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Archive for the ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Category

Just like Clark Kent could change into Superman, President Obama has a remarkable ability to change into King Obama.

Tired of that pesky Constitution? Irritated that the Founding Fathers created a system based on separation of powers? Well, there’s a superhero to overcome those obstacles.

Faster than a last-minute Obamacare reg! More powerful than the Tenth Amendment! Able to leap the enumerated powers clause in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s SuperPresident!”)… Yes, it’s SuperPresident … strange visitor from corrupt Chicago, who came to Washington with powers and hubris far beyond those of the Founding Fathers! SuperPresident … who can change the course of the Constitution, bend the Bill of Rights in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Barack Obama, mild-mannered uniter who stops the rise of the oceans and heals the planet, fights a never-ending battle for redistribution, statism, and the French way!

And what has our superhero done lately?

He’s arbitrarily and unilaterally changed the Obamacare law.

Since it’s the 18th time he’s done that, this may not seem very newsworthy. But the latest change is particularly interesting because the President is ordering certain companies to maintain their existing payrolls.

Check out this blurb from a Fox News story.

Obama officials made clear in a press briefing that firms would not be allowed to lay off workers to get into the preferred class of those businesses with 50 to 99 employees. …Firms will be required to certify to the IRS–under penalty of perjury–that ObamaCare was not a motivating factor in their staffing decisions. To avoid ObamaCare costs you must swear that you are not trying to avoid ObamaCare costs.

When this story first came to my attention, thanks to James Taranto, something seemed eerily familiar.

Where had I read about a government ordering companies to freeze in place their employment levels.

I went through all the usual suspects in my mind. Was it Argentina? Was it France? How about California?

And then it struck me that life was imitating fiction. Obama’s policy is so bad that it resembles a scene in an Ayn Rand novel.

In her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, the political elite try to halt the economy’s decline by imposing Directive 10-289, which seeks to freeze in place all factors of production – including the number of workers at each firm.

All workers, wage earners and employees of any kind whatsoever shall henceforth be attached to their jobs and shall not leave nor be dismissed nor change employment.

Obama’s latest diktat doesn’t go nearly as far as Directive 10-289, thankfully, but it’s more than a bit disturbing that we’ve gotten to the point where a bunch of hacks in Washington think that they have the right to tell private companies how many people they’re allowed to have on the payroll.

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

This isn’t the first time that the real-world unfolding of Obamacare has resembled a scene from Atlas Shrugged. Back in 2011, I wrote about how the waiver process for escaping the law was almost identical to the corrupt system of unfreezing railroad bonds in the book.

P.S. While searching online to get the details of Directive 10-289, I saw that John Sexton, writing for Breitbart, beat me to the punch.

P.P.S. If you prefer to get anti-statism satire from Superman instead of Atlas Shrugged, you may enjoy this cartoon.

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Ayn Rand’s famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, tells the story of what happens when society’s most productive people go on strike because they don’t want to subsidize the looters and moochers.

I won’t give away the plot, but one interesting twist in the story is when government officials realize that they need some people to produce. Otherwise, as the former President of Brazil acknowledged in real life, there’s nothing to redistribute.

Well, some people in France don’t understand the risks of driving away the geese that lay the golden eggs. Here are some excerpts from a Christian Science Monitor story.

“au revoir, looters and moochers”

As French President François Hollande outlined new taxes and spending cuts while promoting reforms to turn the economy around – word leaked out that France’s wealthiest man, Bernard Arnault, was heading for Belgium in a rumored tax dodge. At first, the timing could not appear to have been worse for the national morale and Mr. Hollande. …he will hit those with direct salaries over 1 million euros ($1.3 million) with a 75 percent tax. The French have not forgotten the national shame when British Prime Minister David Cameron told the world from Mexico in early summer that London was “rolling out the red carpet” for wealthy French seeking tax havens.  Yet, instead, in a national spasm of pique, France spent all day making accusations of “traitor” and “ingrate” at the rich guy – Mr. Arnault, worth $41 billion. …The anti-Arnault frenzy spurred far-left guru Jean-Luc Mélenchon to call him a “parasite,” and far-right darling Marianne Le Pen to proclaim “scandalous” what appears to be a financial exile. A screaming headline in Libération – “Get Lost You Rich Idiot”… Hollande yesterday said the fashion tycoon, who also left France for the US during the last Socialist government of François Mitterand, “should have measured what it means to apply for citizenship to another country. In this period, we need to appeal to patriotism.”

I’ve already posted about productive people escaping France, so that’s not exactly a new development.

What is remarkable, though, is the way French politicians, journalists, and ordinary citizens (presumably of the moocher variety) have viciously attacked Mr. Arnault.

Sort of like thieves who want moral sanction from their victims. Hmmm…seems that somebody wrote a book with that theme – and it didn’t end well for the looter class. Which is exactly why I’m predicting that France will soon face a Greek-style fiscal crisis.

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Advocates of limited government love to fantasize. But because we’re strange people, we don’t have ordinary fantasies about supermodels or playing pro baseball. We daydream about a libertarian nirvana, where the rights of individuals are protected, guided by a moral order based on freedom and responsibility, and the leviathan state is forever constrained.

Ayn Rand created a fictional version of this free society in Atlas Shrugged and called it Galt’s Gulch. But some advocates of liberty want to turn fiction into reality.

Here are some excerpts from a Yahoo story about the efforts of a libertarian entrepreneur.

Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters, according to a profile of the billionaire in Details magazine. Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch–free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be “a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.” …The Seasteading Institute’s Patri Friedman says the group plans to launch an office park off the San Francisco coast next year, with the first full-time settlements following seven years later.

I think this is a great idea, though I have two concerns.

First and foremost, creating a Galt’s Gulch does not mean you necessarily escape oppressive laws. Places such as the Cayman Islands, Monaco, and Hong Kong are relatively free compared to the United States, but you can’t escape the IRS by moving your money to these fiscal havens.

The United States has a “worldwide” tax system, which necessitates a form of fiscal imperialism. And because America is the 800-pound gorilla of the world economy, almost all low-tax jurisdictions have been coerced into serving as deputy tax collectors for bad U.S. tax laws.

You may be thinking, “So what, Dan, we’re talking about physically redomiciling, not just moving our money.”

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Living outside the United States does not mean you escape the IRS. Unlike all other developed nations, America’s worldwide tax system applies even to non-residents.

So you can only get rid of the IRS by giving up American citizenship. But even that’s difficult. Politicians have adopted reprehensible anti-expatriation laws – disgustingly similar to the ones imposed by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia – that don’t let people emigrate without first shaking them down for money.

So if you want to move to a new Galt’s Gulch floating island, you either have to do it before you achieve economic success or you have to pay a ransom to the thuggish clowns in Washington.

This certainly isn’t an argument against what the Seasteading Institute is trying to do, but it is a warning that there will be barriers imposed by uncompetitive nations with high taxes and excessive intervention.

Simply stated, governments don’t like competition. And they definitely hate anything that hinders their ability to collect tax revenue and buy votes. Indeed, this is why I spend so much of my time fighting to preserve tax competition (even if it means the possibility of getting thrown in a Mexican jail). If the crooks in Washington and other national capitals know that the geese with the golden eggs can fly away, they will be much less likely to impose bad policy.

All of this is explained in this video on the economic benefit of tax havens.

My other concern is a personal gripe. The Seasteading Institute is planning to put their prototype off the coast of San Francisco. That’s much too chilly. I vote for the Caribbean.

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In a perverse way, I’m glad that there are places such as Greece and Illinois. These profligate jurisdictions are useful examples of the dangers of bloated government and reckless statism.

There also are some cities that serve as reverse role models. Detroit is a miserable case study of big government run amok, so I enjoyed a moment or two of guilty pleasure as I read this CNBC story about the ongoing decay of the Motor City. Here are some excerpts.

Detroit neighborhoods with more people and a better chance of survival will receive different levels of city services than more blighted areas under a plan unveiled Wednesday that some residents fear may pit them against each other for scarce resources. …the boundaries of the 139-square-mile city aren’t receding. The plan also backs away from forcing the redistribution of what’s left of the population into areas where people still live and where the houses aren’t on the verge of caving in. …Detroit’s population of about 713,000 is down about 200,000 from 10 years ago, according to U.S. Census figures, and has fallen more than 1 million since 1950. Some areas have fewer occupied homes than vacant ones. …A 2010 survey found Detroit had 33,000 vacant houses and scores of empty, weed-filled and trash-cluttered lots.

How predictable, I thought. This is what happens when vote-hungry politicians adopt policies that reward people for riding in the wagon and punish the folks who are pulling the wagon.

But there was also something about this story that rang a bell. It took a few minutes, since I’m getting old and decrepit, but then I realized that “blighted areas” was an eerily familiar term. Didn’t Ayn Rand use that term in one of her books?

Indeed, she did. Thanks to the miracle of Google Books, here is one of several passages in Atlas Shrugged that mentions Detroit…oops, I mean “blighted areas.”

No railroad was mentioned by name in the speeches that preceded the voting. The speeches dealt only with the public welfare. It was said that while the public welfare was threatened by shortages of transportation, railroads were destroying each other through vicious competition, on “the brutal policy of dog-eat-dog.” While there existed blighted areas where rail service had been discontinued, there existed at the same time large regions where two or more railroads were competing for a traffic barely sufficient for one. It was said that there were great opportunities for younger railroads in the blighted areas. While it was true that such areas offered little economic incentive at present, a public-spirited railroad, it was said, would undertake to provide transportation for the struggling inhabitants, since the prime purpose of a railroad was public service, not profit.

Heck, this isn’t the first time real-world events seem to have come straight from the pages of Rand’s book. I wrote last month about the creepy similarity of the waiver process for Obamacare and the bond de-freezers in Atlas Shrugged.

Many people say that Rand’s books are not very good literature, despite the amazing sales figures. Others say her philosophy is flawed, despite the profound influence of her writings.

I’m not competent to comment on those debates, but I can say that Atlas Shrugged does an amazing job of capturing the statist mindset and it tells a compelling story of how excessive government is self-destructive.

Fifty years ago, the book was viewed as a dystopian fantasy. Today, Greece, Illinois, and Detroit are making Ayn Rand seem like a prophet.

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In a column about the revolving door between big government and the lobbying world, here’s what the irreplaceable Tim Carney wrote about the waiver process for folks trying to escape the burden of government-run healthcare.

Congress imposes mandates on other entities, but gives bureaucrats the power to waive those mandates. To get such a waiver, you hire the people who used to administer or who helped craft the policies. So who’s the net winner? The politicians and bureaucrats who craft policies and wield power, because this combination of massive government power and wide bureaucratic discretion creates huge demand for revolving-door lobbyists. It’s another reason Obama’s legislative agenda, including bailouts, stimulus, ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, tobacco regulation, and more, necessarily fosters more corruption and cronyism.

This seemed so familiar that I wondered whether Tim was guilty of plagiarism. But he’s one of the best journalists in DC, so I knew that couldn’t be the case.

Then I realized that there was plagiarism, but the politicians in Washington were the guilty parties. As can be seen in this passage from Atlas Shrugged, the Obama Administration is copying from what Ayn Rand wrote – as dystopian parody – in the 1950s.

Nobody professed to understand the question of the frozen railroad bonds, perhaps, because everybody understood it too well. At first, there had been signs of a panic among the bondholders and of a dangerous indignation among the public. Then, Wesley Mouch had issued another directive, which ruled that people could get their bonds “defrozen” upon a plea of “essential need”: the government would purchase the bonds, if it found proof of the need satisfactory. there were three questions that no one answered or asked: “What constituted proof?” “What constituted need?” “Essential-to whom?” …One was not supposed to speak about the men who, having been refused, sold their bonds for one-third of the value to other men who possessed needs which, miraculously, made thirty-three frozen cents melt into a whole dollar, or about a new profession practiced by bright young boys just out of college, who called themselves “defreezers” and offered their services “to help you draft your application in the proper modern terms.” The boys had friends in Washington.

This isn’t the first time the Obama Administration has inadvertently brought Atlas Shrugged to life. The Administration’s top lawyer already semi-endorsed “going Galt” when he said people could choose to earn less money to avoid certain Obamacare impositions.

So if you want a glimpse at America’s future, I encourage you to read (or re-read) the book. Or at least watch the movie.

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The line between political truth and literary fiction is getting very blurry. One of the main features of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the choice of productive people to withdraw their talents from the economy to deprive the statists of a source of loot.

Who would have guessed, more than 50 years later, that the Solicitor General of the United States would be making the same argument in a legal case about Obamacare.

Here’s the relevant segment from the Washington Examiner.

President Obama’s solicitor general, defending the national health care law on Wednesday, told a federal appeals court that Americans who didn’t like the individual mandate could always avoid it by choosing to earn less money. Neal Kumar Katyal, the acting solicitor general, made the argument under questioning before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, which was considering an appeal by the Thomas More Law Center.

As is so often the case, Glenn Reynolds already made this connection. It’s very thoughtful of the Obama White House to promote Rand’s work.

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This post is only useful for those of you who live in the Washington area. But if you do, click on this link to find out how to attend a screening of Atlas Shrugged tomorrow afternoon at the Heritage Foundation.

I got a chance to see the movie at a Cato event in California. As I wrote after that opportunity, “The production quality is first rate, the musical score (I think that’s the term) is perfect, and the story is well told – a particularly challenging task since the 1000 page-plus book is actually being brought to the screen in three parts and this is just the first installment.”

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I’m a lucky guy to work at the Cato Institute, and I’m especially happy to be at Cato’s Benefactor Summit in San Diego this weekend. One of our supporters, John Aglialoro, is the person most responsible for the movie version of Atlas Shrugged (he independently produced the film with his own money), and he let us see the movie yesterday.

Five stars. Two thumbs up. Whatever rating system you use, you need to see this movie. You don’t need to be a “Randroid” or objectivist to like the film. Heck, you probably don’t even need to like small government or have capitalist sympathies.

I realize I’m biased, but I genuinely think John did a fantastic job. The production quality is first rate, the musical score (I think that’s the term) is perfect, and the story is well told – a particularly challenging task since the 1000 page-plus book is actually being brought to the screen in three parts and this is just the first installment.

The movie is released to the public on April 15 (yes, that choice is deliberate).

If you want to see the trailer, click here.

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Saw this today on Instapundit. Very exciting.

And it is released on April 15. Quite appropriate.

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Reason TV gives us a taste of what to expect when the movie version of Ayn Rand’s classic is released. The two stars we see in this video are not how I pictured Dagny Taggart (wasn’t she a brunette) and Hank Reardon, but so what. I’m looking forward to the movie and I hope it does justice to the book.

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The Wall Street Journal wisely warns against drawing too many conclusions from one month’s job data, but they also point out that the economy is much weaker than the White House claimed – in large part because of a series of public policy decisions that have rewarded sloth and punished production. Is anyone surprised that the economy’s performance has been tepid?

The private economy—that is, the wealth creation part, not the wealth redistribution part—gained only 41,000 jobs, down sharply from the encouraging 218,000 in April, and 158,000 in March. The unemployment rate did fall to 9.7% from 9.9%, but that was mainly because the labor force contracted by 322,000. Millions of Americans, beyond the 15 million Americans officially counted as unemployed, have given up looking for work. Worst of all, nearly half of all unemployed workers in America today (a record 46%) have been out of work for six months or more. …Whatever happened to the great neo-Keynesian “multiplier,” in which $1 in government spending was supposed to produce 1.5 times that in economic output? …The multiplier is an illusion because that Keynesian $1 has to come from somewhere in the private economy, either in higher taxes or borrowing. Its net economic impact was probably negative because so much of the stimulus was handed out in transfer payments (jobless benefits, Medicaid expansions, welfare) that did nothing to change incentives to invest or take risks. Meanwhile, that $862 billion was taken out of the more productive private economy. Almost everything Congress has done in recent months has made private businesses less inclined to hire new workers. ObamaCare imposes new taxes and mandates on private employers. Even with record unemployment, Congress raised the minimum wage to $7.25, pricing more workers out of jobs. …The “jobs” bill that the House passed last week expands jobless insurance to 99 weeks, while raising taxes by $80 billion on small employers and U.S-based corporations. On January 1, Congress is set to let taxes rise on capital gains, dividends and small businesses. None of these are incentives to hire more Americans. Ms. Romer said yesterday that to “ensure a more rapid, widespread recovery,” the White House supports “tax incentives for clean energy,” and “extensions of unemployment insurance and other key income support programs, a fund to encourage small business lending, and fiscal relief for state and local governments.” Hello? This is the failed 2009 stimulus in miniature.

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In a review of two new biographies about Ayn Rand, Charles Murray explains what made her books – particularly Atlas Shrugged – so powerful and persuasive:

In 1991, the book-of-the-month club conducted a survey asking people what book had most influenced their lives. The Bible ranked number one and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was number two. In 1998, the Modern Library released two lists of the top 100 books of the 20th century. One was compiled from the votes of the Modern Library’s Board, consisting of luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Edmund Morris, and Salman Rushdie. The two top-ranked books on the Board’s list were Ulysses and The Great Gatsby. The other list was based on more than 200,000 votes cast online by anyone who wanted to vote. The top two on that list were Atlas Shrugged (1957) and The Fountainhead (1943). The two novels have had six-figure annual sales for decades, running at a combined 300,000 copies annually during the past ten years. In 2009, Atlas Shrugged alone sold a record 500,000 copies and Rand’s four novels combined (the lesser two are We the Living [1936] and Anthem [1938]) sold more than 1,000,000 copies. And yet for 27 years after her death in 1982, we haven’t had a single scholarly biography of Ayn Rand. Who was this woman? How did she come to write such phenomenally influential novels? What are we to make of her legacy? These are the questions that finally have been asked and answered splendidly, with somewhat different emphases, in two new biographies published within weeks of each other: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns, an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia, and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller, a former executive editor at Condé Nast Publications. …Why then has reading these biographies of a deeply flawed woman—putting it gently—made me want to go back and reread her novels yet again? The answer is that Rand was a hedgehog who got a few huge truths right, and expressed those truths in her fiction so powerfully that they continue to inspire each new generation. They have only a loose relationship with Objectivism as a philosophy (which was formally developed only after the novels were written). Are selfishness and greed cardinal virtues in Objectivism? Who cares? Does Objectivist aesthetics denigrate Bach and Mozart? Who cares? Objectivism has nothing to do with what mesmerizes people about The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. What does mesmerize us? Fans of Ayn Rand will answer differently. Part of the popularity of the books derives from the many ways their themes can be refracted. Here is what I saw in Rand’s fictional world that shaped my views as an adolescent and still shapes them 50 years later.

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As you can tell from my last couple of posts, I’m getting increasingly upset with politicians who do the wrong thing and make our lives worse off. I’m especially bitter about how so much of what government does is for the benefit of powerful insiders and has a negative impact on the less fortunate in society.

So the time has come for me to take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that I’m on a beautiful Caribbean island. I’m in Curacao for a speech to a Wealth Preservation conference, where I’ll be talking about the importance of fighting international bureaucracies (such as the OECD) that are trying to hinder the flow of jobs and capital from high-tax nations to low-tax jurisdictions. To put it bluntly, I want to make it easier for people to “Go Galt” and protect themselves from rapacious politicians. Given what has happened in Europe, this battle is getting more important every day.

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Being an American citizen is an honor in many ways, but it is a huge millstone around the neck for highly successful investors and entrepreneurs because of an oppressive and complex tax system. This is particularly true for those based in and/or competing in global markets. Indeed, because the tax system (and regulatory system) is so onerous and because it is expected to get far worse in the future, a growing number of Americans are actually giving up citizenship and “voting with their feet.” The politicians view these people as “tax traitors” and are trying to erect higher barriers to hinder economic migration, particularly in the form of confiscatory “exit taxes” that are disturbingly reminiscent of the totalitarian practices of some of the world’s most unsavory regimes. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on this issue:

The number of American citizens and green-card holders severing their ties with the U.S. soared in the latter part of 2009, amid looming U.S. tax increases and a more aggressive posture by the Internal Revenue Service toward Americans living overseas. According to public records, just over 500 people world-wide renounced U.S. citizenship or permanent residency in the fourth quarter of 2009, the most recent period for which data are available. That is more people than have cut ties with the U.S. during all of 2007, and more than double the total expatriations in 2008. An Ohio-born entrepreneur, now based in Switzerland, told Dow Jones he is considering turning in his U.S. passport. Mounting U.S. tax and reporting requirements are making potential business partners hesitate to do business with him, he said. “I still do dearly love the U.S., and renouncing my citizenship is not something I take lightly. But more and more it is seeming like being part of a dysfunctional family,” said the businessman, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. “The tax itself is only a small part of the issue,” the Swiss-based entrepreneur said. “It’s the overall regulatory environment.” …”Fifteen or 20 years ago there was a big rush to make sure your kids became U.S. citizens, for access to U.S. schools for example,” said Timothy Burns, a tax lawyer at Withers law firm in Hong Kong. “Now we’re seeing just the opposite.” Last month, the Treasury Department announced more rigorous requirements for Americans living abroad to report information on foreign bank accounts. The reporting requirement has been in place for years, but only in the most recent couple of years has the IRS gotten tough about enforcing penalties. …Others are giving up their U.S. nationality to avoid tax increases in the U.S., as the government struggles under huge budget deficits. The top marginal tax rate is set to rise to 39.6% from 35% at the end of this year. A proposal to tax fund manager pay at ordinary income rates, instead of the 15% capital gains rate, is gaining currency in Congress. “Everybody sees the tax rates are going up. At a certain point, it gets beyond people’s pain threshold,” said Anthony Tong, a tax partner at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong. Unlike most jurisdictions, the U.S. taxes the income of citizens and green-card holders no matter where in the world it is earned.

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Fiscal crises have a predictable pattern. Step 1 occurs when the economy is prospering and tax revenues are growing faster than forecast. Step 2 is when politicians use the additional money to increase government spending. Step 3 is that politicians do not treat the extra tax revenue like a temportary windfall and budget accordingly. Instead, they adopt policies – more entitlements, more bureaucrats – that permanently expand the burden of the public sector. Step 4 occurs when the economy stumbles (in part because more resources are being diverted from the productive sector to the government) and tax revenues stagnate. If the resulting fiscal gap is large enough, as it is in places such as Greece and California, a crisis atmosphere is created. Step 5 takes place when politicians solemnly proclaim that “tough measures” are necessary, but very rarely does that mean a reversal of the policies that caused the mess. Instead, the result in higher taxes.

Greece is now at this stage. I’ve already argued here that perhaps bankruptcy is the best option for Greece, and I showed the data proving that Greece has a too-much-spending crisis rather than a too-little-revenue crisis. I’ve also commented (here, here, and here) about the feckless behavior of Greek politicians. Sadly, it looks like things are getting even worse. The government has announced a huge increase in the value-added tax, pushing this European version of a national sales tax up to 21 percent. On the spending side of the ledger, though, the government is only proposing to reduce bonuses that are automatically given to bureaucrats three times per year. Here’s an excerpt from the Associated Press report, including a typically hysterical responses from a Greek interest group:

Government officials said the measures would include cuts in civil servant’s annual pay through reducing their Easter, Christmas and vacation bonuses by 30 percent each, and a 2 percentage point increase in sales tax to bring it to 21 percent from the current 19 percent. …One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement, said…that “we have exhausted our limits.” …”It is a very difficult day for us … These cuts will take us to the brink,” said Panayiotis Vavouyious, the head of the retired civil servants’ association.

Now, time for some predictions. It is unlikely that higher taxes and cosmetic spending restraint will solve Greece’s fiscal problem. Strong global growth would make a difference, but that also seems doubtful. So Greece will probably move to Step 6, which is a bailout, though it is unclear whether the money will come from other European nations, the European Commission, and/or the European Central Bank. Step 7 is when politicians in nations such as Spain and Italy decide that financing spending (i.e., buying votes) with money from German and Dutch taxpayers is a swell idea, so they continue their profligate fiscal policies in order to become eligible for bailouts. Step 8 is when there is no more bailout money in Europe and the IMF (i.e., American taxpayers) ride to the rescue. Step 9 occurs when the United States faces a fiscal criss because of too much spending. For Step 10, read Atlas Shrugged.

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Barack Obama wants higher tax rates on the so-called rich, including steeper levies on income, capital gains, dividends, and even death! Along with other greedy politicians in Washington, he acts as if successful taxpayers are like sheep meekly awaiting slaughter. In reality, class-warfare tax policies generally backfire because of the five reasons outlined in this video:

A new study from Boston College provides additional evidence about the consequences of hate-and-envy tax policy. The research reveals that high tax rates in New Jersey have helped cause wealthy people to leave the state, leading to a net wealth reduction of $70 billion between 2004 and 2008. Wealth and income are different, of course, so it is worth pointing out that another study from 2007 estimated that the state lost $8 billion of gross income in 2005. That’s a huge amount of income that is now beyond the reach of the state’s greedy politicians. Here’s a report from the New Jersey Business News:

More than $70 billion in wealth left New Jersey between 2004 and 2008 as affluent residents moved elsewhere, according to a report released Wednesday that marks a swift reversal of fortune for a state once considered the nation’s wealthiest. Conducted by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, the report found wealthy households in New Jersey were leaving for other states — mainly Florida, Pennsylvania and New York — at a faster rate than they were being replaced. …The study – the first on interstate wealth migration in the country — noted the state actually saw an influx of $98 billion in the five years preceding 2004. The exodus of wealth, then, local experts and economists concluded, was a reaction to a series of changes in the state’s tax structure — including increases in the income, sales, property and “millionaire” taxes. “This study makes it crystal clear that New Jersey’s tax policies are resulting in a significant decline in the state’s wealth,” said Dennis Bone, chairman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and president of Verizon New Jersey. …In New Jersey, the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay more than 40 percent of the state’s income tax, he said. “That’s probably why we have these massive income shortfalls in the state budget, especially this year,” he said. Until the tax structure is improved, he said, “we’ll probably see a continuation of the trend, until there are no more high-wealth individuals left.” He added the report reinforces findings from a similar study he conducted in 2007 with fellow Rutgers professor Joseph Seneca, which found a sharp acceleration in residents leaving the state. That report, which focused on income rather than wealth, found the state lost nearly $8 billion in gross income in 2005. …Ken Hydock, a certified public accountant with Sobel and Company in Livingston, said in this 30-year-career he’s never seen so many of his wealthy clients leave for “purely tax reasons” for states like Florida, where property taxes are lower and there is no personal income or estate tax. In New Jersey, residents pay an estate tax if their assets amount to more than $675,000. That’s compared to a $3.5 million federal exemption for 2009. Several years ago, he recalled, one of his clients stood to make $60 million from stock options in a company that was being acquired by another. Before he cashed out, however, the client put his home up for sale, moved to Las Vegas, and “never stepped foot back in New Jersey again,” Hydock said. “He avoided paying about $6 million in taxes,” he said. “He passed away two years later and also saved a huge estate tax, so he probably saved $7 million.”

Still not convinced that high tax rates are causing wealth and income to escape from New Jersey? The Wall Street Journal wrote a very powerful editorial about the Boston College study, noting that New Jersey “…was once a fast-growing state but has now joined California and New York as high-tax, high-debt states with budget crises.” But the most powerful part of the editorial was this simple image. Prior to 1976, there was no state income tax in New Jersey. Now, by contrast, highly-productive people are getting fleeced by a 10.75 percent tax rate. No wonder so many of them are leaving.

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John Stossel’s show tomorrow on Fox Business News will discuss how modern events are eerily similar to what happened in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Writing about the show in his column, Stossel asks which political figure from today would be akin to the evil Wesley Mouch in the book. That’s a challenging question. During the Clinton years, Ira Magaziner or Robert Reich would have been obvious choices. But who is the statist Rasputin of the modern era? You can vote at this link. Geithner, Frank, and Obama currently lead the voting:

Even though Rand published “Atlas” in 1957, her descriptions of intrusive and bloated government read like today’s news. The “Preservation of Livelihood Law” and “Equalization of Opportunity Law” could be Nancy Pelosi’s or Harry Reid’s work. The novel’s chief villain is Wesley Mouch, a bureaucrat who cripples the economy with endless regulations. This sounds familiar. Reason magazine reports that “as he looks around Washington these days,” Rep. Paul Ryan “can’t help but think he’s seeing a lot of Wesley Mouch”. Me, too. I also saw a lot of him under George W. Bush. So I’m conducting this unscientific poll: Who is our Wesley Mouch? Hank Paulson? Tim Geithner? Barney Frank? You can vote here. Personally, I think Chris Dodd’s ridiculous financial proposals ought to win him the honor. But he isn’t among the choices on Fox’s list. As I write this, Geithner, President Obama and Barney Frank lead the voting. …Rand brings out ferocious hatred in some people. …Had today’s bureaucrats been in charge decades ago, they would have banned things like aspirin, cars and airplanes. Sadly, they are in charge now. That makes the “Atlas” message important today. Although Rand idolizes businessman in the abstract, “Atlas Shrugged” makes clear that she (like Adam Smith) understood that they are not natural friends of free markets. They are often first in line for privileges bestowed by the state. That’s called “crony capitalism,” and that’s what Orren Boyle practices in “Atlas.”

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The Wall Street Journal has an interesting column that asks whether Ayn Rand, the famous libertarian novelist and philosopher, is a net plus for the free-market movement. This seems like an odd question. After all, her books (especially Atlas Shrugged) have been hugely influential, exposing countless people to a libertarian message. But the author has a good point. Her philosophy’s emphasis on individual freedom is laudable, but she makes herself an easy target by asserting that this requires über-individualism and leaves no room for altruism. Indeed, I’ll always remember being somewhat put off by the scene in Atlas Shrugged where one of protagonists rents, rather than lends, his car to a friend. And even though I’m rarely in a church, her insistence that atheism was a necessary component of her philosophy also struck me as odd (not to mention needlessly exclusionary).

Rand seems to be roaring back. Sales are surging—Brian Doherty, author of “Radicals for Capitalism” (2007), recently calculated that in one week in late August, “Atlas” sold “67 percent more copies than it did the same week a year before, and 114 percent more than that same week in 2007.” Two buzzed-about Rand biographies hit the shelves this fall, and an “Atlas” cable miniseries is reportedly in the works. Designer Ralph Lauren recently listed Rand as one of his favorite novelists, and CNBC host Rick Santelli, whose on-air antibailout rant inspired hundreds of “tea party” protests across the nation, admitted the same. “I know this may not sound very humanitarian,” he said, “but at the end of the day I’m an Ayn Rand-er.” …But in an age where hope, change and warm-hearted marketing clearly resonate, is revitalizing and glorifying Rand’s acerbic “virtue of selfishness” doing the free-market movement any good? Doubts are starting to emerge. Leonard Liggio, a respected figure in libertarian circles and a guest at Rand’s post-“Atlas Shrugged” New York get-togethers, sees value in Rand but admits she wasn’t a bridge builder. …Others, however, go further. “Rand has this extremist, intolerant, dogmatic antigovernment stance,” says Brink Lindsey of the libertarian Cato Institute, “and it pushes free-market supporters toward a purist, radical vision that undermines their capacity to get anything done.” …How are free markets best “sold”? A more compelling approach flips Rand’s philosophy on its head, explaining how everyone, especially society’s neediest, benefits from economic liberty. It’s a compelling story about how freedom and prosperity can change lives for the better. And Ayn Rand is of little help in telling it.

As an economist, I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert, but Rand’s philosophy seems vulnerable. And her personal style apparently was less than perfect. But, returning to the main issue, surely Rand has been a net plus for the cause of liberty. I’m not a Randian (not even sure what that entails), but I have probably given copies of Atlas Shrugged to about 50 people over the years. Simply stated, the book is a very compelling introduction to the idea that government is corrupt, that it attracts (and benefits) corrupt people, and that redistributionism is a corrupt philosophy.

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