NPR on Ayn Rand’s Comeback

by Veronique de Rugy

I was interested to hear on NPR this morning a story about the influence of Ayn Rand. Its conclusion: Rand’s ideas are alive and well-represented in Congress today:

“Both parties today are for socialism, in effect — for controls. And there is no party, there are no voices, to offer an actual pro-capitalist, laissez-faire, economic freedom and individualism,” she said. “That is what this country needs today.”

If Rand were alive today, she might be pleased to see that, more and more, Americans do have that choice. And her ideas are alive and well-represented in the U.S. Capitol.

To show the prevalence of Rand’s ideas on Capitol Hill, NPR’s Andrea Seabrook explains how Chairman Paul Ryan has read her books, and quotes Speaker Boehner (and a few others) talking about how the productive class is on strike.

Rand does have important admirers, like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Recently, House Speaker John Boehner channeled Rand when he said, “Job creators in America basically are on strike.” [...]

Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, has read Rand’s novels six or eight times each.

“It’s almost frightening how accurate a prediction of the future the book was,” Mulvaney says. [...]

In Atlas Shrugged, which Rand considered her masterpiece, the wealthy corporate producers are the engines of the American economy, but they are constantly stymied by invasive legislation and terrible government regulations.

That’s exactly what Florida Republican Rep. Allen West sees happening in America today — and, he says, it’s very dangerous.

“If you start to demonize a certain segment of your society that are the producers, eventually they’ll stop,” he says.

That’s just what they did in Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s wealthy heroes go into hiding, leaving behind the welfare class — Rand calls them “the moochers” — and the government, or “the looters.”

I think it’s a stretch to say that her ideas are well-represented, though. It’s one thing to read a book and quite another to live according to the principles presented in it. Think, for instance, of the debate over the sequester that will be imposed if the supercommittee fails to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years. The cuts in the sequester aren’t even real cuts, and yet lawmakers are fretting over  these small reductions in spending growth. Or think about lawmakers’ reluctance to talk about reforming autopilot programs like Social Security and Medicare. As these examples illustrate, loving a book or quoting Ayn Rand doesn’t say much about one’s willingness to implement her ideas.

This segment will be followed by two other segments featuring F. A. Hayek and John Maynard Keynes in the next few days. You can read the first installment here. Be sure to read the NPR listeners’ comments too.