Two lovely articles; let’s pair them, despite their slight ideological kiltering. In this eloquent screed about the shenanigans used to pass the 2017 tax bill, we have a reminder of some basics about democracy, for those of us who are being cooked slowly, like frogs, into thinking it’s always been this bad. We like to talk about recipes, fashion, or spices; anything but the heat in the kitchen.
“Democracy doesn’t strangle the golden goose of free enterprise through redistributive taxation; it fattens the goose by releasing the talent, ingenuity and effort of otherwise abused and exploited people…At a time when America’s faith in democracy is flagging, the Republicans elected to treat the United States Senate, and the citizens it represents, with all the respect college guys accord public restrooms.” I’d add that it wasn’t just abuse of democracy, but in fact a violation of sound, transparent government, no matter the governance method.
The other is a takedown of capitalism, or, rather, a takedown of the specifically consumerist version of capitalism we’ve gotten to with this Ayn Rand version of libertarianism we’re enduring. I’m not a fan of bits and pieces of the article, but people ignore anti-capitalism articles because they seem so other-worldly, when they’re often brutally clear about some of its major downsides, almost uniquely so in this society.
Reagan is mentioned in both articles, a ghost we cannot tiptoe around in these conversations. He was an on-the-record Rand fan, and was a mixed morals human, like anyone else, but more so. Though he was bright, and he hired alert, capable men, he was careless, and crudely employed a simplistic Rand-inspired “Objectivist” view. This perspective allows a great streamlining in one’s affairs when one is the most powerful person in the world (which choice gives the businessman more freedom? Well alrighty then.)
Reagan articulated libertarianism as the “heart” of capitalism. Most libertarians go tinny quickly for me, with their bang-on-a-can, half-notions of liberty; Rand’s followers are the worst that way. In the field of moral psychology, there are two primary types of freedom: the freedom to succeed, and the freedom to not be impeded unfairly from success. Guess which one encompasses all of the notion of freedom for Objectivist, and which one is either ignored or reviled as destructive.
Pairing these two notions of our imperiled democracy and the toxic prominence of a certain brand of capitalism, we arrive at our present political leadership style. This is beyond inequality and leaning into autocracy, with the typical lawlessness, legalisms, abuse of due process, and vast consolidation of unchecked power at the top. Obama expanded the Executive overrreach that has been the hallmark of American politics for six decades, but there’s no “Obama did the same thing” when it comes to building toward autocracy via the mercantile domination of modern society.
Rand ignores the rapid and inexorable tendency toward autocracy implicit in her ideal society, so controlled by the business classes. The implications of unhealthy, extreme power consolidation, regulation distortions, and election corruption risks all scream at the actors from the wings, but she stays silent. Sometimes, she skitters over inequality by lauding it in general, as a solution to all kinds of problems; she thus assumes it to be an absolute good at any level, without a discussion of the perils of gross inequality ever being required. That’s Paul Ryan, too, a proud Rand follower, implicitly denying that gross inequality is any different beast than low or high inequalities in society. In fact, gross inequality has been shown to lead to violence and instability in a variety of historical societies, in predictable ways.
Rand assumed that the charity from the ultra-rich would always be great, creating a paradise on earth eventually through “maximizing value”. It’s strictly trickle-down, for hundreds of fiction and nonfiction pages, religiously following a standard system 1 type thinking, via a common form of faulty heuristic, egged on through simplistic notions of freedom, and one very elegant idea: that selfishness in individuals creates the best overall society through the miracle of free markets. She never mentions how incredibly convenient this philosophy is for those with the skill and position of gaming the supposedly free markets, once the real game is afoot, once dominating the markets is the game. She rushes around early on to assure you that you can raise babies and still be selfish, still jump on grenades, etc.; what her philosophy really means, without her realizing it, is that 1) people who can afford it should be able to do whatever they want, as long as it’s legal, and 2) hopefully they’ll be good people, because business needs to be a strictly amoral affair. It purports to avoid a moral aspect, outside of freedom worship, while having morality written across its bones, and in the flesh of its victims. The market’s invisible hand is a fast train to extreme consolidation of power, through the neglect of the effects of selfishness to the system itself. It answers a fine question, while ignoring more important ones any cultural system should address.
Ryan and his fellows maintain this farce while claiming, against strong evidence, that they’re putting their arms around the whole science of international economics, one of the most complex (mathematically speaking) sciences we have. In philosophical terms, I see “Objectivism” as sophomoric utilitarianism, with loose bits of tripe joined to it uncertainly*, and a little Stoicism mixed in (that’s the part about how you get rich, for the better students; it’s the moral part, too.) I’d stop my dog from chewing on it, and my leaders are using it as their plan book, behind a President who will use any such permissive philosophy for his own purposes, as many powerful people do.
One point they make is perfectly valid: democracy is a shithole, a gruel of genius, stupidity, ignorance, and unworkable ideas. Their solution is to avoid it whenever possible while stringing us along, like chickens at feeding time, with promises of riches, superiority, and great freedom. My solution– ours, hopefully– should be to shield and protect democracy, to fight this monstrosity with all we’re worth. We’ll worry about what a pain democracy is once we switch out management.
* Rand hated utilitarianism, but didn’t see that she’d substituted an implied “for the greatest overall good” mandate via her own theory’s assertion of free market proxy for the same thing. Autocracy substitutes elegantly for her much-feared “tyranny of the majority” in destroying the commons, or, as she’d have it, in destroying the free markets.