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To Leonard Read [Letter 210]

Item Reference Code: 146_RE2_007_001

Date(s) of creation

April 16, 1946

Recipient

Leonard Read

Transcript

This is one of many letters (and probably in-person discussions) in which Rand critiqued Read’s writing and thinking. Both she and Read even referred to her as his “loyal ghost.” Although she considered Read to be the best of the young right-wing intellectuals, she exercised considerable patience to explain some fundamental errors. 

The full version letter was previously published only on the Ayn Rand Institute website.

[Page 1]
April 16, 1946

Dear Leonard:

Thank you for your letter of April 9th, for the ANTHEM contract and for “The Road to Serfdom”, which I have received.

I have sent the completed version of ANTHEM to Miss Lindley. Can you tell me when we can expect to have galley proofs of it and approximately when you plan to have it out?

I am enclosing “The Scope of Economics and of Economic Education”. I have read it very carefully and to tell you the truth I find it completely confusing: I cannot quite figure out its point or purpose. It either contains too much or not enough. If it’s intended as a defense of capitalism, it’s not enough. If it’s intended as a prospectus for your educational program, it should not contain arguments, it sounds too much on the defensive; it should then contain nothing but statements.

The dictionary definition of economics, which you give on page 1, is clear and valid as it stands. So I don’t see the point of the elaboration that follows. I fail to see the purpose of the argument that to economize means to use to best advantage, therefore economics concerns only free men. This is not a good argument and will not hold. By this very definition, collectivists will claim that the best choice men can make is to let a central planning board plan all their economic activities, using everyone to best advantage, eliminating waste, duplication etc. In fact, this is just what the collectivists do claim; society as a single collective, they say, functions much more economically than a group of free, competing individuals; they call this last “economic chaos.” Of course, we’ll say that this isn’t true, that collectivism doesn’t accomplish any of its claims

[Page 2]
2.
and that free enterprise is the only system that works to man’s best advantage. Then it becomes, or remains, an argument about the merits of two economic systems. The above definition accomplishes nothing; it can be claimed by both systems as a starting point for argument.

If you look up my long letter to you about economic education, you will see why I consider the last paragraph on page 2 of this article extremely wrong. This paragraph proposes, in effect, to teach freedom and independence by teaching economics. This can’t be done.

Page 3 of the article contains the truly dangerous confusion. To refer to burglary as an economic, though misdirected, activity is really to rob definitions of all meaning. Burglary comes under the head of “crime.” “Criminal activity” and “Economic activity” are two distinct conceptions. You may prove, and rightly, that the rulers of totalitarian economies engage in criminal activities; that their policies belong in the class of criminal violence. But you cannot say that a common burglar is engaged in economic activity. Yet this is what you do say, in a sentence such as: “Burglary may be an economic activity for a few successful and unpunished burglars.” This is really talking communist dialectics and adding to the present day idea that “all terms are relative.”

I have already mentioned to you my most emphatic objection to the use of the word “anti-social.” You know my reasons for this. The same applies to the implications of such phrases as “from the point of view of all concerned.”

What religious sanctions do you refer to in the first paragraph of page 3, as aiding economic violence? This is a question, not yet an objection. I don’t know what is meant here.

Why do you say—paragraph 2, page 3—that Communism etc. restrict the economic opportunity “for at least a part of the citizenry?” Which part of the citizenry is not restricted under Communism? Do you mean to imply that Commissars have freedom of

[Page 3]
3.
enterprise?

If you tell me what this article is intended to accomplish and to whom it is directed, I may be more helpful with positive suggestions on how to rewrite it.

Incidentally, since you’ve moved, will you give me your new address? I hope this will reach you.

With best regards,

Sincerely,

 

Ayn Rand

 

On April 19, Read answered Rand’s letter, suggesting that they discuss her points “personally.” He did, however, write that he tried to “rationalize” the definition of “economics” and hoped that she would have thought that “sensible.” But he said that he would edit out the “common good” wordage.  For the “long letter” to which Rand refers, see her seven-page letter of February 2, 1946.