En kommentar til boken “How Bad Writing Destroyed the World: Ayn Rand and the Literary Origins of the Financial Crisis”

Jeg publiserte denne kommentaren på amazon.com:

The purpose of this book is to show the influence of two authors, one today unknown, the other today a bestseller, Nikolai Chernishevsky and Ayn Rand. Chernishevsky was a strong influence on the early russian socialists, who brough terror, poverty and starvation to millions of people, and Ayn Rand was, according to this book, a strong influence on the ideology that caused the financial crisis in 2008-09.

The part about Chernishevsky was interesting; I have not read him, and I did not know that Dostoevsky tries to rebut him in The Devils.

However, I am not sure that professor Wiener can be trusted; his presentation of Rand and the financial crisis is completely wrong. A few examples:

On page 2 professor Wiener writes «Chernishevsky´s system, like Rand´s, strictly forbids charity».

Here are Rand´s own words about charity (from the Ayn Rand Lexicon website): «My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue». I cannot see how Wiener intereprets this to mean that charity is forbidden.

On page 208, Wiener claims that Rand´s word for workers are «sloppy bums». Not so. It is true that Rand once uses the expression «sloppy bums» in Atlas Shrugged, but it is not about workers. Here is the quote: «… this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth – as against the sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he’s an artist who hasn’t the faintest idea what his work is or means, he’s not restrained by such crude concepts as ‘being’ or ‘meaning,’ he’s the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn’t know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit from a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel – he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard!» «Sloppy bums» are not workers, «sloppy bums» is a description of a certain kind of artists.

Professor Wiener says that Rand (or her protagonist John Galt) insults humanity when she says «Take a look around you, you savages, you … grotesque little atavists» (page 215). But this is not aimed at humanity in general, it is aimed at those who claim that «ideas are created by mens´s means of production, that a machine is not the product of human thought, but a mystical power that produces human thinking».

«Rational egoism insists that people will always seek out their selfish interest …», professor Wiener claims on page 87. Not true. Here, professor Wiener confuses rational egoism, an ethical theory, with psychological egoism, which is a theory about human nature. Also, to truly act in as a rational egoist is an achivement, not something that comes automaticly.

Wiener also, incredibly, tries to paint Dostoevsky´s muderer Raskolnikov as a rational egoist («[Dostoevsky] dissect the rational egoist motives of his fictional murderer in Crime and Punishment …», page 121). But rational egoists are people who do their best to achieve happiness through productive work. To put the killer Raskolnikov in the same category as architecht Howard Roark and entrepreneur, inventor and philosopher John Galt, is beyond silly.

There are also several other major errors about Rand in professor Wieners book, but they are easy to spot for anyone who has read Rand, and I will not comment upon them. However, professor Wieners main point about Rand´s bad influence – «it destroyed the world» according to the book´s title – is that her theories of rational egoism and laissez faire capitalism were a major cause of the financial crisis (through a policy of deregulation in the years before 2008).

This is not true. The crisis was caused by government interference in the economy. Of the innumerable regulations that were in place, I mention only three: The dollar did not have a stable value since it was not tied to a gold standard. Rand supports a gold standard. The adminstrations of presidents Clinton and Bush put pressure on banks in order to make them give loans to people who under normal circumstances would not get loans; Clinton wanted to bring homeownership to an all time high, and banks were asked to to a larger extent follow the The Community Reinvestment Act, originally from the 1970s. Pesident Bush said the following in 2002: « … we [will] use the mighty muscle of the federal government in combination with state and local governments to encourage owning your own home. That’s what that means. And it means — it means that each of us, each of us, have a responsibility in the great country to put something greater than ourselves — to promote something greater than ourselves.» Rand opposed all government interference in the economy, and she opposed the altruism that president Bush endorsed in this quote.

Also, The Fed inverted the yield curve in 2006-07 when short-term interest rates were set above long-term rates. Banks then suffer losses and are motivated to contract their extension of loans. This always leads to severe problems in the economy. Rand´s view is that The Fed shall not exist at all. (One can find more about what really casued the financial crisis in John Allisons bestselling book The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure.)

There are many words that can be used to describe professor Weiner and his treatment of Ayn Rand, but «reliable», «trustworthy», «honest» and «fair» are not among them.

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