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25 May, 2011

Ain't Rand

Under the heading of belated criticism: Ayn Rand is full of crap. This is not as procrastinatory as you may think, since this rant was triggered not so much by her original foolosophy as by the worship of it on the more recent Mad Men TV show. Which yeah, I saw years after it first aired, and don't appreciate nearly as much as the shills would have wanted me to.

Kinda like capitalism. And advertising. And fauxlosophy.

Yeah, faux. I don't use a lot of French, but sometimes it sounds right. And what better way to accuse someone of being fake than to deploy it in a way that signals both pretentiousness and base punniness?

Anyway, Ayn ain't Ayn. She was a nice Russian Jewish girl who changed her name. Self-loathing or just false advertising? I dunno. Websites argue over whether Rand was stolen from a typewriter bRand, but seem to agree that Ayn is a bastardization of a Finnish name. "How can I sound northern European without being too Teutonic, not Nazi Nordic?" she must've figured..."I know, Finnish!" No, it's phony Finnish, Fauxnish.

As for her alleged philosophy, constructed to make the rich feel good about themselves. I have it on good authority that there are actually people in the upper reaches of the American financial apparatus who still buy it. Greenspan was a fan. Atlas Shrugged is based on the preposterous idea that the rest of us would be in a world of hurt were wealthy industrialists to go on strike (nope, workers know how to keep production going), as if self-involved greedheads would work collectively in the first place. 

The concept that self-interest among the wealthy is good for everyone has been disproved by decades of trickle-down economics, which amounts to a severe drought for the working and the poor. Turns out that lassez-faire capitalism is not nearly as good for the vast majority of people as for the unfettered few. It is a damning irony that the wealthy individuals and corporations set free by deregulation spend so much of their time implementing the opposite of laissez faire among the rest of us: exclusive vendor contracts are prizes, captive audiences cherished, cartels and monopolies seen as success. While much has been written about the complex and creative financial instruments devised in recent decades, the brain power has come from math majors despairing of an honest job, and the patrons essentially use these tools like the ghetto thug uses a gun, to rob people who work for their money.

There is another Rand, the Rand Corporation, which is just as dubious. I had an uncle who worked there when he was not in the CIA (that's a joke, people: once you go in you are never out of the CIA). The name is another construct, a not-quite-contraction, not-quite-acronym based on "Research ANd Development," though it could just as easily be Research AND nothing; they have pioneered and exemplified the "consulting firm," a creature that privatizes the thinking functions of government, and holds zero responsibility for implementation and consequences of its clever ideas. (Was it with RAND or the CIA when my uncle supported the brilliant strategy of arming and training Bin Ladin to fight a superpower?)  

Borne from the defense industry, but now claiming much broader relevance, RAND is an enduring example of the transformation of minor governmental ineptitude and frustration with red tape into a cash flow from public coffers into private hands. Not just theirs--RAND being allegedly non-profit--but to the security firms replacing the military and the arms manufacturers who profit from endless military action (or if not action, readiness). And if the transfer of wealth from taxpayers to corporations does not yield the desired result, then RAND is at the ready to do another study; the dollars flow free of responsibility and consequences.

Ever since Reagan became spokesman in chief, advocates of laissez faire government have had their way. Even before his ascendancy, the Rands of the world justified the actions he would take, stated that what was good for the rich or for the national security apparatus was good for all Americans. We should know better by now that to believe such fakes, having transferred most of our wealth to plutocrats and frittered away large piles of public wealth on wars we fight to deal with warlords and dictators we installed and supported. Wish I could say that I believe we have learned our lesson.

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