I didn’t really know much about Ayn Rand. I definitely didn’t know the causes of the economic downturn of 2008. I thought I had a good understanding of American politics. If you read Darryl Cunningham’s graphic nonfiction book The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis, you will learn how much more you didn’t know.
It is said that the proof of your intelligence is in your ability to communicate effectively the big ideas that you have. Using this sentence as a metre stick, I’d have to say (a) my intelligence appears to need work and (b) Darryl Cunningham is an awfully smart man. Using a graphic format to discuss these intricate and multi-layered themes is pure genius. The book is divided into 3 major sections: the first is on the life of Ayn Rand and the people that she influenced, the second is on the how and why of the economic crash of 2008 and the third is on American politics as viewed through the alternating filters of altruism and selfishness.
A way to sum up much of the book is in this graphic format:
Ayn Rand + rabid followers (including Alan Greenspan) = “collective”
Randian philosophy = objectivism [(selfishness = virtue) + (altruism = moral failure)]
Alan Greenspan (@ Ronald Reagan) = Chairman of Federal Reserve for 4 Presidents (spanning 3 decades)
U.S. Government adoption of Randian philosophy (“taxation = theft”) = U.S. Government reduces regulation of banking
Banks go power-crazy = messy recession; felt worldwide.
Cunningham does have a solution. He thinks that conservativism has won the day but that liberals need to reassert themselves in American politics (despite the current liberals in power) to bring back true altruism. Cunningham doesn't like conservatives. They "prize hard work, orderliness, and structure...are goal oriented." Liberals, however, "are risk takers...are experimental in their lifestyle choices and self-expression. They are tolerant of different perspectives and values." Cunningham is very sorry but you fit into only one political affiliation or the other. There are no other options. He actually goes so far as to insinuate that these are psychologically defined distinctions that divide all of us into two camps.
Too bad the rest of the world doesn't work out of a two-party system. Canadians don't get mentioned at all. The British don't get much press either, perhaps because they have a four-party system, with voices from seven other parties mixed in.
Here's another take on this dilemma:
Selfishness + American political system (Tea Partyists) = need more liberals to fix it.
Psychological profiling of liberals and conservatives = reduction of all people into 2-party system thinking
Reductive thinking = all theses in the book may be skewed
The bottom line is that this book has excellent polemics, but the proposed ideas are still open for debate.