Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ayn Rand and the New Deal

(Ayn Rand. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The New Deal protected the bank deposits of Americans, provided electric power to rural areas, created or improved thousands of parks that we still use today, modernized our infrastructure, guarded against fraud on Wall Street, gave jobs to workers who had been cast aside by big business, planted trees in areas that had been wiped out by the logging industry, provided food to malnourished children, lessened the hardships of old-age poverty, and much more.

In 1936, Ayn Rand wrote, "My feeling for the New Deal is growing colder and colder. In fact, it's growing so cold that it's coming to the boiling point of hatred" (Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 38).   

Rand's feelings were more sympathetic towards William Hickman, a man who abducted, murdered, and mutilated a 12-year-old girl in 1927. Rand was dismayed by the public's anger at Hickman: "This case is not moral indignation at a terrible crime. It is the mob's murderous desire to revenge its hurt vanity against the man who dared to be alone" (Ibid. at p. 25). 

Ayn Rand, perhaps more than any other person, is responsible for the political right's philosophy that government should not help the less fortunate. Her books have sold by the millions, have been made into movies, and Rand herself "has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right" (Ibid. at p. 4). Is it any wonder, now that they have political power all across the country, that the political right is protecting millionaires & billionaires from increased taxation while, at the same time, they are forcing K-12 schools to shut down, closing homeless shelters, cutting off financial assistance for indigent funerals, denying Medicaid coverage to low-income workers, and calling poor Americans who receive food assistance "lazy pigs" and "wild animals"?

Ultimately, of course, it's up to us to decide who will govern us and who will create the public policies that shape our culture. If we keep voting for politicians who follow the Ayn Rand vision for our nation (or if we don't vote at all), then shame on us. As scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, "I don’t blame the politicians for a damn thing because we vote for the politicians. I blame the electorate."

I blame both. And I hope that some future generation of Americans will choose the New Deal path over the "Virtue of Selfishness" path - because the latter has unsettled our nation with extreme income & wealth inequality, an enormous national debt, a world-leading prison population, stagnant wages, unrestrained usury, crushing student loan debt, regressive taxation at the state & local level, racial tension, hatred of the poor, and just about every other type of negative cultural phenomenon you can imagine.   

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