It’s easy for me to get pessimistic. I see stupidity and ugliness in our culture and think, “It’s over. We’re going down the toilet.” I get the impression that Leonard Peikoff used to be of the same disposition, although he has sounded more optimistic in recent tapes. In the past, Dr. Peikoff even talked about directing the publishers of Ayn Rand’s books to print some copies on acid-free paper and send them to places like India. I mean, to hear him talk, we were heading for another Dark Ages and we needed to be thinking about the preservation of knowledge -- the concerns of Benedict and Cassiodorus in the 6th century.
Steven Brockerman is a wise man. He keeps track of the good news. Here is his list for 2005. Yes, there is good news, too. Remembering it helps keep the world in perspective.
Ayn Rand used to think it was important to end a long philosophical conversation focusing on the positive. She didn’t want to extend a bad mood. She held what she called the “benevolent universe premise.” This does not mean that the universe is kindly toward man. It has nothing to do with Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide (based on Leibniz), who held that we live in the best of all possible worlds.
The benevolent universe premise merely means that the universe is not out to get us. There is no fate, no destiny. There is no reason to fight against a malevolent universe like the heroes in Byron’s poetry. Values can be achieved on this earth. Happiness, not suffering, should be the norm in life.
Part of my gloominess, I believe, came from reading Austrian economists. For 25 years now I have read their dire predictions of economic collapse. We were supposed to be in Weimar-like hyperinflation by now. Listening to them and buying gold in the ‘80s instead of investing in the stock market would have been pretty stupid.
Maybe the collapse will come when Baby Boomers retire and China attacks Taiwan and WWIII begins and President McCain orders every American under the age of 30 to serve two years of slavery to the state. Or maybe we’ll keep muddling along as we have for decades.
Does Alan Greenspan get credit for holding off the collapse? I really don’t know. He gets a lot of negative press from economists I respect. Will Bernanke bring about the promised end? We’ll see.
Two things above all have kept our economy growing. First, the dynamic engine that is capitalism. Even a fettered, mixed economy produces remarkable wealth. Politicians can be great fools, filling tomes full of regulations and stealing mountains of wealth from taxpayers, but the free element of our economy covers their folly. Life keeps getting better. We don’t feel the effects of our chains.
Second, the invention of the computer. We still do not understand the extent of how computers are changing the west. They make everything more efficient. Every aspect of our economy, from factories to your grocery checkout line, has been made better by computers. Watch a movie from the ‘50s that features a corporation in Manhattan. It will have a scene with a vast room full of women at typewriters. These rooms were called secretarial pools. They have been replaced by the computer, freeing corporations to invest more money in production, raising our standard of living and creating better jobs.
Remember standing for 45 minutes in a bank line? I have not done that for years because of ATM’s. That’s 45 minutes a week that is now mine to spend as I wish instead of standing in a line.
In the near run, I must admit, I am still pessimistic. Ludwig von Mises argued that a mixed economy gets progressively worse until it becomes a dictatorship. As he explained, the government intervenes in some aspect of the economy, creates a crisis, then blames the crisis on the elements of freedom left. The government uses the crisis to further expand control over the economy. This is the process he saw first hand in the Weimar Republic that led to Hitler’s dictatorship.
Worse, the philosophic premises that dominate our culture are still bad. When a politician like John McCain waxes eloquent about the nobility of sacrifice, no major voice opposes him. Both the socialist left and the religious right agree on the morality of sacrifice. They disagree on what should be sacrificed and to whom, the state or God. However these disagreements are hammered out, the individual will be hammered on.
In the long run I am optimistic. I think the power of capitalism will keep the economy growing long enough for the ideas of Ayn Rand to spread through our culture. Probably the Baby Boomers and even the Generation Xers will have to die before real change can come about. Alas, that means I probably will not live to see it, unless all that talk about life extension comes about. (There’s a subject for another post altogether.) But as Ayn Rand wrote, anyone who works for the future lives in it today.
UPDATE: I changed the title of this post to Good News. It was originally "Good News (Not From the Vatican)," which was a play on a science fiction short story by Robert Silverberg called "Good News From the Vatican." The old title probably had people scratching their heads.