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The Left Doesn’t Need a Rand and the Right Shouldn’t Want Another Reagan

The Left Doesn’t Need a Rand and the Right Shouldn’t Want Another Reagan

Written by Jeff Madrick

I am more than a little disturbed by all these pieces coming out about why the left has no Ayn Rand as a guide or how Ronald Reagan was a “socialist” compared to Paul Ryan. One has to be more than a little careful not to elevate these two icons to acceptable status. Let’s keep Ayn Rand in perspective. She was a talented mass market novelist who wrote David and Goliath myths about a super individualist versus the behemoth society. Her philosophy was not even second rate. Ronald Reagan did not save the economy; his legacy was a crumbling foundation for growth and a rising tide of injustice. It could be seen as a positive to fail to measure up to either of them.

The right’s portrayal of Paul Ryan as a Reaganite is not that far from the truth, but the right then goes on to mythologize and entirely distort the Reagan years. Under Reagan in the 1980s, wages stopped growing, productivity grew at historically slow rates, investment was soft, and the deficit never came down to the levels promised. That deficit was an albatross around the neck of George H.W. Bush, his successor. Meanwhile, deregulation was unloosed, only to be given further impetus by the Clinton administration. The right goes so far as to attribute the productivity boom of the second half of the 1990s — that is, after the Clinton tax hike — to Reagan. How can we take such claims seriously?

Does Ryan go much farther than Reagan did in terms of changing Medicare from a guarantee to a poorly financed premium program? Sure. Would he cut other programs to almost zero? Yes. Did Reagan? No, but probably because he couldn’t politically, not because he didn’t want to. Maybe Reagan had a more generous heart than Ryan’s — he was once a lefty and never a rich kid like Ryan, and his dad worked for the New Deal. But he played the race card in California and on his way to the White House. Is there anything uglier these days than his attacks on “welfare queens” were then?

In the end, Romney and Ryan are both preaching Reagonomics: cut taxes and worry about closing the deficit sometime in the future. Neither tells us the loopholes they’d close or the other programs they’d cut to allegedly meet their deficit targets. Their aim is to reduce the size of government, as was Reagan’s and Milton Friedman’s. The deficit is a secondary consideration, for all the blather about it.

As for why the left doesn’t have an Ayn Rand, I say thank goodness it doesn’t follow a great over-simplifier like her. Her sexually charged novels focusing on an individualist hero appealed to adolescents or those who still yearned for those years. Her economics were derived from her individualism. A Russian by birth, her thinking was animated by her loathing of Soviet totalitarianism — certainly understandable. But she became an ideologue, not a disinterested intellectual. She had no serious friendships with the likes of Hayek and collaborated with few schooled economists other than Murray Rothbard, who later left her circle. She was really more a cult leader than a thinker.

The nation turned conservative in the 1970s and began reading Rand, Hayek, and Friedman again. Milton Friedman’s writings really only caught on well after he published, but he was all over the mass media in the 1970s and won a Nobel prize, which would have been unlikely had it existed when he started out. These books were very accessible as part of the right’s appeal is the simplistic nature of its economics, all captured by a demand and supply curve that economists as far back as Alfred Marshall warned against taking too seriously. Today, the entire economy is portrayed as a supply and demand curve crossing at equilibrium. But we have cause and effect mixed up here. Americans became more conservative not due to the literature, but for a complex number of reasons.

But there have been great leftist successes. J.K. Galbraith was more articulate than any of these conservative authors and wrote major best sellers. The counter-culture of the 1960s was groomed on Marcuse and others. I myself as a student wrote a summary of such writing for the curriculum of Harvard Business School. Why is there no return to these kinds of authors—to Harrington, Rachel Carson, Betty Friedan, even Eldrige Cleaver? The answer is that the nation and its press are pretty conservative and seek books that reinforce these views.

Perhaps we will get a novel out of Occupy Wall Street that will move young people. I hope so. It seems ripe with possibilities. But there are other books to be read or at least dipped into. The most recent mass phenomenon was a book by French author Stephane Hessel called Time for Outrage! in English. It reportedly sold millions of copies and helped ignite the Arab and Spanish Spring. It is a highly accessible and moving and angry work. Robert Nozick was the popular libertarian philosopher of the 1970s, but John Rawls won the day among serious thinkers. A lot of writers have written about the importance of government recently. Stiglitz has written well about inequality.

So let’s not demand another Ayn Rand, who wrote essentially low-brow literature, or another Reagan, who is now mostly a mythological figure. Let’s keep our sights higher and avoid drawing the wrong conclusions from the right’s past success.

This post was originally published by the Roosevelt Institute.

 

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2:21AM PST on Nov 25, 2012

Thank you for information

1:29PM PDT on Sep 6, 2012

Remember in November

For this election it's just like driving your car.

If you want to go forward you put the shift stick in D for drive

If you want to go backwards put it in R

It's definitely time for this country to move forward again. Right Bill?

1:24PM PDT on Sep 6, 2012

Go tell a dark-colored chair to "make [your] day," Neanderthal. Or don't you believe in evolution either? You do love colorful lies. I suppose Genesis is just up your alley.

1:23PM PDT on Sep 6, 2012

When one run's across angry little men one often wonders if their depends underwear are a size too small.

11:23AM PDT on Sep 6, 2012

I am sorry if I hurt anyones feeling by not spell checking each and every word, but people need to understand, I work for a living, I serve my community, my church and the Boy Scouts as a Scoutmaster and a District Commissioner.

Over all I get a lot done, but ma knott alwys corect my speling.

Have a nice day, enjoy watching the liar in chief speak tonight.

10:41AM PDT on Sep 6, 2012

Is Mr. Bill still here? If you must continue posting, sir, would it trouble you too much to use a dictionary or at least a spellchecker? "Tirad" "Adu" If you insist on fumbling your "facts" you could at least have the decency to use correct spelling and punctuation. Your arguments lose what little credence they may have had when you misuse the English language to support them.

And I really wanted to talk about the diverse voices of the American left! I had lots of ideas on that topic. But party-pooper Bill's monomania strikes again. You're a disgruntled and confused old man, don't you have a chair you could insult?

5:47PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Oh, was Mr. Bill talking to me? LOL, it would have been nice if he had bothered to address me specifically so that I knew that.

Here, Bill...HERE is what you are claiming to be liberal lies, an excerpt from the link I sent ya:

" The plant was effectively shut down on Dec. 23, 2008, when GM ceased production of SUVs there and laid off 1,200 workers. (Several dozen workers stayed on another four months to finish an order of small- to medium-duty trucks for Isuzu Motors.)"

In other words, they HAD to keep "several dozen workers" to fulfill a contract, but the plant was CLOSED, everyone else bidden adios. Understand now?

5:47PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Oh, was Mr. Bill talking to me? LOL, it would have been nice if he had bothered to address me specifically so that I knew that.

Here, Bill...HERE is what you are claiming to be liberal lies, an excerpt from the link I sent ya:

" The plant was effectively shut down on Dec. 23, 2008, when GM ceased production of SUVs there and laid off 1,200 workers. (Several dozen workers stayed on another four months to finish an order of small- to medium-duty trucks for Isuzu Motors.)"

In other words, they HAD to keep "several dozen workers" to fulfill a contract, but the plant was CLOSED, everyone else bidden adios. Understand now?

4:27PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Is that the same Glenn Kessler that got fact checked into embarrassment by other more worthy fact checking sites Mr. Bill? I think so. Keep us laughing Bill that's what your best at.

4:06PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

You are too funny Mr Bill. Some idiot pretending to be a VP elect claims that a man, not yet elected makes a statement about a plant, unaware of other circumstances regarding the plan, before he is elected and in office, having no control whatsoever over such events and you think this is proof of something that makes a difference? Is this all you have Mr Bill?

Is this the big truth you have to offer? It sounds like you are looking for specks of rodent fecal material in an effort to prove that mice were responsible for putting the labels on the tuna cans. Mr. Bill, I just about knocked over my glass of soda laughing so hard at this pathetic discussion.

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