Those who haven’t yet picked up Ayn Rand’s 1957 classic novel Atlas Shruggedmay be wondering why so many peopleare invoking the book in discussions of today’s events.
Well, the short answer is: because today’s world is strikingly similar to the world of Atlas Shrugged.
Consider the government’s affordable housing crusade, in which lenders were forced to make loans to subprime borrowers who allegedly “needed” to own homes.
“We must not let vulgar difficulties obstruct our feeling that it’s a noble plan motivated solely by the public welfare. It’s for the good of the people. The people need it. Need comes first...”
Those might sound like the words of Barney Frank, but in fact they belong to Eugene Lawson, a banker in Atlas Shrugged who went bankrupt giving loans to people on the basis of their “need” rather than their ability to repay. In the quoted scene, Lawson is urging his politically powerful friends to pass a law restricting economic freedom for the “public good”--long-range consequences be damned.
Or consider this cryfrom Atlas Shrugged villain Wesley Mouch, head of the “Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources”:
“Freedom has been given a chance and failed. Therefore, more stringent controls are necessary. . . . I need wider powers!”
This mirrors the incessant claims by today’s politicians and bureaucrats that all our problems would disappear if only they had more power. They tell us that health care is expensive and ineffective-not because the government has its tentacles in every part of it and forces usto pay for other people’s unlimited medical-care wants and needs--but because there is no bureaucrat forcing us to buy insurance and dictating which tests and treatments are “necessary.” They tell us that American auto companies failed to compete-not because they were hamstrung by pro-union laws and fuel efficiency standards-but because there was o government auto czar. They tell us that we are reeling from a financial crisis-not as a result of massive, decades-long government intrusion in the financial and housing markets-but because the intrusion wasn’t big enough; we didn’t have a single, all-powerful “systemic risk” regulator.
Atlas Shrugged shows us an all-too-familiar pattern: Washington do-gooders blaming the problems they’ve created on the free market, and using them as a pretext for expanding their power. And more: it provides the fundamental explanation for why the government gets away with continually increasing its control over the economy and our lives. The explanation, according to Atlas, is to be found in the moral precepts we’ve heard all our lives.
From the time we’re young we are taught that the essence of morality is to sacrifice one’s own interests for the sake of others, and that to focus on one’s own interests is immoral and destructive. As a result, we want the government to protect us from doctors and businessmen out for their own profit. We want the government to redistribute wealth from the successful to the unsuccessful. We want the government to ensure that those in need are given “free” health care, cheap housing, guaranteed retirement pay, and a job they can never lose. We want the government to take these and many other anti-freedom measures because virtually everyone today believes that they are moral imperatives.