Writing about Rand-on-the-Web is such fun. I’ll have to take on the sociopath accusation shortly; for now, there is this: just watched a BBC documentary about computers, the world financial crisis, and how Ayn Rand was all to blame for it all – Adam Curtis’ “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.” These are my notes as I watched, now edited, from my replies on YouTube with Part 1 starting here. As my notes make clear, I found this documentary horrifyingly bad, only partly on inaccuracy grounds.
Ayn Rand did not say human beings are alone in the universe. That is just nonsense. Neither did she say we should be guided by our “selfish desires” – this has nothing to do with Rand’s thought at all. Ill-educated and falsifying.
Rand didn’t live next to the Empire State Building. Ever. Not one economist thinks that “selfishness and greed” were what led to the Crash of ’29 and the Great Depression of the ’30s. [How did these perpetually-discussed vices magically spring up just then and no other time, say 1921 or 1937?]
The film is strung together shoddily. Of course, the cheap point is that this video was edited on computers and put onto a computer network.
Altruism is not “the care of others,” certainly not in Rand’s meaning – it means sacrifice (and that’s what the term’s originator meant by it). In Atlas Shrugged, government is corrupted by crony capitalists acting “selfishly” – they’re some of her worst villains. She never spoke about “the virtue*s* of selfishness.” The Mike Wallace interview video is selectively edited to bad effect: in the non-edited version (available on YouTube) she says she agrees with the facts but not the estimates.
The number of unestablished premises of the argument here – and the number of factual errors – are astounding. This is one of the stupidest arguments I have ever seen constructed: the only bad thing government did, as always, was reduce spending or regulation. The computers and evil Ayn Rand did all the rest!
In fact, the new age of purported stability was largely mediated by the collapse of the Soviet Union – and was a consequence of Reagan’s cutting income and capital gains taxes. Strangely, here we are in 2011 and we have all kinds of technology they didn’t have in 1992.
More weird errors. Rand married Frank O’Connor in the late 1920s, not in the 1940s. She and Nathaniel Branden got involved with each other in 1954, years before “Atlas” was published and before there was such opposition to her ideas. Greenspan was correct in his idea (though the program gets its description wrong) that central banking theory up to that time didn’t describe why inflation wasn’t ticking up under <5% unemployment.
The economic goal wasn’t dead stability but dynamic innovation and capital flow. Opinions against deregulation were kept from President Clinton – how? By magic? He was not a world controller anyway. They didn’t create a South-East Asia lab [how?] – the paradigm was getting rid of capital flow barriers, and it was a worldwide paradigm. And it’s still largely in place today. Note the near-absence of protectionism.
All economic restrictions weren’t given up. This is always claimed and never true. “Countries decimated” – preposterous rhetoric. They sure are decimated! Lame use of nice music for niiice people, scary music for scaaary people. Claimed links to computer networks tenuous. Distributed power – how were computers to do that? Power over the individual – how? 19th century workers all exploited, per blogger – nonsense. The Lewinsky scandal stripped last remnants of power from Bill Clinton? More hogwash – incredible! He was famed as “the comback kid.” And so on and so on.
No Randian would expect computers to take care of us or make us free. Note the passivity contained in the title of the show and in the argument throughout.
Astounding how economically ignorant this person is. No reference to the moribundity of the South-East Asian economies preceding Western investment. Or their huge amount of *government* deficit spending and questionable currency moves and interest rate manipulations. As always, government policies are just facts of nature, as with African governments – bad consequences happen because of capitalism or insufficient watchfulness against it. False either/or dichotomy between Western investors and countries *they* invested in. Asian government subsidies *needed* to go – and that they had existed and been so important contradicts his thesis that the countries had become free market playlands. Yes, South-East Asian unemployment was up and output down due to the crisis – relative to the previous Western-fueled booms!
His Asian narrative is a small snapshot of time. Ignores long-term net positives over time. Look at where economies are over multiple decades: compare ’70 to ’80 to ’00 to ’10. One of the most ludicrous biases here is the picture of poor innocent victim Clinton having been “persuaded [how?] to give away his power to the financial markets.” A head-desk moment. He didn’t, and he wasn’t. No one person, even the U.S. President, is a magical steward or guardian over even his own country. Bias level: cartoony.
This muzzy business about Clinton (a powerful man whom this documentary absurdly transforms into some kind of well-intentioned victim of bankers) as elected to use political power to transform is mere cheerleading for Obama ver. 2009. Clinton was elected as in effect a smart centrist able to draw on elements of the left and the right. (Biden tried, unsuccessfully, to be Clinton Redux.) I’d like to know where this claimed manifesto of “new democracy” and “new stability” is. (Perhaps kept in the same hidden drawer as the non-existent Social Contract.) The stability claim is one of the least convincing parts of the film, yet is a central argument.
The free market doesn’t depend upon or confer dead stability. Stability of basic institutions and rights is needed, sure – and is a human need. [Tribe implies continuity in time. And if history at all is important, there is enough continuity to keep records and decipher past languages.] But that’s not what this documentary is trying to make stick. At the beginning of his first term, Clinton said he wanted long-term growth; Greenspan agreed. This stuff about the transfer of power to an elite is balderdash – as if it hadn’t been there before in a political elite and didn’t stay right there in the political elite? The Clinton administration was extremely power-broker oriented, and Hillary was working hard to take medicine over and put it under government control.
I’d love to see sources and arguments for all these position attributed to various governments in South-East Asia. This is like saying, “Well, the French people believe X.” Some government guy from one of the countries affected orating about “absolute power” and “slavery” – yes, those countries are sure slave pens today and sure turned into them back then.
More errors about Rand: some in the Collective left after her break with Branden, and some did not. Almost none of the Collective knew about the slap and in many cases did not know about the affair at all; some didn’t for decades later. Rand was not “almost alone” at any time, in New York or any other time. She never said all you needed was yourself – romantic love was her highest personal value! She never said she wasn’t lonely because she needed no one – never! Neither did she say that oneself is the world. This is just a contrived, inaccurate picture.
Part 5 is done. Thank god it is over. I have rarely seen anything outside the John Birch Society for crazy narrative invention, economic ignorance, and factual inaccuracy. It would take page upon page for part 5 alone. Here are some.
Greenspan didn’t become the alleged “most powerful man in the world” after or because of 9/11 – that was already being talked about in the 1990s, so much so that it was a cliche. American economic power was in fact just beginning to lightly waft down as other economies started to rise.
As an economic history of the U.S. from 1992-2008, even, this documentary fails. No reference to the dot-com boom that happened *during Clinton* but is excluded from the narrative since it does not fit. Also excluded is the dot-com bust that happened just after Clinton left – and had to happen, since it was built on options and absurd stock valuations and such. No mention! No mention of the wealth effect from that boom. No reference to what drove all of this immediately: the savings glut across the world post-USSR plus fiat currency use worldwide.
The Enron/etc. profit scandals [note Enron was made possible by government-distorted markets like the Western U.S. electricity grid] did not lead to widespread belief that the system was going to collapse. Greenspan did not have omnipotent power over U.S. “interest rates,” since there is no single source or outlet for money. The savings glut had already decoupled interest rates from central bank control, as he notes in his own memoirs. Low rates were not mainly in order to encourage consumer borrowing/spending. Also, other countries were doing it, as this documentary itself says. Greenspan did not run the world any more thandid Clinton.
It was in the *1990s* that Greenspan realized that something new was happening with the lack of inflation coupled with very low unemployment. The film transposes the correct date by nearly ten years and makes it a new policy. Absurd error. “It seemed the system could manage itself without direct political control”? No it didn’t. Laissez-faire was never on the table, not with fiat currency and central banking and so much else. Is this documentarian advocating a command economy? Astonishing mess.
Having claimed the Asian economies were left in decimated ruins and slavery, the film brushes past their recovery in 1999 and onward. Absolutely unmentioned. Mustn’t disturb apocalypse-narrative. No care about what happened to them. No reference to the U.S. government’s overspending and increasing indebtedness to China. Not consistent with free market attack narrative.
Got time frame wrong of Asian crisis versus 9/11 by several years. Chinese Politburo’s “system to manage America” is conspiracy theory cartoon. Absurd! The dollar was the world reserve currency, which in turn left the Chinese just as much at mercy of America with their money in U.S. currency reserves. This is *not* what created the [allegedly aimed-at] stability. “Orgy of lending to poorest and least creditworthy borrowers” in U.S. – nonsense. The flipping and spending and bubbles were mainly middle-class. The U.S. dollar as reserve currency was a contrivance by Bretton Woods – another piece of government management (made necessary by yet another World War started by European government people) that failed. They could not even foresee the relatively easy-to-see logical paradox embedded in their system – the Triffin Dilemma that began to bite the U.S. before too many years had gone by. Of course they didn’t see that the Bretton Woods system would ultimately have drained the U.S. of gold at a fixed exchange rate that proved below-market as Europe recovered. Of such things, our documentarian remains silent and knows nothing.
“Convinced that it was the computers that had brought stability to the system.” No proof. Mere assertion. Who believed this? How does he know? No reference to global liberalization, rise of China and India, fall of USSR. It all just magically comes somehow from a few bad elite actors plus an undefined group who believe an undefined ideology. Therefore we should all rise up in our mass wrath and – ? Go for a total command economy? Almost total? Mostly? We’re nearly there as it is, and it is ruining us. The payoff in this film’s construction: claim that stability had been promised – yet there was no stability achieved. Thus, somehow, the free market is bad. [What if the promise turned out to be the bad part? Or the expectation of a static “stability”?] A static “stability” was not the goal, and our documentarian forgets to mention that the U.S. government assumed total stability first and foremost in its cooked-books budgets. See the huge pension debt crisis in California because former liberal darling CALPERS assumed straight-line stock market returns would happen perpetually.
The program provides no evidence that a free market leads to “instability” – whatever that is. It fails to question the basics: fiat currency, central banking, political manipulation, insane regulations. “Rescue themselves and protect their supremacy” – we see this documentary is merely a populist screed, based upon false either/or dichotomies and fixed class-analysis. In fact, the *government-controlled* system was in severe trouble and the bailout solution was bad, but fairly standard. As we see from Europe’s behavior – they did the same things. Note that the ’08 crash started in the U.K.
“They asked the politicians” – who does our documentarian think is and was in control? When were they not since the 1930s? That’s the problem with postulating nonexistent laissez-faire. Ours is/was a completely politicized system. Perhaps the most absurd moment is reached here: “the price [for the bubble and crash] is being paid by the ordinary people of the countries.” With strongly progressive taxation? Absurd! “We know that the idea of market stability has failed” – Oh? Why is it that I go into Starbucks and the prices are so stable? “Freedom has failed” is said after every government-caused financial mess.
“We cannot imagine any alternative [to alleged control by the financial elite].” Let me guess: we need more political control. The “California Ideology” [which has a strong strain of Bohemianism totally foreign to the alleged “elites”] pops up when convenient. This film has no sense of time or of temporal development as well as defective timelines. “We would become Randian heroes in control of our destiny” – not in a statist system with the government exerting massive control over every phase of the economy.
“We feel the opposite – we are helpless components in a global system – a system controlled by a rigid logic we are powerless to challenge or to change.” Oh, do we? If you want to challenge and change things for the better, get rid of the bankrupt code of political/government control of trade. Sweep it away, for real. Not just talk, but for real. And don’t make mendacious documentaries that omit the small matter that Alan Greenspan, one’s film’s central villain, openly broke with Ayn Rand, who despised central banks and fiat currency.
In sum: I’m disappointed in the BBC for permitting such an error-ridden piece of strange storytelling to go out. I can only regard it as a piece of performance art.