Furthermore, the role of the chairman of the Federal Reserve is to supervise and regulate banking institutions, protect the credit rights of consumers, and manage the nation’s money supply in order to achieve maximum employment, stabilize prices, maintain the stability of the financial system, and contain risks in financial markets. Perhaps I’m missing something, but the very notion of the Federal Reserve therefore seems anathema to Rand’s doctrine. She may have felt that the world should favor the rich, but she didn’t support the idea of the government setting up complicated machinery, like income tax deductions or allowing real estate developers to set up limited liability shell corporations to avoid financial responsibility when the project doesn’t make money, in order to help the rich out. She just wanted them to be free to make as much as they pleased.
Beyond this, Greenspan is so obviously an exceptional figure in the movement. He may have been an Objectivist with power, but most Objectivists, it seems, are people who live in dank basements and chain-smoke Merits and work at places like Office Depot. We are, for instance, introduced to a man in New York who gives walking tours of Murray Hill, “Ayn Rand’s New York.” A pleasant guy in his mid-fifties, he’s been a committed Objectivist since he was in college. A graduate of SUNY Cortland, he’s written “a rambling but intriguing self-published volume of Ayn-Rand-inspired thought” and works as a proofreader at a law firm. He meets other Objectivists regularly for meetings in coffee shops in Manhattan, where they chiefly seem to complain about Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. The Objectivist movement doesn’t seem like a path to power. It, and the Tea Party, just seem like groups of ordinary, slightly unsuccessful middle class people who don’t much like the Democratic Party in general and President Obama in particular.
Weiss writes that the reason why many businessmen and Republican politicians today question the wisdom of workplace protections, Social Security, environmental regulations, civil rights, and child labor laws “lies squarely with Ayn Rand.” Really, not National Review, or AEI, or the consolidation of business into several large conglomerates? It’s all Rand? Weiss seems to argue that Rand influenced thought-leaders, thought-leaders influenced policy, and then the rank-and-file Republicans signed on to these ideas without necessarily understanding their origins. It’s an interesting point, but you can’t trace all this back to Rand with anything near the certitude that Weiss tries to muster.
The Republican Party, for instance, is not Objectivist. Even leaving aside the religious question, it just isn’t. Newt Gingrich, for example, likes to gut and even eliminate government programs. Rand wanted to eliminate most government programs too. The two of them might even use the same terms to explain their reasoning, such as encouraging work and discouraging parasitic behaviors. But Newt Gingrich isn’t an Objectivist. In fact, he’s really, really into governmental social planning, he just doesn’t like to pay for social welfare programs. Just because a policy is conservative doesn’t mean it’s Randian. A policy idea isn’t Objectivist just because it’s callous and unrealistic. Maybe it comes from Rand, but it’s probably more likely from Friedrich Hayek (or even some interpretation of Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan).
Greed is also not Rand’s invention. Weiss writes that, while hedge funds played no significant role in the financial crisis of 2007, “the salient feature of the hedge fund pay model is that it is totally selfish. There is no real downside to making reckless bets. That me-first structure —and the financial system endangered by their recklessness—was conspicuously Randian.”
Perhaps, but Rand didn’t merely advocate selfish behavior. She didn’t just object to big government or nonprofit do-goodery, she also objected to failure, of any sort. This would include lots of people with real jobs. Working for those awesome producers, of course, would be a vast army of losers: warehouse guys who didn’t graduate from high school, women with pictures of cats on their desks, aging frat boys leaving to play golf early every Friday afternoon, and a whole lot of 4 pm cupcake parties. Rand loved capitalism, but seemed to have no interest in the sheer mindless drudgery of many, many parts of it. Is the person who answers the phone in an office a second-hander? Of course; but she’s still necessary.
Despite often being mediocre or incompetent, actual politicians and economists understand this. Even Greenspan admitted this. Rand quoted him in a 1963 piece she wrote for Cosmopolitan (really). While there was a big difference between those who produced money, and those who don’t create anything and merely redistributed it, using “social maneuvering” from other people to himself, Greenspan said that real producers probably constituted about 5 percent of Wall Street and perhaps 15 percent of industry.