Ayn Rand’s Nightmare is Today’s Wall Street

The high priestess of corporate deregulation and free markets, Ayn Rand, wrote a novella in the 1930s.  It was published in the U.S. in 1946 under the title, Anthem, by a corporate front group, a precursor to today’s astroturf groups.  Anthem is currently being pumped into high schools across the U.S. and Canada with financial inducements to both teachers and students by a corporate funded nonprofit that has the financial support of some of the largest hedge funds in the U.S.

The book presents a frightening dystopian world produced by the ever present Randian trademark – an out of control government.  People are known by numbers instead of names; individual rights have been eviscerated. To break the will of the individual, uttering the word “I” results in being burned alive in the  town square.  (Charming high school literature.)

What has happened today, however, proves that in a country dominated by powerful multinational corporations, Rand not only had the wrong target of big government in her cross hairs but the despotic enemy became the very deregulated market she helped design with acolytes like former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and her corporate cronies.

The epicenter of the “free market” – Wall Street – which has had 70 years of corporate propaganda chipping away at its government restraints, is the modern day embodiment of every demon Rand feared in her copious journals and books.  Not only are Wall Street workers muzzled but they must profess written loyalty to their masters who characterize them as mere numbers rather than humans.

Employees for the major Wall Street firms must sign away their right to access the nation’s courts in any dispute with their employer.  A crony-run arbitration system that relies on “equity” rather than the rule of law replaces the taxpayer supported court system where the jury is randomly selected from a large pool. The U.S. Supreme Court has enshrined Wall Street’s ability to serve as judge and jury in multiple decisions. Congress has failed to get a bill out of committee to outlaw these kangaroo courts in two decades of documented abuse.

One of the largest Wall Street firms requires workers to sign that they have read and understood the following statement in order to remain employed at the firm.

“The Policy makes arbitration the required and exclusive forum for the resolution of all employment disputes based on legally protected rights (i.e., statutory, contractual or common law rights) that may arise between an employee or former employee and the Corporate & Investment Bank or its current and former parents, subsidiaries and affiliates and its and their current and former officers, directors, employees and agents…the arbitrator shall be bound by applicable Firm policies and procedures and shall not have the authority to alter or otherwise modify the parties ‘at-will’ relationship or substitute his or her judgment for the lawful business judgment of Firm management.”

Read that last sentence carefully.  The business judgment of Firm management has just wiped out two centuries of legal precedent and case law.  These are the same firms that are regularly paying $550 million, $300 million or $1.2 billion to regulators because they, apparently, have no lawful judgment and even less business judgment.

Wall Street workers must routinely sign non disparagement agreements – they can’t say anything bad about their employer, during or after their employment.  The employee is further bound under a gag order not to disclose anything “proprietary” at the firm – all trade secrets, interpreted by Wall Street firms to include corruption, is under a confidentiality order.

Stockbrokers must get permission from big corporate brother before they can do any of the following: join a community board of directors; speak to the press; have a part time job; write anything for publication pertaining to Wall Street.  To hold a seminar for the public, one must submit a written script to management in advance of the seminar for approval.  The script is to make sure the firm and the individual speak with one voice.

The individualists that Rand assured us would be released to think and create through the beneficence of the corporate world is instead tethered and ham strung to a Wall Street that operates outside the reach of courts or the law.

If a stock broker determines that the best interests of his or her clients are not being served and wants to move the clients to a new firm or go independent, the big Wall Street firm reserves for itself, but not the employee, access to the nation’s courts.  The firm will ask the court, and likely get, a temporary restraining order (TRO) that bars the broker from contacting those clients – on the basis that the list of clients was a proprietary list taken inappropriately from the firm (even when the broker brought those clients to the firm).  The threat of this tactic is enough to keep many brokers stuck at firms with corrupt practices.

The final assault on any individualism is the growing tactic by Wall Street branch managers to pressure stock brokers to operate in a team – Rand’s collectivist nightmare incarnate.  The stated reason is to provide better coverage to the client but one suspects the primary reason is to  keep the clients at the firm if one or more members of the team is fired.

According to the trade magazine, Registered Representative, in 2006 Merrill Lynch crafted a loyalty statement that it wanted employees to sign.  The questionnaire asked: “Have you told any firm that you intend to join the firm?” And, “The firm would like you to remain in our employ. Will you make a commitment to stay?” The form asked the broker to sign the statement and return it to management.

As for Ayn Rand’s numbered humans without names, branch managers of Wall Street brokerage firms have given tours of their office to potential new hires with descriptions such as this: “this is my $400,000 guy; this is my $800,000 producer; here’s my million dollar team.”

How did Ayn Rand get it so wrong?  Or was she just a corporate propagandist? There is growing evidence of the latter.

On February 13, 1946, Rand wrote to Leonard Read, suggesting that he arrange for the publishing of Anthem.  Read had become the head of the western division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the 1930s and assumed the leadership of the LA branch and its 10,000 members in 1939.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has evolved today as the pit bull for corporate interests and a major player in writing amicus briefs to strip workers of their rights to access the nation’s courts.  Today, the organization says it represents three million businesses.

In the letter to Read, Rand explains:

“I don’t want to issue ANTHEM as a regular book now, because it is only a novelette and not big enough to follow THE FOUNTAINHEAD. But when you asked, in your letter: ‘Why don’t we get it published?’ – did you mean as a pamphlet – specifically by The Pamphleteers?  I think that might be a very good idea – if a fiction story fits in with The Pamphleteers’ program.  Perhaps you might even be able to arrange to sell it, as a pamphlet, in bookstores and, if so, might get quite a large sale on the strength of my following.”

The Pamphleteers published Anthem in 1946. In the book, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal, Kim Phillips-Fein writes that another notable event happened in 1946.  Read reached out to David Goodrich, President of the B.F. Goodrich Company, and the first free market think tank in the post-war period was founded: the Foundation for Economic Education.  According to Fein, initial funding of $10,000 each came from ConEd, General Motors, U.S. Steel and Chrysler.  Many of the same individuals involved in The Pamphleteers were involved in the Foundation.

The Foundation for Economic Education still exists today. Its web site says its mission is “to offer the most consistent case for the ‘first principles’ of freedom: the sanctity of private property, individual liberty, the rule of law, the free market, and the moral superiority of individual choice and responsibility over coercion.”  The web site carries the February 13, 1946 letter that Ayn Rand wrote to Leonard Reed.  In addition to linking Rand to a corporate agenda financed by the biggest corporations of then and now, the letter reveals Rand to be working on a movie screenplay to characterize the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan as a marvel of American business ingenuity.  Rand writes:

“I am working very hard on the screenplay about the atom bomb.  I would appreciate it very much if you would get me any information they care to give from the industrial concerns who are connected with the bomb project, such as DuPont, Stone & Webster, Westinghouse, General Electric, Kellog, Eastman Kodak and others.  I do not need statistical data on costs, materials, labor, etc., nor technical details, nor anything that is confidential.  What I need are factual incidents, concrete episodes or events that occurred during the work on the project and that would illustrate the methods of free enterprise – concrete incidents showing the ingenuity, efficiency, resourcefulness of American industrial concerns in solving unprecedented problems…”

Even more convincing that Rand was willing to serve in the role as first lady of corporate propaganda is the screenplay treatment she wrote for this atom bomb film.  In 1997, fifteen years after Rand’s death, the book, Journals of Ayn Rand, was published.  It contains her movie treatment titled “An Analysis of the Proper Approach to a Picture on the Atomic Bomb.” The treatment is marked “Confidential” and warns her studio bosses “Do not be afraid of Part I.  It is not intended to be included in the picture.  It is merely a preliminary discussion…” Part I shows Rand to be a master of propaganda technique:

 “…if greatness, nobility, patriotism, and the salvation of mankind are not mere sentences to spout in public, if we mean any small part of it – this picture could be an opportunity seldom offered to any man.  It could be truly an immortal achievement, an event of historic importance and a great act of patriotism.

“…we cannot do this by merely tacking on a few cheap speeches about freedom, worded in such a general way that it can mean anything or nothing.  Our theme must be explicit, clear-cut and expressed not in speeches, but in action.  It must be integrated into the structure of our story…

“In presenting the strictly factual history of the bomb, we will not be able to avoid a slant of unintentional propaganda, one way or the other…We have to exercise choice in what we select to present…For instance: it is a fact that Roosevelt gave to the scientists the funds necessary for their experiments.  How are we going to treat this point? If we show or imply that that was the crucial factor in the creation of the bomb, we throw at the world the most powerful piece of propaganda for Statism that could be devised.  We tell the audience, in effect: ‘See what a strong government can do.’ ”

According to Greg Mitchell, in an article for The Nation in September 2011, Rand’s screenplay, which was being developed for Hal Wallis, was melded into a different screenplay being written for MGM and released as The Beginning or The End.  Mitchell’s research concluded that “MGM had made a deal with Wallis to make sure there was no rival project.”

Today, the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit funded by corporate foundations and hedge funds, makes sure Rand’s work remains a source of propaganda for the next generation.  According to the Institute’s web site, it has donated more than 1.4 million copies of Ayn Rand novels to 30,000 teachers in 40,000 classrooms across the United States and Canada.

An email to Canadian teachers reads as follows:

E-mail from: jeriksen@aynrand.org

Contact Name: Jason Eriksen

“Ayn Rand’s novels are inspiring and intellectually challenging. But they can also be financially rewarding for high school and college students. The Ayn Rand Institute sponsors annual essay contests that offer 680 prizes and over $99,000 in prize money every year.”

Another email to a group of U.S. teachers promises that “Teachers who have their students submit essays to our contests receive nice gifts from us as well.”

The tentacles of the Ayn Rand propaganda machine and the Foundation for Economic Education, still housed on the seven acre, 19th century estate it bought in 1946 in Irvington, New York, are linked to the ever sprawling Kochtopus – the political strategy and money machine headed by oil billionaires, Charles and David Koch.  Two members of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Economic Education (as listed on its most recent tax return of 2009 available at www.GuideStar.org) are Frayda Levy and Ethelmae Humphreys.  Both Levy and Humphreys have attended the secret retreats hosted by the Koch brothers. Levy serves on multiple right wing boards, including Americans for Prosperity (according to its 2009 tax return) which is funded by Koch money and supports the Tea Party. Humphreys has been involved with the Kochs for decades.

Humphreys is Chairman of TAMKO Building Products, one of the largest independent manufacturers in the U.S.  In 1984, her deceased husband, Jay Humphreys, together with Charles and David Koch, and Richard Fink, a current executive of Koch Industries, founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, the precursor to Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Three Board members of the Foundation for Economic Education (according to its 2009 tax return) – Donald G. Smith, William A. Dunn, and Ethelmae Humphreys – also serve on the Board of the Cato Institute, a rabidly pro-business think tank.  The Cato Institute, a tax subsidized nonprofit, has recently been exposed as having capital stock with Charles and David Koch owning 50 percent of the shares outstanding.  The Koch brothers have filed a lawsuit to become the majority owners as a result of the death of another owner of 25 percent of the stock.

Levy’s husband, Kenneth, as well as Smith and Dunn, are all involved in investment companies.  The Koch brothers’ majority owned Koch Industries has a division involved in trading commodities and other securities.

For Occupy Wall Street to succeed in realigning our democracy, it will need to occupy the nonprofit world of corporate propaganda.

Russ Martens contributed research for this article. 

Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years. She spent the last decade of her career advocating against Wall Street’s private justice system, which keeps its crimes shielded from public courtrooms. She maintains, along with Russ Martens, an ongoing archive dedicated to this financial era at www.WallStreetOnParade.com. She has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article. She is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. She can be reached at pamk741@aol.com