Ayn Rand or Socialism?

Published 9:38 am Friday, September 28, 2012

This election season has explored the philosophical differences of the two major political parties in ways often muted by campaigning excess and unforced verbal errors.

But still, under the “noise” of campaigning there are differences in visions from the prospective parties.

Paul Ryan, Republican VP candidate, is an open admirer of the 1950s fiction writer, Ayn Rand, an advocate for the virtue of selfishness, creative independence and, well, greed.

Email newsletter signup

American conservatives have embraced Rand’s convictions as reflections supporting the historical and romanticized vision of “rugged individualism” as support for small government and as an expression of support for entrepreneurism.

Democrats have, for the most part, advocated the importance of community in contributing to all that has made America great, citing the accomplishments of society such as the Hoover Dam, the Apollo space missions, and our highways and airports as examples of all that Americans have done together.

As it turns out neither view is able to support its claims. As is often the case, the simplicity of such an either/or proposition lacks an appreciation of the details that connect us to each other while valuing our individualism.

Consider the real world example of Walla Walla in Washington State.

With a moderate climate and rich soil, Walla Walla had a long and successful history as an agricultural community.

But with globalism came change, as it has across the nation, crushing the independent farmers with forces beyond their control. The historical wheat, onion and apple industries were changed forever by lower priced farm imports and the small town of Walla Walla (32,000) faced economic chaos, closed stores and a diminished quality of life.

There were few jobs and fewer entrepreneurial opportunities in Walla Walla.

But Walla Walla had a spark, a window of opportunity, and from it came economic and community renewal.

A small wine growing industry was emerging to replace the lost agricultural base, and that gained the attention of the local community college, who decided to lend its resources to support the growth and expansion of the emerging potential wine industry.

Today Walla Walla has more than 170 local wineries, from 19 in the 1980s. And many of those wineries are staffed by the graduates of Walla Walla Community College’s renowned Vintner Program. Some of the wineries, 25 as of September 2012, are owned by graduates of the program.

The growth of the community has not stopped there. The community college has also created programs for water management and wind energy.

More than 5,000 wind turbines produce energy for industry and the community, while the water management program ensures ecological balance for industry and the community.

With the growth of the wine industry have come 29 tasting rooms for tourism, many new restaurants, inns and gift shops. All brought about by the merger of individual creativity and hard work, with community support, education and government engagement.

Walla Walla will receive $3.67 million this year as part of an Innovation Partnership Zone in Washington State, funding dedicated to support the continued growth of the community with focus upon training and hiring wind engineers to maintain the turbines that power industry in Walla Walla.

Could the Rand hero Howard Roark have created this community success? No. No single person could have accomplished what collaboration from the local community, the state, and the federal government contributions have done in Walla Walla to re-invent a town and give opportunity to its hard working people.

But the story is also about individual effort, like those of partners Jody Middleton and Jeremy Petty, two graduates of the wine program who began their own label by harvesting last season’s flawed grapes rejected by the wineries, found some old oak barrels, and created some 300 cases of new wine with their skills and hard work.

American success takes hard working people given fair opportunity in communities determined to support innovation and take risks.

It takes a village.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.