October 18, 2009

The Cult of Ayn Rand is Re-emerging

Right-Wingers Believe Ayn Rand's Every Word, But They Forget She Wrote Fiction

The cult of Rand is resurgent -- two new biographies and maybe even a new film, are in the works. But her economic ideas were pure fairy tales.

Colin Greer
New World Foundation
October 10, 2009.

Ayn Rand is popular again. Her most popular novels Atlas Shrugged from 1957 and The Fountainhead from 1943 are still being bought in large numbers. While it's plainly fashionable for right wing activists and pundits to bandy about her ideas to discredit the Obama administration, it's worth remembering one thing...

The American right sees Atlas Shrugged as an almost prophetic masterpiece that describes "the economic lunacy" of the bailout and economic stimulus plan. As Stephen Moore (formerly of the CATO institute) explains in the Wall Street Journal, the warning of Atlas Shrugged is clear - the more government tries to fix things, the more they break. "When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear -- leaving everyone the poorer," he says, concluding that the abolition of income tax would be a much better policy idea.

Two new biographies of Rand and maybe even a new film, are in the works. The cult of Ayn Rand has inspired think tanks like the Ayn Rand Institute, and The Atlas Society, and she has numerous followers in high places, notably including Alan Greenspan (former chairman of the Federal Reserve and soloist for the out-of-tune hymn to the inexorable free market). A copy of Atlas Shrugged may have been one of the more popular accessories at recent TEA parties.

Ayn Rand was an immigrant from Russia who worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Ironically, her followers nowadays tend to hate both immigrants and Hollywood. If I could run a mandatory e-harmony, I’d have Lou Dobbs meet Ayn Rand. I’d have Glenn Beck meet Ayn Rand. She's the lady off the boat who invented a powerful free market imagery for them.

But remember: She wrote fiction!

In Rand’s novels the heroes pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. They made big profits in unfavorable economic climates. Try pulling yourself up by your shoelaces. It can’t be done. Its all story telling, with no basis in documented experience. And of course, she does not consider the collaborative context (school, roads, community) that make individual success possible. Rand's own life was a cauldron of broken connections, sexual indulgence, war on other people’s marriages, and narcissism of atomic proportions. Nothing new to show business. But pressing social issues are not show business. There is no real economics in Rand, and certainly no moral logic.