Ayn Rand

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Ryan and Rand in The Detroit News


The Detroit News today reprinted an updated version of Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia's column,What Ayn Rand Got Wrong, in the wake of a flurry of attacks on Ryan's association with Rand. Notes Dalmia:

Paul Ryan must be ruing the day he declared his admiration for Ayn Rand and credited her passionate moral defense of capitalism as the reason he got into "public service." No sooner did Mitt Romney pick him as his running mate last week than both detractors and devotees of Rand began attacking Ryan.

Detractors claim that Ryan's avowed affinity with Rand proves that he is a wild-eyed radical in moderate's clothing who will dismantle their beloved entitlement state piece by piece — even if that means throwing grandma off a cliff to prevent her from using Medicare. But this is a pretty idiotic accusation to lob against someone who voted for the biggest Medicare expansion in history — prescription drug benefits for seniors.

The criticism coming from Rand's devotees is more to the point. They argue that the whole notion of public service is antithetical to Rand's philosophy of enlightened selfishness. Moreover, Ryan's decision to abandon his principles and vote in favor of Big Government programs such as senior prescription drug benefits, No Child Left Behind and TARP just to be a team player make him more like a Randian villain than a hero.

Ryan certainly needs to square his past voting record with his new-fangled concern for out-of-control government spending. But failing the Rand purity test does not a villain make. The problem is with the test itself — or as Rand would say, her "premises" — which are fundamentally flawed.

Read the whole thing here.


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  1. But don’t they have actual film of him pushing gram’s chair off a cliff?

  2. It is difficult to imagine a Randian volunteering in a soup kitchen to feed the hungry

    Here’s the problem (let’s call it the Hank Rearden problem):

    Let’s say you decided that selfishness was bad and you wanted to help people, too. Maybe you decided Shikha was right and you had some money lying around and you wanted to use it to “do good” and help people.

    Shouldn’t you start by helping the most deserving people? And then move on, helping steadily less deserving people, until you finally get to the end of the line?

    That stands to reason, right?

    But here’s the thing: the most deserving people are people who (as Hank Rearden put it) deserve work, but don’t have it. So if you’ve got money lying around not being put to use, wouldn’t the most morally sound way of putting it to work helping people be to do something to give those deserving, work-needing people a job?

    Hmmmm, hmmmm…what can I do with my money so that people who deserve a job can get one…hmmmm…Maybe I can start a profitable business that employs people! Hey, good idea!

    Oops. I just erased the distinction between selfish and selfless behavior again. My bad.

  3. BTW, here’s the real reason a lot of people who like Rand when they are young turn against Rand as they get old:

    A lot of those people end up studying poli sci (and then the law) or economics.

    And then they go out into the world and get jobs doing legal work for corporations, or government relations for corporations, or business development work for corporations, most of which these days involves abasing yourself before the regulatory state.

    If they want to continue to admire Rand’s work, they then have to regard themselves as whores.

    Most people don’t want to do that. So they say, “Rand was so simplistic. Life is so much more complex than that. It’s not all so black and white.

    Me, I’m reconciled to the idea that modern life requires us all to be whores, so it doesn’t bug me as much. But other people just have to play their little games.

  4. I don’t follow the argument that: If you do something that I construe as ‘self-less’ then you cannot therefore be rationally selfish. It seems Mrs. Dalmia may have a contextual problem. If helping others is how you contextually measure your self worth then why should you not seek to aid anyone you choose?

    I cannot see all ends, therefore perhaps I make an ill informed decision on whom to help that in turn ends badly. Should I then be labeled as an altruistic exponent of moral majority?

  5. What we definitely need is a libertarian going out in public and bashing libertarians…especially in the signature ham-fisted and fact-free way Ms. Dalmia does it.

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