Monday, November 1, 2010

The Genius of Ayn Rand.

Last November I had written Today I started to write another blog and I had a sense of deja-vu. Only after typing a few sentences I went back looking for that blog. I was stunned to find that my choice of sentiments had not changed a bit. However in this blog I want to draw a contrast between Ayn Rand and George Orwell.

Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and '1984' are cult favorites of anti-communist literature. When it comes to making the case against political totalitarianism I'd any day concede that Orwell's masterful slim satire "Animal Farm' is literature at its best. Recently I was browsing Orwell's essays and was completely shocked to read his views on socialism and capitalism. The guy who was a genius is foretelling the horrors of how Stalinism is the CONSEQUENCE of communist philosophy utterly fails to see the connection between political liberty and capitalism. In an article in New Yorker by Louis Menand (Pulitzer winning author of 'Metaphysical mind')

"...Orwell had concluded long before that capitalism had failed unambiguously, and he never changed his opinion. He thought that Hitler's military success on the Continent proved once and for all the superiority of a planned economy. "It is not certain that Socialism is in all ways superior to capitalism, but it is certain that, unlike capitalism, it can solve the problems of production and consumption," he wrote. "The State simply calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them."

A Socialist England, as Orwell described it, would be a classless society with virtually no private property. The State would own everything, and would require "that nobody shall live without working." Orwell thought that perhaps fifteen acres of land, "at the very most," might be permitted, presumably to allow subsistence farming, but that there would be no ownership of land in town areas. Incomes would be equalized, so that the highest income would never be greater than ten times the lowest. Above that, the tax rate should be a hundred per cent..."

WOW. Income tax should be 100%. I am sure even Karl Marx, who never earned a penny on his own, would have some sympathy for the rich. One can imagine how Hank Rearden would react. That passage of Orwell completely flies in the face of what we think of him as author of anti-totalitarian books. Not even Keynes would agree to one word of this chicanery. Nehru would agree though, whole heartedly. In his Glimpses of World History, Nehru writes to an impressionable Indira "modern economists agree that private property is an anachronism" ( think Bank Nationalization).

The only excuse I would offer for Orwell is that living in Britain he could not help it. Menand points out that Orwell thought that the British were hypocritical to speak of liberty and freedom while oppressing India. Unlike America which forged Ayn Rand Britain had no meritocracy of a similar scale, 'making money' was anathema to the landed gentry. 

The more and more I reflect deeply on what Ayn Rand gave to capitalism I realize that here was one intellectual who made us understand what it is to "earn money". Through her character Francisco she thunders "Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?" (  She worshipped "the Dollar' and had it as insignia. "Dollar" was just a placeholder for a symbol that denoted money. 

Ayn Rand made us understand what it is to "produce", what is "profit", how capitalism is a pre-requisite for political liberty, how one without the other would degenerate into chaos. Men who choose what they buy with freedom cannot be subdued politically for long. Economic freedom circumscribed by political slavery is the chinese conundrum that has historians watching that country very curiously. Soviet Russia, from which Ayn Rand had emigrated as child, tried to control both and 'inevitably' imploded.

By the way what about Orwell's dream, everyone is entitled to his or her own utopia. A society of "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" was indeed formed by an Englishman Robert Owens (who coined the word 'socialism') in America. He wanted to try his idea in the 'New World'. It ended in sheer chaos and was, needless to say, a failure. Joshua Muravchik's masterful "Heaven on Earth" details how nations have experimented with variation of communism and how they all ended as failure without exception.

When Narasimha Rao rolled out his economic reforms the catchphrase in India was "reforms with a human face" Nobody had bothered that the socialist model, labeled 'progressive', was the cause of so much untold misery for millions over decades yet its always Capitalism that is need of a 'human face'. It is this hypocrisy that Ayn Rand tore asunder and for that she will remain our darling.

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