Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Identified: the worst result of the economic crisis

There I was thinking that financial melt-down, increasing unemployment and worsening poverty were going to be the worst parts of the ever-more-frightening economic crisis now gathering pace.

No: it seems we're also going to have cope with the resurgent popularity of Ayn Rand's long-winded, petulant, and frankly laughable novel, Atlas Shrugged, also known in these parts as The Worst Book Ever Written.

Apparently, some people are finding it prophetic regarding the economic catastrophe. This is odd. The story, after all, revolves around a small cadre of genius entrepreneurs confronted by a World of Parasite Losers, most sinisterly embodied by a government that produces nothing but incompetence and enforces only inefficiency. Confronted by over-regulation and exorbitant taxes, our heroes essentially organise a capital strike that brings down the corrupt society.

Perhaps those who see the book as a template for the real world haven't actually read it (claiming to have read books you haven't is, after all, as recent surveys have suggested, all too common), since here in the real world it would be the former Wall Street masters of the universe--after decades of reductions in taxes and lightening state regulation--who brought about this collapse, taking the savings, profits, capital and potential credit of a lot of hard-working, productive people--and even whole nations--with them.

Maybe it's just that those who are praising the book have a greater capacity for irony than I have given them credit for.

I doubt it, though. The key psychological trait I've noticed with admirers of Rand's work is their natural inclination to identify with the swaggering, self-absorbed Übermenschen who populate her novels. (The fact that some of said admirers were students attending state-funded universities using state-subsidised grants or loans has never seemed to quiet their rage at the state for some reason, but this is by the by.)

Their capacity for self-aggrandizement is inevitably as voluminous and tiresome as Rand's prose.

Out in the banking world, as you might imagine, Rand has had no shortage of fans, and my favourite recent Rand-related anecdote comes from the story of BB&T Corp., as related by va at Whiskey Fire:

A banking company, BB&T Corp. of North Carolina, has given $30 million in grants in the last decade for various universities to teach the book. Most recently, in March, 2008, BB&T gave UT-Austin $2 million for a Chair in the Study of Objectivism. Then in October, BB&T took (wait for it) $3.1 billion in bailout money.
I think this is what the kids these days are referring to as 'epic fail'.

Reality: saner than fiction.

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