If the false premises of an influential philosopher are not challenged, generations of his followers–acting as the culture’s subconscious–milk them down to their ultimate consequences. – Ayn Rand
The most curious thing happened while I was reading Ayn Rand: I found myself agreeing with many of the things she said. Rand has been called a gateway drug to extreme right-wing ideology, and has influenced many powerful politicians and millionaires of our generation, most notably Ron Paul who sees her as his Guru … and former overlord of the Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, who was her pupil and within her circle for many years.
Her philosophy sustains such theories as Reaganomics, which had the effect of trickling down poverty and economic marginalization for generations. It also called for privatization of government jurisdiction (private schools, private for-profit prisons, etc.) and deregulation of industries–like the one of the financial sector which led to its collapse in the fall of 2008. What was Rand’s resplendent utopia for a wealthy minority was materializing as a dystopia to the majority of people.
Most people are unfamiliar with how the global neoliberal economic regime works, how it rules over us unseen, without a name or a face, a government of unelected, unaccountable, corrupt bankers behind the world’s democratically elected governments. It might as well be voodoo. It’s a mystery to most people. A recent piece from The Philosopher’s Mail, in fact, argues that news media prefers it that way, as our ignorance and distraction benefits the corporate powers that they answer to.
After the 2008 crisis, when most of the world was wondering what in hell just happened, Alan Greenspan–who had been heading the world’s most powerful central bank during the crisis–had to admit that there was a fundamental flaw in his worldview, one which he couldn’t identify. He had believed, like Rand, that markets were somehow able to regulate themselves.
During the testimony, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) says “you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made”. He replied by saying “the question is whether it is accurate or not, and what I’m saying to you is: yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’m very distressed by that fact”.
Where exactly did this ideology of his come from? In his book The Age of Turbulence, Alan Greenspan says:
Ayn Rand became a stabilizing force in my life … and in the fifties and early sixties I became a regular at the weekly gatherings at her apartment.
Having been milked down to its ultimate consequences, the ideology of Ayn Rand produced–through the person of a first-generation disciple–a financial crisis of such magnitude, and where corruption of over-privileged, criminal Wall Street bankers in the unregulated financial sector was so rampant, that they bled about 40% of the funds that American retirees had put aside.
Hardworking grandparents, widows, and decent elderly folks can’t retire and have to work into their 70s because of Rand’s ideas, which were, as she put it, milked down to their ultimate consequences.
I do agree with Ayn Rand that philosophy is fundamental, that it inspires policy and ethical decision-making at every level of society, and that people should very carefully evaluate their philosophical views and those of their leaders. I agree with her that it’s often intellectuals who guide the destinies of nations. But beyond that, she was wrong about many things.