Friday, October 17, 2008

Ayn Rand Avenged

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.

9 comments:

reunionpi said...

Henry Paulson and Goldman Sachs:

Scattered from California to New York: The judgments from the Department of Labor, tax liens against 401-K plans, state tax liens, mechanics lien, judgments from other companies

Henry Paulson, 5 weeks before he became Treasury Secretary, got a FANNIE MAE/FREDDIE MAC 30 year fix mortgage/loan for his 82 year old mother in May 2005 for 5.37%, (below rate)

webofdeception.com

Joe said...

Excellent article! Thanks, Ed. I'm forwarding this to everyone.

Brian Geisler said...

Edward Cline said,

"That person and many others like him will not be much touched or harmed by the Horsemen."

Will this still be true when we are facing mass starvation? Will this still be true when we need to eat rats in order to survive (as they are now doing in Zimbabwe)?

Anonymous said...

I don't agree that those who understand the phenomenon won't be much harmed by what is happening. How can we not all be harmed? I don't live on another planet? Our lives are alreaday limited by our wealth being confiscated at faster rates (inflation alone, forget about outright taxation); a semi-socialized medical system that makes it difficult to stay healthy and/or alive; a complex, technical society that requires brains to run the institutions/businesses we all rely on, increasingly being run by people not tied to reality. No, that is why we who understand what is happening must speak out-to save ourselves as we will be harmed along with everyone else. My values are in this world, and it's this world that is in danger of perishing.

Roxanne Albetoli

Anonymous said...

Brian quoted me: ""That person and many others like him will not be much touched or harmed by the Horsemen."


What I meant by that is that in terms of morality, in terms of understanding what is happening, we won't be much touched or harmed by events, while those who never understood or refuse to understand events, will be harmed, and will probably panic or go off the deep end. Perhaps I could have been clearer, but that was my meaning.

Ed

Anonymous said...

PS.

Powerful essay, Ed.

Roxanne

Anonymous said...

"Is it the Erinyes or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping over the earth...?"

Is this a multiple-choice question?

I vote for:
The Fury Alecto ("the implacable") who castigates the moral crimes (such as anger), especially if they are against other people.

Or consider:
Her Sister Megaera ("the jealous one") who punishes people who commit crimes, especially marital infidelity.
[In this case, infidelity to a trust of the same order]

cultcrit said...

Um. The Reichstag fire already happened (9/11), as did the power grab and shredding of the constitution. This bailout is not directed at saving "Main Street" Americans from foreclosure, so much as preventing rich capitalists from going broke. That is how people get protected from economic disaster, not by belief in some Objectivist nonsense.

Jim May said...

cultcrit: the Constitution was first seriously shredded by FDR in 1933 after some initial damage by the earlier Progressivists.

The bailout was likely meant primarily to rescue governments from suddenly having their deficit finance spigot cut off (California's impending need for a $7b infusion was likely a part of what Paulson's gang told the Congresscritters). It would have forced them to raise taxes or print masses of money **right now**. The consequences of that kind of theft are quick and immediate, making it too easy for people to see that it is government consumption of real wealth that ultimately causes the busts.

Deficit financing, together with acclimatizing people to slow inflation, allows the government to delay and distort the process by which the economy accounts for that destruction of wealth, ensuring that the raw data shows no apparent correlation of spending to contraction. This is what permits bad economists to claim, when confronted with the idea that government spending/manipulation is the primary force contributing to the boom/bust cycle, that "the data does not track you". This serves to ensure that all but the most persistent individuals ever make the connection.

Conveniently for the Left, this obfuscatory process makes it easy for them to do what they have been doing at every economic downturn since 1929: define the current system as "laissez-faire" and demand greater government control and oversight.