Monday, March 02, 2015

Michael Greve is an Ayn Rand-worshipping extremist

Here's an example of the mischief Ayn Rand's "philosophy" helps enable when marinated in the minds of those who are not especially bright and who lack any sense of empathy. Consider the NYTimes editorial about the efforts of Michael Greve and his gang of conservative activists to kill the Affordable Care Act:
The challengers did not innocently happen upon these words; they went all out in search of anything that might be used to gut the law they had failed to kill off once before, on constitutional grounds, in 2012. Soon after the law passed in 2010, Michael Greve, then chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is helping to finance the current suit, said, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”
Greve is willing to sacrifice public health for the sake of "political hygiene." The article continues:
After the challengers found the four-word “glitch,” as they initially called it, they worked backward to fabricate a story that would make it sound intentional. Congress, they claimed, sought to induce states to establish exchanges by threatening a loss of subsidies if they did not. (Not coincidentally, the challengers also traveled state to state urging officials not to set up exchanges, thus helping to create the very “crisis” they now decry.)
As soon as I heard what they were up to, I knew it was fueled by Ayn Rand brand libertarianism, and it took two seconds of Googling to discover I was right. 

Here is the abstract of a paper that Greve authored, published in 2011, entitled Atlas Croaks, Supreme Court Shrugs in which he complains that the Roberts Supreme Court is not sufficiently pro-business. Allusions to "Atlas Shrugged" are in the abstract, beginning with the title. I have highlighted others below:
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Term has confirmed, yet again, the legal commentariat’s conviction that the Roberts Court’s conservative majority is recreating an America of Ayn Rand’s imagination. States, the Court has held, may not sue to protect their citizens against out-of-state operators of coal-fired, carbon-spewing power plants. Foreign manufacturers of cutting machines that lop off operators’ limbs may sell the infernal instruments without fear of liability, so long as they do not physically enter or deliberately aim to sell in the plaintiff’s home state. Generic drug makers and vaccine producers may kill and maim their consumers, so long as their labels and products comply with perfunctory federal requirements. All drug makers may overcharge state and local government purchasers, subject only to virtually nonexistent federal administrative oversight. Corporations may force consumers into arbitration agreements; bill them to the tune of a few bucks each but, given the large numbers, for stupendous profits; and then defend against a class action on the grounds that arbitration is not made for that legal device. Also, employers may freely discriminate against millions of employees, so long as they do not inflict an injury that is sufficiently common to warrant a class action. And to protect this order, the plutocracy is constitutionally entitled to buy its own legislators: Public attempts to “level the playing field” violate the First Amendment. Full speed ahead for the Taggart Railroad!

Or maybe not. Upon inspection, the notion that the Roberts Court’s jurisprudence heralds a restoration of unbridled capitalism — or, more modestly, of reliable rules of the road for commercial actors — proves untenable, if not downright absurd. It is true that the Supreme Court often rules for business. And this past Term, unlike in preceding years, those rulings have often been the work of a narrow 5-4 or 5-3 conservative majority. Justice Elena Kagan, though recused from many cases this past Term, has found her reliably liberal voice in no time flat. She does write like a charm, though. However, the pattern is hardly unbroken. Moreover, and far more important, the conservative Justices’ pro-business decisions look like picking weeds in downtown Detroit or for that matter Mrs. Rand’s crumbling New York — well-meant, but unlikely to improve the neighborhood on a lasting basis. The point emerges in contemplation of the charter and instrument that the Supreme Court is supposed to protect: the United States Constitution.
Greve lists items he claims are, at least in the minds of "the legal commitariat" "recreating an America of Ayn Rand's imagination":
  • States, the Court has held, may not sue to protect their citizens against out-of-state operators of coal-fired, carbon-spewing power plants.
  • Foreign manufacturers of cutting machines that lop off operators’ limbs may sell the infernal instruments without fear of liability, so long as they do not physically enter or deliberately aim to sell in the plaintiff’s home state. 
  • Generic drug makers and vaccine producers may kill and maim their consumers, so long as their labels and products comply with perfunctory federal requirements. 
  • All drug makers may overcharge state and local government purchasers, subject only to virtually nonexistent federal administrative oversight. 
  • Corporations may force consumers into arbitration agreements; bill them to the tune of a few bucks each but, given the large numbers, for stupendous profits; and then defend against a class action on the grounds that arbitration is not made for that legal device. 
  • Also, employers may freely discriminate against millions of employees, so long as they do not inflict an injury that is sufficiently common to warrant a class action. 
  • And to protect this order, the plutocracy is constitutionally entitled to buy its own legislators: Public attempts to “level the playing field” violate the First Amendment. 
Actually, this list is a mixed bag - some of the villains in "Atlas Shrugged" were crony capitalists buying their own legislators, so Rand was against "The plutocracy... constitutionally entitled to buy its own legislators." But for the most part, this is Rand's wishlist. For example:
Generic drug makers and vaccine producers may kill and maim their consumers, so long as their labels and products comply with perfunctory federal requirements
Ayn Rand (and her disciple Alan Greenspan) argued that there was no need for consumer protection because if businessmen allowed bad things to happen to their customers, they would get a bad reputation and go out of business. Problem solved. Not before people have been killed or maimed though, but that point didn't seem to concern Rand or Greenspan.

Greve seems to be saying that the Supreme Court has accomplished all these items on Ayn Rand's wish list, but he feels the Court hasn't gone far enough:
Upon inspection, the notion that the Roberts Court’s jurisprudence heralds a restoration of unbridled capitalism — or, more modestly, of reliable rules of the road for commercial actors — proves untenable, if not downright absurd. 
A cognitive disconnect occurs in this abstract because Greve describes these actions in such a way ("infernal instruments") that it sounds like he's criticizing them. You have to wonder about the mind-set of someone who writes like this. I assume he's mocking those (presumably the "legal commentariat") who are concerned about such things as industrial accidents - which would not be surprising coming from someone who lacks empathy. 

He goes on to confirm his belief that the Court, while it has done something, hasn't done enough:
...the conservative Justices’ pro-business decisions look like picking weeds in downtown Detroit or for that matter Mrs. Rand’s crumbling New York — well-meant, but unlikely to improve the neighborhood on a lasting basis.
In "Atlas Shrugged" the US economy is destroyed - hence "crumbling New York" because Rand's ubermensch heroes go "on strike" - the term "on strike" and the title of "Atlas Shrugged" were suggested to Rand by her husband Frank O'Connor. She went by "Miss Rand" not "Mrs. Rand" - her married name was Mrs. O'Connor, the name with which she used to apply for Social Security benefits.

At the end of his wish list of pro-business legal rulings Greve says "Full speed ahead for the Taggart Railroad!" One of the big moments in Atlas Shrugged is when Dagny Taggart, one of the owners of the Railroad, is speeding across America. The train goes full speed ahead the entire trip, not slowing down even when going through towns. How this was accomplished is made explicit in this passage of the novel:
Eddie Willers was watching her. He stood on the platform, surrounded by Taggart executives, division heads, civic leaders and the various local officials who had been outargued, bribed or threatened, to obtain permits to run a train through town zones at a hundred miles an hour.
Whenever I read of some Rand fan proclaiming the wonders of "Atlas Shrugged" I almost invariably end up asking myself at some point "have they read the novel?" Their understanding seems to be based more on what they wished Rand said, rather than what she actually said.

I am inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they simply didn't have suitable reading comprehension, or perhaps they were skimming, when they got to the part where it is mentioned that Ayn Rand's heroes bribe and threaten local officials to get their way. 

But in the case of Michael Greve, I suspect he's perfectly happy with bribing and threatening anybody who stands in the way of "unbridled capitalism."

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