Debunking Ayn Rand via "Luck" and Tax Burden Distribution


Jonathan Chait, in a somewhat interesting New Republic review of two forthcoming biographies of Ayn Rand, gets too concrete-bound in his attempts to debunk or call into serious question Randian moral judgments about government stealing from the productive. 

Chait spends a significant portion of his review talking not about Rand or her ideas or these two very interesting new books about her (Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller), but rather harping on the fact that luck, not pure talent and work, often feeds into worldly success. He also stresses statistics about total tax burden distribution to note that the highest one percent of America's income distribution pays nearly as high a percentage of their income in taxes to all levels of government as do the bottom 99 percent.

All that has little to do with what Rand had to say and why she said it. She believed that it was morally wrong to take from people their just property at the point of a gun. "Gentlemen, leave your guns outside!" was one of her summations of her political philosophy, and it stands or falls beyond any specifics about the role of luck in worldly success, or minutia about tax burden distribution.

Acting as if the latter is any blow to Rand's thought requires Chait to believe his own caricature of Rand as a defender of the rich qua rich as opposed to the real Rand, who believed that everyone deserved everything they honestly earned through uncoerced trade. And that includes the bottom 99 percent of the population's income distribution.

Chait might be aware that he isn't really jousting with Rand per se with all this material–he's explicitly arguing with the likes of Stuart Varney, Greg Mankiw, unnamed stereotypical arrogant "rich people," and Irving Kristol. But by spending so much of an essay ostensibly about Rand on these points, he's misleading his readers about what Rand thought and why.

In addition, Chait's anecdotal points in his review's lead showing certain GOP-leaning public figures are seeming to rely on quasi-Randian rhetoric don't support the belief that the American right is going through a significant Randian moment. Rand is far, far too radical a small-government libertarian for most of them to tolerate, much less emulate. 

I'll close with this Chait quote, from after he notes that both Ayn Rand and Grover Norquist have childhood memories of their parents taking from them things they thought of as theirs: "The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study." It certainly does, and will probably continue to await it for a very long time: because it's utterly irrelevant on any conceivable level when it comes to understanding or judging libertarian thought.