Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

David Sloan Wilson on Ayn Rand and the delusion of a world without tradeoffs

Posted 10 Oct 2012 / 0

The Huffington PostAyn Rand and Modern Politics

What I really appreciate about this post is its very simple brand of analysis. It asks a simple question and employs a clear methodology to objectively understand a phenomenon (in this case, the appeal of Ayn Rand to conservatives). Talk about a job of social construction: the world Ayn Rand portrays has no tradeoffs! As an evolutionist, this clearly makes no sense to Wilson, and it should make no sense to anyone who has a cursory understanding of life’s biophysical constraints.

Politically, this is fascinating from the perspective of denial. Logic has it that the actions of the wealthy and elite have consequences for others, and that taking a large proportion of the resources that are produced by human labor will leave less for others. This is not to say that human economies are entirely zero-sum — there are scenarios under which all can have on average more or less depending on the economic decisions we make and the technologies we employ — but that there are biophysical limits to the wealth that can be enjoyed. Rand’s ideas are a valuable smokescreen, obscuring the obvious tradeoffs that occur in our economy, allowing the wealthy to believe that their greed is good.

Any philosophy that ignores fundamental tradeoffs, whether that philosophy is personal or political, is bound to create instabilities.

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