrugged is the favorite tome of the right. Casting aside the believability that tea baggers and Glen Beck have actually read her 1000+ page book, Rand’s Objectivist philosophy as embodied by Galt is perfect for both Wall Streeters and people who shout, “Don't let the government touch my Medicare” alike. Basically, one could be a member of the elect and victimized by the effete elite without any distinguishing characteristics beside devotion to Ayn. The woman who despised the masses and collectivism built a massive cult around herself and it’s more powerful than ever.

(By the way, the obscure company that did cleanup on the ill-fated Deutsche Bank building was named after the broad-shouldered hero of AS, known as the John Galt Corporation. Two firefighters died there in August 2007 trapped in its ruins because John Galt Corp removed a pipe connecting the building to its water supply.)

Two years ago on September 15, 2007, about a month after the Deutsche Building collapsed and killed the firemen, I wrote about another breathless New York Times article regarding the power of Rand:

As America enters an unprecedented time of falling housing prices and widespread foreclosure, I found the article in The New York Times “Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism” by Harriet Rubin interesting.

According to the article, many business leaders, including Alan Greenspan, who is currently flogging his book, The Age of Turbulence, were strongly influenced by Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. Greenspan blamed everyone but himself for the credit crisis, although he was at the Fed’s helm when the interest rate was cut to 1% in 2003 and praised adjustable rate mortgages as most efficient.

Wall Street decided to offer mortgages borrowers could not afford simply because they could repackage these loans into mortgage-backed securities, insisting the MBS eliminated risk, and reap incredible fees.

These business leaders were greatly influenced by the book. It is the story of the prime movers of society going on strike because society doesn’t appreciate them; in fact, they are exploited and robbed of their dignity. They refuse to contribute their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research or new ideas of any kind to the rest of the world.

The view of the prime movers is that society hampers them by interfering with their work and underpays them by confiscating the profits and dignity they have rightfully earned. The peaceful cohesiveness of the world requires those individuals whose productive work comes from mental effort.

But feeling they have no alternative, they eventually disappear from the communities of “looters” and “moochers” who bleed them dry. The strikers believe that they are crucial to a society that exploits them, and the near-total collapse of civilization triggered by their strike shows them to be correct.

The book reflects the mindset of many of those who helmed Wall Street institutions that are now extinct [Bear Stearns, Lehman] or swallowed up [Merrill Lynch] or still have a pulse. To regulate them is to “loot” or “mooch” off them. They are of a superior class; therefore they are entitled to play by different rules, all for the benefit of society.

I don’t think Rand believed that self-interest had to be enlightened to benefit society; all the prime movers like Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide), John Thain (Merrill Lynch), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Henry Paulson (formerly Goldman Sachs, now sadly our Treasury Secretary) just have to be self-interested and somehow, voila! Wave an invisible hand and society benefits. They took the gold; we the taxpayers take the dross, and none of them accepts responsibility or faces any kind of comeuppance.

I, too, was influenced by literature but not Ayn Rand. She wrote stiff characters who spoke ridiculous dialogue and had romance-novel sex. I suggest these business leaders try another message novel:

The Jungle(1906) by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle is the story of Lithuanian immigrants working in Chicago’s Union Stock Yards at the beginning of the 20th century. It depicts a world of poverty and lack of any social contract, subhuman living and working conditions and generally utter hopelessness prevalent among the have-nots, contrasted with the deeply rooted corruption on the part of the haves. Workers are forced to low-bid their labor in a desperate attempt to compete and survive.

In The Jungle workers are shown falling into meat processing tanks and being ground, along with animal parts, into “Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard.”

The disgusting, fetid, filthy working conditions and exploitation of women and children depicted in the Jungle led to the passage of the Meat Insepction Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which in turn led to the Food and Drug Administration.

What are your favorite message books? Try Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here (1935) for a glimpse of the future.

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