Monday, October 20, 2008

Atlas Shrugged

51 years ago Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged. It’s a huge book—over a thousand pages. If you haven’t read it, you won’t have time to finish it before the election. Oh, but if you could…

Atlas Shrugged
is a morality play on the dangers of corporate welfarism, and the socialist mindset. Sound familiar? The book promotes the right of individuals to hold onto their own earned wealth and property. “Taxation is theft” resounds throughout Rand’s novel. The plot highlights the struggle of entrepreneurial producers against regulations and lobbyists favoring government intervention.

Rand’s entrepreneurs in Atlas Shrugged are high achievers with lofty principles. They are competitive, creative geniuses who create new products, and manage their businesses efficiently. They are not the evil robber barons—so often portrayed in today’s media. Atlas Shrugged explains that these folks’ risky and personally financially-dangerous decisions are what fuels economic progress. The novel’s protagonist Hank Reardon actually defends his capitalist philosophy in court by saying, “I refuse to apologize for my ability—I refuse to apologize for my success—I refuse to apologize for my money.” I say good for him.

Today the political environment is fostering class warfare. Politicians are constantly demonizing successful business leaders. The ones who take the leap of faith, risk it all, put their reputations, their financial well-being on the line for an idea, are no longer held up as examples of men and women using their talents, but rather as greedy, money-grubbing, capitalists (said with a sneer), ripping the public off with their golden parachutes, their cost-cutting, their quest to bring more to the bottom line.

51 years before today, Atlas Shrugged asked this timely question, `what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen--after decades of being vilified and regulated--started to disappear?’

Hmmmmm…imagine if under the weight of government’s meddlesome intrusion, all (or even some)of the free thinkers and innovators like Walt Disney, Warren Buffett, Sam Walton, Henry Ford, Ray Croc (McDonald’s), Russell Simmons, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com), August Busch, etc. etc. were squashed and squeezed to the point they said it’s just not worth the trouble any more and they went underground.

Basically, that’s the plot of Atlas Shrugged. One of the main characters, John Galt, is the inventor of a super motor that will revolutionize business. Are his efforts heralded as a huge success? Does he gain great notoriety for his invention? Great wealth? Is industry changed forever? Nope. When the company owners decide to run the factory, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", Galt convinces the world's top capitalists to go on strike against their increasingly socialistic government.

Ayn Rand describes a political system that mandates sacrificing for others. Now, before everyone writes a comment telling me that we all must sacrifice, please reread that last sentence. The key word there is “mandates”. Rand postulates that such mandates lead to a dysfunctional society of deadbeats and bleeding-heart do-gooders (she calls them "looters") who are corrupted by benefits and unearned income. How are the benefits and unearned income paid for? By taxing productive citizens, of course…and by extension, taxing the most productive, most successful citizens the most.

Particularly ironic in light of this month’s financial bailout of banks and other lending institutions, is Ayn Rand’s projection that America would eventually collapse under the weight of an increasing government takeover of the economy.

Read it. It’s so relevant and a subject so worth having a dialogue about.

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