Ayn Rand was once acknowledged by Paul Ryan as an important intellectual influence, and her views seem now to be uncannily echoed in public statements by Mitt Romney and other members of the Tea Party-dominated Republican Party. This article offers a politically progressive critique of Rand's views, as they appear in a fictional 55-page speech delivered in ATLAS SHRUGGED by its hero, the anti-parasite "producer," John Galt.
It isn't surprising that the libertarian dogmas of Ayn Rand, once considered beyond the pale of intellectually polite company, are today receiving a second look. Given the continuing plague of joblessness in America under a president once presumed to be an activist liberal in the Roosevelt tradition, large elements of the populace are looking for solutions at the opposite end of the political spectrum. One possibility there is a Republican vice-presidential candidate who has promised economic growth based on a federal budget that would radically shrink the size of government. He has also in the past cited Ayn Rand as a major intellectual influence. He is, of course, Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin.
In my own opinion as a political progressive, Ayn Rand's ideas deserve serious examination not only because of Ryan's past (though not present) acknowledgement of her influence, but because she espoused a political theory that was, in some form, reflected in the failed economic policies of the W. Bush administration and remains an undercurrent in the anti-government views of Tea Party Republicans. That such views, whether in part derived from Rand or simply reincarnated afresh, should still have life in today's political debate strikes me as astonishing. The supply-side theory espoused by Rand was a key factor in the economic slide during the Bush administration, and one wonders how it can be seriously considered as a possible solution to the country's current problems. Government investment in the economy shrank under Bush, and has been short-changed under Obama, contributing to a now radical divide between the privileged few in America and the many who have never been, or are no longer, financially secure.
In light of that divide, what could Congressional Republicans possibly have been thinking in taking the following actions? By late 2011, all but a few in both the House and Senate had tied themselves inflexibly to the Grover Norquist pledge of no new taxes -- even on multi-millionaires. In the Senate, GOP leaders said they would not accept even a federal budget that provides ten dollars of spending cuts for every one dollar of tax increase. Paul Ryan has fashioned a proposed federal budget that would overturn, by its radical downsizing of government, eighty years of American consensus on federal responsibility for social welfare. And more recently, we learn that Mitt Romney last May offered this notoriously dismissive assessment of half the American population to a closed-door gathering of about thirty wealthy donors from the ranks of the One Percent: "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.... All right -- there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."
Such extreme positions, one would think, must have their origins in a deeper source than traditional Republican resistance to government spending, which has always before been subject to pragmatic compromise. Views so dogmatic are often found to have been inspired by a kind of scripture. Perhaps Ryan, in the past, and undoubtedly others on the political right, have found God's own hand in the writings of Ayn Rand. From what I now know, their positions and words certainly reflect them.
My Own Introduction to Rand.
I should make it clear at the outset that, as a dyed-in-the-wool political progressive, my own acquaintance with the work of Ayn Rand has until now been limited to a stereotype. I had heard of her doctrine of "selfishness," her vilification of government, her dismissal of poor Americans as "parasites" on the country's "producers," and her antipathy, in both personal and social terms, to "sacrifice" for the sake of others. I knew these things from hearsay, without having read a page of her voluminous writings. What I had heard was enough, however, to make it easy to regard her both as an intellectual quack and a very unpleasant human being.
However, after taking notice of the hullabaloo about Rand's influence on Paul Ryan, and becoming aware of the expanding media interest in her work, I decided to watch a documentary on Rand's life and work, available on Netflix. Perhaps the most important thing I took away from the film was one small datum: that one could come to grips with Rand's central ideas by reading just one chapter of her most celebrated novel, Atlas Shrugged. The chapter consists of a radio speech given by the novel's hero, John Galt, to a nationwide American audience. In it, he explains his reasons for calling a strike of the world's "producers," its indispensable creative leaders, including inventors, artists, and businessmen, who he believes have been undermined in their life-serving purposes by society's misfits and failures. These "parasites" lean on the producers for benefits they don't deserve, but to which they have come perversely to feel entitled. Galt's purpose is to demonstrate to the undeserving that they could not live without the contributions of the producers, and must therefore allow them to pursue their goals in freedom.
Incredibly, Galt's speech alone, with its carefully parsed arguments, is some fifty-five book pages long. I felt inclined to read it, however, as it seemed an easy way to discover what the current stir about Rand is all about. I therefore downloaded the speech from the Internet (available in its entirety at http://amberandchaos.com/?page_id=106). At another website in the same search, I learned that Rand herself had invested a full two years of her life in composing the speech, making the time I was prepared to invest in reading it seem only a modest sacrifice.
The Context of Galt's Speech.
The circumstances giving rise to the speech by John Galt offer the reader an introduction to Rand's misgivings about the welfare state as a type of social organization, and to her reasons for leading an intellectual crusade against it. The details are revealed only retrospectively and in bits, but they can be quickly summarized.
We learn that Galt has risen from humble beginnings as the son of a garage mechanic to the heights of both academic and technological achievement. He has earned a double-major university degree in physics and philosophy, and become an engineer at the Twentieth Century Motor Company. There he invents a revolutionary new "motor" that converts ambient static electricity to practical kinetic power. Since this motor can be used anywhere in any applications, it is dubbed, and can truly serve as, "the world motor."
As it happens, however, the original owner of the Twentieth Century Motor Company dies, and three heirs take over. They propose what they believe to be an inspired plan to run the factory according to the Marxist maxim "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." At an open meeting, the plan is overwhelmingly ratified by the factory's six-thousand employees. John Galt, however, is dismayed by the prospect of what is to come. He refuses to work at the company any longer, and also abandons further development of his grandly promising world motor. As it turns out, Galt's misgivings are well-founded. The experiment in Marxist production proves a disaster, and the company goes bankrupt.
Why and How the Marxist Experiment Failed.
In the experiment in "Marxist" production at Twentieth Century, the workforce itself was given the power to decide by a vote both the remunerative needs of each employee and his (or her) required output, based on an estimate of ability. A CliffsNotes summary of the episode on the Internet (see http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/literature/atlas-shrugged/summary-analysis/part-2/chapter-10.html) suggests that the arrangement had two obvious defects. The first was that, because pay was determined by a vote of fellow workers, each employee was reduced to soliciting the support of colleagues for the level of pay he (or she) thought necessary, rather than proudly earning wages consistent with his (or her) productivity.
The second defect had to do with decisions made in estimating an employee's ability and the output expected from it. Workers whose performance was assessed as below expectations were required to make up the shortfall by working overtime. But, because their income was based on need, not on the value of overall output, additional hours were not compensated. Relations among the employees became strained, and worker morale broke down. The employees began to lie down on the job, working little and making no effort to do their best in what they did. In short order, the resulting declines in factory production condemned the company to bankruptcy.
The narrative of the company's collapse -- I won't comment on the literary quality of the rendition -- is related retrospectively by a former employee. Indignantly, he cries out:
"Do you know how it worked, that plan, and what it did to people?" Try pouring water into a tank where there's a pipe at the bottom draining it out faster than you pour it, and each bucket you bring breaks that pipe an inch wider, and the harder you work the more is demanded of you, and you stand slinging buckets forty hours a week, then forty-eight, then fifty-six -- for your neighbor's supper -- for his wife's operation -- for his child's measles -- for his mother's wheel chair -- for his uncle's shirt -- for his nephew's schooling -- for the baby next door -- for the baby to be born -- for anyone anywhere around you -- it's theirs to receive, from diapers to dentures -- and yours to work, from sunup to sundown, month after month, year after year, with nothing to show for it but your sweat, with nothing in sight for you but their pleasure, for the whole of your life, without rest, without hope, without end." From each according to his ability, to each according to his need "." (See the entire narrative at http://thesnarkwhohuntsback.wordpress.com/favorite-passages-from-atlas-shrugged/the-story-of-the-twentieth-century-motor-company-atlas-shrugged-part-ii/.)
The CliffsNotes summary highlights the moral hazards of Marxist theory as Rand represents them in the employee's account. The summary largely recapitulates the employee's own words. But it adds this synopsis of a central idea in Rand's thought that is worth keeping in mind: "Man's life on earth is made possible by virtue of his productivity, not his suffering. Justice and the ability to live successfully require that productive ability be the standard of determining a man's income, not his needs or pain."
Ayn Rand's Views: a Progressive Critique.
The dramatic function of John Galt's radio speech in Atlas Shrugged is to call for a strike by the world's "producers," in order to demonstrate their indispensability to the "parasites" who live off their bounty, and to persuade them that the producers will continue in their leadership role only if they are left entirely free to pursue their own personal and commercial interests.
In addition to its dramatic function, however, the speech also encapsulates a broad spectrum of Ayn Rand's thought, presented loosely in three sections. These include a discussion of the moral foundations of personal happiness and economic prosperity; analysis of a perceived moral darkness -- the presumption of unearned entitlement -- that threatens economic prosperity; and a discussion of the ideals by which economic prosperity can be achieved and sustained. In the following pages, I will summarize (in bold face) my understanding of Rand's positions in each of these areas, and offer a "progressive" critique that is, in one instance in particular, surprisingly sympathetic to at least the spirit of her views.
I have summarized the main points of the Galt/Rand speech with the help of a highly instructive outline developed by David Kelley of The Atlas Society. It can be found in full at http://www.atlassociety.org/outline-john-galts-speech.
The Moral Foundations of Human Happiness and Their Connection with Productive Creativity and Economic Success.
Rand's views, as interpreted from the words of John Galt in the first segment of his speech:
The conscious "mind" is to humans what "instinct" is to animals. Human individuals can therefore only realize their life potential through the use of the mind and its powers of reason. Any constraints on the free use of the mind result effectively in moral death.
For Rand, the exercise of reason is only reliable when it operates exclusively on the mind's objective sense perceptions, which capture the true fact-based reality of the world; subjective impressions, by contrast, are always misleading. It is sense-based reason that leads the individual to the pursuit of rational self-interest, the proper end of which is fair exchange in "trade" with other people. In seeking this trade, the individual first determines from a true perception of reality what it is he (or she) can best do in the world and how his (or her) particular abilities might be realized in products or services that other people are willing to buy. Based on this knowledge, the individual creates things or provides services that give meaning to his (or her) life, produce material well-being, and result in earned self-esteem and the emotional happiness that derives from it. Coincident to these ends, the individual's enterprise also provides jobs for other people and helps advance human possibilities for a higher quality of life.
Those who live a life based on reason, purpose, achievement, and self-esteem become the natural leaders, or "producers," of the world, and the only ones deserving of "happiness," since they are motivated by the positive impulse of an authentic response to life and provide added value to the world. Such people are also easily recognized, since their efforts to live an authentic life can only be sustained by constant fidelity to the supporting virtues of rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride.
The Response of a Political Progressive:
Most political progressives, I would think, will find unobjectionable Rand's insistence that the moral integrity of the individual person, founded in his (or her) mind and expressed in the world by the pursuit of rational self-interest, provides a basis for both personal happiness and a functional and prosperous society. The formula also has inspirational weight as a peculiarly American standard, sounding very Jeffersonian and reflective of the Declaration of Independence.
There is one point, however, on which my own "progressive" instincts cause me to backtrack. It is Rand's understanding of the "mind" and the "rational self-interest" that is derived from it. I will argue that this is the essential point on which the views of most politically progressive thinkers will diverge from hers (and Paul Ryan's).
For Rand, the mind is the source of human individuality and the life course proper to it, since its reasoning faculty makes possible a true comprehension of reality and the way one fits into it. This is because that faculty operates on the mental stock one accumulates from sense perceptions of the things and phenomena in the outside world. For Rand, such "objective" perceptions are the only source of reality. Subjective feelings that rise to consciousness from the inside of the individual are viewed as distortions of reality. Rational motivation always follows the mind, never the heart.
It follows, from Rand's point of view, that the life course to be pursued by an individual in accord with his (or her) "rational self-interest" will be decided entirely by calculation. For instance, a young person choosing a career path in college might reflect: "From what I know about myself, I think I'm well suited to scientific work. My best bet for a career might be something like pharmacological research. There's a big market for this, since people are always looking for the next wonder drug. That means lots of exciting challenges, and potentially big payoffs, too."
Mitt Romney went through just such Rand-like calculations of self-interest before accepting the leadership of Bain Capital, according to a report published by the Huffington Post the day after Romney's convention acceptance speech. Entitled "Bain Capital Takes Center Stage at Republican Convention," the report includes an excerpt from The Real Romney, a book written by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. The excerpt relates to the authors' interview with Bain & Co. founder Bill Bain, who asked Romney to head Bain Capital.
In that interview, Bain discloses that Romney was apparently anything but inspired to take on this challenge, which offered an opportunity to test his abilities to do big things. He put forward a series of misgivings about the professional and financial risks involved, and it was only after each one had been fully accommodated that he was willing to say yes. (See entire article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/bain-capital-republican-convention _n_1844946.html.)
Ayn Rand herself concedes that the pursuit of rational self-interest is entirely "selfish." The individual pursuing it seeks gains that benefit him (or her), not anyone else. This "selfishness," however, Rand argues, can in fact generate a wider scope of benefit. If everyone were to correctly assess, and then purposefully pursue, his (or her) own self-interest as an individual in society, the result would be a system of "trade," of free exchange of value, in which everyone could be successful and respectful of everyone else.
I think one can reasonably ask, however: "Even if it is granted that it is only by reasoned calculation that I can choose a career in the world that best supports my self-interest, what is it that impels me in the first place to use the powers of my mind for that purpose? Since those powers originate in sense perceptions, might I not just as well take any job that comes along and direct my mental powers not to purposeful reasoning, but to an appreciation of the beauty around me and the pleasures of the flesh?" In Camus's early novel The Stranger, his protagonist, "Meursault," memorably does just this.
My own sense is -- and it may be a common sense among political progressives -- that some non-mental, or sub-conscious, power in the human psyche is necessary to turn one's conscious mind, and its reasoning faculty, to the specific task of defining a life course that can make the most of one's best abilities. I think I've actually experienced such a power myself. It seems to me an instinct, and therefore a drive natural to all humans, that urges the individual to give constructive expression to his (or her) inborn creative talents and capacity for insight.
Though no reference to any such instinct will be found in the work of Ayn Rand, it may be that just such a force first moved her to assess the possibilities of the monumental life challenge she would later accept: that of propagating through her writing ideas in which she tenaciously believed, but which she must have known would have little currency in an America comfortable with the values of the New Deal. Ironically, that same instinct may have moved the personally privileged Franklin Roosevelt, as President, to disregard the values of his own social class and promote government policies that, in a dramatic reversal from the past, were designed to help meet the material needs of masses of ordinary people. I find it hard to believe that mere rational calculations of self-interest and available opportunities to achieve it could have motivated such original undertakings.
The notion of a power in the human psyche that drives the individual to seek ways to fulfill his (or her) own inborn capacities in the world is by no means a new one. It is implicit in Plato's myth of Er, which concludes the last book of The Republic. In recent times, it became a focal point in the intriguing work of the American psychologist James Hillman. In his seminal book, The Soul's Code (1997), Hillman dubbed this power, after its ancient Greek origins, the "Daemon." The concept was critical to his elaboration of "the acorn theory" -- the idea that every human being is born with a seed of potential that has a natural urge for fruition, regardless of the environment in which it grows.
In what follows, I'll adopt Hillman's descriptive and convenient term to signify the human instinct I've referenced here: the power that moves the individual to seek to translate inborn creative talents and capacity for insight into productive achievement in the world. It seems to me that this "daemon" is behind the work of all creative and pioneering leaders. They would include the very inventors, artists, and businessmen whom Rand's protagonist John Galt encourages to "go on strike" in order to demonstrate that, together, they constitute the indispensable "Motor of the World" -- a title playing off his own invention of the "World Motor."
Assuming that the daemon is in fact a life-building instinct in every human psyche, separate from the ego-based "mind" and conscious will, I think it is at the root of two essential differences between the views of political progressives and those of Ayn Rand.
The first difference involves Rand's conviction that an individual's pursuit of a career based on rational calculations of self-interest ends necessarily by adding positive value to the world. This is because Rand assumes, in line with present-day Republican orthodoxy, that all producers recognize the consequences of a failure to produce value for trade: They will lose out in the marketplace and be forced out of their business or profession.
It seems self-evident, however, that, in the real world, career choices made rationally in the individual's own self-interest can also lead to outcomes that, while favorable for the individual, are adverse to the interests of society. This was of course vividly demonstrated in the financial crash of 2008, brought on by analytical wizards on Wall Street who had achieved extraordinary financial success for many years by deceptive practices they knew posed heavy risks both to immediate customers and the economy as a whole. Moreover, following the crash, those who were most responsible for it -- those who by conscious manipulation had destroyed, not produced, value for their customers --were not only not thrown out of the game, but instead given the same generous bonuses they would have received as a reward for positive outcomes.
This is where the power of the daemon makes a difference. In contrast to the purely rational, and thus ego-based, pursuit of self-interest, which can produce negative as well as positive outcomes, a life course driven by the instinctual power of the daemon leads necessarily to positive ends. This is because, as an impersonal force of nature resident in the human psyche, it moves the individual, in its own interest, to creative achievement that has positive value for the common good.
The daemon is the driving force behind writers, artists, research scientists, inventors, physicians, space explorers, and baseball heroes. It can inspire both an Ayn Rand who warns against the threat to individual freedom posed by an expansive and activist government, and a Martin Luther King, Jr., an exponent of non-violence, who, in the interest of human justice, put his life at risk to bring change that would force people to treat others decently, if they weren't willing to do so on their own.
The power of the daemon is of course most evident in heroes who risk everything to help achieve an outcome they believe to be of great moral value. But it operates, too, in individuals with more modest abilities and aspirations. It urges all of us to pursue, both in personal life and in any line of productive work, a purpose by which we can add value to the world and earn our own small share of self-esteem and happiness.
It should be not be overlooked, of course, that even daemon-driven lives require the conscious participation of the individuals who lead them, since only they can make the choices, and provide the direction, needed to achieve and nurture the particular forms in which their inborn potential can find expression. That navigational skill would seem to require the same heroic virtues Ayn Rand associates with her vaunted "producers": namely, rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride.
I think an additional virtue may also be necessary. It is implicit in Ayn Rand's understanding of "independence," which for her means the individual's refusal to succumb to any power that would impede his (or her) pursuit of rational self-interest. For the progressive, however, "independence" has a significantly different meaning. It is the refusal to yield to any power that would suppress the pursuit of moral ends.
Both Rand and progressives place great importance on the freedom of the individual to develop his (or her) talents and play a meaningful role in the world. Progressives, however, are sensitive to the reality that not all individuals will find a clear path to that goal, and that many will need special help to find their way.
The willingness to provide that help depends on still another instinct in the human psyche that is also unrecognized in the ego-oriented, rational psychology of Ayn Rand. It is the capacity for empathy -- the disposition to respond to other people's needs, whether or not they meet Rand's criterion of having earned that goodwill by some previous act of parallel value. True "empathy" is not tied to an exchange of value. It is what drives you to give the panhandler on the street the change in your pocket, not because you think he will use it as start-up money to build a more purposeful life, but because your own life-building instinct bonds you to a fellow human being.
At the broader level of national politics, this same instinct is what moves the "haves" in society to help elect, and then support with their tax dollars and energies, a government committed to helping the "have-nots." Many millions of Americans are today held back by the manifold obstacles of poor education, joblessness, crime-ridden neighborhoods, broken homes, and the like. These victims of society will not be helped by Ayn Rand's insistence that individuals be free to determine and achieve their own self-interest. Only the social support programs and public investments backed by progressive political leaders can help clear the roadbocks that keep so many Americans from enjoying productive lives. Empathy urges us to want for others the same opportunity we enjoy ourselves to add value to the world and feel good about ourselves for doing so. And it is only in following through on that instinct that we live a fully human life.
The Corrupting Morality of "Guilt and Death."
Rand's views, as interpreted from the words of John Galt in the second segment of his speech:
A fundamental principle in Rand's thought is that society's "producers," operating in accordance with their own rational self-interest, must be left totally free from outside interference in pursuing both the objectives and rewards of their enterprise. Without such freedom, the necessary focus and drive needed to make the venture a success are distracted, to the detriment both of the producer and employees, and of customers who would gain from the value of the thing or service produced.
The "interference" on society's producers that Rand has in mind takes many of the same forms about which businesses have always complained: added costs, such as union wages, mandated employee benefits, and taxes; and government regulations, which can be both costly and detrimental to productivity. In the Galt speech, however, Rand also posits a far darker interference, a malignancy that afflicts the very heart of the producer's creative integrity and morale. Two insidious powers, Rand claims, threaten the freedom of those who rationally pursue their self-interest through meaningful achievement and material success. One is the "muscle" (the police power) of the state, which seeks to gain the allegiance of society's masses -- and so its control over them -- by forcing society's producers to share their bounty with them. The other is the "mysticism" of religion, which requires that the individual surrender his pursuit of rational self-interest to the higher demand of self-sacrifice in the name of an unknown God.
The repressive powers of the state and religion grow out of the moral weakness of the many in society who do not seek to earn their own way by creating value for others. Instead, Rand argues, the indifferent masses, society's "parasites," take the larcenous view -- reinforced by the state, which seeks to dominate them -- that it is their right to have their needs met by those who are productive.
In challenging the morality of this view, Rand asks: If the "producers" must act to benefit others, how can it be right for others to accept benefits they have not earned? The moral onus is completely one-sided. Even more insidiously, those who accept benefits without giving value in exchange degrade the role of those who have produced the value. They elevate failure, weakness, need, incompetence, suffering, vice, and irrationality at the expense of success, strength, wealth, ability, joy, virtue, and rationality.
Rand believes that "altruism," giving to others without expecting anything in return, is only rational, and thus moral, when the beneficiaries can reasonably be thought to have previously earned it. Absent this qualification, altruism sets the standards of a false morality that is in opposition to the requirements of living. It deprives the individuals who receive it of the practical guidance implicit in moral certainty, and removes from them the motivation to be a producer of value in life, which is the only source of personal dignity, self-esteem, and happiness.
Rand notes further that many of society's "parasites" recognize the moral damage done to them as recipients of unearned "altruism." Even so, they are not motivated to reject it, since they no longer link their sense of self-esteem to their own achievement, but find it instead in cooperation with the collective will. That conformity makes it easy for those who exercise power in the state to maintain control of the masses. Their domination is made even more secure by the state's successful promotion of the idea that trust in the individual mind rests not on reason, but on "faith." In buying into this idea, the masses readily accept the corollary notion that it is collective opinion alone that is scientific and capable of objective knowledge.
The autonomy of the individual is further undermined by agents Rand identifies as the "mystics" of religious faith. Like the enforcers of state power, the "mystics" also posit a more reliable source of knowledge than the mind: in their case, the providence of an unseen "God." Rand rejects this idea on its face, since it defies her "law of identity." This is the notion that the mind can only reason from data it amasses through the senses. Since the senses can only perceive things in the objective, physical world, nothing outside that world lends itself to comprehension.
Rand also inveighs against the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, which demands adherence to a pernicious "doctrine of sacrifice" that requires individuals to surrender the independence of their own mind (which is identical to the "self," in Rand's framework of ideas). In complying with this doctrine, individuals give up their right to the action society deems the most "selfish": namely, the pursuit of personal achievement and happiness, as it is guided by one's own judgment.
Rand argues that it is quickly obvious, however, that the "doctrine of sacrifice," which she also dubs the "morality of death" (i.e. to the individual mind), creates an insoluble paradox. Society's non-producers, held in dependency by the state and brainwashed by the doctrines of the church, in fact have no "independence of mind" to sacrifice. Instead, they must rely for what life they have on the sacrifice of those rational few who do continue to seek achievement and happiness by producing things of value. This is true, also, of the irrational "musclemen" of the state and the "mystics" of religion, who can only retain their own position and power through the continued consent and aid of the men of reason and ability.
What is especially galling to John Galt in his speech, and to Rand as his creator, is that both the people and their rulers, even in their abject dependency, deny the producers the respect they deserve and the freedom they require to fully realize their goals and reap the rewards they have earned. In Rand's view as expressed through John Galt, the ultimate objective of the "morality of death" is to extend the moral guilt already accepted by the masses to the relatively few men and women motivated by reason, ability, and the desire for achievement. The producers recognize, however, that if they themselves were to give up the pursuit of their own achievement and happiness, that self-denial would also deprive the undeserving of the very wealth and products of value they require to meet their needs. It is in recognition of this reality that John Galt has called a strike of the producers of the world. They will demonstrate to the "parasites" and government "looters" of the collective order that it is they whose values must change if the "World Motor" is not to be disabled. Only if the producers are allowed to create value through an unhindered pursuit of their rational self-interest will the world continue to function.
The Response of a Political Progressive:
Surely, we can agree with Ayn Rand that American society needs, and should encourage, individuals who are willing to invest their energies and risk their security to pursue personal goals of creativity and achievement. Such "producers" -- as Rand illustrates with John Galt -- help move the world forward and create constructive work for others that provides them both with income and the means to satisfy their own need for self-esteem and happiness.
Most progressives recognize, however, that a good society rests on more than the freedom to build a business or make a living. To reference one of Ayn Rand's own defining terms, any "objective" view of society must surely include the many people who do not, or cannot, find either success or material security in America's system of free enterprise. They include not only those who, for a variety of reasons, fail to live their lives responsibly, but the millions who do and still come up short.
Would current "entitlement" programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid exist in America if they weren't essential? These programs are in fact needed to provide support to millions of deserving citizens whose retirement, job loss, illness, or old-age dependency render them unable to meet their needs on their own. Because the programs also help maintain the social order, they have found a lasting place in American society, despite the rigid opposition of political forces upholding traditional economic individualism.
The federal government also assumes responsibility for public projects in the common interest. As society's only entity with the necessary breadth of perspective and investment capital, it initiates and provides seed money, loans, or full funding for projects designed to create an economic and social infrastructure in which private enterprise can flourish and the people can thrive. Representative activities include the building and repair of roads, bridges, dams, and schools, research and development of advanced technology and renewable energy sources, and maintenance of a national park system.
In addition, the federal government funds a broad spectrum of "discretionary" programs intended to provide a floor of economic opportunity under all segments of society. Examples include Pell Grants and low-interest loans for college tuition, training for "jobs of the future," and food, housing, and health benefits. Ayn Rand describes such programs as "altruism," which she perceives as invariably pernicious. To the liberal or "progressive" mind, however, they are more likely to reflect "common decency." They arise from a call to conscience that should move any representative government in command of great resources and powers of enforcement to help those of its citizens who have little or none of either.
There can be little argument that government programs ranging from the G.I. Bill to food stamps have increased both economic opportunity and personal security for millions of Americans. Yet, Rand sees in these programs only the potential for havoc. In the John Galt speech, she takes the extreme view -- in the context of the very modest scope of "welfare" in America -- that both the public's expectation of "altruism" and the government's delivery of it impose tax and cost burdens on the nation's producers that threaten to annihilate their entrepreneurial freedom, resources, and motivation for innovation and growth. She clearly believes that government investment and private enterprise relate to each other inversely, each side growing or declining as the other declines or grows.
As evidence against this notion, however, one can point to the fact that American enterprise continued to flourish and its leaders to prosper for more than seven decades after the institution of Roosevelt's New Deal -- before it was constrained by the overreaching of the high rollers of the financial industry in 2008. It is of course true that if all income were taxed at 100% to pay for government investments, no one would create a business or work for one; but it is also true that if there were no taxes at all, modern society as we know it would collapse. Most unbiased Americans will surely agree that every society needs both entrepreneurial growth and public investment to remain prosperous and provide a decent foundation of opportunity and security for all its citizens. The trick is to find the proper balance between them.
In further rebuttal to Rand's representations in the John Galt speech, I think it can also be argued that no evidence exists to suggest that the great majority of Americans, despite government "altruism," have ever preferred to live off the industry of others rather than by their own hands and mind. In no other people in the world, in fact, are self-reliance and "rugged individualism" more deeply ingrained, and those traits continue to motivate Americans to the present day -- even when, for many, opportunities to validate them have become increasingly scarce.
The profound frustration ensuing from the disappointed will to work may, in fact, well explain the emergence of the Tea Party and the extreme anti-government sentiments expressed by many other Americans. It is interesting to note that much of this hostility is caused not by the fear of government domination, but by government's failure to help ordinary people. It is widely reported, for example, that many Americans, both liberal and conservative, are especially angry with the government for its actions following the 2008 financial meltdown. At that critical juncture, it bestowed upwards of a trillion -- and, by some reports, trillions -- of taxpayer dollars on the Wall Street banks responsible for the calamity, while failing to do anything meaningful to help ordinary Americans withstand the loss of homes, retirement income, and jobs.
The government's failure to help the many millions of Americans hurt or crushed by the Wall Street crash makes it clear that it does not have, as Rand suggests in the Galt speech, any "vocation" to rule the masses by reducing them to complete dependence. Neither, of course, has the government ever made any effort, as Rand suggests it might, to persuade its citizens that, in direct contradiction of both experience and conventional belief, trust in the evidence of the individual mind rests not on reason, but on "faith"; nor has it ever preached that only collective opinion is scientific and capable of objective knowledge.
Rand's fears that religion must by its nature violate the integrity of the individual human mind have proved similarly unfounded. It is true that some fundamentalist voices in the wide spectrum of American Judeo-Christian religious tradition have expressed theological, scientific, and political opinions that are intellectually dubious. As far as I know, however, no church or synagogue has ever asked its adherents -- at least outside the context of a pro-life position on abortion -- to sacrifice for the sake of others the right to pursue their own achievement and happiness. In America, in fact, the mainstream Protestant churches, which are shaped more closely to secular values than religious ones, strongly support economic individualism based precisely on the pursuit of rational self-interest.
Is the Free-Market System Self-Regulating?
Rand's views, as interpreted from the words of John Galt in the concluding segment of his speech:
In the conclusion of Galt's speech, Rand insists that America was founded on the principles of reason and individualism. It must remain a defender of those principles, and its natural offshoot, the right to private property. Property rights are central to all rights, because property is created by man's reason and labor, the only two true expressions of his humanity. This being so, the only proper function of government is to protect property and other rights, by means of the police, armed forces, and the courts.
America cannot maintain the primacy of reason and individualism, and the rights of property, if it condones the opposing principle of altruism. Even a little interference by the state, in the form of taxes or regulations intended to fund initiatives aimed at the general welfare, erodes independence of thought and hinders men's ability to express their rational self-interest in creative enterprise. The same is true of infections of moral guilt based on religious teachings. At bottom, such interference must ultimately be destructive of mind and the affirmation of life that is rooted in it. John Galt's "producers" have gone "on strike" in order to avenge the indigenous spirit of America and regain support for its ideals.
Maintaining those ideals is essential to America's prosperity and happiness. Its "producers" require unfettered freedom to bring their ideas to fruition and to attain the full reward of their achievements in the fair exchange of trade. Hindering that freedom and the rational outcomes of free-market competition will create a society in which competing groups will resort to brutality and plunder to win control of the government and the power to extort wealth they have done nothing to earn. Such chaos will reflect, on the national scale, the brutal conflict among workers at the collapsing Twentieth Century Motor Company. There, attainment of reward by merit had been replaced by unearned privilege based on the corrupt favoritism of groups wielding power.
Bringing back an America based wholly on the principles of reason and individualism, and the rights of property, will also ensure the happiness of its citizens. In a society based on trade among individuals pursuing their own rational self-interest, there can be no conflicts of interest between those of greater and lesser productive talents. Those at the top will contribute the most; those at the bottom will benefit the most. In this ideal economic system, moreover, each person will live by his own rational judgment, and no one will obtain material or moral assets by force. All people will live without fear and enjoy the company of others who are responsible and reliable. It will be a just world, where virtues will be rewarded and people will relate to one another on the basis of mutual respect.
The Response of a Political Progressive:
In the "progressive response" made earlier to Rand's objections to government "altruism," I made the point that, regardless of Rand's misgivings, the national government must collect a significant level of tax dollars from both individuals and businesses, since they are needed to address real societal needs that simply can't be met by other means. The past twelve years, especially, punctuated by the last four following the Wall Street crash, suggest strongly that substantial reductions in such investments have led to staggering, and probably unsustainable, inequalities in income and wealth. As of 2007, the top one percent of Americans enjoyed 21 percent of the income. Even more tellingly, latest statistics indicate that 400 American individuals have the same combined wealth as the poorest half of Americans, which includes over 150 million people. And to put the case in its starkest, and perhaps most meaningful, terms, Mother Jones reports that, in the years 2007-2009, Wall Street profits went up 720 percent, while unemployment rates increased by 102 percent and Americans' home equity fell by 35 percent. For progressives, these statistics sound a clarion call to more "altruism," not less.
Government spending to stimulate the economy for America's "99 percent" will of course require tax increases that to some extent reduce business profits -- an effect Rand describes as government "interference" in the competitive free-market system. There is little or no evidence, however, that historical tax rates -- say the restoration of Clinton-era marginal rates on the incomes of high-earning individuals -- will cause business owners or managers to stop hiring or simply close shop. According to most mainstream economists, the major impediment to business growth is a stagnant customer base -- which can in fact be revitalized by government investments in job creation and worker training.
As noted earlier, Rand's notions of government "interference" with business go further than taxation. They also include regulatory constraints that government analysts believe necessary to prevent various forms of harm to workers and the natural environment resulting from the production process; and to customers, and, in some cases, the general public, from use of the end product. Based on the Galt speech in Atlas Shrugged, we can imagine the gist of Rand's views on business regulations. She would point out that they impose burdensome costs and impede productivity. Most damagingly, she would claim, they undermine the independence and morale of the company leadership, distracting it from the rational planning and freedom of action needed to fully realize the creative and economic potential of their enterprise.
This projection of Rand's views is of course grounded in her foundational belief that regulations are unnecessary in the first place, because businesses under capitalism are already naturally regulated by the free-market system. Since the system picks winners and losers impartially, it forces firms, out of competitive necessity, to maintain a healthy workforce and accommodate consumer interests. (Competitive imperatives would seem to have little bearing on the protection of environmental interests, however, since, without regulation, these are advanced only by unpredictable manifestations of public concern and pressures.)
What is absent from Rand's analysis, however, is any factoring in of the very human and distorting influence in business -- especially in large corporations -- of predatory practices and cronyism in Washington. Rand places great importance on maintaining the full freedom of the nation's producers to pursue their "rational self-interest." But one must ask: How much rationality can we actually find in the practices of Wall Street bankers leading up to the crash of 2008? How much planning was there to fulfill the purpose of the lending system by adding value to the nation's economy? Wasn't the entire operation run, in fact, as nothing more than a giant Casino, in which every player was simply out to "get his"?
Against this background, a contrary argument in favor of expanded government regulation of business was recently made by Rocky Anderson, a former successful mayor of Salt Lake City and now the impressively able, but rarely seen or heard, progressive presidential candidate of the newly formed Justice Party. In an August 26, 2012 interview with Ron Bayer of the Internet news blog Truthout, Anderson argued that, in the case of Wall Street in particular, neither the American nor the global economy has been well served by weakened regulation. Today, when predatory practices have become a normal part of business, it is precisely the imposition of regulation, not its removal, which is needed most.
Anderson stated: "We know that government policy can help produce a healthy, thriving middle class where there's greater opportunity for everyone. And yet our government leaders have been doing the bidding of those who help buy their way into Congress and the White House through such means as deregulation of financial institutions and turning a blind eye to the massive financial fraud on Wall Street, all of which led to the financial meltdown from which so many of us are still reeling, not only in this country, but around the world." [See the entire article athttp://truth-out.org/news/item/10766-a-road-less-traveled-presidential-candidate-rocky-anderson-speaks-candidly-on-the-crumbling-state-of-the-union.]
I got my own sense of the symbiosis of Congress and Finance a year or so ago, when I happened to watch on C-SPAN a hearing in which Elizabeth Warren appeared before the Senate Banking Committee. Before her current run for the Senate from Massachusetts, Warren was a special advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it was in that capacity that she had been invited to offer her testimony. At the time, I viewed Warren as a kind of modern-day Joan of Arc, leading an inspired, but often bumpy and lonely, crusade for economic fairness in behalf of American consumers.
I recall being astonished, as I viewed the hearing, at the repeated rudeness of the adversarial questioning by the committee's Republican members. This was so out of place, so much sheer bullying rather than vigorous policy debate, that it seemed to me motivated not by "rational self-interest," but by an unthinking, libidinous defense of power. Whenever Warren brought up a proposed reform that seemed to make too much sense, the Senators simply subjected her to filibuster, rather than to anything resembling reasoned debate. The entire proceeding struck me as a kind of inquisition, in which the purpose was nothing more than to shield the banking industry from any regulation in the interest of consumers that might detract from its accustomed freedom to maximize personal gain.
Another challenge to Ayn Rand's uncritical faith in the benign self-regulation of the free-market system is offered by Huffington Post columnist Stephen Herrington. In an article dated March 15, 2010, Herrington points out that, while Rand castigates socialism for its stifling of creativity and the seizure of work product, she overlooks the same tendencies in capitalism. "It happens every day in capitalism," Herrington writes. "Corporate monopolies act to break the will of the competition. Corporations stifle creativity with things like planned obsolescence and the withholding of known solutions from markets in all fields. Corporations buy legislation, passing the cost on to consumers, and stack the legal deck against the public interest with impunity. Corrupt bureaucracy can be found at WalMart as easily as at the Politburo."
To turn a last time to a concept already explored in this critique but brought up again in the concluding segment of John Galt's speech, one of the most dubious ideas in Rand's economic thought is the perniciousness of business "altruism." To recapitulate, Rand argues that, because the rational pursuit of self-interest demands a constantly fixed focus and an exercise of judgment that inflexibly serves its ends, mixing that pursuit with concern for the needs of others must always be self-defeating. When the people, the state, or religion demand "altruism" from the "producers" in the form of economic support they have not earned, they distract the producers from their steady focus on fulfilling both their own ambitions and the company's promise. The demoralized leaders consequently draw back from their efforts. This distorts the rational outcomes of free-market competition and leads, in Rand's apocalyptic vision, to a corrupt society in which competing groups struggle for powers by which they can simply extort wealth they've done nothing to earn.
Here again, Rand's vision may square logically with the theoretical premises on which she bases it, but one must ask once more, Does it truly reflect the world? Have higher taxes and regulations on American "producers" ever actually caused them to lose all incentive to develop their business, or even to close their doors? And is it likely that America will ever suffer such a total business deflation that the society will be reduced to a dog-eat-dog arena where competing groups fight for power over the scraps that are left?
Overall, it seems to me, the major weakness of Rand's thought is its narrowness. Human beings, society, and the world, in all their multi-dimensional reality, are simply far more complex than she represents them in her abstract and black-and-white terms.
By contrast, the strength of progressive thought is that it recognizes that complexity, and seeks in its vision of society a balance between the free pursuit of self-interest, whether personal or commercial, and the necessary restraints and obligations that must be accepted in the common interest. It is only this rational balance that can produce in reality the peaceful, prosperous, and just society that Ayn Rand seeks in the pursuit of material self-interest and the untaxed and unregulated operations of free markets.
The Special Issue of Rand's Neglect of "Empathy."
As we saw earlier, the second segment of the Galt speech in Atlas Shrugged makes Rand's case for a creeping morality of "guilt and death" in America that threatens to undermine its free and prosperous capitalist society. It can do so by destroying the will of its "producers" to continue to develop new products of value that generate wealth, create new employment opportunities, and enhance the society's quality of life.
In the Galt speech, Rand points to three elements of the "guilt and death" phenomenon that account for its demoralizing impact. The first is the proclivity of the masses to neglect their obligation to earn a living by creating value in the world, in favor of extorting unearned support from the successful "producers." The second element is the intervention of the state in behalf of the undeserving masses, for the purpose of making them dependent and gaining dominance over them. And the third is the religious emphasis on the moral value of self-sacrifice, which reinforces the presumption of the undeserving that the producers must support them with the rewards of their own achievement.
I've tried to show that Rand is mistaken in presuming the reality of this syndrome, as it is certainly not in evidence in today's American free-enterprise system. Yet, it seems to me that her underlying belief in the moral corruption of millions of ordinary people can only result from the absence in her own makeup of a capacity for empathy, an instinct to see things from "the other guy's" point of view that, at the personal level, at least, motivates most people as strongly as their own self-interest.
An empathetic regard for people who are not "successful," in Rand's material terms, must surely prompt the realization that most are not thereby undeserving. They too are driven by the instinct to fulfill their creative potential, and, as Americans, also by strong cultural biases to individualism, industry, and self-sufficiency.
Most people who fail to achieve economic independence have been blocked by obstacles not of their making. Undoubtedly, the largest of these in America at present is a lack of job opportunities, caused by systemic problems in the economy over which the individual has no control. Many individuals, too, are simply victims of circumstances that have hindered or even destroyed their personal initiative. From the progressive point of view, it is precisely these realities that validate a society that is based not only on the principle of economic freedom, but also on the willingness of its citizens to help one another in the broader context of "community." A good example of such help is displayed by neighbors who work in building projects for Jimmy Carter's Habitat for Humanity.
The disposition to "community," inspired by the instinct for empathy, is an important human trait. Yet, it is qualified by a limitation that reflects one of Rand's own principles: Because the successful pursuit of one's rational self-interest and happiness depends on total freedom from other obligations, every individual has the moral right to refuse any call to meet the needs of other people. For Rand, this "right of refusal" is an absolute, which few others will accept without caveat. Yet, even progressives must recognize that one can hardly pursue a successful career in the world, while also working in an effective way to achieve meaningful social reforms.
It is precisely for this reason that support for "community" must be met in large part by government. Only government has the authority and wherewithal to plan and fund the creation of needed social programs, or initiate public projects that will generate jobs and improve the quality of civic life. Yet, it is important to remember that, while government must play the active role in building community, it will do so, in a democracy, only with the active support of ordinary people engaged primarily in living their own lives. It is "we the people" who must help create, and then motivate, progressive government at all levels.
Ayn Rand's ideas do not particularly comport with democratic activism, but we can be sure she would object strenuously to the "interference" on business caused by the imposition of taxes to help pay for public investments in "community." Her concerns, however, are undoubtedly overblown. They are once more theoretical, rather than real. Both the history and continuing reality of American politics make it highly unlikely that any conceivable net taxation on business -- especially on corporations -- will ever be so high as to actually cripple individual initiative or business growth.
Rand is also wrong in her more abstract opposition to what she calls "altruism" -- i.e. the bestowal of any benefit, including support for government programs derived from taxation, which has not been earned on the basis of a free exchange in trade. This misplaced aversion seems to spring in part from the myopia of her "objectivist," or rigidly sense-based, perception of reality. That way of seeing things leads to a purely brain- or ego-centered conception of self-interest that shuts out the body's own natural sense of connection, or -- again -- empathy, with other people. The result is an exaggerated fear for the integrity of one's own individuality, which is perceived as constantly threatened by the demands of other people.
There is a psychologically revealing parallel to this fear among religious people who oppose gay marriage and believe that those who support it are undermining both the sanctity of marriage and the integrity of the American family. The right of such people to uphold and pursue traditional heterosexual marriage and the family life that derives from it remains, of course, entirely open to them. Yet, their own belief system, and the sense of self-identity connected with it, are apparently so fragile that they insist that society as a whole affirm their beliefs as an exclusive norm. What this implies, for me, is a total absence of connection to others at a deeper human level that can override culturally-based differences in life-style.
Perhaps, in an analogous way, Rand's "producers" might believe that the unsuccessful "non-producers" in society represent a challenge to their own sense of earned privilege. The "losers" create an uncomfortable sense of guilt in the "winners," who, in many cases, must suspect that their own success is both over-valued and over-rewarded. Often, products and services that have not been developed to meet real human needs (though John Galt's "World Motor" apparently has) nevertheless achieve commercial success through a venal appeal to vanity that has been thoroughly vetted by marketing experts. In such cases, it would not be surprising if the producers, aware that they have not earned their success by adding a new source of value in the world, should seek affirmation of their worth by denigrating society's unsuccessful "others." This might well be the reason why John Galt in his speech demonizes the non-producers as "parasites" who seek unearned benefits through programs that are funded in part by taxes gleaned from the bounty of the producers' own vision and labor.
As still another clue to Rand's lack of empathy, the Galt speech suggests no disposition at all to factor into the success of society's vaunted "producers" the necessary role played by ordinary workers in creating the conditions that make building a business possible. This was of course a point made by no other than President Obama in a campaign speech, which was subsequently skewered both by the Republican presidential campaign and, at its nominating convention, by the flaunting of the banner "We Built It." Nevertheless, the truth of Obama's point is self-evident. You don't have to be a "progressive" to recognize that, while businesses are formed and led by risk-taking entrepreneurs, and are both necessary to society and deserving of reward, they take root within a pre-existing infrastructure created by other people. To be successful, businesses also require a workforce that, in spite of its departmentalized roles, aspires to more than a personal paycheck and contributes creatively to the company's growth. No business can be successful without employees that take pride in their work, are dedicated to making the best product possible, and are themselves invested in their employer's profitability.
Among a spectrum of contrasting views, the "progressive" perspective differs most fundamentally from that of Ayn Rand in the belief that all human individuals are endowed from birth with an instinct to bring to material fruition a unique set of talents and capacity for insight that are often identified as "God-given potential." In most cases, those who succeed in realizing this potential do not also achieve stature or wealth -- which, in any case, are inconsequential compared to the human fulfillment obtained. They recognize in that fulfillment, however, that they have been driven by a power that is instinctual within themselves, and so must also be present in others.
Because this creative power is divorced from the ego and universal, it does not kindle a sense of "competition" with others, at least none that is directed toward the harsh outcomes of winning and losing. Instead, it evokes an emotion opposite to competitiveness. This is again empathy, the instinct already discussed as the impulse to help meet the needs of other people. Here, that same impulse has the narrower focus of helping others fulfill their own need to give meaningful expression to their inborn creative potential. This empathetic aspiration serves a purpose that is much broader than Ayn Rand's concept of a "selfish" pursuit of material self-interest, based on the rational judgments of the ego-based mind. It may not yield the grand outcomes achieved by her calculating and driven "producers." Yet, those who succeed, and help others succeed, in applying their inborn talents to create new value in the world are, regardless of the station or wealth they achieve, humanity's genuine "winners."
Of course, in this imperfect world, there will be many who pursue, but fail to reach, the goal of making their unique potential real in the world. Yet, like those whose talents have made a mark, they too are "winners" in a fundamental human sense: they have continued to follow the call of their creative gifts and to support the right of others to do the same. In any work or circumstance, such people are conditioned to maintain their self-respect, stay self-reliant, and resist conforming to the demands of others who would use them to meet selfish ends. Such individuals could never become the degraded "parasites" Rand depicts in her story of the collapse of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Those unfortunates are the manipulated victims of an elite few who, though capable of great technical and management skills, and the production of revolutionary new products, lack the capacity for empathy that can redeem the value of every human life.
A Final Note: the Progressive Difference in a Nutshell.
Ayn Rand's defense of total economic freedom has its roots in a few fundamental concepts discussed throughout this "progressive" critique. She believes, first, that individuals realize their life potential through their own mind and its powers of reason, which are rooted in objective sense perception. Given the governing role of the mind in the life of the individual, it must be entirely free of the distorting influences of guilt and altruism in order to guide the individual to decisions and actions that are genuinely in his or her own self-interest. If the mind is free, it leads individuals to the creation of things that add value to the world, give their own life meaning, ensure material well-being, help advance human possibilities, and result in the personal happiness that derives from earned self-esteem. Conversely, any repression or distortion of the mind's integrity destroys its life-building function and results effectively in moral death. That is why the forces of government and religion are so dangerous to the "producers" of the world. They not only distort the functioning of the free market and corrupt the workforce, but demoralize the "producers" themselves and keep them from leading their company to a full realization of its promise,
Rand's insistence on the freedom of the individual to make the most of himself (or herself) in the world is surely the most attractive feature of her thinking, and one for which many "progressives," including myself, will have a spontaneous sympathy. Still, progressives insist that a complete expression of human possibility cannot be restricted to the rational pursuit of self-interest, but must include a more expansive impulse to help meet the needs of other people. This broader conception is made possible, at bottom, by an instinct deeper than ego-based reason, which expresses itself in intuitive insight, empathy, human community, and creativity inspired not by material self-interest but universal values. Combined with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enshrined in America's Declaration of Independence -- and often invoked by Rand herself -- , these qualities are essential to building a society where everyone, not only members of a privileged elite, can be a "producer." These producers, however, will have a purpose governed by more than material self-interest. They will seek to adapt their creativity, processes, and products to the broader objective of adding value to the world that not only satisfies the needs of customers, but meets the interests of the common good.
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In retirement, Bob Anschuetz has applied his long career experience as an industrial writer and copy editor to helping authors meet publishing standards for both online articles and full-length books. In work as a volunteer editor for OpEdNews, he has specialized in helping improve, where needed, the readability of articles submitted by authors for whom English is not their native language. With a background that also includes four years as a college English teacher, Bob points to Henry David Thoreau as a major intellectual influence. He cites Thoreau's many writings promoting conscience-based independent thought and action as instrumental in shaping his own continuing commitment to the progressive social and political values of economic fairness, social justice, non-violent conflict resolution, and global community. Bob also continues to pursue a lifelong love of learning. He has been a regular participant in political-science and philosophy seminars, a volunteer discussion-group leader on a variety of topics, and a literacy tutor. Bob is also a strong supporter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, associated with Tikkun Magazine, where he served as a volunteer archives editor for two years and published several articles online. His extended Letter to the Editor on the widespread triumphalism in America's response to the killing of Osama bin Laden was included in the Summer 2011 issue of Tikkun.