Opinion > Star Guests
Living through Atlas Shrugged
By Bob Weir
When I look at the economic condition of our country and the philosophical differences between President Obama and his GOP opponent Mitt Romney, I'm reminded of the prophetic observations of the great novelist, Ayn Rand.
"Atlas Shrugged" was first published in 1957 and was Ms. Rand's fourth, longest, and last novel. The brilliant work of fiction tells a story of a dystopian United States in which the leading innovators, ranging from industrialists to artists, refuse to be exploited by society any longer; hence, they decide to go on strike. The protagonist in the book is Dagny Taggart, a woman who runs a giant railroad company during a time when the government has begun a continuous march to take control over major industries. Does that seem familiar? Taggart watches ruefully as society begins to collapse around her, and the most productive citizens, led by the mysterious John Galt, begin to halt their activities. Galt describes the strike as "stopping the motor of the world" by withdrawing the minds that drive society's growth and productivity. Those creative minds hope to demonstrate that the economy and society would disintegrate without the profit motive and the efforts of the rational and productive.
The title refers to what would happen if the mythical Atlas, who is holding the world on his shoulders, were to shrug, thereby upsetting the balance of nature and creating chaos for the planet. The theme explores the morality of rational self-interest and individualism, which Rand believes is the motivating factor in human achievement. Dagny, along with other innovators, begin to experience the futility of trying to survive in a society that hates them and resents their motivation and their ability to create and achieve. Society begins to stagnate when its most productive citizens are socially demonized and even punished for their accomplishments by the imposition of confiscatory taxation. Do you see any parallels with President Obama's class warfare campaign and "The rich need to pay their fair share" argument? (According to the IRS, the fact is that the top-earning 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers pay more than one third (38.02 percent) of all federal individual income taxes collected.)
The heroes in the book must continually fight against those described as "parasites," "looters," and "moochers" who demand to be supported by the country's producers. The looters are depicted as proponents of high taxation, big labor, government ownership, government spending, government planning, regulation, and redistribution.They confiscate earnings by enacting laws backed by the threat of force. "Moochers" demand the earnings of producers on behalf of the needy and those unwilling to earn on their own. Nevertheless, they curse the producers who make that help possible and are viciously envious and resentful of the very people who make it all possible. Ultimately, they become as destructive as the looters, destroying the productive through guilt, while appealing to their concept of a "moral right," as they enable the lawful looting performed by governments. Isn't this a reflection of what's happening in our country right now? How many people are on government programs that they've never contributed to? How many generations of non-producers have burdened, even drained, the system with no indication that future generations will be any better?
Even the richest, most powerful country in the history of the world cannot continue to flourish when one-half of the residents are paying all the bills, while the other half sits back and collects. It should be obvious that the worst thing that could happen is for the wealth-producers to give up on the country they helped build. Yet, many of our most productive citizens have already reached what's becoming known as "government abuse threshold" and have chosen expatriation as their last remaining legal option for protecting what they have worked so hard to acquire. I have a few friends in that "wealthy" category and they have expressed that very thought. However, because of socialist policies around the world that have threatened the financial systems in other countries, there may be fewer and fewer places to transfer that wealth and continue to build more. In other words, if they don't stay and fight to resurrect this financial system, their options are severely limited.
Yet, given the talent and creativity of America's entrepreneurs, it wouldn't surprise me if they pooled their resources and gave birth to new country, like another group of pioneers did about 250 years ago, when they fled their homeland and started over. Capitalism has proven to be a wealth-creation instrument that has provided the highest standard of living for the greatest number of people in recorded history. That system is currently under attack in this country, and in order to save it, we need someone who represents that economic model. We'll have a clear choice in November.