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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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