Early in her novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand presents us with a scene aboard a train that is entering Philadelphia. “An office building appeared, close to the tracks. The big neon sign on its roof lighted the interiors of the coaches as they went by. It said: Rearden Steel. A passenger, who was . . .
Among the world's great novelists, Ayn Rand stands almost alone in providing stirring portraits of entrepreneurs, industrialists, and bankers. But given the way modern journalists depict those who control and organize capital, her fictional creations appear to have few real-life counterparts. And so it is no wonder that when Objectivists think of a financier, they are more likely to mean Midas Mulligan than Michael Milken. Yet Milken was the greatest financier of his age—the 1970s and 1980s—and nearly comparable to J.P. Morgan at the turn of the last century. Who is Michael Milken? What did he do? How did he do it? Why did he do it? Why was he destroyed? Anyone seeking to understand America's capitalist economy, and its anti-capitalist culture, must discover the answers to those questions. Ad astra per aspera Born on the Fourth of July, 1946, Michael Milken grew up in Encino, California, enjoying a pleasant middle-class childhood. He was extremely bright, with a prodigious memory, and a competitive spirit. In high school, Milken threw himself into everything: student council, basketball, track, Boys' League, debate tournaments, Pep club, and other activities. He was voted "most spirited" and "friendliest" class member in the class of 1964. His high school sweetheart, Lori Ann Hackel, later became his wife. After graduating from high school, Milken attended the University of California at Berkeley as a business major. Despite Berkeley's infamous reputation as the center of the...
More than 200 years ago, Adam Smith determined that economic self-interest advanced the wider commercial good as if led by an invisible hand. Such a self-seeker, he added, "frequently promotes (the interest) of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." But what happens when it's government that defines profit opportunities, and a country's culture deprecates commercial self-interest to the point that business leaders who "do good" are praised over those who "make good"?
If history is any guide, the current economic crisis will have two results. First, large-scale government intervention will make the crisis much worse and much longer. Secondly, businessmen will be subjected to criminal trials in which prosecutors, judges, and juries will set aside the rule of law in order to win convictions.
Editor's Note: Days after the Soviet Union collapsed, and shortly after the Iron Curtain fell, David Kelley delivered this lecture at the University of Aix-en-Provence, France. The event was a forum for classical liberals. The audience included some 350 students, more than 100 of whom were from Eastern Europe. The lecture, entitled “Altruism and Social Justice,” was about two types of social justice: egalitarian and welfare rights.  The capitalist system came of age in the century from 1750 to 1850 as a result of three revolutions. The first was a political revolution: the triumph of liberalism, particularly the doctrine of natural rights, and the view that government should be limited in its function to the protection of individual rights, including property rights. The second revolution was the birth of economic understanding, culminating in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Smith demonstrated that when individuals are left free to pursue their own economic interests, the result is not chaos but a spontaneous order, a market system in which the actions of individuals are coordinated and more wealth is produced than would be the case if government managed the economy. The third revolution was, of course, the Industrial Revolution. Technological innovation provided a lever that vastly multiplied man's powers of production. The effect was not only to raise standards of living for everyone, but to...

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