30 July, 2012

Vidal skewers Rand

Gore Vidal in the July 1961 issue of Esquire Magazine:

Ayn Rand is a rhetorician who writes novels I have never been able to read. She has just published a book, For the New Intellectual, subtitled The Philosophy of Ayn Rand; it is a collection of pensées and arias from her novels and it must be read to be believed. Herewith, a few excerpts from the Rand collection.

• “It was the morality of altruism that undercut American and is now destroying her.”

• “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom…or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.”

• Then from one of her arias for heldentenor: “I am done with the monster of ‘we,’ the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.’”

• “The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself.”

• “To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”

• “The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral….”

This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the “freedom is slavery” sort. What interests me most about her is not the absurdity of her “philosophy,” but the size of her audience (in my campaign for the House she was the one writer people knew and talked about). She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the “welfare” state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.

She is fighting two battles: the first, against the idea of the State being anything more than a police force and a judiciary to restrain people from stealing each other’s money openly. She is in legitimate company here. There is a reactionary position which has many valid attractions, among them lean, sinewy, regular-guy Barry Goldwater. But it is Miss Rand’s second battle that is the moral one. She has declared war not only on Marx but on Christ. Now, although my own enthusiasm for the various systems evolved in the names of those two figures is limited, I doubt if even the most anti-Christian free-thinker would want to deny the ethical value of Christ in the Gospels. To reject that Christ is to embark on dangerous waters indeed. For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine. But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival. To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which ahs figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon “I” is difficult to contain but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action. Now the dictionary definition of “moral” is: “concerned with the distinction between right and wrong” as in “moral law, the requirements to which right action must conform.” Though Miss Rand’s grasp of logic is uncertain, she does realize that to make even a modicum of sense she must change all the terms. Both Marx and Christ agree that in this life a right action is consideration for the welfare of others. In the one case, through a state which was to wither away, in the other through the private exercise of the moral sense. Miss Rand now tells us that what we have thought was right is really wrong. The lesson should have read: One for one and none for all.

Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society.

19 April, 2012

The Fortress of Interlaced Wealth

What has developed, then, under the operation of inheritance laws handed down from the days when property ownership was far more modest to a day when vast properties have been created mainly by technology, is a huge solid fortress of interlaced wealth against which even clever new wealth-seekers, try as they will, cannot make a tiny dent. About the only way one can get in (and that way isn’t always rewarding) is by marriage. If a potential new Henry Ford produces an invention and sets out with friends to market it he generally finds
(as did Professor Edwin H. Armstrong, inventor of wide-swing radio frequency modulation, the regenerative circuit) that is boldly infringed by established companies. After he spends the better part of a lifetime in court straining to protect his rights he may win (usually he does not); but if he wins he collects only a percentage royalty. What the infringers can show they have earned through their promotional efforts they may keep, with the blessings of the courts, who are sticklers for equity: All effort must be rewarded. And then the overwrought inventor, as Professor Armstrong did in 1954, can commit suicide.

Henry Ford came up when there were only small competing companies in the field. When established companies are in the field, inventors must sell out, or suffer a fate similar to Professor Armstrong’s.

— Ferdinand Lundberg
"The Rich and the Super-Rich:
A study in the Power of Money Today"

24 February, 2012

Specious Chart

Recently this chart has been making the rounds of the internet as the "Scariest Economic Stat...Evah!" It ranks nations by per capita national debt, and we come out worst.

The reasoning behind this is utterly specious. National debt is only meaningful in relation to national income. Find below a chart showing national debt as a percentage of GDP. This shows a very different picture, with Greece's indebtedness at about twice that of ours and Spain in a surprizingly good position.