Conservative commentary: When will Atlas shrug?
Steamboat Springs — What is the breaking point? Where will the resistance form? Heavy questions but unavoidable in the current political climate. The productive members of society can only be pushed so far, some say.
What they envision is not defiance of law or a reversal of the election. It is people’s growing disengagement from a new economic order that punishes effort and rewards envy – the creepy future that Gov. Bill Ritter and President Barack Obama intend for us. Columnist Michelle Malkin calls that withdrawal “going Galt.”
Malkin was the first speaker last weekend when several hundred Coloradans gathered for a free-market leadership conference in Colorado Springs. Her reference was to John Galt, the individualist hero of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.” She told about seeing a placard at the protest rally for Obama’s stimulus bill signing that warned: “Atlas will shrug.”
So what, you ask. In human behavior, incentives matter. People are choosers, not automatons. Mess them over enough and they’re out of here. All history proves it. “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” That bitter joke among Soviet factory drones sums up collectivism’s ultimate failure wherever tried.
Of course, in the 1950s, when Rand was writing her epic about a slow-spreading spontaneous strike among Americans fed up with big government, tomorrow supposedly belonged to New Soviet Man. Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II, the three champions of freedom who would prove otherwise, weren’t yet heard of.
But, we’re now told that 2008, with its routine recession and its celebrity election, showed freedom is untrustworthy after all. Economic makeover via legislative intervention is the fashion fad of 2009, driven by D.C. Democrats under Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid along with Denver Democrats under Terrance Carroll and Peter Groff. Suddenly everyone’s a socialist, crows Newsweek. Suddenly the headlines mirror “Atlas Shrugged,” laments the Wall Street Journal.
The novel may not be great literature. But its message of radical self-reliance has inspired millions across the decades. And the story is set right here. “We can’t lose Colorado. It’s our last hope,” says a railroad employee at the start. A Rocky Mountain valley is the retreat from Galt that triumphs at the end.
Conference attendees at The Broadmoor, where Yaron Brook, of the Ayn Rand Institute, spoke after Malkin and “Atlas Shrugged” was assigned reading, weren’t about to unplug Galt-style from daily life in protest against wind power, national health care, and charity-choking taxes. But they took seriously the disincentive effects against wealth creation and social comity in these and other collectivist proposals. We should, too.
As ever more people ride in the wagon and fewer are left to pull it, there will come a breaking point. Crowding taxation onto the highest earners and debt onto our kids, as President Obama proposes, invites collapse. Ignoring the constitution at will, as Gov. Ritter and the spending lobby do, breeds contempt. Ruin must result.
Cold War victory taught us the power of ideas. The East crumbled when the West asserted the superiority of liberty, wakened by thinkers like F.A. Hayek with his expose of the road to serfdom and Frederic Bastiat with his ridicule of “everyone seeking to live at the expense of everyone else.”
Also influential was Rand, with her capitalist commandos. Galt and Taggart’s crusade was idea-powered. With moral truth, they defeated the lies of something for nothing and freedom through coercion. Not even the government office of Morale Conditioner, censoring radio, could stop their entrepreneurial comeback.
Their strike against the redistributionist guilt trip was fiction. But we can shrug it off for real. Colorado could be our last hope.
John Andrews of Centennial was president of the Colorado Senate from 2003 to 2005. He is director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University and a member of the Conservative Leadership Counsel of Northwest Colorado. You can e-mail John at email@example.com.
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