Friday, March 13, 2009

I Know Who John Galt Is...And He's Not Michelle Malkin

Around the time I graduated from college I began devouring everything Ayn Rand had ever written. And I recommend that if you haven't read her work, you do; it occupies a unique and important place in American intellectual history. Libertarian and skeptic Michael Shermer was at one time a dedicated objectivist, as Rand's followers called her ideology. I've heard Rush Limbaugh cite her. And it's inexplicably little-known that Alan Greenspan was in the 1950s a frequent attendee of Rand's inner-circle meetings, even ghost-writing one of her essays.

Ayn Rand's writings are good undergirding for part of a worldview, but not very workable if explicitly implemented as morality or policy. What I took away from Ayn Rand was the exaltation of the individual - both individual responsibility, and the power of individual reason, and a simultaneously rational, materialist, romantic focus on human beings as a source of productive power, in science, business, and the arts - and how that translates into economics and civilization. In her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged she envisioned a world gradually grinding to a halt, under assault from the broken morality of mush-minded collectivism. The world could only lurch forward by parasitically demanding the endless, back-breaking labor of those few talented, productive men and women who continued their output, despite the yawning cultural wastes around them. When finally these men and women could no longer ignore all they were doing was enabling and perpetuating an immoral world, they dropped out - to a secret valley in the Rockies where they could be happy and productive in a moral society with like-minded people. When finally enough of the leaders in business and the arts and sciences had dropped out, the parasites had no one left to depend on. The world lurched to a halt, and the lights went out. The leader of this movement, who catalyzed these drop-outs, was a man named John Galt.

Their actions were not only a moral choice but an experiment, proving that the world depends on them (if in fact the lights had not gone out, they would have proven that it did not). And some of us have asked: is this the world we are now living in? Those of us most likely to say yes are part of the conservative commentariat - the one that successfully conducted a coup in the GOP. Chiefly among them, and representing all of them for purposes of this article, is Michelle Malkin. She has made a point of discussing people who are "going Galt", and exhorting others to do the same.

Ayn Rand's points are good ones to contemplate, but Malkin's pseudopopulist tropes distort them badly. Who are the talented, productive leaders she's haranguing to drop out? Are we living in a world of wastelands, and of parasites depending on the productive and talented? Or are most of us trying to set the economy right and offering solutions, even if we don't always agree? It's important to keep three things in mind. First and foremost, remember where this economy came from - did it start with the current administration, or the one that was in for eight years before it? (And, it bears mentioning, that had a friendly Congress the first six of those eight years.) Of course the media commentariat can't come right out and say that after seven weeks in office, it's Obama's fault, so they just imply it with this kind of media-queen silliness. To keep things in perspective, we're at 40% of the unemployment that existed in 1933. Things are bad and may get worse but they have a long way to go before we surpass lows that this country has seen, and recovered from, in the last century.

Second is tax rates. Apparently our tax rate is skyrocketing under Obama. Reader - do you know what your marginal tax rate is? Is it going up under Obama's plan? What about your capital gains taxes? If you haven't already done your taxes, think about this while you're doing them. I concede that Michelle Malkin's taxes might go up a little, but not all of us are as famous and glamorous. While I have problems with some details of the stimulus package, I don't refuse to recognize the reality that credit system has frozen and we have to fix it, or we're screwed.

Third is productivity. Productivity is still increasing, even during this recession, O commentariat. It slowed from 3.2% to 2.8%, but it's still growing. Pretty good, given some of the other indicators! What does this mean? Either no one is going Galt, or at least no one important.

When I look out the window of my car on the way to work, I see Americans of all stripes (political or otherwise) wanting to be productive and fix things. There is no rubble-strewn wasteland of gibbering parasites, unless you count General Motors, and again, who exactly are the talented businesspeople and engineers being dragged down? Most companies are still functioning and making wealth-creating discoveries, like Genentech did recently concerning Alzheimers. This means that people still being rewarded for positive thinking and solutions, and that Americans are still optimistic. What we're not is patient with whiners. We like someone who gets on board and offers a solution to actually fix something. Could it be that Malkin et al are a pouting minority of hot-air merchants? "Boo-hoo, I don't like the president. Time to quit America, seven weeks into his term." How childish, short-sighted and unpatriotic. Their desperate efforts to deepen this recession and tie it in the public's mind to the Obama administration are getting increasingly transparent. Why else are the Malkins telling people to wreck the American economy - oddly enough, just like bin Laden did explicitly in late fall 2001 as the stock market wavered. I'll tell you what: I'd rather be wrong in my economic principles and end up with a good economy, than be right and have the lights go out. Hopefully so do you, and your plumber, auto mechanic, lawyer and doctor.

I'm not the only person who badly wants to nip this going-Galt nonsense right in the bud. Atlas Shrugged the movie has been in development hell for a few years (with Angelina Jolie as the main character) and I hope it would've been made already so the American public had some armor against the platitudes of vapor merchants in the media. My advice is to actually read Ayn Rand before you start parroting half-digested Malkinisms. Going Galt does not mean closing your small business 2 years ahead of plan. It does not mean staying at home to watch ESPN instead of sending out resumes. It means becoming a Libertarian John Connor, disappearing from your previous life in a place that has become so parasite-infested you can't stand it for another second, and going totally off-grid to live in a society of like-minded people. Oh, that's too hard? That's unrealistic? That's fine. Then don't do it, and don't lie and claim that you're doing it. And especially don't tell others to do it unless you have the cajones to follow suit.

And is Malkin doing it? Is she going off the grid, and withdrawing her scary level of productiveness (?) from society? Of course she's not. She's not even retiring two years early. She likes her lattes and her Pakistani restaurants and her day spas and private car pick-ups from the networks too much. (And who wouldn't? The difference is you don't see the rest of us railing against the intolerable oppression of modern life.) For that matter, Galt's Gulch (the town where the productive people moved) was built by engineers, scientists, businesspeople, and composers - so what is Malkin going to contribute to that Brave New World? What new alloy will she come up with, what new transportation technology or medical innovation or microchip will she invent? She's a media gadfly. Which is fine as long as she can sell advertising for CNBC, and get paid big bucks in a system she's whining about. She either doesn't understand what she's saying, or is exhorting people to do something she herself doesn't have the guts to pull off.

Perhaps most coffin-sealing to the idea we're living in the Randian endtimes is that productive Americans are still here, making their contribution, or looking for a job so they contribute. I know, Michelle, because I'm one of them. How many cancer treatments have you ever contributed to? How many genes have you cloned to keep crop-eating flies from developing pesticide resistance? Most blog readers and blog writers can say similar things about what it is they do for a living. In fact, I have difficulty imagining that if the full crowd of Malkin and friends arrived in Galt's Gulch that they would even last a week. Among the positive, solution-seeking value-creating engineers and businesspeople and artists who behaved awkwardly around these professional talkers, the only service they could provide would be balloon inflation. Suddenly Galt's Gulch would have an excess of hot air.

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