As Americans brace for an economic downturn, adherents of free market ideology are busily assuring everyone that their ideas must be not be questioned.
Just two days after the Stock Market dropped on October 10th, the front page of the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Review featured an article entitled “How to Fix the Great American Growth Machine.” The piece repeated a series of neoliberal clichés, and contained some obvious logical holes.
The article pointed toward the unregulated nature of US railroad construction in 1800s as an example of American free market superiority, ignoring the millions who died in the process. The construction of railways connecting North America’s coasts involved the displacement and genocide millions of Native Americans. It also involved millions of Irish, African-American, and Chinese people being worked to death. The racist expression “You don’t have a Chinamen’s chance” referred the semi-slave conditions that Chinese Americans faced when laying rails in western states.
The article hailed the period of 1865 to 1900 as an ideal time in US history due to lack of government interference with business. The article ignored how frequently the US stock market fell into crises during this time, with “panics” frequently leading to bank failures, mass unemployment, and widespread societal turmoil. The article also ignored in the appraisal of this supposedly glorious era, that it was the time, not just of robber barons and widespread government corruption, but also of child laborers and sweat shop factory conditions.
The article went on to say that the problems of the US economy were due to “entitlements” such as food stamps, social security, and Medicare. The article explicitly called for overturning the Dodd-Frank regulations passed by the Obama administration in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 catastrophes.
The article was written by none other than Alan Greenspan, along with co-author Adrian Wooldridge. Alan Greenspan was named by Time Magazine as one of the people most responsible for the financial crash of 2008. Greenspan even admitted before congress that his “mistakes” had played a key role in the fall of Lehman Brothers and the “housing bubble” bursting.
Alan Greenspan: The Protégé of a Psychopath
Greenspan, who now lives out a comfortable retirement between lavishly paid speaking engagements, spent the prime of his life inside the circles of power. Greenspan was Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank from 1987 to 2006. He also directed the most important foreign policy think tank of the United States known as the Council on Foreign Relations from 1982 to 1988.
Greenspan has never been elected to public office. But as an un-elected advisor, economic manager, and crafter of foreign policy, he was arguably one of the most powerful people in the United States and the world.
Greenspan’s background is not ambiguous or secretive. He was very openly the protégé of the novelist and “philosopher” Ayn Rand. When Greenspan was first appointed to a government position by US President Gerald Ford, his controversial mentor even came with him to take the oath in the oval office.
Ayn Rand is widely understood to be a psychopath who rejected common notions of morality. Rand immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union, after her family’s property was redistributed following the Bolshevik revolution. She received a free education in the Soviet Union, getting a degree in cinematography. She then fled the country with a fraudulent visa, moving first to Chicago and later to Hollywood.
According to the 2009 biography “Goddess of the Market” written by Jennifer Burns, Rand openly swooned over William Hickman, a Chicago man who strangled his wife to death and refused to show remorse for it in court. Rand collected newspaper clippings of Hickman and decorated her bedroom with his photograph.
As Rand became a well-known writer, her novels also celebrated the mentality of violent criminals. Her novel “The Fountainhead” portrays a non-conforming architect, Howard Roark, who rebels against social norms. At one point, the protagonist character breaks into the apartment of a woman and rapes her. Rand’s narration portrays this as a heroic act of “a great man” asserting his will”.
Rand entitled a collection of her essays “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Rand argued that compassion and empathy were signs of weakness, and altruism was the greatest evil. She was an atheist who denied the existence of God, and proclaimed that religion should be rejected because it promoted compassion, solidarity, and collective thinking.
Rand became very wealthy by employing psychologist Nathaniel Branden to build an extensive cult of admirers who paid lots of money to attend her lectures. Media mogul, Ted Turner purchased a series of billboards containing slogans from Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” hoping to popularize her ideology of selfishness. One of Ayn Rand’s greatest admirers was Anton Levay, the founder of the Church of Satan. Levay frequently quoted Rand to his followers in explaining why all notions of morality should be abandoned and replaced with unrestrained selfishness.
Alan Greenspan was one of Rand’s most loyal followers, giving economic lectures alongside her. Greenspan lived in the same apartment building and frequently went to Jazz Clubs with Rand up until her death in 1982. Greenspan co-authored a collection of essays along with Ayn Rand entitled “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.” In the various essays written by Rand, Greenspan, and other members of her inner circle, the texts assert that big business is the most persecuted minority, that taxation is theft, and that “true capitalism” can only be achieved in a futuristic society where greed is unrestrained and humans have been cured of their drive toward solidarity and cooperation.
The Road to Disaster
In the conclusion of Greenspan’s October 12th article, the US public is advised “unless the USA changes its course its economy will continue to flag…” The article urges austerity cuts, de-regulation, while warning of the danger of “populism.”
The notion that the USA must “change course” and redirect toward the Greenspan/Rand vision is tragically laughable. Greenspan speaks as if he is a marginal figure, “a voice crying out in the wilderness” advocating a radical shift in policy.
However, the USA has been well on Greenspan’s course of neoliberal austerity policies since the 1970s. Greenspan himself directed the Council on Foreign Relations and the US Federal Reserve Bank. These are arguably the most powerful unelected positions in the country. The writings of Greenspan’s mentor Ayn Rand are required reading in business schools across the country, with Republican Congressional leader Paul Ryan claiming them as his greatest source of inspiration.
Of all countries in the industrialized world, the United States is by far the most “free market.” Every other industrialized country provides healthcare to its citizens, but the USA continues to leave medical care in the hands of profit- hungry insurance and pharmaceutical corporations. The USA does not provide free education to its population either, with a massive “student debt” curse hanging over the heads of millions of young people as bankers make profits and the price of education continues to rise.
Greenspan calls for cuts in public spending, but across the country, basic services are already being widely eroded as local governments drown in debt. Municipalities across the USA have actually begun un-paving the roads, replacing paved roads with dirt roads in order to save money. The US postal service continues to face a crisis of funding, while Trump talks of privatizing it. Many bridges across the USA are not secure, and much of the US drinking water is not properly purified.
As the US falls into disrepair amid an orgy of capitalist profits, Greenspan and his ilk purport that somehow the USA is providing too many services (‘hand outs’) to the population. As the standard of living decreases, infrastructure decays, and the country falls into great disrepair, somehow the problem is too much spending.
The current libertarian fanfare claiming that the USA is “socialist” or “communist” parallels a similar barrage of desperate, defensive propaganda, preceding and following the 2008 crisis. As the US economy crashed due to deregulation and an erosion of the standard of living and spending power of the public, the Tea Party mobilized to proclaim that somehow “Marxism” was too blame. The fear was that as Americans become more desperate, the widely inculcated ideas of the Cold War era, equating “Americanism” with unbridled greed and selfishness will be eroded. These fears are once again asserting themselves, as the financial sector braces for another downturn, following the October 10th episode.
The specter of populism has the likes of Greenspan fearing the rise of figures like Huey Long or Franklin Roosevelt, who utilized the government to take dramatic action and improve the lives of working people.
For 40 to 50 years, the policies advocated by Greenspan, Rand, Milton Friedman, and others have been implemented in the United States. However, the fact is that one simply cannot create economic growth by cutting spending and impoverishing people. Letting the population fall into deeper debt and insecurity simply does not result in an economic boom, contrary to what the Chicago School textbooks claim.
The USA certainly needs to change course if its economy is going to improve, but changing course will mean rejecting neoliberal fantasies, and asserting that the government has an obligation to build infrastructure, control the economy, and not let the country decay. As President Roosevelt famously proclaimed in order to justify his dramatic economic moves: “An American government must not allow Americans to starve.”
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.