You Can Defend Free Enterprise
You Can Defend Free Enterprise without Being a Randian
A recent issue of Christianity Today has an article, “Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession,” critiquing the Ayn Rand. But the article, by Christian financial advisor Gary Moore, is as much a critique of Christians who presumably are disciples of Rand. The subtitle is: “Why Christians should be wary of the late pop philosopher and her disciples.” I agree with that warning, so I initially was pleased to see the article.
Unfortunately, it’s so intellectually sloppy and confused that it will probably do more harm than good. Moore argues correctly and uncontroversially that Rand was deeply anti-religious and anti-Christian, and that it’s impossible for a consistent Christian to hold her egoist philosophy. He also argues correctly that we should bring moral reasoning to economic policies and personal investment decisions. Unfortunately, he paints with such a broad and coarse brush that this easily defensible thesis is lost in the splatter.
Several times, Moore goes out of his way to announce his conservative street creds. He refers to himself as a “Reaganomics supporter” and uses phrases like “we true conservatives” too frequently. This is often a sign that the author is in the process of wandering off the left side of the reservation. I don’t know Moore, so I’ll resist speculating about his broader views. But his piece in CT definitely trades in many of the confusions made popular by the Left since the financial crisis.
He seems to think that because former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is a declared admirer of Rand, the financial crisis is the result of Rand’s philosophy. But he never provides any argument or evidence for this claim, other than the boilerplate complaints about Wall Street “greed” and the unidentified “deregulation” that supposedly led to the crisis. There’s no evidence that people on Wall Street are uniquely greedy, however, or that they are greedier now than they were, say, 12 years ago. In any case, since greed is ubiquitous and will inspire different actions under different incentives, as a causal explanation for the financial crisis, it’s not very illuminating.
Moore does get close to diagnosing some of the problems with the subprime mortgage crisis, but says nothing about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or misguided federal policy that led to a degraded mortgage market. And he treats the act of investing in AIG and Goldman Sachs as an intrinsic moral evil. Really.
Still, the most egregious error in his piece is a ham-fisted attempt to turn Christian free marketers into Randians. At both the beginning and end of his article, he accuses Christians who combine Rand’s philosophy with Christian theology of “syncretism.” Fair enough. Since they’re incompatible philosophies, fusing them would be syncreticism. Unfortunately, Moore doesn’t provide a single real example of such a person. Instead he engages in egregious equivocation.
His reasoning goes like this. First, he identifies Rand with “libertarianism” as if the two categories were interchangeable. Then he calls anyone who is strongly committed to free markets, or who is concerned about federal debt and the growth of government, a “libertarian.” This slippage allows him to paint televangelist Pat Robertson, the late Christian financial counselor Larry Burkett, and several other Christian financial advisors, as Randians. This is not only fallacious reasoning, it’s slanderous.
His argument (if we may call it that) gets especially surreal when he discusses federal debt, which, he tells us dismissively, “libertarians find abhorrent.” In summarizing Robert Bartley (former Wall Street Journal editor), he says that
Bartley called the federal debt a “great national myth” that libertarian politicians had concocted to manipulate voters. He knew that we true conservatives once considered it patriotic to let the government borrow from us when we bought war bonds.
Bartley wrote the words that Moore is paraphrasing in 1992. Given our current fiscal situation, it’s hard to imagine an observation that would be less appropriate or accurate. Government debt is growing at staggering proportions, and none of it comes from citizens buying war bonds. We’re borrowing and spending money that future generations will have to pay back. Everyone knows this, and yet, somehow, it seems to have eluded Moore here.
Ironically, I suspect that economically literate readers may come away from Moore’s off-putting piece more rather than less sympathetic to Rand’s philosophy. For such readers, I’d like to recommend an excellent treatment of Rand. It’s in the last chapter of Benjamin Wiker’s delightful book, Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read.