Jonathan Chait

Did Ayn Rand's Novel Prove The Case Against Climate Policy?

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Fifty years from now, historians are going to study the way our political system handled -- or chose not to handle -- climate change. They'll be struck by moderates who were obsessed by other issues but attached no particular urgency to permanently altering the Earth's climate. They'll also be amazed that it was considered fairly unremarkable for a U.S. Senator to draw his understanding of carbon policy from cult novelist Ayn Rand. Yet here is Rand Paul attacking electricity standards:

Ayn Rand wrote a novel, Anthem, it’s a dystopian novel where individual choice is banned and the collective rules society. There’s a young man and his name is Equality 72521. He is an intelligent young man but he is been from achieving or reaching any sort of occupation that would challenge him. He is a street sweeper.

Over time he discovers an abandoned subway and rediscovers the incandescent light bulb. And he thinks, naively, that electricity and the brilliance of light would be an advantage for society and that it would bring great new things as far as being able to see at night, being able to read and the advancement of civilization.

He takes it before the collective of elders, and they take the light bulb, and basically it’s crushed beneath the boot heel of the collective. The collective has no place basically for individual choice.

Now I’m not suggesting that this collective body is against electricity per se, or that your goals are to quash individualism. But I am suggesting that we’re against choice. And I think you seem to be oblivious to this sometimes that you’re taking away people’s freedom to buy products they want to buy.

He's not only an ideological fanatic, he's not even a terribly bright one. The issue here is that, according to the scientific consensus, emitting carbon into the atmosphere harms other people. Even 18 year old college libertarians tend to grasp that you have to work through the issue of polluting the commons, not treat polluting the commons as a simple act of individual choice. And I know I've been harping on Ayn Rand a lot, but as far as I'm concerned, being governed by people who tout her work as the seminal influence in their worldview is not much different than being governed by Scientologists. It's kind of scary.

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