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Rand's Influence on Alan Greenspan

In The Age of Turbulence, Alan Greenspan describes the influence that Ayn Rand had on his intellectual development.

Ayn Rand became a stabilizing force in my life. It hadn't taken long for us to have a meeting of the minds -- mostly my mind meeting hers -- and in the fifties and early sixties I became a regular at the weekly gatherings at her apartment. She was a wholly original thinker, sharply analytical, strong-willed, highly principled, and very insistent on rationality as the highest value. In that regard, our values were congruent -- we agreed on the importance of mathematics and intellectual rigor.

But she had gone far beyond that, thinking more broadly than I had ever dared. She was a devoted Aristotelian -- the central idea being that there exists an objective reality that is separate from consciousness and capable of being known. Thus she called her philosophy objectivism. And she applied key tenets of Aristotelian ethics -- namely, that individuals have innate nobility and that the highest duty of every individual is to flourish by realizing that potential. Exploring ideas with her was a remarkable course in logic and epistemology. I was able to keep up with her most of the time.

Rand's Collective became my first social circle outside the university and the economics profession. I engaged in the all-night debates and wrote spirited commentary for her newsletter with the fervor of a young acolyte drawn to a whole new set of ideas. Like any new convert, I tended to frame the concepts in their starkest, simplest terms. Most everyone sees the simple outline of an idea before complexity and qualification set in. If we didn't, there would be nothing to qualify, nothing to learn. It was only as contradictions inherent in my new notions began to emerge that the fervor receded.

One contradiction I found particularly enlightening. According to objectivist precepts, taxation was immoral because it allowed for government appropriation of private property by force. Yet if taxation was wrong, how could you reliably finance the essential functions of government, including the protection of individuals' rights through police power? The Randian answer, that those who rationally saw the need for government would contribute voluntarily, was inadequate. People have free will; suppose they refused?

I still found the broader philosophy of unfettered market competition compelling, as I do to this day, but I reluctantly began to realize that if there were qualifications to my intellectual edifice, I couldn't argue that others should readily accept it. [...]

Ayn Rand and I remained close until she died in 1982, and I'm grateful for the influence she had on my life. I was intellectually limited until I met her. All of my work had been empirical and numbers-based, never values-oriented. I was a talented technician, but that was all. My logical positivism had discounted history and literature -- if you'd asked me whether Chaucer was worth reading, I'd have said, "Don't bother." Rand persuaded me to look at human beings, their values, how they work, what they do and why they do it, and how they think and why they think. This broadened my horizons far beyond the models of economics I'd learned. I began to study how societies form and how cultures behave, and to realize that economics and forecasting depend on such knowledge -- different cultures grow and create material wealth in profoundly different ways. All of this started for me with Ayn Rand. She introduced me to a vast realm from which I'd shut myself off.

From The Age of Turbulence, pp. 51-53. Omissions from the text are shown with bracketed ellipses. All other punctuation and spelling is from the original.

Additional keywords: Ann Rand, Anne Rand, Any Rand, Allan Greenspan


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