Monday, July 11, 2011

When fiction becomes reality

From a column by Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal, Saturday July 9:

Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that Atlas Shrugged parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. …

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

In the book, these relentless wealth redistributionists and their programs are disparaged as "the looters and their laws." Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the "Anti-Greed Act" to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel's promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the "Equalization of Opportunity Act" to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). …

These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. …

The current economic strategy is right out of Atlas Shrugged: The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That's the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies -- while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers.
The take home message?
Ultimately, Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect. Critics dismissed the novel as simple-minded, and even some of Rand's political admirers complained that she lacked compassion. Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear -- leaving everyone the poorer.

2 comments:

fuguewriter said...

A major point of "Atlas" is that *crony* capitalism is an absolute evil. The disinformation about Rand is simply stunning - some of her major villains were businessmen!

Joel West said...

Yes, Moore’s column makes this point — that the crony capitalists are as bad as the politicians who indulge them (or can be bought off).

That’s why I emphasize (and emphasized) “free markets” rather than “capitalism.” Distortions of the market to reduce competition or to favor specific firms is certainly contrary to the principles of economic freedom that some of us still espouse.