Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

May 15, 2007

Mike Wallace Interview with Ayn Rand (1959)

Filed under: capitalism — codesmithy @ 4:58 am

I watched Mike Wallace interview Ayn Rand on youtube. For those interested, it comes in three parts: 1, 2, 3. I found the Mike Wallace interview more entertaining than the Donahue interview that I was originally looking for.

I found Mike Wallace’s incredulity when asking questions quite amusing, like it was unthinkable that anyone would have any criticisms of the American modified economy in favor of laissez-faire economic policies. Maybe it was because the depression was so fresh in everyones mind. Maybe it is because Republicans of that era, like Eisenhower, would sound like socialists today, with talk of military-industrial complexes and how paying for the military represents a theft from the poor.

I find Ayn Rand disingenuous at certain points of the interview. She doesn’t accept the premise that a precious natural resource could come under the control of a private individual disinterested in the public good. She doesn’t answer the question, she denies the premise, saying that it can’t happen. Uranium was a stark example, but certainly the robber-barons demonstrate the ability of the wealthy to consolidate their interests and form monopolies. Surprisingly, (or maybe unsurprisingly), she blames the government for the rise of the robber-barons. I would agree with her that the government is to blame for robber-barons, but what I find surprising is that she finds this relationship incidental, not essential to the rise. What I mean is that her apparent attitude is “if America did capitalism right, this wouldn’t happen” as opposed to my view, that any time you tell the government to look the other way, you are in fact endorsing a particular policy. In particular, by telling the government not to do something, it is usually enforcing the status-quo.

Government guarantees private property. I would think that Ayn Rand would agree with me, and go further to say that private property is essential function of government. But, how did the distribution of private property come about in the first place? Invariably, it is the government that doles out the initial distribution of property, and preserves or remakes the distribution. The view that once the initial distribution is set, and from that point, it is hands-off is naive to the point of cruelty. Initial distributions were not fair, and there have been grave injustices in the passing years that make it impossible to take the present as the starting point of wealth distributions and institute a “hands-off” government policy. To do so, would invariably be in favor of the presently wealthy at the expense of the presently poor. To see how Ayn Rand would react to injustice to initial distributions, I wish Mike Wallace would have asked her how Native Americans or African-Americans fit into her world view.

Mike Wallace wasn’t very good at bringing up failures of composition. He was trying to do so at certain points, but he was unable to stumble upon famous examples like the prisoner’s dilemma or the tragedy of the commons. Failures of composition is an issue any government relying on rational self interest must account for. I’m sure Ayn Rand would say that the people involved were not enlightened enough, but that is not the reality of failure of composition. Everyone has an incentive to cheat, and the cheater receives a benefit by cheating at no apparent loss. This is, until everyone starts doing it. An effective means of stopping cheating is the threat of violence, which by definition is a monopoly of the government. Unfortunately, the rich have certain benefits when it comes to those areas also (bribes, gifts, etc.). Meaning the probable scenario is that the rich can cheat and the poor can’t.

I have some sympathy for Ayn Rand’s point of view. In that, I think many points of objectivism are spot on. I just don’t agree with many of her conclusions however. Namely, everyone acting solely in their rational self-interest solves all problems, or creates a Utopian society. It would be a triumph of reductionism if it did, but I don’t think life is that simple.

As a side note, I can’t help but wonder if I would make a fabulous villain in one of her novels.

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