Prospective Republican Party vice presidential nominee U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in addition to asserting that his proposed federal budget would not end Medicare as we know it by turning it into voucher system - but it would do exactly that - has spent a week asserting that his primary political and intellectual mentor is not Ayn Rand, but is some other thinker.
However, the record, to paraphrase the late, great, former New York Gov. Al Smith, indicates otherwise. Ayn Rand is the reason Ryan chose to study economics - he patterned his worldview and economic policies after her - and he also once required his congressional interns to read Rand's best-known work, published in 1957, "Atlas Shrugged." Paul Ryan, in other words, is an Ayn Rand disciple, hence it's appropriate to examine what Rand advocated, and where it might take the United States, if presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Ryan are elected in November 2012.
Ayn Rand: Laissez-faire Capitalist
In a summary, Ayn Rand advocated perhaps the U.S.'s most extreme form of conservatism in the modern era: it's an economic plan that's so extreme and cruel, most Americans would be appalled by it - it is that far from the modern/postmodern American civilization and experience - which is a mixed-capitalist system rooted in democratic values.
Rand believed individuals, the private sector, and the free market should not be restrained by the state -- save for the ability of the state to protect individual rights and to enforce contracts. Rand rejected all forms of statism and public policy acts implemented to achieve the common good. She advocated unfettered capitalism to the extreme, with society's sole guiding force being what she called the morality of rational self-interest. It's a philosophy that argues, "I got mine, now you get yours, and I don't have any social - or moral or legal - obligation to help you, or anyone else."
Does the above sound like a harsh, cruel economic and social system? That's not all of Ayn Rand's extreme views. Rand also believed that only the private sector adds value and that the public sector's civil servants and public policy professionals were "moochers" and parasites who weakened and bottle-necked the economy and society.
Rand's idealized private sector hero in "Atlas Shrugged" is inventor John Galt - the value-adder supreme who's fighting the government.
Moreover, if you had to choose only one word to summarize Rand's view of the individual, businesses/corporations, the private sector, the free market and capitalism, it would be: idealized. Billed as philosophy, Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is hardly that: it is rant, not philosophy, and many of Rand's rants are spent spewing propaganda - her idealized view of the individual and the private sector - a view that Paul Ryan has, unfortunately, adopted as his worldview / ideology.
It's unfortunate because Rand's opus rationalizes many economic and social sins / errors: chief among these are: selfishness, greed, materialism to a fault, the numbing of one's social conscience, and the denigration of civil servants, public policy professionals and the public sector.
If Rand's, and by extension, fan Ryan's policies are implemented -- businesses and multinational corporations - which already structure and dominate American life - would return the United States to something akin to Charles Dickens' England - one in which the state, save for the protection of individual rights and the enforcement of contracts, does not intervene. The determiner of economic and social conditions would be: 1) power, 2) economic power, and 3) your ability to defeat your opponent in competition. In Rand's world, there is no social safety net, nor redistribution of income and wealth. The poor, the sick, the working poor, senior citizens, veterans, the handicapped, the lesser-skilled, and all others less-fortunate in society are left to fend for themselves. And if they suffer and die, so be it, says Rand. Simply, Rand's world is Social Darwinism - a cruel, harsh, and savage environment only slightly removed from the brutality of the Roman Empire.
A corollary propaganda screed is Rand's view of civil servants, public policy professionals and the public sector. In Rand's world, civil servants are "moochers" and parasites who do not add value, do not contribute to society, and essentially gum-up the economic works. Reflect for a moment on Rand's utter, sheer nonsense regarding the public realm: public school teachers, firefighters, police officers, water safety professionals, public electric and water system operators, regulators, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Education, National Weather Service, the U.S. Census and many other essential public agencies...they're all "moochers," in Rand's interpretation.
And of course the social safety net - including the vital Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid systems - and, mostly likely, any other social program that achieves the common good - are, in Ayn Rand's interpretation, opposed because they are "theft."
Few would deny the current harshness of the U.S.'s current economic system - corporate capitalism. To be sure, the American economic system has many benefits, the chief among these being: entrepreneurship, innovation, ingenuity, dynamism, reward for work, risk taking, wealth building, a more-efficient deployment of resources, and the primacy of science-led commerce. But to deny the harshness of the American economic system - a system that's much more harsh than the European economic system - is to refuse to accept a matter of incontrovertible fact. In Rand's world, that harshness that exists is something that should exist - the state is not capable of reducing suffering and should not be permitted to do so - and if the individual / corporations / free market do not reduce suffering, so be it. Ayn Rand's worldview is the antithesis of Vatican II - there is no common good.
The recently departed author Gore Vidal perhaps best characterized Ayn Rand's worldview when he said it was, "nearly perfect in its immorality."
Rand's Formative Years - ??? ?????? ???????!!!
Given its immorality - a deeply flawed worldview that dangerously idealizes the individual and the free market even as it denigrates the civil servant and public policy - an obvious question is - why did Ayn Ryan adopt this extremely-conservative worldview?
The argument forwarded here is that the world view of Rand (born Alisa Rosenbaum in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia) was primarily a reaction to the trauma she experienced during her childhood and formative years. Her family, an upper-middle-income family led by her pharmacist / building owner father, lost everything when the property was confiscated in the name of the people by the Bolshevik Party under Vladimir Lenin during the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). Rand's family fled to Crimea, which was initially controlled by the opposition party, the White Army of the Russian Empire, which the Bolsheviks defeated, beginning the era of Communist Party rule in Russia.
In other words, from that time forward, for Rand all "statism" was tantamount to "Bolshevism" - the state was incapable of positivism, of good. What then, would guide society, if not the state, and not religion / faith, which Rand rejected? There has to be some sovereign to guide society, and if not the state or the church, then what? Enter the individual and the free market, which perhaps no one idealized and propagandized so well in the modern era in the U.S. as Rand did in "Atlas Shrugged." Essentially, for Rand "the individual / free market" supplants "the state" as economic and social sovereign.
However, 20th century capitalism, particularly U.S. corporate capitalism, a system in which the individual has broad freedom and corporations overwhelming power, is also a system filled with suffering by the poor, the sick, the working poor, senior citizens, disabled veterans, the handicapped, the lesser-skilled, and all others less-fortunate in society that are left to fend for themselves. In the U.S., President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and the mixed-capitalism that has existed since 1933, with its modest social safety net, including the 2010 U.S. health care reform act, have ameliorated some of U.S. corporate capitalism's harshness.
Ayn Rand was not only against the New Deal, she was against the very concept that one citizen is obligated to care about the economic and social condition of a fellow citizen - against the very concept of the common good, as defined by Vatican II. By extension, Social Security and Medicare can not exist in Ayn Rand's economic and social system.
Now enter Paul Ryan, who's hero is Ayn Rand.
Since Romney named him as his running mate, Paul Ryan has tried to say his worldview was not shaped by Rand, but by other economists / thinkers. Ryan is not telling the truth, because his proposed federal budget would end Medicare as we know it - turning it into a "voucher" system that would leave many senior citizens $4,000 to $8,000 short of annual health insurance premiums. Ryan's budget would also privatize substantial portions of Social Security - the partial pension system that lifts tens of millions of senior citizens out of poverty each year. Ryan's budget is straight out of Ayn Rand's playbook.
Paul Ryan's proposed federal budget takes the already harsh U.S. corporate capitalist system with its limited social safety net...and makes it even more harsh. Ryan's budget is Social Darwinism -- the survival of the fittest. His budget is cruel, uncaring, inhumane, and it does not achieve the common good.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has also said Ryan's proposed budget fails the "basic moral test."
Joseph Lazzaro, U.S. Editor, served as Managing Editor of New York-based financial news web sites WallStreetEurope.com/WallStreetItalia.com, 1999-2004, and as Economics...