Monday, October 25, 2010

Ayn Rand, Libertarians, and the Financial Crisis

I've been carrying around the latest copy of Christianity Today for weeks, trying to find time to work through the articles that caught my eye. Today I finally read, "Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession: Why Christians Should Be Wary Of The Late Pop Philosopher And Her Disciples"

What the title doesn't tell you is that in the phrase "her disciples", the author points a finger at Alan Greenspan, libertarians, and those that he believes are responsible for the current American recession.

This interests me for two big reasons. First, I read Ayn Rand's tome Atlas Shrugged three and a half years ago just before I left Chicago. I LOVED it, and it is near the top of my favorite books ever list now. This shocked some of my friends, since Rand is known for being a heartless anti-Christian capitalist. She is that and I don't deny it, but she wrote a helluva novel and managed to weave her philosophy and economic theories all the way through it masterfully. I think she's a genius. A depraved genius, but really... that's what most of our geniuses are, right? I don't follow her philosophy but she fascinates me.

Secondly, I care about the state of the economy in this country. I care about politics. I really am not very good at understanding economics, though, so I mostly keep quiet in house discussions between my passionately capitalist husband and our roommate (who Isaac accuses of being socialist or communist or whatever other teasing insult he feels like throwing around on that particular day). However, I do know that most of the conservatives around me point their fingers at big government spending as the reason for our current recession, and this article disagrees with that idea BUT is written by a man who claims to be a fiscal conservative.  I was fascinated.

The article's essential point is that Ayn Rand advocated pure selfishness, we/America have followed her in advocating that people and businessmen should rightfully act on that selfishness and always unequivocally pursue profit, and that this is what has led to the unmitigated greed on Wall Street that led to the financial crash we are currently experiencing.

The Economist's Good Guru Guide says, "Ayn Rand—the heroine of America's libertarian right—described her philosophy as 'the concept of man as a noble being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." This is, of course, in line with pure capitalism, and that is exactly why many evangelicals in the US say our system is best and it works, because it is reliant on people acting in line with what evangelicals believe is the nature of man. In the end, man will always be selfish and greedy. So, if you build an economic system in which people are motivated to work within the system because of their own greed and selfishness, the nature of man perpetuates the system.

In a way, evangelicals, Greenspan, and Rand are on the same page, because they all tend to believe that our system is and should be driven by selfishness. Rand glorifies selfishness above all else in a rather shocking way. Greenspan simply glories in the system. Evangelicals don't believe selfishness is good, but they believe the system works because it is based on their own beliefs in the nature of man,, and thus the system is good because it is functional.

The author lays the blame for the current financial crisis not on selfish big government and uncontrolled spending, but on a corporate world of big business that has given in fully to the Randian philosophy of pure selfishness. Like I said, I'm an economic ignoramus, but if it's right that the financial crash is the fault of business and Wall Street and NOT the growing federal debt and spending, then it really does fly in the face of what libertarians are currently claiming and it means we need to rethink the solutions we're throwing out there. He seems to think that we appropriately recognize the great power and potential evil of uncontrolled government but says that the US, evangelicals, and Rand's economic devotees have lost sight of the equally great potential evil within unfettered business. He says:
In Rand's utopia, demons exist almost exclusively in government and religion. Her one-eyed perspective could not see Adam Smith's insight that people of the same trade rarely get together without conspiring against the public. So she, and Greenspan, would never have imagined the CEOs of mortgage companies marketing liar loans to selfish but naive home buyers, while the CEOs of investment firms and irresponsible ratings agencies packaged these junk mortgages as AAA-rated securities to dump into our pension funds. She would blame that entirely on "bureaucrats and do-gooders." Had she and Greenspan only understood what fallen humans will do for 30 pieces of silver.

He says that when we push for business to be without social responsibility, business is demoralized, and that business should never be amoral. He points to our evangelical alliance to pure Randian capitalism and calls it syncretism. He says that we have an obligation to conduct business in light of our faith - with responsible investing, care for our investors and consumers, and care for the poor. He quotes his mentor Sir John Templeton as saying, "My counsel to a school of business management is to teach the business person to give unlimited love, and or she will be more successful." I rather liked this quote:
As a Christian, I believe we have a moral responsibility to act in a socially responsible manner toward the poor and fellow taxpayers who are now on the hook for Wall Street's greed. So I was startled to discover that one outspoken evangelical money manager who claims to "invest as Jesus would"—by which he means focusing on sexual issues—was invested in AIG and Goldman Sachs. Evidently, homosexuality and promiscuity have replaced greed as the root of all evil.

Recognizing that some people will say he is a socialist, he claims to be a capitalist and fiscal conservative and says:
The Financial Times recently published an article titled, "A social vision for the world after socialism." It concluded, "Active empathy is not socialism, but it is social. It does not assume that a statist economy will replace capitalism, but it does point to stewardship replacing ownership."

Fascinating, right? I don't know if he's right in his diagnosis of the problems in our economy, but I absolutely agree that ownership should equal stewardship, and that social responsibility IS more important than many libertarians are currently saying.


Young Mom said...

This is so interesting (sounds like an author I would enjoy too!) you may find Michael Moore's (Yes I know, he can be a little kooky :)"Capitalism: A love Story" interesting. I found his take on it fascinating and it sounds like this book was pretty similar.

Kacie said...

Well, I do tend to be wary of Michael Moore, he likes to be so controversial and that makes me take everything he says with a very large grain of salt!

This isn't actually a book, just an article in Christianity Today. The author is Gary Moore:

rkh said...

I have not read Rand's books, so it may be unfair to comment; however I am going to exercise my liberty to do it anyway. Rand's philosophy sees selfishness as a positive good to be celebrated; indeed, the greatest of virtues. In contrast, the Founding Fathers, recognizing original sin, saw selfishness as an evil that had to be accommodated. This led them to a system that recognized God-given individual rights, while balancing the self-interests of various groups in the hope and belief that this would provide the best chance of achieving the greatest good for the greatest number.