Ayn Rand Is for Children
Continued from previous page
Now its true: I’ve never been much of a Rand fan myself (beyond, of course, the normal momentary dalliance with “Fountainhead Shrugged” during my obligatory 11th grade descent into immature self-pity). Nonetheless, after my three-week voyage to the poorest province in China in 2009 (which you can read about here), I can say with confidence that if you have been to the non-Tom-Friedman developing world – aka the actualdeveloping world – you don’t need Saunders’ MacArthur Genius-worthy intellect to arrive at his very same conclusion.
My particular trip felt like a journey to a place much like what I imagine 19th century America had been – a place that at once confirmed the worst consequences of a real-world Galt’s Gulch (no obvious environmental, public health or workplace safety laws) and proved the idiocy of Rand’s overarching ideology (the preternaturally industrious poor in China hardly seemed like blameworthy “takers”).
I’m guessing it was the same for Saunders in Singapore, just as I’m guessing it is for Americans who deign to visit the developing world. Simply put, once you actually seelaissez faire capitalism and greed-is-good extremism at work, it doesn’t look as nice as it sounds in Rand’s works. On the contrary, as Saunders implies, it makes “Fountainhead Shrugged” look less like serious treatise than bad young adult fiction, with all the corresponding misguided parables and oversimplified conclusions.
The problem is, for various reasons – some having to do with economics, some having to do with cultural arrogance – relatively few Americans make the kind of trip Saunders made. According to government data, only 30 percent of Americans even possess a passport (which is a very low rate compared to citizens in other industrialized English-speaking countries). Additionally, of those who do, only a fraction use their travel papers to visit parts of the developing world that perfectly spotlight the failures of the Rand vision.
To be sure, a strict Objectivist would probably argue that many developing-world nations don’t represent Rand’s vision because they are ruled by corrupt governments. But that’s not really relevant because many of those places are now defined by Authoritarian Capitalism whereby political freedoms are limited, but Randian free-market extremism most certainly is not. Indeed, as some American CEOs will openly admit, if you want to see a more purely Randian version of a socially darwinist free market than exists in America, head straight across the Pacific Ocean to China.
Put all this together, and I’m officially amending my theory. To be a Rand groupie is to flaunt your immaturity, your ignorance, your desperation to justify greed or your lack of international travel. It is, in other words, to admit your blindness to how so much of the world already lives, and to ignore what America would look like if “Fountainhead Shrugged” was seen as a public policy manual rather than what it really is: a dangerous farce.