This is going to be (hopefully) the last of my series of four posts on Ayn Rand. [The other three: [Diana Hsieh, a leading Ayn Rand promoter, states that bribery is 100 per cent “moral”; I’m downgrading Ayn Rand; her active promotion of bribery is a major blot on her philosophy; Did Ayn Rand support bribery? The heros in her novels sure went about bribing everyone in sight.]
In this post I’ll identify a fundamental failure of Ayn Rand’s thought. And respond to Alex Tabarrok’s question here.
First, Alex’s question:
The question that needs to be addressed is how can one live honestly in a corrupt society? I think it’s important first to address this question conceptually without getting into specific people. It’s a difficult question and I don’t think the answer is obvious. If you want to build a factory but can’t get a permit if you don’t pay a bribe what do you do? If your competitors are in bed with the government what do you do?
Implicit in this question (and his blog post) is Alex’s answer. Which the same as the answer that Diana Hsieh, a major leader in Ayn Rand thought, gave here.
In other words, Alex is straining the leash for me to say: “Yes, you are right; Ambani had no choice but to bribe every politician in sight. I’m sorry I objected to your promotion of Ambani. I now agree that it is a good thing”. Alex clearly believes that corruption is moral. Ayn Rand’s corrupt heros are his role models.
Now, let me start with my 2012 analysis of Ayn Rand’s work: Ayn Rand would have sharply rebuked Kaushik Basu for his dehumanising corruption proposal.
I cited the following passage from Rand:
Man’s survival … does not mean a momentary or a merely physical survival. It does not mean the momentary physical survival of a mindless brute, waiting for another brute to crush his skull. It does not mean the momentary physical survival of a crawling aggregate of muscles who is willing to accept any terms, obey any thug and surrender any values, for the sake of what is known as “survival at any price,” which may or may not last a week or a year. “Man’s survival qua man” means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan—in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice. [Virtue of Selfishness, p.24]
I wrote in 2012: This section applies to bribe GIVERS – their momentary survival, their surrender to thugs, their surrender of values, their search of “survival at any price” is BEYOND deplorable. It is petty, it is worm-like. It is not human.
And Rand writes: “man must pursue values in order to remain alive”.
So now, what does the businessman who has received a demand for a bribe in order to get a permit for a factory do? How does he pursue values in order to remain alive?
Perhaps the best answer we can get in this case is from the actions of JRD Tata.
JRD Tata’s airline, Air India, was stolen from him by Nehru. Nehru stood for everything that Tata opposed. Yet the only “corruption” Tata did was to contribute funds for Nehru’s Congress party.
But Tata also contributed significant (an equivalent amount) of funds for India’s only liberal party at that time: Swatantra party.
The Tatas never bribed anyone (nor begged anyone – till Ratan Tata, the crony capitalist came on the scene).
Instead, JRD – a real hero for liberty – engaged in political action by supporting liberty.
I trust you get the point, Alex.
NOW FOR AYN RAND’S MAJOR THEORETICAL SHORTCOMING
It is now clear that Ayn Rand’s political theory was incomplete at a fundamental level, making it barely usable. She clearly was FAR BEHIND classical liberals like Locke, Franklin, Madison, Jefferson, Macaulay, even Mill.
These and many other liberals were distinguished by one key quality: they believed that the only way to fight a bad system was to actively engage in political action to change the laws.
These people never advocated breaking the law just because one disagrees with it.
By all means have civil disobedience – which Gandhi mastered. But do that openly, publicly, with a goal of changing the law. Never on the sly.
These people never advocated bribing corrupt bureaucrats.
Now, there may well be some extremely exceptional cases, when – for instance – the only way to have a hope of political reform is to bribe some rotten person on the way. But there can’t be any bribery for PERSONAL gain. In Rand’s novels, the heros indulge in briber for personal gain.
So, what Rand should have done was to advocate for POLITICAL ACTION – through the democratic process – to change the laws.
Instead, she advocated bribery.
Sorry, she’s fallen way to the bottom – or nearly to the bottom – of the pile of promoters of liberty.
And to suggest that just because she promoted bribery, that scoundrels like Ambani are now to be elevated to the level of heros, is simply intolerable, unacceptable.
Sorry, Alex, I disagree comprehensively with your support for large scale corruption in India.