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Go Galt, Go! March 10, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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In response to Obama’s tax and budget policies the economic royalists are threatening to go on strike. Angry conservatives of every stripe are taking to the streets brandishing their—well, copies of Atlas Shrugged?

At about 1100 pages of turgid prose I suppose you could use the book as a weapon, or a narcotic.

Via the Washington Independent:

“Just this weekend,” said Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) on Wednesday in an interview with TWI, “I had a guy come up to me in my district and tell me that he was losing his interest in the business he’d run for years because the president wanted to punish him for his success. I think people are reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ again because they’re trying to understand what happens to people of accomplishment, and people of talent and energy, when a government turns against them. That’s what appears to be happening right now.”

What exactly is Obama’s crime? An proposed increase in marginal tax rates of 5% for people making over 250,000.

Forbes Magazine estimates that for a family of 4 earning $300,000 per year they will pay $1100 more in taxes.

So what are these insurrectionists calling for? The plot of Rand’s fantasy involves a United States run by government bureaucrats who penalize and demonize entrepreneurial innovators. Fed up with being governed by people they hold in contempt, the creative people led by the moral hero John Galt flee to a mountain enclave where they watch society crumble because the engine of capitalism is on strike.

Today’s conservatives are threatening to “go Galt”, to withhold their talents and efforts because we lazy, simpleminded commoners, under the sway of the “communist” Obama, don’t appreciate what they’ve done for us. Without their leadership, society will collapse, at which point I guess we’re supposed to come begging for all those Wall St. wankers and their lawyers to reclaim their perch as America’s finest. (For a defense of this silliness see this piece in the National Review.)

After recovering from your astonishment at how juvenile this is, it is worth considering the multiple ironies connected to this story.

One irony is that the “John Galts” of the real world were producing nothing but financial flimflam—they are what Rand called the “moochers and looters”, corporate welfare queens for which Rand had nothing but contempt. Wall St. may have been, in the distant past, the engine of capitalism but in recent years it was nothing but a casino. Credit default swaps were simply a mechanism for high rollers to bet huge sums on assets of unknowable value—imaginary profits based on imaginary wealth. They created no jobs, no new products, no new technologies.

The greater irony is that these people can’t add. They claim to be willing to forgo a salary, at a minimum, 5 times greater than that of the average American to avoid paying 5% additional tax on income over $250,000 per year. That is just plain stupid.

It is stunning how disconnected these people are from reality. Rand defended a view she called “objectivism”—the pursuit of objective truth is the highest human calling and our judgment ought always to be governed by facts. Here are a few facts that these contemporary “Galts” ought to consider.

John Cole posted this graph recently.




The column on the far-right is Obama’s proposed marginal top-rate. It is lower than Reagan’s in his first term, lower than Nixon’s and Eisenhower’s, and lower than FDR’s when we exited the Great Depression. It is right where it was under Clinton, a period of almost unmatched prosperity.

But all of this gives me great hope, and I want to encourage their efforts. For every nitwit who decides to withdraw from society, there are thousands waiting to take her position—sounds like a solution to our unemployment problem.

And I have a recommendation for a place they can go, a place that operates on pure Randian principles—no taxes, no government regulations, no gun control.

Its called Somalia.

Go Galt Go! (Via Crooked Timber)



1. Huan - March 10, 2009

Dang it man, I was totally going to read that book. You just ruined the ending for me(I think)! 😦

Haha yeah it’s definitely a little ridiculous though, 5% should be pocket change for these people. I mean it’d be understandable if it went up like more than 15% for them or something, but what is being proposed really doesn’t seem like a big deal.

I hope John Galt didn’t flee into the mountains because of a measly 5% tax increase.

2. Huan - March 13, 2009

Being some what of an “egoist”, this problem actually bothers me a lot. Here’s my attempt to get my head around the problem I posted somewhere else, if anyone could provide some type of constructive criticism that would be great.

“Now many of you maybe aware of the new hype around Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged amongst the rich, conservative individualists all over the country, or at least that’s what the news is saying.

I haven’t read the book, but I am aware of what it’s about. To be honest the idea troubles me greatly, I am unable to “pick a side” on this particular issue. The issue at hand is whether the government should redistribute money from the rich for the sake of social reform.

Now any liberal minded individual(like me) would almost automatically say “hell yes why not? They got enough don’t they?”, but after careful inspection, this redistribution idea may indeed cause many problems. Speaking from an individual’s perspective, having your money taken away to serve something that you will simply not benefit from is quite problematic, if given the choice to say no, what incentive would push anyone to say yes?

Though the problem is that the individual’s perspective is extremely limited, and that trapped in its own short sighted views, it fails to see that operating solely under personal gains could lead to traumatic results, for example the economic issues we are currently having. But is that enough incentive for any individualist to compromise? If anything it seems like a forced compromise, while having little to no control over where this “redistribution” is going to head.

A main issue for individualist “captains of industry” is that their money is going to waste, feeding those who are lazy and will simply not try hard. I once thought this argument was absurd, but having lived a few more years and met a few more people it’s starting to sound plausible. For example, regardless of what people may say it actually is incredibly easy for the poor to get financial aid for school(at least here in California), and too many people simply take it for granted. It isn’t too surprising that those with the money would think that their money is being taxed away to wasteful spending. The idea that those who receive government aid of some form often put it to waste does seem to have some basis, and in many cases the term “mooch” would definitely apply. On the other hand the phenomenon could be explained by sociological issues that are way out of the “mooches” hands, thus the issue is far less black and white then it would appear.

The main problem however, is the necessary sacrifice for a functional society due to the inherent limits in individualism that must be resolved with some sort of communal cooperation, and the understandable lack of incentive behind such a sacrifice. The thing is, compelling humanistic incentives that will actually stick seem to be mostly short sighted, the ultra rational long term ones are not typically fit for everyone, no matter how much sense they make. We humans appear to be inherently emotionally drive creatures, if we are to go for communal cooperation even when we’re at the top, there has to be more compelling incentives, incentives that won’t be brushed off as “political correctness” or “mandatory compromise”, otherwise there will be irresolvable conflicts that won’t be good for anybody.

One possible incentive I can think of is some type of existential viewpoint for the “captains of industry”, perhaps instead of redistributing against their will, they could find great satisfaction in using their money to create something magnificent, something meaningful. I am not rich so I don’t know what it’s like, but I doubt it’s very fulfilling to just spend all your money on useless antiques and other random fancy products, wouldn’t it be much more fulfilling to change the world with your own hands? If you think that your money would be going to waste if given to the poor since they’re too lazy an uneducated to use it properly, change it! Invest your money into bringing the “mooches” up into great capable individualists that you can respect. There are so many possibilities, all of them seem better than blowing your money on bullshit paintings or fancy cars. A heroic individualist figure like John Galt would understand this, he may be against government redistribution, but would he be for stockpiling a shit load of money for hedonistic purposes? I haven’t read the book, but if the answer is yes, I don’t want to read it.

I realize most of these arguments are rather ad hoc, I don’t have any data to support what I am saying. However I have tried my best to stay neutral, so please bare with me.”

3. Dwight Furrow - March 21, 2009


Wow. There is a lot going on in your post. But I think your reflections are leaving out something important. The redistribution of wealth entailed in our system of progressive taxation don’t think is properly characterized as ” having your money taken away to serve something that you will simply not benefit from” or “for the sake of social reform.”

I mention often in my posts that no one succeeds entirely on their own. People who acquire great wealth cannot do so without schools, roads, police forces and courts, hospitals, etc.–in short all the functions of government. Even someone who is able to somehow supply these for himself is dependent on others acquiring access to social goods. This is because all of us in every moment of our lives depend on a sufficient level of social trust–otherwise human interaction would be impossible. And social trust can exist only when people feel secure in their lives.

Thus, everyone regardless of how priveleged depends on social goods; and the purpose of taxation is provide a sufficient level of those social goods.

Now, of course, human nature being what it is, there will always be people who abuse the system or who will be incapable of contributing to society. But we don’t know ahead of time who those people are. And their numbers are small enough so that they only threaten society if we allow their existence to disuade us from supplying an adequate level of social goods.

Moreover, people contribute in lots of ways that do not require creativity or entrepreneurial motivation.

None of this is captured by Rand and her fantasies.

4. Huan - March 21, 2009

I suppose a Randian would respond that those necessary social goods should be provided by the “captains of industry” directly as opposed to from their tax money. Stepping into their shoes for a second(icky shoes, I know), it would be quite troubling to have your money taxed away and not have a say how it’s going to be used. This results in a great deal of lobbying and other similar political problems we often face I suppose, though that’s a whole other topic.

I mean to me it seems to have the captains provide our social services isn’t fundamentally a bad thing, except that their motive for living is apparently money, thus any social services they provide come out rather tainted. This could be resolved in my mind if the captains set their existential aims a little higher, a little greater, but they’re just not that cool.

I’d like to hope that Rand’s individualist heroes like John Galt are too good for such blind greed, that their motives aren’t as simple as “most profit possible”. However it would appear that Rand could have overestimated the capabilities of captains, or at least she had to settle for captains because her heroic figures were too good to be true.

I suppose my whole point is that perhaps ideally instead of pushing the idea of moral duty upon “captains of industry”, our concept of a just society could essentially line up with their personal motives, if they were better existential heroes.

Also perhaps Randians and libertarians(Is there a difference?) are focusing far too much on attacking the government, when they really should be focusing on self reflection and self improvement, closing the gap between themselves and their fictional heroes such as John Galt.

In the mean time government intervention is quite necessary, not because it’s fundamentally necessary, but because currently the “captains” just don’t got what it takes to run the show.

5. A=A - May 4, 2009

Am I going galt?
I increased 401K contribution which should drop me down a tax bracket and
I am spending less; my money is not going to the local café for my lunches and coffee
Nor is my money going to the economy with buying anything that I can put off buying or I can buy (or get for free) off craigslist list, I will Netflix but will not go to a movie theater, for Christmas I will be buying everyone on my list either Atlas Shrugged or The 5,000 year leap.

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