Feeling Randy?

October 8, 2009

Following up on comments earlier in the week, Brian Leiter links to this article in the Guardian on why Rand is ridiculous.

Here, enjoy a taste:

A characteristic peculiar to Rand that detracts mightily from her works in a spectacular way is her enthusiasm for such inanimate objects as machines, trains, high-tension wires, factories and industrial areas of cities. Her unstinting praise of the so-called geniuses of entrepreneurial bent is difficult enough to swallow; but her paroxysms of delight as she ponders smoke-belching steel mills or grease-covered railroad bridges, page after page, will cause thoughtful readers to experience feelings of profound and abject embarrassment.

There’s also this hosanna from a quite different perspective, effectively nudging Reason readers to initiate the Rand revival.  Hallelujah!

But this divergence of viewpoints raises a question for our cynical grand inquisitors: is Randianism a religion?  You can guess my answer by reading my earlier post in response to Roger, and then maybe test your own answer against some of the responses in the comments section, as well as against this counter-example.  Philosopher Richard Chappell of Philosophy, etc. offers some helpful insight in his comment.


  1. Rand’s philosophy is called Objectivism — and it specifically refects faith and belief in the supernatural. It holds reason as an absolute — that is, it holds that reason — the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the data provided by the senses — is man’s only means of gaining knowledge.

    Thus, in the fundamental fields of metaphysics and philosophy, it is the opposite of religion.

    As to the quality of her fiction, read it for yourself. You will discover she does NOT praise “grease covered railroad bridges” or “smoke belching steel mills” as some sort of end in themselves. She praises them for their ability to support human life and happiness. Such praise does not cause me to “feel profound and abject embarrassment” — it causes me to feel inspired.

    But read “Atlas Shrugged” for yourself. It’s the greatest single creation in the history of western civilization.

  2. Worship of industrial progress was pretty common in the early part of the 20th century, esp in countries which had not yet industrialize and espeically among the communists. Today you find it in such places as North Korea. This merely dates Rand

  3. It might just be climate scientists who aren’t happy to see industrial progress and who aren’t proud of increasing wealth. I sure as heck am not embarrased by a larger economy and technological innovation of any kind.

  4. The following is a response to Gerald L. Houseman’s misbegotten Times article, which you link us to above:

    Gerald wrote: > One of the great minds we meet in Atlas Shrugged is a CEO type who builds a coast-to-coast railroad across America without any government help, even though no such person has ever existed.

    Never heard of James Hill, the explicit model for Nat Taggart and her explicit inspiration for Dagny Taggart — as, to a lesser extent, was Cornelius Vanderbilt?

    Gerald wrote: > The privatising and non-regulatory [sic] urges pervading the US Government since the beginning of the century (and particularly since the 1980s)

    Statistically speaking, the size of bureaucracy, in terms of sheer civilian manpower, increased dramatically under Ronald Reagan, so that by the time he was finished, there were well over 200,000 more government workers than in 1980, when he took office. In fact, the size of government under Ronald Reagan grew astronomically in virtually every way. To wit:

    At the end of the first quarter of 1988, government spending had increased to 28.7 percent of the national income (“national income” refers to the private money generated by the hard-working citizens of this country). To put that into better perspective, this figure is even higher than Jimmy Carter’s outrageous numbers: in his final year as president, Carter maxed out at staggering 27.9 percent. Indeed, both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter cut government spending far more efficiently than Ronald Reagan. Here are some of those numbers, which don’t lie:

    Under Reagan, Social Security spending went from 179 billion in 1981 to 269 billion.

    Farm programs skyrocketed: 21 billion to 51 billion.

    Medicare jumped from 43 billion in 1981 to 80 billion in 1987.

    During the Reagan era, federal entitlements alone rose from 197 billion to 477 billion.

    Reagan promised the people that he would “abolish” the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He did no such thing. On the contrary, these budgets more than doubled under Reagan. In his own words: “We’re not attempting to cut either spending or taxing levels below that which we presently have.”

    In addition to not cutting, however, Reagan also upped the spending a few notches, thus: the Gross Federal Debt went from 900 billion to 2.7 trillion. Ford and Carter simply doubled it; Reagan tripled it.

    Spending habits (which are a better gauge of government size than are taxes) increased under Reagan’s leadership in almost every way. But in any case, Reagan hardly cut taxes: by the end of 1987, government revenues, a good indicator of taxes and tax cuts, were nearly identical to those of Carter.

    Reagan’s Economic Recovery Act, so-called, was negated a year or two later by his Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA).

    He furthermore placed a five-cent-per-gallon tax on gas.

    He hiked up taxes on the trucking industry.

    He succeeded in increasing the Social Security tax – to the tune of 165 billion. In terms of foreign trade, Reagan was the most mercantilistic since Herbert Hoover: import restriction doubled under Reagan, and quotas were placed on countless products.

    Foreign aid went from 10 billion to 22 billion.

    Reagan also supported seatbelt laws and federal airbag laws.

    Reagan increased regulation of the auto industry by not opposing that monstrous thing known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ).

    In the last 12 years alone, 51,000 NEW regulations have been added to American law. And yet, according to Gerald Houseman (and Alan Greenspan), it is “free markets” that have failed.

    What free market? Woodrow Wilson was a free marketer? Herbert Hoover? FDR? Don’t make me laugh.

    “Banking, housing, and insurance are the most regulated areas of the economy. They are strangled by regulations.” (Journal of American Law, January 2009).

    To say that neither the state-protected Federal Reserve, nor the artificial adjustment of interest rates, nor corporate welfare, nor the bankrupt social security system, nor income tax, nor rule by lobby groups, nor the carte-blanche printing of fiat money are responsible for our current economic crises but the free market is is worse than wrongheaded: it’s a kind of lunacy.

    Gerald wrote: > [The 80’s] brought many of us to the very end of our patience and to a finale for our faith in the capitalist system, or in the wealthy, or in those captains of industry – and especially of finance – in whose hands we are supposed to place our lives and hopes. A quick example: one of Rand’s most ardent students, Alan Greenspan, who headed the Federal Reserve for years and said that all his economic knowledge – all of it – came from Rand, is now regarded as one of the major miscreants of the current worldwide economic malaise.

    It is a matter of historical fact that Alan Greenspand repudiated Ayn Rand, both formally and in deed, beginning in about 1970. Quoting from Greenspan’s autobiography:

    “As contradictions inherent in my new notions began to emerge, the fervor [for Objectivism] receded.”

    In 1995 Greenspan wrote that “[centralized banking is a necessity because] only a central bank, with unlimited power to create money can guarantee that such a process [‘a cascading sequence of defaults’] will be thwarted before it becomes destructive.” Ayn Rand, of course, anathematized any and all forms of centralized banking, including the inflation-generating Federal Reserve. It’s worth noting also that “a cascading sequence of defaults” is precisely what we’ve just seen happen, any yet as we now know, it was caused by centralized banking.

    Fact: Alan Greenspan dramatically extended the confiscatory power of social security, whereas Ayn Rand vehemently opposed social security — on principle — in any form, and she repeatedly called for its abolition.

    Fact: Alan Greenspan gave Hillary Clinton a standing ovation when she called for socialized medicine.

    And yet Alan Greenspan is now blaming his own failures as head of the Federal Reserve for “inherent problems with free markets,” which free markets, however, as I said above, we’ve not seen in this country for well over 100 years.

    The truth is that Greenspan (“The Maestro”) and his dream-team staff, couldn’t figure out how to run the economy, and it was the Fed’s expansion of the money supply (1% interest rates!) that created the bubbles. So interventionism has failed, as it always does. Can anyone seriously say, ‘an even smarter version of Greenspan will get it right this time’?

    At the end of 2007, the last full year for which data are available, the Federal Register contained fully seventy-three thousand pages of detailed government regulations. This is an increase of more than ten thousand pages since 1978. There are also fifteen federal cabinet departments, nine of which exist for the very purpose of respectively interfering with housing, transportation, healthcare, education, energy, mining, agriculture, labor, commerce, and so on.
    Government spending in the United States currently equals more than forty percent of national income, i.e., the sum of all wages and salaries and profits and interest earned in the country. This is without counting any of the massive off-budget spending such as that on account of the government enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Nor does it count any of the recent spending on assorted “bailouts.” What this means is that substantially more than forty dollars of every one hundred dollars of output are appropriated by the government against the will of the individual citizens who produce that output.

    Anyone who can call that kind of government a “non-regulated” government, as Gerald would phrase it, is out of his mind.

    Gerald wrote: > So why, we should ask, had ideas and approaches similar to Objectivism not been thought out, or carried out, before Rand came along?

    They have. Ever heard of Thomas Aquinas, whose metaphysics and epistemology Ayn Rand was an explicit admirer of, who first offered the “three reasons private property is necessary to human life” (first, “because every man is more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is common to all” Summa Theologica, IIa, IIae, 66), and who in this regard represents a great advance over his (and Ayn Rand’s) teacher Aristotle? Ever heard of Thomas Aquinas who because his, as you say, “approach was carried out” singlehandedly brought the world out of the dark ages? Ever heard of Bartolome de Las Casas and the other Spanish Scholastics, who were the first people to give a systematized formulation of individual rights? How about Baruch Spinoza, whose metaphysics and ethics Ayn Rand explicitly admired? How about the French Physiocrats? John Locke? Herbert Spencer? Nietszche? Frederich Bastiat? The framers of the United States Constitution? Carl Menger? J Aflred Nock? Ludwig von Mises? Ernest Bramah? Garet Garet? Et cetera.

    Gerald wrote: > This is more than a question of timing or bad luck, however; for there is an even bigger snag, a bigger poison in the pudding, which destroys any so-called philosophy invented by Rand.

    Ayn Rand did not invent capitalism. The word was coined by Karl Marx, but he didn’t invent it either. In fact, the free markets have existed since the dawn of humankind — wherever (and whenever) humans were and are left free.

    Gerald wrote: > An article in a 1986 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, although it remains too often ignored

    Ignored! Don’t be absurd. You people are constantly trotting that dinosaur of an article out, despite the fact that it’s been bunked a billion times.

    Gerald wrote: > [That dated article] leaves no hope whatever for the many defenders and apologists for the allegedly “free” market.

    You’re incorrect. In any case, though, if you really believe that, why would you complain about that “non-regulation” and the free market destroyed your faith in capitalism, since your Stiglitz article “proves” that free markets cannot exist? Which is it, Gerald? You can’t have it both ways.

    The truth is, there never was an invisible hand, as Ayn Rand said many times, as did everyone else, from Menger to von Mises. Ayn Rand was no fan of Adam Smith, and you beclown yourself still more in suggesting that she was.

    There’s no invisible hand; there’s only supply and demand, and the awesome logic of Say’s law.

    Gerald wrote: > all the bargains taking place in a market system are characterised by an information deficit on one side or the other. This gap reflects an information advantage that one side invariably holds over the other in any deal so that there are, in fact, no truly equitable financial agreements to be had. And it is because of this absence of equity that free enterprise can achieve only what can be regarded as a mythic status.

    You are in error: capitalism.net/excerpts/1-931089-06-X.pdf

    It’s called Platonic competition. And it’s deeply flawed, as Dr. Reisman explains in the article I link to directly above.

    The free market it is what happens naturally among humans when humans are left free. If, for example, you want tobacco that I’m willing to sell you, and if you’re (therefore) willing to pay the price that I’m asking for it — regardless of how much information you possess which I don’t, and vice-versa — and we then engage in a free-market exchange, we have just upheld the free-market system. It’s that simple. In fact, it’s not nearly as complicated as you and Stiglitz make it out to be, and that is your basic error.

    • Anyone who can say with a straight face that

      Gerald wrote: > One of the great minds we meet in Atlas Shrugged is a CEO type who builds a coast-to-coast railroad across America without any government help, even though no such person has ever existed.

      gotta be brain dead. Railroads were built on the government granted ability to grab land for rights of way.

  5. […] still aim to come back to the question about religion from earlier posts (also here), but here’s Jon Stewart interviewing Jennifer Burns on Ayn Rand’s atheism. Also […]

  6. […] enough, then that fervently held belief might qualify not just as religion-like, but as a religion. Fervent belief in Objectivism might qualify as a religion, even though Rand (and presumably her acolytes) fervently condemn religion. More damningly for this […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: