2009/04/07

Question on Atlas Shrugged

The question was posed "What's so awful about Ayn Rand? Is this woman regarded as evil?" My impression from people in the left blogosphere who have talked about her is no, not exactly. I'd say that the general impression of her is that if you've read Atlas Shrugged in high school or college and you think she's wonderful, not a problem. If you've been out of college for a few years or are in your mid-20s in any event and you still think she's wonderful, you've got a problem.
Back during the Roman Republic, the Plebeians and the Patricians also had a problem. From 494 to 287 BC, the Plebeians took off a total of three times and the Patricians had to make do without their labor until they said "Uncle!" and the Plebeians then returned under new conditions.
In the modern era, the Knights of Labor won a strike against the railroads in 1884. The idea of having labor unions (As opposed to the craft unions of the Medieval era) caught on and striking, or withdrawing one's labor from the company, became a popular means for winning concessions.
Rand extended the idea of denying ones' labor to intellectual work and the hero of Atlas Shrugged, an architect, denied his intellect to society until society begged him to come back under better conditions. And wel-l-l-l, that's a nice idea, but personally, I've worked in both military and civilian departments where we had to do without a leader for awhile and we usually weathered the period just fine. That's not to say leaders are useless. But it is to say that followers, laborers, are more indispensable than leaders are. Intellects are crucially important when one is building something new, they're not so critical when one is simply trying to maintain ones' situation as is.
I went to a presentation on Venezuela, where we were told that the oil field technicians and executives took off to protest the presidency of Hugo Chavez. The workers who were left got to work, analyzing and reverse-engineering and figuring out how the process was designed. A few months after the intellectually bright people had left, the oil fields were pumping just as much oil as before. This suggests that if Rands' imagined scenario occurred in real life, society would have hit a "bump in the road" but it would have ultimately gotten along just fine.
So I really don't buy a crucially important tenet of Rand's philosophy. She seems to believe (No, I never actually read the book, I'm just passing along "received wisdom" from writers of the left blogosphere) that "extreme capitalism" is a good thing. Being an adherent of the "anti-globalization" and "fair trade" (As opposed to "free trade") movements, I don't agree with that at all.
Not sure that my economic philosophy falls into any easily-defined category. People have described me as a standard "plain vanilla" leftist. I'm aware that both classic Russian communism and classic Barry Goldwater/Ronald Reagan/Grover Norquist capitalism have failed (Not that I subscribed to that "flavor" of capitalism since a year or two after Reagan took office in any event). I've tried to define my philosophy more with specific real-world examples than by naming any particular people I've taken after.

1 comment:

autofyrsto said...

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