Last weekend I watched a very old movie from 1949 – The Fountainhead after Ayn Rand’s novel with the same name. It was made in the best traditions of propaganda movies of the first half of XX century – a simple idea expressed very directly with no recognition of realities of life.
For those who did not read the book and/or did not see the movie, the plot is going like this – highly talented architect Howard Roark refuses to compromise his talent by doing what other people want him to do and agrees to apply his incredible talents only on condition that his projects will be accepted and paid for as is, with no modifications to his vision.
Initially he is deprived of opportunities to apply his vision so he is working as manual laborer, but his superior and heroic personality overcomes all resistance and he builds all he wants to build the way he wants to do it until his friend convinces him to design a project for public housing. He does it without compensation, but on condition that integrity of design will not be violated. As it is to be expected, evil forces intentionally distort design and build new buildings in the way unacceptable for genius. In retaliation the genius blows buildings up (literally) and makes the great speech during the trial about individual’s right and even duty to live selfishly in his/her own interest and not give a damn about other people expectations, providing he is not interfering with their selfish interests.
Somehow jury behaves strangely different from surrounding masses of people who demand his blood, and acquits him. The happy end comes in the form of opportunity to build the biggest and most visionary building in the world with lesser people providing financing and conveniently removing themselves from the scene. Or, and for a cherry on the top of the cake he gets a beautiful and rich women who is in love with him from the moment she saw him as laborer on construction site.
Actually I am pretty much agree with Libertarian ideology and with Ayn Rand on main parts of her philosophy. I just see no more reason in trying to convince people to be selfish then in trying to convince them to be selfless. They will do whatever they believe is in their interest anyway with this “whatever” being unpredictable. Whether it would be “washing beggar’s feet” as Mather Teresa did or running “Ponzi schema” as Barry Medoff did depends purely on what the individual perceives as his/her paramount interest at the time – saving the soul or maintaining the image of great investor at any cost.
However Ayn Rand’s paeans to illusionary superior human beings, geniuses, “job creators”, and visionaries cause huge damage because they tend to send message to regular people that they are not important in the Libertarian world, that they are just a tool or raw materials in achieving goals and visions of some heroic capitalist. Real people observe real capitalists, see no superior talents or heroic deeds and know that these capitalists do the same as all people do to obtain resources and achieve their goals and this “the same” is not always pretty. Sometimes they work harder, but sometimes they do not. Sometimes they are more knowledgeable, but sometimes they are not. In short there is no way that regular people would accept their own inferiority and supported a hero in real life.
The secondary message – that everybody will be better off if capitalists, heroic or not, do whatever market makes them to do, while true could not possibly resonate if it means to loose one’s job here and now without any way to know whether one will be able to get similar or better job in the future.
In short I believe that Libertarian ideas could and eventually will get traction, but only after Libertarians will be able to come up with a solution that provides reliable backup plan for everybody in any situation while leaving wide open the way up for everybody who is willing to try. So let’s stop blabbering about heroic “job creators” and start looking for solution that would prompt regular people to switch their support from politicians and bureaucrats who promise them share of loot to Libertarians who provide a feasible way to prosperity through self-reliance without risk of absolute failure and poverty.