In her 1964 book, The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand famously wrote, “Temples and palaces are the only monuments left of mankind’s early civilizations. They were created by the same means and at the same price—a price not justified by the fact that primitive peoples undoubtedly believed, while dying of starvation and exhaustion, that the “prestige” of their tribe, their rulers or their gods was of value to them somehow:”
The great distinction of the United States of America, up to the last few decades, was the modesty of its public monuments. Such monuments as did exist were genuine: they were not erected for “prestige,” but were functional structures that had housed events of great historical importance. If you have seen the austere simplicity of Independence Hall, you have seen the difference between authentic grandeur and the pyramids of “public-spirited” prestige-seekers.
In America, human effort and material resources were not expropriated for public monuments and public projects, but were spent on the progress of the private, personal, individual well-being of individual citizens. America’s greatness lies in the fact that her actual monuments are not public.
The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach. But America’s skyscrapers were not built by public funds nor for a public purpose: they were built by the energy, initiative and wealth of private individuals for personal profit. And, instead of impoverishing the people, these skyscrapers, as they rose higher and higher, kept raising the people’s standard of living—including the inhabitants of the slums, who lead a life of luxury compared to the life of an ancient Egyptian slave or of a modem Soviet Socialist worker. Such is the difference—both in theory and practice—between capitalism and socialism.
The smallest rooms inside those buildings are worth a tribute as well, as former MTV VJ Kennedy notes in her latest Reason TV video: