Goddess of the Market

It’s rare for PhD theses to be turned into good books, but I am glad to report that with Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right Jennifer Burns has beaten the odds. Her book is readable and interesting throughout.


There was one paradox of Rand’s work and legacy that particularly caught my eye after last year’s discussion of liberalism and the emotions. Rand thought that the emotions should always come from rationality; even sex was to be inspired by a recognition of shared values rather than physical attraction (a convenient idea for a woman in love with a much younger man). It sounds like an extreme version of the liberal emphasis on reason and rules over prejudices and passions.

Yet the key to Rand’s lasting cultural influence – her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are still bestsellers nearly 30 years after her death – is the way emotions can drive politics.

Far more than any other of the libertarian figures of the 20th century (though because you could only be with Rand or against her, she refused to have anything to do with the libertarian movement as it did not adhere to her philosophy of Objectivism), in her novels Rand spoke to the emotions of her readers. Burns writes: ‘Be true to yourself, Rand’s books teach, sounding a resonant note with the power to reshape lives.’ She says that Rand has always appealed to the ‘accomplished yet alienated overachiever’.

Even in libertarian circles, relatively few people are lasting adherents of Rand’s political philosophy. In my experience, those who do are often, like Rand herself, dogmatic personalities unwilling to listen to other people’s ideas. But Jerome Tuccille’s book title It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand nicely captures her effect. Rand’s novels engage teenagers and early 20-somethings in a way that more theoretical books cannot, but often lead them to more mainstream libertarian or classical liberal ideas.

I first came across Rand in my teens, but though then a prolific novel reader I could never finish Atlas Shrugged’s thousand pages. Perhaps my temperament is just too far from Rand’s. But for many others Rand’s books, if not Rand herself, were inspirations.

60 thoughts on “Goddess of the Market

  1. JC, W … ever, Keating polled 46% in 96 and Labor was left as a rump afterward. I’ll make a guestimate and say ALP will win 92 seats in the 2010 poll, so a landslide even though most pundits are picking about 100 seats based on general poll performance. I’ll walk to Alice and back if the Coalition win more seats than they have …


  2. I’m very pessmistic about the 2010 election and long-term prospects for the Liberals. On the other hand, pundits do have a habit of over-playing the significance of the latest polls or the latest woes of a party; there was a bout of it in/about the ALP mid-last decade but they were back in office a few years later.


  3. jc, if the election result is 54 to 46 the result will be around 100 seats to Labor, 50 to the Liberals. The polls have been stable and pointing to a Liberal wipeout for about 2 years now.


  4. Andrew, Charles:

    There’s nothing really at all shocking that the ALP is likely to stay in office for a decade or so. We don’t often change governments here, so what is the huge significance.


    Sometimes you just need to wait and mark time as there’s not much more that one can do. The conservatives were whacked hard in the UK in the late 90’s and they’ll be back this year with Labor a bear rump.

    I also tend to agree with Maggie in that it always ends this was with labor.


  5. Charles:

    It is true that the British conservatives under Cameron are fairly green. However he could be proposing that they build a coal plant on every street corner on the west end of London and still romp it in.

    Turnbull is not like Cameron. Cameron is actually proposing some serious reforms that would devolve governance down to the community level such as voting the local policy chief etc. Turnbull spent his time agreeing with Rudd.

    As I said the wait will be long unless the ALP manage to screw things up earlier, which is a real possibility but the wait seems that it will be around 10 years.


  6. Andrew, I read your post on demographic problems for the Libs. I think the issues of education and health favour Labor in Oz as they still do in Britain. However the potency of the issue in my view is dependent on whether the public interpret more spending giving them value for that spend. So, if after another term say, Labor’s education policies haven’t lifted performance sufficiently (particularly in outer suburbs) then there are opportunities for the Coalition to present reforms like vouchers top-ups for FTB Part A recipients that will potentially be popular for both being a ‘bribe’ as well as being a ‘reform’. Hence there could be with some innovation change in that potency of support for the ALP.


  7. jc

    Turnbull was trying to neutralise topics that will make the Liberal party unelectable. No doubt the ETS could be better but in it’s current state the Liberal party can’t participate in the debate.


  8. Corin – Certainly the Coalition received no political dividend for its vast health and education spends. The problem is that while Labor invariably fails to make major progress in most of the issues it ‘owns’ they are still seen to care more sincerely about them.

    This is another reason why I think Abbott’s centralism is political folly on a grand scale. The more Labor issues like health and education become federal issues, the less likely it is the Liberals can win. The genuinely national issues – the economy, defence, immigration – are all issues on which the Coalition has traditionally performed well in the polls. The more the federal government is about these issues, the better the Coalition’s chances.


  9. Andrew, I agree with that. However under Howard, Coalition had a potent vote winner in the health insurance rebate and hence it is still operating despite ALP broadly hating it (at least on the Left).

    In my view, Howard held the majority on the economy but propped up key voting groups (so called middle/upper middle Oz) through that spend on SES and health insurance. Whether Howard could have won bigger majorities by targetting spending further down the income scale is anybodies guess, but I’ll guess that they could have.

    What Howard achieved though is an implicit compact that people can ‘reward’ their status (even in the middle class) by sending kids to school and even if you fall ‘short’ of that aspiration, you want that ‘possibility’.

    An inside account I could tell you of how Labor formed its education policies in Opposition but I won’t. Suffice to say that schools hitlists were not well thought off and incremental spending initiatives were.


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