Who is John Galt?
- Opening and oft-repeated line from Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
No, the title is not a typo.
You all know the story: private businesses suffer under increasingly burdensome laws and regulations; one man decides he will stop the engine of the world, wanting to be free from the business-stifling attitude of both government and society; he convinces other businessmen to join him in his strike; the economy comes to a halt.
Who are these titans of industry?
John Galt: before going on strike, he was an engineer at Twentieth Century Motors. He developed a motor that was powered by ambient static electricity. He quit the company when the founder’s children decided “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The working model remained in stasis until well after the company went bankrupt.
Francisco d'Anconia: owner of the largest copper mining company in the world – until he purposely destroyed it, destroying the investments of hangers-on while also ensuring the company could not be exploited by these same leaches.
Ragnar Danneskjöld: the pirate, stealing from government ships that which was taken in taxes from the producers of the world. What he stole, he converted to gold and then delivered to those producers who joined the strike, returning what was previously stolen from the producers in taxes.
Henry "Hank" Rearden: the producer of an incredible metal – lighter and stronger and less expensive than any steel before it.
Dagny Taggert: the brains behind operating Taggert Transcontinental.
There were several other titans of industry that joined the strike: Calvin Atwood, Ken Danagger, Lawrence Hammond, Midas Mulligan, Ted Nielsen, Dwight Sanders, Andrew Stockton, and Ellis Wyatt. Beyond these industrial giants are philosophers, composers, middle managers, jurists, and doctors. All the best of the best, all joining the strike. All men and women of integrity. They brought the economy to a halt.
It really is a wonderful book, and despite her protestations, Ayn Rand probably led more people to something approaching libertarianism than any other person in the last century. There is a great speech by Francisco d'Anconia on money; the story of what happened to Twentieth Century Motors when it implemented its maximum-socialist scheme is worth its weight in gold.
And then there is John Galt’s speech…fifty pages, as I recall. You get the idea after a page or two, and I guarantee you that even if you revisit the book every five or ten years, you will never read the entire speech a second time. But still, a good speech – it just could have been delivered in about 1,000 words.
How does the story end? These striking titans of industry win, a new constitution is drafted, money is based on gold. All is right for liberty and industry.
I offered the following in my recent post regarding the necessary role that Christianity must play if we are to have some kind of return to liberty:
“Can’t we just convince the people with our ideas? The non-aggression principle and private property; these should be sufficient, and so easy to understand.”
There is no doubt that such education is necessary and beneficial. But is it sufficient for liberty? The simple answer is…no. I will write something more on this topic in the coming days.
“Yeah, but it worked in Atlas Shrugged.” Many libertarians and free-market economists believe that this is sufficient for liberty – leave it to the market, rational self-interest will govern, the virtue of selfishness, no one wants to be burdened by undue regulation from the government. How is that working out?
Where is John Galt? Our titans of industry stand at the trough, slopping up the government largesse; they are the ones who write the regulations, ensuring that small businesses have no chance to meet the regulations; they cheer on the funny-money of central banking, knowing that it fuels their wealth while the ill-effects remain reasonably hidden from the masses.
Where is John Galt? Where are these men and women of integrity, willing to work at a diner or as a track-worker instead of running the best industrial companies in the world? Today’s titans care nothing for such things, claiming their trillions while the rest receive their pennies.
Where is John Galt? Are they going on strike at all, let alone in sufficient numbers to stop the machine? Or do they threaten the rest of us with another end-of-the-world scenario every time their net worth takes a hit?
Where is John Galt? If ideas are sufficient to set things straight, then isn’t Galt’s speech sufficient to convince (well, maybe shorter, but it’s what I’ve got to work with)?
Where is John Galt? If he strikes, don’t you think there will be twenty others ready, not to join him, but to take his place?
“Can’t we just convince people with our ideas?” Just who are we going to convince? The characters of our “Atlas Shrugged” are more like James Taggart than Dagny, Lillian Rearden than Hank, and Dr. Robert Stadler than Hugh Akston.
Wesley Mouch is today’s rainmaker; Bertram Scudder writes for our own New York Times; Claude Slagenhop sponsors Greta on her world tour. And Horace Bussby Mowen epitomizes today’s industrialist.
There are no men and women of integrity, ready to go on strike instead of putting up with the largesse of the state; our titans live off of that largesse. Who holds such people accountable? We know it isn’t the state and we know it isn’t markets – such as they are.
Unless and until Christianity plays its proper role – and I grant, that may be a bigger ask than waiting for John Galt, given what we know of many Christian leaders today (even before shutting down for Holy Week) – I find little reason to expect that the state will at all shrink in its role.
It stinks, I know. But there it is.