So Harry Reid, has caused a ruckus by calling Alan Greenspan a "partisan hack." Even Democrats who have, over years in the Senate, accepted the meta-concept of Greenspan as a semi-objective fiscal guru have been flinching, as the Mighty Favvad's inconsistent mutterings contradicted past positions over and over again.
I agree wholeheartedly with James Wolcott's assessment of the situation, but I'm kind of stunned to see that he, too, misses the key ring here. We need - from Wolcott, from Krugman, from anyone with half a memory -- the C word. Or the R word. I've scanned dozens of blogs waiting for this to be mentioned, but none has: so here we go.
Greenspan's not a hack. People underestimate, I think, the significance to him of a cult he's been in for years: the cult of Ayn Rand.
Rand was the Russian emigre author whose novels hailed industrialists as heroes and bodice-ripper plots as a way of preaching a proto-neocon, ahistorical, hyper-individualists philosophy also exprressed in such lovely titles as The Virtues of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal . Whose response to the environmental movement, late in her life, was to tell us all that we should "hug the dirtiest, grimiest smokestack you can find" because they signified progress and who wrote one of the most famous rape scenes in American literature (the hero of The Fountainhead rapes the heroine to begin their romance.)
As this libertarian writer so helpfully points out, Greenspan's name appeared in the New York Times for the first time not on any economic or political point, but to protest a bad review of Rand's horrific novel Atlas Shrugged.. At that time, Greenspan was a member of Rand's chainsmoking Manhattan inner circle, that as the 1960s were bursting out around them had study sessions as serious as any Marxist and took even minor disloyalty as high treason. Greenspan was the only member of the inner circle who was never expelled; he contributed two full chapters to (for those and other such dross, check this cult site.)
For many of the details above, I'm indebted to Jerome Tuccille's rock and toll history of the libertarian movement, It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand. Tuccille, whose early wild libertarian days led to a career as a chronicler of fabulous moneymakers, just like Rand's heroes, must have felt he'd died and gone to heaven when he sold and wrote Alan Shrugged: Alan Greenspan, the World's Most Powerful Banker. Tuccille knows Greenspan's a cultist: his publisher even boasts about it:
Bursting with new information on Greenspan's close but often contentious relationship with Ayn Rand, who dubbed him "the undertaker" because of his somber appearance, Alan Shrugged explains why Greenspan was so drawn to Rand's moral defense of capitalism and why Rand was so eager to count him among her disciples.
From that "inner circle" to the Nixon campaign to the grand poo-bah of the Federal Reserve: quite the path to power. Did 50 years change that fanatical edge, until Bill Clinton and other Dems took him seriously? Or was he just biding his time?
Full disclosure: Just about 30 years ago, I fell under the spell of Rand myself. I read Atlas Shrugged 20 times and pestered my friends to read it. I read -- ok, skimmed -- books by Murray Rothbard and Greenspan himself. I was an activist in the Libertarian Party. My only excuse: 30 years ago, I was 12 years old.
Which makes me a typical ex-Randite. In fact, I howled with laughter when I read that firat Tuccille book I mentioned,which uses vivid language to describe my experience: young, Catholic, hyper-intelligent, insecure. An ideology that tells you "smart people are going to run the world," "selfishness is great," and adds misogynist, slightly S&M sexuality to the equation? Irresistible. (I do thank Ms. Rand for extricating me from the Church, if not for the time I wasted reading her bad novels.) n - I'm surprised there aren't more Ex-Rand-Geek Support Groups out there.
Some of us come to our senses (I describe a little of how here); others, like Tuccille, take it to run-of-the-mill young Republicanism; and still others keep the cult flame alive. I've watched Greenspan's Federal Reserve career with comic disdain as a result, often shuddering at its consequences. Stil, I think I'd deceived myself into thinking that Greeenspan's more wingnutty ideologies had perhaps given way to realpolitik. That he didn't still think of poor people as parasites and Social Security as treason.
But now comes the true chance to "starve the beast," and Greenspan can't resist, even if it makes dust bunnies of all the economics he's laid out previously. Conviction? Political hackery? The memory of Ayn's cruel smile?
Whatever it is, it deserves as little respect as any other sidewalk preacher. And he's certainly done far more damage,