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 Politics: Laissez Faire Capitalism
 
Rand’s Atlas is still shrugging
The Mint, United States Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Amity Shlaes
Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders—until he doesn’t. You get the feeling plenty of Atlases are shrugging these days, in part because their tax burden is getting heavier. Yet President Barack Obama has made it clear he would like to see the rich pay a greater share. Anyone irked can find consolation in Rand’s fantasy, where the most valued professionals evaporate because of such demands, writes Amity Shlaes in the Mint.

Imagine a novel of more than a thousand pages, published half a century ago. The author doesn’t have a talk-radio show and has been dead for 27 years.

 

As for the storyline, it is beyond dated: humourless executives fight with humourless public officials over an industry that is, today, almost irrelevant to the US economy—railroads. The prose itself is a disconcerting mixture of philosophy, industrial policy, and bodice-ripping: The wind blew her hair to blend with his. She knew why he had wanted to walk through the mountains tonight.

 

In short, you would think Atlas Shrugged might be long forgotten.

 

Instead, Ayn Rand’s novel is remembered more than ever. This year the book is selling at a faster rate than the last year. Last year, sales were about 200,000, higher than any year before that, including 1957, when the book was published.

 

 

Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders—until he doesn’t.

 

You get the feeling plenty of Atlases are shrugging these days, in part because their tax burden is getting heavier. It’s interesting to compare sales of Atlas Shrugged, provided by the Ayn Rand Institute, to Internal Revenue Service distribution tables.

 

In 1986, a year when Atlas Shrugged sold between 60,000 and 80,000 copies, the top 1% of earners paid 26% of the income tax. By 2000, that 1% was paying 37%, and Atlas Shrugged sales were at 120,000. By 2006, the top 1% carried 40% of the burden.

 

Yet President Barack Obama has made it clear he would like to see the rich pay a greater share. Anyone irked at that prospect can find consolation in Rand’s fantasy, in which the most valued professionals evaporate from the work-place because of such demands.

 

The hard-money monologue of Rand’s copper king, Francisco d’Anconia, used to sound weird. Who even thought about gold in the early 1990s? Now, D’Anconia’s lecture on the unreliable dollar sounds like it could have been scripted by Zhou Xiaochuan, or some other furious Chinese central banker: Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a cheque drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked, “account overdrawn”.

 

 

Rand knew that government tends to drive the most productive economic figures away even as it pretends to utilize them. Today’s shortage of primary care doctors serves as an example. Various administrations, Democratic and Republican, have tried to nudge more medical students into primary care. Young doctors simply haven’t complied. That is in part because of the higher compensation of specialties. But it is also because the great charm of being a primary care doctor—autonomy to work in a range of areas—has been removed.

 

Rand foresaw this: Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce, says one of her characters. It is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled.

 

Long before managed-care existed, Rand was describing doctors’ frustration with it.

This article was published in the The Mint on Wednesday, June 03, 2009. Please read the original article here.
Author : Ms. Amity Shlaes is senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression".
Tags- Find more articles on - capitalism | economic slowdown | financial markets

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