GREED? THY NAME IS AYNIn Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 13, 2013 at 12:00 am “Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s ideas have never been more important.
“Unfettered capitalism, unregulated business, bare-bones government providing no social services, glorification of selfishness, disdain for Judeo-Christian morality—these are the tenets of Rand’s harsh philosophy.”
So reads the jacket blurb for Ayn Rand Nation: The Struggle for America’s Soul, by Gary Weiss.
“The timing of this book couldn’t be better for Americans who are trying to understand where in the hell the far-out right’s anti-worker, anti-egalitarian extremism is coming from,” asserts Jim Hightower, New York Times bestselling author of Thieves in High Places.
“Ayn Rand Nation introduces us to the godmother of such Tea Party craziness as destroying Social Security and eliminating Wall Street regulation. Weiss writes with perception and wit.”
For those who believe that Rand’s philosophy is the remedy for America’s economic and social ills, a 60 Minutes news story sounds a warning.
New England Compounding Center (NECC) pharmacy, based in Framington, Massachusetts, is under criminal investigation. The reason: Shipping, in the fall of 2012, 17,000 vials of a steroid to be injected into the joints or spines of patients suffering chronic pain.
But instead of relieving pain, this steroid–contaminated with fungal meningitis–brought only agony and death.
The vials went out to thousands of pharmacies scattered across 23 states.
Forty-eight people have died, and 720 are still fighting horrific infections caused by the drug.
Just as Ayn Rand would have wanted, the pharmacy managed to avoid supervision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
NECC was one of thousands of pharmacies that Congress exempted from FDA oversight. The reason: By law, they are allowed to make custom drugs for just one patient at a time.
But within a few years, NECC went national–and vastly expanded the quantities of drugs produced.
“The underlying factor is that the company got greedy and overextended and we got sloppy, and something happened,” John Connolly, a lab technician for the company, told 60 Minutes, the CBS news magazine.
And, also as Rand would have wanted, the four family members who founded the pharmacy were enriched by it–receiving over $16 million in wages and profits, from December 2011 through November 2012.
Bankruptcy records show the family members racked up $90,000 on corporate American Express credit cards, including charges made after the company shut down in early October.
A month before the first steroid death, Connolly says he warned his supervisor: “Something’s gonna happen, something’s gonna get missed and we’re gonna get shut down.”
His supervisor just shrugged.
NECC was shut down by the authorities. Barry Cadden, the president and lead pharmacist of the company, was subpoenaed by Congress to testify. In true gangster fashion, he pleaded the Fifth.
He claims he doesn’t know how the contamination started.
Which brings us back to Ayn Rand–and, more specifically, Ayn Rand Nation.
Among the themes explored in Weiss’ book:
- Atlas Shrugged–Rand’s 1957 novel–depicts a United States where many of society’s most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations and go on strike. The refusal evokes the imagery of what would happen if the mythological Atlas refused to continue to hold up the world. The novel continues to influence those who aren’t hard-core Rand followers, who are known as Objectivists.
- Ayn Rand’s novels dramatically affirm such bedrock American values as independence, creativity, self-reliance, and above all, a permanent distrust of government.
- In Rand’s 1936 novel, We the Living–set in Soviet Russia–her heroine, Kira Argounova, tells a Communist: “I loathe your ideals; I admire your methods.” Objectivists believe in defending capitalism with the same ruthless methods of Communists.
- In Rand’s ideal world, government would control only police, armies and law courts. To her, a government which performs more than these three functions is not simply impractical or expensive: it is evil.
(Ironically, in a way, they are right: The government can be blamed–but not for too much regulation of greed-fueled capitalists but too little.)
Weiss asserts that Tea Party members resent the social and economic realities facing the nation, but lack a coherent intellectual framework to help them focus and justify their rage. But Objectivists have–and offer–such a framework.
Thus, Tea Partiers form the ideological part of the right wing, and the clarity–and fanaticism–of their views gives them a power far out of proportion to their numbers.
Weiss believes that Rand is presenting a moral argument for laissez-faire capitalism, which means eliminating Social Security, Medicare, public road system, fire departments, parks, building codes–and, above all, any type of financial regulation.
Weiss maintains that Rand’s moral argument must be directly confronted–and defeated–with moral arguments calling for charity and rationality.
Given the fanaticism of Tea Partiers and the right-wing Republicans they support, success in countering Rand’s “I’ve-got-mine-and-the-hell-with-everybody-else” morality is by no means assured.