Exploding the Ayn Rand Myth

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An excellent essay by John de Graaf, from Common Dreams. He turns the rightwing ideology about who is productive and who is deserving on its head. Why should the Wall Street hotshots who wrecked the economy be making millions of dollars a year selling their derivatives and dealing their credit default swaps, when the average American worker — including teachers, police, industrial and construction workers — have been stuck at the same earning level for 30 years? Read the whole thing at www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/26-6.


Who Is 'Productive'?

by John de Graaf

Ever since Presidential candidate Barack Obama told Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (aka "Joe the Plumber") that "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," Obama and other progressives have retreated from that position, terrified of conservative charges that criticism of growing American inequality (the top one percent of Americans earned eight percent of national income in 1980; they earned 23.5 percent in 2008) is "socialism."

But spreading the wealth around, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett clearly demonstrate in the powerful book, THE SPIRIT LEVEL, is good for everybody: nations and states where equality is greatest perform better on almost every indicator of quality of life than those where inequality is greater—even the wealthy live longer in such countries!

Of course, greater equality does require a greater level of public provision and social insurance, and therefore, some transfer of wealth from richer to poorer. Such redistribution challenges deeply-seated beliefs. There is no doubt that the conservative ideology of personal responsibility resonates deeply with many Americans and remains a fundamental ideological barrier to the expansion of our social safety net and greater economic security.

That philosophy has its intellectual roots in the writings of Ayn Rand, the embittered Russian émigré who argued that a very few creative, productive and ambitious people (symbolized by John Galt, the entrepreneur hero of her best-selling ATLAS SHRUGGED) actually make possible all the good things in life. On the other hand, most people—especially in Rand's view, paid laborers—survive only because the John Galts and other "self-made men" of the world provide work for them. Galt, Rand opines, should be praised, not taxed. If he and other jobs creators stopped working to protest their oppressive taxation, the rabble would starve.

....we have had thirty years of actually existing tax cutting, de-regulating, privatizing government policy—as USA Today points out, American taxes are at their lowest levels since 1950—and we are demonstrably less fair, less secure, less satisfied, more indebted, more stressed, more incarcerated, less healthy and less happy in comparison to people in other countries than we were when Ronald Reagan first drank Ayn Rand's Kool-Aid.

Today, conservatives attack a different "socialism," the social democracies of Western Europe and especially, the Nordic countries. But these actually existing societies, though not perfect, perform better than we do in nearly every quality of life category. Wilkinson and Pickett's data makes this clear as does even a cursory look at Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Factbook.

As progressives, we should not hesitate to state these things or to speak in moral terms. As Paul Krugman makes clear, for thirty five years from FDR to Jimmy Carter, America became more fair and more secure. For the past thirty, beginning with Reagan, fairness and security have unraveled. For that, the Randians should be apologizing, not gloating.

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