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What would Ayn Rand think of the 19 firefighters who died in Arizona?

APTOPIX Firefighters Killed.JPEG-024d5

Robert Reich NAILS IT:

It’s worth pondering that the 19 firefighters who died Sunday battling a huge wildfire near Prescott, Arizona, presumably were motivated by something other than rational self-interest. Like the first-responders to 9/11 and other emergencies, and members of the armed forces, they put themselves in harm’s way (or chose a job that did so) because they wanted to serve.

Economics, and much of public policy and political strategy, assume that people are motivated by self-interest, that the definition of acting rationally is to maximize what you want for yourself, and that other values – service, duty, allegiance to others, morality, and shared ideals – are either irrelevant or negligible.

Ayn Rand, the philosophical guru of the modern Republican Party, popularized this view of human nature. In her world, selfishness is the only honest and justifiable motive. By looking out for Number One, we accomplish everything that’s necessary. Economist Milton Friedman extended the logic: The magic of the marketplace can be relied on to allocate resources to their highest and best uses. Anything “public” is suspect.

The titans of Wall Street and the CEOs of our major corporations have put this narrow principle into everyday practice. In their view, the aggregation of great wealth and maximization of profit is the only justifiable motive. Greed is good. Eight-figure compensation packages are their due. People are paid according to their economic worth.

This crimped perspective misses what’s most important. Shared values are the essence of a society. They fuel not only acts of valor, such as those of these 19 young firefighters, but they also motivate people to become teachers and social workers, police officers and soldiers, librarians and city councilors.

And they generate social movements – abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, environmental protection.

Most human beings want to be part of something larger than themselves. They crave moral purpose and social solidarity. If we overlook this, we fail to understand the means and meaning of social progress.

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5 Comments

  1. Marcus

    Such a sad situation.
    I can’t speculate on what Rand would have thought about these men’s service… And I appreciate a lot of Reich’s thoughts and writings.
    But- I see how self interest is a motivating factor in life. Firefighters might not receive “eight-figure compensation packages” but this doesn’t mean the job is done purely out of charitable motivation. The truth is somewhere in between.

  2. kevind1986

    Ridiculous. They didn’t plan on giving their lives. Of course they knew it was possible, just like soldiers, policemen and race car drivers – but they sure didn’t walk out there planning on not coming out. The logic flaws in this diatribe are unworthy of Reich. But it’s simple enough logic for PC.

  3. Tara Li

    Indeed, Kevind1986. “Rational Self-Interest” also includes the value of your self-esteem, the value of those you love and care for, and a lot of other factors than the simple money that so many seem to apply to Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand wasn’t even against charity – she was against destructive charity – charity seen as a right, as an entitlement, and not as a gift. Charity given under threat of a gun is not charity – it’s paying off a blackmailer. Even if the blackmailer is the government.

  4. Steve

    She would think they are heroes.

  5. Reich’s smear piece on Rand is unjust. These firefighters did not sacrifice anything; they were not altruistic in their actions. In fact, it was quite the opposite; they were pursuing their values; they knew the risks; and, unfortunately, the demands of the situation overwhelmed them. It’s a terrible loss for them and their families — and all of us. But it was not a sacrifice.

    A sacrifice would have required that they throw themselves into the fire without attempting to battle it — or to not attempt to fight it and want it to consume everything they cared about.

    Obviously, they did the opposite. They were heros. I cannot speak for Rand –no one can — but from what I know of her and her writings, she would have had the most sincere and profound respect for each of them and their efforts.

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