Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Atlas Shrugged: Quote #3

The Twentieth Century Motor Company had been the most respected, dependable and profitable automobile company in the country—until the founder died and left the company to his three children. In just four years, they had driven it into bankruptcy. Dagny Taggart discovers the tragic tale as she searches for the inventor of a mysterious engine found in the abandoned factory.

The new owners talked their employees into voting for a grand reorganization of the plant along the lines of a famous slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” All wages were pooled and distributed according to need.

“We’re all one big family, they told us, we’re all in this together. But you don’t stand working an acetylene torch ten hours a day—together, and you don’t all get a bellyache—together. What’s whose ability and which of whose needs comes first? ... Well, anyway, it was decided that nobody had a right to judge his own need or ability. We voted on it. ... It took us just one meeting to discover that we had become beggars—rotten, whining, sniveling beggars all of us, because no man could claim his pay as his rightful earning, his work didn’t belong to him, it belonged to ‘the family,’ and they owed him nothing in return, and the only claim he had on them was his ‘need’ ...

“But that wasn’t all. There was something else that we discovered at the same meeting. The factory’s production had fallen by forty per cent, in the first half-year, so it was decided that somebody hadn’t delivered ‘according to his ability.’ Who? How would you tell it? The family voted on that, too. They voted which men were the best, and these men were sentenced to work overtime each night for the next six months. Overtime without pay—because you weren’t paid by time and you weren’t paid by work, only by need. ...

“It didn’t take us long to see how it all worked out. Any man who tried to play it straight, had to refuse himself everything. He lost his taste for any pleasure, he hated to smoke a nickel’s worth or tobacco or chew a stick of gum, worrying whether somebody had more need for that nickel. He felt ashamed of every mouthful  of food he swallowed, wondering whose weary night of overtime had paid for it, knowing that his food was not his by right, miserably wishing to be cheated rather than to cheat, to be a sucker, but not a blood-sucker. ... But the shiftless and the irresponsible had a field day of it. ... They found more ways of getting in ‘need’ than the rest of us could ever imagine—they developed a special skill for it, which was the only ability they showed. ...

“This was the whole secret of it. At first, I kept wondering how it could be possible that the educated, the cultured, the famous men of the world could make a mistake of this size and preach, as righteousness, this sort of abomination—when five minutes of thought should have told them what would happen if somebody tried to practice what they preached. Now I know that they didn’t do it by any kind of mistake. Mistakes of this size are never made innocently. If men fall for some vicious piece of insanity, when they have no way to make it work and no possible reason to explain their choice—it’s because they have a reason that they do not wish to tell. And we weren’t so innocent either, when we voted for the plan at the first meeting. We didn’t do it just because we believed that the drippy old guff they spewed was good. We had another reason, but the guff helped us to hide it from our neighbors and from ourselves. The guff gave us a chance to pass off as virtue something that we’d be ashamed to admit otherwise. There wasn’t a man voting for it who didn’t think that under a setup of this kind he’d muscle in on the profits of the men abler than himself. ... That was our real motive when we voted—that was the truth of it—but we didn’t like to think it, so the less we liked it, the louder we yelled about our love for the common good.”

This passage is pretty straightforward. Communism/socialism doesn’t work for companies or for countries. When ability is punished and victimhood is rewarded, society cannot survive for long. Eventually you run out of other people’s money.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Obama Declined Dutch Help On Oil Spill

That's right. Here is the quote from the story:

Three days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch government offered to help. 

It was willing to provide ships outfitted with oil-skimming booms, and it proposed a plan for building sand barriers to protect sensitive marshlands.

The response from the Obama administration and BP, which are coordinating the cleanup: “The embassy got a nice letter from the administration that said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,'” said Geert Visser, consul general for the Netherlands in Houston.

Birth of the Tea Party Movement

Just a quick break from my series to link to Michael Barone's piece today. Do you remember Rick Santelli's famous rant back in February of 2009? Barone takes another look at his arguments, both economic and moral, in the light of the intervening months of unsuccessful and detrimental Obama policy initiatives. It turns out that his fears were justified. What's unusual is that large swaths of the American people agreed with him. The template for the last 80 years has been: economic trouble requires more government intervention. Suddenly, a new template is emerging: economic trouble requires less government intervention. Barone concludes:

“We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July,” Santelli said. As it turned out, thousands of previously uninvolved citizens flocked to tea parties all over America even sooner, and now they’re making their mark in primaries and special elections. New Deal historians can’t explain that. Rick Santelli’s rant does.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Atlas Shrugged: Quote #2

Hank Rearden, one of the main protagonists, has just been caught selling some of his miraculous alloy, Rearden Metal, to a business associate. The state has outlawed selling the metal in any significant quantity without specific approval. Vital industries are crumbling as they fall victim to acute lack of resources and materials. Rearden sold the metal to Ken Danagger to keep his coal mines producing a steady stream of coal for Rearden’s foundry. The government caught wind of this and has sent Dr. Ferris, a low-level villain, to confront Rearden:

“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against—then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there it that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of lawbreakers—and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

This little outburst encapsulates one of the central techniques of the progressive left. Look at any major movement on the left—environmental politics, racial politics, gender politics, class envy politics, health care politics, social security politics—and you will see just this kind of system at work. The politicians, demagogues and bureaucrats leading these efforts seek to enact just the sort of laws mentioned by Dr. Ferris for the very purpose he named: cashing in on guilt. Nearly every policy initiative on the left turns on this notion of criminalizing more and more actions, churning up or manufacturing guilt and then using that guilt to incapacitate all those who stand in their way. (See Shelby Steele's book, White Guilt, for an in-depth discussion of this technique.)

This phenomenon even extends to foreign policy. We are constantly reminded of America’s past failures and shameful acts. We are urged to abandon national pride in favor of national guilt—to embrace internationalism and the interests of other countries (even enemies) before the interests of our own country. A similar movement can be witnessed in the pages of history: Western Europe 1919-1939. The result was the Second World War.

Dr. Ferris' remarks  may help illustrate why conservatives strive so ardently for limited government. We seek to limit the number and extent of laws to increase freedom and reduce false guilt. We oppose 3,000-page laws which give sweeping powers to bureaucrats. We embrace the simplicity of the Constitution. The fewer laws we have and the smaller burden of guilt we accept, the less will be the power welded by political elites to control our lives.