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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Would Ayn Rand be part of OWS?

Normally I wouldn't care about the Great Cigarette Hag's opinion about...well, about pretty much anything. She was clearly mentally unbalanced -- a mannish-looking egomaniac who let her puerile sex fantasy of being ravaged by Conan the Barbarian give rise to an equally puerile Nietzschean "might makes right" economic philosophy.

But a writer named Bruce Judson offers an interesting argument that Rand would not have categorized the Wall Streeters as "wealth creators" but as "moochers." I must admit, Rand probably would have had a hard time working up a puerile sex fantasy around Lloyd Blankfein. At any rate, I give you the guts of Judson's argument...
This leads to the conclusion that Rand’s philosophy is only anti-regulation because it is ultra-supportive of the capitalist ideal: The people who create the most societal wealth should receive the benefits of this contribution.

From this perspective, Rand’s philosophy points out that real capitalism is no longer enforced in America; not because of welfare programs, taxes, the social safety net, or government regulations, but for a very different reason: The highest paid people in America today create no real wealth for the society.

The financial industry, comprised of traders, hedge funds who exploit arbitrage opportunities, and “quants” who develop mathematical models to take advantage of minute inefficiencies in trading markets (for stocks, derivative securities of all types, commodities, and more) are now earning seemingly inestimable sums. Hedge fund owners earn billions of dollars annually while traders who earn less than several million dollars a year are not, by Wall Street standards, real successes. Yet they are all gambling in “a heads I win, tails you lose” game. The outcome of all their efforts are high profits, but little, if any, new societal wealth.

Real societal wealth is anything that enhances the lives of those in our society, starting with basics such as food, shelter and medicine, but also including almost any property a person can own or anything a person can experience, such as entertainment or greater convenience. Real wealth can be eaten, used, shared. or experienced.

Profits cannot be eaten and they do not provide shelter. As a consequence, it’s essential to recognize that the creation of profits is often confused with the creation of real societal wealth. They are different. Profits are an accounting proxy we use for indicating whether wealth is created. But like all proxies, this one sometimes falls short. With regard to the financial industry, this proxy has failed the nation spectacularly.

The current issue of Foreign Affairs describes how a Wall Street firm spent $300 million to construct a fiber-optic cable connecting the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange to shave “three milliseconds off high-speed, high-volume automated trades-a big competitive advantage.” And huge sums are now being spent to use technology to earn these profits. High frequency (i.e. computer-driven) trading is now estimated to account for 75 percent of all buying and selling of U.S. equities. Does any of this add to our societal wealth?
Well, it does if you're a guy who installs fiber-optic cable. But now we're talking about a very limited number of people.

I think we must return to a basic distinction that I've been hammering away at for years: Finance capitalism and industrial capitalism are not the same. Defenses of laissez faire always concentrate on industrial capitalism, yet that's not the issue. The issue is finance capitalism, which is just another term for vampirism.

"He who does not work, the same shall not eat." Let's face it: Good old Lloyd ain't totin' that barge, and neither does he lift that bale. Yet he eats better than you or I ever will. Worse, and to the point: He does not create a whole lot of opportunity for others to tote barges and lift bales. In fact, guys who think like Lloyd have made sure that our barge-totin' and bale-lifting operations have been shipped overseas.

Some of you may believe that Judson offers a possible opening for a dialogue between the Atlas Shrugged worshippers and the OWS contingent. Go that route if you feel you must; for my part, I would counsel against such dialogue. Randroids are, in essence, religious maniacs -- and the only way to deal with a zealot hoping to score a conversion is to slam the door in his face. Better metaphor: We should deal with Libertarians the same way we should deal with Nazis. The moment you see that swastika armband, stop talking and start shooting. (And fuck Godwin's Law.)

Libertarianism is a purely evil movement which has wrought nothing but misery in this world. Libertarians are therefore unworthy to serve as debating partners.

PS: Is it just my connection, or has Corrente been taken off the air?
It appears the Mighty Corrente has fallen-- at least it has disappeared from the Southern Highlands (aka GSM).
Yep - I can't access Corrente either. Seemed to go down early Friday afternoon.
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