Welcome to Ayn Rand Planet: Why the Rich Prosper from the Stock Market While We Get Screwed
This morning I received an email blast form Amazon. It was pushing The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, the old and new testament of the Ayn Rand nation, which includes much of the Tea Party and its Republican allies.
How appropriate to be promoting Ayn Rand books just as the stock market and corporate profits both reached record highs. How appropriate to think of the infamous John Galt withdrawing from society in comfort while the rest of us face high unemployment, oppressive student loans, increasing healthcare costs, upside-down mortgages, and declining real incomes. But, according to Rand's philosophy, this is as it should be -- the wealthy getting all the rewards while the rest of us get nothing.
None of this is accidental. Our two-tiered economic recovery is the direct result of policies, or the lack thereof, that flow directly from Randian principles. If we don't do something soon, we'll all be living on Planet Rand.
Who Owns the Stock Market?
Before exploring this Randian policy coup, let's be clear on who owns how much stock in America, and therefore who is benefiting most from the record rise in the equity markets.
As of 2010, the top 1 percent of households owned 35 percent of all the stocks in America while the bottom 80 percent of us owned only 8 percent. These percentages include both direct ownership of stock shares and indirect ownership through mutual funds, trusts, and IRAs, Keogh plans, 401(k) plans, and other retirement accounts. (See " Wealth, Income and Power" by G William Domhoff.) So the current market boom is extremely profitable for the well-to-do, especially the super-rich, which is precisely what an Ayn Rand true-believer would cherish. Why is that?
On Planet Rand, each individual pursues his or her own rational self-interest. That is the definition of morality. It excludes altruism, which is posited as a negative, guilt-driven trait that should be avoided at all costs. Yes, this sounds selfish, but that's a good thing on Planet Rand, because acting in your own rational self-interest leads to improvement, success, fulfillment and happiness. That's how you can become a "maker" instead of a spineless moocher. (When I hear all this talk about the "makers," the Yiddish word macher always comes to mind -- a word used to describe an ambitious, puffed-up schemer. )
So on Planet Rand, the stock-market boom is a wonderful thing precisely because it rests upon the recent rise in corporate profits. (The New York Times reports that corporate profits as a share of national income are at their highest levels since 1950.) Aren't those corporations run by the smart, successful CEOs who are society's "makers"? Aren't those CEOs applying Randian reason in pursuit of their self-interest? Surely, this is why these makers deserve everything they can get.
Why Are We Being Left Behind?
It's easy to see why the Randians would adore the super-rich. After all they're not alone in their idolization of the wealthy. It's seems like most of Congress adores the super-rich as well. But why do the Randians refer to everyone else as moochers? Why be so hard on the rest of us?
This becomes clearer when we look at two kinds of answers to the question of why most of us have been left out of the current economic recovery. The first set of answers comes from a straightforward analysis about how our economy works, and doesn't work:
High unemployment depresses wages of low- and middle-income wage-earners
Increases in the use of advanced technologies allow corporations to produce more with less labor, thereby keeping unemployment high