Dear Self-Described “Producer”:
I received your hate mail this morning. Thank you for emerging from your self-creating illusion long enough to write it. I particularly enjoyed your unstated rhetorical debt to the John Galt character in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, who isn’t acknowledged enough nowadays for his historical importance as the most long-winded and incoherent crybaby in literary history.
It’s reassuring to know that his tradition lives on.
I still have faith that there can be a productive exchange of ideas between rational libertarians and people on the left, who share a common perspective on certain issues. But a substrain of libertarian and conservative thought is characterized by a large and undeserved measure of self-regard, combined with an excess of self-pity and a lack of clear ideas.
For today’s purposes let us stipulate that your email is Exhibit A.
Letter from a Galtian
“I am really curios (sic) to know what motivates the mind of a socialist,” you write. “Why do you think its (sic) fair to penalize those of us who produce while rewarding those who do not?”
(Apparently the email software used by producers doesn’t have a spell-check function. Fitting, I guess, for people whose fictional hero described scientists and other educated members of society as “parasites of subsidized classrooms.”)
Later you ask, “What happens when the government has exhausted the money acquired from the producers? I have a feeling producers will stop producing if the government is just going to take it.”
I don’t know you personally, and you didn’t sign your name. (Until the novel’s end, everybody knows Galt’s name but he refuses to speak. His legions of anonymous Internet followers like it the other way around.) I have no way of knowing if you’ve read the book or just imbibed Rand’s ideas second-hand.
Either way you’re a follower of John Galt, who, in Rand’s famous (and entirely implausible) climax, leads a “strike” of job-producing visionaries rebelling against taxes and regulation.
Atlas Shrugged is so revered in right-wing circles that, as one ex think tanker admitted, people who hadn’t read it were described as “virgins.” (Without the readership of virgins it would have languished in obscurity.) Rand’s acolytes are always threatening to “go Galt” and deprive us of their beautiful minds, but they never really get around to it. Like the old Dan Hicks song says, “How can we miss you if you won’t go away?”
Most parasites of the subsidized classroom know that, in Greek mythology, Atlas holds up the world. One Rand character asks another, “What would you tell him?”
Warning to would-be Galts: Shrugging while holding a heavy globe on your neck and shoulders is orthopedically unsound and could lead to severe cervical spine injury. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of physics knows that the easiest way to unload a heavy planet is by simply standing up straight.
When was the last time you stood up straight? You, like John Galt, have been benefiting from government services all your life. The upstanding thing to do is to acknowledge that fact, and then man up and pay your fair share. (I assume you’re a man by your prose style, your chosen pen name – and by the fact that most of Rand’s followers are.)
Instead, you guys are always threatening to “go Galt.” Which raises the question: Who’s stopping you?
Who is John Galt?
Ayn Rand tries desperately to stack the deck in favor of her petulant, whiny, and selfish character by having him leave the public education system at age twelve. Later he attends the “Patrick Henry University.” (“Give me liberty or give me death”? Subtlety was never Rand’s strong suit.) Even so, somebody taught him to read and write – and somebody taught them.
After school’s out our massively brilliant philosopher/engineer hero (For some reason another character’s catchphrase comes to mind: “Wile E. Coyote, super genius”) joins a car company and designs the revolutionary motor of the future. And when they collectivize the car company – because, hey, that happens all the time, right? – he stops work on his motor and goes into hiding.
(To anticipate the obvious Galtian riposte: Yes, the government temporarily ran the car companies, saving lots of jobs after your guys broke the economy. These car companies are doing great. The government rescued banks and didn’t run them. Those companies are doing badly and costing us jobs.)
So let’s recap: John Galt learned to read and write at the government’s expense. He survived childhood without dying from some mass epidemic, thanks to government public health efforts. He avoided being poisoned to death by improperly prepared foods – beef, poultry, milk – or killed by defective machinery – in a car, bus, elevator, or train, for starters – because of government regulations.
Then he got a great job with people who, like his friends and allies, enjoyed the same benefits. And when something happened he doesn’t like, he cut and ran.
Galt’s climactic speech is a rhapsody of self-entitled victimhood, even after Rand goes to great lengths to make him a comic-book superhero.
Producer or Parasite?
Many of today’s “producers” are parasites, even more so than when Rand wrote her book. Mitt Romney’s form of “Bain Capitalism,” which is shared by Wall Street’s big banks, is based almost entirely on betting with other people’s money, living large when they win and getting rescued by hardworking, taxpaying Americans – the real producers – when they lose.
And when they lose they still live large. They don’t produce jobs, they take them away.
Savor these words, however, as another logorrheic Rand proxy lacerates society’s parasites. He calls them …
” … whining rotters who never rouse themselves to any effort, who do not possess the ability of a filing clerk, but demand the income of a company president, who drift from failure to failure and expect you to pay their bills … who demand that it be the aim of your life to serve them, who demand that your strength be the voiceless, rightless, unpaid, unrewarded slave of their impotence … they are born to rule by the grace of incompetence .. yours is only to give, theirs only to take … yours is to produce, but theirs to consume … you are not to be paid, neither in matter nor in spirit, neither by wealth nor by recognition nor by respect nor by gratitude …”
Wow! What a great description of Wall Street bankers! Oh, wait …
Another one of Rand’s over-talkative proxies is a physician who says this, after enjoying all the same government-paid benefits that Galt himself skimmed off the system::
“I quit when medicine was placed under State control, some years ago. Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? … I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent …”
I guess that means he doesn’t take Medicare. Good luck with those HMOs, Doc!
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of … I Forget the Third
Which gets us to the other point of your note, Mr. Self-Described Producer:
“If healthcare should be a right then where does it stop? Could one not use the same argument that everyone has a right to free housing? A free car? Perhaps free air travel? Who will pay for all this?”
Healthcare is a right because it is essential to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those are the freedoms on which are country is founded, and they’re precisely the freedoms which so many Galtians despise. In Rand’s world the pursuit of happiness is restricted to the most brutal, while life and liberty are yours to fight for if you can. And if the profiteers have killed your parents and impoverished your community and you’re a six year old trying to survive — well, tough luck, you worthless rotter.
Randians want to destroy government and turn this country into a brutal, savage, Mad Max landscape of roving economical (and possibly physical) gangs. You know who would get hurt, besides those of us whose work enriches others?
When BP despoiled the Gulf of Mexico, a lot of producers were hurt. Fishermen, including those who were hardworking enough to build up a little fleet of boats and hire others, were badly hurt by the greed and lax regulation that led to the disaster. So were hotel owners, restaurant owners, and other real producers.
One of the few real functions your Mr. Galt will permit government to fulfill is “to protect you from criminals.” But what if the criminals call themselves “producers”? Crime on Wall Street is real crime, too. And crimes like BP’s hurt other producers.
Galt’s two other permissible government functions were to protect his intellectual property and save him from foreign invaders. But if he admits that government is good for some things, he’s already lost his argument. It’s like that nasty old joke about prostitution: Now we’re just dickering.
Healthcare: Galtism’s Greatest Failure
As for healthcare, let’s drop the emotionality and look at the facts:
Healthcare costs in this country are much higher than they are anywhere else in the developing world, because we’ve followed your philosophy by leaving it in the hands of private enterprise.
As a result, tens of thousands of people die needlessly every year and many more are disabled.
Medicare, that “socialist” system, is immensely popular among Americans of all political orientations – because it works.
It works because we get our money’s worth out of it. When we go to your so-called “producers,” however, we get private health insurance whose costs rise at three times that of rational systems or the economy as a whole. We get a grotesque, mismanaged system that serves no one but its executives, offering less coverage at greater cost with every passing year. That’s why most people who go bankrupt because of healthcare have health insurance.
Thanks to the Acme Insurers and HMOs of America, “health insurance” provides neither “health” nor “insurance.” Wile E. Coyote, super-genius … The day that health insurance executives “go Galt” will be the day that most Americans are dancing in the streets.
Healthcare is a right, unlike cars or airplane trips, because driving and flying are choices but inhabiting a body is not.
If we don’t provide this right in a rational way our entire economy will collapse under the expanding burden of our Galtian healthcare system. Death and disease rates will skyrocket, public health will be threatened, and the cost of medical care will leave people with no money left to buy the things real producers create.
Producers of the World, Unite – and Regulate
Who knows? Maybe you are a real producer. Maybe you’re like I was in the business world, creating and building services that employ people. I never got wealthy at it, but it was certainly satisfying – and I’d like to see others enjoy that same satisfaction. If they get rich that way, even better. Everybody loves real producers, including the left.
But real producers won’t be able to create jobs – not if there are no schools to educate their employees, no regulations to keep them safe, no roads or bridges to carry their products, and no money left after struggling Americans are done paying their health insurance premiums and caring for their elderly grandparents.
Galt claimed that he and his fellow “super-geniuses” were “the motor of the world,” but today’s “producers” aren’t the “motor” of anything, much less the world economy. They’re its flat tires, its dead weight, the hitchhiker in its passenger seat who grabs the wheel and crashes the car whenever the driver isn’t looking.
“This is the mind on strike,” said John Galt. It must be. His arguments lack intellectual coherence. Coherence requires critical thinking and a command at the facts, two valuable social functions that are often performed by “parasites of the subsidized classroom.”
Brigitte Bardot once said that the most powerful erogenous zone of all is the mind. That’s one place where you guys are still virgins. But it’s never too late to change that. A lot of people would be happy to provide you with a list of reading materials that can explain how low taxes and under-regulation destroy people and societies. In fact, you can start with today’s newspaper.
PS: If you can read this, thank a parasite.