Ayn Rand Provides Libertarians With Selfish Economic Policy Based on Fiction


In our all-celebrity/all-the-time culture, it is not uncommon for art and politics to influence each other. We’ve seen Lady Gaga in a beef carpaccio dress and taken it seriously, after all. The media positively hyperventilated over the First Lady Michelle Obama’s red formal gown for a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao, last January.

It was not always so, however. Fifty-odd years ago, (mostly male) students in elite educational institutions, who were destined for government service, would not have intersected with the world of art and literature. It was considered outré and Bohemian, and in the wake of McCarthyism, associating with “those” people might kill one’s career before it ever started.

That is why the revitalized history of what Ayn Rand called her “collective,” which included such heavyweights-to-be as Alan Greenspan and Nathaniel Branden, is worth studying. How did a middle-aged artist and novelist, who considered herself “serious” and “intellectual,” attract and (in at least one case, literally) seduce a group of straight-arrow young men; how did she influence their careers and governmental policy for decades to come?

Why have Rand’s self-aggrandizing fictional themes and selfish characters become the models for American economic domestic policy? Her group of admirers seems ultimately responsible for enshrining the cruelly punishing trope we find repeated ad nauseum: That the poor are impoverished because they want to be so.

As Rand herself wrote long ago: “I am done with the monster of ‘we;’ the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I’.”

If you read the hyperlinked article, it’s clear that a new generation of Rand admirers has begun to take their places in government and to shape policy; Tea Party Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and his fellow far-right conservatives among them. In the least varnished language, their policies are selfish. Many on PolicyMic seem to favor libertarian causes and some of the more extreme tenets of conservatism’s fiscal policies. I hope to establish Rand’s culpability for leading them astray and, instead, lead us all toward sanity.

For I have sought wisdom in the clouds – specifically, Word Clouds. I submitted a sample of 11,000 words, in random paragraphs drawn from Ayn Rand’s writings which were available on the Internet, to Wordle. The application eliminates common words: “a,” “an,” “the,” pronouns, numbers, etc. Then it counts words and makes a graphic of those most often used. The size of the word corresponds to how often it repeats in the sample.

On the theory that a random sample of writing yields clues to Rand’s subconscious through language choice, I offer the accompanying artwork (picture above) as proof of her selfish obsession with money and men (who knew?).  

A 10,000 word sample – equally randomly drawn from comments and articles authored by PolicyMic’s conservative and libertarian men from a time period long enough ago to make authorship immaterial – yields an interesting correspondence. The word “money” pops up – along with other money-related words like “currency,” “spending,” “economic,” and “tax,” The word “one” is also there. So is “government.”

Very interesting. Does this shoe fit and if so, aren’t you ashamed to wear it?

Photo Credit: Susan Kraykowski