March 19, 2009
In the name of Galt, go!
Yesterday, I wrote about the predictable opposition of the low-tax/no-tax zealots to the implementation of the sunset clause that will at the end of 2010 revert the tax rates to its 2000 values.
The most bizarre feature of this opposition has been those who are threatening to 'go Galt'. Apparently they are taking their cue from John Galt, the hero of the Ayn Rand 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, who inspired all the allegedly talented people, the leaders of business and arts and inventors and scientists, to show their disgust with the government burdening them with regulations and 'taking' their money in taxes for society's benefit, by abandoning their prosperous careers and going on strike, even withdrawing to a remote enclave in Colorado called Galt's Gulch. By withholding their talents from society, they caused society to crumble, teaching it the harsh lesson that the very gifted and talented must be left unfettered and tax-free so that their ambition is not shackled and their genius can flourish and thus society as a whole benefits.
(Note: I have not read Atlas Shrugged so am dependent on others as to the plot and what 'going Galt' involves. I did read Rand's The Fountainhead but after a promising start, it rapidly degenerated into a dreary polemic, with two-dimensional stereotypical characters behaving in utterly predictable ways, the whole thing written in melodramatic prose. There is no way that I am going to read 1000 more pages of Rand, though Atlas Shrugged sounds like a real hoot, even if unintentionally so. But Rand has a cult-like following for her philosophy of what she called objectivism, including even people like former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan.)
It seems like the current admirers of Rand's hero John Galt share the quaint delusion that they too are indispensable elements of society and that if they stop (or even reduce) working in protest at the sunset provisions of the tax code going into effect, society will be so devastated that we will beg them to come back, even if it means eliminating their taxes entirely and letting them do whatever they want.
Because rich people are surrounded by people who want or need to please them (relatives who want favors or money, employees who want to advance their careers, politicians and business people seeking to benefit from them, waiters and other staff who fear losing their jobs if they are not appropriately servile, etc.), they are prone to falling into the trap of thinking they possess some special knowledge or intangible quality that others lack and is the source of their success. They do not realize that they got where they are largely due to luck, inheritance, or privilege, and that they are easily replaceable.
During the current uproar over the bonuses paid to AIG executives, one defense of the payments has been that the people receiving the bonuses are the only ones who understand the complex structures that were created, and thus must be placated and retained if we are to ever unravel the mess.
Oh, please. Put in a new team of honest and hard working people with fairly sophisticated mathematics, computing, and accounting knowledge and skills and I would expect them to figure out the whole thing very quickly. Let's face it, even if truly great minds like Newton, Darwin, and Einstein had never existed, the great discoveries now associated with them would still have been made. What makes these financiers think that they are so necessary, so irreplaceably clever? It is only math-phobic people who think that derivatives, credit default swaps, and the like are deeply mysterious.
I myself think that we would all be a lot better off if all those threatening to 'go Galt' actually carried out their threat. Society will do well to have these egomaniacs voluntarily go off into some remote location and remain there, telling each other how essential they are, even as the rest of us soon forget they ever even existed.
So to all those threatening to 'go Galt', I can do no better than echo the words of Oliver Cromwell who 350 years ago, when faced with an obstructionist parliament, said:
"It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? is there one vice you do not possess? ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.
Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God's help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do; I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place; go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.
In the name of God, go!"
Unfortunately, I don't think the Galtists are likely to carry out their plan as their hero envisaged, which was a full-bore withdrawal from society. While I like to fantasize about all the Wall Street financiers and business and political leaders who caused this mess huddling under blankets in the Rockies, complaining about how badly they've suffered as a result of the repeal of the tax cuts, and eating beans cooked over an open fire like olden day cowboys, I suspect that they will not leave the comforts of life and will instead remain and just whine annoyingly about how no one really appreciates them and why they deserve to be paid more and taxed less.
Sadly, these 'mercenary wretches' who are 'odious to the whole nation' will continue to be a pestilence amongst us.
POST SCRIPT: Sesame Street
I love the music and the muppets and humor on Sesame Street. They all come together well in this segment with Forgetful Jones starring in Oklahoma!