After the chaos of British politics, it is almost a pleasure to turn to the simple certainties of Ayn Rand, and few things could be more certain than that universal disapproval would be heaped on the man occupying Drawing Room A, Car No 6, on the doomed Taggart Comet as it headed for the last time into the Winston tunnel. He was, Rand tells us,
“a financier who had made a fortune by buying ‘frozen’ railway bonds and getting his friends in Washington to ‘defreeze’ them”.
As a financier a hate figure for those on the left, and as a man with friends in Washington, a hate figure for those on the right. And as a man cheating his way to power and wealth, a hate figure for the centre as well. Even if we do not go as far as wishing to see such people first suffocated and then, for good measure, blown up, most people (even some of those people themselves) would agree that it would be a better world if they did not exist. But they do, they always have and they always will, and given that as fact, not theory, the next question is, what do we do about them?
Rand, of course, had a very simple answer. Completely clear out the cheats (and a lot of people who in no way fit that description), and start all over again, with a much smaller society (millions of people were dying in her grand finale to Atlas Shrugged, as they usually do in revolutions), which would then be run by the great and the good and the super-intelligent. But even if we can grant that such a society might work while the super people were still there to run it, what happens when they go? Superior intellect and Randian morality in one generation are no guarantee of those qualities in the next. The Taggart bloodline may have produced the superwoman Dagny Taggart, but it also produced the supremely worthless James Taggart. Hank Rearden’s brains and practical abilities did not prevent him marrying a rapacious woman and fathering a worthless child.
The Rand answer to that is that the worthless inheritors will fail and be replaced by (presumably) the next generation of supermen and superwomen, who will rise effortlessly to the top. As John Galt put it, on page 384 of my Penguin edition of Atlas Shrugged,
“Only a man who does not need it is fit to inherit wealth – the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him, if not it destroys him”.
Which, of course, ignores the fact that when a rich man is destroyed, he inevitably takes many of the not-rich-at-all down with him. Imagine the fate of Rearden Steel had Rearden’s son (or his widow) taken over the business, yet the two planks of Rand’s ‘philosophy’ are that no-one should interfere with what anyone does with their own private property, and no-one should interfere with the freedom of production and trade (Judge Narragensett, proposed amendment to the US constitution, p. 1065 in my edition). An effective double block to any remedy.
However, all too often the most damaging thing that the rich leave to their children is a sense of entitlement.
Which brings us back to the execrable Boris Johnson and the ludicrous William Rees-Mogg.