Yaron Brook asks, Is Rand Relevant?
Ayn Rand died more than a quarter of a century ago, yet her name appears regularly in discussions of our current economic turmoil. Pundits including Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli urge listeners to read her books, and her magnum opus, “Atlas Shrugged,” is selling at a faster rate today than at any time during its 51-year history.
There’s a reason. In “Atlas,” Rand tells the story of the U.S. economy crumbling under the weight of crushing government interventions and regulations. Meanwhile, blaming greed and the free market, Washington responds with more controls that only deepen the crisis. Sound familiar?
I started reading Atlas Shrugged a couple of weeks ago.
Brook’s not just promoting the Atlas Society, of which he is president and executive director. The book has instance after instance where fiction meets real life: the Preservation of Livelihood Law, the Public Stability Law, the Fair Share Law, the Equalization of Opportunity Law, and their supporting institutions, like the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources and the State Science Institute – all which lead to the disintegration of society through the undermining of private enterprise.
Or, to put it simply, being here, doing that.
Why do we accept the budget-busting costs of a welfare state? Because it implements the moral ideal of self-sacrifice to the needy. Why do so few protest the endless regulatory burdens placed on businessmen? Because businessmen are pursuing their self-interest, which we have been taught is dangerous and immoral. Why did the government go on a crusade to promote “affordable housing,” which meant forcing banks to make loans to unqualified home buyers? Because we believe people need to be homeowners, whether or not they can afford to pay for houses.
The issue is freedom:
The Constitution of the US grants us “freedoms from”, i.e., freedom from government usurpation of the individual’s civil and property rights, for instance. However, nowhere does the Constitution spell that there is a right to be a homeowner of a house the individual can not afford. By forcing banks (and, may I remind you, the Community Reinvestment Act is still law) to loan money to unqualified buyers, the government is not only promoting irresponsible behavior but taking the “freedom from” the people who are forced to subsidize a bankrupt business practice.
Because of the transfer of wealth involved. When the government creates by decree the right to affordable housing, the transfer of wealth from those who end up paying for it (and who have been responsible homeowners themselves) takes place, whether the payors want it or not, because the government has the power of coercive force.
The government in fact is forcing you to pay a bank to break a contract: The bad mortgage goes unpaid and instead of abiding by its contractual terms (expropriation, etc.) the bank gets your money. There are four basic institutions to the rule of law: private property rights, the Constitution, the law of contract, and the independent judiciary. Transferring wealth from you to deadbeat homeowners undermines each of those institutions.
Brook goes on,
Rand also noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism — and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention — and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest.
On page 271, one of Rand’s characters deplores the government of the state of Colorado, which has the least interventionist government of the 48 states:
“It’s a backward, primitive, unenlightened place. They don’t even have a modern government. It’s the worst government in any state. The laziest. It does nothing – outside of keeping law courts and a police department. It doesn’t do anything for the people. It doesn’t help anybody. I don’t see why all our best companies want to run there.”
In contrast, the states with the more interventionist policies have driven business to ruin and individuals to despair. In the novel, as in real life.
I have always believed that people have the moral duty to pursue their best interest and profit from their efforts. The societies where people are allowed to do so are the most free societies in the world.
The issue is as relevant now as it was when Rand wrote the book. I haven’t finished reading the book but I highly recommend it.
And, by the way, the love story part of the plot is also very good.
Go read it, and tell me what you think.
Prior post here.