Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spin Makes the World Go Round

These past few months I have been quietly mulling over a question that might seem strange to you: What'd John Galt make of recent economic events? Of course you may not know Galt, but he is the hero in Ayn Rand's famous novel Atlast Shrugged. Rand proposes a radical theory of human nature with a lengthy treatment of what motivates us, even inspires us and, in the end makes a most passionate case for the fact that some systems of governance bring out the best in us and others the worst.

It makes for compelling reading even at its nearly thousand pages. I read it in my college days and drooled over the words. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said there is magic (sihr) in speech/words(kalam).

The reason I remembered John Galt is because it seems that everything that unbridled Capitalism stood for seems to have evaporated before our eyes in 2008. In my simple-minded understanding of the ideas in the novel, Rand suggests that government regulation is a great crime and if only we were left to our own instruments we would create the best world possible. Beginning in the 1980's American banking system has gone through waves of "banking reform," euphemism for deregulation. If 2008 was any indicator, it appears that some measure of regulation is good, even necessary. The heroes of Atlast Shrugged can also act like the looters in her novel - call it the Bernie Madoff Transformation. (Madoff was once the chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange).

While I still remain curious about what Galt would really think, I read a sort-of response to it in today's WSJ which proves how, with good spin, you can twist any story to make it sound favorable to your agenda. My thesis is that Rand's "absolute" supporters should be in retreat right now given what has transpired. To me, recent events prove that she was dead wrong in her extreme view on regulation. Yes, you can over-regulate and that is an extreme, but, you can also fall off the extreme end over on the other side through under-regulation. However, an oped in today's WSJ cites recent events and loftily proclaims: "see, Rand told us so!" Told us what?

We live in an era which could be described as: never mind the truth and details, if you say it loud enough and often enough, people will believe it. Cynics might argue we have always lived by this rule.

Israel bombs Gaza away for days on, emaciated children, too worn out to be able to stand, are found guarding bodies of their dead parents in homes where they hid to seek shelter from the bombing and the headlines proclaim "FIGHTING in Gaza continues" - Fighting? I believe the word for what's been going on there has yet to be invented.

People were dying in the shelters in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina hit and for days America's famed FEMA was nowhere to be found, and our president proclaimed: "Good job, Brownie." Dick Cheney wants us to believe he has been nothing more than a traditional vice president for the last eight years. And of course, Don Rumsfeld had nothing to do with the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. I read all this and I have three words for you: Who's John Galt?

1 comment:

JDsg said...

I was like you; I read Atlas Shrugged and a number of Rand's other books in college. However, in reading a biography of her, her extra-marital affair showed me certain critical lapses in her thinking process. (IMO, she lacked the ability to make critical assumptions about human nature and emotions, and to extrapolate future events from current actions; i.e., she didn't foresee what would happen when her younger lover left her for a woman closer to his own age. "Hell hath no fury..." really was an understatement in her case.) Likewise, I felt she lacked a moral compass (and this was something I felt long before I became a Muslim; that judgment has only intensified over the years). The financial meltdown has only highlighted, IMO, her lack of understanding about economics, regulation and greed.