Sunday, April 13, 2008

The latest weapon to keep Ayn Rand out of the classroom: intimidation

Craig Biddle does an excellent job demolishing Wall Street Journal blogger Heidi N. Moore's smear in the form of a question at Principles in Practice. There Biddle writes:

On the website of the Wall Street Journal, under the heading "Capitalism Shrugged: Should Ayn Rand Be Required Reading?"-and after stating a few uncontroversial facts, several inaccuracies, and some inconsequential fluff-Heidi Moore gets to her point:

Rand has a bit of a reputation problem among those who have not drunk the Kool-Aid. . . . Deal Journal readers, we put the question to you: Should there be more Ayn Rand to instruct young, impressionable minds? Or is the problem with capitalism today too much Rand already?
Gosh, Ms. Moore, since you put it that way, how could readers of the Wall Street Journal possibly answer in the affirmative? How could self-respecting, independent thinkers bear the prospect of being regarded as Kool-Aid-drinking cultists for holding that reality, reason, self-interest, individual rights, freedom, and the like deserve the attention of college students?
Click here to read all of Biddle's post.

In reading through Moore's post myself, I thought that it was telling that she relies on Oliver Stone's Wall Street as one of her sources to describe Rand's ideas in action. She quotes the character of Gordon Gecko, Wall Street's representation of the preeminent cooperate raider as he gives a speech at the annual meeting of a company he aims to take over:

"I am not the destroyer of companies; I am a liberator of them. The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed--you mark my words--will not only save Telidar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."
Gecko's use of the word "greed' in his speech can not be equated to its use by the advocates of ethical egoism; the characterization of vicious businessman named after a reptile cannot be mistaken for a spokesman for self-interest. After all, nowhere in the real world of 1980's investment was there a real Gordon Gecko. The parallel that Stone seeks to establish in Gecko is to men such as Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, yet this parallel falls flat upon proper analyses.

Why? Because in contrast to Wall Street's portrayal of the workings of the market, the corporate raider phenomena of the 1980s was driven largely by underperforming management teams that failed to deliver the best possible use of a firm's resources. The idea that the raider loots a firm, while the existing management protects the firm's interests under a saintly cloak is absurd. A productive enterprise has value and it is the right of its owners to see that they get the most return on that value. A corporate raider simply uses his knowledge of the market to determine a company's full potential for profit and identifies new courses of action for firms that under-perform.

Yet by equating self-interest with a synonym for avarice, Wall Street communicates little more than the view that self-interest is immoral. Judging by her article, Ms. Moore thinks that any ideas Ayn Rand might have to offer in opposition is "Kool-Aid" taken in self-suicide. Perhaps Moore should examine her own ideas; after all, she attacks Ayn Rand under the masthead of a paper that is ostensibly dedicated to covering capitalists and their productive exploits in the marketplace, not smearing them.


Craig Ceely said...

Without Michael Milken, there would have been no MCI (and hence, no cell phone industry as we see it today), no CNN or Turner networks (and hence, possibly no cable TV industry as we see it today). And more.

Milken was a benefactor. Period.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a few days late to this post -- hey, I catch up on week-ends -- but I wanted to take the time to write a comment here. Truly this type of story demonstrates the fundamental importance of organizations such as Ayn Rand Institute dedicated to promoting objectivism by GETTING THE BOOKS OUT THERE. Individual professors at individual colleges will always crave this type of support even when the higher-ups in university administration balk. As with microfinance, the smaller deals with the individual fellow-travelling professors are a highly effective way to expose students to rational thinking.

An Anonymous who discovered Rand this way in both HS and University