Mudita Journal

Promoting selfishness and greed: Ayn Rand’s strategic error?

July 10, 2012 · Filed under: Individualism, Intellectual, Objectivism

Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek has a lovely piece titled “Motives vs. Results,” exploring the motives of those who promote liberty, and how they compare to those who might instead promote big government.

I wrote of the article on Facebook:

A beautiful explication of why one could and should promote political freedom as a way to improve the world. It reminds me how much I wish Ayn Rand had not made the strategic error of over-emphasizing the value of greed and selfishness. Why not emphasize our harmony of interests, instead? Or the tremendous role of win-win relationships, in a free society? There are so many awesome arguments to be made for respecting other people’s rights, and having our own respected, without making it sound like we’re proponents of narcissism and living narrow, self-centered lives. Some of us get that Rand’s vision is compatible with a loving concern for others — and also why she was an uncompromising critic of altruism. Meantime, she remains ridiculously vulnerable to radioactive allegations about her own motives.

Caring for other people is so basic to human nature. Many studies are showing that it’s intrinsic to our own happiness.

We who embrace Rand’s philosophy need to be able to point out what’s wrong with self-sacrifice and mandated altruism without making ourselves feel like we should somehow be apologetic about or in any way suspicious of our deep, genuine, heartfelt concern for other people.

Because that deep, genuine, heartfelt concern for other people is not only important for our own happiness, but also lies at the root of a healthily functioning free society — arguably even more so than in more compulsory societies, which pit people’s interests against one another.

SEE ALSO: Contra Ayn Rand and Gordon Gekko, greed is NOT good.

  • Anonymous

    I get what Ayn Rand was talking about with selfishness. It never occurred to me that it was a bad thing or that it should have been less emphasized. I got it when I thought about giving and how it is a trap. Giving anonymously is something else again, and even the Bible mentions that giving anonymously is the preferred way to go. “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” Or something to that effect.

    Look at Welfare, the ultimate giving program. It has been abused and misused and used as a political platform despite being the worst possible program ever. Yes, it gives money to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it and it also gives them the license to steal with a feeling of entitlement. Neither are good things. Same with food stamps. The Mormons have a welfare program of sorts, but it’s not free and you don’t get to sit around eating lobster the first week of the month and beans and peanut butter the other 3-4 weeks of the month. In order to get help you must give help. Need money to help with the bills because your husband is disabled and unable to work, then you must work in the ward child care center, work in the co-op, put in a full day’s work at a charity shop, or work for one of the businessmen in the ward. To get, you must give of yourself and your time. No free lunches. And it works very well.

    I don’t think greed as in take everything you can lay your hands on was what Ayn Rand meant by greed. Look at how the greedy government types with the way they leveled the playing field for everyone and ended up putting nearly everyone out of business because the hard working entrepreneurs were greedy and making too much money, working too hard and getting too much profit for themselves — and for their employees. Look at how those greedy businessmen gathered up one company after another to finally be able to do business in a profitable way and how their employees profited by being treated well and respected, not to mention the size of their paychecks. Greed for greed’s sake is wrong, but being greedy for everything that can help a wo/man’s business survive and thrive, making it the best it can be isn’t such a bad thing and it benefits so many other people, people who wouldn’t otherwise have a job or be underemployed or paid less than they are worth because the bosses were more interested in their own wealth than in a thriving business.

    Looking at Ayn Randy’s philosophy in practical terms puts the emphasis on selfishness and greed in perspective, and it is always about perspective.

  • jmcornwell

    I get what Ayn Rand was talking about with selfishness. It never occurred to me that it was a bad thing or that it should have been less emphasized. I got it when I thought about giving and how it is a trap. Giving anonymously is something else again, and even the Bible mentions that giving anonymously is the preferred way to go. “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” Or something to that effect.

    Look at Welfare, the ultimate giving program. It has been abused and misused and used as a political platform despite being the worst possible program ever. Yes, it gives money to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it and it also gives them the license to steal with a feeling of entitlement. Neither are good things. Same with food stamps. The Mormons have a welfare program of sorts, but it’s not free and you don’t get to sit around eating lobster the first week of the month and beans and peanut butter the other 3-4 weeks of the month. In order to get help you must give help. Need money to help with the bills because your husband is disabled and unable to work, then you must work in the ward child care center, work in the co-op, put in a full day’s work at a charity shop, or work for one of the businessmen in the ward. To get, you must give of yourself and your time. No free lunches. And it works very well.

    I don’t think greed as in take everything you can lay your hands on was what Ayn Rand meant by greed. Look at how the greedy government types with the way they leveled the playing field for everyone and ended up putting nearly everyone out of business because the hard working entrepreneurs were greedy and making too much money, working too hard and getting too much profit for themselves — and for their employees. Look at how those greedy businessmen gathered up one company after another to finally be able to do business in a profitable way and how their employees profited by being treated well and respected, not to mention the size of their paychecks. Greed for greed’s sake is wrong, but being greedy for everything that can help a wo/man’s business survive and thrive, making it the best it can be isn’t such a bad thing and it benefits so many other people, people who wouldn’t otherwise have a job or be underemployed or paid less than they are worth because the bosses were more interested in their own wealth than in a thriving business.

    Looking at Ayn Randy’s philosophy in practical terms puts the emphasis on selfishness and greed in perspective, and it is always about perspective.