Friday, April 8, 2011

Identifying the Looters

I don't want to get too deep into the relative merits of Randian beliefs, mostly because I don't feel qualified to talk about them. My exposure to Ayn Rand has been limited, thus far, to a single book - and, while it was thoroughly packed with her philosophical outlook, it was also self-evidently a fantasy novel.

Having said that... it seemed pretty clear that even in Ayn Rand's own morality tale, being rich was only loosely tied to merit. The folks who were extremely wealthy on the basis of their own work were an extreme minority; few enough, in fact, that the entire group of them could comfortably occupy a single valley hidden away in Colorado. The vast majority of rich people, the upper crust of society and goverment, and in fact the majority of companies and corporations with whom these heroes were competing (if not opposing outright), were clearly shown to be looters.

And yet, an awful lot of the Rand devotees I run into online seem to reflexively, axiomatically support big business. Or, inversely, it seems that an awful lot of the reflexive support for big business has its roots in some version of a Randian outlook. So my question is, basically, how is that not at odds with Ayn Rand's writings? How do those views not conflict with their own source materials?


  1. Argh. Blogger ate my comment.

    Okay, I'm going to try a shorter version. From what I recall of Atlas Shrugged, the heroic (from Rand's POV) business people knew their businesses from the (hole in the) ground up, while the villainous business people were complete incompetents.

    When Franciso D'Anconia's business imploded, it was because he set the charges with malice aforethought. When Taggart Transcontinental imploded, it was because James was a clueless dweeb, and it only survived as long as it did because Dagny had some clues to rub together. Note also, that Rand seemed to believe that those who inherited wealth needed to be worthy of it, hence the detailed discussion of D'Anconia's education.

    It doesn't seem to have occurred to Rand that things like D'Anconia's fraud are one reason the government regulation she so despised exist in the first place.

    Tying the story into the present day, I think it's notable that much of the current financial crisis can be traced to MBAs who know "business," but don't know the specific business they've been hired to run, and securities traders who treat the market as a pure numbers game without giving any thought to what the securities they're trading actually represent.

  2. I'm not sure I have anything to add to that, except that it pretty well matches my own reading. Which is annoying, because I'd love to have somethimg more interesting to say, "Yes, I agree."

  3. It occurs to me that the weird regulations that would never happen in the real world that Rand came up with nevertheless fits a real world pattern that we've been seeing today. Regulatory capture, where the regulations are being written to the advantage of the businesses with the most effective lobbies.

  4. Indeed, the reflexiveness itself is an issue. They seem to not want to feel that people use their power to buy government or obfuscation.
    I am pro-free-market but also against the abuse of power. And where power aggregates, it tends to be abused.

  5. Good points - both the regulatory capture issue, and that the real problem isn't so much the support for big business as the reflexiveness of it.


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