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.
The hedge fund pay model may be “conspicuously Randian,” but the actual U.S. financial system doesn’t operate as some version of American Psycho writ large. It wasn’t Ayn Rand who destroyed the economy.
Rand held altruistic acts in contempt. But compassion, like greed, is a human behavior. Can anyone demonstrate that greed has increased, without allowing that charity and nonprofit do-gooder altruism has also increased? Is one more prominent than another? Is Rand really winning? Is this competition even about Rand, or is it really just about human nature?
“We need to choose,” Weiss commands—“our heritage or Ayn Rand.” He presents his book as a story about the struggle for “America’s soul,” as if the representatives of good sense and responsible governance are being torn from the halls of government by crazy protestors wondering aloud about the identity of John Galt. But in sum Weiss doesn’t really present much of a picture of that. There are a lot of people who say they love Rand’s works, but they seem to be fairly normal people, albeit solidly Republican. And one gets the sense that, if Rand had never written a word, they’d still harbor more or less the same beliefs.
And that’s because Weiss’s call to arms is histrionic; Ayn Rand is our heritage, if only a small, fringe part. Actual citizens include the ignorant, the misfits, and the radicals. They’re Americans too; get used to it.
Correction: This piece originally implied that Gary Weiss had been employed by Forbes, which is incorrect. Though Weiss has written for Forbes, he has only done so sporadically, and on a freelance basis. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.
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