Red-Baiting vs. Rand-Baiting
The anti-Rand hysteria continues. Every day we read about the specter of Ayn Rand looming over America in the person of Paul Ryan. Michael Kinsley warns us that Ryan, the super-hero, has contempt for the common man. Bill Maxwell decries Rand's and hence Ryan's "staunch supporter of for-profit institutions" including private schools. Joseph Lazzaro suggests we look at Ryan's record to see his cruel Randian soul that's "nearly perfect in its immorality." For Stephen Marche, "Ayn Rand is really the tipoff" to Ryan's antiquated views. Spencer Critchely scoffs disapprovingly that Rand wants "genius builders" to "triumph" instead of looters (seriously, he says that!). And this is just the commentaries over a three-day period.
Paul Ryan's youthful enthusiasm for Ayn Rand continues to fuel this hysteria, even though everyone knows that Ryan, a devoted Catholic, has long since moved on. Now that it is legitimate to explore the candidates' early philosophical influences, might we not consider Obama's intellectual background? His early Marxist infatuation should be examined with respect to its influence on his present policies. If we can speculate about Rand's influence on Ryan, there is no reason why we should reframe from exploring Marx's influence on Obama.
Obama, interestingly enough, has never repudiated his Marxist heritage or distanced himself from his communist background. John C. Drew remembers Obama as a "garden variety Marxist-Leninist" when he was a student at Occidental College. It was evident from Obama's steadfast belief in the inevitability of socialist revolution and his knowledge of Marxism that he had a strong background in radical thought.
What is most significant for Drew, who was a Marxist at the time, is the absence of any "second thoughts" that naturally occur for those who move beyond their youthful enthusiasm. Ex-Marxists like Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, Irving Kristol, Frank Meyer, and other leading conservatives abandoned their radical past and wrote about the transformation, as have many liberal ex-communists. Given that Obama was basically an autobiographer before his current position, it is notable that there is an absence of "second thoughts" in his published works.
Far from shying away from the examination of Rand, we should take this opportunity to examine both Rand and Marx. Let's compare Ryan's and Obama's developmental influences. Let take this opportunity to explore, side-by-side, the ideas that formed the character of these two controversial men.
Ayn Rand is a passionate defender of the liberal order -- individual rights, free markets, and laissez-faire capitalism -- that by unleashing the human potential has given our nation the greatest prosperity in human history. Rand's defense of liberty isn't merely utilitarian, but one that is rooted in an elevated concept of human dignity. The individual has a right to own his own life, define and pursue his life-goals, and join with others to thrive together. Respect for individual liberty -- the freedom to apply reason to productive and human affairs -- is the foundation of a prosperous and just society.
Marxists elevate the collective. The individual's wealth -- indeed, his very life -- can be disposed of as the collective deems necessary. Individual human beings, by nature, are basically needy and pathetic. Having little to offer, the government must ensure that the individual is fed, housed, and assigned work. One can't be trusted to buy the right cars, eat the right food, learn the right skills, or finance a home -- at least not without the government closely monitoring your decisions, guiding your choices, and limiting your options. If it weren't for paternalistic government, according to the Marxist narrative, you'd be exploited and driven into dire poverty. It is by the grace of government that you have a shirt on your back.
These vastly divergent philosophies lead to strikingly different assessments of our nation's core values and its history. In Rand's view, "... the United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world." By contrast, Marxists see America as the epitome of capitalism's evil -- a nation that ruthlessly exploits domestic populations before resorting to imperialism to continue that policy abroad. It is a racist sexist imperialist nation in need of a thorough transformation. As Michelle Obama said in 2008, "people in this country are ready for change and hungry for a different kind of politics and ... for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country[.]"
President Obama adheres to the labor theory of value that lies at the heart of Marxist exploitation theory. It holds that business owners and the managerial class contribute nothing of value to the production process -- they are parasites on the backs of the workers. As several authors pointed out, Obama's "you didn't build that" theme exhibits his Marxist roots. Ron Ross, for example, explains Obama's debt to Marx: "If labor is 100 percent responsible for the creation of value, profit is theft. Profits are only possible if labor is exploited and only if capitalists get what's not rightfully theirs. ... Obama's speech reflects his deeply held belief that business owners do not deserve the share of income and wealth they receive." This line of thinking, according to author Robert Ringer, employs the traditional Marxist class-warfare politics of envy.
Rand holds the diametrically opposite view. The key to human creation is the mind -- the application of reason to the task of human production. Scientific, engineering, managerial, and financial knowledge makes the difference between useful activity and just spinning one's wheels. Capital formation enables investment in the productivity tools needed to value labor. People in poor developing nations work just as hard, if not harder, but without the institutions to support large-scale capitalist development, wages remain low -- for example, consider socialist India or Cuba.
Rand described how we all benefit from genius. The lion's share of the gains from productivity are captured by the vast majority of the population -- not the innovator or entrepreneur. (Romney's colleague at Bain, Edward Conard, describes the economics in his recent book, Unintended Consequences -- see Chapter Two.) In the process of executing a business plan, innovators and entrepreneurs compete for labor, bidding up wages in the process. Workers become highly valued in proportion to the capital invested. If we are to thrive, genius must be free to deploy resources as reason dictates. Steve Jobs was far from the exception.
After the recession of the early 1990s, dynamic American capitalism re-deployed labor from failed businesses to new endeavors. Unemployment returned to normal levels as the economy took off. Private equity and venture capitalists were the heroes of the American recovery. Creative destruction unleashed a productivity revolution. In contrast, most of Europe remained stagnant with double-digit unemployment for the rest of the decade.
In many European countries, it is very difficult to redeploy labor. European labor laws make it extremely hard to fire employees (in Italy it takes a court order) or change their work tasks. As a consequence, employers are hesitant to hire. In Spain there is currently 25% unemployment overall and 50% for those under 25 years old. Ironically, the harm these laws cause creates greater support for their continuance. Imagine if you didn't get your first permanent job until you were 30 years old. The prospect of getting fired and losing that job is so terrifying that you'd fight tooth and nail for the status quo. The fruits of liberty seem abstract and far from your experience. Thus, a cycle of dependence and fear is born that makes people cling to their government and socialism.
Obama policies are design to kill dynamic capitalism and inculcate economic dependency. These policies are first and foremost spiritual killers. As Obama's tax-the-rich policies reduces capital formation and limit productivity gains, people will feel they can't earn the living they once had hoped for. As government management increases the cost of health care, people lose hope in private insurance. As banks are constrained and loans made hard to obtain, hope of home ownership dwindles. As the arbitrary power of the government paralyzes businesses, people seek government support. As debt explodes, we see our children's future become bleak. So much for Obama's "hope"!
This is a pivotal election, and nothing more than a complete examination to the two vastly different worldviews can illustrate what is at stake. We shouldn't back away from examining Rand's pro-American philosophy even if one isn't in complete agreement; but we should insist on comparing it with Obama's Marxist poison. Let's go to the fundamentals, draw the logical conclusions, and seek the evidence of history. The lessons of the 20th century illustrate the stark differences between capitalism and Marxism. Who was basically right: Rand or Marx?