Thoughts on the ‘Brittle Grip’


TPM Reader JL has some thoughts on the ‘brittle grip.’ This is a point I’ve given a good deal of thought to this point but more from the perspective of what the whipsaw effect of looking into the financial abyss and then getting all your money back and more. But JL looks at 2008 and Randian ideology …

Josh, love the Brittle Grip stuff. You’re definitely getting at something really important and the way Roberts is going, it’s getting more important, not less.

I just have one small thing to add. Maybe just another lens—one among many–through which to view all of this.

I’ve developed a rule of thumb over the last four or five years, maybe dating back to the Santelli rant that ignited the tea party. Maybe it was a bit before that, maybe a bit after. In any case, the rule of thumb is this: when it comes to the outer fringes of conservative thought–or at least what would have been outer fringes ten, twenty years ago, and now looks more like orthodoxy–never underestimate the influence of Ayn Rand. And that influence seems to run particularly deep on Wall Street and maybe even deeper in places like Greenwich and Menlo Park that are home to so many in the 0.01%.

If you’re a hard core Randian plying your trade on Wall Street or in Greenwich or in Menlo Park, 2008 had to have been deeply unsettling, whether you let yourself acknowledge it or not. You take it as an article of faith that the millions—or tens or hundreds of millions—that you rake in every year are justified. But not justified in some very general sense. As a Randian, you believe that in a free market system, your compensation is precisely equal to your value to society. 2008 was a pretty big threat to this core Randian tenet. Either you have to twist logic and argue–as some have, perhaps not surprisingly, although awkwardly nonetheless–that it was the government, not an underregulated Wall Street, that caused the crisis, or you accept that lots of your compatriots in the financial sector earned ungodly sums of money without creating a whit of value. I suspect for a lot of the 0.01% this created a brush with a crisis of faith. And I suspect that this brush with a crisis of faith may be a big part of the brittle grip.

You get very close to all of this in part 2 where you talk about 2008 and the prospect of an un-self-regulating collapse of the financial system. But I think the Randian perspective, and the tight connection it insists on between income and moral worth, might be a meaningful nuance.