Notes on a terrible BBC documentary taking on Ayn Rand

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.

93 thoughts on “Notes on a terrible BBC documentary taking on Ayn Rand

  1. Thank you for the analysis. Good job.
    The singularity is near. I hope the Socialist Luddites don’t wreck it.

    • I don’t believe in a singularity in the usual sense, but I do agree that the present mixed-economy mess in the United States is depriving us of the prosperity and innovation we all could be enjoying. Just as it has for many decades.

  2. Thank you, your only error is wondering why the BBC put out this trash.
    The BBC is a government controlled broadcasting company. It is owned by the British Government. It is not independent. You should not expect any praise of Ayn Rand that would be a contradiction of what they stand for. All employees of BBC are government workers.
    The BBC still force people in the UK to purchase a television license if they have a TV even if they do not watch BBC. They have government vans which drive around that can pick up tv signals and if that address shows no license has be bought. GOTCHA. The citizens face a huge fine in court.

    • The dirty secret of statism, and of all Utopias, is that government is a force-bearing institution. That said, every so often even government will treat Rand and other minarchists well: e.g. the 1999 U.S. Rand postage stamp or the Library of Congress’ accession of Rand’s manuscript materials.

    • It seems like you have nooooo idea of what a television REALLY controlled by the government is or looks like. Just because they put up a documentary you jump to the conclusion that they are in collusion with the government over defacing Ayn Rand’s figure???

      The British are spoiled with the BBC and they don’t even know it. Of all the money I pay to live in Britain, none is best spent in my opinion than my TV licence. Check around the world if you want to know what your licence really pays for. That’s value. It brings the level of the rest of the TV up. Of course it’s mandatory to pay the licence. You benefit from the BBC even if you don’t watch it, a bit like you benefit from paying public treatments for illnesses you may never suffer.

      I’m all for keeping a watchful eye on the BBC for improvements, but heck, let’s do it fairly.

    • I used to work for the BBC.

      Your analysis is amusing.

      Believe it or not, it’s mostly just a bunch of generally nice people trying to make interesting telly.

      But nevermind, rant onwards – they’re all COMMIES!!!

        • Sorry Maureen, are you saying that independent media outlets give a balanced outlook on politics. Please stop talking rubbish. This may be considered to be a left leaning show as it’s the film maker’s artistic interpretation, and if its factually incorrect than I’m not going to argue. When it comes to reporting the news the BBC has to be balanced and accurate unlike Murdock run outlets that show very little if any balance and are always making Factual Inaccuracies. im sure if you goggled you could find a page dedicated to fox news blunders and factual mistakes. “All employees of BBC are government workers”. You make it sound like we live in a Marxist run state. In fact the BBC which uses independent bodies to monitor its programming has had some government interference in recent years in large part due to other right wing media outlets putting pressure on them to do so.

    • Maureen, if the BBC is run by the Government, then why does every Government (whether right or left) constantly complain about anti-Government bias in BBC reporting? As part of a conspiracy to confuse us? No. Listen to Oli’s reply. The BBC is not organised by the Government. In fact, the BBC is hardly organised at all. Far from top down communistic force, the BBC is a bunch of warring tribes in which each part of the corporation (Radio Entertainment, TV News, Factual Documentaries etc etc) desperately tries to keep its budget in place and maybe even increase it from the central pot. The idea that managers at the BBC know what they’re doing, or far less participate in or execute any kind of conspiracy is laughable. Join the BBC and you will quickly discover that pretty much everyone in a suit has little idea of what they’re doing and the poor unfortunate sods who are actually trying to make programmes have too little time to do it in, because of the woeful way in which the BBC is ‘managed’. Yes, I have worked for the BBC. I don’t work for them now. And I really thought this documentary was pants, but I couldn’t sit back and let your comment stand, because the BBC (for all its faults) really isn’t run by the Government.

    • British English is supposingly superior to American English. Then, what reason is not their government? Inverse proportionalism?

    • Except that that Prescott’s article is falsified. I have read through the primary source material – the full published Journals of Ayn Rand – and will be doing a future close-analysis of Prescott’s hit piece in this blog. For now, suffice to say that Rand was barely out of her teens, fresh from the bloodbath of the Soviet Union (which was being hailed on the left as a bold step toward peace, land, and bread), was writing in a private (i.e., thinking-out-loud) journal which doesn’t have the clarifications and qualifications of published work – and yet she still indicates very carefully that she is extrapolating from one aspect of Hickman’s behavior and that the actual person was a purposeless, degenerate criminal whose crime was repulsive. Her personality reading on the courtroom attendees is that they were not so much repelled by his perverse crime as by his flamboyant defiance of social codes per se in refusing to grovel and so forth. She may have been right or wrong – that is not the issue. What matters is what she said, and Prescott pursues an agenda. Naturally, this has spread all over the Internet in the form of the myth that Rand herself was a sociopath or psychopath. She wasn’t – I’ll be documenting primary material showing the opposite – and to the extent that she steamrolled others out of her own personal power it was far less than many other creative people. The lesson for you, Emma, is not to repeat junk from attack websites.

      • wow so quick to jump to Rand’s defence with a million rationalisations for her work. but the every single person working at the BBC is a ‘communist’. just face it your ‘analysis’ is based on your feelings and irrational value positions, not on facts.

        • By “wow so quick” you mean three days later?

          Then you complain about a million rationalizations but offer not a single fact?

          And the BBC/communist, whatever it is supposed to mean, you should be reminded that Marx developed much of his work while sitting in the comfy chairs of British bourgeois society while in exile. British society has never fully removed the morality of shared sacrifice and noblesse oblige from their culture. Notice their Royal Family. And the BBC has never removed completely their role as State Mouthpiece. Just watch their coverage of the Mark Dugan killing and ensuing riots.

          It is no wonder that Adam Curtis would be trying to deny the significance of the Declaration of Independence and the existence of government by the consent of the governed. It is clear that he wants to believe that such a thing is not possible. Their existence negates the justification for the royal family and the secularized “divine right of the people”.

          And I would say to you, “just face it your ‘analysis’ is based on your feelings and irrational value positions, not on facts.”

  3. I think that even most of us “socialist luddites” would take this programme with a pinch of salt. I didn’t know an awful lot about Ayn Rand beforehand, but I spotted the programme immediately as being a very broad, sweeping argument employing a lot of artistic licence – and probably a fair bit of fact-shoehorning. Nonetheless, it was an entertaining piece of television.

    Sadly, I doubt that most Rand acolytes will be so open-minded; I can only imagine that her fanboy sites are fulled with indignant hysterical shriekings like Maureen’s above. Maureen; calm down dear! The BBC isn’t “government controlled” (ask most of the Lib Dem / Tory government – or indeed the last Labour government – what they think of the BBC’s political coverage, and it won’t be particularly complimentary!) Admittedly, the way the BBC is funded through the licence fee is slightly problematic in the internet / satellite age, but the corporation’s output is uniquely independent, and usually brilliant. Most people in the UK whose brains aren’t on right-wing-planet Zog love the BBC, and are very happy to pay for it – long may it continue to annoy the hell out of the likes of you!

    • I have found fair-mindedness and its opposite to crop out on all sectors of the political quadrangle, so I have no bone to pick with you on that score. It is true that the Beeb is not abundant in its pro-capitalist bias, but neither is it a den of Stalinists. If the subject documentary had been as focused on and critical about Ernesto Guevara or some other left-icon, a lot more fact-rightness would have been demanded. Rand was thoroughly misrepresented, and her fans are right to be outraged.

  4. Unregulated pursuit of self-interest did cause the Great Depression. It’s called capitalist overproduction. Capitalists produce goods more and more efficiently with the result than fewer and fewer people are employed.

    • Given that your blog openly propounds the viewpoint of National Socialism, your reply has use only in confirming once again that Nazism is in fact hostile to the free market. Which anyone could tell from reading Herr Hitler’s Political Testament. With only a few days at most to live, he still shrieks against international capital (and blames everyone else for his war-actions). You’re mistaken about the Crash of 1929 – it was caused by government manipulation of credit via the Federal Reserve system. The Great Depression was caused initially by tariff idiocy by the Republicans and sustained and deepened by supreme socialist idiocy by the FDR Democrats. You’d better stop using computers, which depend upon quantum theory – which members of the religious group you love to hate were instrumental in founding.

      • Heisenberg was no Jew. Neither was the inventor of the transistor, Shockley.

        The inherently self-destructive nature of unregulated capitalism was not the immediate stimulus of the Great Depression but it was the underlying cause. This is one part of Marxist theory that is correct.

        • Quantum physics was not even mainly invented by Heisenberg, who also came under criticism by National Socialist idiots for being a “white Jew.” The transistor is entirely beside the issue.

          You continue to change your claims regarding capitalism, and so I regard you as a non-serious person on the matter. Too bad you are serious about your racist garbage.

    • Incidentally, your economic analysis is as bad as the rest of you. There is a check to overproduction called anticipation of price declines. If the market is flooded with goods, prices go down and profits dip. This is why inventories are managed carefully – see Wal-Mart. Also, this analysis childishly doesn’t see that goods produced shift over time: where’s the overproduction of VHS recorders and 8-track tape players?

      • It’s really not so much overproduction as overproductivity that is the self-destructive element in capitalism. The number of people needed to produce goods shrinks as productivity increases. That reduces the market for those very same goods, unless those former employees can find some other way to get money.

        The offshoring of jobs to East Asia and Mexico in the 1990s moved the USA toward overproductivity in a big way very quickly. People like Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan said at the time that this was going to cause a lot of unemployment. The dot-com bubble (1995-2000) offset it some. War in the Middle East since 2001 has probably also offset unemployment, but we have a lot of unemployed people now.

        • The flaw in this analysis is that it presupposes a static economy. You entirely neglect the all-important element of innovation. No economy produces the same repertory of items it did 50, 25, 12.5, etc. years ago. Your analysis presupposes an economy that produces a fixed number of types of objects: widget1, widget2, etc. – and even then your model does not work, because it does not take into account deflation: prices go down in a free market over time – a requirement here is that there be real money and not fiat currency coupled with an overspending State (which spending will always happen without the reality-constraint of real money, i.e. gold). As prices deflate, the value of savings rises, and more capital is freed for investment in start-ups, which is the major engine of upward job mobility.

          The same thing that attracts you to National Socialism – namely, the fallacious belief in fixed and unalterable racial classes (which puts you curiously in tandem with the Marxists, who believe in fixed and unalterable economic class interests) – makes you unable to understand how a dynamic and innovative market works.

          You are right about one thing in your opposition to capitalism: the genuine free market does enrich the “races” you hate as well as the “Aryan”/”Caucasian”/”white” “race.”

          Race, incidentally, is a construct, though one that has some unfortunate anchoring in our tribal attachment bonds. It’s merely phenotype plus historical culture. Racists, thus, are necessarily and intrinsically anti-individual. The socialism component of your National Socialism is not an accident.

  5. I’m English.I am also working class. I look to my elected representatives to represent me via democratic institutions.
    They fact they they are often corrupted by ambition and money does not make them a less attractive option than having my life run by privately funded companies who have no outside accountability at all and where the accusation of corruption would be almost a tautology.
    Having also seen the 2nd part of Curtis’ documentary the underlying theme is clearly about the illusory utopias and the veil of depoliticisation they cast over many otherwise intelligent minds. He made it more explicit at the end of the 2nd part (about the misappropriation of ecological systems thinking) that he viewed this depoliticisation as a tool to enable a resurgent class war by the affluent against the poor.

    He is actually not a million miles away from the Marxist(!!!) writer David Harvey, whose Brief History of Neoliberalism is a cracking account of how the right uses other ideas to wage a global class war on the poor, seeking to either create class or to roll back hard won equalities. I cannot recommend it enough.

    Cue copious screaming references to Stalin and state control, which is, of course, the flip side of the coin to the systematic disparagement of ‘politics’ that Adam Curtis is talking about….. They say they hate state xcontrol and then turn out in huge numbers to support an illiterate ultra-nationalist rightwinger in her bid to run for President. That’s really what he’s saying: manufactured apathy and disgust with politics is a rightwing trick. I thought this before watching the program so it’s no surprise I concurred. I lived in Bolivia when the people turned out en masse to vote for the MAS party (COMMUNISTS!DRUG PEDDLERS!) and have since begun to create social democracy in their country.It is still a fight but one of the most amazing things I have ever seen and a true achievement in the face of the US trained rightwing terror groups I saw operating there. Bolivia, for all its poveryy, is what a real democracy looks like. Anyone who snorts at that – as many on the right no doubt will – should check it out close up. The government is essentially carried on the shoulders of the various social movements, whose members number millions of some of the poorest people in the world. It makes the fantastical worldview of the Tea Party look like what it is: purest bullshit. Again, that takes us back to the Curtis docco.

    And the BBC does have programs written by conservatives such as Michael Portillo who presented a brilliant program on the Spanish republican dead a short while back, not to mention their recent rescreening of Kenneth Clarke’s magesterial ‘Civilisation’ (not a politico per se but the right wing father of an ex-Tory minister and a series peppered with scathing references to ‘Marxists’, so hardly a lefty by any stretch.)
    Thatcher hated the BBC, true. She sent MI5 into it to smash the place up after Death On The Rock was screened, I recall.
    Aaaah, the small government, free-speech-for-all, libertarian anti-statism of the Conservative Right.

    • Politicians who claim to fully represent and serve anyone, working class or middle class or elite – will always be corrupt, because politics is actually about domination: it is about domination that passes itself off as service. The desire to ascend in the tribal hierarchy is hard-wired in primates, and politicians are some of the most hard-wired in this regard. Note the number of women who say they would have sex with the President of the U.S. regardless of politics or looks – they find the social standing, the power, intoxicating. That’s the primate drama right there.

      There are no private corporations proposing to run your life, and they cannot except by an alliance with government. Corporations in their proper sense arise and are sustained only by voluntary trade. If they were so corrupt in every transaction they would not survive and the system would collapse. Yet, contrary to Curtis’ fantasy, it didn’t and hasn’t. Note – as I noted – how he felt no need to follow up on how the Asian economies did afterward. It ruins the dark fairy tale of the decimation and slavery. And yet – they did not go back to pre-1990s statism. Why is that?

      Class-analysis is entirely fallacious. It is a form of collectivism that unites people into supposedly intrinsic and closed groups with unified interests. This is empirically false, as we see from the failure – after 170 years – of any kind of world working-class unity. In fact, despite nearly two centuries of notable effort, the attempt founders on the reality of class mobility and the fact that economic power is not static in an actually free market. Look at the composition of the Dow Jones Index in 1920, 1950, 1970, and today for a graphic example. Markets are dynamic.

      Your nonsense about Sarah Palin – who gets the left foaming at the mouth about as much as Ayn Rand did – speaks more to your ignorance (and biases) than hers. And I am not a Palin supporter.

      There is no manufactured apathy and disgust with politics. This is typical Curtis magic lantern play. It is the mixed economy that breeds apathy and rightful disgust, because it does not work.

      “Democracy” (which has various definitions) is not an unmixed good. If there are not individual rights, it is mere majority rule, and remember that the right-wing majority today may elect Your despised Sarah Palin.

      I entirely support efforts to implement individual rights in every nation. But left-wing collectivism has killed many times more people than right-wing terror groups. The historical record is unequivocal, and until I see left-wing people protesting the hundred-million-plus killed by left-wing regimes, I remain unimpressed with the claims of empathy and compassion for suffering humanity. If humanity is being poisoned, then don’t advocate more doses of the poison or some irrelevant modification of the formula for the poison. Get to the root of it and attack the use of State force. Incidentally, under my system – total and complete actual laissez-faire – people would be perfectly free to own property in the most communistic manner and live on wonderful communes, autarchic or otherwise. It’s perfectly consistent with a minarchical State. Left-wing control freak regimes do not permit the same freedom or diversity to we minarchists who wish to voluntarily associate and trade.

  6. Though its great to dissect a frog; a process itself that generally dissects (slap) bang through the middle of those that want to learn more and those that are happy with what they see. I cant help but hope that your awkwardly leaning facts balance what Mr Curtis and his opinion (“This is the story…” as he states in the beginning of each episode) all the while wants us to do, and that is: question what we see, hear, feel and plausibly think. And even more, demonstrate it to your peers, critics and perhaps gleeful fans.
    I’m really glad I read your review, and the comments that trailed, but I’m also incredulously relieved that he caused you some malice with which you responded with keystrokes.
    My hope is that if it caused you to write a review and me to write a comment, then he and his team have done a grand job to at least enlighten and push forward perhaps a new thought to what the general public are generally not made aware of.
    A program that inspires thought and debate is certainly one that I want to watch. So good on those that go out and create it, and well, Self bless those those that don’t.

    • Curtis is a big boy and, as we see a performer. I’m sure he can stand my exposure of his trickery and be just fine. I’m all for hearty debate – I wish he had gotten his facts straight. There’s no malice in my notes but much exasperation.

  7. “Excellent analysis! Maybe I won’t feel compelled to watch it. It sounds painful.”


    “I acn’t be arsed but I want to appear clever so you tell me what to think”


  8. How would fraud be dealt with in a totally unregulated market place? What would stop the accumulation of vast economic power and the gradual imposition of a feudal-like power structure? These are serious questions as I find your beliefs interesting.

    I enjoyed the film, especially after watching the second part. I wonder if you would amend your view of the first film after watching the second.

    Also, I find some of your criticism unnecessary and anti-narrative. I can also see you are reacting defensively to the film due to your free market views. I don’t think Curtis was positing some form of replacement (especially concerning the state) and his broad strokes certainly strike a chord. He is talking about himself, I think when he says people are stuck with no way out. It is, after all, what many call the post-modern condition. I would say that many people do feel like this, that there is no way out of the current system – perhaps stemming from the Fukuyama era. I personally would argue you that you are over-analysing based on your own insecurities surrounding your own personal perspective. This perspective is an interesting one and I would like to learn a little more and ask questions if you don’t mind.

    I thought the crash started in the US not the UK, but maybe I’m misinformed.

    I felt sympathy for Ayn Rand having watched the film – I probably should read her books – she looked sad in those interviews. In context I understood her comments on altruism. There was nothing wrong with what she said there. I understood this. I might have to rewatch the film with your critique in mind.

    Out of interest have you seen Inside Job?

    • Since fraud is a form of theft, fraud would be dealt with in the same manner as other kinds of theft. It’s an error to hold that the free market is “unregulated” in a totalistic sense: it is regulated by economic patterns, by natural occurrences, by social trends – in short, by reality. But not by the always-dysfunctional interventionist hand of government.

      “Vast economic power” in the sense of a coercive monopoly cannot arise in a free market, because a coercive monopoly is not possible under economic freedom. If you have some other sense, you’ll have to define it and show that that would be likely to arise. Feudal power structures were governmentally imposed. Again, what evidence do you have that anyone is interested in them? Incidentally, it would be against the interest of everyone, since serfs don’t have much money and don’t buy things. What “the capitalists” want is a peaceful world with people in the middle-class so that they work and buy things.

      The first part of the film was so error-ridden that there is no way I could significantly alter my opinion. I’ll look at the second part sometime but I will never take Curtis seriously. A serious thinker would not allow something so error-ridden and economically ignorant go out.

      My reaction is not defense but disgust. I’d have been happy to have seen a more adept criticism of, say, our present messy mix of mercantilism, markets, socialism, and fascism – but such was not to be.

      The post-modern condition is bullshit – I do not mean that it is non-existent, but that it is a lesion on the skin of life and shall be removed.

      The present system is anything but a laissez-faire system – there has not been any such thing in a very long time, and even back then … yet, still, it was able to change the world and throw humanity forward.

      The first signs of the crash was the Northern Rock Savings bank failure in the U.K. which began in September 2007 – see the Wiki on the bank.

      I appreciate your sympathy for Rand. There is a terrific amount of hate out there about her. That is one reason Curtis angered me – she did not need more misrepresentations. The claim she stood for indulging momentary “selfish desires” is really among the lowest and silliest. Curtis’ account of her romantic history with Nathaniel Branden makes her very justifiable rage at him – as he concedes himself now – seem absurd/immature.

  9. I’ve so far watched half the episode again and note the simplifications he makes in his narrations regarding Ayn Rand. However, these are more than offset by her own comments from the interviews. I had never read anything of her work and yet I can see, having read about 150 quotes from her books this evening, I had a pretty good idea of her philosophy based on the documentary. I agree with a lot of her ideas and see much merit in them. I also think I was right that you have been too defensive regarding Adam Curtis – he’s not interested in state solutions at all, nor is he big into conspiracies – as others have charged.

    I can probably guarantee that he has read all of Ayn Rand’s work. He does simplify in his narrative, but this does give the film an easier entry point and a fairly direct narrative. I think you should have a look around and find out some more about him. He is very interesting. Have you seen the short film about how we are all richard nixon? That is classic.

    • I appreciate non-linear artistry – hell, three of my favorite artists are Vladimir Horowitz, Ervin Nyiregyhazi, and David Lynch (for his moving-picture work) – but Curtis pretends to be speaking of the real world and offering actual causal accounts of what happened.

  10. Sorry, I am a bit of a pest. I think if you watch the interview with Barbara she admits to altruism (in the sense meant in your definition – sacrifice of her own happiness) when she said that Ayn and Nathaniel could have an affair. I think this pretty much confirms that Curtis knows what he is talking about.

    • You’re not a pest. I welcome hearty discussion – apologies for the delay in replying.

      I don’t think the exchange with B.B. shows Curtis’ accuracy or knowledge. It definitely doesn’t cancel out all his errors. That Rand was against altruism is well-known, so on a simple level B.B.’s admission is an apparent “gotcha” moment. In reality, the situation was much more complex. B.B. hints at it in saying she wanted to help Rand be romantically satisfied: she loved and thought the world of Rand, so it wasn’t just disinterestedness. Importantly, in her book about those years – “The Passion of Ayn Rand” – B.B. indicates an aspect entirely absent in Curtis’ show: B.B. was not sexually attracted to N.B. Their marital sex life was nil. So her letting him be with Rand was not the crucifixion that editing out that detail makes it appear to be. (I do not know if B.B. said it and it was edited out, or if she edited it out by silence. A side point: B.B. took a lover herself some years later. Also, N.B.’s early sexual satisfaction with Rand no doubt made things easier for B.B. in her marriage.) So, Curtis’ sensate approach – which tries to find non-existent simple contradictions – runs over substantive complexities.

      The sensate approach to Rand-criticism is rampant, and it comes from and causes much misunderstanding. And it’s not just limited to discussing Rand these days; it’s rampant.

  11. I’m going to bed. It’s 1am – also have you not noticed the other brilliant aspects of the documentary such as the use of music suggesting the themes of Ayn Rand alongside excerpts from the movie versions of her books – The Fountainhead interlaced with Monica Lewinsky looking in complete love with Bill Clinton. It’s superb.

    • I disagree. (I trust this doesn’t surprise you.) The use of music was ham-handed: creepy 1950s stomach-churn sound effects and discordant music for bad people was just the beginning. He also tries too hard to be cool with the rockin’ aspects of the soundtrack. An attempt to manipulate that fails.

      • Do you mean the bit about Rubin?

        I thought that was funny. Rubin is a statist, though, so we shouldn’t worry too much about that bit of music.

        • I thought the music was outstanding, but then I love Nine Inch Nails, whose music was used extensively. Nice comment about the Lewinsky scene. Even if the documentary were completely off the wall, I could talk all the day about the visuals and music.

  12. I posted this comment over at Liberal Vision, but it was not allowed. You nailed this bad documentary… Good job!

    At last, a very good review of this terrible anti-liberty, luddite BBC piece of infotainment. You saved me from having to write out a fully blown rebuttal of this tax funded nonsense.

    Alan Curtis gets everything wrong in this piece because he is a socialist basing all of his conclusions on the wrong facts.

    You nailed the economic illiteracy of this man 100%. Curtis knows nothing about economics, and there is not even a mention of Keynesianism in the film, which is the central flawed theory of the economists who are responsible for the boom and bust cycle.

    Since he is an economic illiterate, there is no mention of the Bretton Woods breakdown, the true nature of the Federal Reserve or anything to do with the real reasons behind the turmoil created by the central banks and the Keynesians, the Chinese propping up the dollar etc etc.

    Then, there is the most incredible howler of the whole piece, where he asserts that ‘muslims brought the towers down’. What made me laugh out loud when this line was spoken, was that he used a piece of film that clearly shows rapid demolition explosives firing off in perfect synchronisation. The sound of these explosives going BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! was shocking, clear and unmistakable, and yet, he rattles off the conspiracy theory that is promulgated by the state. Astonishing. He must know that he is lying when he says those lines; there is no reason why he would select that particular footage when there are so many other angles available that are just as memorable.

    Finally, the thesis that the utopia promised by the Silicon Valley elites was a bad thing is disproven in several ways. Curtis, in a pathetic faulty appeal to authority fallacy, trots out a short piece of text by an unknown person written before the age of Blogging, decrying the fact that she has turned herself into a commodity because she posts on an AOL ‘board’. In fact, the power for her to publish on her own website came very quickly after the fall of AOL and Compuserve as the main ways people connected. Now everyone can have a blog, and no one is commodified by writing for public consumption; in fact blogging is so powerful it has changed journalism forever. Curtis knows this, and coming from the BBC, probably hates it deeply. The very fact that there are good reviews like this refuting this documentary is proof that this idea is wrong, and I in no way am turned into a commodity by adding this comment to Liberal Vision. Other people will read this review and my comment, and will have the misrepresentations of Alan Curtis countered very effectively. This is the revolution that he is not addressing; the death of ‘truth from the centre’ where organs like the BBC are shown to be the lie factories that they are. Before the internet, this was impossible, and I might have even been forced to agree with the documentaries arguments since I would not have been in possession of the facts. Now this has changed, and every lie of the piece jumped off of the screen, and the spell of the editing and hypnotic music was broken over and over again.

    Bak to the flawed ‘internet is slavery’ thesis; Curtis shows an amazing experiment demonstrating spontaneous order and collaboration, and fails to connect this to the way that the web is being used to spontaneously disrupt governments (if we believe the narrative of the Arab uprising, which apparently is false). The web, social networking and all of the tools that are yet to go on line will change everything for the better. All of the evidence points towards this, from every angle.

    Alan Curtis, socialist, recipient of BBC payroll extracted by force through the immoral ‘TV License’ has a vested interest in suppressing Ayn Rand and her ideas. This man earns his keep through the yoke of collectivism around the necks of ‘the British people’. Anything that challenges it is anathema to him.

    He presents no coherent argument to refute individualism. He does not explore the true nature of collectivism, the state and the inherent violence of democracy. His economic analysis is flawed, and he misrepresents the facts about money and central banking. His documentary has the sheen of intellectual rigour, but is in fact, hollow, shallow, based on erroneous assumptions and government propaganda. He deliberately leaves out the facts that counter his thesis, and dishonestly mounts a pointless and shabby ad hominem attack on Ayn Rand… presumably because he has no way of attacking the logic of Objectivism.

    This documentary is appealing to people who want to appear to be intellectual, but who do not have any facts to hand. It is like an opiate mixed with poison, where he strings together disparate facts into a narrative with distracting images and music which cause the listener to spend energy piecing the implied message of the film together with the narrative. When you watch other, more serious and focussed documentaries where the images are used to illustrate the narrative and not act as their own dual narrative, you can see why this technique fails as a way to inform; it is a true specimen of infotainment.

    An appalling and disappointing outing, whose only saving grace is that it uncloaks the true political bias of Alan Curtis; a nasty piece of socialist brainwashing working for the violent state.

    • You should do some research on Adam Curtis as he is no statist. He inspects ideologies. He doesn’t attack Ayn Rand. He demonstrates some of the things done by those influenced by her work. She is the context of things done by people she may well have mocked. You may be unhappy at the couple of times he simplifies her work in order to keep the narrative populist, but he gives her room in other ways. As I said, I had sympathy for some of her views despite how you think she was portrayed; something I think is in your viewing not the work itself – though that is, of course, what I would say.

      If you look at his other work you’d find similar structures of argument inspecting neo-conservative statists, middle-eastern terrorists, labour statists and thacherite statists. It’s funny really because his objective is to look at elites and the way freedom is harmed by them… an aim you might actually agree with, after all.

      “He believes that because British politics is now obliged to appear non-hierarchical, it has become managerialist, obsessed with process over vision – a recognisable idea to anyone who lives in this triangulated, professionalised political age.”

    • Two critiques so blinded by their own perspective that they misinterpret the intention of the creator. Brilliant.

      Try watching It Felt Like a Kiss by Curtis. Maybe you’ll start to see a bit more past your own defensive postures… Perhaps you have seen so many weak attacks online that you have become paranoid. I don’t know.

      There’s certainly some beauty in Rand’s work, but it is not flawless. And certainly many of those influenced by her work do not live up to the expectations of the philosophy despite seeing themselves somewhat arrogantly as Randian heroes.

    • Also, it’s pretty hypocritical to claim Ad Hominem attacks and make them yourself.

      You should probably watch the second episode which looks at the way the internet was used to spread revolution in the former Soviet bloc only to fail to get past authoritarianism…

      You’d probably be interested in his series called The Living Dead which is, in part, about brainwashing both Soviet and Western.

    • I agree completely about Curtis’ lack of any kind of knowledge of economic history. His version is: “Mean guys up top are selfish and little people at bottom get hurt.” That’s it. How odd that MBA textbooks are so filled with economic theories and equations and not simply instructions on how to dominate the little people down at the bottom.

      I have to part from you in your claim that the World Trade Centers were brought down by demolition. We won’t convince one another, and I’m sure that we’ve argued it in detail many times elsewhere.

      I appreciate your point about the vastly overweighted “humdog” anecdote. One point I did not bother to cover is that what Curtis took to be as some kind of major revelation was simply a 15-minutes of fame howl from an Internet addict who never left the Internet, who indeed simply assumed another handle and stayed online until her death, earlier this year I believe, from ill health. Curtis mistakes an insincere flounce for a slashing manifesto. Yes, The Corporations made her post on The Well, and stay on the Internet so long that she also became a Second Life addict. It’s Someone Else’s fault.

      You might find it interesting that the Curtis-lovers on YouTube had nothing but bile and personal invective in response to my factual criticisms there.

    • I can’t disentangle his factual stumbles -which are really astounding in number – from his manipulative manner of presentation. I don’t deny there are occasionally artful moments, but it is all for naught. It’s like a beautifully produced Lord Haw-Haw speech.

  13. Well done.

    I’m able to write up comments with links w/o moderation at the Atlas Shrugged Movie site and have done so to make it easier for those who may be interested in reading your analysis.

  14. There once was a man from Pitlochry,
    Who had sex with a girl on a rockery.
    She said “This is no fun”,
    “These stones hurt my bum”,
    “This isn’t a fuck, it’s a mockery!”

  15. A programme (AWOBMOLG) which generates so much intelligent comments, analysis and critcism can’t be that wrong.

    • I cannot agree. Factual accuracy is just not dispensable. Curtis creates consumerist artifacts.

      This has been a mopping-up operation that should have been largely wholly unneeded. Much of the rest has been fawning. Curtis didn’t do his homework, and we’re marking up his paper.

  16. Hi
    thanks for a very factual and informative bit of writing.
    I agree with you entirely when you say the facts in the documentary are linked tenuously together.
    I however have a different understanding of the piece.
    I believe that he deliberately constructed the documentary in a way to mislead the viewer.
    In all honesty I think he is playing devils advocate with us. When you look at this work in relation to his other work (the Century of the Self & the Power of Nightmares). In particular Power of Nightmares discusses the construction of lies by Government and media. Personally I think that this is a piece about constructing a lie and seeing if people react. to me it says more about the state of reporting media today and our inability to question what is placed in front of us.
    The only thing I ever take from Adam Curtis is that we should always question our reality and by this act we can uncover truths.
    I won’t dispute your claims about his documentary rather I offer an alternate way of looking at it. in this light I find it to be quite genius

    • I am pretty old-school about a lot of things – I think we are whirling in a Post-Modern cyclotron of atomized parts of bits of information (yes, even the bits are incomplete now), but, like David Lynch – a lover of surrealism and of Ronald Reagan – I can recognize a power to the Post-Modern in small doses, as a rhetorical mode. After all, it is the form of our time. If that was Curtis’ intent, as a kind of Sokal Hoax – – then he succeeded. But based on my reading of his signals, I think he was doing a piece of advocacy. His final peroration about the economic system we allegedly are helpless cogs in sounded too sincere. And really, in the end, we are dying – quite literally – for lack of sincerity.

  17. Although this was a weak documentary, your “notes” sound like an apologist for Free Markets. Everyone is greedy and selfish in this system. You have to lie and rip off to sell and make money (profit) even if you’re a panhandler or a government. There are also greedy selfish rich people and shareholders too. It just seems strange that you’re so aggrieved that you need to defend Rand or business people. People do bad things to others in this system of rationing and to be unable to recognize that some things you value may hurt others makes this assessment seem very rigid and as one sided as the doc.

    I did find that the dot com episode missing seemed very weird and deliberate.

    I also find Rand to be an extreme reaction to Communism. I’ve only read Fountainhead and the clear understanding I got from that was that you don’t need anyone else or they’ll just use you You may want someone else, but you certainly don’t need them. She may have never said that, but her characters did.

    The masses are the mediocrity. Right?

    • The free market – the actual free market – needs no apology. What we have left of it is supporting the world and is steadily being eroded.

      “Greed” and “selfishness” in the sense you mean them are character flaws, and it is empirically falsifiable that everyone suffers from them. The existence of charity alone, among higher-income people particularly, argues against it. The claim that all must lie is similarly fallacious. If everyone is lying to everyone, then the power plants would not run, the bridges would fall down, and we would not be able to have this conversation because the computers would not turn on. Your claims are more about a picture of free trade among people that is false, and based upon emotive discomfort. I urge you to unpack it – and consider that if it is true, then democracy – which I trust you advocate – is doomed. Such deep flaws in human nature mean that only a command economy and politics can succeed. Is that what you see working in the world today? Where?

      You don’t seem to grasp exactly how factually inaccurate this documentary was. Please review my notes above. Curtis claims that he is exposing the real story of the financial crash – and yet he cannot even get the simplest things right? This indicates a lack of care – rather like his lack of care in following up on the fate of the East Asian countries. They were used as long as necessary, and then discarded – by Curtis. No need for psychological probings into my response: you have the grounds right there.

      The free market is not a system of rationing: it is a system of abundance. You leave out the productive/innovative element that is unique to it.

      “The Fountainhead” is considerably more open to others than you say – look at the romance between Roark and Dominique. They needed and loved one another and it worked out in the end, brilliantly. Had Wynand been open to Roark he could have been saved. Even Keating, perhaps.

      “The masses” don’t exist. It’s a fiction that Rand hates “the masses.” She does not collectivize people into a single gooey lump. She has a great deal of respect for the so-called “Common Man” – much more so than the socialists, communists, national socialists, or fascists did. She thinks the elite are a great deal more mediocre, generally – especially crony capitalists, who are the special villains in “Atlas Shrugged.”

    • I’ve approved this to reply to you – and because you wrote a considerate preface to your swarm of links. I disapprove of link dumps without arguments.

      I can’t make hide nor hair of the swarm other than that you (presumably) think there’s something fundamentally off with the present economic system – with which I agree – and you think the solution is some kind of Social Credit/Georgism – with which I could not disagree more.

      A private property regime that does not recognize private property in land is not a private property regime at all. Private property in land is one of the fundamental rights, and to out that foundation is destructive of the entire structure.

  18. This is an excellent response to Adam Curtis’s documentary. I enjoyed the catchy music and active pace of the show. I liked the video editing. It is mostly engaging. But the part it does not engage, or even tries to subvert, is the intellect.

    I get the impression that the BBC gave Curtis full access to all footage ever shot by them. He had a monumental library spanning decades to rummage through. He needed all of this to dazzle the viewer with large quantities of interesting footage to not notice the junk that was coming out of his mouth. Why? The BBC must be shaken and scared that the ideas of individual rights will finally reach across the Atlantic and into the hallowed walls of the University of London.

    Curtis has made several of these types of documentaries. One is called “The Century of the Self” in which he uses BBC library footage to show that the individual is a myth made up by Sigmund Freud’s cousin to sell more cars and clothes.

    I agree with pretty much everything you are saying, accept I think you should clarify the virtue/virtues of selfishness point you are making. She did write a book called “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

    As far as the roots of the collapse, they actually show Greenspan diverging from the path of Objectivism but don’t point that out to the viewer. They show him using the Fed to help Clinton. At this point he is not running the Fed as a bank but as a charity. This has nothing to do with Objectivism but Curtis and the BBC doesn’t mention this divergence.

    You can only refute Rand by misrepresenting her. But for the BBC and Curtis to stake their reputations on such an attack means they think no one will notice, or they are just so desperate that they have to play dumb and try anyway.

    There is an alternate explanation to the events portrayed in the show. The New Economy was laid low, not by irrational exuberance, but by a DOJ attack on it’s greatest champion.

    Here is an interesting section of the Dot Com Bomb taken from here:

    2000 Jan 30 Super Bowl XXXIV Features Seventeen Dot-Com Companies

    2000 Mar 10 Dot-com Bubble Reaches Peak

    2000 Mar 13 The Market Opens 4% Lower On Monday Than It Closed On Friday

    2000 Mar 24 S&P 500 Peaks

    2000 Apr 3 Microsoft Is Declared A Monopoly

    2000 Apr 15 Gave Away Ten Million Dollars To A Lucky Contestant

    2000 May 18 Goes Bust

    2000 Nov 6 Announces Closure

    • Well-observed about subversion. So much of our public discourse fits what Aristotle said of sophistical arguments: they appear to be arguments, but are not. They’re most definitely for sophistical purposes, but now the appearance of an argument is faint. We’ve pretty much devolved to either emotive screaming or cold snarking or both in strange mixtures.

      Incidentally, our cultural fixation on subversion has become obsessive. To subvert something implies that it is taken seriously – yet very little is taken seriously now but momentary neurotic reactivities. The daring subversions that are so touted are mostly of cultural mores long-since drained of serious energy. Reminds me of the annoying commercials that, in a trendy Post-Modern way, continually mock the stiff serious iconicism of 1950s commercials. Just buy the product, is the message, and you too are a daring subverter. You join the cool club by a rite of purchase. It is a perversion of the free market, not a consequence of it. The U.S. government officially centers things not on production but consumption.

      > not to notice the junk that was coming out of his mouth.

      Excellent observation. There is a disjunction between the image-making (which is not always unskillful) and the truly incompetent reasoning in the narration. It is perhaps intended to produce cognitive dissonance. This is one reason why I do not take Curtis seriously; we might call him anti-cognitive-resonance.

      Would you explain more your point about virtue/virtues? I’m familiar with Rand’s book – tell me how that enters?

      As for Greenspan, he says himself in his memoir that he left aside Objectivism in the 1980s – interestingly, after Rand died – and on the matter of coercive taxation.

      Thanks for the timeline. Do you mean that the bust was caused by the DOJ declaring Microsoft a monopoly?

  19. You asked, “Would you explain more your point about virtue/virtues? I’m familiar with Rand’s book – tell me how that enters?”

    You wrote in the article, “She never spoke about ‘the virtue*s* of selfishness.'”

    I had said, “I agree with pretty much everything you are saying, [except] I think you should clarify the virtue/virtues of selfishness point you are making.”

    I was asking for clarification from you in my comment. Maybe I am just missing something, but if I am maybe someone else is too?

    I mean she certainly spoke about selfishness. She condoned it and said it was something that must be attained. It is not automatic or universal. It is an achievement.

  20. “Thanks for the timeline. Do you mean that the bust was caused by the DOJ declaring Microsoft a monopoly?”

    I remember hearing the story on NPR on my way to work at a mortgage company in bustling Newport Beach in 2000. The internet had been a shining example of unfettered entrepreneurial and innovation.

    It is useful to remind people that the “.com” in a website URL stands for “commerce”.

    When the DOJ drew a bead on the forehead of the champion of paying his developers, leader of the largest INDEPENDENT software company in the world, Bill Gates, other leaders shuddered. They quaked, and the hand they held tipped.

    The WWW house of cards degraded. But it was new real estate. There is a certain amount of uncertainty in new real estate. To make up for that uncertainty they gambled old real estate. The Fed thought they could get away with a little more market manipulation. What happened? 9/11/2001.

  21. Michael, I have just finished read “Atlas Shrugged” and have now read through your excellent critique of AWOBMOLG and equally fascinating responses here.

    I can’t match the erudition but would like to gain a better understanding. I guess I’m in search of a system or philosophy that stands a chance of working in the real world that now presents itself.

    You stated (in your amusing exchange with Hadding) that you are not an Objectivist but you clearly have a great deal of sympathy for Ayn Rand’s philosophy. What prevents you from being a full blown Objectivist?

    There is no doubting the wisdom of much what she writes but what is the practical application of it – for mankind as a whole rather than the individual?

    As a concerned parent, it seems to me the generations to come are facing the hell of a future that comes about largely as a result of the lassiez-faire or mixed economies of the past and present. Population growth, environmental degradation, global warming, financial meltdowns etc etc etc. How do we sustain it? Everything appears to be headed “tits up” at the present time!

    To me, it would have been preferable if Ms Rand had devoted Part 3 of “Atlas Shrugged” to a picture of how the world evolved after the “Looters and Mouchers” had departed (rather than devote so much space to the endless reiteration of her philosophy as the world crumbled!). For example, how would the masses of present and future generations have overcome the individual psychological development issues that currently inhibit the adoption of “reason” as the way ahead? Would it even be desirable? If we all applied reason would not the system break on that? A strength overdone becomes a weakness!!

    • I expect to write about the Objectivism issue before long. Suffice for now to say that though I deeply admire much of what Rand said and did – especially her enormous, fiery bravery in an awful time when intellectuals (especially in Europe and the U.N.) were admiring the blood-ocean of the Soviet Union – I depart sharply from her theory of emotions. I believe she tries to get too much out of words and concepts that they don’t, factually, possess in human populations – and moreover she hardly argued her case about emotions, which is a striking omission given the importance she gives it. It was obviously very powerfully how she, personally, operated. She does not appreciate the power of the wordless and of evolutionary-psychological material in people. (Thus, for instance, an emotional response to “altruism” does not only come from ideas and other influences in childhood. It is partly innate, biologically, because we are primates, and thus tribal.) In fairness to the tightly-interlocking quality of her system and to my own thought, then, I can’t call myself an Objectivist. I also like the freedom of being an outsider; I know to a certainty that many Objectivists have worried about “saying the wrong thing” and being found to be irrational and bad. That’s much less, lately and happily.

      Having said that, I think she was a better philosopher than almost anyone knows, and I plan to write about that too.

      You speak of winning in the real world. No one philosophy will ever take over the world. It is a matter of influence, and that takes centuries. Best to start with your own life and what you have in your power. That’s the Stoic tradition.

      The issues you raise about the environment and such are too broad to discuss at great length. However, what you have heard blamed on laissez-faire is emphatically not the case. First off, a lot of what it presented as environmental disaster is not so. In the 1850s the end of oil was hailed – in the 1910s, we were nearly out of wood and coal, in the 1970s there was a “population bomb” coming by 1980 and we were also going to freeze in global cooling. Population growth in a free market world would be a positive good. Note how human lifespans and population have gone up together due to the Industrial Revolution; I am sure you would not like us to be back in a time when average lifespan was under 50 and something like half of all children died young and mothers regularly died in childbirth. Anthropogenic global warming is now on hiatus, and polar bear populations are up. Humans have a desire for apocalyptic stories – and some people seek power by spreading them. “Laissez-faire” is a standard accusation that usually refers to some other mixed economy. Non-mixed State-run economies basically give you North Korea without aid from the mixed economies. The financial crisis in particular was caused by government policies dating back close to a century, particularly abandoning the gold standard.

      In my opinion, Rand didn’t want to too closely delineate the future society of freedom in specifics because in her view she had given us principles and the application and work was up to us. Interestingly, this is like Max Stirner, the “nihilist egoist,” who also gives almost no details of what his Union of Egoists would look like. In Stirner, it’s clear that it will be the resultant of whatever the Egoists decide serves each of them.

  22. I’m no Rand fan but this documentary was ridiculous. It attempts to cover WAY too much ground in order to advance a thesis which isn’t altogether clear. It attributes completely unrelated events to computers or machines, when in reality they were often caused by flawed ideology, superstition or some other factor that is completely ignored or glossed over. The strange thing about this is that it seems so manipulative and yet it does a very poor job of putting forth what it wants you to believe. Very frustrating, to say the least.

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