Rand, Bush want riches for the few at expense of many
Philosopher Ayn Rand castigated as a raw deal Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal regulatory policies. FDR respected John Ryan’s views, a Roman Catholic who advocated hefty taxes on wealth, tight business regulations and legislation benefiting industrial workers. Rand dismissed the New Deal, arguing it bridled capitalism. Rejecting the New Deal, she said it made our nation trudge like a draft horse tilling a field. Rand regarded commerce regulations and Wall Street’s investment restrictions tantamount to jamming a bit in a plow horse’s mouth. They restrict, limit and confine what capitalistic investors should be able to do with their money.Roosevelt battled economic royalists, captains of industry who glutted their pockets with capital at the expense of the poor. Rand winced when FDR pinpointed New Deal policy to help the helpless. In his 1936 inaugural address, Roosevelt declared, “In this nation I see … millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day. … The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough of those who have too little.”Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” published 50 years ago, turned Roosevelt’s conviction on its head. Let capitalism’s barons prosper. Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” will get financially ahead, too, benefiting from Wall Street’s investments. In more than 1,000 pages, Rand spells out a citizen’s rights that she argues government regulation doesn’t pinch, economic freedom the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t restrict and limited government that doesn’t infringe on an individual’s rights.Rand assaults religionConservatives usually overlook Rand’s assault on organized religion. She thought it denied inalienable rights citizens possess to live, freeing them to live independently of repressive moral codes. Roosevelt reflected a biblical sage’s counsel, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first and best part of your income. Then your barns will be full and your vats overflow with fresh wine,” Proverbs 3:9-10.Rand wouldn’t drink to such silliness. The individual must first take care of himself. He needs to invest, plan and capitalize on Wall Street. Once wealthy, he can benevolently distribute his assets. Because of a loophole in SEC regulations, Wall Street investors are pocketing millions, if not billions, in hedge funds. Accounting these funds is secretive and sophisticated. It’s difficult to track a hedge fund’s daily asset value. The stock market is robust. Fundamentals supporting the U.S. economy are sound. Inflation is low at 3 percent or less. Workers can find employment. Still, most Americans feel jittery toward the economy. They don’t see huge economic benefits the super-wealthy 1 percent holds at the top trickling down into their wallets. When the Wall Street Journal interviewed President George W. Bush on Oct. 11, he offered a rah-rah postscript to “Atlas Shrugged.” Quizzed on whether he considered the trend unhealthy that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans earned 21.2 percent of all income in 2005, creating the widest gulf between rich and poor since the Roaring 20s, Bush answered, “First of all, our society has had income inequality for a long time. Secondly, skills gaps yield income gaps. And what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education, starting with young kids. That’s why No Child Left Behind is such an important component of making sure that America is competitive in the 21st century.”Bush sounds like Rand’s writing. It’s inevitable that the wealthy earn more and more. Let’s get our citizens educated so they can join the 1 percent of richest capitalists.What’s missing in this classic entrepreneurial solution? Nowhere do we hear of the benefits derived from government regulation in a republic. Bush and Rand believe personal initiative plays a big part in wealth appreciation. They don’t want anybody left behind in knowing how capitalism works to accrue wealth. What’s avoided is James Madison’s stern caution. An unregulated republic, Madison argued, allows the few to benefit at the expense of the many.In spring 1787, Madison arrived in Philadelphia to jump-start the Constitutional Convention. He wanted to control debate about what, if any, regulatory powers a federal government held over states’ rights. In April 1787, Madison started drafting a memorandum which he titled “Vices of the Political System of the United States.” Sounding like Ayn Rand, Madison’s opponents argued that America would prosper if they relied on “civic virtue” – meaning the restraint wise citizens exert to police themselves. Can’t you hear overtones of what “Atlas Shrugged” teaches? Fortify an individual’s freedom to invest. Trust him with personal codes of fiscal conduct. By achieving wealth, he helps create national incentives. Others replicate his fiscal feat. Prosperity will spread lavish prosperity to more and more.Madison shot down this rosy view. A republic’s citizens didn’t always control their greed, he warned. Self-interest, instead of the common good, sometimes sways them. Passions to succeed swell. Then, rights of others get trampled.Madison promoted a strong Congress. He empowered it to operate independently of states, particularly in raising revenue and regulation commerce. Our nation works best when it acts like a bridled plow horse, not a stallion prancing free of restraints. Madison’s freedom respects boundaries rather than boundless liberty Rand endorsed. The Rev. Jack Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, which enhances Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.