Check out this week’s New Yorker for a well-put insight into the Rand-infected mind. Nick Paumgarten writes about John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods and his attitudes towards unions:

…His [Mackey’s] disdain for contemporary unionism is ideological, as well as self-serving. Like many who have come before, he says that it was only when he started a business–when he had to meet payroll and deal with government red tape–that his political and economic views, fed on readings of Friedman, Rand, and the Austrians, veered to the right. But there is also a psychological dimension. It derives in large part from a tendency, common among smart people, to presume that everyone in the world either does or should think as he does–to take for granted that people can (or want to) strike his patented balance of enlightenment and self-interest. It sometimes sounds as if he believed that, if every company had him at the helm, there would be no need for unions or health-care reform, and that therefore every company should have someone like him, and that therefore there should be no unions or health-care reform. In other words, because he runs a business a certain way, others will, can, and should, and so the safeguards that have evolved over the generations to protect against human venality–against, say, greedy, bullying bosses–are no longer necessary. The logic is as sound as the presumption is preposterous.

Comments

  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    January 7, 2010

    In other words, because he runs a business a certain way, others will, can, and should, and so the safeguards that have evolved over the generations to protect against human venality–against, say, greedy, bullying bosses–are no longer necessary.

    A true Randian would insist (if not for public consumption) that greed and bullying are the rightful spoils of being the Boss, and that lesser mortals should be grateful for the small attentions that the Boss bestows upon them — even if those attentions are themselves unwelcome, the privilege of serving makes up for it.

    Therefore, those protections are not only unnecessary but a violation of all that is Right and Good.

  2. #2 MJ
    January 7, 2010

    Does Paumgarten really mean that? That either the presumption is NOT preposterous, and the logic not sound, or the presumption is preposterous, but the logic sound? Doesn’t he want “The logic is as sound as the presumption is NOT preposterous”, i.e. not at all in both cases?

  3. #3 kevinwparker
    January 7, 2010

    The notion that everyone should fundamentally be just like her permeates all of Rand’s writing, fiction and nonfiction. Her concept of a “normal” child is clearly based on what she was like as a child, her concept of a “normal” adolescent is based on what she was like as a teenager, and so on. That someone who agrees with her philosophy believes similarly should be no surprise.

  4. #4 Kagehi
    January 7, 2010

    To be clear, the problem with Libertarians and all Rand types is the same as what Obama discovered when trying to pass health care. Just because someone *claims* to follow your principles doesn’t mean that they are not in your “party” just to take advantage of your own naivete and beliefs about how the system works. Basically, if you create a political movement which stands on the principle, “Enlightened people won’t screw the common folk, so we don’t need rules.”, the first people to cozy up to you are the ones that think, “If there are no rules, I can do any damn thing I want, as long as I convince these rubes that I support their *enlightened* vision.”

    Its for this reason that it has become all too common for everyone that shows up saying they are libertarian on certain blogs to leave being called libertards. Their thinking may be pro-capitalism, but their Utopian idea about what that *means* is indistinguishable from the kind of muddy thinking, and naive wish fulfillment practiced by every Marxist. Any system based on either the belief that you “can” find enlightened people to run things, never mind that they *will be* the ones doing so, is doomed to fail. If that was plausible, communism would be a viable option too, since *enlightened* leaders could, in principle, find a way to give everyone what they need, while promoting advancement, since that advancement would have come through people *enlightened* enough to create, without seeking profit. In Rand’s fantasy world, the only difference is the expectation that those “enlightened” people won’t, once they have you by the balls, turn out to be con artists, who intend to rob you blind. Well, that and the delusional perspective that *somehow* some new, truly enlightened, person can rise up out of the morass of poor serfs to “build” a competing business, and thus “take down” the con artist, while having no money, no resources, no government to step in to help them, and a multi-billion dollar business, and its lawyers, waiting to steal, slander, or otherwise prevent, any such business from *ever* competing on a sufficient scale to present a problem for them.

    The only difference between the two Utopian visions is how much money you can make scamming people, and whether or not you need to be a business owner, or a government official, to do it. Otherwise, even the enlightened can be complete idiots, fall from what ever grace they may have had, turn to the dark side, or what ever you want to call it, and in neither system is there someone else around to deal with such people when it happens. On the contrary, part of “achieving” that vision is always, “Get rid of the people currently trying to do that, since we don’t need them.”

    Any such cause will attract as many, if not more, people trying to abuse it, than those that believe in it, “period”.

  5. #5 lukas
    January 7, 2010

    everybody-should-be-like-me-ism is hardly unique to Randians.

    And, while Mackey’s thinking is influenced by Rand, he can hardly be called a Randian. By Jove, he thinks businesses have duties to their employees and customers, not only their shareholders. That is sweet 180 proof heresy right there.

  6. #6 Kagehi
    January 7, 2010

    Yeah. Always gets me how they imagine their 100 share holders are going to “buy” the thousands of products they make every year, once a) their employees don’t make enough to buy them, and b) their semi-ally Republicrats manage to erase government programs that currently make up the difference via food stamps.

    I would *think* that having people able to afford to survive, so that they have the money to buy your product, would have *some* sort of impact on your profits… :p

  7. #7 lukas
    January 8, 2010

    Well, you may disagree, but Whole Foods does pay their employees a decent wage. It may not be enough for them to throw out common sense and shop at their place of employment, but that’s because the whole purpose of Whole Foods is selling overpriced food to people with money burning in their pockets.

  8. #8 Cousin Andy
    January 8, 2010

    Really, though, what role does a union play in the current day? This isn’t the industrial revolution where people are loosing limbs and while unions helped improved those conditions, the law is now that protection.

    The problem I see is well manifested in the auto industry. The UAW has enabled unskilled workers to make a $55/hr wage with full lifetime benefits, which was great for a while, but those same practices are driving those union shops out of business. Unskilled labor has no business making that much money, especially when such a large percentage goes to pay the beast. That is why the foreign auto makers who set up shop in the South are competitive. They pay $20-$25/hr for their unskilled labor force, a much more sustainable number.

  9. #9 dick hertz
    January 9, 2010

    I think cousin andy is telling a just so story. Who is unskilled in the auto industry? The robots? The men and women who service the robots?

  10. #10 James Sweet
    January 11, 2010

    I used to work for Krogers when I was in high school. It was pretty awesome to:
    1. Be required to sign a union contract while underage.
    2. Have no choice as to whether you wanted to join said union (Closed Shop).
    3. When you are mistreated at work, you find the union steward to file a grievance only to be told that underage employees aren’t covered under union contracts.

    I had to pay the beast and, when I needed them, I wasn’t really a member. It’s all a scam.

    FWIW, I wonder if it would be practical to implement some sort of antitrust-like legislation in regards to unions to prevent the potential for these kinds of abuses. A closed shop with only a single union has many of the same problems of a corporate monopoly, i.e. there is zero incentive to deliver value to their “customers” (in this case, the union members). I dunno if it could be made to work at all, but I wonder if setting up two competing unions — while maintaining a closed shop — could deliver the advantages of a closed shop without the potential for abuse?

    Without commenting on the rest of Cousin Andy’s argument (which seems fairly specious), there do exist closed shops where the union doesn’t really give two shits about their members. On balance, unions are still a good thing… but if there would be a way to prevent the kind of scenario Cousin Andy describes, that would definitely be a good thing.

    (In my town, there are two big supermarket chains. One has a union, the other doesn’t. Having known people who worked at both, Andy’s claim about Kroger’s does not sound outlandish to me… which is not an argument against unions, but I do think it argues that more can be done to prevent against shitty unions. A shitty union can be worse than none at all.)

  11. #11 James Sweet
    January 11, 2010

    Argh, blockquote fail. Hopefully it will be clear the first couple paragraphs are quoting Cousin Andy.

  12. #12 History Punk
    January 12, 2010

    “1. Be required to sign a union contract while underage.

    2. Have no choice as to whether you wanted to join said union (Closed Shop”

    You could have gone elsewhere. Kroger’s union is not all powerful. If you dislike something about the job, go find another employer. I, for example, do not like boats. I therefore, enlisted the Air Force.

  13. #13 Cousin Andy
    January 12, 2010

    James: I meant no deception and I have no ulterior motives. What you see is what you get.

    Kagehi: I live in the country’s asshole: Louisiana. Previously, I have lived in Kentucky and Florida. I have done everything from sales to construction to auto mechanics. One way or another, I find a way to make it.

    History Punk: At 15 years old, there were a limited number of jobs that I could get myself to. Couple that with my parent’s belief that I should continue working the same job “Just because” and you see the situation. Later, I grew up some and got better jobs. I apprenticed as a mechanic, I worked on golf courses, etc.

  14. #14 d.pascale
    January 28, 2010

    FYI:Ron Paul’s son,RAND Paul,is running for the US Senate, in Kentucky.(Talk about Rand-infected minds!)

  15. #15 Brian X
    February 5, 2010

    James Sweet:

    I’m pretty sure the Mafia scandals of the 20th century proves that unions need watchdogs too. Just because one union screwed you doesn’t mean the concept is bad; we know for a fact that unions are required for employees to have bargaining power commensurate with the corporation, so it’s not the concept that’s flawed, it’s the execution.

    Remember, your personal experiences are only one datapoint in a full set.

  16. #16 fdpugh
    February 17, 2010

    The blog excerpt itself was to short to really get a hold of what the original author was putting across. Unfortunately many parties (writer, blogger, and commentators) seem to have misunderstood the point of Rand, or are simply exhibiting knee-jerk reactions to something they think they know to be true (“all Rand is bad Rand”). With no meaningful counter-debate it seems that there is not much to say for the blog-followers.

    The problem is that the particular example is specular, while the whole of the issue is far more complex. It is easy to point a finger at an individual and label them without necessarily understanding the environment in which they operate, or the background of their learning. Many “capitalists” glom onto the parts of Rand they like, such as the axiom of “greed is good”, without fully investing an understanding of what comes in behind that to back it up. People do that all the time with Christ and the institution which what built around his passing. Hitler was Christian – which most other practitioners would vehemently deny.

    The CEO of Whole Foods may fancy himself an old-school capitalist, or a Randian, or whatever he likes to be called, but the pop culture blurb version of Objectivism is missed all around here. Rational Self Interest is what Rand advocates, and explicitly speaks against the type of uncontrolled greed that leads to a harmful situation that is out of balance, harming others in the process is certainly not in one’s self interest else who would you be able to trade with?

    There are many many more factors such as the current state of our “free market” system which has been anything but that since the institution of the interstate commerce act, industry lobbyists in Congress, etc.

    People who do not understand the epistemology of the philosophies they adopt or deny do a disservice to everyone in trying to portray them.

  17. #17 Rob Monkey
    February 18, 2010

    fdpugh, while I can appreciate taking the other viewpoint here, it seems your comment is pretty light on reasoning but heavy on the No True Scotsman. Describe why Mackey’s ideas aren’t Rational Self Interest, or what exactly is wrong with the commenter’s ideas (you can leave out criticisms of the anti-atheist spamming douche, nobody likes them anyway). I’ve tried to keep an open mind about Rand, but I’ll be honest, after having a communist roommate for two years in college, I do think that Kagehi has nailed down a big problem with Randian philosophy. Just as you can’t avoid corruption in communism, it seems as though Randians are all for the good of the free market until we start factoring things like pollution into said “free” markets. Then it’s just government getting its hands into everything and making everything shitty. So where does the line get drawn? If the factory owner doesn’t live near the factory, is it against his Rational Self Interest to pollute the air and water? What if nobody he knows is going to suffer from it?

    I guess what I don’t understand is how we’d prevent Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” in a Randian world. I’m a biologist/chemist, and I’ll be honest, even I don’t subject meat to a petri dish test every time I go to the grocery store. Yes, we could say the free market would drive sellers of bad meat out of the marketplace, but let’s look at reality. Proving you got food poisoining from a specific source is nearly impossible, and you can certainly pay a lot of lawyers by saving money on refrigeration and proper handling. While I like the idea of business owners acknowledging that hurting their customers is a bad idea, there’s always a cost/benefit ratio involved. If a car company makes a car that, say, has a sticky gas pedal, at what point is it against their self-interest to keep the problem under wraps? After 10 people die? 20? Enough that a class action suit starts?

    What protects the rest of us from shitty capitalists if not regulations?

  18. #18 fdpugh
    February 18, 2010

    Rob Monkey – you raise very good points for debate and I will try and redress them all. Trying to condense a large and complex topic into a few lines in a comment box can be challenging however.

    1. Pollution in the Free Market : This is one area that makes it difficult to truly realize Rand’s ideals of economy. There are several factors that come readily to mind.

    Scale – In Rand’s ideal you and I are the full representation of the full market. I grow grain, you raise beef. We can agree that I provide you so many bushels of grain in return for a certain quantity of beef. I will try to get the best deal out of you I can (least grain for most beef) while you will attempt the converse. We are both otherwise rational individuals and can come to some final agreement where I feel that the amount of beef I get for the grain I give is fair. We then have to be able to transport each others goods as required by our contract, meaning Joe the Trucker comes into play and we have to mutually or individually strike an accord with him. Of course this example is extremely simple and does not always directly translate into complex relationships such as where you have also deal with a veterinarian, and I with a seed and fertilizer supplier, and so on, up to the point where we have a series of relationships that are most likely intertwined and impossible for you and I individually to deal with. At this level the only challenge is that you and I cannot agree to a fair trade, and thus do not strike a deal. This is still perfectly fair and equitable. This leads to another factor in the direction of a polluted free market.

    Agency – By the time you and I and all the other parties involved in providing grain and beef to the marketplace have worked everything out it is likely that none of use really have the time to do what it is we started out with. We therefore hire personnel to specialize in tasks such as buying seed, routing trucks, and selling surplus commodities to store owners so that we can do what we do best – grow grain and raise beef. These agents are representing our best interests, but are truely acting in their own best interests (i.e. they are hired for salary, commissions, etc.). We presume them to be rational, and thus far we do not have anything that detracts from the free market being a perfectly fair and equitable arrangement. This becomes a problem when the agent sees room in the margins to take advantage of some of the inefficiencies that may be present in our system. In a perfect system you or I would detect this and choose either to renegotiate with the agent, fire them, or allow them to exploit this to their own advantage. If we choose to recover these losses however, we proceed into the third factor which comes to mind where the pollution really starts congealing.

    more follows..

  19. #19 fdpugh
    February 18, 2010

    Regulation – In order for us to be protected from the losses described above (technically embezzlement), we need a well defined contract of behavior under which everyone involved in our system must act; laws. We probably require a neutral agency to oversee this process (arbitration), or may even decide to designate them as an agency that not only oversees the process but develops, amends, and implements it as they see fit so that we can reasonably and smoothly conduct our business. In the case of the United States this is essentially exactly what happened; abrogation of the free market place has slowly occurred over time as individuals in the government realize they no longer have to maintain a strict agency relationship to the people who elect them.

    On one hand the government implements regulations (taxes, tariffs, standards in some cases, and contra-bans) and creates its own agencies to enforce these regulations. Very few of these are directly influenced by you and I as individual producers. More often than not a lobby group, trade union, or similar agency acts to influence a member of government to draft and implement regulations which favor their cause – be it easier flow of business, better working conditions, or the prohibition of some sort of good under moral pretense, or a general concern for public good. These are the “looters” that Rand paints in such lavish terms. These groups are not necessarily a bad thing, as neither you nor I have the time to go petition our representative to regulate in our favor, but if we are part of a union or trade group, then our similar interests can be represented. Rand goes off the tracks in criticizing these outright, as does Mackey apparently. The problem is that such groups can have undue influence on the agents of government.

    I worked in the accounting department of one of the major telecoms long enough to realize that they were effectively buying votes on a near weekly basis… when an agent of an agent can act in such a fashion the idea of a free and equitable market becomes a farce.

    Rand’s ideal breaks down somewhere between Agency and Regulation for the same reason that communism breaks down – people with bad intentions wreak havoc on the process by exploiting the flaws. I am not mindless Rand automaton, but I do think it necessary to fully understand the principles involved before throwing them out.

    As for the other commentary… I may address that later

  20. #20 Rob Monkey
    February 22, 2010

    fdpugh, interesting comments. Sorry I didn’t get back to this until now but I was busy this weekend, exploring my Rational Self-Interest in smoked ribs and homemade beer ;)

    Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of your answers though, since it seems to basically say what Kagehi and I have been opining. Your example of the grain/beef economy is a good example, but I do question the idea of one of our “Agents” being at fault for cutting corners, it seems much more likely that one of us, as the business owners, would be doing such a thing. Really though, the problem I have with Rand mostly boils down to the idea that those who make money are inherently better. I don’t buy it, and in fact the people I know who are most into “success” and large paychecks are usually the most morally suspect. Not saying we should all live in hippie communes and shun productivity and advancement, but for every grass-feeding, environment-helping, sustainable farmer we’ve got, there’s a dozen CAFOs making more money per animal by being at best sleazy, at worst selling us ammonia-treated pink slime as ground beef (google for the story, it’s in the tubes somewhere). I guess I’ve just never understood Rand’s ideas of incentives. I love the idea of the powerful capitalist making the world better, but I’ve never met a capitalist who really wanted to make the world better. If the world gets better as a side effect of their success, great, but if it gets worse, well, that’s someone else’s problem, and hey, I’ve got a Maserati now!

    Oh, and I guess two more questions come to mind: 1. What kind of scale would Rand’s ideas work at? Like the size of a tribal group of pre-agricultural people? If so, then that explains to me why communism and objectivism match up so well: they’re both trying to make an unworkable system at the large scale, and at the small scale the system is so obvious that it doesn’t need exposition, i.e., communism works fine when it’s basically a huge extended family, but not at many times the size and population. 2. Does Rand assume that people are at heart rational? I know for the most part we can weigh consequences and risks and make a decent enough decision, but in reality, our brains can be influenced very easily by non-rational appeals. Classic example comes to mind: people aren’t afraid of car accidents, but are afraid of flying, despite the hugely greater risk driving than flying.

  21. #21 fdpugh
    February 23, 2010

    RobMonkey – Kudos on the Ribs and Beers.

    Yeah, I think we’re in the same ballpark. I don’t think that all of Rand’s ideas are good ideas, but there are a lot that she doesn’t get credit for.

    At a global scale, both Communism and Objectivism break down. The problem is that while Objectivism as a total philosophy is sound; it does in fact depend on individuals to be intelligent and rational.

    Reality shows that that is not the case, and Rand’s whole premise falls down at that point. It can be argued according to Objectivist epistemology that people that are “into success” and also immoral as you and Kaghei and I would agree, are not in fact being Objectivist.

    The ideal of Objectivist based economy is that each side of a bargain are in fact trying to “screw over” the other party, but both are fully aware of and working on that basis of exchange until they both come to mutually satisfactory compromises. The premise that both parties are equally equipped to conduct such negotiations is either flawed, or I have not yet discovered Rand’s proposed solution to this.

    The scale potentially is unlimited just as with communism as long as all interacting parties are similarly capable of rational decision making, and are equally prepared to engage in such a market place.

    We obviously cannot just unleash such a system on the general public as not everyone fits the equally rational and intelligent category.

    The primary difference between Rand’s views and Communism is that (according to her views) communism is compulsory while the Objectivist Free Market is inherently voluntary.

    Personally I prefer her other areas of philosophical musings, she is at least an acerbic pundit for rationalism.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.