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The Southern State Fast Becoming Ayn Rand's Vision of Paradise

Tennessee lawmakers have elevated hatred for government and disgust for poor people to an art form.

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While the Republicans in Congress are committed to supporting the rich and crushing the poor, smug Democrats can too easily look down upon the bumbling Tennessee legislators. Tie welfare to school success? How crude. But many of these same Democrats also are totally in sync with the Wall Street hucksters who have, for a generation, siphoned off America's wealth into their bottomless pockets. In fact, both parties again are in competition for Wall Street campaign cash as if nothing much has happened. And both parties clearly are unwilling to break up the big banks, cap obscene financial incomes, or create public banks to serve the public interest.

Washington politicians and pundits from Obama on down (with very few exceptions) are enthralled by Wall Street wizardry. Making a million dollars an hour no longer seems strange or repugnant. Too big to fail, jail and regulate are just the natural order of things. In fact, more than a few public servants can't wait to race through that revolving door to get in on the big casino games. 

This should tell us that the path to social justice requires a new political movement that operates outside the two great corporate parties.

Is it too late?

I ran into a young woman who is very concerned by the enormous gap she sees between life on campus and the hardships of the low-income people. She wants to know what she can do with her life to really change things.

What can we say? I look back over a lifetime in the cause of social justice and I don't have much to show for it -- more war, more poverty, more inequality, more disinvestment in critical human infrastructure. Yes, we've made great strides on gender, sexual preference and overt racial discrimination compared to a generation ago. But how can we explain why America has the world's highest incarceration rates? Why couldn't we prevent a criminal justice system from sending 40% of young black males to prison? How, on our watch, did our relatively egalitarian country develop the most obscene wealth gap in the world? How is it possible that so many of our cities are in worse shape than a generation ago? It's almost to impossible to comprehend, and even harder to change.

But that young woman already senses that we have no choice but to try. And that requires building a movement that targets the core of the problem --- the systems that allow the economic royalists and their political minions to hijack our country.   

It's a long-term project. After all, it required almost two generations of painstaking work for the Ayn Rand right to take over the national debate. It may take just as long to recapture it. Let's hope there are enough caring young women and men who still have a sense of the common good. Altruism may have died in Galt's Gulch, but it's still alive and well in the hearts of those who share a passion for justice, even in Tennessee. 



Les Leopold is the director of the Labor Institute. His most recent book is "How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning of America's Wealth (Wiley, 2013)." His next book project will focus on why the richest country on earth is so poor.

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