Remember the Republican convention? And the night when the theme was “we built it”. Ascribing to that old romantic theory that is, at its core, very American. That a loner can, against all odds, can bootstrap himself (or herself) alone. As an individual.
Its an admirable, romantic idea. Its also what conservatives and libertarians adhere to religiously. The loner. Succeeding against all odds.
I started thinking of this idea during that “we built it” night of the Republican Convention in Tampa. Having being one of the legion of teenage boys who devoured Ayn Rand during adolescence, a part of me wanted to believe this loner narrative. The much more now experienced part of me was fundamentally wary about the idea and therefore, I started thinking about my life experiences that have shaped what my views are.
And then the analogy about technology struck me. Think about it – Facebook with almost a billion users. LinkedIn with 400 million users. Blogging sites like this one (wordpress) and blogspot trying to increasingly integrate with Twitter and Facebook. Why? Because in anything we do – be it posting our day to day inanities or publishing our professional profiles – it is useless without being connected in a network. Hence social networking.
I write (with varying frequency) in two blogs. This one and another, which is personal. I have been writing for years now – but have made a conscious effort not to get plugged in to the social networks to promote them. And so where do I stand. While I have organically grown my readership – it still isn’t what you would expect an 8 year blog to have. Why? Because I took the Ayn Rand individualist approach. My motivations were not to monetize these forums – so it works fine with me. But when, on that convention floor in Tampa, one heard, speaker after speaker talk about “We Built It” – as if nothing else mattered – the handshake trust that comes from strong legal and governmental institutions, from the rule of law, from infrastructure, from a stable financial system – it seems a little disingenuous and exaggerated. Yes, you built it. But it was because the government and public space enabled you. Not inspite of it. That’s why we pay taxes. That’s also why the United States is the richest country in the world by far. Because, by and large – the government has done its bit and left the rest to the individual.
Not everything is right with a large government. There is enough evidence in the world (including blazing hot economies like China etc.) to know that overt government involvement in commerce leads to over-investment, misallocation of resources and generally higher levels of inefficiencies. But that cannot be translated to an apathy over regulations, over understanding the role of our government.
We don’t need the government to run business for us. But we absolutely need the government to a) Enable individuals to do the best for themselves by providing them the prerequisites they need to initiate and run commerce and b) To ensure that those very same individuals and corporations work within a framework that is not detrimental to the greater good.
In America, we all have the right to the pursuit of happiness. But the government needs to be there to ensure that we dont impede on others’ exact same rights. And to provide us the basics we need to get to that happiness – regardless of our socio-economic backgrounds – health, safety, infrastructure and other basic services (water, electricity etc.)
So looking back, this now grown up author – thinks he eschews Ayn Rand’s philosophy – no matter how romantic it sounds. Its just not workable.