Robert Reich explains why Ayn Rand’s ideas have destroyed the common good.
Donald Trump once said he identified
with ayan rands character Howard Roark
in The Fountainhead an architect so
upset that a housing project he designed
didn’t meet specifications
he had it dynamited others in Trump
Circle were influenced by Rand Atlas
Shrugged was said to be the favorite
book of Rex Tillerson Trump Secretary of
State’s Randa also had a major influence
on Mike Pompeo from CIA chief Trump’s
first nominee for Secretary of Labor
Andrew Posner said he spent much of his
free time reading Rand the Republican
leader of the House of Representatives
required his staff to read Rams I grew
up reading Iran it inspired me so much
that it’s required waiting in my office
for all my interns of my staff Uber’s
founder and former CEO Travis kalanick
has described himself as a ran follower
before he was sacked he applied many of
her ideas to obras code of values and
even used the cover art for rands book
The Fountainhead as his Twitter avatar
so who is iron Rand and why does she
matter line Rand best known for two
highly popular novels still widely read
today The Fountainhead
published in 1943 an Atlas Shrugged
in 1957 didn’t believe there was a
common good she wrote that selfishness
is a virtue an altruism an evil that
destroys nations when Rand offered these
ideas they seemed quaint
if not far-fetched anyone who lived
through the prior half-century witnessed
our interdependence through depression
and war and after the war we used our
seemingly boundless prosperity to
finance all sorts of public goods
schools and universities a national
highway system and health care for the
Aged and poor we rebuilt war-torn Europe
we sought to guarantee the civil rights
and voting rights of African Americans
we open doors of opportunity to women
of course there was a common good we
were living it
but then starting in the late 1970s
rands views gained ground she became the
intellectual godmother of modern-day
American conservatism this utter
selfishness this contempt for the public
this win at any cost mentality is it
roading American life without adherence
to a set of common notions about right
and wrong we’re living in a jungle where
only the strongest cleverest and most
unscrupulous get ahead and where
everyone must be wary in order to
survive this is not a society it’s not
even a civilization because there’s no
civility at its core it’s a disaster in
other words we have to understand who I
am Rand is so we can reject her
philosophy and dedicate ourselves to
rebuilding the common good the idea of
the common good was once widely
understood and accepted in America I
mean after all the US Constitution was
designed for We the People seeking to
promote the general welfare not for me
the selfish jerk seeking as much wealth
and power as possible yet today you find
growing evidence of its loss
- CEOs who
couch their customers loot their
corporations into fraud investors
- lawyers and accountants who look the
other way when corporate clients play
fast and loose
- who even collude with
them to skirt the law
- Wall Street
bankers who defraud customers and investors
- film producers and publicists
who choose not to see that a powerful
movie mogul they depend on is sexually
harassing and abusing young women
- politicians who take donations really
bribes from wealthy donors and corporations to enact laws their patrons
- shudder the government when they
don’t get the partisan results they seek
- president of the United States who
repeatedly lies about important issues
refuses to put his financial holdings
into a blind trust and then personally
profits off his office and Momence
racial and ethnic
conflict the common good consists of our
shared values about what we owe one
another as citizens or bound together in
the same society a concern for the
common good keeping the common good in
mind is a moral attitude it recognizes
that we’re all in it together if there
is no common good
there is no society
The Fox News host amplifies a debate the right needs to have.
The most interesting thing in conservative politics right now is not the government shutdown and Donald Trump’s flailing attempt to claim victory while being defeated on all fronts. Instead it’s an ideological battle over Tucker Carlson’s recent Fox News soliloquy, in which he accused his fellow Republicans of building an anti-family, finance-dominated economic system that might be “the enemy of a healthy society.”
Carlson’s monologue was an expansion of themes that have dominated his reinvention as a Trump-era populist — the general folly of elites, the unwisdom of the bipartisan consensus on immigration and foreign policy, the failure of Republican leaders to defend the national interest.
But in expanding on those themes he went somewhere that Fox hosts rarely go — from culture into economics, from a critique of liberal cosmopolitanism into a critique of libertarianism, from a lament for the decline of the family to an argument that this decline can be laid at the feet of consumer capitalism as well as social liberalism.
Just about every conservative worth reading was provoked into responding.
- One set of responses accused Carlson of a kind of conspiratorial socialism, which exaggerates economic misery, ignores capitalism’s fruits, and encourages ordinary people to blame shadowy elites instead of cultivating personal responsibility.
The other group basically said, no, Tucker has a point — the point being that market economies are inevitably shaped by public policy, that policies championed by both parties have failed to promote the interests of the working class, and that social conservatives especially need a framework of political economy to promote the institutions — family, work, neighborhood — upon which civil society depends.
If there is to be a healthy American right, after Donald Trump or ever, this is the argument that conservatives should be having. And it is especially an argument that Fox News should be highlighting, since Fox is frequently responsible for stoking populism but keeping it vacuous or racialized, evading the debates the right really needs.
Now let me attempt my own quick contribution. A key issue in the Carlson contretemps is distilled in this line from David French of National Review, one of the monologue’s critics: “There are wounds that public policy can’t heal.”
This is a crucial conservative insight, a caution for policymakers everywhere — but it can also become a trap, a cul-de-sac, an excuse for doing nothing. And that has happened too often for conservatives in recent decades: They’ve leaped to despair without even trying policy.
But in hindsight this was wrong, the feared inflation never came, and the economic recovery was slowed because of the Republican fixation on tight money. Of course, in the Trump era some Republicans have conveniently become dovish on inflation. But in the preceding eight years, wage-earning Americans suffered unnecessarily because of a wrongheaded right-wing counsel of despair.
A second example: While it’s true that family breakdown has deep and tangled roots, it’s also true that in the 1940s and 1950s, a mix of government policy, union strength and conservative gender norms established a “family wage” — an income level that enabled a single breadwinner to support a family.
Maybe it isn’t possible to recreate a family wage for a less unionized and more feminist age — but are we sure? Is there really nothing conservatives can do to address
- the costs of child care,
- the unfulfilled parental desire to shift to part-time work,
- the problem that a slightly more reactionary iteration of Elizabeth Warren once dubbed “the two-income trap”?
If marriages and intact families and birthrates declined as the family wage crumbled, perhaps we should try rebuilding that economic foundation before we declare the crisis of the family a wound that policy can’t heal.
A final example: Historically conservatism has been proudly paternalist, favorable to forms of censorship and prohibition for the sake of protecting precisely the private virtues that Carlson’s critics think government can’t cultivate. But in recent decades, the right’s elites have despaired of
- censoring pornography, acquiesced to the spread of
- casino gambling, made peace with the
- creeping commercialization of marijuana, and accepted the
- internet’s conquest of childhood and adolescence.
Yet none of these trends actually seem entirely beyond the influence of regulation. It’s just that conservatism has given up — once again, in unwarranted despair — on earlier assumptions about how public paternalism can encourage private virtue.
The deeper point here is that public policy is rarely a cure-all, but it can often be a corrective. And the part of Carlson’s monologue his critics should especially ponder is the end, when he suggests that absent a corrective that “protects normal families,” even the normal will eventually turn to socialism — choosing a left-wing overcorrection over a right that just says, Well, you see, we already cut corporate taxes, so there’s nothing we can do.
we talk a lot about the “post-war capital-labor accord” and the golden age of the 1940s-1970s. In these years, inequality went down, unions flourished, civil rights laws were passed along with LBJ’s Great Society programs like Medicare, etc. Corporations saw themselves as not just profit-seeking nexuses-of-contracts but also as institutions with duties to their stakeholders – employees, local community organizations, etc.
.. Then everything went to hell in the 1970s. Oil shocks, poor economic performance, large increases in foreign competition, an overheated economy created by the meeting of increased social spending and increased military spending, all combined to create massive inflation and other sorts of economic upheaval.
.. union contracts were blamed for causing inflation and big business began to push for
regulatory changes (to fight the hated EPA and OSHA, along with unions) and increased layoffs.
Institutional investors, growing rapidly in size in part *because* of the prosperity of the “golden age” (e.g. the massive pension funds like CALPERS and TIAA-CREF), began to demand discipline from corporations unused to having to listen to anyone
.. Changes in financial regulations and institutions made possible the junk bond market and, in turn, a more active market for corporate control – suddenly, large firms that were used to making acquisitions became targets.
.. by the mid-1980s, the golden age had ended along with the capital-labor accord and something new had begun – perhaps we can call it the “neoliberal era
.. This era’s hallmarks include the dramatic decline in unions, massive increases in the share of wealth going to the top 1% and .1% (cf. Piketty and Saez), massive increases in the share of profits going to finance (cf. Krippner 2005), and an overall change in the way that corporations perceived themselves.
.. No longer institutions with obligations beyond profit-seeking, corporations became (thought of as) legal fictions that served the sole purpose of maximizing shareholder value
.. The old dominant strategy of firms was to “retain and reinvest”, the new mantra was to “downsize and distribute”
.. The old model of the firm was GM – a massive, vertically integrated institution that dominated a market and did everything in-house. The new model was the “Original Equipment Manufacturer” (OEM), a firm like Nike that designs a product and markets it but outsources and off-shores as much of the actual producing, distributing, etc. The firm is now a brand, an identity demarcating a certain set of contracts, whose value is more about intangibles than men and machines.
.. Okun’s Law is an economic relationship between the magnitude of an economic downturn (in terms of real GDP) and increases in unemployment
.. if GDP (production and incomes, that is) rises or falls two percent due to the business cycle, the unemployment rate will rise or fall by one percent. The magnitude of swings in unemployment will always be half or nearly half the magnitude of swings in GDP.
.. The last downturns – 1991ish, 2001ish and the current moment – have all been characterized by “jobless recoveries” or, more broadly, much larger decreases and much smaller increases in unemployment than would be predicted by Okun’s law.
.. “businesses will tend to “hoard labor” in recessions, keeping useful workers around and on the payroll even when there is temporarily nothing for them to do”.
.. Manufacturing firms used to think that their most important asset was skilled workers. Hence they hung onto them, “hoarding labor” in recessions. And they especially did not want to let go of their prime productive asset when the recovery began. Skilled workers were the franchise. Now, by contrast, it looks as though firms think that their workers are much more disposable—that it’s their brands or their machines or their procedures and organizations that are key assets.
.. The 1980s saw a reordering of the world – a transition from a period governed by one set of rules that privileged the relationship between businesses and their employees to one that privileged (relatively speaking, in ideology anyway) shareholders.
.. What variables should we care about, if GDP seems to be connected less to welfare than it used to be?
.. the neoliberal period is marked by dramatic, mind-boggling increases in executive compensation without, as far as I know, any signs of better performance or increased shareholder value.
In certain ways sexual predation actually was the culture in the years when Weinstein came of age, in the entertainment industry and the wider society it influenced and mirrored.
.. There is a liberal tendency to regard sexual exploitation as a patriarchal constant that feminism has mitigated, and a conservative tendency to regard it as a problem that’s gotten steadily worse since the sexual revolution.
.. You can remember some of it with ’70s statistics: Never so many divorces, never so many abortions, a much higher rate of rape, an S.T.D. crisis that culminated in the AIDS epidemic.
.. something new happenedin Catholicism between 1960 and 1980: The prevalence of pedophilia stayed about the same, but suddenly the rate of priests groping and seducing and raping teenagers shot way, way up. As went Bowie and Zeppelin, so went the most putatively-conservative institution in the country.
.. The coarse worldview I’ve called “Hefnerism” endured, as the victims of Weinstein and Bill Clinton and Donald Trump can well attest.
.. They featured our civilization’s last great burst of creative energy. Those predatory directors and rape-y rock stars made great movies and memorable music.
.. peace feels like cultural exhaustion.
As Camille Paglia noted in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem didn’t waste any time discarding sexual harassment guidelines when it came to Bill Clinton’s sexual predations as president. Principle rapidly gave way to partisanship and political opportunism.
Mr. Weinstein clearly understands this calculus. In the wake of the Times report, he issued a cringe-inducing apology: “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then,” as if in the good olde days of the women’s liberation movement it was totally acceptable to ask a 20-something colleague to bathe you.
He promises “to do better” and “conquer my demons.” He misquotes Jay-Z. He says he has hired a team of therapists to “deal with the issue head on.”
But the real heart of his message was that he will be an even better progressive if given a second chance: “I’m going to need a place to channel that anger so I’ve decided I’m going to give the N.R.A. my full attention.” He’s also making a movie about Donald Trump.
And if the virtue-signaling isn’t enough, the man who has bankrolled Barbara Boxer, Charles Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand — the list goes on and on — is determined to pay out much more. “One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors” at the University of Southern California
.. And if the virtue-signaling isn’t enough, the man who has bankrolled Barbara Boxer, Charles Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand — the list goes on and on — is determined to pay out much more. “One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors” at the University of Southern California
.. what’s telling is that Ms. Bloom and his other advisers seem to believe their best chance of salvaging their damaged client is, like the Catholic Church of yore, to pay for his sins in the coin of liberal affirmation. The behavioral issues will take time.
Blair, the onetime wunderkind of British politics who led the Labour Party and the country for 10 years from 1997 to 2007 preaching a Clintonian centrism he called the “Third Way” only to see his tenure end amid recriminations over his support for Republican George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, still punches hardest when he’s hitting to his left. In our conversation, he bashed today’s liberal leaders in both countries for “solutions that look back to the ‘60s or ‘70s” and for preaching a form of feel-good “identity politics” that will flop as an answer to Trumpism.
.. “You can go for what are very good-sounding things like, we’re going to abolish tuition fees, or we’re going to give you this for free, or that for free,” he says, calling out both America’s Democrats and Britain’s Labourites. “In today’s world, and in particular, in the absence of a vigorous change-making center, that’s very attractive. But I don’t think it’s answer, and I’m not sure it would win an election. Maybe it would, but even if it did, it would worry me. Because in the end, I think a lot of these solutions aren’t really progressive. And they don’t correspond to what the problem of the modern world is.”
But it’s Blair’s comments about Trump as much as his disdain for Sanders and Corbyn that are likely to infuriate many U.S liberals.
Just a few months ago, Blair stirred outrage when he told his former communications chief Alastair Campbell in a British GQ interview that Democrats “just go mental with you” at even the suggestion of working with Trump and that the divisive U.S. president who has spoken of the mainstream press as “enemies of the people” may have a point about his “polarized and partisan” media coverage.
Blair did not back away from that in our interview, saying it’s a mistake “just to go in flat-out opposition” to Trump, that the president may well end up as a traditional Republican at least on foreign policy and arguing Trump has “actually been helpful” in the Middle East, where Blair has served as a mediator for the quartet of Western powers trying to achieve a long-elusive peace settlement.
.. When we talk, Blair claims to be unfazed by the flap, blaming the fury on “right-wing media in the U.K. that’s controlled” by a bunch of “old men who are in favor of Brexit” and choosing to ignore the fact that the left is none too happy with him either. “Nowadays,” he says, “if you step out at all into any area of public controversy, you’re going to get a bucket of something unpleasant poured over you, so you get used to that.”
.. But it’s almost impossible to overstate the extent to which Blair is excoriated across the British political spectrum these days—“his reputational currency has fallen as his bank account has swelled” over the past decade, says his old colleague Campbell, acknowledging not just Blair’s political unpopularity but the opprobrium he’s gotten for what’s perceived as buck-raking from advising autocrats from the Persian Gulf to Kazakhstan.
Even those who don’t outright condemn Blair see him as a man without a party, tilting at Brexit without being able to propose a realistic scenario by which it could be overturned, given that neither Labour nor the ruling Conservative Party is willing to officially campaign on undoing it. “Brits hate him. They really hate him,” says one American who spent the better part of two decades living in London. “His international stature, even now, masks how low is the esteem in which he is held back home.”
.. Blair has remained well regarded here, and tends to get positive notices from centrist-minded American commentators who see him as a rare liberal willing to take a moment away from Trump-bashing and Brexit-bemoaning to trash the rising populism and “riding the politics of fear,” as he put it to me, that is now increasingly seen as the only acceptable response to angry voting publics in both countries.
.. Blair acknowledges that he and others in the Clintonian middle opened the way for this challenge—they became “complacent” in power, he says, entitled “managers of the status quo”—though as with Clinton there are many critics who feel he is hardly introspective enough about his own role in the current mess.
.. Blair somewhat testily rejected the premise of my question, reminding me that he had one of modern Britain’s longest winning streaks before going on to blame much of his current plight on the political polarization of the British media. “One should never exaggerate this,” he says. “I mean, I did win three elections in the U.K.”
.. there’s no doubt that Blair’s re-emergence as among the most outspoken anti-populist leaders on either side of the Atlantic is a striking contrast to the two American presidents with whom he partnered so closely over his decade as prime minister.
The U.S. leads the free world in its helplessness
before the dissolution of its most cherished values.
Walter Lippmann worried that the promise of private wealth-creation was a weak moral basis for a national community.
For many midcentury thinkers, nihilism, a catastrophic breakdown of faith in national ideology and institutions that had occurred in Europe, was also a possibility in America.
.. The 1960s and 1970s did turn out to reveal a country sharply divided along generational, racial, religious, gender and political lines. White and black, gay and straight, men and women, religious and secular, antiwar protesters and hard-hatted patriots all faced off. For a time, the founding principles of American society — the “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — seemed like they would be unable to adjudicate between the competing, often clashing, interests.
.. It has been too easily forgotten that the calamitous failure of these “market Bolsheviks,” as the economist Joseph Stiglitz called them, helped spawn the first major demagogue of our time: Vladimir V. Putin.
.. In another self-protective move, these intellectuals have taken to blaming identity politics for Mr. Trump’s support among white male voters.
.. It could be argued that this frequently asserted and widely believed American creed of continuous and irreversible progress is what saved a diverse society not only from tragic social conflicts, but also from the mass manipulators who have periodically ruined other countries with their quack solutions. Today, however, more people seem to have seen through the constructed nature of this quasi-religious faith: It’s credible only if you believe in it.
.. They feel deceived by a class of politicians, experts, technocrats and journalists which had claimed to be in possession of the truth and offered a series of propositions that turned out to be misleading or wrong:
- the rising tide of globalization will lift all boats,
- the market is free and fair, shock therapy would bring capitalism to Russia,
- shock-and-awe therapy would deliver democracy to Iraq.
Many of the aggrieved now see the elites, who offered to expedite progress while expanding their own power and wealth, as self-serving charlatans.
.. America has accelerated its most insidious tendency: nihilism.