In a speech at Georgetown University this week we learned two things about President Barack Obama.
One, he loves the Catholic leader, Pope Francis. Two, he hates Ayn Rand.
No, it’s not really a surprise. But the specifics of Obama’s comments — and the fact that progressives like him feel such a compelling need to single out the ideas of someone they supposedly consider marginalized and irrelevant — are quite revealing.
Today’s Washington Post reports:
Obama said he can’t wait to host Pope Francis this fall because he thinks the pope will spark a larger discussion on poverty.
“No one has shown this better than Pope Francis who has been transformative just through his sincerity and insistence that this is vital to who we are, this is following what Jesus Christ our savior taught us, and that emphasis is why he’s had such appeal including to young people all around the world.”
Of course Obama loves Pope Francis. He shares, with the Pope, the ethical viewpoint that man is his brother’s keeper. What this means, in practice, is that no individual life is an end in itself. Instead, the central purpose of life is to serve others.
Obama believes in state-sanctioned, secular socialism to advance this ethical perspective. The Pope probably favors something different. But if we’re honest about it, they rely on the same ethical doctrine when it comes to promoting their approach to morality: Your life does not belong to you. It belongs to God, to the Church, to the government, to the needy masses … anybody but yourself.
The Post story continues:
The Georgetown gathering includes some nitty gritty about specific policies on things like predatory lending, taxes and wages in breakout sessions, but the big event Tuesday with Obama and two leading social scientists – one progressive one conservative – is about countering politicization in policy talks around poverty.
“The stereotype of folks on the Left who just want to pour more money into social progress and don’t care about culture or parenting or family structures … and then you’ve got cold-hearted free-market capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and think everyone is mooching, and the truth is more complicated,” Obama said.
Obama implies that “cold-hearted” capitalism was the most fundamental aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. But capitalism, to Rand, was a derivative. Capitalism is the economic system — the only economic system, Rand argued — consistent with man’s nature as a rational human being. Reason, according to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, is the distinctively human means of survival, and only capitalism can keep man’s mind free to innovate and produce.
Rand summarized it nicely when she wrote, “I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.”
A lot of people who haven’t read Rand consider her philosophy equivalent to religious conservatism; but she was actually an atheist. Others consider her equivalent to contemporary “country club” Republicans, like Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush, who advocate government pull over the economy; but Rand advocated total separation of economics and state, which would rule out the special favors and subsidies granted to business under what she called the “mixed economy.”
Her most famous novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” detailed the perils and scandals not of outright socialism, but of a mixed economy where political pull gained ascendency over the productive geniuses who could no longer take it, and as a result went on strike. The events of that novel look a lot like America’s government-run, semi-socialist “pull” economy of today, particularly since Obama came to power. The central theme of the novel was not that socialism is evil, but that reason is man’s primary tool of survival — and that socialism is evil because of that.
Rand’s opposition to the entitlement state was far more fundamental than mere opposition to mooching. The welfare state punishes the productive and requires them to carry the load for the non-productive. As economic growth declines, this ultimately hurts everyone — including the most vulnerable, by the way, who depend on a thriving private economy to finance either private charity or government handouts.
When Rand used the term “moocher,” I understood her to be making a moral assessment of people who willfully live off the efforts of others, without attempting to ensure and take responsibility for their own survival. Actually, there are moochers in voluntary associations and arrangements, particularly dysfunctional families. One problem with the welfare and entitlement state is that it rewards and actually entrenches mooching as a way of life. It subsidizes and legitimizes mooching, while pretending it’s not mooching, but a Constitutional right.
Obama claims it’s “cold-hearted” to favor capitalism while opposing his ideas of wealth redistribution and socialism. However, think about what capitalism does. It treats every individual’s life as an end in itself. If you’re able to create billions or trillions of dollars in wealth — it’s yours to keep, or spend, or give away as you see fit.
In practice, people who become wealthy inevitably spend it, either through setting up charitable or scientific endowments, or investing it in further economic development. Or they spend it on luxury items which “stimulate” the spending that politicians like Obama claim to care so much about. Regardless, it ends up creating growth for the economy, even though — Rand argued — this was not their central purpose, nor should it have been.
You are sovereign over your wealth — whether it’s $100 or a trillion — because you are sovereign over your life. Neither the Pope nor Obama, neither the Church nor the state, own your life. You do. End of story. I don’t find this cold. I find this amazingly and authentically honest and true. I find it motivating, just and exhilarating.
America, for a time, permitted the greatest degree of economic freedom ever known to mankind. In the process, the standard of living rose for the entire planet at an exponential rate not previously seen in human history, before or since. We continue on the momentum of that burst of inventive and profitable energy to the present day. Such momentum is sustained not because of redistributing and manipulative political power-grabbers like Obama; but in spite of them.
Capitalism creates wealth. Only capitalism creates wealth. It creates the warmth (or coolness) of our homes, the comfort or even luxury of our clothing, our means of transportation, our medical care, our groceries, on and on and on. There’s nothing more callous or cold-hearted than a world without capitalism. Obama could not be more wrong. It’s the only system that will ever create wealth, and prosperity exists only to the extent that economic freedom is permitted. Without material prosperity and productivity, human beings are finished; without the freedom the mind requires, and that only “cold-hearted” capitalism can provide, life as we know it would collapse around us.
Capitalism is practical because it respects the sovereignty and efficacy of man’s mind and body. Ayn Rand expressed this more brilliantly than anyone I have ever read, and I have read a lot of thinkers.
Obama doesn’t have a clue.