Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Blueduck Shrugged

A guy on my LJ friends list, Jim Smith, just wrote an entry puzzled at the recent surge of interest in libertarian hero Ayn Rand's classic novel, 'Atlas Shrugged'. Jim writes-
I don't know a lot about the book, but the article says it "concerns a group of corporate chieftains and individualists who go on strike in protest of government intervention in business." This would seem to be of great interest to, y'know, corporate chieftains, but are there enough of them to create a sales spike? I would think you'd need to bring the masses on board, and lately the masses are all upset about their perception that the government is intervening on behalf of corporate chieftains.

I have to admit the article piqued my curiosity about the book, since I don't really get libertarianism and I'd be interested to read an argument in favor of it. Just within the article Rand's Objectivism seems to be completely undercut, when it cites Alan Greenspan's subscription to the philosophy and then quotes his statement to Congress about the failure of laissez-faire economics to self-regulate:
"Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders' equity -- myself, especially -- are in a state of shocked disbelief," Greenspan told a congressional hearing in October.

This is the sort of statement that makes promoting libertarianism an uphill climb--Greenspan doesn't seem to have a plan on how free markets can now turn around and fix the problem free markets failed to prevent. I'm not one to suggest the government will fix everything or that we'll be better off permanently nationalizing shit, but at this point I would think increased government intervention can accomplish more than Alan Greenspan standing around being shocked.

Because this type of thing frustrates me as well, I felt compelled to respond. Here goes...

The great success of modern conservatism (Reagan conservatism, as opposed to say, classic Eisenhower conservatism) is convincing average Joes-- middle class, working class, or worse-- that protecting corporate chieftains from government regulation or intervention is their cause too.

It's no coincidence that the tea party movement originated from a rant by CNBC pundit Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago stock market, in which he not only called for the tea parties, but also insisted that those facing foreclosure were "losers". Or that the taxes that the teabaggers were ranting about affect only those making over $250,000 while most of America (including, I'm sure, 98% of the teabaggers) got a tax break from Obama. They've taken corporatism and repackaged it as a populist movement.

And it's a mix too... people scared by the current economy that they're attempting to find solace in that, but it's also a lot of conservatives angry at being in the minority after many years of political ascendancy using this for solace too (I've read lots of rants on conservative LJs that they fear the government will soon enslave us all).

The good news, I suppose, if polls can be believed, is that these people are increasingly a minority. It's hard to convince people that the free-market is infallible and that government is evil when right now the government is the only thing keeping the mess caused by the free-market gods from completely imploding our economy.

That's not to say we go all the way in the other direction, but it's clear that, despite a small surge in book sales, Americans are way opposed to the Rand worldview.

[PS- Jim also writes in that entry about how Rand's worldview connects with what Bernie Madoff did, and failed to get away with. Good stuff there too. I responded to that as well, which can be read here.]


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