Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government

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    Iris Bell

    Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government “Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government”By Yaron Brook and Don WatkinsPalgrave Macmillan, 272 pages, Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, CD Audiobook and

    Review by Joshua Shnayer. Mr. Shnayer works in compliance at a brokerage firm. He’s an aspiring writer, pursuing a career in journalism while writing novels.

    Abstract: “Free Market Revolution” presents a criticism of government controls and an explanation of their origin in the realm of morality. Defenses of the free-market will fail, regardless of how logical they are, so long as there is no moral support for the system. Advocating a philosophy of self-interest and dismissing self-sacrifice and altruism would help encourage support for liberty and improve quality of life.

    The task of defending laissez-faire capitalism seems unpopular, considering evidence like a recent Gallup poll in which 45% of Americans surveyed were favorable toward socialism. This trend won’t stop intrepid professors and idealistic citizens from supporting capitalism, but even their most sensible justifications for free-markets seem fated to go ignored. Planned economies and economic controls have led to failure throughout most of history, so why do people still tend to reject capitalism or label it merely the “least bad” of the alternatives?

    Enter Yaron Brook and Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute. In “Free Market Revolution” they argue that most defenses of capitalism miss a crucial ingredient: an appeal to morality. Specifically, the morality put forth by Ayn Rand in her famously controversial Objectivist philosophy. Rand is a tough sell with the general public; mentioning her name is enough to invoke knee-jerk reactions on either side of the political spectrum.

    The authors wisely eschew an extensive presentation of Rand’s philosophy, focusing mostly on a simplified explanation of her ethics of rational self-interest. Rand argued for the free-market on the basis that it is the only economic system which protects the pursuit of self-interest. A family does not get in line for Space Mountain in Disneyworld to stimulate the economy or help their neighbor, but rather because it is in their own interest to be happy and enrich their lives. Ditto for most goods and services offered in a free society.

    That may seem elementary to some readers, but “Free Market Revolution” is replete with examples of capitalism’s “defenders” making lame attempts at justifying the system as moral. Even Libertarian economist F.A. Hayek had some trouble, writing: “[N]othing has done so much harm to the [free market] cause as the wooden insistence…on certain rough rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez faire.”

    Contrast this with the chest-pounding “moral fury” of Karl Marx, Paul Krugman, President Obama, et al. and it becomes clear why pure capitalism isn’t widely accepted. Anti-capitalists are persuasive not because of any fact of reality (indeed, reality shows that the advent of capitalism inspired skyrocketing standards of living while all other isms lead to stagnation at best–death camps at worst), but because they appear to have the moral high ground. That leads to Brook and Watkins’ thesis: capitalism and liberty will be undermined so long as the prevailing morality opposes self-interest. If selfishness is viewed negatively while selflessness is a virtue, then it is inevitable that limited government becomes unlimited government.

    Rand’s conception of selfishness is illustrated in the contrast the authors set up between Bernie Madoff and Steve Jobs. Because selfishness means concern with one’s own rational long-term self-interest rather than mere whim-worship, Bernie Madoff was not selfish. He destroyed his life and the lives of everyone he knew, and openly admits that every moment of scheming was a “nightmare”–what selfish person would crave this lifestyle?

    Steve Jobs was often labeled with the pejorative “selfish”.  His critics chastised him for being “primarily concerned with his vision and his company’s success–not with the welfare of others.” Indeed, the technology magazine Wired–which could be expected to honor Jobs–published an editorial calling him “nothing more than a greedy capitalist who’s amassed an obscene fortune. It’s shameful.”

    Brook and Watkins see this demonization of self-interest as the source of the moral opposition to capitalism. Jobs was selfish, the authors insist, but that is a moral virtue. He made his own life better through a passion for good products, and his investors, employees, and customers also benefited. This fair exchange in which all parties to a trade prosper–Rand called it the “trader principle”–is the essence of capitalism (and ethics). But because there is no sacrifice involved in this win/win exchange, it does not generally receive moral approbation.

    Morality, as the authors define it, exists “to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” Sacrifice, on the other hand, means giving up your values for the sake of (supposedly) helping others. The problem is that “[m]ost people take it for granted that morality means self-sacrifice. They believe you can be self-interested or you can be moral, but not both”. Contrast this with the win/win that comes from free trade, and the validity of sacrifice becomes dubious.

    Most Americans don’t totally embrace sacrifice, Brook and Watkins note, and follow their self-interest in practical matters. “But our altruistic notions of morality tell us: this is not what we should be doing in life. We feel guilty[.]” Guilt prevents people from defending capitalism on matters of principle. It means giving to charity out of a sense of obligation rather than genuine concern. And it often means advocating for regulations and controls.

    But once Americans realize that self-interested behavior (so long as it is rational) is virtuous they will no longer feel a “temptation to dilute selfishness with a little sacrifice–any more than there is a temptation to dilute a glass of water with a little cyanide.” This would translate into unabashed and committed advocacy for free-markets.

    Would-be readers of Rand are often daunted by the massive number of pages in her novels, but “Free Market Revolution” is a brisk two hundred plus. The authors’ style is engaging and relevant–there are constant references to pop-culture, such as when Tom Hanks’ movie “Cast Away” is used to explain Rand’s views on epistemology and reason.  There is a tone of urgency, as though the authors are fighting a battle that will save the world. They tie economics directly to philosophy and real world examples. The research and statistics cited will not surprise anyone familiar with Rand or free-market economics, but Keynesians and Malthusians will find themselves challenged on all fronts.

    If American culture truly has become all about self-sacrifice, then maybe it’s time for an intellectual revolution. Perhaps when “selfish” is a compliment, rather than a deadly insult, we’ll have earned “an Apple economy, not a Madoff economy.”

    • This topic was modified 6 years, 8 months ago by  Iris Bell.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 8 months ago by  Iris Bell.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 8 months ago by  Iris Bell.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 8 months ago by  Iris Bell.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 8 months ago by  Iris Bell.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 8 months ago by  Iris Bell.
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