Answering the engineered takeover of the economy by the federal government is an unprecedented cultural phenomenon: People who read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged years ago and dismissed it but now see the parallels are filled with trepidation. The people who read Granville Hicks’ review of it in The New York Times in October 1957 and agreed with his estimate of the novel, a work whose literary value he also denied, can no longer think that it was a “parable of buried talents.” People who read the novel decades ago and never questioned its truth are issuing warnings about the parallels between the novel and current events. And people who have read the novel only recently are seeing its plot unfold before their very eyes. All are now realizing that “the end is near.” But, the end of what?
For the time being, the end of freedom. Hopefully, that time will be short. But if Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson can demand that bankers sign a “gift certificate” under the threat of blackmail or extortion — like the one industrialist Henry Rearden in the novel was compelled to sign — then the real world plot is advancing chapter by chapter to a climax whose timetable and resolution will depend on how much freedom Americans are willing to surrender and how much they are willing to endure servitude and impoverishment in the name of “stability,” “community” or “patriotism.”
In editorials, columns, and letters to the editor, Rand is suddenly being remembered as a philosophical soothsayer. The occasion? Chickens coming home to roost. Justice rearing its awful head. The bankruptcy of not only government-regulated economies and government policies, but of their altruist and collectivist foundations. Everything Rand ever said and wrote about the perils of statism is coming to pass.
Is it the Erinyes or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping over the earth, wreaking carnage and tribulation among the wicked and innocent alike, leaving a trail of conquest, famine, slaughter, and death?
What unleashed them? The irrational. The quest for the unearned. A murderous envy for man the free, volitional being. A hatred of existence.
What can defeat the Four Horsemen? What can satisfy the Furies to send them back to the underworld? Objective reality, reason, self-interest, and capitalism (also known as: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics). Anyone who has subscribed to Objectivism and remained consistent with its tenets is now in the place of the novel’s hero, John Galt, watching the chaos engulf the earth. That person and many others like him will not be much touched or harmed by the Horsemen. It is not their Apocalypse, but that of those who conducted their lives by denying objective reality, denigrating reason, damning self-interest, and condemning capitalism; that of anyone who did not concern himself with cause and effect, or with thinking in principles, or who complained about selfishness, and accepted the second-hand mantra that free minds and free markets were unfair, unconnected, or unnecessary to his existence.
The instances of the letters and articles that say “I told you so” are too numerous to cite here. Two, however, are noteworthy. One letter, by Iwan Price-Evans, appeared in the Daily Telegraph (London).
“…[I]t is startling how prescient was her novel Atlas Shrugged. There is the socially responsible banker who went bust because he gave loans to those who needed them, rather than to those who could afford them. There’s the government regulation and takeovers to ensure that failed businesses keep going. There’s the unthinking desire to cling to ‘stability,’ and the consensus that it is a global problem and everyone must pull together for the common good.
“All is in denial of reality, a rejection of reason. Result: the rational is distrusted; men are guilty of being ‘unfair’ if they value competence and ‘unfeeling’ if they refuse to indulge failure. The individual is subordinated to the national, and the national to the international. If Rand is right thus far, what of the years ahead? Perhaps the motor of the world is stopping.”
The second instance was a startling essay on the bailout in the October 2nd edition of The Virginia Gazette, “We should all go on strike,” by a local entrepreneur, Matthew Webb. Obviously influenced by Atlas Shrugged, Webb opens with:
“We should not have passed the bailout. Why? First, the sky clearly was not falling, at least until they did pass it, and the market has since plunged.
“Second, the market would have taken care of itself. We needed to correct this the real way, which was to let anything that really doesn’t have value be valued as such….
“Third, the government is the last entity qualified to run something as complicated as this bailout package. Name one department of government that is well run. You can’t!”
This argument would not fly with Paulson and Company. They would reply that they are trying to “do good,” and so must operate on a “higher plane” of money management — the higher plane being the ether of nothingness, impenetrable by the likes of Mr. Webb and Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher of Ohio — because there is nothing to penetrate. The Webbs and the Wurzelbachers of the world do not count in the Paulson and Company calculations for power, nor are they even visible.
Attached to the revised bailout bill sent by the Senate back to the House were numerous pork barrel appropriations. The more notorious ones included money for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s constituent, Star-Kist, subsidies for Puerto Rican rum producers, and subsidies for racetracks. Mr. Webb reveals another one:
“…[B]uried in the bill is the Bicycle Commuter Act (H.R. 807, S. 2635). The bill provides a tax benefit to employers who offer cash reimbursements to employees to defray costs of riding to work. Bike commuters can use the money to pay for bicycles, accessories, safety equipment, insurance, and locker or shower fees….It’s a green initiative….”
Environmentalism, of course, is now a religion questioned by neither Democrat nor Republican. It is primarily an ideology. And for all the anti-intellectualism displayed by Congress, it and the Bush administration clung to the “green” ideology. “The goal,” said Nancy Koehn, a historian at the Harvard Business School, “is to get the engine of capitalism going as productively as possible. Ideology is a luxury good in times of crisis.”
Of course, the best way to get the engine of capitalism going again is for the government to vacate the economy and swear off any and all intervention, instead of pouring molasses into its fuel tank.
Among his suggestions for “going on strike” Webb has three important ones:
“Abolish the withholding tax, where they take your money before you even see it, so you don’t think it’s actually yours….Abolish the Federal Reserve….We now see what happens when the fox rules the henhouse….Amend the Constitution so that bailouts of any private entity or industry are forbidden.”
None of that is possible today, except through a major revolution by the American people. The original Revolution was, after all, a kind of strike by the American colonists, and it was answered by the Crown with force.
My sole reservation with Mr. Webb’s essay is that the “stakeholding” device, by which Paulson demanded that the nine largest American banks sell the government “shares” in their assets, is not, as he claims, an instance of communism. It is actually fascism, by which a government goes into “partnership” with nominally private businesses, with those businesses or banks, however, taking their marching orders from the government. This is what was practiced in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
And which is now practiced in the United States, Britain, and most of Europe.
And, of course, Henry Paulson and Bernard Bernanke of the Federal Reserve are not alone in promoting fascism. There is Nancy Pelosi, who on the day that Congress passed the bailout, announced her own suggested contribution to the regimentation of Americans to lock-step them in a march in Obama’s or McCain’s “new direction.” Just as Hitler “stimulated” a moribund German economy by pouring money into government sponsored projects and buying off the “lower” classes with special benefits, Pelosi, according to the Associated Press on October 8, wants to create a $150 billion economic stimulus plan.
“….Pelosi said Wednesday that a $150 billion economic stimulus plan is needed now because of the faltering economy and she may call the House into session after the election to pass it….Pelosi said a stimulus package would create jobs by investing in public works, increasing food stamp benefits and extending unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless.”
All that is needed now for Pelosi, Obama, Paulson, Bernanke et al. to consolidate their power grab and scrap the Constitution completely is the equivalent of a Reichstag Fire.
The motor of the world is sputtering to a stop. There is no “perhaps” about it.