Those interested in finding effective ways to resist the new Republican government could do well to consider 2017 to be the year of Ayn Rand. Devotion to the religious fantasies preached by Rand is at the heart of the economic proposals of Paul Ryan and most of the economic ‘thinkers’ in the Republican Party.
Understanding what the Randist religion believes, and how it works in the real world, should provide insight into ways people can push back against the new kleptocracy, and also how to expose the hypocrisies and dishonesties that inhere in the religion, and economic policy based on the religion. Insights on how to portray the Randian religion should also provide understandings about how to expose its reality to the working and middle class who will be the inevitable victims of much of the damage such policies must cause.
First, it is necessary to understand that Ayn Rand created a religion, not a coherent economic philosophy. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, philosophy is the “study” of knowledge and reality. Religion involves belief, without study, and belief in the face of any contrary scientific, factual or logical evidence. Religion involves devotion to belief, even to the extent of rejecting any “study” that questions the belief.
Yes, there are people who engage in religious studies. This can involve memorizing religious texts, like the Torah, the Bible or the Q’uran. (Usually, people only “study” and memorize those sections of scripture which support what they already believe.) Or it can involve studying religious texts to understand historical context, inconsistencies, or parallels and disagreements between religions. True believers don’t see inconsistencies in religious texts. Rather, they “study” with the purpose of creating explanations that deny the existence of inconsistencies or contradictions within the texts to which they are devoted.
A prime example of this is the conflict between Christianity and Randism, and the way in which corporate, for-profit churches and the Republican leadership deny any conflict. Ayn Rand preached that all Christian values were evil. Not merely wrong, but destructive to the religious fantasy society she imagined. She preached that Jesus was wrong to criticize focusing one’s life on acquisition, and on gaining power over other people. She decried any thought of helping others unless there was an immediate, clear profit to be gained.
Paul Ryan is a devout worshipper of Ayn Rand. He makes all new hires to his staff read her novels, and learn to treat these illogical, melodrama stories as scriptures.
Paul Ryan is a devout worshipper of Ayn Rand. He makes all new hires to his staff read her novels, and learn to treat these illogical, melodrama stories as scriptures. Yet Ryan also campaigns as a “christian”. Certainly most of his “christianity” is a pretense offered up to satisfy voters. But he maintains that there is no conflict between believing in Ayn Rand’s Commandments to worship greed and oppress anyone necessary to acquire wealth and Jesus’ Commandments to care for the needy and abjure personal greed.
Within Ayn Rand’s religious texts lay the groundworks for shining the light of truth onto the darkness of political policies based on her religion. But for much of the Democratic establishment, Ayn Rand is an old, forgettable, and largely forgotten economic failure. She was properly discredited. But not properly forgotten, since the corporate theorists who took control of the Republican Party found in her screeds fertile ground for misleading and controlling people who had no exposure to the reality of her fantasies. While Democrats and progressives simply dismissed her as an angry kook, Republicans built her religious ideas up as models for government, and sold those images to voters eager for simple explanations of complex problems.
For many Americans, Sears Roebuck & Company was an icon of U.S. mercantile innovation and success. But in the early 2000s, Sears was taken over by hedge fund billionaire and Ayn Rand acolyte, Eddie Lampert. He immediately imposed Randist religious economics onto Sears operations. Just as immediately, Sears started slipping toward financial collapse. Now, business economists think that 2017 may be the year that Randist economic management will cause Sears to file for bankruptcy liquidation.
The process is not obscure. Following Ayn Rand’s prescriptions, Sears turned its back on customer service, ended even basic maintenance of stores, and forced store employees to compete with each other to maximize exploitation of customers. Shoppers migrated away in droves. Lampert pocketed money withheld from store upkeep and modernization, and made himself ever richer.
As the store chain collapsed, Lampert took the physical store buildings and gave them to a new REIT business. Now, the stores that had shrinking sales and missing maintenance also had to pay rent to operate in the buildings they used to own. Who collects all that rent? The Randist!
A similar process happened to once booming yuppie clothier, Lands’ End. Using Ayn Rand’s belief that customers are sheep to be fleeced at every opportunity, Lampert bought up the manufacturer of high quality, reasonably priced clothing and immediately set about reducing selection and raising prices. Predictably, since hitting a high of over $50 per share in 2015, the company has hit the skids, and now trades just above $15 per share, as customers search elsewhere for the quality and selection it used to offer.
These performances are what Ayn Rand worshipper Paul Ryan portends for the United States economy. The Randists look at Sears and Lands’ End and they don’t see any problems with the religious management. The causes of the companies’ failures are: Bad workers; Stupid customers; Evil suppliers; and of course, the ever popular Over-regulation. But they praise the huge profits Lampert has drained from the companies, to invest in other enterprises.
By putting the store properties into a separate REIT, Lampert can rent the buildings to other companies, while Sears liquidates into bankruptcy. While workers lose their jobs, health insurance, and retirement plans, the “good people” at the top will continue to prosper. To the Paul Ryans of the world, this is just good business.
This good business is what they promise for the United States. It may be that ending ObamaCare leaves 20 million people, or more, with no health care. It may be that ending Social Security and Medicare creates a massive wave of homeless seniors, without medical care. But the profits at the top guarantee that the winners (whom Ayn Randists call “producers”) will have funds to invest in China and Latin America and other emerging markets. These investments will help them continue to thrive as the U.S. slips further toward third world status.
Sears and Lands’ End just happen to be the victims of one Ayn Rand worshipper. But as the U.S. economy has prospered and grown over the past couple of years, as President Obama’s economic work has restored the U.S. economy (over the screaming resistance of the Randists in Congress), other companies have shown the results of Randist management. Staples office supplies was bought by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, and Randist management was imposed. Staples is now another candidate for a 2017 bankruptcy. And again, blame will be heaped on the workers and the customers, not on management.
At the heart of the Randist religion are the revelations of Ayn Rand. She told her believers that the cause of the worst injuries to Afro-Americans were caused by the evil behaviors of Martin Luther King, Jr. Slavery hadn’t been a problem. Jim Crow was not a problem. THE problem was Dr. King, going around telling “negroes” that they should aspire to rise above their proper, subjugated, station in life.
She also preached that the Natives whom European colonists found in the Americas were subhuman primates, who had failed to properly exploit the continents, and therefore, grabbing their lands and slaughtering them when they resisted was simply a matter of white human rights. Ayn Rand theology remains in the forefront of voter suppression efforts, and in decisions about where to route oil pipelines and how to deal with those who object to such routing.
It is not possible to separate Rand’s economic fantasies from her racist preaching. She consciously rejected all evidence of the advanced land use and animal management practiced by “Indians” and observed by the earliest colonists. She consciously rejected all the biological science on “racial differences”. She rejected those things because they conflicted with her economic, religious beliefs.
One path of resistance to the looming year of Randian governmental policies could be to renew focus on Rand’s deep, reality-denying racism, and make clear that the same racism infects every single policy proposal made by Paul Ryan, Mike Pence and the Orange Messiah.