The Nightmare Economics of Ayn Rand

By Darragh Roche

The term ‘job creator’ has crept into the political lexicon on both sides of the Atlantic. It sounds harmless, but don’t be fooled – it is the quiet vanguard of a political and economic nightmare.

Calling Ayn Rand a novelist is generous, calling her a philosopher borders on the ludicrous. But her corpus of regressive ideas has ignited the hard right in the United States. The coming Republican presidential primaries will give deficit hawks and would-be economic philosophers ample time to wedge their favourite heroine into public discourse. The mainstreaming of her ideas has been going on for years, but in parliament houses from Washington to London, there is a now a groundswell of support for policy decisions that consciously and unashamedly favour the rich.

When the Conservative-led government cut taxes for the wealthy, it was simply implementing the logic of Rand’s ‘Objectivism’ philosophy. Allow the rich to spend their money the way they want, and they will hire more people, stimulate the economy and everyone will benefit. This is classic trickle down economics – notice the word ‘trickle’. Rand believed that the rich were heroes; chance played no part in elevating some people over others. Making the right choice at the right time was almost divinely inspired. Those who failed because they bought the wrong stocks or sold the wrong products weren’t simply unlucky, they were deservedly failures. Bet on the right horse and you should be praised for your success, bet on the wrong one and you’re to blame. It didn’t matter to Rand if both horses had the same odds.

Today, Rand’s policies are embodied by US politicians like Rand Paul (yes, he was named for her) and Ted Cruz, both potential Republican presidential candidates. Cruz wants to abolish the IRS and the minimum wage, Paul wants to get rid of laws that stop businesses from committing racial discrimination. The message is simple: let the rich do whatever they want and everyone will benefit. It’s important to understand what Rand’s devotees think those ‘benefits’ are. We’re used to hearing the hard right call welfare recipients ‘takers’ or even ‘parasites’ but to Ayn Rand, ordinary workers were parasites, too. Employees are a regrettable but necessary component in running a business and their cost should be kept as low as possible. The worker is a tedious commodity, like an ink cartridge for the photocopier. And the most pernicious idea is that workers should feel grateful to their super-rich bosses. No ‘job creators’ mean no jobs, right? Your subsistence wage wouldn’t get paid without the initiative of the millionaire CEO.

A philosophical system that sees workers’ rights as a barrier to business, that ignores macroeconomic reality and always blames the poor for being poor, that elevates the rich to the status of economic saviours – that is the new reality for America’s conservatives. It is slowly but consistently seeping into the mainstream conservative outlook on this side of the Atlantic. Any political party that promotes tax cuts for the rich while simultaneously cutting protections for workers and the poor is on the outer edge of the Ayn Rand economic death spiral.

11 Responses

    1. Mark Grundy

      Wouldn’t want to spoil the baseless assertions of the author with actual quotes and thought.

      Since the author failed miserably to do so, how about a few quotes by Ayn Rand in relation to Economics:

      “The root of production is man’s mind; the mind is an attribute of the individual and it does not work under orders, controls and compulsion, as centuries of stagnation have demonstrated. Progress cannot be planned by government, and it cannot be restricted or retarded; it can only be stopped, as every statist government has demonstrated.”

      “Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions—and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.

      But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made—before it can be looted or mooched—made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.”

      “Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.

      The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man’s rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man’s right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control.”

      “Capitalism has created the highest standard of living ever known on earth. The evidence is incontrovertible. The contrast between West and East Berlin is the latest demonstration, like a laboratory experiment for all to see. Yet those who are loudest in proclaiming their desire to eliminate poverty are loudest in denouncing capitalism. Man’s well-being is not their goal….”

      “We are not a capitalist system any longer: we are a mixed economy, i.e., a mixture of capitalism and statism, of freedom and controls. A mixed economy is a country in the process of disintegration, a civil war of pressure-groups looting and devouring one another…”

      “There can be no compromise between freedom and government controls; to accept “just a few controls” is to surrender the principle of inalienable individual rights and to substitute for it the principle of the government’s unlimited, arbitrary power, thus delivering oneself into gradual enslavement…”

      “A mixed economy is a mixture of freedom and controls—with no principles, rules, or theories to define either. Since the introduction of controls necessitates and leads to further controls, it is an unstable, explosive mixture which, ultimately, has to repeal the controls or collapse into dictatorship. A mixed economy has no principles to define its policies, its goals, its laws—no principles to limit the power of its government. The only principle of a mixed economy—which, necessarily, has to remain unnamed and unacknowledged—is that no one’s interests are safe, everyone’s interests are on a public auction block, and anything goes for anyone who can get away with it. Such a system—or, more precisely, anti-system—breaks up a country into an ever-growing number of enemy camps, into economic groups fighting one another for self preservation in an indeterminate mixture of defense and offense, as the nature of such a jungle demands. While, politically, a mixed economy preserves the semblance of an organized society with a semblance of law and order, economically it is the equivalent of the chaos that had ruled China for centuries: a chaos of robber gangs looting—and draining—the productive elements of the country.

      A mixed economy is rule by pressure groups. It is an amoral, institutionalized civil war of special interests and lobbies, all fighting to seize a momentary control of the legislative machinery, to extort some special privilege at one another’s expense by an act of government—i.e., by force. In the absence of individual rights, in the absence of any moral or legal principles, a mixed economy’s only hope to preserve its precarious semblance of order, to restrain the savage, desperately rapacious groups it itself has created, and to prevent the legalized plunder from running over into plain, unlegalized looting of all by all—is compromise; compromise on everything and in every realm—material, spiritual, intellectual—so that no group would step over the line by demanding too much and topple the whole rotted structure. If the game is to continue, nothing can be permitted to remain firm, solid, absolute, untouchable; everything (and everyone) has to be fluid, flexible, indeterminate, approximate. By what standard are anyone’s actions to be guided? By the expediency of any immediate moment.”

      “A “mixed economy” is a society in the process of committing suicide.

      If a nation cannot survive half-slave, half-free, consider the condition of a nation in which every social group becomes both the slave and the enslaver of every other group. Ask yourself how long such a condition can last and what is its inevitable outcome.

      When government controls are introduced into a free economy, they create economic dislocations, hardships, and problems which, if the controls are not repealed, necessitate still further controls, which necessitate still further controls, etc. Thus a chain reaction is set up: the victimized groups seek redress by imposing controls on the profiteering groups, who retaliate in the same manner, on an ever widening scale.”

      “Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others. By what criterion of justice is a consensus-government to be guided? By the size of the victim’s gang.”

      “A statist is a man who believes that some men have the right to force, coerce, enslave, rob, and murder others. To be put into practice, this belief has to be implemented by the political doctrine that the government—the state—has the right to initiate the use of physical force against its citizens. How often force is to be used, against whom, to what extent, for what purpose and for whose benefit, are irrelevant questions. The basic principle and the ultimate results of all statist doctrines are the same: dictatorship and destruction. The rest is only a matter of time.”

      “A statist system—whether of a communist, fascist, Nazi, socialist or “welfare” type—is based on the . . . government’s unlimited power, which means: on the rule of brute force. The differences among statist systems are only a matter of time and degree; the principle is the same. Under statism, the government is not a policeman, but a legalized criminal that holds the power to use physical force in any manner and for any purpose it pleases against legally disarmed, defenseless victims.

      Nothing can ever justify so monstrously evil a theory. Nothing can justify the horror, the brutality, the plunder, the destruction, the starvation, the slave-labor camps, the torture chambers, the wholesale slaughter of statist dictatorships.”

  1. Mr Roche misrepresents Rand’s ideas. He doesn’t mention her philosophy because he doesn’t believe she has one. No doubt that is how he comes to distort her position.

    Politically (the 4th branch), Rand starts and ends with the premise that no man has the right to initiate force against another. The principle applies to government. It is not about letting the rich rule. It is about allowing everyone to live their lives as they see fit, free from force. An idea about which I am sure Mr Roche knows nothing. The only social system that is consistent with this view is capitalism. That capitalism works is a bonus, but it is not the starting point.

  2. FeltyNoggin

    This is a misrepresentation of Ayn Rand’s ideas. Ayn Rand certainly did not regard ANY hard working individual as a parasite. Quite the opposite in fact.
    The author also misconstrues Ayn Rand’s conception of “Rights”, which in her view, are to be the same for everybody. Ayn Rand was an advocate for capitalism and individual rights, and an advocate of a government that has no reason to differentiate between individuals on the basis of wealth, productiveness, race, or membership of any group. Ayn Rand advocated for equality under the law, something that we do not have once our government discerns between us on the basis of qualities like race and wealth.

    Ayn Rand rejected the moral creed that has been the lifeblood of feudal kings, communists and dictators for about the entire history of the west. She rejected the vicious premise that self-sacrifice is a virtue.
    The alternative she presents is the moral practice of advancing ones own interests–to invent, to create, to produce, to spend ones money wisely, and to do it all for ones own happiness and the happiness of their loved ones–selfishly. Ayn Rand showed us that the very things that we all do to improve our own lives, every day, are in fact moral and practical, and there is no need to feel guilt or shame for such practices (as the author of this article surely would have us feel).
    The wealth that an individual has created is a measure of the value that they have provided to others. Yet, in our culture, instead of being celebrated for this value, productive individuals (businessmen) are considered ignoble and sinful in proportion to the wealth they have produced.
    I suggest everyone pick up a copy of “Atlas Shrugged”, by Ayn Rand, to learn more about the ideas that she really did advocate–Ideas that have the power to invigorate and inspire the individual; ideas that have the power to change the course of history by elevating all of humanity to unfathomed heights of greatness and beauty.

    as for the authors estimate of how the stock market works. … Im sure you can figure whats wrong with that.
    (He seems to think that we even have a “right” to prosper equally in our investments)

  3. Coreyw

    Notice not a single citation or quote from Rand to support all of these ridiculous misrepresentations. The level of dishonesty in the article is off the charts. It’s so bad it’s funny.

  4. Mark Grundy

    Yeah…. Rand was unabashedly in favor of the rich like Orren Boyle, Jim Taggart, etc… oh wait.

    Yeah… The author of the 2nd most influential book in the US was totally not a novelist.

    Yeah… Having a complete system from Metaphysics, to Epistemology, to Ethics, Politics, and Esthetics is totally not philosopher material.

    Yeah… Nevermind that she despised Conservatives; she was totally a Conservative.

    Yeah… Her credo to one’s right to their Life, Liberty, and property was totally for the purpose of: “stimulating the economy”.

    Yeah… Ayn Rand totally want to just crush poor people under her boot like a cigarette.

    “”A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

    The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

    Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.”” – Ayn Rand

    Seriously, If this is the best smear job you can do then it is rather insulting to the intellect of your readers. Hell, you wouldn’t of even had to read any of her books, you could of just gone to Ayn Rand Lexicon website and looked really really hard to find a quote you could misrepresent and take out of context. Would you like me to write a smear job for you? I wouldn’t but I could with little effort. Anyone with the slightest bit of intelligence can see right through your dishonesty.

  5. Another attempt to discredit without substantiation. How anyone can claim to understand Ayn Rand and then misquote and misinterpret boggles the mind. Unknowingly they prompt the curious and honest to review the actual writings and ideas and judge for themselves. Smears only validate what she actually stood for and who is trying to distort the truth.

  6. This article is ridiculous, I am pretty sure the author has failed to read any of Ayn rands books.. She does not argue in her Novels that the rich should rule as they see fit, if anything its the opposite. When Dagny’s half witted rich brother and his cronies get together they bring the society to its knee’s. It is the creative and inventive spirit that becomes human kinds shining beacon and rightly so..
    Dear Author, please read Atlas Shrugged, it is a glorious story with so many useful nuggets of wisdom. Then when your done read the Fountainhead.
    Then please come back to this article and read it again and let me know personally if you still feel the same.

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