The Randian Supermen
December 28, 2011 Leave a comment
An old acquaintance has said that my remarks on Michael O’ Leary were ludicrously fawning, constituting ‘Randian worship’ of ‘übermenschen’ – the kind that states some people just don’t count. He knew me in my Objectivist period and we haven’t met much since. It was on a kibbutz trying to find myself when I first read Atlas Shrugged, and as a result I was one of those insufferable admirers constantly quoting Rand for about a year and a half afterward.
Yes, I do believe Michael O’ Leary is the greatest Irishman since the country’s independence. He has done more for the average Irish person (and indeed, people all over Europe) than any politician. Daniel O’ Connell is the only political figure I can think of who managed to lift the masses and bring them more liberty in a greater way than O’ Leary. O’ Leary and Steve Jobs could be Randian supermen.
Yet to read Atlas Shrugged now, as I have done, is a little cringe-worthy. The last few years have shown how timeless the observations made by by Adam Smith are, when way back in 1776 he wrote that “people of the same trade seldom meet together… but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public”, and some contrivance to raise prices and provide them with a monopoly through state coercion. The Irish people saw in the fall of 2008 a great government-banker conspiracy against the public, just like the conspiracy at Jekyll Island in 1913.
To be fair, some of the villains in Atlas Shrugged are businessmen of the Anglo-Irish director and bondholder variety. Overall, though, Rand portrays the captains of industry as superman; intellectual and even moral giants who are the key to productivity in a capitalist system. This is far too rosy-eyed a view, and its a mistake for libertarians to to use this kind of thing for outreach. High-minded some entrepreneurs can be, but ultimately entrepreneurship is the ability to forecast the economic future and allocate resources to meet consumer demand. A genius for making money, the desire for which is always what drives the entrepreneur, need not be fawned over as a sign of intellectual purity, as Rand bizarrely claims. The self-interested businessman will try to use the political system to crush competition, just as much as an ‘altruistic’ businessman who genuinely believes its in the public interest. Galt’s Gulch is an interesting idea, but the comparisons to businessmen fleeing to Singapore or Hong Kong some pundits have been making is not really the same thing. The captains of industry will simply never get up and leave in ideological protest, as they are in it for the money.
Sound Misesian Gary North writes:
The greatest discontinuity that we face today is the discontinuity imposed by a government-licensed central banking cartel that has lured entrepreneurs into high-risk projects. How? With false signals: low interest rates produced by fiat money rather than thrift. The threat is not that Atlas will ever shrug. It is that he will lift the earth too high, stagger, and then drop it without warning. His looming problem is not shrugging. His looming problem is a hernia, followed by a slipped disc.
As we progress towards each new year, Smith’s writings on entrepreneurs, as well as the observations on their behaviour in a fiat money system made by Mises and Hayek, will be ever more timeless. Rand’s will probably generate more chuckles.