Class warfare has broken out again. Bitter acrimony and vituperation between the conservative and liberal voices of Congress, besides which the wrath of Zeus and the Titans is a modest dustup, crackles over the air waves and cable networks with the deadly menace and fierce rancor of an old time range war between noble sheep herders and evil cattle barons.
For the sake of argument let's agree that the noble sheep herders are the liberals and the evil cattle barons are the conservatives. I realize this is a stereotype, but it's really academic; the members of both parties enjoy a curious parity: judging by past performance, Democratic and Republican Congressmen are uniformly lazy, inept, and morally challenged.
But I digress. Against the well-documented liberal belief in the redistribution of wealth, you might sum up the conservative or libertarian position with a line from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: 'How well you do your work ... [is] the only measure of human value.'
Now that is a pretty stark definition of our collective humanity.
Rand was probably thinking of the traditional categories of work, such as lumberjack, mason, banker, tinker, tailor, soldier. It probably would not have occurred to her that there could be such a thing a pole-dancer or hedge-fund manager. So, whether you believe in the Calvinistic doctrine that man can achieve moral salvation through hard work or not, I think you would agree that Rand's statement represents an over-simplified model of the capitalistic universe as we know it.
For example, I used to work for a company that developed telemarketing software and equipment. Yes, gentle reader, the predictive dialer that summons you to the phone at dinnertime, is driven by a computer program. This presented me with a moral dilemma: if the lowest life-form is a telemarketer, what do you call a person who empowers him with software? The better I did my job the more I contributed to a pestilential nuisance of Biblical proportions: the daily intrusion in the domestic privacy of anyone who owned a telephone.
If Ayn Rand had been around, I could have sent her an email asking her what to do. As it happened, the moral ambiguities of my position, accepting the Devil's coin to pay the rent and put food on the table, were resolved by my employer: I was fired.
My employer had made a fortune selling his telemarketing equipment and software to the telephone sales industry and had decorated the walls of his company offices with a fabulous art collection that included works by such painters as Salvador Dolly, so you would have thought that he could afford to be generous about things like severance pay. Not a bit of it. In fact he challenged my claim for unemployment insurance based on a ginned up story of misconduct. But apparently he had second thoughts, for he sent no one to present his case at a scheduled hearing of the California State Appeals Board and I was awarded six months of unemployment benefits.
What Ayn Rand would call a confiscatory 'redistribution of wealth' by the welfare state tided me over until I found other work. Moreover, I was to have my revenge in spades: In 2004 the national 'Do Not Call List' became law, limiting cold call lists to charities, and effectively putting my employer out of business, though I suppose he could live handsomely off the proceeds of his art collection.
While my employer is not to be compared with an international arms dealer, the idea is the same, i.e. capitalism is not to be trusted as a self-correcting system. Left to its own devices (and vices) it will periodically spin out of control and self-destruct. Wall Street needs policing as much as any other street. My employer was, by Ayn Rand's standard, a hero of the capitalist system, a fiercely individualistic entrepreneur and a self-made man who had built a prosperous business around an innovative product. But by any standard of human decency he was a conniving opportunist who had made a fortune by exploiting imperfections in the free market system. It was only by the intervention of the state that cold call telemarketing was delegitimized as an industry.
As I grow older and wiser I become more conservative in outlook, the less governmental interference into our lives the better I say; but I am not an anarchist, and I'd like to think I have enough intellectual honesty and common sense to acknowledge there are times when government acts as a positive force for good
Wm. B. Fankboner
Updated Nov, 27, 2009
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