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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you ever grow weary of Ms. Rosenbaum’s tome, you could always grind your teeth on George Soros’ “The Alchemy of Finance”. Not a man I respect, or would ever do business with, but I have to respect his ability to make money. Just curious, do you think the industrialist in Atlas Shrugged could have been based on the life of Harry F. Sinclair?