Friday, October 15, 2010

Ayn Rand: She´s The Devil In Disguise

In a second hand bookshop I recently found a book (published in the 1960s) which was a series of essays in praise of capitalism, by Ayn Rand and a few others.

The most striking thing about her ideas is how they became so popular. Rand was a Russian immigrant who fled the Bolshevik Revolution, and thus became an ardent anti-Communist and arch-capitalist. Considering her traumatic early life experience, it´s not hard to see why.
Her school of thought can be traced through the 20th century to today: from the the actions of financiers that led to the Great Depression; to the formation of the Chicago School; to the establishment of Monetarism and "Reaganomics"; to Newt Gingrich´s "Contract with America" in the 1990s; to the actions of the "Neocons" during the Bush II administration; and finally to the beliefs of the Tea Party.

What all these successive "belief systems" share is a core value that government (and collective action) is by nature evil, and that individuals (human beings) are by nature good. Looking at this viewpoint from a different, moralistic, way: altruism and selflessness (according to Rand´s logic) is precisely what led to Communism, therefore the only way to defeat this "evil" is to abolish government and allow private individuals the right to figure things out for themselves.

From Dante´s description of Lucifer as the fallen angel who fell in love with humanity and loathed the collective moralising of God, Rand´s moral compass seems very close to the beliefs of Lucifer. Because, in essence, it could be argued that Lucifer was humanity´s first model for anarchism: to destroy all things that hold humanity back from the unrelenting pursuit of self.

This, then, is the conclusion of Rand´s creed: the ultimate, individualistic pursuit of selfishness. Rand argues that human progress only happens in societies which are rational and free - by which she means free of government regulation, government welfare (because she sees "welfare" as an intrusion into the lives of individuals) and so on. She argues that all human discovery happened when people were free to pursue their goals free of government influence.
All this sounds idealistic and appealing to an extent (as it is meant to), but it disguises a ruthless truth: that unregulated capitalism in the real world leads inevitably, not to a free market heaven, but to an oligarchic hell. Companies, by their nature, are psychopathic: they care about the profit motive, and are very far from "rational". Short-termism, making a quick buck, cutting corners, downsizing, these are all words that abound in the capitalist world created by the disciples of Ayn Rand like Alan Greenspan and the like. Let´s not forget that now there are only a few major banks left in the USA, thanks to the deregulation that Rand promoted, and created the conditions for the financial crisis. Goldman Sachs is now the primary shareholder of the USA; many of its former employees now run the government, or ran the last one.

So the primary economic model that runs the largest, most important economy in the world, was devised by....well, you know what I mean.

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