Thursday, November 17, 2005

Viewing Ayn Rand's world

I just finished reading an exciting (not) book by Ayn Rand called Atlas Shrugged.  You might have heard of it.  For those of you who haven’t, it is a 1000+ page tomb that encompasses all that Rand believed as a philosophy of life and economics.  It had an interesting story, but was filled with dry speeches by the main characters that ended up saying the same thing over and over again.  If any of you end up reading it and get through the 60 page oratory by the main hero of the tale, I congratulate you.

Rand’s main philosophy is a Libertarian extreme position, where everything economic and social is out of the hands of the government, with that official body only handling military protection of the country and the protection of individual freedoms.  Her antagonists in the book were what she referred to as “Looters.”

A looter is someone who wants the benefits of material wealth without producing anything for it.  I.E. government redistribution of wealth to those in need would be seen as a looter activity.  The decree that no one can own their own ideas or means of production so that all may have the benefit of your knowledge and productivity is a looter concept.

More often than not her characterizations were well outside the reality of how people think.  The protagonists were unreal in their abilities and attitudes.  They were too perfect, and the refuge of fiction allowed them to get away with Rand’s philosophical ideals without reality causing problems.

Her antagonists were deaf, dumb and blind, operating in a United States in which, it seemed, there were so few people who believed in free enterprise and capitalism that the looters were able to run the country into the ground in just a few years. 

As much as I criticize the book, I do hold to Rand’s theories of economics.  To a large extent she was right about the way the economy works.  I would add an addendum to her theory about government in that it should also protect the environment, where appropriate, and watchdog businesses that stifle free competition by market manipulation and muscle.  As much as Rand was right, that people should be allowed to profit from their efforts, she was clueless to basic social psychology and the spiritual state of man-kind.  Left to themselves without social borders, people are generally selfish and will bend and break the rules to get what they want.  It’s called sin, and we are all guilty.

What’s interesting is that after finishing the book, while reading the news and other blogs, I am now noticing that there are many instances of “looter” thinking in politicians and world leaders.   Take France for instance:

      Chirac continues to rely on the cumbersome burden of the state instead of the potential of the markets by creating 50,000 new civil service jobs for youths from poor neighborhoods. This is not new thinking. Every time France has an employment problem, the state fills the gap but never solves the problem. Why not deregulate small business and labor, lower taxes, and encourage trade ties with the countries that these immigrants originate and maintain connections with? It would provide ample opportunity and naturally decrease the unemployment rate, leading to greater prosperity and less unrest in the lower fringes of French society.

When the government creates 50k new jobs, where is the money to pay for those jobs coming from?  From taxes.  Where do taxes come from?  From working individuals, employed by private industry.  Did the industrial and service (i.e. tourism and the like) increase it’s output to generate the extra taxes that will pay for these jobs?  No.  Taken to the extreme, the more a government continues to add programs and jobs to it’s payroll, the more burden the taxpayer has to hold.  Eventually there is a breaking point.

Rand was from Russia and lets note that Soviet Russia reached that breaking point long before the wall in Berlin came down.  People were starving.  Society broke down, and they are still paying for it.

Example 2:

      The Pension Stability and Transparency Act, approved 97-2, would require companies to fully fund traditional pension plans, which provide retirees with a monthly check based on salary and years of service. Such plans are under-funded by as much as an estimated $450 billion.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Randian economics would frown on.  Congress is constantly tinkering with the market and how private companies do business.  Where does it end?  Rand thinks she knows.

1 comment:

Mover Mike said...

Richard, it's wonderful that you read this book. The more you look around the more you will see the looters' philosphy on display in all walks of life. Considering that it took her 10 years writing the book atarting in the 40's, she was a remarkably seer into the future. Who is John Galt?
Mover Mike