My Libertarian / Objectivist friends are always telling me how great things would be if only we gave free rein to everyone’s native instincts for pursuing their self interests. According to Ayn Rand, who benefited from living in our Universe, not her own, almost any kind of restriction on private activity leads to a net reduction in the quality of life for all. The arguments are clear and compelling enough that when I was in high school, I flirted with her ideas, as well. Then I grew up and realized we don’t live in a black-and-white world, and that people’s self interest leads them to pollute, steal, lie, cheat, and take advantage of the rest of us, including those of us who are unable or unwilling to steal, lie, cheat, and take advantage right back. So actually, unrestricted self interest leads to very unsatisfactory social outcomes and a massive reduction in the quality of life for almost everyone — including those who feel that such a system would allow them to come out at the top of the food chain.
Why have I abandoned Ayn Rand’s ideas in favor of a more nuanced, balanced, and practical philosophy of life? The proof that Ayn Rand’s ideas are foolish and phony is all around, and most days it actually makes the headlines. Case in point: the owners and builders of some private detention centers in Pennsylvania paid off some state judges, not just once but over a period of many years, to sentence juveniles to their facilities even when the young people’s crimes did not warrant such sentences. In addition, the judges helped the men get favorable treatment from the state government for their private detention centers. The judges have already admitted their guilt. It won’t be long before the men who bribed them will be incarcerated in some other detention facility. I wonder how they’d like it if they received extended sentences for their crimes because the owners of that facility have bribed other judges to keep their cells filled?
Someday, I fantasize, I’ll be able to craft an argument to thoroughly demolish all Libertarian / Objectivist theories, and in the process rescue my friends and countless others from a mind-set that puts them ludicrously out of step with reality on this planet. But until then, the best I can do is simply point out, time after time after time, the instances in which Ayn Rand’s simplistic and childish notions are refuted by ordinary, everyday experience.
I mean, how many times do you have to find out about private enterprise willingly helping themselves at all of our expense by dumping toxics in rivers at midnight, or looting irreplaceable natural resources, or knowingly foisting dangerous or unhealthful products on trusting customers, or cynically bending the law — or those charged with executing the law — to their own advantage, before you change your expectations and stop “trusting the market” to take care of everything?
Whatever the number you choose, actual physical examples of private enterprise violating Ayn Rand’s fantasies regarding how people behave have almost certainly far exceeded it.