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November 02, 2009

Ayn Rand: Prophet or Scapegoat?

Catherine New
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This post contains an update.

Ayn Rand is experiencing a resurgence in popular culture — South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford published a glowing op-ed about Rand’s books in the October 23 issue of Newsweek and Jon Stewart dedicated a segment on The Daily Show to an interview with Jennifer Burns, author of the newly published Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford University Press). Next week, Burns visits Columbia Business School to speak about her book.

According to Burns, this resurgence is entirely predictable. Rand’s popularity has waxed and waned with political cycles over the years. When a Democrat is in the White House, conservatives tend to more loudly champion her ideas.

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“Students who are interested in understanding the Great Crash of 2007 should know that Ayn Rand influenced a whole generation of influential opinion- and policy-makers with her idea that all things private are good and all things public bad,” says Professor Ray Horton. “One of her most important acolytes was Alan Greenspan, who as Federal Reserve Chairman stuck to the quaint view that the financial industry could regulate itself — until he recanted last year in Congressional testimony that qualifies as one of the classic mea culpas of all time.”

Rand’s legacy continues to provide grist for the debate mill: Did her celebration of free markets contribute to the current financial crisis or does her work provide a compelling case against bank bailouts and the dire consequences sure to follow?

Professor Horton will introduce Jennifer Burns for a book talk followed by a Q&A on November 11 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Columbia Business School. Please register here for the event by November 4.

UPDATE (11/25/09): Watch video from the event, including Burns’ discussion of her research about Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand. -CN

Photo image from cover of Goddess of the Market.


by wants | November 02, 2009 at 2:23 PM

I don't understand the use of Greenspan as an example of failed Objectivism in regards to economics. My understanding was that by the time Greenspan took over as chairmen of the Fed, he had largely given up on the pure free-market economics that Objectivists preached. Wouldn't Greenspan's attempts to control the market through the Fed be exactly the kind of government interventionism in the marketplace that Rand had warned about? Or was Greenspan somehow following Objectivist principles while running the Fed?

by Hayek | November 02, 2009 at 10:48 PM

No matter how deeply leftists may want to cling to the notion that Greenspan has spilled the beans on the 'truth' that free market ideology created this crisis - the truth is that with a central planning board at the Fed setting the cost of money, the seeds of this crisis lie in Socialism. What is 'quaint' is the notion that bureaucrats with spreadsheets can determine incentive structures better shareholders (who face massive losses). Gold standard anyone?

by Clara | November 03, 2009 at 10:16 AM

Ron Paul is the only Republican office-holder in our lifetimes who has consistently upheld Randian principles. Who are all these GOP voters who supposedly vote with Atlas Shrugged in mind? Not those who supported Bush's protectionism and expansion of the welfare state. Not those who are deeply religious -- as Ayn Rand regarded religious belief as the enemy of both rational thought and self-esteem. Using Ayn Rand's character flaws to vilify Republicans is such a non-sequitur that it reflects little on the Republican Party as we know it, but speaks volumes about the ignorance of people who criticize Rand without understanding her ideas.

by Sander Hicks | November 16, 2009 at 12:30 AM

RE: "Or was Greenspan somehow following Objectivist principles while running the Fed?" OR did he go from following an obsessed anticommunist, to launching into the frontiers of his own dogma, similar to Rand, and equally as rigid? In his 2007 autobiography, Greenspan wrote that although "the broader philosophy of unfettered market competition [is] compelling," he saw contradictions in Rand... agrees with her with "qualifications." All you have to do is quickly look over the Frontline piece on Brooksley Born, former head of the CFTC under Bush. At lunch with Greenspan, he told her the government had no business doing any regulation at all, and should turn a blind eye to outright "fraud." The best autopsies on the credit crunch and subsequent meltdown lays a fair share of the blame at the feet of Greenspan. He kept interest rates obsessively low, and was inordinately obsessed with asset prices. His political association with Rand shows a dangerous proclivity for anti-democratic politics and thus monetary policy. Why do only undergraduates and high school bohemians read Rand? It's cold war crap.

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