I don’t want to come off as a one trick pony and write mostly about economic inequality, but the extent of the narcissism and ignorance on the part of people like the Koch brothers is just too outrageous to let pass.
They’re are using a tiny fraction of their vast wealth to run an ad that says an income of $34,000 a year puts you in the 1% — of the wealthiest people in the world. Really?
What helpful conclusions are we to draw about our economic situation when we compare incomes in the United States to say, Afghanistan, where the average income is about $426 a year? The Koch brothers want us to believe that the key to prosperity for all is what they call “economic freedom.” Really?
What about the rule of law, literacy and education, natural resources?
The ad doesn’t define “economic freedom” but we can make a pretty good guess what the Koch brothers are pushing — Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, popularized in her two books, “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”
Rand was no dummy, and her arguments are dense and seductive, because they provide a rationale for people like the Koch brothers to think they are living worthy, moral lives. As described in Wikipedia, objectivists believe that “the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (or rational self-interest), and that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez faire capitalism.”
Full disclosure: I read “Atlas Shrugged” when I was a teenager and was impressed. Then I finished high school, went on to college and realized that the world didn’t revolve around me. I also learned that the history of laissez faire capitalism wasn’t a very pretty picture.
In addition to worker abuse ranging from child labor to slavery and customer abuse ranging from rip-offs to poisoning, there is nothing rational about free markets. They are crazy. There are too many crooks, charlatans and greedy fat-cats ready to run wild when the rules aren’t tough, clear and aggressively enforced for us to tolerate the kind of system Rand and her followers promote. Look what happened when everybody and his brother was “free” to take out a mortgage. Look all the way back to Tulip Mania in the 1630’s. Any economic regime that doesn’t take greed into account will bubble and crash over and over again. (“Rational self-interest” is really just a fancy phrase for “greed.”)
Because we still haven’t fully recovered from the Crash of ’08, we still don’t know what it will ultimately cost. In April of 2010, The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated the cost to each U.S. household at about $110,000. When the last of the mess is finally mopped up, I’m sure the world wide cost will be many trillions of dollars. And remember, we started it.
So we have a responsibility to lead the way toward a stable, dependable financial sector and economic regime that benefits all of us. The world still looks to us for leadership, but won’t for much longer if we don’t get our act together, and the act shouldn’t include “rational self-interest.”