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Loud voices for greed are actually not the majority of Americans

Fads, trends, celebrities, silly seasons and isms come and go, and right now we seem to have a rise in the philosophy of greed—at least in volume in the political sphere.

It’s not too surprising that Russian-American screenwriter, novelist, philosopher and playwright Ayn Rand (1905 to 1982) and her writings are receiving another 15 minutes of fame in this era of greed.  It’s interesting to note that her name, Ayn, rhymes with “mine.”

Her philosophy, which she called Objectivism—which assumes that knowledge and values are based on an objective reality rather than opinions—and her teachings such as “rational selfishness” have been part of pop culture for about 50 years. 

In a recent article in Sojourners magazine, novelist and journalism professor Danny Duncan Collum described it as a pop philosophy that justifies the “upper class” being wealthy and selfish.

What is surprising now is the number of high-level policy makers who have become her adherents.

Alan Greenspan has admitted that he is a devoted fan.  As chair of the Federal Reserve Board, he repeatedly assured us that the financial markets would adjust themselves.  How could they, when they were being manipulated and undermined by the greedy?

For a time, Rep. Ron Paul, who is running for President, was Ayn Rand’s only quoter recorded in the Congressional Record.  His son, Sen. Rand Paul, has found her thinking worthy of being included in Senate hearings.

Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, has said that her writings are the reason he first ran for public office.  He distributes her books to his staff.

Her writings have never been taken seriously by scholars  in either philosophy or economics.

 According to Collum, “The mainstreaming of Rand is, in large part, the work of one man, John Allison IV, recently retired CEO of the giant national bank holding company, BB&T.”

As a condition of employment, he required top management of BB&T to read her polemic novel, Atlas Shrugged.  

Now, in his position at the BB&T Foundation, he awards grants to colleges and universities to develop courses or endowed chairs which require the teaching of Objectivism. 

These grants, often for $1 million or $2 million, have been given to at least 25 institutions, including Duke, four locations of the University of North Carolina, the University of Louisville, the University of Texas at Austin, and Guilford College, which was founded by the Quakers.

In Randland, there is no social safety net, social contract or common good.  Those who have made it to the top deserve to be there, and the usual rules do not apply to them. 

It’s a peculiar form of exceptionalism that regards anyone who believes that anyone who is helped  by a safety net is a “moocher.”

Responsible opinion polls, such as those conducted by Pew Research and the Gallup Poll, consistently show that a significant majority of Americans opposes balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class, and the majority believes that increased funds are necessary if we are to make our way out of our current economic situation.

All major faiths emphasize concern for the poor.  So why are these Ayn Rand devotees driving the debate?

Nancy Minard - Editorial Team