Given the historical importance of the book, and my decision to finally read it, my brief introduction to a few pages of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand turned into an all day affair. I have some very significant reservations about the author’s stated philosophical belief system, Objectivism, but that deserves its own future essay. Suffice it to say, though she gets 70% of the equation correct by supporting free market decision making and individual liberty, I think her model of human behavior is incomplete and therefore not entirely rational and realistic when carried to its logical extreme.
It does not adequately address the systematic risk of having a significant minority of a population, whether for genetic or temperamental reasons, who cannot support themselves, out of work with no source of income. Programs, such as Social Security, could very well be thought of as “French Revolution Insurance”. There is a reason those schemes were conceived and put in place by the corporate men at firms like General Electric.
[mainbodyad]It does not account for the fact that equality of opportunity is vital and that the best do not always rise to the top if one group of children is living in poverty in the slums, being beaten by their meth-addicted step-parents, and unable to attend school. Certain societal reset buttons are needed, such as an inheritance tax designed to prevent the accumulation of capital in the hands of those who did not earn it by contributing to society, as well as certain ladders are necessary, to make movement between social classes possible, with good examples in the past being the GI Bill for returning war veterans and Pell Grants for college students.
Objectivism also ignores the fact that certain expenditures are not expenditures at all; they are societal investments. I benefit enormously from a well-educated population. There is a reason that research shows the rich are primarily concerned with the quality of schools in their neighborhood when selecting a home, regardless of the property tax burden. I don’t want to live in a world of Dickens-esque street urchins who can’t read. Offering free education for all, funded through certain compulsory taxes, is good. The benefits far outweigh the cost. The free market system won’t lead to such outcomes all the time.
While Rand seems to understand that capitalism is unquestionably the best system thus far developed based on centuries of real-world results, she seems blissfully ignorant of the basic truth that it requires bumpers to keep it from veering off too far into the extreme. Her form of capitalism cannot work because it will always devolve into a genetic aristocracy as capital pools in the hands of the previous generation of “producers”. Capital buys political power. Political power changes the laws. Game over. System ended. No new opportunities for the poor. It’s historical Europe all over again.
I’m having to force myself to finish the rest of the work I had to do before tomorrow because all I want to do is go keep reading all night …