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The Corner

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Re: Rand and this Moment



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Ramesh, I come to precisely the opposite conclusion about the influence of Ayn Rand’s ideas at a moment like this. Some people may reject them because it’s clear that willingness and talent aren’t the only factors in success during a recession/depression. But it is always the case that some people who work hard, and are willing to do what it takes, are and/or will become unemployed for reasons not of their own making. Luck will make a difference, as will accidents of family, geography, and other personal choices — as they always do. Some people will flail about now but succeed over time, as is the norm. That is inherent in the creative destruction of market capitalism. 

In the end it depends on what you think the central message of Atlas Shrugged is. I’d say that the particular theme that resonates at the moment is how a government begins nationalizing the economy and curtailing liberty and opportunity in the name of equality and fairness, abetted by demagogues and those whose power derives from bossing people around (rather than exercising stewardship over their basic rights). The B theme – that the most talented among us (in ways that can be monetized) will be dragged down and deprived of the possibility of realizing their talents, or deprived of the fruits of their efforts, which will be reallocated among the less productive, will also resonate, mostly among the confident. 

One hopes that most (post-adolescent) readers of Rand get past the black-and-white judgments and the hyper-individualism, and many understand that there are reasons other than lack of talent or drive that sideline humans. We are complex creatures and our demons are often as powerful as our will to prevail — a fact best left to writers more literary and nuanced than Rand to convey. Rand was far better on larger economic and political themes than on the complicated and delicate balances that compose most psyches. Her novels were polemics, issued to warn people of the dangers she had observed in the Soviet Union. It may be that a new generation of readers, who barely comprehend Communism, the Cold War, or the 20th-century history of fascism (or much else) — and the devastation those ideologies wrought — will benefit from reading her novels. They are vivid in ways that essays in comparative economics are not. If they lead to an interest in serious economics, so much the better for free-marketeers, and worse for the policies President Obama and the Pelosi/Reid backup singers are offering.

I’d love to know who is doing the buying. Parents for their kids? The usual college students? The same people stockpiling guns and ammo?



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