Ayn Rand and the end of the world

Monday night’s BBC TV programme, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace“, was interesting on Ayn Rand and her connection with Alan Greenspan. This was made the platform for a discussion of how President Clinton was persuaded to reverse public spending, cut taxes and unleash the forces of the market; hinc illae lachrymae. (By the way, Rand claimed that her philosophy of selfishness was entirely her own and only Aristotle had had any influence on her; I think she may have overlooked Adam Smith’s comment in “The Wealth of Nations” that the complex economic edifice that brought us so many things was based on the self-interest of all the players involved.)

It’s funny how the right wing is so hot on reining in public debt, but entirely sanguine about the monstrously larger growth of private liabilities, particularly since 1980. The economy and the stock market have had two heart attacks in the last decade as a result, and we are supposed to believe that all will be well as long as the doctors have ready access to the defibrillator in the form of quantitative easing.

I mention the above programme because it told me one thing I hadn’t picked up on back in the Asian market collapse of 1998: the involvement of the IMF in 1997. No sooner had a large “rescue” loan to Indonesia been agreed and the banks refilled with money, than Westerners took the opportunity to withdraw their investment; leaving the country both busted and much more greatly in debt than before. (I recall that veteran market commentator Christopher Fildes observed of emerging markets that they are so named because it is difficult to emerge from them; seemingly the IMF provided a helpful smear of goosefat to assist the extraction.)

Which leads me to wonder whether QE, QE2 and its possible successor/s are not intended to save the system, but merely to delay the collapse for long enough for the elite to pull out and consolidate.

The second programme I’d like to mention here is tonight’s (26 May) BBC Culture Show broadcast (see from minute 46 on) about psychopaths. John Ronson’s new book, The Psychopath Test, estimates that about 1% of the population falls into that category – but it is a category that includes many business and political leaders.

I was asking friends early on in the first Blair government whether TB was mad, and Clarissa Dickson-Wright (who knew him from his Chambers days) has since described him as a “mimsy psychopath”. This Culture Show segment lists about 20 characteristics that help define the type and the first 8 or so sounded like nails being hammered into a plank when I thought about our dear ex-leader (and I couldn’t read quickly enough to get all the rest of the list); but the frightening thought is that the whole system is being driven by these types. Hank Paulson strikes me as another out of the same mould, though possibly without the superficial charm.

Can it really be, that the world’s elite take, with Ayn Rand, this fragmentary Greek motto?:

When I am dead let fire destroy the world;
It matters not to me, for I am safe.

(For the original, see footnote on page 201 here.)

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16 comments for “Ayn Rand and the end of the world

  1. Wolfie
    May 29, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Welcome to my world. quelle horreur !

  2. Uncle Badger
    May 29, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    I think it might be reasonable to suggest that anyone who is driven by a passionate belief that he or she knows how to run the country (or the world) better than anyone else and deserves to be ‘in charge’, has quite dangerous personality ‘issues’, which very often will suggest at least bordeline psychopathy.

    On CDR, was it she of the other half of the ‘two fat ladies’ duo who suggested the young Jack Straw wandered around the Inns of Court in a haze of smoke? I always assumed she didn’t mean Old Holborn, either.

    • May 30, 2011 at 7:22 am

      Me too…

  3. May 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Admiring “Atlas Shrugged” as I do, I must nevertheless frequently remind myself, that given Ayn Rand was of the Jewish religion, like friends of mine, she would have had trouble grasping the importance attached by Christians to the Beatitudes and the many differing concepts of the Sermon on the Mount, from which altruism (and welfarism see the interesting and similar discussion on the posting all but one below) surely flows.

    We must first produce what we later wish to consume, so the ideal portrayed in the feeding of the five thousand (accomplished apparently due to fatigue and boredom) is impractical for ordinary mankind, most of us not yet having attained the kingdom of heaven. Altruism is therefore a policy we are not yet in a position to properly implement.

    In an Old Testament reference which I am sure Ayn Rand would have fully understood, 7 lean years are fine after 7 fat, Blair and Brown overspent like crazy in the 7 fat leading up to this crisis. Thus we are even more desperate, starting not just with empty wharehouses which themselves are mortgaged to the hilt, but other enormous debts and scorched earth farmland!

    I missed the TV programme linking Ayn Rand and Greenspan, whatever connections it drew, I feel certain she would have recognised him for the arch-looter he most assuredly was.

    • Sackerson
      May 30, 2011 at 9:47 am

      The iplayer TV programme link may still work today if you wish to see it.

      I don’t think the Beatitudes and other teachings of Christ are at all inconsistent with Judaism, remember that Jesus was called a rabbi and that his followers were for a time an accepted sect of the Jewish faith. It’s the Son of God teaching that seems to have caused the decisive rift (see Acts 6 and 7).

      For those who want to deny the miracle of the loaves and fishes in a physical sense, an alternative interpretation is that it was a miracle to get people to share their food with strangers.

      I think we forget how strange our Christian/Jewish-derived communitarian principles might have seemed to some of the ancients. As Christianity and other religions become marginalised in the governance of our country, watch how those traditional social principles change.

  4. May 29, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    I mention the above programme because it told me one thing I hadn’t picked up on back in the Asian market collapse of 1998: the involvement of the IMF in 1997. No sooner had a large “rescue” loan to Indonesia been agreed and the banks refilled with money, than Westerners took the opportunity to withdraw their investment; leaving the country both busted and much more greatly in debt than before.

    There are too many coincidences of this nature and a glance at the IMF makeup shows an interesting connectivity. Interesting how real debt follows.

  5. dearieme
    May 29, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I have long assumed that Blair was bonkers, and so have many of my friends. My daughter, though, assures me that her generation largely were impressed by him. So we really are all bloody doomed.

    • Paul
      May 30, 2011 at 12:44 am

      I wasn’t. I loathed the man.

    • May 30, 2011 at 7:23 am

      Are they still impressed by him now? Of have they learned something from the experience?

  6. Voice of Reason
    May 30, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Rand and the others with similar ideas still don’t get that we all survive because of technology. That technology arose from hard science, which in many ways is the ultimate in cooperation, viz. ‘I can only see so far because I stand on the shoulders of giants’ – Newton

    • ivan
      May 30, 2011 at 10:50 am

      Even science is in decline, just look at the climate ‘science’ debacle.

      The universities are no longer producing the real scientists especially in the hard sciences. Yes, we have a load of social ‘science’, those subjects that claim to be science but are just crystal ball gazing but little or nothing that could lead to another Newton.

      • Voice of Reason
        May 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

        That’s because they are ‘hard’.

        As for climate science, the data and models that I’ve seen support the conclusions. People just choose not to believe, the same way that they choose not to believe that US oil recoverable oil is only three years of demand.

  7. DavidNcl
    May 30, 2011 at 10:22 am

    “Cooperation is the free association of men who work together by voluntary agreement, each deriving from it his own personal benefit”.

  8. May 31, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    It’s always a good idea to read Rand’s notes that she used when she wrote “Atlas Shrugged.” They give a better perspective on what she meant, versus what everyone deciphers what she meant. Also, when thinking of Adam Smith, “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” becomes a good companion.

  9. Sackerson
    June 1, 2011 at 6:59 am

    A trifle condescending, that, Rick. I was writing a more extended reply but the damn computer system here lost it. However I’d say two things here:

    1. The programme showed an extended clip from an interview with Rand and she seemed perfectly clear. That and her actions in her personal life are consistent with the philosphy that only one’s one personal projects matter and (as she said in that interview) the world ends when you die. Having seen the chicken I’m not minded to eat the egg.

    2. Have downloaded Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and begun to read him, but my object in mentioning his observation from The Wealth of Nations was not to encapsulate his philosophy but to suggest a possible defence of Rand’s, namely that in attending to your own concerns you may also benefit others. But I suspect that had this been put to Rand in the same interview she might have rejected it as diluting her essential message.

    If I and others have misunderstood Rand do please explain, don’t just point us towards the library.

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