by E. S. Jones
“One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary.”—Ayn Rand, 1975
Five years ago, the global financial system was on the verge of collapse, and many now blame Ayn Rand with her principle of selfishness as a virtue. Promoting positive self-interest, her Objectivist ideals divide society into those that have (the rich)- and those that take (nasty little parasites). In this thinking, the government is rendered useless, a burden on society that sets restrictions for its own gains. Hay Hill Gallery brings together two relevantly thought-provoking projects this January; Larry McGinity’s The Financial Crisis Show- Art as a Derivative; and Richard Minns’ Atlas Shrugged sculptural quadrilogy.
McGinity’s work sets the scene for a good debate, selecting tasty morsels from financial journalists, MPs and bankers. He wittily records their conflicting explanations and commentaries, opinions straight from the horses’ mouths. Voiced with a myriad of intersecting quotes taken from an extensive range of media, each work considers one particular aspect of the whole sorry tale. The viewer is invited to literally read between the lines where euphemisms are out of context and undermined by themselves. Laid out in broad daylight, these lip-smacking quotes splice the recent events together; colourful excuses rehashed through laser-cut stencils across fourteen panels.
Many people trace the problems right back to Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve for almost twenty years- and a disciple of Ayn Rand. Rand affectionately (ironically?) nicknamed him ‘The Undertaker’. With incredibly strong links to Wall Street, the philosophies of Ayn Rand are now designated scapegoat for the financial crisis- but are these purely criminal banks that have used their evil schemes to gradually straitjacket the market? Or are they enviably brilliant at what they do, fantastical super-banks able to turn their hand to alchemy? As a modern day Atlas, the bankers’ response implies that the victims should not have been so stupid as to hop on board in the first place.
Minns’ perfectly illustrates Ayn Rand’s ideals from a believer’s point of view with his Atlas Shrugged series. Atlas is the manifestation of life lived separate to the government, firm in his belief that the antidote to this vicious circle of financial control/ crisis/ control is laissez-faire Capitalism and rational self-interest. Unable to bear the weight of the world and its freeloaders, he exerts individual force to shatter the state of total collectivism and live freely within a Capitalist ideal that supports itself. Unshackled from the old world of purposelessness, Atlas manipulates it for his own purposes, a new kind of hero formed of human potential. This struggle of individualism versus collectivism is not actually intended to be a political ideal but concerns the soul. The individual is of supreme value, the “fountainhead” of creativity; Selfishness, properly understood as ethical egoism, is a virtue.
Ayn Rand’s influence is perhaps not entirely to blame for our limping society. These results are a product of an already unhealthy culture being forced into a painful shoe that does not quite fit- the free market. If free markets could be trusted to police themselves, would her theories save us? Randian disciples believe that following her to the letter would lead to economic growth and much higher standards of living. So, now that we know what the risks are, have we learned enough from our glaring mistakes?
Whilst we are seemingly in recovery, there is still the mystery of what exactly caused the crash. Propaganda, manipulations and generalisations have become our Babel-esque coping mechanism, but clarity is required if we are to continue to move forwards. Greenspan reportedly mocked himself during a speech in 1988; ‘I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I said.’