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. I think you’re right about Rand appealing to the emotions. I can re-read The Fountainhead easily and frequently, and like the best books it continues to be quite absorbing even when you know exactly what’s coming, but at the same time it’s hard not to regard it as badly written trash. The film has the same effect; there’s something quite mesmerizing about Gary Cooper’s delivery of Howard Roark’s climactic courtroom speech. It’s all in the emotions.


  2. Fraser’s autobiography is due out this year. Perhaps it will explain this story. I suspect back in the 1970s over-excited reporting converted Fraser having read Rand into being a fan of Rand.


  3. Fraser is about as far from being a Randian as you can imagine. He’s a noblesse oblige dripping wet paternalistic Tory. I call bull on that one.


  4. Lots of people like Rand’s novels without buying her general philosophy. So the fact that Fraser was in practice a paternalistic Tory doesn’t completely rule out the possibilty that he liked her books. But like Jason I think this story does have the whiff of bull****.


  5. What Fraser is now is not necessarily what he was when he got the label of Randian, Randite, Randist, whatever. His politics have evolved a good deal over the years. In the 1960s, from memory (which could be wrong!), he was part of the Rhodesia Lobby, which supported Ian Smith’s UDI. He was also a vociferous supporter of the Vietnam War. The phrase with which he is most associated, from 1975 when he became Opposition Leader, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy”, was supposed to be derived from (his interpretation of) Rand. Maybe he never meant it, but he revelled in the reputation as a Randist at the time.


  6. You don’t have to be Randian to think ‘life wasn’t meant to be easy’ or support the Vietnam war, or UDI etc. etc.


  7. A quick google finds that Rand was opposed to the Vietnam War.

    It [the Vietnam War] was a shameful war … shameful because it was a war which the U.S. had no selfish reason to fight, because it served no national interest, because we had nothing to gain from it, because the lives and the heroism of thousands of American soldiers (and billions of American wealth) were sacrificed …

    Can’t vouch for the quote or the website.


  8. From memory, Fraser praised Rand in Parliment when he was a backbencher in the early 1960s. (Anybody want to search Hansard?) When Rand heard of this, she said some nice things about Fraser (as you do).
    In the 70s, when John Singlton was spruiking the free market ‘Workers Party’ he made the observation that “Malcolm Fraser admires Ayn Rand and Ayn Rand admires Malcolm Fraser which just goes to show that neither knows what the other is talking about” I think you can find this quote in ‘Rip Van Australia’ published with Bob Howard.


  9. When Rand heard of this, she said some nice things about Fraser (as you do).

    That doesn’t sound right – Rand treated people with disdain. But it seems Fraser was a fan of, at least, her writing. Apparently Melbourne Uni houses his book and papers and her books are included in the collection and she was invited to a White House dinner in his honour in 1976. I also found a great quote that suggested Fraser spoke like Ayn Rand but governed like Santa Claus. Phillip Adams seems to have summed it up

    Malcolm Fraser? His intellectual stimulus seemed limited to Ayn Rand. Malcolm would stress her inspiration in his political life and she may well have influenced his conduct of the Kerr coup. Yet it’s only since he renounced Rand’s rampaging right-wing values that he’s revived his reputation. Though now regarded by progressives as a prominent public intellectual there wasn’t much evidence of the force of intellect in Fraser’s term in office.



  10. The dripping hatred of Fraser is unabashed and only grows stronger among the dries. The biggest lie of the Fraser Govt was that John Howard was a frustrated dry! He was even more soft than Fraser given that his job was to push the envelope – as Treasurers should do – even to lose. I mean Keating argued in public for Option C even though he got rolled! Howard has rewritten the Fraser Govt. Howard did nothing as well …. indeed when his Prime Ministership is considered in this context, Andrew Norton’s thesis of big government conservatism has real muscle.


  11. No hatred for Fraser, Corin. I admire what he did for the Vietnamese boatpeople. I just find the ideological linking of Fraser and Rand highly implausible.


  12. Fraser was quite ‘Randian’ in his speeches as Oppo Leader and before when trying to make the move.

    Max Walsh wrote in the AFR ( much later) that Fraserism was trendy in that people such as Thatcher and Reagan picked it up.

    He did not actually put a lot of this philosophy into practice.

    One should also put in here a little bloke called John Howard did not make ‘liberal’ noises until he decided to become the ‘champion’ of the dries.


  13. Like most Liberal PMs, Fraser looks much better compared to the realistic choices at the time than he does compared to classical liberal standards of good policy. The electorate made the right decision in 1975 and 1977, and probably 1980s too. But they also made the right decision in 1983, and I don’t think much of his retirement contributions to public debate.


  14. This ‘evolving of Malcolm Fraser’s politics’ trope is too overplayed, and says far more about the La-La land the Australian Left charged off to from the 1980s onward. The Left became increasingly preoccupied with identity politics – race and multiculturalism – rather than class. In fact, on class matters, Fraser was a ruthless anti-union and anti-welfare crusader.

    While Fraser – quite rightly – accepted the Vietnamese boat people, he loathed trade unions. These two policies were not at all contradictory. So it is perfectly reasonable to embrace Rand’s politics and philosophy and still be a Prime Minister who does not turn back boats of Asian people fleeing Marxist genocide.

    The other myth about Fraser is the interminable replaying of the quote “life wasn’t meant to be easy”. The trouble is few realize the quote comes from a character in one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays: ‘Life is not meant to be easy dear child, but take courage, it can be delightful’.

    Having said that, Fraser remains the thickest and most philistine of Australia’s post war PMs.


  15. “Fraser remains the thickest and most philistine of Australia’s post war PMs.”

    Billy McMahon was in a class of his own. Gorton, Holt and Fraser were bunched together for the minor placings.


  16. Fraser’s conduct since leaving office has largely been restrained despite being bucketed in **** from all sides. I won’t defend Fraser as his Govt pales in consideration against Hawke’s early years, but I do think Dries tend to promote the Howard view even though it doesn’t stack up. Indeed it was a systemic failure by Cabinet to address Australia’s problems in the 1970s that should be savaged and Fraser is figurehead but not monopolist on that failure. Whilst I don’t accept that Rudd is in the tradition of Hawke/Keating or even Whitlam as being reformist (though he has time to change this) I do accept (largely) the argument that Labor has been the reformist force of modern politics. Indeed most market reform is Labor’s in the last 30 odd years. I do grant Howard some credit in supporting hard things from Opposition and not rolling them back and even going further sometimes (see tax, welfare reform, but he botched WorkChoices politically as he didn’t compensate losers by negative income tax/or credits). Labor’s tax response to Henry is Rudd’s test of whether he has any standing to call Howard in the Fraser tradition as indolent.

    It must hurt Dries that your leaders have been sooooooo disappointing. NO ADVENTURE!!!


  17. Corin

    Hawke, Keating and Whitlam were all reformist PMs, but Hawke had the more admirable quality of pursuing GOOD reforms. He also had the good fortune that the Liberals under Howard/Peacock/Downer and Hewson supported his reform agenda, which enabled him to push it further than he might otherwise have been able. Howard as PM didn’t get this kind of support from Beazley, Crean, Latham or Krudd if he had been inclined to push forward with further reform.


  18. If your absolutely honest, Fraser’s contribution was the bedding of Whitlam’s reforms. Howard wasn’t a total loss from him we got the GST (as we are moving to a service economy the GST was a needed reform). \

    Corin got it right; the Liberal leaders have been soooo disappointing; in reality they have had very little to do with the freeing up of our economy; that has been the work of Labor, with Whitlam starting the process of unwinding the tariff barriers ( something people seem to forget).


  19. At least until the last couple of years, I had an hypothesis that the Liberals were good in opposition but less so in government, and Labor were bad in opposition but good in government. Alas now we have a very mediocre Labor government and a no better Liberal opposition.


  20. Calling Krudd mediocre is being very generous. Appalling is the word I tend to use. Abbott’s ascendancy to the top job was great it that it is likely to stop the CPRS being introduced, but it is only a matter of time until he achieves the remarkable – making Krudd look good. A Green Corp and a Cwth take over of the Murray Darling. Pleeeease!


  21. Andrew Norton
    January 16th, 2010 04:11
    Alas now we have a very mediocre Labor government and a no better Liberal opposition.

    I think to be fair to Malcolm Turnbull, he tried, he just led a party that wasn’t that interested. Yes with the Gretch thing he was going for the quick kill and he came unstuck, but that’s politics. I think if your honest about the current Labor government they are pretty much a continuation of the Howard Government but with the nasty corners knocked off. Both very average.
    Out of curiosity why the Krudd ( it devalues your writing before you start) and why the vermin? In my view there really hasn’t been that much to be cranky or excited about, one way or the other.

    Looks like we are going to get through the GFC without a spike in unemployment; that may upset the market types who believe things run better with a bit of human misery, but surly it’s not a hanging offence.


  22. Michael “Lorenzo” Warby
    January 15th, 2010 20:39

    The big liberalisations did occur under Labor, but it is also true that Labor Oppositions have been much more anti-liberalisation than Liberal Oppositions.

    Has Labor ever had control of the senate under a Liberal Government. In my view it is not an excuse.


  23. Andrew, I keep telling you there is room to start a centrist market based party largely on a Keating social outlook but combined with greater delivery of government through markets (vouchers, charter schools, etc). It would need support from market based Labor people and progressive Liberals … there is that possibility. I give it a few years yet but that seems a likely thing given the current morass of disappointment from Canberra. You’ve got to have that type of Senate based party (and perhaps some lower house seats) for good Governments now. Business would love it!


  24. [jc
    January 16th, 2010 19:32

    I don’t get your point, Charles. What exactly do you mean?]

    In Australia the liberalising of markets has occured under Labor Governments. The argument has been made that the Labor Government was supported by the conservative opposition, while the liberalising of markets under conservative governments has not been supported by Labor. My point is, at no time has there been a conservative government with a Labor controlled senate. In my view the position of Labor in opposition is no excuse for the failure of the conservative governments to liberalised anything.

    People who believe in liberal values have got to get over it, the Liberal party is a conservative party, not a liberal party. It is Labor party member with liberal views who have got things done..


  25. If the party Corin was refering to held the balance of power then there would absolutely be no excuse for either side of politics.

    I suspect however it would soon be taken over by Ayn Rand types. Centralists seem to have trouble keeping control of parties. As an example I give you the Liberal party, as a counter example I give you the Labor party, I don’t think anyone can argue it hasn’t been pulled back from the extreme left. It however took extraordinary people. The same people that actually led governments that liberalised the Australian Economy.


  26. Corin – It certainly would have to be Senate-based; there is no mass constituency for such a party.

    Charles – I’m really with Corin on your point in the sense that neither major *party* is particularly good on the issues I am concerned with, though for a period in the 1980s and 1990s Labor had several outstanding *individuals* who were able to use their dominance of their party to push through policies that are against its basic beliefs and intuitions. There was a similar situation on the Coalition side, though these policies are less of a challenge to the Liberal Party’s basic beliefs and intuitions (they are a major challenge for a rent-seeking party like the Nationals). Market politics are not institutionalised in the parliament.


  27. Charles:

    To be fair we’re basically talking about one government- the Hawke government – that was basically reformist and did lots of good things.

    Whiltam’s was a disaster and this present government is anything but reformist. In fact it’s regressive. I don’t think you have enough information to make that comment with any confidence.

    Howard’s was basically a government that carried on from Hawke’s unfinished business skipping over the carcass of Keating’s.


  28. [Andrew Norton
    January 17th, 2010 05:35
    Market politics are not institutionalised in the parliament.]
    I agree, and under such circumstances you have to judge the parties by the results, not the rhetoric, or what you believe are the parties ” basic beliefs and intuitions”. I would argue that there is currently outstanding individuals in both parties, the current problem is the lack of outstanding individual critical mass in either party, but that Labor is a hell of a lot closer than the Liberals.
    jc: Whitlam got us out of Vietnam, and started us down the path of tariff reductions. Something the liberal party wasn’t even dreaming of at the time.

    Given that medicare delivers an outcome that gives Australia the second highest life expectancy at a competitive proportion of GDP I think you have to include medicare as one of Whitlam’s successes. I know such a conclusion would not be appreciated in Libertarian circles.
    When facts get in the way of your beliefs you do have to evaluate your beliefs. The USA spends twice as much ( as a portion of GDP) on health and has a very mediocre outcome (if life expectancy is take as the metric).
    You can’t talk about the Hawk government without including Keating, it was Keating driving the reforms.
    I’d be interested in what you believe were the failures of the Keating Government. In my view the economy was suffering from a major restructuring that we had to have. Yes a little bit of stimulation would of helped ( something I imagine you would not support); but other than that, what could have been done. The restructuring destroyed many firms that had grown up under tariff protection, that was always going to be the negative consequence.


  29. Charles:

    Fair enough, you think Whitlam was a raging success story while most reasonable people consider him to be a abject failure. I’m not even going to try and convince you otherwise.

    As for the tariff reductions… Yes they did reduce tariffs but it wasn’t to reform the economy. They were actually trying to stem the huge inflation we were experiencing at the time. But don’t let me try to convince otherwise.

    What’s more interesting is that you’re appearing to have turned over a new leaf as an out-of-the-closet “neo-liberal”. What happened, Charles?


  30. jc
    They were actually trying to stem the huge inflation we were experiencing at the time. They were actually trying to stem the huge inflation we were experiencing at the time.

    You don’t have to convince me; I agree. What’s interesting is the policy response to the problem, a problem most western economies were experiencing at the time ( remember the term stagflation).

    I wouldn’t describe Whitlam as a raging success, if it wasn’t for Fraser a lot of his reforms would have fallen over, Fraser knocked off the rough edges. The same can’t be said of Keating, he did a pretty good job. The best you can say of the Howard government is they finished off the financial reform agenda.

    As to my politics, I long ago concluded trying to pin left, right, neo-liberal or whatever labels on Labor or the conservative parties is a waste of time. I’m interested in what has worked, what hasn’t, who did it, and why.

    I’m too old to be an angry young man.


  31. Andrew a I agree with what you wrote, mentioning the major privatisations reminds me of another argument against assuming that the liberals are the party for economic reform. The NSW labor party was divided over the merit of selling of the power stations; governments owning powers stations in a market that freely trades power (another Keating reform) makes no sense.
    Those opposing the sell off won because of Liberal support.
    Which government chickened out when it came to selling the snowy scheme?


  32. Charles – I have never assumed that the Liberals are the party of economic reform; though as in one of the comments above I do think they have fewer ideological obstacles to reform in their basic belief system.


  33. Charles – People have been saying that for decades; this is not suprising for a ‘broad church’ party. But it has always been relatively pro-business, anti-union, pro-family, pro-law and order, pro-Western alliance, though the detail changes a lot.


  34. And the Labor party:
    pro-business ( pretty much the topic we have been discussing)
    anti-left-union (by-actions, it’s the labor party that fixed up the mess from the 70’s)
    pro-family (a party that isn’t?)
    pro-law and order ( a party that isn’t?)
    pro-Western alliance ( by actions)
    So where is the difference; I think you have to look at the actions to find them. The party that has been running the reform agenda is the party that has been able to put together a team of exceptional people. The Liberal party does”t seem to be good at it.
    I was at the local university during O week last year. Saw the Labor party stand trying to attract new members. No Liberal party stand in site. Perhaps that is part of it, the labor party is a long term player.


  35. Relatively was the key word; they are both centrist parties that cannot move too far from the rough centrist electoral consensus.

    The recent re-regulation of the labour market favouring unions over business is a classic Labor Party move, not properly opposed by a weakened Coalition but which it is likely to try to water down if it wins office in 2013 or 2016.

    Certain kinds of pro-family policies are more likely to come out of the Coalition than Labor, eg money for stay-at-home mothers.


  36. I accept the idea that centrists have a problem retaining control of parties, but I don’t think any party has had a stated centrist perpective when it started so I think rules are made for breaking. If you had a real philosophy for such a party, then it could happen.

    Andrew, competence is more important than you credit and people tire of certainty sometimes, it would be a dangerous blend. I think you can win 10 senate spaces, where you would struggle is to get senators in Qld and WA. Lower house – i reckon with good candidates you could win Goldstein, Kooyong, Sydney, Wentworth, Sturt, etc. Again probably about 10 realistic chances. What you need as you correctly say is to use media and publicity rather than boots on the ground. But again, in Young Labor about 50 committed people can letterbox most key seats in a campaign – so the ‘boots on the ground’ thing is overstated … it is instutional resource power that would need to be overcome and frankly the media is there for the taking now. They want new angles … what you need is Turnbull and some Labor identities … an endorsement from someone like (maybe Fraser – how to bring it full circle). Markets and mutlicultural maybe for the elites but there is a strong base of elites who’d cheer you on.


  37. Corin – A look at the history of small parties suggests the task is much harder than this. Even with highly fashionable issues and more activists than the major parties put together the green movement is struggling to win a single federal H or R seat and doesn’t have the balance of power in the Senate (though they might get it in future). The two party system is highly resilient, and I seriously doubt the only moderated differentiated organisation you suggest would be successful.


  38. The great advantage the ALP has is that Hawke permanently moved the party so far to the Right, while still remaining surprisingly successful in its propaganda to rusted on trade unions and its now middle class base that it is still a Left wing party. Labor knows its middle class base will never desert if by voting Liberal.

    Meanwhile the Greens have reached a ceiling of support and converts. While they continue to shoot themselves in the foot with this never-ending barrage of holier-than-thou policy pronouncements on every social and economic issue under the sun, they will continue to repel potentially sizable number of converts from both Labor and Liberal.


  39. The Liberal Party’s “liberalism” was only ever so in that it was anti-Communist. But now that Communism – and pretty much all left-wing sympathies – have vanished from the Australian psyche, the Liberal Party really lacks a purpose or a cohesive offer to Australian governance.


  40. [Andrew Norton
    January 17th, 2010 17:42

    The recent re-regulation of the labour market favouring unions over business is a classic Labor Party move, not properly opposed by a weakened Coalition but which it is likely to try to water down if it wins office in 2013 or 2016.]

    Download and read one of the new awards; I have read one from the employers point of view; I have no complaints. Be careful, look at the reality, not the rhetoric.


  41. Corin

    My own view is the future of the Liberal party is uncertain; it can’t win government from an extreme conservative position; where does the Liberal party go from there. If liberals want a voice in politics they should claim the Liberal party, it will be up for grabs.


  42. Andrew, using the Greens is an absurd case. They are clearly a fringe party even if they have a lot of committed activists. Australia has a preference system, so in a 4 cornered seat, say Sydney, ALP get 37% fpp, Libs 18%, Greens 15% and new arrival only has to get say 24% fpp to be some chance of winning on preferences even the other put you higher on the how to vote. This scenario probably works best in Lib seats like Kooyong where you are more likely to eat directly into Liberal votes, but you’d certainly pick up preferences from ALP and Green. I accept though it is less likely than Senate spots but then Senators have power in blocking or amending laws anyway.
    Charles, the Libs have been taken over by cultural conservatives and rent seekers, they are going to be a generation in the wilderness before they do a ‘Cameron’.


  43. Charles:

    How on earth can you say the future of the libs is uncertain? The most recent polling shows the two parties apart 54 to 46 on a two party preferred which is not exactly a firestorm for the libs.

    Dude, you need to be a little more .. how should I say it without sounding… negative.

    You need to get out more or whatever..


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