As regular readers know, I am often visited by ghosts when I work late at my office in the historic Helmsley Building.
I recently had an encounter with none other than the ghost of Ayn Rand, the creator of the objectivist philosophical movement and author of Atlas Shrugged, an ideological novel that argued for absolute freedom from government intervention of any kind for society’s elite.
As you can imagine, I was quite unprepared to do rhetorical battle with a personage as intimidating as Ayn Rand, but I think I held my own:
Ayn Rand: Good evening, young Joshua. Do you happen to have a match or a lighter?
The Reformed Broker: Sorry, No. And I don’t think that’s such a good idea, you smoking…
AR: Don’t be a fool! I’m already dead, and besides, smoking had nothing to do with my demise. Rather, the lit tip of my cigarette was not unlike the Promethean torch of creativity and individualistic enterprise, shining like a beacon of inspiration in a darkening world filled with the blackness of Bolshevik ideals.
TRB: Umm, ok. Whatever you say. Since you’re here anyway, do you mind if I interview you for my blog, Ms. Rand?
AR: As I have absolutely no idea what a blog is, I’m not sure. But on second thought, you did use the word interview and it’s been a while since I’ve I’ve been able to publicly pontificate…so please, proceed, young man.
TRB: Great. For starters, one of the most enduring aspects of your philosophy was that the smartest, most capable citizens should be absolutely free from any government or regulatory interference in order for the society as a whole to move forward. Well, that experiment has been carried out in the US over the last decade or so and it almost led to the end of the world. Any thoughts on where you may have been wrong?
AR: (long exhale of smoke) I simply have no idea what you could possibly be referring to.
TRB: OK, I’ll compress 7 years into one sentence. So, the Federal Reserve completely removed almost any relevant oversight or as you’d phrase it “government tampering” from the financial sector and the financial sector destroyed itself to the point that it is now run by the very government that ignored it.
AR: Ah, you are referring to the recent free market adjustment now into its third year of necessity and inevitability? I hardly would equate a temporary hiccup in credit markets and a slight drop in asset values a “crisis”.
TRB: Umm, global stock markets were cut in half in less than 18 months, there are 300-something-thousand new foreclosures a month nationwide and 26 million Americans wake up without jobs to go to. This sounds Utopian to you?
AR: Certainly not, but to suggest that freedom for the individual to better his situation in the capital markets is at fault for this would be utter nonsense. If anything, it was the restrictions on enterprising people that were at fault.
TRB: Is there something other than tobacco in your cigarette, Ms. Rand? There was almost no restriction whatsoever for two decades. Lawmakers were literally taking chainsaws to the rulebook while bank executives were in the backrooms of Capitol Hill writing up the new ones. Exactly what government interference could you possibly cite?
AR: (coughing fit) Excuse me, Joshua, this line of questioning is rather off-putting to me. What you refer to as a meltdown, I prefer to call an opportunity. If government would just step away, the banking industry would be fully capable of exploiting this moment and producing a great boon for the underclass.
TRB: Ayn, if government were to have stepped away last year, there would no longer be any banks, but fine, let’s change the subject. Why do you think Atlas Shrugged has not yet been made into a film?
AR: Most likely because my preferred directorial choice has been exiled in Europe. But one day, my Roman will be set free to once again create, without the grubby hands of the Proletariat and their lawmaking appointees dragging him down.
TRB: Okay…Any regrets, Ms. Rand?
AR: Just two. The first is that I couldn’t stick around long enough to see my boychick Alan revolutionize the role of the Federal Reserve and preside over decades of laissez-faire glory.
TRB: Actually, your “boychick” Alan Greenspan produced more bubbles than a laundromat. But do tell, your second regret?
AR: I had a shot with Ludwig Van Mises one night after a symposium in Paris. That was one brilliant, red-blooded Austrian how-you-say…ah, yes – hunk. Oh, well.
TRB: Thank you for your time, Ms. Rand. Please put that out elsewhere, the building doesn’t allow smoking.
AR: I see that the rulemaking operatchniks are still tying the hands of the most useful members of society. I’m happy to be rid of these interminable chains of bureaucracy. Do svidaniya, Joshua!
And with that, a gust of wind swept the apparition from my office suite back out into the unregulated aether.