I’m reading Atlas Shrugged once again. The last time I read it was sometime early in the 90s. The first time I read it was sometime in the 80s. I don’t agree with everything that the book concludes, but I have very strong feelings about everything it concludes. Agree or disagree, it’s a powerful book. You can’t read it without exposing something raw in yourself.
Reading this book is causing me some problems this time around. My nights are either sleepless or filled with bad dreams. Before, the realism of the situations in the book was striking, but the scenario seemed somehow distant, almost like science fiction. Now, the abominations visited upon the people by the government in the book aren’t in some distant “it could be this way . . .” The abominations are NOW.
For one example, in the book federal regulations are being written by the Coordinator of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources “in the name of the national emergency.” One of the regulations noted in Part Two, Chapter 1 of Atlas Shrugged, at location 7877 in the Kindle Edition:
“All the manufacturing establishments of the country, of any size and nature, are forbidden to move from their present locations, except when granted a special permission to do so by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources.”
Does this sound silly? Why on earth would our real government do that?
Enter the real life Boeing controversy. Last month, the National Labor Relations Board filed suit against Boeing. They are asking a judge to grant an order that Boeing must open a second assembly plant in Washington State to build their Dreamliner 787 instead of using a facility they are now completing in South Carolina.
The NLRB is alleging that in building a plant in South Carolina, Boeing is engaging in unfair labor practices. They allege that Boeing’s motivation in constructing its new facility in a right to work state (South Carolina) is to retaliate against the union in Washington for the workers’ strike in 2008.
Boeing did not shut down or reduce the output of its facility in Seattle. No jobs in Washington State have been or are planned to be eliminated in the production of this plant. As a matter of fact they have increased the number of employees at the Washington facility and are planning to hire more. Current plans call for 70% of the production to be in Washington State and 30% to be in South Carolina. What worker is being “protected” by the NLRB?
The similarity between the fictional regulation in Atlas Shrugged and the reality of the Boeing case is what keeps me up at night. Both situations result from the rationale that government is protecting “workers.” The reality in both circumstances is that money is greasing the palms of the politicians.
Can the government really dictate to companies that once they have located a business in a certain state, they can’t even expand into other states? How can we, as citizens, accept this? Is this another step along the way of the government deciding who will do business and where? I thought that government interference in the GM situation was bad, but this is thousands of times worse.
It is not just the similarity between the fictitious and real government regulations that disturbs me, it is the similarity of the reaction of the people in the book with the reaction of real life people. What I read on the internet could have been written in the book. For example, there is an intellectual elite in the book, one of whom could have written the New York Times editorial published April 25 at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/opinion/26tue2.html?scp=1&sq=Boeing%20NLRB&st=cse
“It may be a difficult case to prove, but the complaint filed last month by the National Labor Relations Board against Boeing is a welcome effort to defend workers’ right to collective bargaining.”
Tom Wroblewski, president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751, predictably used lofty doublespeak that can be seen as illogical not only by an unemployed person in South Carolina, but by any fifth grader who has not yet been indoctrinated by our school system:
“A complaint issued Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board against the Boeing Co. is a victory for all American workers — particularly aerospace workers in both Puget Sound and South Carolina.
Then there’s this reaction from a “common” citizen:
“Well, there’s no time to palaver when it’s a national emergency.”
That one is from the book, but how many times in the past few years have we heard, “There’s no time to talk about this legislation. Just pass it. It’s a national emergency.”
There is a real danger in government officials, elected or appointed, controlling where businesses operate. They can legislate or regulate to favor some companies (e.g., Goldman Sachs or GM) over other companies (e.g., Lehman Brothers or Ford) instead of letting incompetence drive the bad businesses out of the marketplace or force them to reorganize to operate more efficiently. There are many inevitable consequences to this kind of control, all of them bad (unless you are a corrupt politician or businessman). It would take a book just to name them all.
I would like to credit Ayn Rand with being a visionary, but many conditions that she describes in her book were a product of observation rather than imagination. She lived through a time when the insidiousness of government control over what we term the free market had asserted itself in many places, especially in Europe. Look at what happened there, in pre WWII in Germany and Italy, in post WWII in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Ayn Rand could see the harm in reality. It required not an imagination, but brains.
Ayn Rand’s real insight was in applying the unthinkable: This is what it would be like if it happened here, in America.
I think of what our government has been doing to our free market system. I consider the similarities between the atmosphere in the country as described in the book and the atmosphere in our country as it is now. I recognize that human nature is basically the same now as was described in the book. All of these thoughts make me lie awake at night and wonder if we are able to wake up in time to avert the inevitable cage into which we are locking ourselves.
The time has come in this country to ask the question posed in the book: Who is John Galt? I hope we find the right answer.