Friday, September 9, 2011

Ayn Rand, Obama's "Jobs Speech," and the Hot Tub Time Machine

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose..."

Join me in my hot tub time machine, as I travel back to 1974, the year of my birth, to witness Ayn Rand's original warning about last night's speech. (God, the woman was prescient; check out the shout-out to "Governer Romney," as well as "Warrior Nader" The more things change...If she had named Obama, well, that would have given her psychic powers away...) From her speech, "Egalitarianism and Inflation": 

There is only one institution that can arrogate to itself the power legally to trade by means of rubber checks: the government. And it is the only institution that can mortgage your future without your knowledge or consent: government securities (and paper money) are promissory notes on future tax receipts, i.e., on your future production.

Now project the mentality of a savage, who can grasp nothing but the concretes of the immediate moment, and who finds himself transported into the midst of a modern, industrial smattering of knowledge, but there are two concepts he will not be able to grasp: “credit” and “market.”

He observes that people get food, clothes, and all sorts of objects simply by presenting pieces of paper called checks—and he observes that skyscrapers and gigantic factories spring out of the ground at the command of very rich men, whose bookkeepers keep switching magic figures from the ledgers of one to those of another and another and another. This seems to be done faster than he can follow, so he concludes that speed is the secret of the magic power of paper—and that everyone will work and produce and prosper, so long as those checks are passed from hand to hand fast enough. If that savage breaks into print with his discovery, he will find that he has been anticipated by John Maynard Keynes.

Then the savage observes that the department stores are full of wonderful goods, but people do not seem to buy them. “Why is that?” he asks a floorwalker. “We don’t have enough of a market,” his new teacher answers, “goods are produced for people to consume, it’s the consumers that make the world go round, but we don’t have enough consumers.” “Is that so?” says the savage, his eyes flashing with fire of a new idea. Next day, he obtains a check from a big educational foundation, he hires a plane, he flies away—and comes back, a while later, bringing his entire naked, barefoot tribe along. “You don’t know how good they are at consuming,” he tells his friend, the floorwalker, “and there’s plenty more where these come from. Pretty soon you’ll get a raise in pay.” But the store, pretty soon, goes bankrupt.

The poor savage is unable to understand it to this day—because he had made sure that many, many people agreed with his idea, among them many noble tribal chiefs, such as Governor Romney, who sang incantations to “consumerism,” and warrior Nader, who fought for the consumers’ rights, and big business chieftains who recited formulas about serving the consumers, and chiefs who sat in Congress, and chiefs in the White House, and chiefs in every government in Europe, and many more professors than he could count.

Perhaps it is harder for us to understand that the mentality of that savage has been ruling Western civilization for almost a century.