Capitalism, Compassion and Ayn Rand

Say the word “capitalism” in some groups and people will instantly assume that you promote dog-eat-dog greed, corrupt business practices and can’t be bothered to care about the poor.

It is not difficult to figure out why people who do not understand the whole system would think this. Capitalism does have an individualistic focus, but that does not mean that there is no room for giving. One of the most memorable quotes from “Atlas Shrugged” summed up much of Ayn Rand’s philosophy; “I swear by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Rand was self-focused and did not condone making sacrifices with no benefit. This does not mean, however, that there was no love, compassion or special giving in the world she advocated. Her idealistic characters in “Atlas Shrugged” made a daring raid to secure the safety of a friend, risking their own lives in the process. Although the act appears selfless, these individuals benefited from saving the friend and not needing to suffer the grief of losing him to the looters. Rand takes great pains to show that the individual achievements that her characters profit from also have a positive effect on others. Acting in self interest and making money does not mean that the gains are hoarded. As the business owners became richer, they hired many people to keep the company running at capacity, and invested money into developing newer, better and cheaper products for the consumers. When their businesses were flourishing, everybody won.

To conclude in Rand’s own words, showing that individuals know how to create prosperity better than the government: “America’s abundance was created not by public sacrifices to “the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages and cheaper goods with each new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance – and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”


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