Does collective expression of support for individual liberty make any sense? Some people seem to think it does.
The Walk for Capitalism, which took place in over 100 cities around the world on Dec. 2, is the brainchild of PRODOS, an internet radio personality based in Melbourne, Australia. The goal is to make the first Sunday in December internationally known as “Capitalism Day.”
PRODOS’ Southern Hemispheric grounding explains why December struck him as an ideal time for an outdoor event. In most years, being outside for any length of time on Dec. 2 in Chicago, where I attended the walk with 20 or 30 marchers holding signs like “CAPITALISM KEEPS THE LIGHTS ON” and “THE $ IS MIGHTIER THAN THE (knife symbol),” would have been a profound statement of dedication indeed. But this year’s extremely atypical weather, sunny and, clear with highs in the 40s, made the event serendipitously tolerable to normal human metabolism.
A hundred people turned out in Washington, D.C., 30 in Los Angeles, and 50 in New York; 20 – 30 seemed typical in other American cities. There were 150 in Paris and 300 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, while PRODOS’ own countrymen turned out less than a dozen per city (Perth, Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne). The event was a big hit in Poland, where 18 cities and towns organized walks with 200 in Warsaw, 80 in Krakow, 50 in Poznan, 40 in Wroclaw and soon.
Given that the idea was to provide a counterpoint to the anti-globalization protesters who’ve been so visible in recent years, it’s not surprising that leftists showed up in many cities to try to undermine the proceedings. In Chicago, the left was represented by a group that appeared to have spent more time under a piercing needle than under a shower. As in other cities, they attempted to infiltrate the demonstration with signs like “SUPPORT PROFIT$, LOWER WAGES,” which at first I thought was a clever and pugnacious comment on the illusory nature of wage controls. I only later realized the satire, and that the sign wavers were not as smart as I’d assumed.
In Seattle, the counterprotest was equal in size to the Walk itself, while in some cities, including Boston and Oslo, Norway, the angry leftists outnumbered the marchers. This was actually a positive development, as it made the media much more likely to notice the event. The juxtaposition with the leftists’ often-barbarous behavior was good public relations for the capitalists. This is Lesson One the Walk teaches about making the case for free markets: Calmly bait the opposition into acting reprehensibly. In Sweden, December weather patterns notwithstanding, over 400 turned out in Stockholm (the world’s largest Walk, it seems) along with about 100 each in Gothenburg, Vaxjos, and Lund. Walkers in Lund made the lead domestic news story of the day by being attacked by leftists, four of whom were arrested.
Randroids in the Streets
The vast majority of marchers in Chicago were self- identified Objectivists, full of pronouncements like “Ayn Rand changed my life” and “I used to be into spiritualist nonsense.” Unsurprisingly, the crowd was disproportionately composed of the math-and-science types – engineers, physicists, computer science students, actuaries – to whom Ayn Rand’s emphasis on logic over feeling has the greatest appeal. Over a half-dozen, Silicon Valley CEOs have declared themselves Objectivists or at least admirers of Ayn Rand, though the most famous, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, undercut his ideological purity by testifying against Microsoft in an antitrust case – antitrust law being, quite logically, a Randian pet peeve.
Objectivists have the unbounded energy of the true believer, and for that, are an asset to the cause ·of liberty. They are also a liability, though, in that their Randian rhetor-
Counterprotesters infiltrated the demonstration with signs like “SUPPORT PROFIT$, LOWER WAGES,” which at first I thought was a clever commentary on the illusory nature of wage.controls.
ical tics are a surefire turnoff to the uninitiated. Ramblings about “irrational spiritualism” are unhelpful in a world where millions more take comfort in the Bible than in The Fountainhead. When Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s “intellectual heir” and Objectivism’s reigning high priest, goes on the O’Reilly Factor to rant about vaporizing Tehran, Objectivists cheer because he’s drawing the bright moral lines they crave. To them, there is hardly a difference between a realpolitik strategy and the mutterings o~ Susan Sontag; they are both seen as expressions of relativism, the cardinal sin. To just about everyone else, though, Peikoff sounds like a lunatic. The petulance of Rand’s prose tends to inflect her followers’ pronouncements and make them sound arrogant – one of the Walk for Capitalism’s city organizers shared some moralist and consequentialist arguments for capitalism with me, then offered me these instructions: “Even if you don’t get anything else right in your article, I’m asking you to print this.” Needless to say, writers, like everyone else, don’t like to be told how to do their jobs.
Lesson Two of the Walk for Capitalism: Don’t let the Objectivists handle the press by themselves. The same applies to other absolutists in the libertarian big tent – a walker in Vancouver expressed concern about the extremism of anarchists who were quoted on TV.
In places like Bangladesh, support for capitalism is more than a theoretical argument or a whimsical counterpoint to the anti-globalizers’ antics – it is one with literally life-or-death urgency. There, one man, Nizam Ahmad, walked around Dhaka alone and imagined the thousands with him
The vast majority of marchers in Chicago were self-identified Objectivists, full of pronouncements like “Ayn Rand changed my life” and “I used to be into spiritualist nonsense.”
around the world. Places like Dhaka, which have been impoverished by authoritarian rule, illustrate the most important lesson to remember: The spread of freedom is something that must be fought for.