Stupidity: An Example Or Another One For The Horror File
by Andrew Russell
I come not with a basket of gifts, but rather an object of terror. An object so fundamentally horrifying that merely to gaze upon its logical contortions will drive man insane. A glimpse of it will reveal that facts are but mere putty and our puny minds are insufficient to grasp the true nature of anything. Our ignorance is a comfort; I wish to take it away.
Are you ready to glimpse upon that which man was not meant to know?
Then read this.
I want to thank Wendy McElroy for the tipoff.
Now, suspending my Lovecraft impersonations, merely the title of this BusinessDay piece should cause every single person who reads this article to collapse in laughter. Ayn Rand apparently is the mastermind behind a series of highly complex economic shifts that cause the entire world to crumble… It seems that leftists prefer the thought of “all masterminded by one malevolent central planner” to the alternatives (maybe the idea of “one evil mastermind” appeals to their Constructivist Rationalism; if one evil central planner can ruin the world, then one good central planner can fix it, perhaps?).
The fact articles like this even get published is something more horrifying than any glimpse of Cthulhu. It levels a set of charges so purely ridiculous on their face that I should not have to spend time defending Rand from them.
But I will, anyway. Because articles as purely demented as this do not deserve even the slightest bit of mercy. The quicker its ideas can be purged from the cultural mass mind, the better.
The article is short and spends most of its time spewing insults rather than building a line of reasoning. Some absolute gems from its text include comparing Ayn Rand to Goebbels and Jack The Ripper. I wish I were making this up.
The basic “argument” of the article is that Ayn Rand is responsible for the Goldman Sachs fiasco, by her influence on Alan Greenspan which kept derivative markets unregulated.
I am neither a lawyer nor an expert in finance and as such I will not look at the case against Goldman Sachs. What I wish to dispute is the Rand connection.
First, The article’s entire argument depends on the extent of Alan Greenspan’s Randianism. It is true that Greenspan was once an Objectivist. Indeed he was once a member of Rand’s “inner circle.” But, if Matt Taibbi (the author of the article in question) actually did any research, he’d discover that Objectivists support either a Hayek-style free banking regime or a Mises-style gold standard. Objectivism is against central bank inflation targeting and Keynesian-style monetary policy.
Alan Greenspan, during his time as Chairman of the Fed, presided over a period of inflation targeting and Keyensian-style counter-cyclical monetary policy (for instance, after the Tech Wreck of the early 2000’s, Greenspan radically slashed interest rates to keep business moving along).
So, in other words, Rand’s ideas argue for Course Of Action X, and against Course Of Action Y. Greenspan knowingly pursued Course Of Action Y, with full knowledge of the Objectivist arguments against COAY.
This is not something a “staunch Randian” would do. Greenspan’s management of the Federal Reserve was fundamentally consistent with the neo-Keynesian synthesis that dominated economics from the late 80’s to the mid 2000’s.
To the leftist mind (and the rightist mind, for that matter), there is no such thing as intellectual diversity amongst their opponents. There are no differences between the Austrian School, Chicago School, Neo-Keynesians or Objectivists. All of them are considered co-conspirators, generating different rationalizations for “the right wing” (which more or less means “anything the self-labelled left dislikes”) in secret collaboration with each other. All intellectual disagreement is merely a theatre; the Cato Institute is secretly having hot wild sex with Christian Coalition the minute the sun goes down. The fights between libertarians and conservatives? Never happened!
And of course, at the top of the ideological pyramid, the great evil priestess that is responsible for all of this, the woman who through her moral justification for market economics single-handedly created the Reagan Revolution with its monumental deregulation, is Ayn Rand.
The article is fundamentally paranoid about Ayn Rand’s influence. According to the article, the Tea Party worships her ideas without even knowing it.
This reminds me of Fundamentalist Christians that argue non-Christians are worshipping Satan without knowing it.
Apparently, all free market thought emerges fully formed from the head of Ayn Rand. The only people that believe this are Matt Taibbi and the Ayn Rand Institute (the “fundamentalist” Objectivist think tank). What about Mises? What about Hayek? What about Friedman? The latter two are pretty famous as well, and are very well known in business circles. What about Adam Smith? What about the British-Empiricist Enlightenment? Or even the Continental Enlightenment? Even Kant was, like Ayn Rand, a classical liberal that believed in inviolable individual rights.
Perhaps it is another comforting delusion; to think of Ayn Rand not as another embodiment of a tradition, but as a freak of intellectual history with no precedent. No, her metaphysics and logic weren’t derived from Aristotle, no, her theory of concepts was not like Abelard or Locke, no, her ethics didn’t contain at least some similarities to Aristotle and Spinoza, no, her politics aren’t essentially those of the European Enlightenment.
Why would this be a comforting idea to Rand’s enemies? Because then all of Rand’s ideas have no precedent, therefore Rand has no allies. Therefore, she can be erased from intellectual history.
But lets go back to an earlier point; the article’s apparent beliefs on the extent of Ayn Rand’s influence;
The left hate Ayn Rand. This article shows that perfectly well.
The right aren’t her friends either. Evangelical fundamentalism loathes Ayn Rand’s ethics and atheism. Even the Calvinist work ethic has no intellectual similarity to Rand’s defense of market economics (see my article “Punishment Capitalism” for more on this). The Bush 2 Administration was fundamentally an alliance of Neoconservatives (essentially constructivist-rationalist former leftists that wanted a hawkish foreign policy) and Social Conservatives (the Christian Right, who are concerned with social issues first and foremost). William F Buckley Jr. drove Ayn Rand out of his little Conservative “big tent” (NO ATHEISTS ALLOWED!). The Bush 2 Administration increased the size and intrusiveness of government more than any previous President from either party. The libertarian movement turned against the right ever since Bush 2 passed the PATRIOT Act.
How is Ayn Rand the monstrously evil virus that empowers the right?
Who was Bush 2’s favorite philosopher? Was it Ayn Rand? No, it was Jesus of Nazareth. Who inspired the Neoconservatives? Ayn Rand? No, it was Leo Strauss.
In all fairness, Matt Taibbi argues that Rand’s moral influence was specifically done by “legitimizing greed.” But Taibbi fails to note the difference between his concept of “greed” and Rand’s concept of rational self-interest. Indeed, the closing sentences of the article indicate that Taibbi believes that “greed” and “rational self-interest” are synonyms for a culture where we “screw each other over even when we can.”
Taibbi seems to believe Rand had no problem with fraud. She did, and if Goldman did indeed commit fraud, Randians around the world will have no problem seeing Goldman Sachs suffer legal consequences.
This is not an uncommon error. However, Taibbi is a journalist. He is meant to actually do research. If he wishes to argue that the “greed-centered objectivist religion” is responsible for the Global Financial Crisis, he has an obligation to actually do research on what Objectivism actually argues.
And Rand’s condemnation of fraud and deceit is not squirrelled away in some small corner of a footnote. Its contained in the introduction of her book on ethics; “The Virtue of Selfishness.”
This leads to two possible conclusions; either Taibbi did not do any independent research on what Rand argued, thus merely recycling previously-heard lies he’s heard from other people (in which case he’s a terrible journalist), or Taibbi knows full well that Rand did not advocate what he accuses her of and is thus deliberately distorting her ideas (in which case he’s intellectually dishonest and deserves moral condemnation).
I’d prefer to think the first case scenario is the correct one.