Hollywood Displays an Ayn Rand Future

Hollywood loves Ayn Rand when it comes to running their businesses.

For lo these many years, it's been an article of faith on the Right that Hollywood is a hotbed of the most extreme political liberalism possible, the source of everything wrong with America from collapsing family values, to collapsing schools, to an epidemic of crime and violence, to the current enthrallment of our elites with Big Government.

According to the Economist, though, in one very important area this is the exact opposite of the truth.  Far from being a bastion of socialism, the industry of Hollywood as it actually operates is probably the most cutthroat, dog-eat-dog example of Ayn Randian economic struggle "red in tooth and claw" that can be found anywhere in the world with the possible exception of Hong Kong.

Quoth the article:

People work hard and collaborate well in the movie business in part because they have little job stability. Many are freelancers, who will not get hired for the next film unless they prove themselves on the current one. The tough lesson from Hollywood, then, is that job insecurity can lead to greater productivity, as long as workers believe in what they are doing and have their achievements recognised.

What has this to do with Ayn Rand? Think about the world portrayed in Atlas Shrugged, with a tiny handful of super-successful people who can do anything they please, a coterie of grasping bureaucrats out to grab whatever they can, and then vast hordes of nameless, faceless minions just trying to put bread on the table without very much success.

This exactly describes the world of Hollywood, not as depicted on the silver screen, but as actually lived in La-La Land.  We could all name a dozen or so immensely rich and famous people who are at the very top of their craft, like Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart in Rand's book.  As in the book, there's a host of ordinary folks who love nothing better than to see those on top receive their comeuppance and get taken down a few pegs.

If you actually go to the Hollywood Hills and walk around, sure there is wealth, but there are a far greater number of aspiring actors who are "resting" while working as waiters.

In the middle you have the ordinary folks who do the actual productive work of the movie industry, a small fraction of whose names you can see in the tiny print at the end of the credits if you hang around that long.  For every named star with top billing, there are hundreds of nobodies who get a temporary, marginally middle-class job at best.

As the Economist points out, none of those jobs have any durability or security.  Even the most enormously successful blockbuster won't have any staff on the payroll a year after release.  Everybody involved in producing Titanic or Star Wars had to find another job, except for a few stars who made enough money and lived off it thereafter.

To Him Who Hath Shall More Be Given

Is there anything immoral or improper about the very best in a field receiving outsize rewards?  Of course not - American free-market capitalism has always held out the promise of opportunity for each person to rise to whatever height their own effort and competence can reach, which has been higher than in any other nation in all of human history.

Is there anything immoral or improper about everyone else not receiving the outsize rewards earned by the very best?  Equally, of course not - even going back to Jesus Christ who pointed out that "The poor ye have with you always."

Still, the left does have a relevant beef.  "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" is the definition of godless Communism, but the fact remains that everyone does have needs - for food, for clothing, for shelter, often for medical care, at the very least.  Any discussion of limits on what the needy should be given will necessarily involve an acceptance that not everyone will get everything they need and thus some will die, just as it also must involve a recognition that whatever is given to the needy, except for private charitable contributions, must necessarily be stolen from those who've rightfully earned it.

Given that we are clearly not personally a Randian hero and we venture to assume that you aren't either, there is something to be said for a world in which ordinary people can nevertheless build solid, stable careers.  Our current Obama Depression has devastated family formation, leading to the lowest percentages of marriages since records began; the trend of children's well-being has been ever downward for a long time as well.

This makes sense: for someone who wants to earn their own way in life rather than subsisting on welfare, it's only sensible to consider the costs of such luxury goods as a spouse and kids.  For too many Americans, these are luxuries they simply cannot afford.

History has shown countless times that, when men in particular have little hope of being able to obtain and support a wife and family, they turn to violence.  We see this in our inner cities today.  For the sake of social stability, there really is an argument in favor of somehow arranging an economic climate in which ordinary or even sub-ordinary people, the furthest thing from a Randian hero, can nonetheless still make a halfway decent life by their own efforts.

We flatly don't have that today.  Hollywood never has had it; it exists only because of the delusional dreams of glory of countless prom kings and queens across the nation whose peers thought they had what it takes to make it on the silver screen, and whose egos cannot handle giving up the dream once and for all.  They provide an endless supply of cheap labor for any flick that comes along, just as aspiring entrepreneurs provide cheap labor for promising start-ups.

That's unhealthy enough for Hollywood and for venture capital, but that's a relatively small part of our economy.  If, like the Economist suggests, the entire global economy is heading that way, life won't be much fun for anyone save the very top.

Alas, the only solution that Hollywood suggests is also found in Atlas Shrugged: put the government, or more specifically an army of totalitarian bureaucrats, in total charge of everything and everybody.  And as anyone who's watched Cold War-era flicks ought to know, a Red Dawn end for America is even worse than a Randian one.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Business.
Reader Comments

you're right, pure capitalism over time leads to Guatemala where 5% own pretty much everything. We don't want that.

Socialism and / or communism lead to China where everybody save the elite were equal in poverty and misery.

The trick is to balance the two.

The trouble with democracy is that it's doomed once those who'd rather not work start voting themselves benefits.

We'll have tgo wait and see what happens.

November 12, 2014 11:38 AM

Anyone who is frustrated with capitalism should consider that a very small portion of the US citizenry **already does** own the vast majority of US wealth, and has for a long long time. There is very little wealth in the US owned outside the top 20%, which is basically the rich + a small sampling of upper-middle.

No, middle class family, you don't own your house. The bank does or, more specifically, the wealthy shareholders of the bank. Your car, most likely likewise.

@Natre: Capitalism and socialism do not need to be "balanced". Balance requires direction which requires directors. Societies thrive most when they are rudderless. Societies with stated purposes (eg. wealth equality, racial purity) always stagnate or fail.

Any nation where a tiny fraction owns everything and everyone else is poor, you won't find capitalism. Capitalism (as defined by private investment and the enforcement of contracts) is a rising tide.

November 12, 2014 12:36 PM
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