Tuesday, September 24, 2002

AYN RAND AND ENRON: Simultaneously posted at EveTushnet.com. I saw this interesting USA Today article on the newsstand, and then found a link via the ever-helpful Agitator. I find this article interesting because it shows both Rand's admirers and her detractors creating a fantasy-Rand that isn't really in tune with what she wrote--even though the article is about a subject where Rand is relatively straightforward, her defense of capitalism.

The article is about executives turning to Atlas Shrugged in the wake of the various corporate scandals. I thought these two paragraphs were kind of amusing: "After Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and other scandals that have created a public backlash against industry and its captains, the Kansas City group [of Rand-reading execs] has fantasized of a modern-day strike of thinkers and creators, says Neal Patterson, a group member and CEO of Cerner, a big health care information technology company."

"'We are the producers of society,' says Will Koch, CEO of a development company that owns the Holiday World & Splashin' Safari theme park in Santa Claus, Ind. 'We take resources that would be idle and put people to work.'"

So... how would Atlas have read if one of the heroes ran a Splashin' Safari theme park in Santa Claus, Ind.? Providing waterpark fun is A-OK by me, but it doesn't exactly fit the Randian model of heroic production of the beautiful and noble. This gets into a larger question that I pose briefly here: What, for Objectivists, counts as "productive work"?

Also, "Atlas Shrugged fans note that they despise illegal behavior." Yeah, unless it involves blowing up a really ugly building.... (I know, wrong book.)

I agree with the general claims that the corporate scandals are overblown and wrongly pinned on "capitalism" as such (as if corruption or book-cooking in government activities is unknown!). (The Agitator also links to some interesting reports, including one suggesting that big companies do not commit most of the corporate fraud in America [dunno how that's calculated, haven't read yet] and, more notably, that fraud has not increased recently.)

This is, in my view, reading too much into Rand: "'Ayn Rand creates a perfect capitalism, which in my mind relies too heavily on individual integrity to work,' says Nicolas Boillot, president of ad agency Hart-Boillot. 'There are those who are looking for a quick buck and willing to compromise their integrity for a price. Perfect capitalism is as attractive and impossible as perfect communism. The greedy and lazy will ruin either system for the rest.'" First, unless by "communism" you mean "sharing," I don't think perfect communism is "attractive." Workers' control of the means of production, material equality as an end in itself, implementing the labor theory of value, historical determinism/materialism, all of this, IMO, sucks a lot, even without all the beatings and shootings. Second, I do think Rand's theories had the resources within them to acknowledge that yes, people commit fraud (even executives--Gale Wynand, while not a defrauder, does commit a lot of rotten deeds), and that laws need to be sharp about catching that fraud. Rand's worldview is much too sunny--but not that sunny!

This is more interesting, although later the guy falls into the same "Rand thought executives were perfect!" trap: "Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, CEO of the Leadership Institute at Yale University, said ...great American industrialists were in fact community-minded, going back to the pioneer frontiersmen who circled their wagons and built barns together. The philosophy of Atlas Shrugged does not explain successful CEOs such as Milton Hershey, who during the Depression provided employees of his chocolate company with free medical care and paid off the mortgages of every church in town, Sonnenfeld says."

There's good stuff toward the end of the article about how restraint on business creates a spontaneous quasi-"shrug" or strike of the producers, though this is often not a choice so much as a necessity--businesses that, in a freer regulatory climate, would be able to expand, can't.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?