Ayn Rand’s vision of idiocy: Understanding the real makers and takers

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2013/11/16/ayn_rands_vision_of_idiocy_understanding_the_real_makers_and_takers/

Sorry, but making a profit off something that’s useless to society is not morally superior to helping others

Saturday, Nov 16, 2013

For those who haven’t had the great misfortune of reading “Atlas Shrugged,” the book is premised on the idea that if the world’s “creative leaders,” businessmen, innovators, artists (i.e., the “makers”) went on strike, our entire society would collapse. These strikers hide out in a utopian compound in the mountains of Colorado while the rest of us despondently wail and gnash our teeth and beg for them to once again bestow their creativity upon us.

The book mirrors in many ways the more lefty “Elysium,” where to escape the environmental degradation they have wrought, the wealthiest go off to form their own society in the sky. The rest of the human population remains mired in slum-like conditions, because the only thing standing between humanity and savagery is Bill Gates. But have no fear! Rather than collectively solving our problems, humanity needs a salvific “Jesus” in the form of (who else?) Matt Damon to make us citizens of Elysium and thereby save humanity. These two, very disparate tales of woe both have common elements (what I will call the “Randian vision”): society relies on the wealthy; collective action through government is either meaningless or detrimental; and a few individuals (“great men”) should be the center of social change and innovation. But all of these assumptions are false.

The appeal of the Randian vision to today’s wealthy is obvious: it puts them back at the center of economic life. They long ago realized that rather than being the beneficent “makers” they had always imagined themselves to be, they were the parasitical “takers” they so despised. Their wealth, which was once a symbol that God praised their work, became an instrument for social change (Carnegie, Rockefeller) and eventually good in itself (Gates, Jobs). Social Darwinism, the idea that the economy is a “survival of the fittest” competition where the superior end up on top, exults the businessman as superior and deserving. But as Henry George noted of Herbert Spencer (the founder of Social Darwinism): “Mr. Spencer is like one who might insist that each should swim for himself in crossing a river, ignoring the fact that some had been artificially provided with corks and other artificially loaded with lead.” F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thorstein Veblen ridiculed the idea that the wealthy were in any way superior. Social Darwinism has resurged in conservative thought, supplementing the Randian vision to fortify a social order in which a minuscule proportion of society reaps its rewards.

Because the wealthy are no longer willing to use their wealth for good, they have decided to glorify the wealth itself as good, thus, Harry Bingswanger writes in Forbes,

Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind. (Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created.)

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2013/11/16/ayn_rands_vision_of_idiocy_understanding_the_real_makers_and_takers/

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