Sunday, September 23, 2007

Greenspan's Chilling Commentary

Capitalism is based on self-interest and self-esteem; it holds integrity and trustworthiness as cardinal virtues and makes them pay off in the marketplace, thus demanding that men survive by means of virtue, not vices. It is this superlatively moral system that the welfare statists propose to improve upon by means of preventative law, snooping bureaucrats, and the chronic goad of fear. So wrote a young Alan Greenspan in 1963 as an adherent to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy. Some forty years later the morality of capitalism is again on display in Greenspan's new book "The Age of Turbulence" and his subsequent comments.

There is a certain void in a capitalist's outlook. Production and consumption are one thing, but what of ethics and morality? Rand, who came to America from the Soviet Union in 1926, wondered the same thing. She embraced America's entrepreneurial spirit but wanted to give it a little soul. Ultimately she described her Objectivist philosophy as the "concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Indeed, it was largely a celebration of self and production and consumption for the good of the self. It is not hard to see why such a point-of-view has taken an influential role with many capitalists, eager to give their careers a little more heart. In the 1950s Greenspan became a member of Rand's inner circle, The Collective, a group of intellectuals who sat around dreaming of utopias and how the world should be run. His book chronicles American economic history from roughly that time to the present day. Of contemporary interest is Greenspan's conjuncture with President George W. Bush and his advice on Iraq.

Much has already been made of Greenspan's comments that the war was "largely about the oil." Greenspan seemed a bit surprised by the reaction. "I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan explained in an subsequent interview, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

He also said in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive." Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil." Asked if he had made his point to Cheney specifically, Greenspan said yes, then added, "I talked to everybody about that."

The author's book and comments have proven to be as revealing as one could hope from such a calculated economist. Many have suspected all along of ulterior motives for Bush's invasion of Iraq, but Greenspan comes right out and says it. And since he enjoys a rarefied level of respect and admiration it is hard to dismiss his words. But what are we to make of the former Federal Reserve Chairman, once thought to be an independent financial entity, lobbying the president for an invasion of another country?

What we have witnessed over the last seven years is the collusion of policy and ideology. Indeed, not just in America, but world-wide, one's world view is quickly trumping all other responsibilities. Bush is the true believer in the power of Christianity and Democracy as the liberating forces in the world. Greenspan, the Objectivist, believes the same thing about capitalism. The Iraq war represents the confluence of religion, freedom, and capitalism, all brought to bear in an attempt to free the oppressed people of Iraq, and secure our interests. Never before has a war felt more entrepreneurial, so American-made, and the result has been a complete disaster and you'll never hear a hint of hindsight from the men who conjured it up in secret meetings. They are the "prime movers" of our society. The ones who, like Rand and the Collective, sit around and ponder how to better run the world the way the rest of us study football.

Rand's message has often been attacked by people her circle labeled as "do godders," those who argued that individuals should also work for the benefit of others. Her philosophy has been labeled as an elaborate type of Social Darwinism in-which the "fittest" survive and augment what they have. What matters is the person who produces, who works with others to increase what he has and, in theory, increase his happiness. Lining up such a view with Greenspan's deadpan explanation of the Iraq war seems almost too transparent to believe. Keep in mind that perhaps a half a million Iraqis have died since the US led invasion in 2003. Then consider the numerous reports saying that our invasion has made the region significantly less stable, and enhanced terrorist recruiting. Then consider the thousands of US lives that have been shattered, and billions of dollars spent, and the deceit by the Bush administration to bring the invasion for tuition. All of this is on one hand, and the "protection of oil supplies" is on the other. The long-term results of the invasion are impossible to predict, even to someone with Greenspan's acumen, but surely these possibilities must have occurred to the man and factored in to his equations. Surely the value of life must be more than stable oil supplies.

The problem with people like Greenspan and Bush is not necessarily what they believe, but that they believe their point-of-view can't possibly fail. There is no stopping someone like Bush because he has the power of religion and an almost childlike faith in America to filter his decisions. Greenspan, on the other hand, uses reason and the computational power of economics. Two very different methods of induction, yet the results are the same. Groups of power, like the Collective, like Washington think tanks, are nothing more than self-serving entities wrapped in a philosophy. It does not take long to see their morality when it comes to using other people's lives.

Greenspan's words are not only troubling in their cold and calculated reasoning for a war that has turned into a human rights nightmare, but they seem so selfish and short sighted. They seem imbued with a sense of privilege, as if nothing could be more reasonable than deciding the fate of Iraqis over morning coffee. What could possibly go wrong when your world view is brought to task? To the true believer, nothing, but his words are cold comfort to those remaining in Iraq, and those who have been displaced. And if Mr. Greenspan is such a genius, why couldn't he tell the task of regime change and asset securing was well beyond the reach of a man like George W. Bush? Perhaps his irrational exuberance in the power of capitalism also corrupted his judgment of character.

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