Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

Charles Murray has a good piece on Ayn Rand, critical in parts but especially insightful about why Rand’s books continue to be so inspirational and influential:

Ayn RandRand expressed the glory of human achievement. She tapped into the delight a human being ought to feel at watching another member of our species doing things superbly well. The scenes in “The Fountainhead” in which the hero, Howard Roark, realizes his visions of architectural truth are brilliant evocations of human creativity at work. But I also loved scenes like the one in “Atlas Shrugged” when protagonist Dagny Taggart is in the cab of the locomotive on the first run on the John Galt line, going at record speed, and glances at the engineer:

He sat slumped forward a little, relaxed, one hand resting lightly on the throttle as if by chance; but his eyes were fixed on the track ahead. He had the ease of an expert, so confident that it seemed casual, but it was the ease of a tremendous concentration, the concentration on one’s task that has the ruthlessness of an absolute.

That’s a heroic vision of a blue-collar worker doing his job. There are many others. Critics often accuse Rand of portraying a few geniuses as the only people worth valuing. That’s not what I took away from her. I saw her celebrating people who did their work well and condemning people who settled for less, in great endeavors or small; celebrating those who took responsibility for their lives, and condemning those who did not. That sounded right to me in 1960 and still sounds right in 2010.

Second, Ayn Rand portrayed a world I wanted to live in, not because I would be rich or powerful in it, but because it consisted of people I wanted to be around. As conditions deteriorate in “Atlas Shrugged,” the first person to quit in disgust at Hank Rearden’s steel mill is Tom Colby, head of the company union:

For ten years, he had heard himself denounced throughout the country, because his was a ‘company union’ and because he had never engaged in a violent conflict with the management. This was true; no conflict had ever been necessary; Rearden paid a higher wage scale than any union scale in the country, for which he demanded—and got—the best labor force to be found anywhere.

That’s not a world of selfishness or greed. It’s a world of cooperation and mutual benefit through the pursuit of self-interest, enabling satisfying lives not only for the Hank Reardens of the world but for factory workers. I still want to live there.

…In scene after scene, Rand shows what such a community would be like, and it does not consist of isolated individualists holding one another at arm’s length. Individualists, yes, but ones who have fun in one another’s company, care about one another, and care for one another—not out of obligation, but out of mutual respect and spontaneous affection.

Ayn Rand never dwelt on her Russian childhood, preferring to think of herself as wholly American. Rightly so. The huge truths she apprehended and expressed were as American as apple pie. I suppose hardcore Objectivists will consider what I’m about to say heresy, but hardcore Objectivists are not competent to judge. The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is supposed to be. The utopia of her novels is not a utopia of greed. It is not a utopia of Nietzschean supermen. It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom.

Also worth reading is this superb piece by Robert Tracinsiki, All an Ayn Rand Hero Really Wants is Love.


Actually, all an Ayn Rand hero really wants is to kill other people.

Link for those who don't know:

Did you really link to a wiki of a killer with one note about a novel Ayn Rand planned to, but didn't not write, at age 23? And you think you've made a point? Are you that dumb, or that much of a liar?

Actually those who oppose capitalism are much closer to murderers, even if well intentioned, as to live like they want we have to just get rid of most of our people that capitalism supports.

But, that's an actual thought, you are not worthy of that, you're too dumb. Or evil. Tough call.

This wasn't Rand's only Valentine to a questionable character:

Did you really link to a wiki of a play written by Ayn Rand?

etc., vapid etc., puerile etc., etc.

I'm pretty sure you missed my point.

It is utterly common for artists of all kind to be interested in the outlaw. Dexter, Bonnie and Clyde, Billy the Kid are just a few examples.

That's a stretch.

No, it's not.

Stories about guilty men on the run are interesting.
Stories about innocent men in prison are interesting.
Stories about guilty men in prison arent very interesting.

Yes, but Rand wasn't out to tell a good yarn.

If you want to praise Rand as an artist, go ahead. Dubious taste, but no one's paying you to be refined.

if you want to praise Rand as having any philosophy worth studying, then that's a different conversation altogether.

Here's Charles Murray last week on the 20th Anniversary of "The Bell Curve:"

This nonsense again?

In reality Rand called Hickman a "purposeless monster" in her own journals. She said she liked "his outside, not his inside" i.e. his unapologetic demeanor toward the judge, jury, and press. She never mentioned Hickman again despite continuing writing and making public appearances for another fix decades.

Digging that stuff up and waving it around without proper context is the kind of thing Glenn Beck would do.

*five decades

Beck would be likely to wave around a copy of Atlas Shrugged. He even had a cameo in one of the movies.

He'd probably also glaze over the point being presented and give cheap shots responses, too.

That's a really dumb reply.

A valid point was made and you replied with a non-sequitur.

If you want to offer a substantive reply, wherein you make a case that Rand's writing about Hickman reflects negatively on her, feel free to do so.

Any point you made was ruined by your unnecessary statement that "is the kind of thing Glenn Beck would do." Your choice of Beck as a straw man shows how little you thought this through.

Tone trolling is not an argument.

Quoting obscure writings out of context is the kind of thing Glenn Beck would do. He's a notorious example of a sleazeball who makes low quality arguments; everything about the comparison is valid. And everything about rest of the argument itself is valid.

And (do I really have to explain this?) even if you don't like my choice of Glenn Beck as an example, that doesn't affect the validity of the point that Rand's writings in proper context don't celebrate Hickman.

Still waiting for that substantive reply. I won't hold my breath.

Good. Don't. But do look at the fact that somebody you consider "a sleazeball who makes low quality arguments" is also a Rand fan.

Ted, your arguments are disingenuous.

First Beck is also a fan of both Friedman and Hayek; some how I don't believe you would see that as a reason to dismiss either of them.

Second, the original reference to Beck was using his style as an analogy for the tenuous nature of the argument about Hickman. To bring what Beck has said about Rand into the debate at that point is to totally ignore the point/intent of the previous point.

Jodie Foster also wants us to assassinate presidents.

And Al Gore wants us to kill university professors.

The mid-Century novelist much closer to Murray in sensibility was Robert A. Heinlein.

'but especially insightful about why Rand’s books continue to be so inspirational and influential'

For a certain self-selected group of people.

Much like how a slightly more varied group of people have been motivated by the inspirational and influential writings of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.

What's a " self-selected group of people"?

For example, women as a group seem to have a real problem with taking anything written by Rand seriously. As do parents. Or anyone who actually believes literary merit can be judged. Or anyone who believes in the teachings of such people as Jesus Christ.

The self-selection part represents that group who can read more than a few sentences of Rand's writing without putting it down as a waste of time, for whichever of any number of reasons.

women as a group seem to have a real problem with taking anything written by Rand seriously.

I'll let Barbara Branden know.

I agree that Ayn Rand was dreadful about children. They were nearly completely absent in Atlas Shrugged.

As for women, the reason many women dont get Ayn Rand is because most women dont come anywhere close to Dagny Taggart; they dont possess the gene for leadership skills.

LOL! Yes, and the reason I'm not a Rand fan is I'll never be as awesome as Howard Roark.

Same reason I hate James Bond movies.

Hi. I'm a parent. A single parent to boot. And I actually took time off on a Tuesday to see the last part of Atlas Shrugged. Go fuck yourself.

Or Marx. Or Sanger.

A characteristic of stupid people with to much education is the desire to force everything into tidy little slots. Mention Ayn Rand and they come out in droves.

'Mention Ayn Rand and they come out in droves.'

Because they are so easy to tidily slot, right?

i had always envisioned ayn rand having anything but a "tidy" little slot


I know right? Look at all the idiots slotting Obama into the tidy labels he gets.

It is a sign of a lazy mind, and in fact probably one of the reason why Obama was able to win two consecutive elections. His opponents thought they had him slotted instead of dealing with the real thing.

She appeals to people in search of any excuse to support chrome-plated laissez faire capitalism and who find comfort in knowing that some pseudo-philosopher believes altruism is evil and that selfishness (not simple self-interest) is truly a virtue.

Altruism used as an excuse of pursuing one's selfish political agenda is certainly evil. Whenever 'altruism' is mentioned in a political programme it's always a fake: a false pretext for seizing power.

Of course I can't say that is never the case, but it is certainly not typically the case. Your statement is the straw man used by anti-government crusaders as an excuse to shrink any and all public programs.

Also, I don't hear the word "altruism" mentioned by politicians when describing their support for public programs in the US. Actually, I can't ever remember hearing it.

Politicians might not use the word altruism, but you'd have to be obtuse not to recognize that altruism is exactly what is being sold. If I cared, I'm sure that I could go back through your very own posting history and find something to the effect of "policies Democrats promote are intended to help others". But, why would I waste my time with someone who intentionally misrepresents reality?

The comment referred to politicians using the word altruism, in quotes, but you're losing track of the main point of contention. The question is whether in general politicians use public programs as an excuse to seize power for the sake of seizing power, rather than because they think those programs are worthwhile in themselves.

Jan, if you want a more benign view, take the Lord Acton approach. Plenty of people get involved in politics because they sincerely want to do good. And then the trappings of power take over, and they become more interested in power than in doing good.

You obviously have never spent any time working for government.

See Plournelle's Iron Law.

Wouldn't "Ask not what your country can do for you...." qualify as an appeal to altruism?

It seems to me that a good example on an altruistic political movement is the movement to abolish slavery. The backbone of that movement in the US and UK was made of up people who were never going to be susceptible to being enslaved, and who often made powerful enemies and pissed off the neighbors arguing against slavery. The motivations of the people at the top may well have been self-interested, but the rank and file supporters of abolition were not people who were making any money from it, or getting any other material benefit. They simply thought slavery was an evil institution that needed to be done away with.

Almost uniformly, people like Jan do not experience delight when watching another do superbly well. The more accurate emotion is jealousy, spite, and hatred.

"Rand expressed the glory of human achievement. She tapped into the delight a human being ought to feel at watching another member of our species doing things superbly well."

Do you know Jan? I don't. I don't know what he is like or who the people like him are. So I can't tell what they do and do not enjoy. I'm impressed that you can.

Jan has an extensive posting history, enough of one to make armchair conclusions.

Mea Culpa, I was being economical in disclosing my knowledge of Jan's posting history. But even from that history, nearly all I can gather is that he is a leftist. A pinko even. But I have no reason to believe that "do[es] not experience delight when watching another do superbly well".

Is that not one of the defining characteristics of a leftist?

It might be an entirely unfair knee-jerk conclusion, but anytime I hear someone whining about the unfairness of capitalism or saying "the game's rigged", I visualize a slovenly, lazy, unsuccessful, bitter, petty misanthrope taking his sour grapes out on display. Again, it may not describe you at all, but you should be aware of the image that you're projecting.

Well I wasn't talking about the game being rigged or saying we ought to dispense with capitalism altogether.

I suppose I was describing the image that the Randians project, which her disciples should be aware of.

Please define "chrome-plated laissez faire capitalism".

I by far prefer those to the Rotherham government workers, holier than thou progressives to a man. But you can't make an omelet without raping some eggs.

"…In scene after scene, Rand shows what such a community would be like, and it does not consist of isolated individualists holding one another at arm’s length. Individualists, yes, but ones who have fun in one another’s company, care about one another, and care for one another—not out of obligation, but out of mutual respect and spontaneous affection."

Virginia Postrel found the similar feelings from Star Trek fans:

"In Star Trek, the work is meaningful; the colleagues are smart, hard-working, competent and respectful; the leaders are capable and fair; and everyone has an important contribution to make. Star Trek features what law student Cindy McNew described as “a close-knit group of colleagues whose abilities complement one another and who don’t seem to take out their animosities or ambitions on each other.” Deep friendships develop from teamwork and high-stakes problem-solving. It’s the workplace as we wish it were -- and as it too rarely is."

This is a good point. And it shines a light on the nerdish mind (I assume Randianism is more popular among nerds than the average lit fan). The idea, I guess, is that work -- especially science and engineering -- brings us into contact with aspects of the world which are (to us nerds) bright and interesting, even though they are not directly about human gossip or the mating game. Human interactions are then enhanced by nerdism because we can share our insights into this bright world without being stuck constantly talking about the books and TV shows that we like.

I agree. Also, none of my female colleagues wear skirts as short as Uhura did on the original. Which is a blessing in some instances, but otherwise kind of a shame.

Yep. I am not a great trekkie, but I do sometimes partake. I once came to the office and told my colleague that I had seen an original-series episode for the first time in years and that my I much preferred the old series. Mostly because of the skirts. I think she forgave me.

Interesting how Star Trek takes place in some kind of semi communistic world. It's almost as if people who want to do good work and don't care about money don't particularly care about the economic system as long as it works good enough they get the basics they need. For people that aren't worried about money they sure are ready throw away everything and run off to galt's gulch over a tax hike. Could you imagine captain Picard leaving star fleet because of that?

It's also interesting that star fleet economics seems to be based on near unlimited energy plus replicators ending scarcity for most goods. By contrast when galt had his magic box that made unlimited energy instead of say using it to solve world hunger he let the thing rot. I'd rather all those people starve then get paid the same as some other dude in the factory. For a guy that doesn't care about money he was willing to grow away the most important invention in human history out of spite over money.

If your a healthy 6'5" Adonis with an IQ of 250 and no families to look out for "going of the grid" or working in the quarry make sense. If your anyone else not much. My staircase at home was loaded with awards from my fathers blue coller job. He took a lot of pride in it. But when he got sick his company tried to fire him to save on instance costs. This was illegal, but some randian capitalist superman decided it was a good way to make money. The union had to get some guys to go down there and threaten to "wreck shit up" if they left my father to die after years of service. That's how real justice gets done, how real men with real problems manage to get by when bad things happen. The selfishness is a virtue crowd just tell their heroic blue collar workers to go die in a ditch somewhere and leave their families behind for the profit margin. They ought to do a rewrite of the Fountainhead where the protagonist working in the quarry gets hurt from using defective drilling equipment because the company used to cut costs and the dies because he had no health insurance to get treated.

That’s how real justice gets done,

No, not very often.


I'm familiar with one story like yours. The enterprise was a chain of nursing homes in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. They fired a 27 year old office employee when she was diagnosed with cancer.

"It’s almost as if people who want to do good work and don’t care about money don’t particularly care about the economic system as long as it works good enough they get the basics they need."

The problem is there's no other large-scale economic organization, besides capitalism, that's capable of just getting out of the way of the smart, talented and driven and just letting them create. I agree that Picard would pretty much go on being awesome whether his paycheck was huge or not. But even in a modern social democracy he wouldn't be able to accomplish anything, because he'd have to sit through endless seminars on diversity training, while the Enterprise was impounded by OSHA because the transporters can't accommodate morbidly obese people. Meanwhile Data would be taking orders from to the local congressman's retarded nephew, while Riker was stuck waiting for approval for the 500 sheet anti money laundering compliance report.

Libertarians love diversity seminars and want to flood our country with low IQ MUDs that will create a society the total opposite of what they want because their ideology tells them to, so let's not go there.

What matters is that all societies that aren't full retard work. Norway shouldn't work with its tax rates according to Randians, and yet it does. Turns out anything between 30% and 70% marginal tax rates doesn't matter much to outcomes. That's why she needed to create cartoon worlds an villains. "I'm moving to galts fulch because they raised the tax rate on the rich 5%," doesn't have the same ring to it.

To my knowledge there is no block of 'Randians' and people who appreciate Rand's work do not promote specific policies. More accurately you can contrast a belief that government and it's employees, efforts for social justice and socialism, and crony-capitalism are inherently good against Rand's position that they are not.

Turns out anything between 30% and 70% marginal tax rates doesn’t matter much to outcomes.

I see the thread has been invaded by one of Paul Krugman's summer research assistants.

I've yet to hear even a non-Randian say Norway's tax rates shouldn't work. No bad policy will cause a collapse when you have a tiny population and vast reserves of a scarce good for which to pay for it all (see Venezuela).

A cartoon world wholly unrealistic except if you read the international news.

Rand may have written some scenes approving of competent blue collar workers, but she also saw them as disposable cogs. I don't recall any of them getting invited to the Gulch. Presumably the world she created had plenty of these fine blue collar folks, but there was never any attempt to save them.
Also, on another tangent, there were no supremely talented evil people either. Or altruistic or socialist talented people (like Oppenheimer in the real world). To be talented was to be Randian...

There was a truck driver in Galt's Gulch, FWIW.

Yeah TAKE THAT, Randian Supermen! We'll show you!

It is also true of the Seven Dwarfs, who work all day in a diamond mine but can't afford a maid. Or separate bedrooms, for that matter.

It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom.

Only without the slaves I should hope.

Whenever humanity longs for an older time, a better time, they inevitably discover the reason it was left behind in the first place. Sometimes it's because of an unsustainable moral wrong, such as slavery. Sometimes it's just because, you know, economics (see 19th century debates about the evils of wage labor). The world Rand espoused, at least as described in this excerpt, is destroyed as much by the advocates of her philosophy as it is by big government regulation & welfare proponents.

The Tracinsiki piece is the worst, except for the fact that he links to The Toast.

Learning about moral philosophy and economics from an Ayn Rand novel is like learning about crime fighting from a Batman comic book.

Spider-Man would have been a more apt reference.


Again, you missed my point:

And you missed mine.

No, I got it. It was just misguided.

You know, that was unfair. Not misguided. We were just making two different allusions.

President Obama said Ayn Rand is a phase we all go through (but that mature Democrat males grow up of), but no critic I've ever met could demonstrate that he had actually read a single book of hers. Is Greg G an exception? Unlikely.

Sorry to disappoint Thomas but I have read three of her books and the two most recent biographies of her as well.

Is it really beyond your imagination that different people could read the same thing and disagree about it?

On this subject the degree of disagreement is much too large to be explained by anything but those who would act as Rand describes her villains being angry at her observations. You'll note that the criticism is bile and hardly anything else.

Angry? I'm having fun here. Speaking of bile though, you seem a little pissed off, thomas.

At least we're being condescended to by The One, the Light Worker who will cool the world and lower the sea levels. A devastating maturity that has made the leg tingle for many a Democrat.

The problem with Rand isn't ideology, it's the dully pedantic prose and childishly unrealistic stories.

Also, the ideology.

Agree, but even more, it's the paper-thin straw-man villains. As a smart young teen I wanted to like her books, since like all her fans I thought I was a Roark- or a Galt-in-waiting, but half way through each book I got sick of her inability to write believable characters, and especially believable antagonists. I found more believable villains in Marvel comics.

Whatever you do in that case, don't read any progressive lit.

But the Jeffersonian democracy is an inherently democratic idea, that individuals have free will. Due to biological determinism, a concept which Murry himself supports, means we as individuals have much less control of our fate than we may want to believe. This is still compatible with market libertarianism under a federal government of some sort whose purpose is to ensure that in a free market, resources are allocated mot efficiently and to maintain the state of law.

So, the government is the solution to the problem of ensuring the proper functioning of the free market.

Please provide one sourced quote of Charles Murray demonstrating he believes in biological determinism. Cheers.

"Intelligence is known to be substantially heritable in human beings as a species" -


This post is meant sarcastically, but my comment as such was cut off because of how I formatted it.

"substantially" = less than 100% = not determined.

"Heritable" and "genetic" are two much different things.

So, Ayn Rand is now a bleeding heart liberal? Who knew?

I don't know. I never really liked children's books.

The problem was never Rand herself so much as her followers. I mean, if you even look at the Cliff's Notes for Atlas Shrugged, it's clear that Rand didn't worship money—she worshipped talent. Her heroes were highly competent people, while some of her villains were wealthy rent-seekers who maintained their businesses through bribery and corruption. Her work clearly showed the difference between people who are driven by the perfection of their accomplishments and the people who were merely driven by the desire for wealth and power.

And yet, Alan Greenspan, once part of Rand's circle, infamously quoted after the financial crisis, ""I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms." As though we believed that wealth couldn't possibly do harm to others when pursuing their own interests. I'm not sure that Rand would have been so surprised.

What has Greenspan's statement got to do with Rand herself? Greenspan doesn't say who would better protect the shareholders and equity than members of the organizations but he's implying that it would be he himself. As he says, he made a mistake by presuming that self-interest would lead others to be successful. If he can make a mistake, why not others? The idea that a process or organization can be so organized as to eliminate mistakes the mistakes of the personalities involved is preposterous, as any thoughtful person must realize. Human history is littered with bad ideas that were generally accepted and failed disastrously.

You've got it backwards and you ate attributing the characteristics of the historical strawman to the fans themselves. Obviously Rands work was focused on freedom but her criticism was odd the oppositions focus on money. See: Fransicos deconstruction of money. Rands observation Is painfully true, her opposition is focused on money and her supporters on liberty.

If her supporters are focused on liberty why are they overwhelmingly concerned with money? And why do they tend to be focused in fields obsessed with money (financial services and academic economics) rather then like being industrialists? And why are most successful businessmen not Randians (most of them are even a little to the left of the American mainstream).

Because money is a biproduct of the choices that Rand values individuals being able to make. Like I said, see Francisco speech if you would like to actually inform yourself.

Did you read even the portion that Alex quoted? The quote Murray highlights from Rand, and that Alex calls out, is a perfect example of Rands idealizing human achievement. Sure she highlights the connection between achievement and reward but she has a large number of examples idealizing individuals who are not masters of industry.

Why are non-Randians so obsessed with money? Hell, a lot of Christians are obsessed with money, and unlike Rand, neither Jesus nor the writers of the gospels had much good to say about the desire for wealth.

Too bad we have no way for reporting posts that are flaming and trolling - and patently so. Regardless, I read Rand some decades ago, when a young lady friend told me how exciting she found the concepts. The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and I got a few pages into another, but I forget which. So, I've read Rand, and I am a critic.

I have to agree with the comparison to Superman comics (or Batman). I find that point to be quite valid. I find the article author's take on why the Rand novels are attractive to some people interesting. I can't say I agree with his conclusions that they represent some aspect of reality - which is precisely also my problem with Rand's work - it is specifically not particularly realistic. Instead, it glorifies an imagined reality for humanity that is about as far off base as the point-of-view of the Communist movement, which ultimately framed Rand's take.

Rand creates a fantasy world where ability leads to success and great successes rest on merit. In such a world I guess her philosophy isn't so bad. Too bad that world is made up.

Rand creates a fantasy world where ability leads to success and great successes rest on merit.

Agreed, but while fantasies are not what you want to build a political philosophy upon (sorry, Objectivists), they can do a large amount of good inspiring many to strive and achieve their potential.

I've met Randians in two places. Investment banking and a family growing up that we're big into the objectivist movement. For IB I found they were mostly selling either scams or useless zero sum gambles to generate commissions. In theory these people don't for that randian vision, but they sure thought they did. At the end of the day we can convince ourselves that what we are doing is more valuable then we think if the money is rolling in. And if we don't see our neighbor in the light of Christian brotherhood, it becomes even easier to use caveat emptor as a catch all phrase to excuse unethical business practices.

I think this is an even easier thing to do in a modern service economy where it's harder to measure value. All of Rands heroes make real stuff, but making real stuff hasn't been the way to make money for a long time. Not is open competition, even Petet thrill points out you make money from a monopoly. The airlines, which he says create a lot of real value for the world, don't make any money.

For a fictional example take Mad Men. One of the original partners is an Ayn Rand embodiment that hawks the book in the show. Many of them characters certainly take selfishness to heart. As a result they all end up fairly miserable, and the only thing in their lives they take pride in, their work, is revealed mostly be about selling lies to people (advertising). They are in the business of creating unrealities to make money, but because it makes money they can lie to themselves (like my IB colleagues that sold harmful or useless financial products while claiming they weren't via caveat emptor Randian rationalization).

As for the objectivist family they were really screwed up. Divorced of course, and also unable to form real human relations. This despite a decent enough heredity and circumstance. There is a reason Rands characters have no families and most if their sexual escapades are basically rape. It's all stunted people like that are capable of.

All of Rands heroes make real stuff, but making real stuff hasn’t been the way to make money for a long time.

I have no clue how you got the idea that services are 'unreal' (and the fictional Dagney Taggart was in the business of providing transportation services, btw).

In 1951, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities accounted for about 52% of domestic product and 73% of corporate profits. The corresponding figures today are 23% and 30%. Someone seems to be making a living off it. I'm not sure why changing proportions bother you.

Losers always whine about how they tried their best. About how its unfair, that they deserve to be recognized, and the people on top are all just a bunch of lucky phonies. Winners go home and f*ck the prom queen.

While I'm happy to make fun of the Church of Rand as the next person, I do have to admit that here novels (especially Atlas Shrugged) speak to a great number of young people who are told (mostly by family) that they must suppress who they are for the sake of everyone else. The idea that commitment to one's own self rather than to one's parent's plans for you could be considered *good* is a powerful tonic to the message that you are evil if you are not twisting yourself into knots in order to conform to every one else's expectations.

It didn't speak to me, but I know a number of others (almost all of whom consider Objectivism silly) that her books resonated strongly with.

And quite frankly, I love Tolkien, so I'm not going to criticize a book for it's larger-than-life characters. For certain types of books, that's part of their strength, not a weakness.

'I love Tolkien'

Chestnut time - 'There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.' John Rogers

that they must suppress who they are for the sake of everyone else. The idea that commitment to one’s own self rather than to one’s parent’s plans for you

Have some tea and sympathy.

Good quote :-).


I was lucky. My path to the future and my parent's path were sympatico (and my parents would have accepted pretty much any path, anyway).

But for many who faced arranged marriages, prohibition from further education ("time to go into your father's business"), restrictions on trade ("you have lots of choices - doctor or a lawyer") had harder choices that me, where rebellion was mostly about hair length and wearing shoes that had passed their expiry date. And I have to say, I don't think I can think of any who did do the "responsible" thing and suborned their life entirely to their parents wishes who were actually happy human beings in the end...

Fuck you, Dad!

Odd how that can be the same reply to both "Your hair's too long, it's time to get it cut" and "you've finished high school, it's time to go to Mumbai and find a husband".

"The idea that commitment to one’s own self rather than to one’s parent’s plans for you could be considered *good* is a powerful tonic to the message that you are evil if you are not twisting yourself into knots in order to conform to every one else’s expectations."

Yeah, we're the '60's great. You are talking about Timothy Leary, right?

Look at most of the Americans you meet working on less than specific training-required jobs (like x-ray tech): they are embarrassed. They are earning $400-$500 a week. $500 is today's median income (median wage is $16 so they must not be getting 50 weeks or 40 hours).

Look at the official federal poverty line: 3 X the price of an emergency diet (dried beans only please; no expensive canned) -- a formula from the mid-fifties = $20,000 poverty line for family of three ($400 a week). Realistic minimum needs line based on table 3-2, p. 44 (after adjusting for inflation) in the MS Foundation book Raise the Floor works out to more like $50,000 a year for family of three if it has to pay for its medical insurance ($1,000 a week!). Half of today's American workers earn half that minimum needs line or less!

And going down: "A Pattern of Retreat: The Decline of Pattern Bargaining"

That’s not a world of selfishness or greed. It’s a world of cooperation and mutual benefit through the pursuit of self-interest, enabling satisfying lives not only for the Hank Reardens of the world but for factory workers. I still want to live there.

Oh, her 'vision' was just Georgia peachy keen:


Dr. Tabbarok has evidently never read a memoir of the social dynamics in and among the group which gathered around Rand and Nathaniel Branden, in thrall to Objectivism. It was a cult.

Or the dude that knocks out the teeth of some girl because te government bought her braces.

But she was a "mean, ugly little eight-year-old" and, like, totally responsible for his deficit of new phonograph records.

"Ayn Rand is as American as apple pie"

Yep. And so, apparently, is Charles Murray. It's probably difficult for non-Americans to understand how anyone today would be interested in another long essay about Ayn Rand. It seems so pie-eyed that I start to worry all over again about how libertarian philistines may be helping to hold up American engagement with international reality, which is more like apple strudel. In German 'strudel' means 'whirlpool', but it's a less dizzy vision. If only Rand were a better brand of literary fiction we might laugh less.

“Ayn Rand is as American as apple pie”

Murray has lost his mind or lost all shame. The aggressive atheism, the reconceptualization of sex as a form of self-exaltation (Rand was indignant that Nathaniel Branden would have sex with anyone but someone of her excellence), the denial of familial affection, the contempt for just about anyone's domestic life bar those of her heroes, and the notion that people bear responsibility for their misfortunes if they adhere to incorrect social theory counts as 'American as apple pie"????

+1. If you reduce American values to "exaltation of the individual" than Rand might qualify, but she strikes me as a very foreign sensibility, and actually pretty obviously Russian in her didacticism, emotional palette and cloud castle building from a foundation of badly digested German 19th century philosophy. She is Zamyatin's immigrant wayward daughter, and has more in common with Dostoevsky than she would ever care to admit.

If only there were some other places on the internet that weren't having a long discussion about Ayn Rand, you could fulfill your desire not to see such a discussion, and so you wouldn't have to take part in it.

How does throttling a locomotive down a track require ruthless concentration? What is he concentrating on? I find her attempts at psychological insight baffling. The action doesn't match the mental state.

Heh, have you ever experienced or smelled cooked flesh produced by superheated steam?

You need to see any obstructions far down the track to have any hope of slowing the train. And then jumping clear of a derailment.

You lack the insight of the reality of travel and the much higher speed of trains in the US when Rand wrote that.

I guess I will never understand trains.

LOL, troll bait by AlexT. He mentions that Randites want love, but you can't put a pricetag on live, as the artist Jessie J can tell you. Speaking of free love, apparently Ayn Rand was a libertine, but had her husband belled like a cat: a bell hung around his neck so she could hear him pattering about the house. Dominatrix!

He mentions that Randites want love

It's been remarked that Rand tended to confound love and admiration.

We Poe's Law now....

Rearden paid a higher wage scale than any union scale in the country, for which he demanded—and got—the best labor force to be found anywhere.

Not exactly a common phenomena, although it's interesting that Rand apparently endorsed the idea of an Efficiency Wage. It'd be more reassuring if we didn't know about the history of real steel companies in the US and their persistent labor conflicts throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

I assume the model for that aspect of Rearden came from Henry Ford; who doesn't seem much like a Randian.

I second Brett's comment.

Nowhere do I see or hear who idolize Ayn Rand talking about paying employees more.

Pay is mostly based on bargaining power. With only a loose association with actual productivity. Apparently Randians didn't get the memo on how team economics plays out, or noticed the swings in their own careers and what primarily caused them.

Pay is mostly based on bargaining power. With only a loose association with actual productivity.

Your bargaining power is derived from how replaceable you are and the posited benefit to the employer of your skills. It does reflect productivity.

My productivity puts a ceiling on how much I can get paid while the company still makes money off me. What share of that I get and what share the company gets comes down to bargaining power.

Your 'bargaining power' is not an independent variable unless you're part of a protection racket. It's derived from your skills and the competition with commensurate skills.

Not entirely. It's a combination of

1. Your exit price - namely how much the company can afford to lose you, how much other companies will pay for you to work for them instead, and how much you will need in pay before walking off the job.

2. Power within the firm - how much control over the firm's revenue and operations you have, and thus your ability to direct that towards yourself in terms of higher pay (highest at the top, but goes down from there).

Actually measuring how valuable you are to the firm is rather difficult for most, since most jobs don't directly tie your pay to a measure of productivity (like sales commissions, or stock options). It just gets agglomerated into overall firm productivity.

I read Atlas Shrugged, though I skipped the speech. I had Henry Hazlitt and Defending the Undefendable, so I didn't need Rand for the basics.

What kills me about Atlas Shrugged is the plot. The wise and virtuous people form their own little separatist band in a gulch? Where is the wisdom or virtue in that?

Perhaps the point of Hong Kong wasn't that it's a couple of small islands and some rocky land, all sparsely inhabited.

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This spam missed it by that much.

What I'm getting from the comments section here is that communists hate Ayn Rand. They really, really hate her. A lot.

Real capitalists should hate her for trivializing what they must do to achieve great things.

Explain how you would build the John Galt line across the width and breadth of Texas, or Afghanistan, two prime anti-government places.

She was drawing off a real railroad (the Great Northern Railway founded by James Hill), but even that one was pieced together from smaller railroads that had been built with land grants and public money.

More generally, there's never been a time when a "common carrier" railroad wasn't founded with government assistance. Even if they draw their financing entirely from non-governmental sources, they still need the easements and rights-of-way.

Needs and wants are different.

It's more that she's just odd when you compare it to the real behavior of capitalist business leaders in the US throughout history. How many of them have actually "gone Galt" versus taking the hit when opposition to labor demands was no longer tenable?

Fascinating, too. In a way she was endorsing the fundamental power expressed in choosing to strike, namely withholding your labor. And while most of the book is just tedious to read, there are certain parts that are very good.

She wrote fiction.

Have you ever considered that the trend towards offshoring that has been going on for a couple of decades is an indication of going Galt?

There was a time in British Columbia when the NDP held government where going Galt happened. Investment didn't happen that otherwise would have. I suspect the same is happening now in the US.

"in the cab of the locomotive on the first run on the John Galt line, going at record speed"

How did Reardon get the land to build the long John Galt line?

Its never clear where it runs, just that its long enough to require high speed. At the time Rand was writing this, trains were competing at around 100MPH from NYC to Chicago and other places.

No nation that did not have a national policy to build railroads has rail service required for an industrial society. Railroads were critical to Grant winning the Civil War because rail was critical for logistics. Railroads were critical in WWI and WWII inside the US to support the war logistics. And in Europe, rail transport was a priority for the Germans to keep operating, and then when the Allies took territory, the military had railroad engineers to restore the rail system to support the occupation.

In Afghanistan, the cost to the US of the occupation has been easily twice and probably more because of the lack of rain in Afghanistan, something fought long ago as the means of military invasion and control. A significant cost reduction in logistic occurred when rail access through the FSU to northern Afghanistan was negotiated for non-weapons logistics.

So, Ayn Rand correctly identifies railroads as an important factor of industrial power, but she never addresses how one actually builds one in the real world. Building a railroad requires steel mills. But building steel mills requires railroads. To build both is the project of a lifetime after an initial iron age is reached.

The South lost the Civil War because Lincoln gave Grant the authority to takeover railroads for the Army, while that was done for only one route in the South by one military leader which created a standoff of North and South logistics in one theater. But Grant saw that the many city lines needed to be turned into through lines. In the South, that was opposed even when it was obviously causing problems for the war effort - individual property rights were trumping the winning of the war over the South's idea of property rights.

Bottom line is that when I was 17 and a rail fan in the 60s, Rand's understanding of railroads was oddly illogical - she saw the need, but never seemed realistic, and that is before I fully understood the real logistics of acquiring land and then building across it.

Today, Rand's writing is totally free lunch, teaching naive people that building an industrial society is easy and that it just takes a capitalist with drive and vision.

If that were true, why isn't resource rich Afghanistan an industrial society? Or lots of places in Africa. Or China. Asia.

The role of government is so critical, often driven by war driven by merchants driven by trade. The US would have stayed out of WWI and WWII if not for attacks on US trade and trade outposts.

The US would have stayed out of WWI and WWII if not for attacks on US trade and trade outposts.

Uh, no. Especially the latter. The United States was not completely autarkic, but only about 5% of the country's domestic product was exported during the 1920s and that figure was cut to 3% during the early years of the Depression.

Again, particular technologies are seldom decisive. They shave costs incorporated into the use of alternative technologies.

Are there people who like Ayn Rand who also like serious literature? I get the feeling she doesn't appeal to those like, say, Tolstoy or Chekhov.

Her work has a lot in common with works of Socialist Realism, which also attempted to romanticize Work and tended to also hit false notes. In that sense, she was much more like a 20th century Russian writer than a 20th century American one (or a 19th century Russian one).

Well I liked Atlas Shrugged but got bored of War and Peace within the first few pages. So that's a data point in you favour. And you are quite right that Rand and Marx like much the same things about civilization and the human animal. I also got bored of the first few pages of We the Living which might shed light on what she thought of that.

"I get the feeling that people who disagree with me aren't smart." Fixed that for you.

No, he said that people he disagrees with don't like serious literature. In have not seen much evidence to support that fans of Tolstoy and Chekhov are smart. There might be small amount of evidence in favour Rand fans being smarter than average, but I wouldn't bet on it.

C'mon Adrian, really? Sure, lots of folks on the left side of the IQ bell curve are big time fans of Tolstoy and Chekhov. That's what those folks love to do, read 19th century novels and plays.

If you read anything for pleasure you are li kely to have an IQ over 100. Not guaranteed, just probably so.

Ok, I stand corrected, being interested in reading at all does presumably (I haven't studied any evidence) predict a higher-than-average IQ.

But I see no evidence at all that a liking for John Steinbeck, Tolstoy or Hugo predicts more intelligence than a liking for Tom Clancy, Tolkien or Asimov. At least a "Tom Clancy fans are dumb" stereotype fits some of my prejudices, but I wouldn't trust them.

I would bet you money that Asimov fans have higher average IQs than Steinbeck fans. I even agree that Steinbeck is a better writer than Asimov, much better command of English, but ideas count for high IQ readers, often more than style and even characterization. I would guess that Tolkien fans also have higher IQs than Steinbeck fans. Clancy fans less so - he is an action writer, not an idea writer, I suspect his fans average lower IQs than any of the other writers, not that a higher IQ person should be ashamed of enjoying Clancy for what he does. Tolstoy used to appeal to hoi polloi, but given the knowledge of historical references needed to really appreciate a 19th century novel in 2014 I suspect his modern audience outside Russia is limited to fairly intelligent readers.

Yup, dirk has it right. Rand never shook free of that old Soviet idea that art should serve the correct political views. When she introduces new characters you always know within the first paragraph whether they are heroes or villains.

Nothing funnier than an anti objectivist playing concern about the political distribution of wealth, herein through art. Solyndra feels for you, Greg.

Well, I never thought of myself as an "anti-Objectivist" mainly because I didn't think there was enough of the formal movement left to bother being opposed to. The few sentences I have written here in response to Alex's post are the biggest opposition effort I have ever mustered.

By the time she died of lung cancer while denying it had anything to do with her chain smoking, the whole soap opera that was the Objectivist inner circle had long since exploded. She could count the number of people she hadn't broken with over some breech of orthodox Objectivism on her fingers.

Sure there are many people who like the novels and claim some kind of inspiration from her but Objectivism as a serious formal philosophy is now just a bizarre piece of intellectual history and a magnet for a few oddballs who take themselves way too seriously.

By comparison, I always found it amusing that Stalin put that icepick in Trotsky's eye. A fitting end to the Really Serious Altruist Social movement.

It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jefferson's vision of freedom was a rural, agrarian one. His model of freedom was the self-sufficient, independent yeoman farmer, who was self-sufficient and independent not simply of the government, but of the market and commercial relations as well. This freedom and self-sufficiency entailed not just participation in public life and politics, but civic duties to participate in public life and politics as free men in the classical republican tradition.

Rand would vehemently oppose such a vision of freedom and would have called it reactionary, fascist, collectivist, etc. Her vision of freedom is completely the opposite.

And I thought I was just wisecracking about Jefferson and his slaves, but if you are right, "Jeffersonian freedom" is a pretty horrible thing. In fact it is rural aristocracy of the worst kind, and democratic government just means the aristocrats ganging up.

A yeomanry is not an aristocracy.

No but, people who rule large landed estates worked by teams are of poor wretches are aristocrats. The Athenian citizens were aristocrats as much as they were yeomen. Ancient Athens had an open, commercial side which would have delighted Rand, but you have just explained to me that those aspects of Athenian society which would have repelled her were exactly those which made it aristocratic.

I never said anything about aristocrats ruling large landed estates.

The political culture of independent, constitutional government in ancient Greece was developed by yeoman farmers who worked relatively small plots of land and formed the military base of society as hoplite soldiers.

I agree with chairman here. There is a reason why Rand's works appeal mostly to young men, it's because eventually they grow up and see that in fact in capitalism is not that much of a meritocracy. Success is more often based on connections than based on intelligence and work ethic. In the real world you start to see the need for regulation and redistribution. People also see the value of the family, something she ignores in her books.

No one denies that the world isn't entirely meritocratic. Very few people are arguing that we should only correct the non-meritocratic portions, and those people are largely not in favor of the system of political handouts Rand attributes to her villainous government. You see, some people grow up even past recognizing that the world isn't meritocratic to realizing that some things are meritocratic.

"Success is more often based on connections than based on intelligence and work ethic."

There is nothing more corrosive to the human soul than internalizing this belief. I'd go so far as to say that virtually any one who's accomplished anything noteworthy ever truly felt this way about their field of endeavor. Humans have inherent bias that makes this an incredibly dangerous belief. First almost everyone rates themselves as much better than they are (e.g. 90%+ of drivers rank themselves above average). Second humans have an extremely hard time objectively assessing the qualities of their enemies, rivals or competitors. Third people are far too quick to attribute their own success to skill and their failures to luck, vice versa for their competitors. Fourth people tend to drastically underestimate how much persistence and setbacks are going to be encountered on the road to accomplishing any major task.

There are always washed up failures like Clover, disappointed with how their own lives turned out, trying to push this idea to young, talented, ambitious folks. Their future would be less at risk if you picked up a heroin habit. Take this idea to heart, and it *will* wreak havoc on your monkey brain. Every time you suffer defeat, you'll tell yourself that it was unfair. You deserved to win, and it's completely ridiculous that you didn't. You're way smarter than all your rivals, who just got lucky. And they're all bad people anyway, so they probably cheat. There's no way you even can win, and why would you want to play such a stupid game to begin with. Meanwhile your peers are humbly and graciously accepting their loss. They shake the winners hand, congratulate him on a game well played, maybe even earning some respect and garnering strategy tips. They're studying the games they lost, carefully improving their weak points. Playing again, losing again. But they keep getting slightly better with every game, while you're wallowing in mediocrity.

The attitude of people like Roark is that he was a financial failure because the market was dumb and he was right. In fact the whole books about how the best people tend not to win at life. Then they become the winners at the end through comic book dues ex machina.

Anyway, I think this attitude is very good because it keeps young people from getting taken advantage off. How many smart young Randians move to SV and end up giving their best years to a company that convinces them their 0.05% share is anything but a lottery ticket with bad NPV by making them think they are brave creators that are changing the world (A phrase practically designed to trick young idealistic people).

I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

There is nothing more corrosive to the human soul than internalizing this belief. I’d go so far as to say that virtually any one who’s accomplished anything noteworthy ever truly felt this way about their field of endeavor.


I'm fairly successful, thank you very much.

Yes, actual success also made me less open to Rand. My greatest professional success required being in the right place at the right time. And I didn't do it alone in my basement, but on a team of people with lots of capital backing us. I don't think my temperament, skills, and work ethic were much different during other parts of my career that felt more mediocre. The circumstances changed, mostly a function of luck.

Rand appeals more to students that haven't been in the corporate world yet

I wouldn't impute much to the biography of people you've never met, or take terribly seriously what people say about themselves in fora like this.

“Success is more often based on connections than based on intelligence and work ethic.”

You have to make yourself known in a certain social network. However, the number of people who make a good living doing nothing but leveraging connections is small.


Unless you are very introverted (and these days, even introverts may build large networks over e-mail - see the entire Open Source community), your connections are, to some degree, results of your previous professional activity.

And you do not mention reputation. If you ever acquire reputation of being lazy, incompetent, treacherous or unreliable, your connections will not help you that much. People gossip.

Ayn Rand is as American as apple pie

Almost anything and everything is described as "American as apple pie" these days. But to the extent that "American" here means anything like the founding stock, Anglo-Protestant culture of the United States, nothing could be further from the truth. There is absolutely nothing of the pious, sober, abstemious, self-denying, communal, spiritual, Protestant character and ethos in Rand's novels. That's what's especially striking if you read her work after reading more traditional American novels. In fact I suspect that's part of the reason for her popularity, especially among adolescents. It's hard to get people excited about the virtues of Protestant piety. She exalts completely opposite values.

The very word "American" has become meaningless these days, merely a synonym for "good." I'm disappointed to see Charles Murray reflecting this.

If one were to judge Ayn Rand by the vicious, petty enemies she draws out on days like this, one would have to rate her a saint and a prophet, rather than merely a successful and inspiring novelist.

What's vicious? Quoting actual passages of her work?

Then can you also judge her on her vicious, petty defenders?

Her ideology aside Rand fails as a writer. I don't think there's anyone who enjoys her books who doesn't also (at least partly) agree with her ideology.

That's not true for any writer worth their salt. You can enjoy Dostoevsky without being Christian, Brecht without being a communist, Céline without being an antisemite,....

Charles Murray! Ayn Rand!

The comments were every bit as fun as I expected them to be given the headline.

Ayn Rand saw through the atavistic totalitarian tribalist type of people, and they've never forgiven her for it.

Ayn Rand was light years ahead of her time in cognitive psychology. She just thought it was philosophy. If somebody wants to throw down the gauntlet, I'll demonstrate that much of recent cognitive psychology and behavioral economics shows that Ayn Rand was really, really right about a lot of really important things, and totally way ahead of her time.

C'mon, totalitarian tribalists, throw down the gauntlet, and I'll show that modern cognitive psychology totally vindicates Rand. I dare ya. Any takers?

You can tell she was a brilliant psychologist because she and many of her follower ended up really miserable basket cases wih depression.

First you would need to demonstrate that recent cognitive psychology and behavioral economics are really, really right about a lot of really important things.

I would say that things like "Anchor effect" are not in reasonable doubt anymore. Same with "nudging" applications such as changing the default on some policies from No to Yes. In my opinion, these are really important things.

Why would "totalitarian" be appended to "tribalist"? Probably most tribal members don't even realize that they're in a tribe, which is, more or less, a logical extension of the sacrosanct family. Evidently, according to those that are in charge of warping the language, being a member of this larger family is somehow "bad". It's "good" to be a member of a family (Since, at least at this point, the nuclear family still exists.) but "bad" to be a member of any group between the family and the holy pseudo-democratic nation/state. Sadly, the human social animal will always find ways to form affiliations with others sharing the same beliefs and values, regardless of the design of the flag flying above their post office. Some tribes are innocuous and no real threat to the nation/state, San Francisco 49er fans, for instance. Others are. Gypsies, Mafia families, Latin street gangs, and some unions. Unions that present a very real threat to freedom are those representing public employees, particularly cops. Law enforcement is a tribe in its most negative form, at least for non-members.

I am genuinely interested in what her novel insights into psychology supposedly were. (Hopefully this has nothing to do with trains.)

Okay, since you all took me up on the offer...

First, modern cognitive psychology shows that oxytocin is the drug of love, caring, trust, and pair bonding, roughly speaking.

It turns out that modern cognitive psychology shows that oxytocin also makes people lie on behalf of the group, and do so quickly and easily. In addition, oxytocin makes people tell more outrageous lies. People were actually bigger liars on behalf of the group than they were on behalf of themselves.

So the same hormone that makes you get along with others also makes you a lying liar who lies, especially for the perceived interests of your group.

In addition, oxytocin makes people reflexively agree with each other, and causes in-group conformity. In short, oxytocin, the hormone inherent in pair bonding with others, makes people prefer the opinions of their in-group to the opinions of their out-group:

So, the hormone that enables you to get along with other people and care what they think also makes you a total self-deceptive tribal asshole.

In addition, recent research shows that people who don't give a shit what other people think are actually more objective. Specifically, when making a prediction, if you isolate those who DON'T update their beliefs in response to what others think and take the average of their answers, you get a better result then just taking the average of everyone:

From the abstract of the actual paper: "We found that some individuals resist the social influence and, when using the median of this subgroup, we can eliminate the bias of the wisdom of the full crowd. To find this subgroup of individuals more confident in their private estimations than in the social influence, we model individuals as estimators that combine private and social information with different relative weights [Perez-Escudero & de Polavieja 2011, Arganda et al. 2012]. We then computed the geometric mean for increasingly smaller groups by eliminating those using in their estimations higher values of the social influence weight. The trend obtained in this procedure gives unbiased results, in contrast to the simpler method of computing the median of the complete group."

So it turns out people who don't care what other people think really are more objective, and that people who are attuned to getting along with others are self-deceptive groupthinking liars. You know who you are.

Finally, behavioral economics shows us that systems can converge to a rational equilibrium when the selfish individualist objective types can benefit at the expense of the tribal groupthinkers. From "When does Economic Man dominate Social Behavior?", by Camerer and Fehr (2006): Prediction markets forecast accurately because poorly informed traders provide a clear opportunity for better-informed traders to
make money. Better-informed traders who express their confidence by making large trades can be sure to collect when an event either does or does not occur, at a known time in the near future. For example, if a better-informed trader knows that the asset is undervalued (i.e., the event is more likely to occur relative to the prevailing market opinion), he will buy the asset from the poorly informed traders. Thus, substitutability again diminishes the impact of less rational actors."

So, to sum up, the cognitive psychology and behavioral economics literature shows:

1. Oxytocin makes people care about others, and it also turns people into lying self-deceptive groupthinkers.
2. People who don't give a shit what others think are actually more OBJECTIVE.
3. We achieve collectively rational outcomes when actions are strategic substitutes, specifically when the more rational objective actors benefit at the expense of the irrational.

Ayn Rand nailed this over 50 years ago. (Really more like 70 years ago, when The Fountainhead was published.)

Suck it, haters.

Did Ayn Rand have any original ideas?

"Context-dropping" is a fairly unique idea, AFAIC.

Those novels she wrote

An Ayn Rand Biography (webcomic, good artwork). Note the help she got from many people. She also seems to have been rather neglicent when it came to honour debts:

My favorite section of Atlas Shrugged, and the one piece I'll recommend, is the description of the workplace run in accord with the phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." A great takedown of the concept.

Hilarious trolling Alex. There's nothing that brings out lefty snarky self-righteousness like even mild praise for Ayn Rand. You guys are so much smarter (and of course virtuous) than those of us who admire her work!

"Second, Ayn Rand portrayed a world I wanted to live in, not because I would be rich or powerful in it, but because it consisted of people I wanted to be around."

My own impression is the opposite. Rand's heroes are admirable in many ways, but they are also uniformly assholes.

The comments did not disappoint!

My modest proposal is that anyone who reads "The Grapes of Wrath" also read "Atlas Shrugged" (and vice versa).

Greg : "Learning about moral philosophy and economics from an Ayn Rand novel is like learning about crime fighting from a Batman comic book." Also like many people in a developed nation like the US learn about the origin of life from the book Of Genesis,

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