One of the positive things about not having any work right now – Ayn Rand may have said that my work in juvenile justice and child welfare research really was not meaningful work anyways – is having time to read stuff that I’ve been wanting to read. So, I’ve been catching up on some long overdue Ayn Rand musings. Really important stuff if one wants to try to get a handle on today’s manifestations of Rand’s prime concepts of individualism and objectivism. Fascinating is the first word that comes to mind.
One of Ms Rand’s prime assumptions, that taking from those who have more, who generate capital and jobs, and giving to those people who have less or little, without those people creating any benefit/work for society, and in effect, fostering laziness and dependence, well, Ms Rand viewed this as a serious threat to capitalism and the very survival of the US, something that breeds an evil dependence among masses.
As I read Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s piece de resistance, I periodically shrug and ask myself, well, there does not appear to be much tolerance for the less fortunate in this tome (as would be expected in such a scorching testament to individualism), and definitely no faith in government’s ability to foster the types of individual motivation, innovation, and skills that are needed to strengthen our economy and society as a whole. Furthermore, as an atheist and ardent capitalist, Rand did not place a whole lot of faith in organized religion’s (the church, other religious institutions) abilities to help the less fortunate; instead, it seems she saw religious institutions as further breeders of public dependence. No, Ms. Rand was not a compassionate conservative or Christian by any stretch of the means.
Interesting to me how some of my friends, who also happen to be persons of faith – you know, like they go to church periodically or regularly and they do good deeds through their churches – attest to Randian types of individualist mantra and offer what tend to be broad dismissives of the lazy entitled leeches who prey on public welfare and suck essential capital from those who can create jobs and promote substantive growth for our country. Don’t get me wrong here, I understand that one does not have to agree with everything Rand posited to find resonance with some of what she espoused. But, I do confess to being a bit confused about Rand’s seeming absolutism when it comes to her belief in the absolute evil of the state providing any type of help to the less fortunate (not to mention that, later in her life, she reportedly drew social security and Medicare, government-run benefits to which she was, of course, entitled).
For me, having not worked for government tax dollars (all of my income has been generated from private foundations, sources that Rand, no doubt, would have perceived as “poverty pimps” or worse – by the way, thank you, former state senator and Clerk of the Court Patty Noland for that terminology … “Poverty pimps” … Love that, being that it came from someone who lived off the public tax tit for years). But, anyways, I digress. As I sludge through Atlas, I keep waiting to hit that part where she, through her protagonist John Galt, says, “but OK, so here are some limited examples of the proper roles of government.” I expect to get to those parts soon but help me, my Randean friends, help point me to those pages so I don’t wait with baited breath.
So, having only progressed through the early segments of Atlas, I continue to think about this notion of where one should draw the lines? More specifically, where do we draw the lines when it comes to identifying the so-called leeches, the ne’er do wells who have for too long fed and bred off the hard work and capital generated by those Americans who create real, true value for our country? We know those ungrateful leeches when we see them, in grocery store or convenience store lines using food stamps to purchase crap. We suspect that many of them work for government bureaucracies like the Department of Education and, heaven forbid, the Department of Defense, that waste millions if not billions of our hard earned tax dollars that, Rand would argue, belong in the hands of those who will generate the fuel needed to ensure a thriving capitalist society.
Yeah, how do we draw the lines over draining that veritable swamp? Who gets axed and who does not? My guess is that we won’t worry about such details. Heck, when businesses and corporations need to downsize or reduce workforce, they let their people go, and usually use some type of criteria (costs, profit/loss, etc) to make such decisions. And, presumably, similar criteria will be used to eliminate government waste … An oxymoron of sorts for Randeans because almost by definition, just about any government hitch to public welfare is not OK.
Now, before I get accused again of being a liberal in disguise, of being a government apologist who helps to enable the welfare state, let me elucidate, briefly. I am totally in favor of shrinking government, eliminating government waste, and reducing my taxes (OK, that last one is a bit self serving but I think Ayn would understand being that she wrote a book entitled, “The Virtue of Selfishness”). But, it’s that, specifically, “where do we draw the lines thing,” that just gets messy for me.
In the past, I have joked with a good friend of mine that he and I should be the ones who are unleashed on DC to go bureaucracy by bureaucracy, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, to determine which ones should keep their government jobs. Of course, that’s absurd, not gonna happen … Shucks … Instead, I expect we will see large scale reductions in force (a very nice way of saying, you all are fired) through a variety of government bureaucracies. If some actually essential or important public personnel get caught up in the drain the swamp fishnets – yes, Ayn, I know, there is no such thing as an essential government bureaucrat! – so be it. After all, in the interest of our country and for the betterment of all, many of those bureaucrats do in fact deserve to be freed from the chains of public work and, worse, public welfare. Tis an absolute exigency to force the dependent masses to make it on their own rather than living off our hard earned tax burdens. And, if some, particularly those who may suffer from very real mental illnesses, disabilities, and others, get trapped in those fishnets and end up on the streets that we will soon learn to avoid, well too bad. And, as we slash and burn, if we end up decimating or eliminating government efforts that have helped produce things like dramatic decreases in teen pregnancy rates and abortion rates for more than 15 years, well tough luck. Yeah, that drawing the lines thing. But I guess we can ignore that by not getting distracted and by recognizing the value of being self-centered or even being selfish.
All this brings to mind the words of a good friend who, once, some time ago, uttered, “life just isn’t fair” as we debated the value of aiding and abetting the less fortunate. Fast forward to today, as I thumb through and become enthralled with the initial chapters of “Atlas Shrugged,” my friend’s words along with Ms Rand’s, resonate through every page. Loosely translated so far? We should never have been promised a rose garden, too many have been taking advantage of it, too many have come to rely on government handouts that require nothing of value in return, and the government doles have fostered a festering dependency that threatens the very core of our society. Sorry if you can’t make it on your own but the only way out of this mess is through hard work, individual ingenuity, innovation, and the unfettered ability of our businesses to generate jobs and capital. Placing increasing tax burdens on the wealthy to support health care coverage for the poor, to support public jobs and welfare, whether through direct government employment or through wasteful government contracts, all of these things reflect Rand’s greater evil.
OK, enough for now. Got so much more to read. Plus, after I am done with Atlas, there are more recent Rand works to consume, not to mention all the cool stuff on the Ayn Rand Institute website (go to https://www.aynrand.org/)..
Gosh, I wish Ayn Rand was still around to sit down with, to drink some fair trade coffee with, and to debate the lines that should or should not be drawn to help or not to help those less fortunate, even if we can show, empirically and objectively, that what we do actually benefits our society and promotes self-sufficiency. But, I could be wrong.
Quick update. An interesting article in the latest New York Magazine continues to show the Rand influence in Trump’s cabinet. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/12/how-ayn-rands-theories-destroyed-never-trump-conservatism.html
2 thoughts on “I have only just begun to shrug”
A few years ago I would have totally disagreed with this. But after spending weeks of my time and hundreds of dollars helping someone who barely lifted a finger to meet us halfway, I understand and agree in large part with this viewpoint. It sounds frigid, but it comes down to accepting that the system built to help can do catastrophic harm. Then comes the really hard question: what now?
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Ah yes, the big rub underlying it all. I am of the mind that we should do what works and set about capturing whether something works in the best ways possible, usually through some combo of qualitative and quantitative evaluation methodologies. I don’t buy the feel good mantras, those who resist critical review because they somehow intrinsically know that what they do is right or that they are acting on god’s will. Rand takes it to a whole other level by arguing that there is intrinsic evil and harm in government attempts to do good. That’s a rather broad stroke and one that we should be leery of. All that said, there is much that Rand writes that I don’t agree with but we should all read her and understand how that has affected others today.