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Thursday, April 09, 2009

In BC they read Rand, in Alberta they read Marx

Last October, when the banking crisis was in full swing The Times of London wrote that copies of Karl Marx's Das Kapital were "flying off the shelves as the newly disenfranchised business class tries to work out the root of the present crisis." More recently The Economist reported on another literary counter-cyclical asset, copies of Ayn Rand's individualist-capitalist novel Atlas Shrugged, observing" whenever governments intervene in the market...readers rush to buy Rand’s book."

Although the financial crisis and subsequent government actions have drawn people of all sorts to further explore the economic and moral debate between capitalism and socialism, fueling interest in these two thinkers, there has also been an observable regional dimension to the level of interest. Eric Crampton, an economist at Canterbury University in the UK New Zealand, digs into the regional interest as measured by Google searches, with some very interesting results that suggest more questions than answers:

So, in lots of the developing world, we're seeing lots of searches on Marx and very little on Rand. Rand only registers in the Philippines. In the US, Rand beats Marx by a small margin; same in India. In Canada, Marx beats Rand; same in Norway and New Zealand and ... pretty much every country that makes the top ten in searches on Ayn Rand. [...] Only in the US and India do searches on Rand beat searches on Marx.

Search Insights is powerful enough for us to drill down onto country-specific searches. So, we find in Canada, that Rand beat Marx from mid June 08 through August 08, but Marx wins just about the rest of the time. This one shocked me: the proportion by which Marx beat Rand in Ontario matched that in Alberta. Only in British Columbia, Canada's "loonie left coast", did Rand beat Marx. In Manitoba, ancestral home of Barbara Branden, Rand didn't show up at all.

We can drill down even further. Marx beats Rand by a larger majority in Edmonton than in Calgary; Edmonton is the seat of government and sometimes is disparaged as Redmonton. Turns out it's just a matter of degree.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on April 9, 2009 in Books | Permalink


Neat post, Kalim.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-09 10:46:51 AM

Those statistics might be accurate for Google searches, but since both were authors it makes more sense to compare their book sales. On Amazon, the best selling Marx book is ranked #48,603, while the best selling book by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, is #38.

Posted by: Tedd | 2009-04-09 10:58:28 AM

Very good point, Tedd. Crampton didn't leave that out of his analysis, I just didn't quote that part.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-04-09 11:01:39 AM

The root of the economic problems (not crises) is the moral decay of society rather than a particular philosophy. As long as people see nothing wrong in their greed for money, power, status or whatever, nothing will change. We have learned, or should have learned, that you cannot make people moral through legislation. The best legislation can do is not to reward bad behaviour, for otherwise you get more of it.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-04-09 11:17:08 AM

The problem is not the desire for wealth, it is the desire for other people's wealth. The desire for wealth is often demonized as greed but that desire should correctly be translated as the desire to improve one's economic condition. When this is accomplished through individual initiative Rand states that the whole of society benefits. When it is accomplished through the confiscation and redistribution of individualy created wealth as Marx theorizes we are all poorer. Greed and envy would best be characterized as the desire for other people's wealth. This is the evil that Rand refers to.

Posted by: B | 2009-04-09 11:27:31 AM

B, you are absolutely correct. When I referred to greed for money/wealth being at the root of the problem, I should have perhaps indicated that it is a problem when the money/wealth belongs to another. So when one sees no problem in confiscating another's wealth or having the state do it, it is just as wrong as obtaining one's wealth through cheating or stealing from others.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-04-09 11:41:07 AM

The fact that Marx's ideas have the following that they do points to the fact that philosophically far too many people still believe that they are morally entitled to get something for nothing, that the problems in their lives are always someone elses' fault, and that they are entitled to a near effortless existence in which all their worldly wants are provided by the collective. This last point accounts in large part for the appeal of Marx, who wrote at length about how a socialist society would generate such an outcome.

Posted by: Dennis | 2009-04-09 12:02:15 PM

I seem to recall reading about greed and envy of another person's wealth somewhere before.... let me think....

Oh yeah! The 10th Commandment!

You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, OR ANYTHING THAT BELONGS TO YOUR NEIGHBOUR.

Maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't be so quick to throw the bible out with the bathwater.

Posted by: Donovan | 2009-04-09 12:12:40 PM

The bible sets a moral standard of altruism: sacrificing oneself for any other 'comer'.

Each 'comer' is argued to be one of God's children, and therefore deserving of such a sacrifice, and therefore a means of reaching a mythological Heaven put in place by Sky-Daddy-God.

It is this notion of altruism that rules our culture and is the fundamental cause of the financial crisis. Why? Because The Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, restraining interest rates at 1% and the ready printing of paper money, were all aimed at helping the less able in spite of the enormous risks (hence "altruism").

Of course, the men who sought to mitigate the dangers of such risks found means to do so by forming collateral debt funds etc. However, the U.S. persisted, driving those debts deeper and deeper until they failed.

Who's fault is the crisis? Well, smarter economists now blame government regulation, but more fundamentally it is the biblical AND socialist morality of altruism. It is altruism that guides the decisions of the governments (from Carter, thru Clinton and Bush, to Obama).

It is altruism, via that filthy tome, the Bible, and as extended into secular form by Marx, that is behind the entire scam.

Men cannot survive as well, unless their is respect for Individuals' Rights to Life, Liberty, Property and the Pursuit of Happiness. Indeed, without the Right to Property, citizens have little else to live by. Both the Right and the Left, seek to confiscate such property... justifying profligate spending supposedly to help others (altruism), but such spending necessarily means forcibly removing the property of others (by taxes and legislation).

Robbing Peter, who produces a lot, to pay Peter, who only produces a little, is a guarantee for national impoverishment. and that is exactly what has been happening for a century. Bailouts are simply more of the same!

Posted by: Richard | 2009-04-09 1:02:45 PM

Ayn Rand is one of the the most ponderous, repetitive and boring authors I have ever had the misfortune to read. She offered nothing I did not already know and understand by the time I was 14.

Karl Marx is a much more engaging author and offers far more to think about. His points are worthwhile thinking about and debating about within yourself or with others.

While I remain a committed capitalist, I would read Marx over Rand any day.

Posted by: epsilon | 2009-04-09 3:01:36 PM

I often wonder what kind of mind thinks he knew all Rand had to say when he was fourteen, when other brilliant minds continue studying her, to this day! Likely one of those people who, as a typical teenager, thought he knew everything there was to know and never matured.

Posted by: Richard | 2009-04-09 3:05:46 PM

When I read Rand many years ago, I thought that her villains were too bizarre to exist in anything but fiction. I now know that they exist. Marx was the original hippy dropout who's writings are food for the professoriate and other dreamers.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-04-09 4:22:51 PM


First of all I am FEMALE!

And your condescending atitude reeks of chavinism.

Just because you were too busy fornicating at 14 does not mean others your age had not already reached emotional adulthood.


Posted by: epsilon | 2009-04-09 10:59:07 PM

Following that Redmonton link, I learn something new about a familiar character. SEKIII, the revolutionary left-libertarian and progenitor of Agorism has Canadian roots in Edmonton:

The Gateway the student newspaper is decidedly left wing but on staff is a token right winger; Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK III) As a young libertarian, finding himself to the left of the Social Credit party, and an anti-war advocate. He would go on to evolve his anarchist philosophy, as well as his love of science fiction, from this time. I came across Sam through his publications New Libertarian Notes and his Sci-Fi fanzine.

Sam asked me to attend the thirty year anniversary of the old New Lefties from the U of A because he was unable to. He died a year later.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-04-09 11:08:49 PM

Epsi, how could Richard be a chauvanist if he didn't even know you were female? Over react much?
And he makes a good point, how could you possibly "know" everything Rand had to say at 14?
And if you did? How did you become such a committed statist since then?

I like the idea that people are reading both Rand and Marx. Hopefully they are getting a healthy understanding of what theft and graft are all about. Hopefully they understand better the basic theft and "power of pull" we live under today.
I'd also like to see Orwell being read in schools again.

Posted by: JC | 2009-04-10 6:18:06 AM

This is why Rand entitled one of her books, "Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal." Most people today don't understand it.

Posted by: JackDoitCrawford | 2009-04-10 8:31:17 AM

As a professional philosopher,I have to say that Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, ranks with Aristotle's in terms of fundamentality, systematization, originality--and validity. Those interested in a philosophy of reason, should read Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff, Ph.D.

Posted by: HBinswanger | 2009-04-10 10:15:30 AM

I just gotta point out the irony that Western Standard will get a percentage of every copy of Das Capital that is sold via that link. What was it Lenin said about the West selling the rope that Communism will hang it with? ;-)

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-04-11 7:22:02 PM

Has it occurred to anyone that the reason for these searches may be not that the idea is more popular in that country, but that those who do believe in that country feel marginalized and are turning to something encouraging to read? Recall the surge in web searches in how to emigrate to Canada seen in the U.S. after the 2004 election.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-04-11 7:33:35 PM

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