Saturday, February 25, 2012

Not EVERY Millionaire Is A Social Parasite-- But Ayn Rand Certainly Was And GOP Policy Is Predicated On Enabling Them


Perhaps you never made time to read Ayn Rand's adolescent novels glorifying greed and selfishness-- books that have had far more to do with animating modern Republicanism than anything written or stated by any Founding Fathers, outside of Alexander Hamilton, by Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt or, especially Jesus Christ. In his book, The 15 Biggest Lies About The Economy, Joshua Holland feels compelled to deal with Paul Ryan and other right-wing acolytes of Rand's primitive "philosophy."
On its face, [Paul Ryan's] Roadmap is not exactly consistent with the principle of “compassionate conservatism” espoused by George W. Bush. Yet for conservatives like Ryan, it represents the very height of morality. In order to square that circle, one has to understand the deep and lasting influence that a schlocky fiction writer named Ayn Rand has had on the conservative movement. Her best known books, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, offer moral and intellectual justification for the most regressive policies-- those that cause ordinary working families the deepest economic pain.

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” said Paul Ryan at a D.C. event honoring the author. On another occasion, he proclaimed, “Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.”

In the Randian worldview, the world is made up of a few virile, virtuous “producers” and the many “parasites” who feed off their labors. It’s the producers who create wealth and make a better world, and they do so by pursuing their own dreams of success. In Rand’s books, though, moochers and petty, visionless bureaucrats persistently bite at the ankles of her capitalist “supermen,” which has the effect-- unintended, but pernicious nonetheless-- of harming all of society. Therefore, freeing the wealthy from their obligations-- freeing the elite from their social contract with the rest of us-- is in fact the apex of morality.

It’s a philosophy that should be familiar to anyone who has heard a stump speech by a conservative true believer, listened to some right-wing talk radio on the drive home, or watched an hour of Fox News. But journalist Mark Ames dug a bit deeper into the inspirations for Rand’s “moral vision,” and the conclusion he drew was that a broad swath of the conservative movement is actually adhering to the philosophy of a sociopath.

Ames wrote, “The best way to get to the bottom of Ayn Rand’s beliefs is to take a look at how she developed [John Galt,] the superhero of her novel Atlas Shrugged.”

Ayn Rand characters William Edward Hickman & Paul Ryan have different approaches to murder

Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of a 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman... What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He
can never realize and feel ‘other people.’” This echoes almost word for word Rand’s later description of her character Howard Roark, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

Ames thinks that the United States is the only country “where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor” and attributes that in part to Rand’s popularity (according to a 2007 Zogby poll, more than 8 percent of Americans say they’ve read the book; a 1991 poll by the Library of Congress found that Atlas Shrugged was the second most influential book in the United States, after the Bible).

Ames’s conclusion is important for understanding today’s political economy. “Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Partiers dividing up the world between ‘producers’ and ‘collectivism,’” he wrote, “just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie... And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution-- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid-- and bragging about how they are slashing these programs for ‘moral’ reasons, just remember Ayn’s morality and who inspired her.”

Translated into the real world of politics and policy, the Randian Dream looks something like Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s response to her state’s fiscal crisis. In early 2010, Brewer signed a budget that eliminated the Children’s Health Insurance Program, denying health care to forty-seven thousand low-income children in Arizona. She also proposed a hike in the state sales tax-- the most regressive tax, whose burden falls disproportionately on working people. Finally, at the time of this writing Brewer was hedging on whether she’d support a series of deep tax cuts for the “supermen” who run Arizona businesses.

Way to stick it to those collectivist moochers!

This week, two of my favorite political writers, Matt Taibbi and Robert Reich, each brought the conservative obsession with the Randian worldview into focus, Taibbi in terms of the current contest to win the Republican presidential nomination and Reich in terms of how corporate-oriented Democrats like Obama and the crew around him have accepted many of the worst of the Randian premises pushed by the GOP and merely try to make them somewhat less toxic in peoples' lives. For Taibbi, the disaster the Republican nomination process has turned into goes beyond Schadenfreude.
It's as if all of the American public's bad habits and perverse obsessions are all coming back to haunt Republican voters in this race: The lack of attention span, the constant demand for instant gratification, the abject hunger for negativity, the utter lack of backbone or constancy (we change our loyalties at the drop of a hat, all it takes is a clever TV ad): these things are all major factors in the spiraling Republican disaster.

Most importantly, though, the conservative passion for divisive, partisan, bomb-tossing politics is threatening to permanently cripple the Republican party. They long ago became more about pointing fingers than about ideology, and it's finally ruining them.

Oh, sure, your average conservative will insist his belief system is based upon a passion for the free market and limited government, but that's mostly a cover story. Instead, the vast team-building exercise that has driven the broadcasts of people like Rush and Hannity and the talking heads on Fox for decades now has really been a kind of ongoing Quest for Orthodoxy, in which the team members congregate in front of the TV and the radio and share in the warm feeling of pointing the finger at people who aren't as American as they are, who lack their family values, who don’t share their All-American work ethic.

The finger-pointing game is a fun one to play, but it’s a little like drugs-- you have to keep taking bigger and bigger doses in order to get the same high.

...This is where the Republican Party is now. They’ve run out of foreign enemies to point fingers at. They’ve already maxed out the rhetoric against us orgiastic, anarchy-loving pansexual liberal terrorists. The only possible remaining explanation for their troubles is that their own leaders have failed them. There is a stranger in the house!

This current race for the presidential nomination has therefore devolved into a kind of Freudian Agatha Christie story, in which the disturbed and highly paranoid voter base by turns tests the orthodoxy of each candidate, trying to figure out which one is the spy, which one is really Barack Obama bin Laden-Marx under the candidate mask!

We expected this when Mitt Romney, a man who foolishly once created a functioning health care program in Massachusetts, was the front-runner. We knew he was going to have to defend his bona fides against the priesthood ("I’m not convinced," sneered the sideline-sitting conservative Mme. Defarge, Sarah Palin), that he would have a rough go of it at the CPAC conference, and so on.

But it’s gotten so ridiculous that even Santorum, as paranoid and hysterical a finger-pointing politician as this country has ever seen, a man who once insisted with a straight face that there is no such thing as a liberal Christian-- he’s now being put through the Electric Conservative Paranoia Acid Test, and failing!

Reich, on the other hand, is trying to figure out why Obama is adopting a Randian approach to fiscal and economic matters at a time when he should be blowing them out of the water entirely. He's not happy with Obama's latest putrid budget "compromise." Obama's proposal to lower corporate taxes from 35 to 28% (and 25% for manufacturers), while ending corporate loopholes, isn't being embraced by progressives. "Why," asks Reich, "isn’t the White House just proposing to close the loopholes without reducing overall corporate tax rates? That would generate more tax revenue that could be used for, say, public schools."
It’s not as if corporations are hurting. Quite the contrary. American companies are booking higher profits than ever. They’re sitting on $2 trillion of cash they don’t know what to do with.

And it’s not as if corporate taxes are high. In fact, corporate tax receipts as a share of profits is now at its lowest level in at least 40 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, corporate federal taxes paid last year dropped to 12.1 percent of profits earned from activities within the United States. That’s a gigantic drop from the 25.6 percent, on average, that corporations paid from 1987 to 2008.

And it’s not that corporations are paying an inordinate share of federal tax revenues. Here again, the reality is just the opposite. Corporate taxes have plummeted as a share of total federal revenues. In 1953, under President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, corporate taxes accounted for 32 percent of total federal tax revenues. Now they’re only 10 percent.

But now the federal budget deficit is ballooning, and in less than a year major cuts are scheduled to slice everything from prenatal care to Medicare. So this would seem to be the ideal time to raise corporate taxes-- or at the very least close corporate tax loopholes without lowering corporate rates.

The average American is not exactly enamored with American corporations. Polls show most of the public doesn’t trust them. (A recent national poll by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell found 71 percent with an unfavorable impression of big business-- about the same as those expressing an unfavorable view of Washington.)
The Administration’s initiative doesn’t even make sense as a bargaining maneuver.

Republicans will just accept the Administration’s lower corporate tax rate without closing any tax loopholes. House Republicans have already made it clear that, to them, closing a tax loophole is tantamount to raising taxes. And corporate lobbyists in Washington know better than anyone how to hold tight to loopholes they’ve already got.

Big business will fight to keep their foreign tax shelters. After all, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between their foreign and domestic earnings, which is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies have spent the past three years trying to make it even easier for companies to defer U.S. taxes on income they supposedly earn outside the country.

Representative David Camp, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, has already proposed a 25 percent corporate top rate and changes that would let companies avoid paying U.S. taxes on even more of the income they say they earn outside America.

Nothing is going to be enacted this year, anyway, so it would have made more sense for the Administration to support a hike in corporate taxes-- and use it to highlight the difference between the President and his likely Republican challenger.

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At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 11:45 AM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Where's the music Keni? I can't take much more of this political crap. How about a little Whitney Houston as I'm still not over this tragic loss.

I can't post this with without finishing my capation regovinf. I am a robot. Wealth is without practical limit.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny that the one main ideology founded by a woman is dismissed as adolescent and foolish. Our ideas are foolish, make sure we listen to men instead, whether it is Marx, etc

At 9:38 AM, Blogger djennaj said...

In reference to the previous comment by "Anonymous", maybe the fact that she was a woman might make it hard (for some) to accept her ideology but, really, it's that the ideology was so flawed. It is easy to see how the right wing conservatives were so taken with her "new morality", though. She wasn't a bad writer and her books were long enough to make some people feel like they had intellectual tendencies by being able to crack them. She gave the Moral Majority a pseudo intellectual basis for their "morality". Too bad more people aren't aware of the influences that played such a heavy role in the formation of her world view. Ayn Rand, sociopathic serial killer groupie, is not an epithet that would sit well with many of the ruling class who justify their bullshit on her ideas. Nicely informative!

At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Garn said...

Hi, I'm not an american, I haven't even read the book Atlas Shrugged, although I've read quite a few comments about it and recently saw a movie based on it, "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1". Oh, and as a detail that I find relevant, I'm not right-winged, in fact I've always voted on left parties.

It's easy to see the views of Ayn Rand and if we focus on them to the extreme that sociopath serial-killer behaviour is quite possible (i didn't know that info).
Being an advocate of a Marxist view, I can't deny that there is a connection, just hear me out.

Ayn Rand considers all non productive population as parasites that we should abandon to reach higher weights, but, as I see it, there is a problem with this view.
Most of the productive beings today aren't what we consider rich people, in fact most of them produce not because of the wealth they could get but because they want to contribute to the society and its development. While the rich usually take a hike with them and invest with them.
Most "producers" today are the ones less acknowledged, they do more or better not because others want them to, but because they want, they like to and they have to. It's who they are.

Today they still want to behave like this... but there is a problem, most of them do not wish to keep doing it while being choked more and more each passing day, not only them but to see their friends and relatives on poverty, so they avoid to try to fix the world or even quit altogether (similar to what happens on Ayn Rands book).
It is easy to haste a conclusion that this is a Host-Parasite relationship in which the host is overwhelmed by parasites, but just like it is among scientists, any symbiotic relationships are controversial.

It is my belief that the most accurate definition is Commensalism [while one being benefits from the interaction (Ayn Rand's "parasite"), the other is not significantly harmed or helped (Ayn Rand's "producers")].
The problem is, even if the "producers" are alive and well, all around them there is poverty.
They aren't the ones doing it.

It is curious that Ayn Rand talkes about the strike of the "producers", but the politics we're implementing are the ones responsible for those strikes.
We aren't helping "producers", we're helping wealth-parasites.

I found Ayn Rands theory amusing and entertaining but in the end flawed.

Ayn Rand has a good view and the conclusion that we should take is that any kind of extremism only promotes extremism on the other end of the spectrum.

At 4:22 PM, Blogger nadeltanz said...

This link is from NYT and goes into detail on Rand's superhero...the serial killer William Edward Hickman hung in 1928 for the kidnapping, ransoming, torturing, and murder of a 12 year old girl.


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