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Category Archives: Ayn Rand

Donald Trump & Ayn Rand | CLUSTER B

Posted: February 19, 2017 at 11:48 am

On November 8th of this year, the unthinkable happened. Donald Trump was elected president. Although his campaign sounded more populist that free-market fundamentalist, his choices for cabinet tell a different story. Liberals and progressives and just plain poor people are deeply concerned about the future. Alternet has an article whose title spells it out: Its Ayn Rands America Now: Republicans Have Stripped the Country of Its Last Shred of Morality. Now Trump is hardly the ideal of Objectivists or Libertarians. He doesnt embrace freedom for the individual, not with his pro life and anti-immigrant stance; certainly not with his intention to punish anyone who burns the flag. But the Republican Party representing the 1%, may well make the country Ayn Rands America.

Many enemies of Ayn Rands philosophy (and there are many) like to call her a psychopath. Of course, many of these same people call anyone they disapprove of a psychopath. Is she one? Is her philosophy an expression of psychopathy, par excellence?

A friend of mine who, like me, is a socialist and also a psychopath has admitted that, were he wealthy, he would probably change his politics. I admitted I probably would too. We psychopaths are on our own side first and foremost. In that respect, we think in a way that is similar to the way Ayn Rand thought. But there is a difference. We are amoral and Ayn Rand was very moralistic indeed. We consider altruism optional. If we want to be altruistic, thats our business. She considered altruism evil. Altruism does not mean mere kindness or generosity, but the sacrifice of the best among men to the worst, the sacrifice of virtues to flaws, of ability to incompetence, of progress to stagnation and the subordinating of all life and of all values to the claims of anyones suffering. She does like benevolence which consists of acts of good will towards those one likes. But suffering should not entitle anyone to make demands. Only productivity entitles one to anything. Well, lack of empathy is harmonious with the refusal to considering the fact of suffering a moral imperative. Does that mean psychopaths are against the social safety nets? No. Rational recognition that life in a society with safety nets protects us as well as others can make government benefits look desirable for everyone who belongs to the 99%. Ayn Rand equated poverty with inferiority. She believed and preached that those who encounter economic hardship are incompetent and lacking in value. My article, Libertarianism and Psychopathy, is a rebuttal of that claim.

Her enemies, in addition to denigrating her writing and philosophical strength, made much of an infatuation she had with a serial killer, William Hickman.Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should, she wrote, continuing that he had no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel other people. The fact that he brutally murdered some little girls doesnt enter into her description of Hickman, nor does she give any indication that she admired murder. She is said to have modeled the character, Howard Roark of The Fountainhead on Hickman but only his indifference to public opinion seems to have made it into Howard Roarks description. Roark, the architect, was all about producing great buildings. Her mention of the Superman in the above quote is a remnant of her earlier attachment to the philosophy of Nietzsche which she had discarded during her We The Living period. There are actually two versions of the latter, one of which shows Nietzsches influence and the latter of which does not. Although she admired Hickmans sublime indifference to other peoples opinions, she didnt seem to share it.

Ayn Rand put a lot of emphasis on living in a way that is consistent with ones values. However, she didnt manage to achieve that kind of consistency in her own life. While social programs such as Medicare was anathema to her,

she collected Medicare benefits to finance her treatment for lung cancer. She also collected Social Security. In comparing Medicare with criminal expropriation, she said, the private hoodlum has a slight edge of moral superiority: he has no power to devastate an entire nation and his victims are not legally disarmed.

Her excuse was that she paid into these programs so she deserved to benefit. But, if she really considered these programs a form of robbery, she must not have considered the benefits true recompense for the contributions the beneficiaries put into the program. If that were true, after all, the programs could not be compared to bank robbery at all but, instead, to withdrawing ones own savings from from the bank. And she didnt collect under the name of Ayn Rand. She used her married name, Mrs. Frank OConnor. She didnt want the public, including her followers, to know she collected Medicare and Social Security, just as she didnt want them to know she got lung cancer from smoking. She had always glorified smoking. All her followers emulated her. She denied that smoking caused cancer and insisted that cancer came from a defect of character. Once she found out she had the disease, she put out her cigarette and never smoked again. But refused, when asked, to make a public statement warning others about the dangers of smoking. She probably still believed smoking came from a deficit in her character of which she was ashamed. Thats more narcissistic than psychopathic. Her classes in Objectivism which were attended by worshipful admirers provided all the narcissistic supply a narc could ever want. She became increasingly intolerant of disagreement among her friends. She discarded them one by one on grounds of even trivial differences. She ended life cut off from all but the few who were completely submissive. Expressing disgust at the collective stupidity of the masses, she fastidiously withdrew from public life, condescending only to put out a newsletter that was her unchallenged word dispensed to the faithful.

Critics of Trump are divided on whether to call him a narc or a path. His ruthlessness seems psychopathic but his constant bragging and idealization of himself are very narcissistic. His candidacy didnt focus very much on a clear-cut ideology. Instead, he urged the voters to believe in him as the solution. He would make America great again. Once he could do it.

I think both Trump and Rand wanted to create an ideal human being and to embody that ideal. People refer to this idea as the narcissistic false self. That self is a kind of superman, the grandiose god of the narc. Sam Vaknin has called Hitler a narcissist and has stated that a narcissist is more dangerous than a psychopath. Time will tell.

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Donald Trump & Ayn Rand | CLUSTER B

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Jerome Tuccille, Author of It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand and More, RIP – Reason (blog)

Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:45 am

Dan Hayes, ReasonI’m saddened to announce the death of Jerome Tuccille, the best-selling biographer of Donald Trump (among others) and author of the single-best political memoir in existence, It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand. He was 80 years old.

Jerry’s son, J.D. Tuccille, is a columnist for Reason and we extend our deepest condolences to him and his family. The libertarian movement has lost one of its greats with his passing, a phenomenal writer and thinker whose intellectual curiosity was only outmatched by his energy and honesty.

Jerry’s professional home page is here and his Amazon page is here. An investment manager by day, he wrote more than 30 books over the course of his career, on topics ranging such as his quixotic run for governor of New York on the Libertarian Party ticket; biographies of Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Barry Diller, and Rupert Murdoch; and histories of the Gallo wine empire and black “buffalo soliders” who fought with distinction in the Spanish-American War even as they faced institutional racism in the Army. There were also novels such as Gallery of Fools (about inept art-heist criminals inspired by shady family members), analyses of “radical libertarianism” and futurism, investment-strategy books, and important contributions to the critical literature on Ernest Hemingway.

At Reason, we were lucky and honored to interview Jerry many times over the past decade. Here’s our interview with him about The Roughest Riders: The Untold Story of the Black Soldiers in the Spanish-American War, a book which showcases his talent for finding lost pockets of history that never should have been forgotten.

Jerry was also the first person to publish a biography on Donald Trump, doing so back in the mid-1980s as the future president was beginning to make his mark on the New York real estate scene. We talked with him in the fall of 2015, as the billionaire’s bid for the GOP nomination moved from comic sideshow to serious business. This interview is a reminder of one of the great things about Jerry: If you had a sharp insight, you can be pretty sure he had beaten you to it by a couple of decades.

Other interviews with him include a discussion of Gallo Be Thy Name, his history of the world’s greatest wine-making empire, and the reissue of 1972’s It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand.

Jerry wrote for Reason magazine over the years (read his archive) and here’s an excerpt of his bracingly caustic 1983 takedown of books by Alvin Toffler and Isaac Asimov. From “Spare Us These High-Tech Utopias!”:

Asimov seems totally oblivious to economic principles… He blames just about everything, including inflation, on overpopulation: too many people means too much demand and, hence, rising prices. He overlooks all the inflationary evils of big government, including the fact that we actually pay farmers not to produce food in this country. If too many people cause inflation and economic depression, why is Hong Kong, literally teeming with people, so prosperous while socialistic, underpopulated countries stagnate?

Asimov makes an eloquent case for getting government off the back of science. He believes in free, unregulated scientific research, unhampered by governmental restriction. His field he would decontrol, while imposing Draconian controls over just about everything else.

What arrogance! What a pity he didn’t extend his case for freedom to the whole arena of economic and social relationships. Alas, when reading Asimov, it pays to be discriminating. The man is witty, and he’s a charmer. The Roving Mind is chock-full of stimulating, well-stated ideas. It’s just that some of the ideas happen to be dangerous.

Farewell, Jerome Tuccille. You made the world a better and more interesting place and you left everyone you touched through your writings smarter and excited to change the world.

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Jerome Tuccille, Author of It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand and More, RIP – Reason (blog)

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Would Ayn Rand Have Cast President Trump As A Villain? | Zero …

Posted: February 15, 2017 at 12:40 am

Submitted by Steve Simpson via The Foundation for Economic Education,

After Donald Trump announced a number of cabinet picks who happen to be fans of Ayn Rand, a flurry of articles appeared claiming that Trump intended to create an Objectivist cabal within his administration.

Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow Objectivists, proclaimed one article. Would that it were so. The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was a passionate champion of individual freedom and laissez-faire capitalism and a fierce opponent of authoritarianism. For her, government exists solely to protect our rights, not to meddle in the economy or to direct our private lives.

A president who truly understood Rands philosophy would not be cozying up to Putin, bullying companies to keep manufacturing plants in the United States, or promising insurance for everybody among many other things Trump has said and done.

And while its certainly welcome news that several of Trumps cabinet picks admire Rand, its not surprising. Her novel Atlas Shrugged depicts a world in decline as it slowly strangles its most productive members. The novel celebrates the intelligent and creative individuals who produce wealth, many of whom are businessmen. So it makes sense that businessmen like Rex Tillerson and Andy Puzder would be among the novels millions of fans.

But a handful of fans in the administration hardly signals that Trumps would be an Ayn Rand administration. The claims about Rands influence in the administration are vastly overblown.

Even so, there is at least one parallel we can draw between a Trump administration and Rands novels, although its not favorable to Trump. As a businessman and a politician, Trump epitomizes a phenomenon that Rand harshly criticized throughout her career, especially in Atlas Shrugged. Rand called it pull peddling. The popular term today is cronyism. But the phenomenon is the same: attempting to succeed, not through production and trade, but by trading influence and favors with politicians and bureaucrats.

Cronyism has been a big issue in recent years among many thinkers and politicians on the Right, who have criticized big government because it often favors some groups and individuals over others or picks winners and losers.

Commentators on the Left, too, often complain about influence peddling, money in politics, and special interests, all of which are offered as hallmarks of corruption in government. And by all indications, Trump was elected in part because he was somehow seen as a political outsider who will drain the swamp.

But as the vague phrase drain the swamp shows, theres a lot more concern over cronyism, corruption, and related issues than there is clarity about what the problem actually is and how to solve it.

Ayn Rand had unique and clarifying views on the subject. With Trump in office, the problem she identified is going to get worse. Rands birthday is a good time to review her unique explanation of, and cure for, the problem.

The first question we need to be clear about is: What, exactly, is the problem were trying to solve? Drain the swamp, throw the bums out, clean up Washington, outsiders vs. insiders these are all platitudes that can mean almost anything to anyone.

Are lobbyists the problem? Trump and his advisers seem to think so. Theyve vowed to keep lobbyists out of the administration, and Trump has signed an order forbidding all members of his administration from lobbying for 5 years.

Its not clear whether these plans will succeed, but why should we care? Lobbyists are individuals hired to represent others with business before government. We might lament the existence of this profession, but blaming lobbyists for lobbying is like blaming lawyers for lawsuits. Everyone seems to complain about them right up until the moment that they want one.

The same goes for complaints about the clients of lobbyists the hated special interests. Presidents since at least Teddy Roosevelt have vowed to run them out of Washington yet, today, interest groups abound. Some lobby for higher taxes, some for lower taxes. Some lobby for more entitlements, some for fewer or for more fiscal responsibility in entitlement programs. Some lobby for business, some for labor, some for more regulations on both. Some lobby for freer trade, some for trade restrictions. The list goes on and on. Are they all bad?

The question we should ask is, Why do people organize into interest groups and lobby government in the first place?

The popular answer among free-market advocates is that government has too much to offer, which creates an incentive for people to tap their cronies in government to ensure that government offers it to them. Shrink government, the argument goes, and we will solve the problem.

Veronique de Rugy, senior fellow at the Mercatus Center, describes cronyism in these terms:

This is how cronyism works: A company wants a special privilege from the government in exchange for political support in future elections. If the company is wealthy enough or is backed by powerful-enough interest groups, the company will get its way and politicians will get another private-sector ally. The few cronies win at the expense of everyone else.

(Another term for this is rent seeking, and many other people define it roughly the same way.)

Theres a lot of truth to this view. Our bloated government has vast power over our lives and trillions of dollars worth of favors to dole out, and a seemingly endless stream of people and groups clamor to win those favors. As a lawyer who opposes campaign finance laws, Ive often said that the problem is not that money controls politics, its that politics controls money and property, and business, and much of our private lives as well.

Still, we need to be more precise. Favors, benefits, and privileges are too vague a way to describe what government has to offer. Among other things, these terms just raise another question: Which benefits, favors, or privileges should government offer? Indeed, many people have asked that question of cronyisms critics. Heres how the Los Angeles Times put it in an editorial responding to the effort by some Republicans to shut down the Export-Import Bank:

Governments regularly intervene in markets in the name of public safety, economic growth or consumer protection, drawing squawks of protest whenever one interest is advanced at the expense of others. But a policy thats outrageous to one faction for example, the government subsidies for wind, solar and battery power that have drawn fire on the right may in fact be a welcome effort to achieve an important societal objective.

Its a valid point. Without a way to tell what government should and should not do, whose interests it should or should not serve, complaints about cronyism look like little more than partisan politics. When government favors the groups or policies you like, thats good government in action. When it doesnt, thats cronyism.

In Rands view, there is a serious problem to criticize, but few free-market advocates are clear about exactly what it is. Simply put, the problem is the misuse of the power that government possesses, which is force. Government is the institution that possesses a legal monopoly on the use of force.

The question we need to grapple with is, how should it use that power?

Using terms like favors, privileges, and benefits to describe what government is doing when cronyism occurs is not just too vague, its far too benign. These terms obscure the fact that what people are competing for when they engage in cronyism is the privilege of legally using force to take what others have earned or to prevent them from contracting or associating with others. When groups lobby for entitlements whether its more social security or Medicare or subsidies for businesses they are essentially asking government to take that money by force from taxpayers who earned it and to give it to someone else. Call it what you want, but it ultimately amounts to stealing.

When individuals in a given profession lobby for occupational licensing laws, they are asking government to grant a select group of people a kind of monopoly status that prevents others who dont meet their standards from competing with them that is, from contracting with willing customers to do business.

These are just two examples of how government takes money and property or prevents individuals from voluntarily dealing with one another. There are many, many more. Both Democrats and Republicans favor these sorts of laws and willingly participate in a system in which trading on this power has become commonplace.

Rent seeking doesnt capture what is really going on. Neither, really, does cronyism. Theyre both too tame.

A far better term is the one used by nineteenth-century French economist Frederic Bastiat: legal plunder. Rand uses the term political pull to describe those who succeed by convincing friends in government to use the law to plunder others or to prevent them from competing.

And she uses the phrase the Aristocracy of Pull, which is the title of a whole chapter in Atlas Shrugged, to describe a society in which political pull, rather than production and trade, has become the rule. Its a society that resembles feudalism, in which people compete to gain the favor of government officials in much the same way that people in feudal times competed for the favor of the king so they could use that power to rule over one another and plunder as they pleased.

The cause, for Rand, is not the size of government, but what we allow it to do. When we allow government to use the force it possesses to go beyond protecting our rights, we arm individuals to plunder one another and turn what would otherwise be limited instances of corruption or criminality into a systemic problem.

For example, when politicians promise to increase social security or to make education free, they are promising to take more of the incomes of taxpayers to pay for these welfare programs. When they promise to favor unions with more labor laws or to increase the minimum wage, they are promising to restrict businesses right to contract freely with willing workers. When they promise to keep jobs in America, they are promising to impose tariffs on companies that import foreign goods. The rule in such a system becomes: plunder or be plundered. What choice does anyone have but to organize themselves into pressure groups, hire lobbyists, and join the fray?

Rand memorably describes this process in the famous money speech in Atlas Shrugged:

But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims then money becomes its creators avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once theyve passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

Observe what kind of people thrive in such a society and who their victims are. Theres a big difference between the two, and Rand never failed to make a moral distinction between them.

In the early 1990s, Atlantic City resident Vera Coking found herself in the sights of a developer who wanted to turn the property on which she lived into a casino parking lot. The developer made what he thought was a good offer, but she refused. The developer became incensed, and instead of further trying to convince Coking to sell or finding other land, he did what a certain kind of businessman has increasingly been able to do in modern times. He pursued a political solution. He convinced a city redevelopment agency to use the power of eminent domain to force Coking to sell.

The developer was Donald Trump. His ensuing legal battle with Coking, which he lost, was the first of a number of controversies in recent decades over the use of eminent domain to take property from one private party and give it to another.

Most people can see that theres a profound moral distinction between the Trumps and their cronies in government on the one hand and people like Vera Coking on the other. One side is using law to force the other to give up what is rightfully theirs. To be blunt, one side is stealing from the other.

But the victims of the use of eminent domain often lobby government officials to save their property just as vigorously as others do to take it. Should we refer to all of them as special interests and damn them for seeking government favors? The answer should be obvious.

But if thats true, why do we fail to make that distinction when the two sides are businesses as many do when they criticize Wall Street, or the financial industry as a whole, or when they complain about crony capitalism as though capitalism as such is the problem? Not all businesses engage in pull-peddling, and many have no choice but to deal with government or to lobby in self-defense.

John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T bank (and a former board member of the Ayn Rand Institute, where I work), refused to finance transactions that involved the use of eminent domain after the Supreme Court issued its now-infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which upheld the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private party to another. Later, Allison lobbied against the TARP fund program after the financial crisis, only to be pressured by government regulators into accepting the funds. In an industry as heavily regulated as banking, theres little a particular bank can do to avoid a situation like that.

Another example came to light in 2015, when a number of news articles ran stories on United Airliness so-called Chairmans Flight. This was a flight from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, that United continued to run long after it became clear it was a money-loser. Why do that? It turns out the chairman of the Port Authority, which controls access to all the ports in New York and New Jersey, had a vacation home near Columbia. During negotiations over airport fees, he made it clear that he wanted United to keep the flight, so United decided not to cancel it. Most of the news stories blamed United for influence-peddling. Only Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal called it what it was: extortion by the Port Authority chairman.

The point is, theres a profound moral difference between trying to use government to plunder others and engaging with it essentially in self-defense. Its the same difference between a mobster running a protection racket and his victims. And theres an equally profound moral difference between people who survive through production and trade, and those who survive by political pull.

Rand spells out this latter difference in an essay called The Money Making Personality:

The Money-Maker is the discoverer who translates his discovery into material goods. In an industrial society with a complex division of labor, it may be one man or a partnership of two: the scientist who discovers new knowledge and the entrepreneur the businessman who discovers how to use that knowledge, how to organize material resources and human labor into an enterprise producing marketable goods.

The Money-Appropriator is an entirely different type of man. He is essentially noncreative and his basic goal is to acquire an unearned share of the wealth created by others. He seeks to get rich, not by conquering nature, but by manipulating men, not by intellectual effort, but by social maneuvering. He does not produce, he redistributes: he merely switches the wealth already in existence from the pockets of its owners to his own.

The Money-Appropriator may become a politician or a businessman who cuts corners or that destructive product of a mixed economy: the businessman who grows rich by means of government favors, such as special privileges, subsidies, franchises; that is, grows rich by means of legalized force.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand shows these two types in action through characters like steel magnate Hank Rearden and railroad executive Dagny Taggart, two brilliant and productive business people who carry a crumbling world on their shoulders. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Orren Boyle, a competitor of Reardens, and Jim Taggart, Dagnys brother and CEO of the railroad where she works. Both constantly scheme to win special franchises and government contracts from their friends in Washington and to heap regulations on productive businesses like Reardens. Rearden is forced to hire a lobbyist in Washington to try to keep the bureaucrats off of his back.

When we damn special interests or businesses in general for cronyism, we end up grouping the Reardens in with the Orren Boyles, which only excuses the behavior of the latter and damns the former. This attitude treats the thug and his victim as morally equivalent. Indeed, this attitude makes it seem like success in business is as much a function of whom you know in Washington as it is how intelligent or productive you are.

It is unfortunately true that many businesses use political pull, and many are a mixture of money-makers and money-appropriators. So it can seem like success is a matter of government connections. But its not true in a fundamental sense. The wealth that makes our modern world amazing the iPhones, computers, cars, medical advances and much more can only be created through intelligence, ingenuity, creativity and hard work.

Government does not create wealth. It can use the force it possesses to protect the property and freedom of those who create wealth and who deal with each other civilly, through trade and persuasion; or it can use that force to plunder the innocent and productive, which is not sustainable over the long run. What principle defines the distinction between these two types of government?

As I noted earlier, the common view about cronyism is that it is a function of big government and that the solution is to shrink or limit government. But that just leads to the question: whats the limiting principle?

True, a government that does less has less opportunity to plunder the innocent and productive, but a small government can be as unjust to individuals as a large one. And we ought to consider how we got to the point that government is so large. If we dont limit governments power in principle, pressure group warfare will inevitably cause it to grow, as individuals and groups, seeing government use the force of law to redistribute wealth and restrict competition, ask it to do the same for them.

The common response is that government should act for the good of the public rather than for the narrow interests of private parties. The Los Angeles Times editorial quoted above expresses this view. Whats truly crony capitalism, says the Times, is when the government confuses private interests with public ones.

Most people who criticize cronyism today from across the political spectrum hold the same view. The idea that governments job is to serve the public interest has been embedded in political thought for well over a century.

Rand rejects the whole idea of the public interest as vague, at best, and destructive, at worst. As she says in an essay called The Pull Peddlers:

So long as a concept such as the public interest is regarded as a valid principle to guide legislation lobbies and pressure groups will necessarily continue to exist. Since there is no such entity as the public, since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that the public interest supersedes private interests and rights, can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals takes precedence over the interests and rights of others.

If so, then all men and all private groups have to fight to the death for the privilege of being regarded as the public. The governments policy has to swing like an erratic pendulum from group to group, hitting some and favoring others, at the whim of any given moment and so grotesque a profession as lobbying (selling influence) becomes a full-time job. If parasitism, favoritism, corruption, and greed for the unearned did not exist, a mixed economy [a mixture of freedom and economic controls] would bring them into existence.

Its tempting to blame politicians for pull-peddling, and certainly there are many who willingly participate and advocate laws that plunder others. But, as Rand argues, politicians as such are not to blame, as even the most honest of government officials could not follow a standard like the public interest:

The worst aspect of it is not that such a power can be used dishonestly, but that it cannot be used honestly. The wisest man in the world, with the purest integrity cannot find a criterion for the just, equitable, rational application of an unjust, inequitable, irrational principle. The best that an honest official can do is to accept no material bribe for his arbitrary decision; but this does not make his decision and its consequences more just or less calamitous.

To make the point more concrete: which is in the public interest, the jobs and products produced by, say, logging and mining companies or preserving the land they use for public parks? For that matter, why are public parks supposedly in the public interest? As Peter Schwartz points out in his book In Defense of Selfishness, more people attend private amusement parks like Disneyland each year than national parks. Should government subsidize Disney?

To pick another example: why is raising the minimum wage in the public interest but not cheap goods or the rights of business owners and their employees to negotiate their wages freely? It seems easy to argue that a casino parking lot in Atlantic City is not in the public interest, but would most citizens of Atlantic City agree, especially when more casinos likely mean more jobs and economic growth in the city?

There are no rational answers to any of these questions, because the public interest is an inherently irrational standard to guide government action. The only approach when a standard like that governs is to put the question to the political process, which naturally leads people to pump millions into political campaigns and lobbying to ensure that their interests prevail.

Rands answer is to limit government strictly to protecting rights and nothing more. The principle of rights, for Rand, keeps government connected to its purpose of protecting our ability to live by protecting our freedom to think and produce, cooperate and trade with others, and pursue our own happiness. As Rand put it in Atlas Shrugged (through the words of protagonist John Galt):

Rights are conditions of existence required by mans nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate mans rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.

A government that uses the force it possesses to do anything more than protect rights necessarily ends up violating them. The reason is that force is only effective at stopping people from functioning or taking what they have produced or own. Force can therefore be used either to stop criminals or to act like them.

The principle, then, is that only those who initiate force against others in short, those who act as criminals violate rights and are subject to retaliation by government. So long as individuals respect each others rights by refraining from initiating force against one another so long as they deal with each other on the basis of reason, persuasion, voluntary association, and trade government should have no authority to interfere in their affairs.

When it violates this principle of rights, cronyism, corruption, pressure group warfare and mutual plunder are the results.

Theres much more to say about Rands view of rights and government. Readers can find more in essays such as Mans Rights, The Nature of Government, and What Is Capitalism? and in Atlas Shrugged.

In 1962, Rand wrote the following in an essay called The Cold Civil War:

A man who is tied cannot run a race against men who are free: he must either demand that his bonds be removed or that the other contestants be tied as well. If men choose the second, the economic race slows down to a walk, then to a stagger, then to a crawl and then they all collapse at the goal posts of a Very Old Frontier: the totalitarian state. No one is the winner but the government.

The phrase Very Old Frontier was a play on the Kennedy administrations New Frontier, a program of economic subsidies, entitlements and other regulations that Rand saw as statist and which, like many other political programs and trends, she believed was leading America toward totalitarianism. Throughout Rands career, many people saw her warnings as overblown.

We have now inaugurated as 45th president of the United States a man who regularly threatens businesses with regulation and confiscatory taxation if they dont follow his preferred policies or run their businesses as he sees fit. A recent headline in USA Today captured the reaction among many businesses: Companies pile on job announcements to avoid Trumps wrath.

Are Rands warnings that our government increasingly resembles an authoritarian regime one that issues dictates and commands to individuals and businesses, who then have to pay homage to the government like courtiers in a kings court really overblown? Read Atlas Shrugged and her other writings and decide for yourself.

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Would Ayn Rand Have Cast President Trump As A Villain? | Zero …

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The Ayn Rand in Donald Trump: The Virtue of America First | The … – American Spectator

Posted: February 13, 2017 at 9:49 am

More than a half century ago the establishment (is there any other kind?) liberal Bennett Cerf (a panelist on the Whats My Line? television game show that ran 17 years), a founder of the venerable Random House, decided that Ayn Rand was provocative. Cerf urged Rand, the founder of Objectivism, to publish a collection of essays by her and her (then, but later excommunicated) protg, philosophical heir, and sub rosa lover Nathaniel Branden. I never met Rand but in the late-1970s came to know Branden (who died two years ago) and more recently others who were close to Rand, part of her in-group Collective that included Alan Greenspan before he went rogue and eventually became Federal Reserve chairman.

The book was titled The Virtue of Selfishness. Sharon Presley, one of the pioneering women in libertarianism in the 1960s, confronted the Left back then, at Free Speech (now suppressed speech) UC Berkeley, with her bold rejection of collectivism. To her fellow libertarians, Presley said Rands use of the word selfishness was perversely idiosyncratic. Generally, one does not think of selfishness as a virtue or as virtuous behavior. But Rand rejected the association of selfishness with undesirable conduct and said instead that selfishness is concern with ones own interest, and that is a good thing.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a theme of America First, a slogan associated pejoratively with Charles Lindbergh and Pat Buchanan. Oddly, it has its roots with Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps America First may seem like a nationalist extrapolation of selfishness. But implausible as it may seem, Rand was no isolationist. Indeed, she was a believer in what has come to be known as American Exceptionalism. A refugee from Czarist and Communist Russia who came here in 1925, Rand viewed this imperfect nation as closest to her ideal of a society that championed the individual.

In recent weeks President Trump has, some would say, repudiated others would say, amplified his campaign planks on foreign policy. He and his surrogates especially cabinet members such as the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley have enunciated Administration policy. For example, President Trump is strongly committed to NATO and against Russian imperialism. Also, he will resist Chinas appropriation of the South China Sea, stand with Japan against North Korea, against which he has established an unsaid red line. And watch out, Iran, variations of sanctions are on the horizon.

The evolving foreign policy of Donald Trump is an unintended reincarnation of Ayn Rand. When he says America First, he is effectively saying that the United States should act in what Rand would call its rational self-interest. Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was founded forty-one years before the 9/11 attack on America, that is, on September 11, 1960 at the Buckley estate, Great Elm. Its founding document ended: That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States? Not the United Nations or the Third World, but only the U.S. and, where interests meet, our allies.

Trump remains a critic of using American boots on the ground to build nations or to spread democracy. And he is unlikely to give foreign aid to socialist idiots. The aforementioned is all do-gooder stuff that he rejects.

And Trump has a peculiar approach to immigration reminiscent of a century ago. We want immigrants, he says, who want to be part of America and share its values of pluralism and liberty. In other words, people who come to this country will become Americans, not simply foreigners living in America. Before multiculturalism, Trumps view was not considered weird. Those were the days when immigrants learned English and civics.

President Trump asserts that he will not show his cards and let the enemy know what we will or will not do, or when we will act. He will not publicize our rules of engagement, and those rules will not (Obama-like) unduly burden our generals. Necessarily, he must reconcile keep them guessing with dont mess with us. In other words, the enemies must know our response will be momentous, but nothing more.

And instead of killing bad guys via drones, we might occasionally capture some for spirited interrogation. What a concept.

But what about NATO, England, Japan, and other allies and alliances?

President Trump is unknowingly applying two axioms of Ayn Rand. First, as noted, he is calculating that certain alliances are in the self-interest of the U.S. They are not altruistic but something we do for us. And second, President Trump is reviving the paradox of Rands equation on altruism. If there is such a thing as American exceptionalism, because we are what Ronald Reagan called that shining city on the hill, and altruism is part of that exceptionalism and what we want to do, then being altruistic is selfish.

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The Ayn Rand in Donald Trump: The Virtue of America First | The … – American Spectator

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The Ayn Rand scene Sajid Javid reads every year –

Posted: February 9, 2017 at 6:45 am

Just before Christmas, Sajid Javid performed a ritual he has observed twice a year throughout his adult life: he read the courtroom scene in The Fountainhead. To Ayn Rand fans, its famous: the hero declares his principles and his willingness to be imprisoned for them if need be. As a student, Javid read the passage to his now-wife, but only once she told him shed have nothing more to do with him if he tried it again. Its about the power of the individual, he says. About sticking up for your beliefs, against popular opinion. Being that individual that really believes in something and goes for it.

As Communities Secretary, he oversees the planning system and has embarked upon a new mission: addressing the housing shortage which he says has become one of Britains worst social curses. The estimate is that there are at least two million people out there who cant find decent homes and are being forced to live with parents or in overcrowded conditions. Were dealing with a 30-year backlog. He aims to increase the number of homes built from 190,000 a year to between 225,000 and 275,000 at least. And so he has become the latest in a long line of ministers to promise to do something about a housing shortage.

Why, I ask, should we believe hell have any more success than his predecessors? People are right to be a bit sceptical because theyve heard it from governments over 30 years, he says. But Javid has new tools: more support for so-called factory homes pre-fabricated buildings that he says can be erected on-site within a week. And the biggest constraint, he says, is lack of the fundamental raw material: land. This, he says, is where government can help. He plans a use-it-or-lose-it planning permission system to stop developers hoarding land while they wait for its value to rise.

More controversially, there will be a more muscular approach to councils who refuse planning permission; even (or, indeed, especially) Tory ones. Javid has said hell honour the party manifesto commitment to sparing the green belt, but there are exceptions like 6,000 new homes recently authorised outside Birmingham, to the fury of the local Tory MP, former chief whip Andrew Mitchell. He promptly declared war on Javid and has been waging it ever since.

Javid expects more such wars, not just over housing but over the definition of Conservatism. One of the reasons, or the main reason, I joined the Conservative party was to promote social progress and social mobility, he says. The biggest barrier to social progress is our broken housing market. Fixing it means taking on a number of vested interests. It might make me a bit unpopular, but as long as I know Im doing the right thing which I do then thats what Im in politics for.

I ask about the property crash that was supposed to follow the Brexit vote, making homes much more affordable. He laughs, politely. He was an unexpected recruit to the Remain side, to the dismay of many Tories who assumed hed been bought off by David Cameron. The truth is more complicated. Javid has always been a vocal Eurosceptic, but as the referendum approached he decided he could not go so far as backing Brexit.

He told me about his decision during the campaign. Part of him, he said then, would feel a great sense of elation at the freedom and opportunity if Britain voted to leave. But as Business Secretary, he believed the companies who told him of their fears about leaving. As a former banker, too, he feared for the City if financial firms were to lose their passporting rights to do business across the EU. His decision was made with a rather heavy heart, knowing that, in such a polarising campaign, hed please neither side and be portrayed as being all bark and no Brexit.

Has this episode damaged him politically? I dont look at it that way, he says, almost convincingly. The way I see it, you pay a much bigger price if you dont stand up for your beliefs.

This is one of the many ways in which Sajid Javid is not a very good machine politician. Hes the son of a Muslim bus driver who prefers to let others talk about his roots unlike another son of a bus driver, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who has a gift for dropping his background into every interview. The biography-is-destiny approach to politics has never appealed to Javid. He grew up in poverty but ended up as a vice-president of Chase Manhattan Bank at the age of 25 he says he struggles to see what he has to complain about.

He found out a few years ago, for instance, that his early home life would nowadays would be categorised as homelessness a family of seven cramped into two bedrooms. But I would not pretend for a moment that I was homeless, he says. I had a loving family, a loving home and a lovely environment to grow up in. Such restraint has its virtues, but could be seen as folly in an era when politicians are expected to blend what they say with who they are and where they came from.

Javid joined the party leadership race last year as the running mate of Stephen Crabb, whose cabinet career was brought to an abrupt end by a sexting scandal. When the winner, Theresa May, signalled a new direction for the Tories, using her party conference speech to attack the socialist left and libertarian right, it sounded as if she might have Ayn Rand-reading cabinet members in mind.

Javid suggests that his definition of politics is the same as Margaret Thatchers: about doing something, not being someone. He sees the Tories as the party of change and opportunity, and says such principles underpin his housing reforms and if they upset fellow Tories, then so be it.

The Conservative party that I joined is not a party that stands up for the privileged and the moneyed, he said. We stand up for ordinary hard-working people helping them to get on in life. And if this means a few more battles with Tory councils andMPs over where to build houses, then he is ready for thefight.

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The Ayn Rand scene Sajid Javid reads every year –

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Ayn Rand Novel – Long Speeches + Narrative Drive = Speculator – Forbes

Posted: February 7, 2017 at 10:54 pm

Ayn Rand Novel – Long Speeches + Narrative Drive = Speculator
Investing legend Doug Casey and physician Dr. John Hunt have teamed up to write a real philosophical page-turner.

and more »

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Ayn Rand Novel – Long Speeches + Narrative Drive = Speculator – Forbes

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Humor: School book club loses funding after asking Ayn Rand to come speak – The Aggie

Posted: February 6, 2017 at 4:01 pm

ROMAN KRUGLOV [] / FLICKRDavis Campus Readers feel heat after inviting dead author to campus

Davis Campus Readers (DCR), a book club at UC Davis, has had its funding cut and will be forced off campus by the end of Winter Quarter after providing a platform for some questionable speech. The club asked Ayn Rand to come speak to its members, but failed to notice that the award-winning author is, in fact, dead.

The club of 40 members has asked speakers such as Ray Bradbury, Jhumpa Lahiri and Stephen King to come speak, all of whom declined due to the pointed books that have been on the clubs reading list, including former chancellor Linda Katehis upcoming memoir.

Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, is the founder of objectivism. The Atlas Society says of the belief system: There is no greater moral goal than achieving happiness. But one cannot achieve happiness by wish or whim [] Politically, Objectivists advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Under capitalism, a strictly limited government protects each persons rights to life, liberty, and property and forbids that anyone initiate force against anyone else.

Though UC Davis does not agree with the beliefs that Rand or objectivists follow, the school allowed for Rand to speak but neglected to mention to the clubs president that Rand is deceased.

I told them that Rand could come to the school. I disagree with them giving her a platform, but I couldnt stop them from bringing her to campus, said Bryan Lewis, director of Campus Clubs and Circles. I think, even though shes dead, that she has every right to come share her beliefs. Shame on the club for providing such a soapbox in the first place. We cant stop people from taking a stance, but we can do our best to stop the spread of such opinions.

Lewis went on to say that there was no room for such speech on campus and that, while he feels that such values exist, there is no reason for the club to bring such a controversial and divisive figure to campus.

DCR president Logan Marx claimed that the club would not be silenced and had every right to make their voices heard on campus.

While Rand has unpopular beliefs, DCR should not provide the contentious figure with a platform to spread ideas based around a highly capitalistic and self-centered society. These beliefs are obsolete and ridiculous, and they have no place in an intellectual setting. UC Davis administration elected to go straight to the source by punishing the group that provided a platform for dangerous dialogue by preventing the spread of such rhetoric. Questioning the credibility of ETHAN VICTOR? You can reach him at Feel free to help with his followers-to-following ratio on Twitter @thejvictor, because it is pathetic right now.

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Humor: School book club loses funding after asking Ayn Rand to come speak – The Aggie

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Making Ayn Rand Relevant in the Era of President Trump – Huffington Post

Posted: at 4:01 pm

When President Elect Donald Trump named Ayn Rand as his favorite writer, and The Fountainhead as his favorite book, last spring, few Objectivists took notice.

With his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States tomorrow, perhaps its time we should. Others — critics of Rand and Trump — arent shying away from the topic.

Ayn Rand acolyte-Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow objectivists, wrote Washington Post National Political Correspondent James Hohmann in a piece last month. At the same time, one prominent Objectivist, Onkar Ghate, called Trumps election One Small Step for Dictatorship.

Both positions are exaggerated. To be objective, lets start with perspective.

In 2009 Obamas aggressive moves on socializing medicine and raising taxes helped spark a resurgence of interest in Ayn Rand. Book sales of the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged doubled over previous-year averages and Tea Party protesters brandished homemade signs asking Who Is John Galt? Atlas Will Shrug, and Free Markets, Not Freeloaders.

Echoing Obama, Hohmann offers the same pseudo-psychological critique levied by so many Rand bashers on the Internet: The fact that all of these men, so late in life, are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing.

More deeply revealing is Hohmanns choice of language. Hohmann is a talented writer. Calling Trump and others who like Ayn Rands books acolytes — a term used in religious ceremony, also synonymous with minions, henchmen, lackeys and underlings — carries the weight of Hohmanns perspective with elegant economy.

He likens Rand readers to a villain from Dirty Dancing who dismisses a plea for help by flourishing a copy of The Fountainhead.

Some people count, and some people dont, says the bad guy. Adds Hohmann: In popular culture, the Rand acolytes are that guy.

If true, Hohmanns piece, outing three cabinet picks, one advisor, and Trump himself for liking Ayn Rand, is tantamount to calling them selfish jerks, in popular culture.

If that were the case, one would expect the outed acolytes to distance themselves from Ayn Rand — a la House Speaker Paul Ryan, who cut and ran when, as Mitt Romneys running mate, he was pushed on liking Rand.

Rather than simply saying he disagreed with Rand on theology but loved her defense of free-markets, Ryan offered a blanket denouncement of the woman and her philosophy — even though for years hed recommended the book to congressional office interns and even keynoted at The Atlas Societys 2005 celebration of Rands 100th birthday on Capitol Hill.

Ryans shameful desertion of the gal who brought him to the liberty ball may be why liberals think they can use any Rand-connection to tarnish Trump advisors and nominees.

So what does the Trump camp think of Ayn Rand?

Lets start with Trump. In an April 2016 interview with Kirsten Powers, Trump said of The Fountainhead, It relates to business beauty life and inner emotions. That book relates to everything.

This hardly makes him an acolyte, much less an Objectivist. Conflating a literary liking for Ayn Rand with status as an objectivist — i.e. a follower of her highly developed philosophy, encompassing detailed descriptions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and aesthetics — is one common mistake that has got to go.

Equally obvious is the fact that Trump has consistently defied and rejected labels. He is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. Hes even changed his party affiliation five times. Trump, a builder of buildings, would certainly appreciate a hero who also builds buildings. Hes also a businessman, who needs to deal with facts, numbers, negotiations, deadlines, and deals. Hes had to prioritize, innovate, adapt — and for that the market has rewarded him well.

Yet, as others have pointed out, Rand would oppose many of Trumps policies — from restrictions on free trade to his endorsement of eminent domain takings of private property.

What of the other fellow objectivists with whom Hohmann claims Trump stacks his cabinet?

Well, the only actual self-described Objectivist mentioned in the article, John Allison, is reportedly under consideration to chair the Federal Reserve.

Former BB&T bank chair John Allison has been a major supporter of the Ayn Rand Institute. He has helped set up university chairs on the morality of capitalism, with Ayn Rands view front and center. And he served for two years as president of the libertarian Cato Institute.

As a former bank CEO, the Ayn Rand character Allison might superficially seem to most resemble is Michael Mulligan — a wealthy banker who took Midas as his moniker when the press tried to mock him for his materialism. As with many of the scenarios which Rands fiction anticipated, Mulligan was ordered by the courts to lend money to incompetent applicants — the real life consequences of which Allison described in his book The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure.

But unlike Mulligan — and other heroes of Atlas Shrugged who withdrew from the world into Galts Gulch to avoid extending what Rand called the sanction of the victim — Alison hasnt withdrawn. Hes been actively involved with his community, both locally and nationally, published books, and now seems poised to enter a new chapter of public service.

Trumps nominee for Labor Secretary, is another Ayn Rand fan. Like Hank Rearden, the fictional steel magnate and metal engineer, Andy Puzder created countless jobs as head of the CKE Restaurants which owns Hardees and Carls Jr. Like Rearden, hes also embraced innovation (like automation).

He even owns an original signed copy of The Fountainhead. As I wrote of our exchange in the Wall Street Journal, Puzder feels at peace with both his Catholicism and his admiration of Ayn Rand.

I encouraged my six children to read both Fountainhead and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, he told me over lunch in Santa Barbara last year. Each child later read Atlas Shrugged. Mr. Puzder argued that theres no contradiction between raising my children in the church, and urging them to lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels.

But what of the other so-called Rand acolytes surrounding Trump? Have Rand defenders — or detractors — more to fear? Try this trivia question on to find out.

My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then thats what I want to do. Who said it, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, or Atlas Shruggeds Ellis Wyatt, of Wyatt Oil?

Its actually the former — and perhaps future Secretary Secretary of State, the surprise and controversial pick of President Elect Donald Trump.

Tillersons main qualification as objectivist in Hohmanns accounting is having listed Atlas Shrugged as his favorite book in a 2008 feature for Scouting Magazine. While his office didnt respond to queries for elaboration, one can speculate that the oilman identified with Wyatts experience with government regulations and persecutions. He also likely admired the legendary oilman of Atlas Shrugged for reviving the economy by pioneering drilling innovations that anticipated fracking by half a century.

But unlike Wyatt, Tillerson isnt shrugging, hes slugging — advocating for reform.

We need U.S. energy companies that have the scale and financial strength to make investments, undertake the risk and develop the new technologies, Tillerson has said.

Tillerson as an individual engages in private charity. He is a practicing Protestant and headed the Boy Scouts of America. But in these efforts, he was closer to the libertarian views of Rand than to the hot buttons of the religious right. For example, he pushed to allow gays in the Scouts and Exxon contributed to Planned Parenthood. But in his make money attitudes, hes rejecting the give back language of many CEOs who allow themselves to be guilt-tripped by the corporate social responsibility dogma and rhetoric, that the purpose of a business is to serve society in some way other than providing goods and services to eager customers.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trumps hopeful for CIA chief, said: One of the very first serious books I read when I was growing up was Atlas Shrugged, and it really had an impact on me.

He also penned a piece entitled We Need Capitalism, Not Cronyism. In it he makes the distinction that is at the heart of Atlas Shrugged. Pompeo has been a crusader against Congressional earmarks, that is, handouts to the politically connected — or politically correct, witness his war on wind power tax credits, and other supposedly eco-friendly energy subsidies.

Does the all of this add up to an Ayn Rand moment?

Ray Dalio, the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, recently reflected on the coming Trump administration. Regarding economics, if you havent read Ayn Rand lately, I suggest that you do. He noted that Rands books pretty well capture the mindset. This new administration hates weak, unproductive, socialist people and policies, and it admires strong, can-do, profit makers.

An Ayn Rand moment? Half of you reading will probably ask, Who cares? The other half, I suspect, will answer, I do.

And if you do, as do I, lets break up the circular firing squad of true Rand acolytes. And here I do intend the adjective in the literal sense of the word.

Let us find more areas of agreement. Let us welcome the Rand-friendly and Rand-curious — without purity tests and loyalty oaths. Let us prioritize, and recognize that the problem of too few ideologically consistent Objectivists is dwarfed by the problem, and opportunity, of too few people reading Ayn Rand. And let us join — with libertarians, religionists, Trump and Hillary voters alike, to introduce more people to the literature of Ayn Rand, which has been an activator for so many to delve deeper into learning more about economic and political liberty.

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Making Ayn Rand Relevant in the Era of President Trump – Huffington Post

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Ayn Rand and the Invincible Cult of Selfishness on the American Right …

Posted: January 25, 2017 at 6:10 am

You can find iterations of this worldview and this moral judgment everywhere on the right. Consider a few samples of the rhetoric. In an op-ed piece last spring, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called for conservatives to wage a “culture war” over capitalism. “Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the sharing economy,'” he wrote. “Advocates of free enterprise … have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can.” Brooks identified the constituency for his beliefs as “the people who were doing the important things right–and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.” Senator Jim DeMintechoed this analysis when he lamented that “there are two Americas but not the kind John Edwards was talking about. It’s not so much the haves and the have-nots. It’s those who are paying for government and those who are getting government.”

Pat Toomey, the former president of the Club for Growth and a Republican candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, has recently expressed an allegorical version of this idea, in the form of an altered version of the tale of the Little Red Hen. In Toomey’s rendering, the hen tries to persuade the other animals to help her plant some wheat seeds, and then reap the wheat, and then bake it into bread. The animals refuse each time. But when the bread is done, they demand a share. The government seizes the bread from the hen and distributes it to the “not productive” fellow animals. After that, the hen stops baking bread.

This view of society and social justice appeared also in the bitter commentary on the economic crisis offered up by various Wall Street types, and recorded by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine last April. One hedge-fund analyst thundered that “the government wants me to be a slave!” Another fantasized, “JP Morgan and all these guys should go on strike–see what happens to the country without Wall Street.” And the most attention-getting manifestation of this line of thought certainly belonged to the CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, whose rant against government intervention transformed him into a cult hero. In a burst of angry verbiage, Santelli exclaimed: “Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages, or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water!”

Most recently the worldview that I am describing has colored much of the conservative outrage at the prospect of health care reform, which some have called a “redistribution of health” from those wise enough to have secured health insurance to those who have not. “President Obama says he will cover thirty to forty to fifty million people who are not covered now–without it costing any money,” fumed Rudolph Giuliani. “They will have to cut other services, cut programs. They will have to be making decisions about people who are elderly.” At a health care town hall in Kokomo, Indiana, one protester framed the case against health care reform positively, as an open defense of the virtues of selfishness. “I’m responsible for myself and I’m not responsible for other people,” he explained in his turn at the microphone, to applause. “I should get the fruits of my labor and I shouldn’t have to divvy it up with other people.” (The speaker turned out to be unemployed, but still determined to keep for himself the fruits of his currently non-existent labors.)

In these disparate comments we can see the outlines of a coherent view of society. It expresses its opposition to redistribution not in practical terms–that taking from the rich harms the economy–but in moral absolutes, that taking from the rich is wrong. It likewise glorifies selfishness as a virtue. It denies any basis, other than raw force, for using government to reduce economic inequality. It holds people completely responsible for their own success or failure, and thus concludes that when government helps the disadvantaged, it consequently punishes virtue and rewards sloth. And it indulges the hopeful prospect that the rich will revolt against their ill treatment by going on strike, simultaneously punishing the inferiors who have exploited them while teaching them the folly of their ways.

There is another way to describe this conservative idea. It is the ideology of Ayn Rand. Some, though not all, of the conservatives protesting against redistribution and conferring the highest moral prestige upon material success explicitly identify themselves as acolytes of Rand. (As Santelli later explained, “I know this may not sound very humanitarian, but at the end of the day I’m an Ayn Rand-er.”) Rand is everywhere in this right-wing mood. Her novels are enjoying a huge boost in sales. Popular conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have touted her vision as a prophetic analysis of the present crisis. “Many of us who know Rand’s work,” wrote Stephen Moore in the Wall Street Journal last January, “have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that Atlas Shrugged parodied in 1957.”

Christopher Hayes of The Nation recently recalled one of his first days in high school, when he met a tall, geeky kid named Phil Kerpen, who asked him, “Have you ever read Ayn Rand?” Kerpen is now the director of policy for the conservative lobby Americans for Prosperity and an occasional right-wing talking head on cable television. He represents a now-familiar type. The young, especially young men, thrill to Rand’s black-and-white ethics and her veneration of the alienated outsider, shunned by a world that does not understand his gifts. (It is one of the ironies, and the attractions, of Rand’s capitalists that they are depicted as heroes of alienation.) Her novels tend to strike their readers with the power of revelation, and they are read less like fiction and more like self-help literature, like spiritual guidance. Again and again, readers would write Rand to tell her that their encounter with her work felt like having their eyes open for the first time in their lives. “For over half a century,” writes Jennifer Burns in her new biography of this strange and rather sinister figure, “Rand has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right.”

The likes of Gale Norton, George Gilder, Charles Murray, and many others have cited Rand as an influence. Rand acolytes such as Alan Greenspan and Martin Anderson have held important positions in Republican politics. “What she did–through long discussions and lots of arguments into the night–was to make me think why capitalism is not only efficient and practical, but also moral,” attested Greenspan. In 1987, The New York Times called Rand the “novelist laureate” of the Reagan administration. Reagan’s nominee for commerce secretary, C. William Verity Jr., kept a passage from Atlas Shrugged on his desk, including the line “How well you do your work … [is] the only measure of human value.”

Today numerous CEOs swear by Rand. One of them is John Allison, the outspoken head of BB&T, who has made large grants to several universities contingent upon their making Atlas Shrugged mandatory reading for their students. In 1991, the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club polled readers on what book had influenced them the most. Atlas Shrugged finished second, behind only the Bible. There is now talk of filming the book again, possibly as a miniseries, possibly with Charlize Theron. Rand’s books still sell more than half a million copies a year. Her ideas have swirled below the surface of conservative thought for half a century, but now the particulars of our moment–the economic predicament, the Democratic control of government–have drawn them suddenly to the foreground.


Rand’s early life mirrored the experience of her most devoted readers. A bright but socially awkward woman, she harbored the suspicion early on that her intellectual gifts caused classmates to shun her. She was born Alissa Rosenbaum in 1905 in St. Petersburg. Her Russian-Jewish family faced severe state discrimination, first for being Jewish under the czars, and then for being wealthy merchants under the Bolsheviks, who stole her family’s home and business for the alleged benefit of the people.

Anne C. Heller, in her skillful life of Rand, traces the roots of Rand’s philosophy to an even earlier age. (Heller paints a more detailed and engaging portrait of Rand’s interior life, while Burns more thoroughly analyzes her ideas.) Around the age of five, Alissa Rosenbaum’s mother instructed her to put away some of her toys for a year. She offered up her favorite possessions, thinking of the joy that she would feel when she got them back after a long wait. When the year had passed, she asked her mother for the toys, only to be told she had given them away to an orphanage. Heller remarks that “this may have been Rand’s first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call altruism.” (The anti-government activist Grover Norquist has told a similar story from childhood, in which his father would steal bites of his ice cream cone, labelling each bite “sales tax” or “income tax.” The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study.)

Rosenbaum dreamed of fame as a novelist and a scriptwriter, and fled to the United States in 1926, at the age of twenty-one. There she adopted her new name, for reasons that remain unclear. Rand found relatives to support her temporarily in Chicago, before making her way to Hollywood. Her timing was perfect: the industry was booming, and she happened to have a chance encounter with the director Cecil B. DeMille–who, amazingly, gave a script-reading job to the young immigrant who had not yet quite mastered the English language. Rand used her perch as a launching pad for a career as a writer for the stage and the screen.

Rands political philosophy remained amorphous in her early years. Aside from a revulsion at communism, her primary influence was Nietzsche, whose exaltation of the superior individual spoke to her personally. She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that “he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people”; and she meant this as praise. Her political worldview began to crystallize during the New Deal, which she immediately interpreted as a straight imitation of Bolshevism. Rand threw herself into advocacy for Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, and after Wilkies defeat she bitterly predicted “a Totalitarian America, a world of slavery, of starvation, of concentration camps and of firing squads.” Her campaign work brought her into closer contact with conservative intellectuals and pro-business organizations, and helped to refine her generalized anti-communist and crudely Nietzschean worldview into a moral defense of the individual will and unrestrained capitalism.

Rand expressed her philosophy primarily through two massive novels: The Fountainhead, which appeared in 1943, and Atlas Shrugged, which appeared in 1957. Both tomes, each a runaway best-seller, portrayed the struggle of a brilliant and ferociously individualistic man punished for his virtues by the weak-minded masses. It was Atlas Shrugged that Rand deemed the apogee of her lifes work and the definitive statement of her philosophy. She believed that the principle of trade governed all human relationships–that in a free market one earned money only by creating value for others. Hence, ones value to society could be measured by his income. History largely consisted of “looters and moochers” stealing from societys productive elements.

In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite. In Atlas Shrugged, her hero, John Galt, leads a capitalist strike, in which the brilliant business leaders who drive all progress decide that they will no longer tolerate the parasitic workers exploiting their talent, and so they withdraw from society to create their own capitalistic paradise free of the ungrateful, incompetent masses. Galt articulates Rands philosophy:

The bifurcated class analysis did not end the similarities between Rands worldview and Marxism. Rands Russian youth imprinted upon her a belief in the polemical influence of fiction. She once wrote to a friend that “its time we realize–as the Reds do–that spreading our ideas in the form of fiction is a great weapon, because it arouses the public to an emotional, as well as intellectual response to our cause.” She worked both to propagate her own views and to eliminate opposing views. In 1947 she testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, arguing that the film Song of Russia, a paean to the Soviet Union made in 1944, represented communist propaganda rather than propaganda for World War II, which is what it really supported. (Rand, like most rightists of her day, opposed American entry into the war.)

In 1950, Rand wrote the influential Screen Guide for Americans, the Motion Picture Alliances industry guidebook for avoiding subtle communist influence in its films. The directives, which neatly summarize Rands worldview, included such categories as “Dont Smear The Free Enterprise System,” “Dont Smear Industrialists” (“it is they who created the opportunities for achieving the unprecedented material wealth of the industrial age”), “Dont Smear Wealth,” and “Dont Deify The Common Man” (“if anyone is classified as common–he can be called common only in regard to his personal qualities. It then means that he has no outstanding abilities, no outstanding virtues, no outstanding intelligence. Is that an object of glorification?”). Like her old idol Nietzsche, she denounced a transvaluation of values according to which the strong had been made weak and the weak were praised as the strong.

Rands hotly pro-capitalist novels oddly mirrored the Socialist Realist style, with two-dimensional characters serving as ideological props. Burns notes some of the horrifying implications of Atlas Shrugged. “In one scene,” she reports, “[Rand] describes in careful detail the characteristics of passengers doomed to perish in a violent railroad clash, making it clear their deaths are warranted by their ideological errors.” The subculture that formed around her–a cult of the personality if ever there was one–likewise came to resemble a Soviet state in miniature. Beginning with the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand began to attract worshipful followers. She cultivated these (mostly) young people interested in her work, and as her fame grew she spent less time engaged in any way with the outside world, and increasingly surrounded herself with her acolytes, who communicated in concepts and terms that the outside world could not comprehend.

Rand called her doctrine “Objectivism,” and it eventually expanded well beyond politics and economics to psychology, culture, science (she considered the entire field of physics “corrupt”), and sundry other fields. Objectivism was premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavors. Emotion and taste had no place. When Rand condemned a piece of literature, art, or music (she favored Romantic Russian melodies from her youth and detested Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms), her followers adopted the judgment. Since Rand disliked facial hair, her admirers went clean-shaven. When she bought a new dining room table, several of them rushed to find the same model for themselves.

Rands most important acolyte was Nathan Blumenthal, who first met her as a student infatuated with The Fountainhead. Blumenthal was born in Canada in 1930. In 1949 he wrote to Rand, and began to visit her extensively, and fell under her spell. He eventually changed his name to Nathaniel Branden, signifying in the ancient manner of all converts that he had repudiated his old self and was reborn in the image of Rand, from whom he adapted his new surname. She designated Branden as her intellectual heir.

She allowed him to run the Nathaniel Branden Institute, a small society dedicated to promoting Objectivism through lectures, therapy sessions, and social activities. The courses, he later wrote, began with the premises that “Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived” and “Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world.” Rand also presided over a more select circle of followers in meetings every Saturday night, invitations to which were highly coveted among the Objectivist faithful. These meetings themselves were frequently ruthless cult-like exercises, with Rand singling out members one at a time for various personality failings, subjecting them to therapy by herself or Branden, or expelling them from the charmed circle altogether.

So strong was the organizations hold on its members that even those completely excommunicated often maintained their faith. In 1967, for example, the journalist Edith Efron was, in Hellers account, “tried in absentia and purged, for gossiping, or lying, or refusing to lie, or flirting; surviving witnesses couldnt agree on exactly what she did.” Upon her expulsion, Efron wrote to Rand that “I fully and profoundly agree with the moral judgment you have made of me, and with the action you have taken to end social relations.” One of the Institutes therapists counseled Efrons eighteen-year-old son, also an Objectivist, to cut all ties with his mother, and made him feel unwelcome in the group when he refused to do so. (Efrons brother, another Objectivist, did temporarily disown her.)

Sex and romance loomed unusually large in Rands worldview. Objectivism taught that intellectual parity is the sole legitimate basis for romantic or sexual attraction. Coincidentally enough, this doctrine cleared the way for Rand–a woman possessed of looks that could be charitably described as unusual, along with abysmal personal hygiene and grooming habits–to seduce young men in her orbit. Rand not only persuaded Branden, who was twenty-five years her junior, to undertake a long-term sexual relationship with her, she also persuaded both her husband and Brandens wife to consent to this arrangement. (They had no rational basis on which to object, she argued.) But she prudently instructed them to keep the affair secret from the other members of the Objectivist inner circle.

At some point, inevitably, the arrangement began to go very badly. Brandens wife began to break down–Rand diagnosed her with “emotionalism,” never imagining that her sexual adventures might have contributed to the young womans distraught state. Branden himself found the affair ever more burdensome and grew emotionally and sexually withdrawn from Rand. At one point Branden suggested to Rand that a second affair with another woman closer to his age might revive his lust. Alas, Rand–whose intellectual adjudications once again eerily tracked her self-interest–determined that doing so would “destroy his mind.” He would have to remain with her. Eventually Branden confessed to Rand that he could no longer muster any sexual attraction for her, and later that he actually had undertaken an affair with another woman despite Rands denying him permission. After raging at Branden, Rand excommunicated him fully. The two agreed not to divulge their affair. Branden told his followers only that he had “betrayed the principles of Objectivism” in an “unforgiveable” manner and renounced his role within the organization.

Rands inner circle turned quickly and viciously on their former superior. Alan Greenspan, a cherished Rand confidant, signed a letter eschewing any future contact with Branden or his wife. Objectivist students were forced to sign loyalty oaths, which included the promise never to contact Branden, or to buy his forthcoming book or any future books that he might write. Rands loyalists expelled those who refused these orders, and also expelled anyone who complained about the tactics used against dissidents. Some of the expelled students, desperate to retain their lifeline to their guru, used pseudonyms to re-enroll in the courses or re-subscribe to her newsletter. But many just drifted away, and over time the Rand cult dwindled to a hardened few.


Ultimately the Objectivist movement failed for the same reason that communism failed: it tried to make its people live by the dictates of a totalizing ideology that failed to honor the realities of human existence. Rands movement devolved into a corrupt and cruel parody of itself. She herself never won sustained personal influence within mainstream conservatism or the Republican Party. Her ideological purity and her unstable personality prevented her from forming lasting coalitions with anybody who disagreed with any element of her catechism.

Moreover, her fierce attacks on religion–she derided Christianity, again in a Nietzschean manner, as a religion celebrating victimhood–made her politically radioactive on the right. The Goldwater campaign in 1964 echoed distinctly Randian themes–“profits,” the candidate proclaimed, “are the surest sign of responsible behavior”–but he ignored Rands overtures to serve as his intellectual guru. He was troubled by her atheism. In an essay in National Review ten years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, M. Stanton Evans summarized the conservative view on Rand. She “has an excellent grasp of the way capitalism is supposed to work, the efficiencies of free enterprise, the central role of private property and the profit motive, the social and political costs of welfare schemes which seek to compel a false benevolence,” he wrote, but unfortunately she rejects “the Christian culture which has given birth to all our freedoms.”

The idiosyncracies of Objectivism never extended beyond the Rand cult, though it was a large cult with influential members–and yet her central contribution to right-wing thought has retained enormous influence. That contribution was to express the opposition to economic redistribution in moral terms, as a moral depravity. A long and deep strand of classical liberal thought, stretching back to Locke, placed the individual in sole possession of his own economic destiny. The political scientist C.B. MacPherson called this idea “possessive individualism,” or “making the individual the sole proprietor of his own person and capacities, owing nothing to society for them.” The theory of possessive individualism came under attack in the Marxist tradition, but until the era of the New Deal it was generally accepted as a more or less accurate depiction of the actual social and economic order. But beginning in the mid-1930s, and continuing into the postwar years, American society saw widespread transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor and the middle class. In this context, the theory of possessive individualism could easily evolve into a complaint against the exploitation of the rich. Rand pioneered this leap of logic–the ideological pity of the rich for the oppression that they suffer as a class.

There was more to Rands appeal. In the wake of a depression that undermined the prestige of business, and then a postwar economy that was characterized by the impersonal corporation, her revival of the capitalist as a romantic hero, even a superhuman figure, naturally flattered the business elite. Here was a woman saying what so many of them understood instinctively. “For twenty-five years,” gushed a steel executive to Rand, “I have been yelling my head off about the little-realized fact that eggheads, socialists, communists, professors, and so-called liberals do not understand how goods are produced. Even the men who work at the machines do not understand it.” Rand, finally, restored the boss to his rightful mythic place.

On top of all these philosophical compliments to success and business, Rand tapped into a latent elitism that had fallen into political disrepute but never disappeared from the economic right. Ludwig von Mises once enthused to Rand, “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.” Rand articulated the terror that conservatives felt at the rapid leveling of incomes in that era–their sense of being singled out by a raging mob. She depicted the world in apocalyptic terms. Even slow encroachments of the welfare state, such as the minimum wage or public housing, struck her as totalitarian. She lashed out at John Kennedy in a polemical nonfiction tome entitled The Fascist New Frontier, anticipating by several decades Jonah Goldbergs equally wild Liberal Fascism.

Rands most enduring accomplishment was to infuse laissez-faire economics with the sort of moralistic passion that had once been found only on the left. Prior to Rands time, two theories undergirded economic conservatism. The first was Social Darwinism, the notion that the advancement of the human race, like other natural species, relied on the propagation of successful traits from one generation to the next, and that the free market served as the equivalent of natural selection, in which government interference would retard progress. The second was neoclassical economics, which, in its most simplistic form, described the marketplace as a perfectly self-correcting instrument. These two theories had in common a practical quality. They described a laissez-faire system that worked to the benefit of all, and warned that intervention would bring harmful consequences. But Rand, by contrast, argued for laissez-faire capitalism as an ethical system. She did believe that the rich pulled forward society for the benefit of one and all, but beyond that, she portrayed the act of taxing the rich to aid the poor as a moral offense.

Countless conservatives and libertarians have adopted this premise as an ideological foundation for the promotion of their own interests. They may believe the consequentialist arguments against redistribution–that Bill Clintons move to render the tax code slightly more progressive would induce economic calamity, or that George W. Bushs making the tax code somewhat less progressive would usher in a boom; but the utter failure of those predictions to come to pass provoked no re-thinking whatever on the economic right. For it harbored a deeper belief in the immorality of redistribution, a righteous sense that the federal tax code and budget represent a form of organized looting aimed at societys most virtuous–and this sense, which remains unshakeable, was owed in good measure to Ayn Rand.

The economic right may believe religiously in their moral view of wealth, but we do not have to respect it as we might respect religious faith. For it does not transcend–perhaps no religion should transcend–empirical scrutiny. On the contrary, this conservative view, the Randian inversion of the Marxist worldview, rests upon a series of propositions that can be falsified by data.

Let us begin with the premise that wealth represents a sign of personal virtue–thrift, hard work, and the rest–and poverty the lack thereof. Many Republicans consider the link between income and the work ethic so self-evident that they use the terms “rich” and “hard-working” interchangeably, and likewise “poor” and “lazy.” The conservative pundit Dick Morris accuses Obama of “rewarding failure and penalizing hard work” through his tax plan. His comrade Bill OReilly complains that progressive taxation benefits “folks who dropped out of school, who are too lazy to hold a job, who smoke reefers 24/7.”

A related complaint against redistribution holds that the rich earn their higher pay because of their nonstop devotion to office work–a grueling marathon of meetings and emails that makes the working life of the typical nine-to-five middle-class drone a vacation by comparison. “People just dont get it. Im attached to my BlackBerry,” complained one Wall Streeter to Sherman. “I get calls at two in the morning, when the market moves. That costs money.

Now, it is certainly true that working hard can increase ones chances of growing rich. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the rich work harder than the poor. Indeed, there are many ways in which the poor work harder than the rich. As the economist Daniel Hamermesh discovered, low-income workers are more likely to work the night shift and more prone to suffering workplace injuries than high-income workers. White-collar workers put in those longer hours because their jobs are not physically exhausting. Few titans of finance would care to trade their fifteen-hour day sitting in a mesh chair working out complex problems behind a computer for an eight-hour day on their feet behind a sales counter.

For conservatives, the causal connection between virtue and success is not merely ideological, it is also deeply personal. It forms the basis of their admiration of themselves. If you ask a rich person whether he ascribes his success to good fortune or his own merit, the answer will probably tell you whether that person inhabits the economic left or the economic right. Rand held up her own meteoric rise from penniless immigrant to wealthy author as a case study of the individualist ethos. “No one helped me,” she wrote, “nor did I think at any time that it was anyones duty to help me.”

But this was false. Rand spent her first months in this country subsisting on loans from relatives in Chicago, which she promised to repay lavishly when she struck it rich. (She reneged, never speaking to her Chicago family again.) She also enjoyed the great fortune of breaking into Hollywood at the moment it was exploding in size, and of bumping into DeMille. Many writers equal to her in their talents never got the chance to develop their abilities. That was not because they were bad or delinquent people. They were merely the victims of the commonplace phenomenon that Bernard Williams described as “moral luck.”

Not surprisingly, the argument that getting rich often entails a great deal of luck tends to drive conservatives to apoplexy. This spring the Cornell economist Robert Frank, writing in The New York Times, made the seemingly banal point that luck, in addition to talent and hard work, usually plays a role in an individuals success. Franks blasphemy earned him an invitation on Fox News, where he would play the role of the loony liberal spitting in the face of middle-class values. The interview offers a remarkable testament to the belligerence with which conservatives cling to the mythology of heroic capitalist individualism. As the Fox host, Stuart Varney, restated Franks outrageous claims, a voice in the studio can actually be heard laughing off-camera. Varney treated Franks argument with total incredulity, offering up ripostes such as “Thats outrageous! That is outrageous!” and “Thats nonsense! That is nonsense!” Turning the topic to his own inspiring rags-to-riches tale, Varney asked: “Do you know what risk is involved in trying to work for a major American network with a British accent?”

There seems to be something almost inherent in the right-wing psychology that drives its rich adherents to dismiss the role of luck–all the circumstances that must break right for even the most inspired entrepreneur–in their own success. They would rather be vain than grateful. So seductive do they find this mythology that they omit major episodes of their own life, or furnish themselves with preposterous explanations (such as the supposed handicap of making it in American television with a British accent–are there any Brits in this country who have not been invited to appear on television?) to tailor reality to fit the requirements of the fantasy.

The association of wealth with virtue necessarily requires the free marketer to play down the role of class. Arthur Brooks, in his book Gross National Happiness, concedes that “the gap between the richest and poorest members of society is far wider than in many other developed countries. But there is also far more opportunity … there is in fact an amazing amount of economic mobility in America.” In reality, as a study earlier this year by the Brookings Institution and Pew Charitable Trusts reported, the United States ranks near the bottom of advanced countries in its economic mobility. The study found that family background exerts a stronger influence on a persons income than even his education level. And its most striking finding revealed that you are more likely to make your way into the highest-earning one-fifth of the population if you were born into the top fifth and did not attain a college degree than if you were born into the bottom fifth and did. In other words, if you regard a college degree as a rough proxy for intelligence or hard work, then you are economically better off to be born rich, dumb, and lazy than poor, smart, and industrious.

In addition to describing the rich as “hard-working,” conservatives also have the regular habit of describing them as “productive.” Gregory Mankiw describes Obamas plan to make the tax code more progressive as allowing a person to “lay claim to the wealth of his more productive neighbor.” In the same vein, George Will laments that progressive taxes “reduce the role of merit in the allocation of social rewards–merit as markets measure it, in terms of value added to the economy.” The assumption here is that ones income level reflects ones productivity or contribution to the economy.

Is income really a measure of productivity? Of course not. Consider your own profession. Do your colleagues who demonstrate the greatest skill unfailingly earn the most money, and those with the most meager skill the least money? I certainly cannot say that of my profession. Nor do I know anybody who would say that of his own line of work. Most of us perceive a world with its share of overpaid incompetents and underpaid talents. Which is to say, we rightly reject the notion of the market as the perfect gauge of social value.

Now assume that this principle were to apply not only within a profession–that a dentist earning $200,000 a year must be contributing exactly twice as much to society as a dentist earning $100,000 a year–but also between professions. Then you are left with the assertion that Donald Trump contributes more to society than a thousand teachers, nurses, or police officers. It is Wall Street, of course, that offers the ultimate rebuttal of the assumption that the market determines social value. An enormous proportion of upper-income growth over the last twenty-five years accrued to an industry that created massive negative social value–enriching itself through the creation of a massive bubble, the deflation of which has brought about worldwide suffering.

If ones income reflects ones contribution to society, then why has the distribution of income changed so radically over the last three decades? While we ponder that question, consider a defense of inequality from the perspective of three decades ago. In 1972, Irving Kristol wrote that

Human talents and abilities, as measured, do tend to distribute themselves along a bell-shaped curve, with most people clustered around the middle, and with much smaller percentages at the lower and higher ends…. This explains one of the most extraordinary (and little-noticed) features of 20th-century societies: how relatively invulnerable the distribution of income is to the efforts of politicians and ideologues to manipulate it. In all the Western nations–the United States, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, Germany–despite the varieties of social and economic policies of their governments, the distribution of income is strikingly similar.

So Kristol thought the bell-shaped distribution of income in the United States, and the similarly shaped distributions among our economic peers, proved that income inequality merely followed the natural inequality of human talent. As it happens, Kristol wrote that passage shortly before a boom in inequality, one that drove the income share of the highest-earning 1 percent of the population from around 8 percent (when he was writing) to 24 percent today, and which stretched the bell curve of the income distribution into a distended sloping curve with a lengthy right tail. At the same time, America has also grown vastly more unequal in comparison with the European countries cited by Kristol.

This suggests one of two possibilities. The first is that the inherent human talent of Americas economic elite has massively increased over the last generation, relative to that of the American middle class and that of the European economic elite. The second is that bargaining power, political power, and other circumstances can effect the distribution of income–which is to say, again, that ones income level is not a good indicator of a persons ability, let alone of a persons social value.

The final feature of Randian thought that has come to dominate the right is its apocalyptic thinking about redistribution. Rand taught hysteria. The expressions of terror at the “confiscation” and “looting” of wealth, and the loose talk of the rich going on strike, stands in sharp contrast to the decidedly non-Bolshevik measures that they claim to describe. The reality of the contemporary United States is that, even as income inequality has exploded, the average tax rate paid by the top 1 percent has fallen by about one-third over the last twenty-five years. Again: it has fallen. The rich have gotten unimaginably richer, and at the same time their tax burden has dropped significantly. And yet conservatives routinely describe this state of affairs as intolerably oppressive to the rich. Since the share of the national income accruing to the rich has grown faster than their average tax rate has shrunk, they have paid an ever-rising share of the federal tax burden. This is the fact that so vexes the right.

Most of the right-wing commentary purporting to prove that the rich bear the overwhelming burden of government relies upon the simple trick of citing only the income tax, which is progressive, while ignoring more regressive levies. A brief overview of the facts lends some perspective to the fears of a new Red Terror. Our government divides its functions between the federal, state, and local levels. State and local governments tend to raise revenue in ways that tax the poor at higher rates than the rich. (It is difficult for a state or a locality to maintain higher rates on the rich, who can easily move to another town or state that offers lower rates.) The federal government raises some of its revenue from progressive sources, such as the income tax, but also healthy chunks from regressive levies, such as the payroll tax.

The sum total of these taxes levies a slightly higher rate on the rich. The bottom 99 percent of taxpayers pay 29.4 percent of their income in local, state, and federal taxes. The top 1 percent pay an average total tax rate of 30.9 percent–slightly higher, but hardly the sort of punishment that ought to prompt thoughts of withdrawing from society to create a secret realm of capitalistic bermenschen. These numbers tend to bounce back and forth, depending upon which party controls the government at any given time. If Obama succeeds in enacting his tax policies, the tax burden on the rich will bump up slightly, just as it bumped down under George W. Bush.

What is so striking, and serves as the clearest mark of Rands lasting influence, is the language of moral absolutism applied by the right to these questions. Conservatives define the see-sawing of the federal tax-and-transfer system between slightly redistributive and very slightly redistributive as a culture war over capitalism, or a final battle to save the free enterprise system from the hoard of free-riders. And Obama certainly is expanding the role of the federal government, though probably less than George W. Bush did. (The Democratic health care bills would add considerably less net expenditure to the federal budget than Bushs prescription drug benefit.) The hysteria lies in the realization that Obama would make the government more redistributive–that he would steal from the virtuous (them) and give to the undeserving.

Like many other followers of Rand, John Allison of BB&T has taken to claiming vindication in the convulsive events of the past year. “Rand predicted what would happen fifty years ago, he told The New York Times. “Its a nightmare for anyone who supports individual rights.” If Rand was truly right, of course, then Allison will flee his home and join his fellow supermen in some distant capitalist nirvana. So perhaps the economic crisis may bring some good after all.

Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at The New Republic.

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Ayn Rand and the Invincible Cult of Selfishness on the American Right …

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The scary ghost of Ayn Rand looms over the Trump cabinet

Posted: December 16, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Ayn Rand was a terrible person who wove a philosophy of selfishness and greed out of the threads of her own psychopathy. Rands writings and speeches should be recognized as rantings suited for an audience of a well-trained therapist, instead of inflicted upon millions of English students.

Rand, whodeclared altruism a national disease, wroteadmiringlyof child-murderer William Edward Hickmans callous indifference toward others and his immense, explicit egotism. Her contempt for the poor and middle-class are pronounced byanti-Robin Hoods who brag about stealing from the thieving poor to give to the productive rich. Rand defended Native American genocide and murderous white supremacy, once stating any white person who [brought] the elements of civilization had the right to take over this continent. Objectivism, Rands refutation of basic human decency in favor of pathological self-interest and ruthless capitalism, was correctly identified as perfect in its immorality by Gore Vidal more than half a century ago. Today its the prevailing ethos of the GOP, embraced by Republicans going back to Ronald Reaganand especially beloved among the incoming Trump administration.

As James Hohmann of the Washington Post notes, Trump pledged his affection to Rand in an interview earlier this year with Kirsten Powers. Trump, who proudly admits he doesnt readneither books nor intelligence briefings that might slow his roll toward starting a nuclear wartold Powers he relates to Howard Roark, the architect protagonist ofThe Fountainhead. Roark espouses the warped belief that selfishness is a virtue (Mans first duty is to himself) and commits a violentsexual assault. Without specifics, its hard to know precisely where Trump thinks the resemblance begins and ends.

Trump shares an affinity for Rand with several other members of his cabinetthough thats not the worst thing you can say about them, considering the group is a motley assortment of Islamophobes, white supremacists, alleged wifebeaters, and anti-worker .1 percenters.

Hohmann writes that Trumps labor secretary pick Andy Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is owned by Roark Capital Group, a private equity fund named after Howard Roark. When the New York Times asked for a few personal insights about Puzder from one of his business cohorts, the fast-food titan was described only as an avid reader who love[s] Ayn Rand. Puzder recently told the Wall Street Journals Jennifer Grossman that hes advised all six of his kids to read The Fountainhead, in the hope theyll lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels.

Trumps choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, whos as famous for being the CEO of ExxonMobil as for hiscozinesswithVladimir Putin, is also a Rand adherent. Hohmann discovered the oil baron listed [Atlas Shrugged] as his favorite book in a 2008 feature for Scouting Magazine. Trumps choice to head the CIA, Mike Pompeo, previously indicated to theWashington Post that many of his political views are the result of a long interest in libertarian and conservative thought, first formed at age 15 when he read Ayn Rands novel The Fountainhead. John A. Allison IV, the former CEO of BB&T Bank and Cato Institute who had a closed-door meeting with Trump late last month, reportedly gave his executive staffers copies of Atlas Shrugged, calling it the best defense of capitalism ever written. Paul Ryan and Donald Trump have had some friction, but maybe now they can now bond over their mutual love of Rand and the beliefthat money is the creation of the best power within you. After years of saying Rand inspired his whole career, Ryan has more recentlyclaimedhe no subscribes to objectivist philosophy. His policy proposals beg to differ.

The fact that all of these men, so late in life, are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing, Hohmann writes. They will now run our government.

Ayn Rand finally hit a wall through which her delusions could no longer pass; by the time of her death in 1982, she was enrolled in both Medicare and Social Security. After a lifetime of pushing a fever-dreamed philosophy, she was forced to reconcile with reality by old age, illness, and the boundaries of her own personal wealth. The GOP was all too happy to pick up the torch. Trumps team of millionaires and billionaires, bonded by a philosophy of cruelty, are now running with it.

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The scary ghost of Ayn Rand looms over the Trump cabinet

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