Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thomas Peterffy's Omission

Over the past few weeks, a gent named Thomas Peterffy has been bombarding the airwaves with a television commercial in which he says as follows:
America's wealth comes from the efforts of people striving for success. Take away their incentive with badmouthing success and you take away the wealth that helps us take care of the needy. Yes, in socialism the rich will be poorer. But the poor will also be poorer. People will lose interest in really working hard and creating jobs. I think this is a very slippery slope. It seems like people don't learn from the past. That's why I'm voting Republican and putting this ad on television.

This ad is more than just a simple-minded, intellectually dishonest exercise in sophistry, equating concern about income inequality with advocacy of "socialism." It's also incomplete, in that Peterffy does not disclose how he is able to afford running a shrill, dishonest TV ad.

He is able to do so because of the very party that he is fighting against.

Peterffy is founder and CEO of Interactive Brokers, a publicly traded firm that is in the options trading business. The company's most recent 10-K annual report observes as follows:

The advent of electronic exchanges in the last 21 years has provided us with the opportunity to integrate our software with an increasing number of exchanges and trading venues into one automatically functioning, computerized platform that requires minimal human intervention. Three decades of developing our automated market making platform and our automation of many middle and back office functions has allowed us to become one of the lowest cost providers of broker-dealer services and significantly increase the volume of trades we handle.

In other words, Peterffy made his fortune largely because of Democratic policies favoring electronic trading--especially the policies of the Securities and Exchange Commission under Democratic president Bill Clinton.

Institutional Investor pointed out in a 2005 profile that Peterffy was close to Bill Clinton's deregulation-loving SEC chairman Arthur Levitt, who was an outspoken advocate of electronic trading.

II says that "after Peterffy demonstrated his system to then-­SEC chairman Arthur Levitt Jr. in 1999, the agency became convinced that U.S. options exchanges could link electronically to ensure that investors would always receive the best available prices. The SEC soon mandated such a linkage. Peterffy pressured exchanges that resisted moving from floor trading to automated execution. 

"Timber Hill [Peterffy's firm] quickly became one of the biggest market makers on the all-electronic International Securities Exchange when it debuted five years ago [in 2000]. "

That's a far cry from the image Peterffy paints of himself as a John Galt-like, regulation-hating capitalist. 

He looks like a crony capitalist to me. And a first-class hypocrite to boot.

© 2012 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.
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My latest book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press. Click here to order the book from Amazon.com, and here to order it from Barnes & Noble. Follow me on Twitter: @gary_weiss

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Friday, October 26, 2012

President Obama Endorses Ayn Rand Nation!

Well, almost.

In an interview in Rolling Stone with historian David Brinkley, Obama makes what are, I believe, the first comments he's ever made about Ayn Rand. And they're very much along the lines of my analysis in Ayn Rand Nation:

Brinkley: Have you ever read Ayn Rand?

Obama: Sure.

Brinkley: What do you think Paul Ryan's obsession with her work would mean if he were vice president?

Obama: Well, you'd have to ask Paul Ryan what that means to him. Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that's a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what's best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a "you're on your own" society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party.

 Of course, that's not the Republican tradition. I made this point in the first debate. You look at Abraham Lincoln: He very much believed in self-sufficiency and self-reliance. He embodied it – that you work hard and you make it, that your efforts should take you as far as your dreams can take you. But he also understood that there's some things we do better together. That we make investments in our infrastructure and railroads and canals and land-grant colleges and the National Academy of Sciences, because that provides us all with an opportunity to fulfill our potential, and we'll all be better off as a consequence. He also had a sense of deep, profound empathy, a sense of the intrinsic worth of every individual, which led him to his opposition to slavery and ultimately to signing the Emancipation Proclamation. That view of life – as one in which we're all connected, as opposed to all isolated and looking out only for ourselves – that's a view that has made America great and allowed us to stitch together a sense of national identity out of all these different immigrant groups who have come here in waves throughout our history.
Couldn't have put it better myself.

David Frum weighs in: "Good thing for him his email address is unpublished."

Tell me about it.

© 2012 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.
------------------------------
My latest book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press. Click here to order the book from Amazon.com, and here to order it from Barnes & Noble. Follow me on Twitter: @gary_weiss

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Ayn Rand Acolytes Go Ballistic Over CNN Rand Segment

A four-minute CNN segment on Ayn Rand has struck a nerve with Ayn Rand factotums.

The Ayn Rand Institute's Don Watkins has a blog post out the other day, taking issue with a comment that I made on CNN's Situation Room last week, in which I said: “Ayn Rand made it morally acceptable to be harsh in your treatment of the poor.”

Watkins says:
Let’s get this straight: Rand did not advocate “harsh” treatment of poor people, nor did she think in terms of “rich” vs. “poor.” She thought in terms of individuals, arguing that every person, whatever his income, has an inalienable moral and political right to pursue his own life and happiness–neither robbing others nor being robbed by them. 
Rand was opposed to every so-called "entitlement" program for the poor and middle class. She advocated eliminating all taxation and all public services, turning back the clock to the era of the robber barons, when "individuals" flourished, and the state of one's education and health were a function of one's wealth.

That's not, of course, the way the Randers push their ideology. What's amazing is how so many otherwise well-meaning and intelligent people buy into it. Sure, the Rand philosophy doesn't advocate oppression of the poor, not in so many words. But that is what it would do. To deny that is just silly.

When I read this kind of rationalization, I'm reminded of Anatole France:  "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

Actually I should amend what I just said. Rand was opposed to entitlements unless they benefited her personally, in which case it was OK for her--as it was when she and her husband went on Medicare, a program she had violently opposed from the beginning.

That's reminiscent of Paul Ryan attacking the economic stimulus while asking for stimulus money for his district.

This wasn't the only grumbling from the Rand establishment over that little CNN segment.

Also last week, the ARI's Harvey Binswanger posted a really amazing comment on his website concerning the Situation Room broadcast. This was posted on his website hblist.com but has since been removed. After first bemoaning the fact that an ARI spokesman didn't get as much air time as myself or Rand biographer Anne Heller, Binswanger said:


"Anti-Semitic"?

In Ayn Rand Nation I said that Randers don't constitute a cult, and I still adhere to that belief. It's far too diverse a movement. But these kinds of irresponsible attacks demonstrate that there are still cultlike aspects to the Rand movement. No wonder Paul Ryan has sought, unconvincingly, to distance himself from Rand.


© 2012 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.
------------------------------
My latest book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press. Click here to order the book from Amazon.com, and here to order it from Barnes & Noble. Follow me on Twitter: @gary_weiss

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