Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), who gives his departing interns copies of Ayn Rand’s novel "Atlas Shrugged," told me today that the response to President Obama’s economic policies reminded him of what happened in the 51-year-old novel.
"People are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in 'Atlas Shrugged,'" said Campbell. "The achievers, the people who create all the things that benefit [the] rest of us, are going on strike. I’m seeing, at a small level, a kind of protest from the people who create jobs, the people who create wealth, who are pulling back from their ambitions because they see how they’ll be punished for them."
Oh, yes please. By all means, let's give that "strike" a go. I'll tell you what, "achievers" -- you keep your Collateralized Debt Obligations, and we'll keep the food. You take away your energy futures trading, and we'll keep the actual power plants. You run off to your own private island with your structured corporate insurance derivatives, and we'll keep the automobiles, and the boats, and the oil, and the coal, and the grain, and the batteries, and the electronics, and the cows, and the roads and bridges, and the drinking cups, and the indoor plumbing, and the light bulbs, and the televisions, and the art, and the music, and the trees that grow the fruit, and the lumber, and the recycling centers, and the actual pills to cure what ails you, and the fishing lines, and the books, and the buildings, and the railroads, and the little metal clips that hold the little hydraulic lines that keep that gigantic, thundering airplane you're on in the air. We'll keep the borax, iron, salt, aluminum, and steel. We'll keep the corn, the soybeans, the lettuce, and the water. We'll spot you as many U-haul boxes as you need to pack up your money and your stock certificates, and then please, by all means -- teach us a lesson.
Go live your Randian fantasies, go create that wonderful utopia in which only the most wealthy are permitted entry, and you are not burdened with the outrageous insult of having to contribute back a proportionate share of your income in order to help maintain the very fabric of the nation around you. I can see now that the thought that you might have to pay the same share of your income in taxes that your housekeeper does has drained your already pale blanched, and the thought of having to pay as much in taxes as your wretched mothers and fathers did, a few decades before you, is nothing less than an armed assault on your beachheads.
What fool would suggest we possibly return to the same tax polices that existed under that shameless wealth-stealer and Stalinist, Ronald Reagan? And what insane person would dare seek to treat achievers identically to the lower classes, the people with grubby hands and only one house?
Ah, the arrogance of the Better Class. Just who are these "achievers, the people who create all the things that benefit the rest of us?" They're not the farmers -- we must give far more deference, assign far more value to those that push money from one column to the next. They're not the factory workers, those couldn't possibly be the people who create all the things that benefit the rest of us." They are not nearly so important as the people that invent the derivatives to speculate upon the future trajectories of the numerical indexes that represent the simplified and aggregated "marketplaces" in which the company will sell the products that the workers at the machines create.
It is all so simple, really. You can see how the "achievers" are better than anyone else, and how put upon they are. We claim that the farmers of America create our food, but they are only the saps at the bottom of the chain -- food does not exist unless their is a global market to assign it value, then gather cash by making increasingly leveraged wagers on the incremental differences within submarkets of that global market. You may claim that our miners, those that willingly entomb themselves under a billion tons of rock in order to pry just a small amount of the raw materials of society out from under it, may create "things", for without them there would be precious few "things" to create -- but they are hicks, undeserving of such admiration, and certainly undeserving of official "Acheiver" tax breaks. What do they know of danger, who have not had to rush to their computer to trade a several thousand shares bought earlier in the day, so as to gain a slight monetary advantage over the hundreds of thousands of people doing the same?
So yes, please, by all means, teach us a lesson, Achiever Class, and do it quick. You take your money, and we'll take the people who know how to fix your goddamn plumbing at three in the morning. You grab your portfolio and hold it high above your heads, a symbol of your lifetime of accomplishments, and we'll take all the firefighters. I can only presume you will not need our doctors, our schoolteachers, our grocers or even our tax accountants. Ayn Rand would have wanted it that way: Ayn Rand, oracle of the prickish class, official trumpet section for anyone and everyone that thinks themselves a king.
Does it feel to anyone else that we are in a national rut? That the entire economy of the United States has been predicated, for the last decades, on the following ingenious business cycle?
- Someone -- probably Phil Gramm -- pushes for deregulation of a particular subset of a particular financial marketplace (see: energy markets, corporate insurance markets), or fervently insists that a newly discovered loophole in current regulations remain open.
- Using the new loophole or deregulatory act, the companies that requested the financial deregulation in the first place make money hand over fist by exploiting that unregulated marketplace in increasingly sketchy ways (see: Savings and Loan crises, Enron, AIG). Someone who pushed for the deregulation -- probably Phil Gramm -- happens to have a relationship to one of the companies in question, and profits handsomely.
- The unregulated financial sub-marketplace becomes so sketchy, so loaded with either implicit or explicit fraud, that it collapses under itself, taking the savings of millions of Americans with it (see again: Savings and Loan crises, Enron, AIG). Someone -- probably Phil Gramm -- calls on Americans to stop whining about it, it's just how the world works.
- The government is forced to step in and repair the damage, but is restricted by the policy prescriptions of multiple somebodies -- usually including Phil Gramm -- to re-regulating the industry in the most minimal possible way, bailing out the companies that got themselves willingly into trouble through their own sketchy or asinine behavior.
- A thousand other somebodies -- usually followers of Ayn Rand, the most communistic anti-communist to have ever lived, the woman who proposed that the rebellion against communism should consist of starting a commune, but being, you know, more selective about the membership -- chafes violently at the proposed fix in the process, because even in most gentle form it is far, far too harsh on those that created the problem in the first place. Rinse; repeat.
Are we becoming a nation intent on scamming itself, a nation that only values work or inventiveness when it is applied to new ways of squeezing more transactions between the same market endpoints, or milking out one more tenth of a percentage point in income by taking on thirty times that in risk?
It's not enough to produce energy anymore, or to transport it -- there's not enough profit in that. So any company worth it's salt, like Enron, knows the real money is in speculating on energy, not actually doing anything with it. Any Wall Street broker worth their salt knows that investing in a factory is an absurdist proposition, you want to invest in the companies that invest in the investors that financed the investment of that factory. What fool would want to provide actual healthcare, when all the actual cash is to be made in managing that health care by deciding what gets covered, and how much it should cost, and exactly how many files need to be moved how many times before your doctor will see even a dollar in cash from your visit six months ago, and how precisely your heath management company should invest that dollar in other marketplaces, during the ever-expanding length of time it is held between when the service is rendered and all possible paperwork has been exhausted and the dollar must, at long last, be forked over?
What would happen if America's financial sector threatened to go the same way as America's textile industry, or America's steel industry? We are seeing it now -- there is no price not worth paying, in order to prop up the Masters of the Universe. We'll do it, and we have to do it, so tied in is every part of the world economy to all of the others.
But those same financiers might -- gasp -- have to pay three more percentage points of tax, in exchange for saving them, their companies, and their entire industry, and so many may flee to Bermuda and be done with the likes of us. We might block a loophole or two, or question why some company (probably led by Phil Gramm) might keep tens of thousands of secret, offshore bank accounts in an apparent attempt to allow the wealthy to subvert the very laws that the rest of us saps must live by, each and every year, and to even bring such questions up is a declaration of class warfare.
When you have lived your life in the presumption, fervently held, that you are simply better than all those around you, and that your station in life is so far above all others that you should be honored as titan, or Achiever, or demigod, it is merely a given that the common people should not only rescue you from your own created catastrophe of errors, but they should feel damn lucky to have the privilege.
Daily Kos: If Only We Could Be So Lucky