James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Atlas shrugged

  • Is There Any 'Reasoned' Defense of the Atlas Shrugged Guy?

    Making the case for an embattled small businessman

    Atlas.jpg

    If you're late joining us -- hey, maybe it's best to keep moving right along! Over the past two weeks readers have weighed in, pro and (mostly) con, about a small businessman somewhere in the Middle South who said before the election that if Obama were reelected, the businessman would express his disgust by "shrugging." He would close his business, lay off his workers, and get ahead of the inevitable collapse of the over-burdened economy. You can see some early installments here and the latest one here.

    Now I'm starting to get a lot of messages like this one, complaining that, while the Atlas Shrugged Guy was sending updates, he wasn't defending any of his views:

    Your return to Mr. AS was disappointing largely because he is not responding to the level of discourse that his original rants generated. This is something I have noticed about the loyal opposition in its present incarnation. No matter how much you try to engage them on issues of substance, inevitably, no matter how much you listen to them and offer factual rejoinders, you can count on them trying to change the subject, moving into incoherence, engaging in non-sequiturs, speaking in tongues, going all "talk to the hand", etc.

    Ultimately, this is all about tribalism.

    So, it's time for a couple of "reasoned" defenses. First, someone speaking up for the Guy himself:

    Your latest installment of Atlas Shrugged Guy detractors was overwhelmingly a slew of those crying hypocrisy on the part of our Randian in question. After reading through five or six of them espousing essentially the same argument - that this man is profiting from the very institution he denigrates - I thought it high time for me to finally get involved in your Atlas saga. Here goes:

    Government as a Premise
    On it's face, lamenting the hypocrisy of Atlas Shrugged Guy (ASG) appears to be a rather solid argument: the man is excoriating the very same government he is profiting from. I would argue, though, that this method of reasoning exposes our general complacency toward the growth of government and centralization of power. In short, as government expands to fulfill a new role - education, healthcare, etc. - too many people automatically consider government intervention to be a premise (never a conditional) of operations in that sector. Take education for example. Education existed well before a department of education did, yet as spending on education continues to increase we have seen a pitiful rise in performance that rivals statistical insignificance. Alas, government has implicated itself in this sector, and to have it withdraw must certainly cause chaos. Government is rarely the problem; rather, it just needs to be utilized in a better or more efficient manner.

    A Personal Example
    My point is that our government continues to expand, and with it comes the increasingly encompassing argument of hypocrisy. Take myself: my career path is in medicine. By the time I get a medical license, Obamacare will have been fully implemented. I personally am against the legislation, and I can very well see myself complaining later on in life how government and its policies are hurting my practice. The army of hypocrisy sniffers, however, will rebut: "How can you complain about Obamacare? It has given millions of people health insurance so that they can afford to visit your office and be your patients. The only reason your practice is so successful is because you're profiting off an enormous pool of insured made possible by Obamacare. That is the height of hypocrisy!" When government is everywhere, people are apt to give it credit for whatever they please.

    Addressing the Atlas Shrugged Guy's Predicament
    Finally, let's address ASG's specific predicament. It appears that he is enjoying the beneficence of the military-industrial complex (an awful institution I could lambaste at length). Is he wrong to do so? I'd venture to say no. Don't blame the player, blame the game. Government has adjusted the terrain of the playing field so that a government defense contractor position is a very lucrative job. Would anybody blame someone for pursuing the best paying job he found in his field? Let's say for the sake of argument that the military-industrial complex ceased to exist. What would ASG do? Well, he would have to take his skills elsewhere and find a more productive use of them. He could either strike success again in some other sector or completely lose out from the complex's abolition. What irks me about the hypocrisy crowd is that they implicitly presume the latter. The argument is that ASG should just shut up and be thankful because his worth is predicated solely on the government largess allotted to him. Without it, he is nothing.

    I apologize for the rather lengthy post, but this has been a sorely underrepresented philosophic take on your series, and I've tried to anticipate whatever criticisms I could think of in advance.

    Now, a different but complementary reasoned-defense from the "California guy" I quoted earlier. This is someone I know personally, and who I know is telling the truth when he says that he has had a successful job-creating, company-building, high-tech career, on a large scale. He was the one who objected to California's recent passage of Prop 30, on grounds that the majority was authorizing benefits for which the heaviest tax-payment burden would fall on a rich minority. In response to a wave of rebuttals, he writes once more:

    These comments create bipolar feelings--I am delighted and disapproving, admiring and disdainful, and chastened and emboldened. Several ideas permeate what has been said, I'll comment on those then suggest an underlying problem.
     
    First, I am chastened at misattributing the closing quote. [JF: He refers to his passing along a quote falsely attributed, boiled-frog-style, to Alexis de Tocqueville.] I had not read it in years (unaware of its recent resurgence) and my search for its origin and precise content led me astray with an incorrect provenance.  That said, it states perfectly my concern for our shared future. Odd that many replied about the attribution when the rise of legalized robbery in America is the urgent point rather than the as yet unidentified historical writer who foresaw it.
     
    Next, it is nice to have so many mathematically inclined readers, yet it is sad that so many are correspondingly weak at English-language comprehension. The increases were labeled as increases in the marginal tax rate. Check my math and the definition of marginal tax rate, for example at the web page I supplied a link to. It is correct. Also, there is a difference between paying 30% more and paying 30% and that confused a few. However, when I wrote, "...pay 30% more..." I erred by rounding. Even on a billion dollar income, the total tax increase by this Proposition would be just 29.1% and not the 30% I rounded to. Mea culpa.
     
    Minutiae aside, I have solidarity with many writers. The California initiative process is dangerous. Agreed. Every election we dodge falsely labelled, mean-spirited Propositions. Proposition 13 still casts a shadow across the state like that of Mordor. Agreed. Yet, I pay $4,000 per month in property taxes on my home. Is this low? Hardly, but property tax issues did erode the state's finances. Agreed. The tax law also entices people stay in their homes forever so neighborhoods become childless, urban core schools become redundant, and new ones are needed at urban edges. This urban planning problem resulted from Proposition 13.
     
    Alas, not all is agreement. Reading skill seems low among indignant writers. No, I did not stop helping California's needy. I pay 1% of everything I earn to them, at tax gunpoint, while the 99% pay nothing under Proposition 63. What I did stop was giving above this to the majority who voted to take that 1%. As stated, I give what I can to those outside of California. They are just as needy so the Apostle Matthew need not worry.  Another disagreement is about sales tax. That is going up too, by 0.25% from an average of 8%, an increase of 3.125% (no rounding) and applies to all trade, which seems fair so did not earn my complaint. However, drawing a parallel between "we'll all be paying 3.125% more sales tax next year for shoes and toothpaste" and "a tiny minority will be paying 10% to nearly 30% more of their yearly income retroactively" is a false equivalence about a predatory behavior that the Proposition defines and 53.9% voted for.
     
    Finally, I promised something new. Only one response (thank you) suggested that there might possibly be something even slightly wrong with a majority constructing a large tax aimed exclusively at a small group. Most said something like "this is payback" while a few wrote "the rich don't need their money." If you really feel this way--that something in the path to the present justifies a majority taking outright from some minority--then you have lost the empathy for your fellow man, the pride of self-reliance, and the respect for people in other walks of life. These define civil society and make the American system noble. Please reflect carefully. Our nation cannot survive a majority of takers and the willingness to exploit others always starts with seeing them as less worthy than you; less deserving of their lives, property, earnings, respect, or any other fruit of their labor. If voters had aggressively taxed left-handed people, short people, single parents, war veterans, or some other small group would you feel as righteous? What does your answer say about who you see as worthy like you and who is less so?

    More in the queue.

  • Let's Get Back to the Atlas Shrugged Guy

    A guy threatens to close his business because Obama won. Readers reply.

    Atlas.jpg

    I will work through this as systematically as I can. You can see many past Atlas Shrugged Guy entries here. For some reason, our "categories" function isn't working now, so some are missing, like this and this. But prowl around and you'll get the idea.

    1) From the guy himself. I have had an ongoing exchange with our original correspondent -- the one who promised to close down his business, with its $500,000 annual payroll, if Obama won. Just after the election he wrote:

    A litany of layoffs today. Entire industries slated for elimination. It is a brave new world you have created. Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven?

    I was used as red meat to the wolves yet my predictions are manifesting right before your eyes.  None are so blind as those who refuse to see...

    Then, after some criticism from readers:

    I appreciate your posting my thoughts. I am not afraid to stand my position in matters I strongly believe in. It is rare I get a response. I am passionate in my beliefs and relish debate. To bad honest debate is so rare and I did resent a tad being more meat to the wolves than a honest dissenter.

    And yesterday:

    Perhaps the best analogy i have heard on voting for Obama is like chickens voting for Col. Sanders...

    Not that I have anything against chickens...

    And today:

    It gets better evey day. Do me a favor and give me a heads up when  to pop my corks?

    To bad though about Hostess , deep fried Twinkies and Dom are decent together. Sort of like a blend of Elvis and Voltaire? ...

    I  confess, I like marshmallows and Rome presents a nice set of glowing embers in which to obtain the perfect brownness and crust.

    If I was a Hollywood movie star or perhaps capable of a Manhattan apartment I might enjoy the view. Instead I get to see my life's work dissolve like sugar in a cup of hot water....

    Fun stuff, huh?  Perhaps my extremist position of survival and self reliance can produce a repeat burn in effigy?

    Cheers, it is a brave new world?

    2) For a sampling from the other side, see the installment that begins after the jump.

    Herewith another trip through reader reaction. First, the hypocrisy of the defense contractor:

    I'm sure you've gotten more than a few e-mails regarding his e-mail about his company, but can I just point out:  "I worked avionics and fly by wire systems and missile technology for 16 years and switched to embedded systems, gps and wireless telemetry (no not wifi, wifi is for pussies) for the past 10 with a emphasis on extreme ruggedization"  basically screams that he's been living off of government contracts / government services (such as providing the GPS constellation) for 25+ years.

    Maybe the past 10 years have all been private customers, but still: to say that he "took nothing" is very rich, when he explicitly says he uses GPS.  We've corresponded briefly in the past; I'm deep in the military-industrial complex, and recognize that there is a lot of stuff that the government provides that makes my job possible.

    Basic credibility question:

    There is no physics dept/degree from Seattle University (a small Jesuit college).  It makes me wonderful how much of his account is true.*

     Who's really to blame?

    I am late to the critique of the poor guy. I used to own a business. I worked 80 hours a week. The business failed, during W's administration.  Why? Well, technology changed. It got easier and cheaper for businesses to manage without me, and thanks to government policies (I call that particular policy "capitalism"), it also got way easier to outsource to other countries.

    Its hard to put your life and blood into a business that supports multiple families. I started out being able to insure my employees, but insurance costs tripled in the 8 years I had the business, and in the end, I just couldn't do it. Stuff Happens. Look at Kodak.  Who could have thought that company wouldn't go on forever? Technology killed Kodak, just like it killed my business. Technology is like that. You change or die. It wasn't Bush's fault. And its not Obama's fault. And its not Atlas Shrugged guy's fault. If he's going down, he should just get out, and move on. That is the difficult, smart, painful thing to do. He's probably entitled to some bitterness. But blaming Obama is childish.

    Another question about Seattle U:

    I note with interest that this guy says he worked his way through school selling scrap metal.  I hadn't heard of Seattle U., but its website tells me that it is a Jesuit school.  That sounds a little pricey.  Did Mr. I-Did-It-All-Myself get any financial aid or did he sell a whole lot of scrap metal? 

    I would agree with some of your other readers that his grasp of spelling and grammar is a little weak for someone who claims to be a captain of industry, or else he's not a very good proof reader.  This, along with his arrogance, reminded me of a quote I saw years ago (I think it was in a cartoon) of someone describing a wine:  "It's a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its pretense."

    Update: Thanks to reader AK, here is the Thurber cartoon alluded to above.
    thurber2.jpg
    Back to contractor hypocrisy:

    I don't often comment on what I read on the internet but Randians bring out the worst in me.
     
    1.  Fly by wire, avionics, missile technology?  I would bet a paycheck his form's primary customer is the government and/or large defense contractors, whose primary customer is the Pentagon (possibly Boeing given the Seattle link, but they are a huge defense contractor in their own right).  That not only makes him as dependent on the Feds for his income as I (a Federal civil servant) am, but also means that the unsustainable, frequently off-budget, defense spending in large part responsible for our huge public debt has been used to pad his bottom line.  If you don't like deficits, Jack, you should look in the mirror.
     
    2.  His student loan screed is incoherent -- these are loans with interest, not handouts.  The whole purpose of student loans "being the business of the government" is that they wouldn't likely exist if not for the government, and the Obama Administration took the banks out of the equation as middlemen in order to lower costs, something I would think any businessman would understand.  But even more to the point -- how good a capitalist can this guy really be if he doesn't understand credit?  He may be proud of himself for putting himself through college without loans, but he was stupid to ignore easy-to-get capital at low rates he could have utilized to used to boost his future earnings.  Given the reported size of his firm, I'd say it's likely he received an SBA loan or two in the past as well.
     
    3.  Another of your commenters put it better than I can, but again it shows what a shaky grasp of Capitalism Rand-type really have -- if the market is really as efficient as they claim it will swallow up the demand for his firm's good and services -- the more in-demand his stuff is the quicker this will happen -- and his company will just be a fond memory.  This is just cutting off his nose to spite his face, although I'm sure he'll never notice from whatever low-tax paradise he manages to move to should Obama win today, like Haiti or Somalia.

     Let's go to the charts:

    Your Atlas Shrugged dude is wrong on the most important and central point.  Enclosed is a table of corporate profits.  They have skyrocketed under Obama (for reasons not, of course, necessarily related to Obama's policies, but he certainly hasn't quashed them, either).
    Profits.png

    What's kind of outrageous about his claim is that the greatest decline in R&D has been company funded R&D (see this recent column about Boeing).

    This guy is in my industry (he claims) and is actually completely wrong about what's going on. In other words, the glorious private sector is spending its lofty profits on shareholder dividends, rather than investing them in R&D.  Obama has nothing to do with that. 

     Can't get enough of defense hypocrisy:

    I'm sure it has been pointed out in the snowball of emails, but this fellow comes from the defense industry: which means he has been attached to governments' teat for 16+ years (perhaps not just the Uncle Sam's, but Israel, Saudi, Britain, etc.).  And then he has the temerity to complain about government regulation?  If anything, many of his erstwhile coworkers are sore about the --all-too-slow -- deterioration of defense socialism. 

    And he seems to be sore that the government now sees fit to fund renewable energy -- i.e. grid 'ruggedization' -- instead of buying 'ruggedized GPS systems.'  Now, granted, some of his product line may perhaps make its way into the hands of hikers and hunters... but please, we've met his customers, they is us, and we have little or no choice about whether we buy his products.  This guy is simply voting his interests... and I wish I were as certain as he that an Obama second term would threaten his business as much as he thinks.

    And

    I was mildly engaged when you first posted this guy's illiterate diatribe.  But today's follow-up closes the case for me.

    He's a MILITARY CONTRACTOR and he has the nerve to even utter the words "government to leave me alone and live within its means"!!!

    Where does he think all of his 'we built it' profits are coming from?

    Reminds me of "get the gubmint's hands off my social security and medicare!"

    What an entitled jerk.

    From a world traveler:

    As a self-employed 60 year old man, I was fascinated to read your various posts / comments / controversy created by the  gentleman who promises to close down his shop and put people out of work if Mr. Obama wins.  

    Like yourself, I have had the benefit of working in countries around the world (to date, 59 countries) over the past 30 years.  Like Elizabeth Warren, I know that almost every important resource relating to my business and travel has been supported  and subsidized by my tax payments over the years. At the same time,  I also realize that we pay lower taxes here than the citizens  of many other countries in which I do business------particularly when compared to the quality of services, clean air, clean water,  and all of the other benefits I have received.

    The point is this:  Most of the folks who are complaining about high taxes, socialism, government takeover of health insurance,  etc. are simply unaware of what kind of resources and benefits we have----as compared to most places in the world.  At the same time, we generally pay less per capita for those valuable resources and benefits----Northern Europe excepted.

    Frankly, I would be  thrilled with the  thought of living with the kind of infrastructure, public transportation, public services,  education, and comprehensive  health  care enjoyed by my friends in the countries which are most widely ridiculed by the right wing propaganda machine (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, and even Germany).  Guys like "Atlas Shrugs" are simply demonstrating their ignorance of our actual place in the world.

    In the larger picture, "Atlas Shrugs" and this entire election cycle is a comprehensive study of how the right wing media machine convinces hard working Americans to vote against their own interests, and the interests of their children.  It would be impossible  for Mr. Romney to be polling as he currently polls without this cynical propaganda machine working night and day.

    Defense-contractor hypocrisy!

    I'm sure others have said this, but Atlas Shrugged obviously worked in a world where his customers were governments and probably mostly the US government or other defense contractors. Why all the anger?  Why the feeling that he did this all by himself when he obviously was dependent on the military industrial complex for his livelihood? 

    It's also pretty sad that he graduated from a Jesuit university that places a lot of emphasis on public service and service to those who are not as fortunate as he has been. (One of my daughters has two degrees from there so I know a bit about their teaching.) 

    Unfortunately I've met this guy or his twin many times in the last four years: men who are extremely angry about the black guy (even though they won't admit why), so angry that they can hardly speak about Obama without spitting. It gets downright scary to be around some of them because the hatred is so visceral and so close to the surface.

    How did they ever get to feel so entitled? Why does anything Obama do enrage them?  They complain about people on welfare (which was eliminated back in the Clinton era) with absolutely no recognition that their own livelihoods wouldn't exist if our government didn't spend extraordinary amounts of money on the military.

    Quasi-defense

    I come late to this Shrugging of Atlas posting party and have been reading hard to catch up. Then I got to your close in the second installment:
     
    "For the record, I didn't hear from anyone defending the "Atlas" perspective -- nor anyone complaining about the other post."
     
    As someone who has collected and read most all that Ayn Rand wrote and published, and as someone who believes in her philosophy's core principles of Realism, Rationalism, Individualism/Egoism and Capitalism, and has followed them all his life, I completely agree with the second poster and those who supported him. Call me an Ayn Rand liberal.
     
    And I think the Randian, like many of his compatriots, either doesn't comprehend Objectivism very well, or decided to use it as license to ignore the fact that, living in a division-of-labor society, co-operation is more the key to success and survival than competition. To turn a common phrase back on itself: I am not my brother's keeper, but I am his partner and co-worker, in life and society.
     
    Ayn Rand wrote novels based on her philosophical beliefs. So did Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo, Ms. Rand's two favorite Romantic authors. Her novels were meant as fictional, intellectual examples of how society is organized and operates, not as survival guides to Galt's Gulch.
     
    Ms. Rand wrote of and for her time, which stretched from the Russian Revolution through Lenin and Stalin, to Hollywood and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the late 1940s and '50s. To her nothing was more frightening or fearful than what she saw in Soviet Russia and its satellite states after the war. (Read "We the Living" the world she escaped.) She did not live to see the fall of Communism, the great evil in her mind and its philosophical base of enforced altruism. I think she would have laughed as those today who call President Obama a socialist, or that Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare are somehow threats to the America Way of Life that most of the rest of the civilized world has peacefully and successfully incorporated into their societies. But like many who are successful and financially comfortable, she had a tendency to imply that "Hey! I did it. So should you."
     
    Anyway, that's my "Randian" perspective on the matter. Here's another about the Atlas Shrugged Guy. He sounds like someone who lost or did not get a government contract or research grant. To tack onto the nice metaphor that ended the second post, his are the sour grapes of wrath.

    What about his workers?

    "I treat my employees very well..."

    If I was one of his employees and knew he was threatening to eliminate my job because he didn't get his way in the election (as will 60-some-odd million other people, either way it goes) I would not feel well treated. In fact, I'd spend the rest of the day working on my resume and resignation letter. Because, regardless of the outcome, I would not want to risk my own well-being on such a childish and petulant little man.

    Let's follow up:

    I think the most interesting dimension of the "Atlas Shrugged" saga is whether or not your correspondent will in fact close his business if Obama wins. Please, I beg you, follow up with him and hold his feet to the fire... make him prove that he has in fact entirely closed his business in response to Obama's re-election. And then follow-up with his employees, and see how how they fare.

    To me, this smacks of the "moving to Canada" canard so many on my side of the aisle thundered on about in 2000 and especially 2004. I think sound money says your correspondent may be exaggerating, but you really should work to keep him honest in the coming months. And if he does fold up shop, you'll have a great story following the fallout.   Big props (no aviation pun intended) from Austin.

    And:

    I'm not mad at that fellow, I just don't care. The country will roll along one way or another, and his opting out won't affect anyone but himself. To put it another way, are we really to believe that if you subtracted the input from the top 10, 30, 500, 10,000 most motivated and gifted figures from the American economic landscape or the American scientific landscape or the American political landscape, that it would really make any difference in the long run? That the interests and desires and aspirations of the great teeming mass of Americans would not somehow be expressed?
     
    We are living in a time of federal budget deficit and many great challenges, and if your Atlas isn't aware that tax rates in the U.S. are far lower than in many industrialized countries, his ignorance isn't anything I need to correct about myself or my views.

    It doesn't matter what that man did or built. The statistics on financial inequality are clear, and the basic facts of the 2005-2009 financial debacle are also not really contested. In a sense the financial powers that be Galted us many years ago -- you see that in the Facebook millionaire who abandoned his U.S. citizenship, for instance. Did Facebook change as a result of that? I don't see how. And the noncontributing nature of high finance in recent years is being more widely recognized with every passing year.

    The hurt feelings of the grossly overcompensated are not something I'm going to do a great deal to mollify.

    And, finally for now, from a prominent figure in the tech world -- more prominent, for sure, than the original Guy himself: 

    I was trying to ignore this guy but I can't.

    Mr Atlas said: "...thru work alone i expect to reap the wealth of my labors. Giving back implies I took something. I took nothing and created something."

    There must be a name for this fantasy. In this make-believe world all success is due to oneself alone and all failure to others. So Mr. Atlas can view himself as a hero because he started a business, but the failure of his business to grow is not due to himself but to Mr. Obama and liberals. He applies his responsibility only to his successes and not his failures.  Therefore in this fantasy world he can safely ignore the fact that he took elementary education, safe streets, rule of law and many other support systems (that are not common in many countries of the world) in order to become successful in his own eyes.  But while he benefits without gratitude, he only counts these social benefits' cost.  This leads to the very weird mental ailment where he believes that "he took nothing" from the society that he is embedded deeply in. That his teachers, neighbors, employees have contributed nothing to his success, and that like some God he makes his own universe from nothing.

    I think you can be a perfectly sane libertarian (and many are), but this idea that you "take nothing" from others, or that you "built it yourself" is simply a bad meme, like maoism, that needs to be pushed back.

    One more, from another business owner:

    I have a $500k annual payroll at my little nursery.  I'm not closing the doors!  I'm rejoicing that Obamacare will reach full implementation and will hopefully become institutionalized to the degree that it cannot be easily repealed - I will see my company's health insurance costs go down!  Why not promote this side of the story - it's a more positive view and far more 'valid'.

    This is a small sample. More ahead.

    ___
    * Another reader writes in to say:
    For the latest installment of your "Atlas Shrugged" posts, the person who claimed that Seattle University doesn't have a Physics degree is wrong. Seattle University DOES have a physics degree. The Physics department is located in the College of Science and Engineering:

    Although as someone who works at a Jesuit school, I really hope that "Atlas Shrugged" didn't graduate from one! The selfishness and amorality he expresses are completely contrary to the spirit that Jesuit schools seek to instill in their graduates.

    More »

  • Atlas Shrugged Watch, California Division

    Is it "unfair" of Californians to impose progressive tax rates?

    YFairbanks.pngesterday, while still in a relatively balmy part of Alaska, I posted two quasi-defenses of the original "Atlas Shrugged Guy." For background on the Atlas Shrugged Guy and his views, see the compilation here. For the quasi-defenses -- which were more like criticisms-of-critics -- see here. For why I'm describing Anchorage as relatively balmy, see the illustration at right, with conditions just now at our next stop, Fairbanks. (Come on out today, if you're in the vicinity, to hear my wife and me talk about China, while warding off chillblains.) And if you want to see a TSA line in its full cumbersomeness, I invite you to an Alaska airport in the middle of winter, when "take off all your coats, shoes, and other garments" means heaps upon heaps of snow jackets, parkas, fleece, giant boots etc being piled in the bins.

    For the moment, here is a set of responses to the longer of the two Atlas quasi-defenses. The defense in question came from a very successful tech-world executive I know. He said that because of the results of California's election one week ago, he was preparing to leave the state. His objection was that the electorate was voting certain benefits to itself -- and asking people like him, at the top of the taxable-income distribution, to pay a disproportionate share (or all) of the cost.

    Responses:

    1) Well, it is good to have an informed readership! Everyone on Earth has written in to say that a quote the tech-world reader attributed to Tocqueville, about the way democracies destroy themselves by voting benefits to the majority that the majority doesn't pay for, is a boiled-frog style hoax.  If I'd seen the excellent Atlantic Wire item debunking this very quote, I would have mentioned it at the time. If the reader had, he wouldn't have used the quote. He was written back to say that he'd like to have that part of his message corrected, which I'll do when I can.

    2) Nearly as many people have written to point out that Prop 30, the California initiative that raised income taxes for top-end taxpayers, also raised sales taxes, which of course have the opposite effect. (They are "regressive" in the sense that their relative incidence burden goes up as income goes down.) I have been away from my native state too long and hadn't paid attention to that.

    3) Readers speak. I haven't even opened or read most of the replies on this I see in the inbox. Here is the first set that come across my eyes.
    A long statement of the case:

    I find the "tech figure" to be disingenuous at best. He lays the blame for California's mess on politicians:

    "In a sense the funding shortfall was manufactured. Amidst severe financial paucity politicians chose to budget for everything except education (including new railroad trains and tracks,) then raise the rhetoric of doom in education, proposing this tax on a tiny minority to pay for it."

    He is clearly intelligent, and thus he's too intelligent to be unaware that the funding shortfall was manufactured - by Prop 13. When Prop 13 untethered property tax and civic improvement, California became dependent on sales tax to raise revenue. Therefore, he has to be aware that the home that he occupies, and especially, the home that his elder parent(s) occupy, are essentially subsidized by increases in sales tax. You and I are in the same boat - both our parents live in homes whose property value is much lower than it would be in many other states. They see firsthand the advantage of Prop 13. You and I pay the price in increased sales tax revenue.

    As an aside, we have the highest sales tax in the country, and the second lowest property tax. Prop 13 shifted the burden of civic improvement from the homeowner, who has a vested interest in civic improvement, to the consumer. When Prop 13 was passed, no adjustment for the revenue loss was made for years - and we have been paying catchup ever since.

    Next, the claim that "53.9% of Californians feel that it (education) should be funded by just 1% of the state's families." That is at best a distortion of the facts. Prop 30 also increased the sales tax throughout the State 3.45%.

    Moreover, the tech figure speaks of starting "several $500m per year businesses". In order to do so, he would have leaned heavily on graduates from California schools, both secondary and college. You can place the value of an education where you like, but I always like to say that the value of 4 year college can be drawn by comparing the raw cost of an unsubsidized private - like your alma mater, USC - to that of a subsidized public, like UCLA. USC, raw cost, is $66,928. UCLA, raw cost, is $31,902. [JF note: I didn't notice this the first time through. I am "from Southern California" the region, but have not attended "Southern California" the university.]

    Using those figures, California taxpayers subsidize the education of a college student to the tune of +/- $35k per year. That is around $140k per student. It is good business; intelligence is a natural resource to be cultivated, as it is the real currency of a nation. The tech figure must have used hundreds of those subsidized students to build his fortunes. Burt he does not see this as his debt - he sees it as his right. Others subsidize those students - not him.

    Adam Smith, who may not have founded "several $500m per year businesses", but had a pretty good idea of capitalism and what is best for it, said, "The expense of the institutions for education and religious instruction is likewise, no doubt, beneficial to the whole society, and may, therefore, without injustice, be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole society. This expense, however, might perhaps with equal propriety, and even with some advantage, be defrayed altogether by those who receive the immediate benefit of such education and instruction, or by the voluntary contribution of those who think they have occasion for either the one or the other." It is a Smithian compromise that Prop 30 sets up - all people contribute, and those who benefit most - like the tech figure - contribute more.

    The tone was set in his response to the passage of Prop 63, when he stopped charitable giving in reaction to the passage of a law. He looks to the behavior of others, and that determines his reaction. That is a man with power but no moral compass. If he - or anyone - gives to charity for any reason other than true charity, the gesture is merely the sliding of beads on a forever unbalanced abacus. Matthew 25 does not say "whatever you did for the least of these in relation to a complex personal system of conditional spending related to the fluctuating tax structure of whatever state you happen to live in, you did for me".

    So off you go, tech figure. We will create 10 more that look just like you; hopefully they won't act the same.

    The basic math. The tone of this note is representative of many I have seen:

    I have to say I'm a bit appalled by your Atlas Shrugged defender #2, "a very successful tech figure in California" who has "created several $500M/year businesses." You'd think that such a person would be better at math. Especially since his taxes are such a sore spot for him - although perhaps if he actually understood them, he wouldn't be quite so pissed off.
     
    Apparently he's in the millionaire bracket, which means that with Prop 30, he will:
    ·        Pay 1% more state income tax on $50k ($250k - $300k), or $500.

    ·        Pay 2% more state income tax on $200k ($300k - $500k), or $4,000.

    ·        Pay 3% more state income tax on $500k ($500k - $1 mil), or $15,000.

    ·        Pay 3% more state income tax on everything over $1 million.
     
    That doesn't add up to 30% more taxes - sorry buddy! He frames it in terms of the percentage increase for each bracket, which is not only misleading, but incorrect, since the rate only applies to income that falls within that bracket. He also claims it's only levied on the top 1%, but that, too, isn't true - the rate hikes affect the top 3% of Californians. Also, the school budget issues are not manufactured as he claims - education in California has been in dire straits since the state economy got hammered by Enron. This is a problem that's been going on for years.
     
    I'm not going to say, "good riddance" or any of that. His kind of money goes a long way in California, but it'll go even farther out in the Midwest or somewhere else with a low cost of living. As long as he's happy living in such a place and isn't too interested in starting up any new $500M/year businesses, I say go for it. The education system will miss his money, but at least he won't get to teach anyone here his poor math skills.

    Similarly:

    I find these libertarian arguments of fascism on taxes deeply misinformed.  The guy goes off on Prop 30 temporarily raising taxes on top earners while not mentioning that the sales tax also goes up.  So the citizens of a state whose funding for public education has gone down for decades relative to other states for years have chosen to correct that in a manner that doesn't just stick it to the 1%.  In a sense the proposition does address issues like income inequality while also acknowledging that we are in this together (everyone including the poor will be hit by a sales tax).  And yes I will be likely be hit by both the 1% and the sales tax this year.  Progressive taxation is not fascism except in the fever swamp of the "maker" argument: California for years has been a great place for tech companies because the states education system up to the UC system was considered the best in the world.  Baffling really when one factor that seems to have been a real factor in why the US was transcendent in the 20th century was that it invested tremendously in education. 

    Another way to think about: In what way will (other then being peeved) both tax increases impact this gentleman.  Literally I bet in no substantial way beyond just feeling that he's being discriminated against for being successful.  Notice again the short shrift one sentence liner on education being good followed by complaining about other things in the budget without mentioning any of the benefits he gets from living in California in the first place.  It's like the Papa John's going off on about healthcare while not seeming to realize the cost of it will be likely less then 1% of a cost of pizza.  That's literally within the float of how much commodities prices cost food companies and yet another guy seems to need to go off on how terrible it is be in business under Democrats

    And:

    I want to take a moment to respond to the California "high-tech" guy whose letter you posted on November 12 because he says a lot of things that are facially valid but are nevertheless infuriating.  His concerns are valid enough -- and I opposed Prop 63 for exactly the reasons he gave -- but in the context of Prop 30 and the current California budget crisis, he's off base.

    As an aside, it should probably be noted that the rich consume public service just like the rest of us.  He assumes that the services paid for by California's taxes are for other people, not him.  This is almost certainly not true.  But accepting it for the moment, on to my main point --

    I, myself, am a public employee.  My own agency has been hit by about a 20% reduction in its overall budget from what it was only four or five years ago.  One of the ways that this cut has been absorbed is through furlough days.  Because of the furlough days I currently take what is essentially a 5% pay cut from what my income was a few years ago, and when current negotiations are completed I'm almost certain to take an even larger pay cut.  (If I don't get laid off, which isn't impossible).  There's no difference between a 7-8% pay cut (if I'm lucky and it's not the even larger slice management has asked for) and a corresponding increase in taxes to my take-home pay. My pension -- which is the additional compensation that makes my total compensation equivalent to what I would earn in the private sector -- is probably going to be cut, too.  Employees feel a bite in other ways -- bringing in their own supplies because the agency can no longer afford them, etc.

    Meanwhile, the agency I work for has reduced services everywhere.  Remote locations are being closed down, leaving to long drives for the public just to use our services.  Lines are getting longer.  Delays are everywhere.  And relations between management and labor have broken down, because management wants to minimize the impact on the public and the employees feel like we shouldn't be giving the public more services than they're willing to pay for.

    This state of affairs didn't come about because of greed on the part of the "53%."  It came about because of greed on the part of the Republicans carrying water for the 1%.  State Republicans have not only refused to entertain any tax increase, they've basically refused to suggest any plausible budget. ("Cut waste" is a common refrain, but there's never an explanation of where the billions of dollars can be saved.  Education, health care, public safety, and the courts have absorbed massive cuts over the past few years).  Schwartzenegger funded the state for years with bonds that now have to be paid off; Grey Davis was booted out by people like your correspondent because he tried to get a minor vehicle licensing fee increase that would have helped and would have had less impact on your correspondent.  (Regretting it now, pal?)  A shift to a state funding system less susceptible to recessionary impacts is impossible.  Prop 13 prevents the state from increasing property taxes and cutting income taxes, which would be a good idea.  Republicans in the legislature would refuse to entertain any restructuring of the tax system (say, less income taxes and more sales taxes), which would also be an improvement because it would make state funding fluctuate less.  "Base-broadening" of the type discussed nationally would also be a non-starter with the Republicans, who have taken the position that an increase of $0.01 on any person, no matter what it is combined with, is a tax increase and (until this last election) the Republicans had enough votes in the Legislature to block any tax increase, which needs a 2/3rds majority in each House.  If your correspondent would have preferred a 1/4% increase in the top rate and increases lower down on the income scale, he needs to take it up with the state Republicans.  If even two or three of them had proposed such a solution even six months ago, it would have passed quickly.

    Prop 30 (which, by the way, does include a sales tax increase that your correspondent ignored) was literally the only way to add any additional revenue to the budget because people like your correspondent blocked any other means of adding or fixing California's revenue, and increases lower on the income scale wouldn't have passed.  Even at that, it's only a 6-8 billion dollar increase, maybe half of the anticipated shortfall for the next fiscal year, enacted only after years of cuts-only fixes.  Your correspondent seems to think that a solution to a budget crisis that only impacts people other than himself is fair and a solution that includes a minimal impact on himself compared to the massive impact on everyone else is robbing from the rich to give to the poor even though the problem was largely caused by people like himself and their impossible demands on the treasury that caused this crisis.  Nonsense.  Schools, health care, public safety, courts -- the 99% have absorbed a much bigger hit than he's taking now already and will absorb a bigger one next year.

    Anyway, if your correspondent is still feeling put upon, he should remember, if nothing else, this -- the tax increase he's taking is minimal compared to the tax increase I'm taking.  Nobody likes to call the kind of reductions in income public employees have been taking, and will continue to take, tax increases, but like taxes they are a reduction in take-home pay that result in more money to the state, and let me tell you this -- if our next contract only had a 1% reduction in pay, the employees would throw a parade with fireworks Mitt Romney couldn't pay for.

    Who says Americans don't pay attention to public affairs? I am about to get on the flying sled plane to Fairbanks, so I will post this one now, with hopes for more on this and the original Atlas Shrugged Guy anon. For good measure, one more very long response after the jump. Thanks to all. (And I have heard again from the tech exec, with more to come from him too.)

    The last one for right now:

    I wanted to respond to an issue I have with the most recent comment on 'Atlas Shrugged', from the sympathetic tech owner in California. I think he's looking at information in a vacuum that is absent of history, of how things got to be this way and what was actually on the ballot.

    First of all, the major flaw in California is that you essentially require a super-majority in its state legislature to address taxation and budgeting. This is a result of the efforts put in by people protecting the wealthy, but decades back, by a party that figured out if it could endure with a size-able minority, it could restrict the California budget forever, creating massive budgetary issues resulting in further and further cuts with no capacity for correction through tax increases.

    So, the reason Prop 30 was put forward is because it was the only thing that could get be approved by the large majority of voters. This is why ballot-budgets are horrible ideas. This is why the California ballot initiative system is broken. But this is also, by the way, ensured by the very people who are now carrying such animus towards voters whose clout they hid behind. It's also not limited to California. We are currently fighting over increasing taxes for the wealthiest Americans. But Bush didn't pass tax cuts just targeted at the rich. The tax cuts benefited the rich more, but he passed them at all levels, because you can't just run on tax cuts for the wealthy. Yet, here we are, surprisingly with the party that pushed for these cuts now having been willing to allow their expiration at all levels as a bargaining chip to ensure they get them at the highest levels, to ensure they prevent cuts.

    This is a party strategy, a party whose interests align with the very wealthy. Now, I don't believe your tech owner in California is part of a conspiracy. I think he's responding, however, to the back half of a story. There has been a decades long battle to promote tax cuts, and this has resulted in climbing deficits as governments have kept telling people they can put in less and less and growth will somehow make it that they won't lose out. And when they do lose out, then program after program gets put on the cutting block, particularly those that don't generate revenue. In truth, all of the Bush tax cuts should be rescinded. They should never have been put in place. But now, we're stuck with the prospect of doubling back into recession if we do that. The only thing on the table that both won't destroy the economy and will be politically feasible at the present moment is increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, the very Americans for whom these tax cuts were actually created, the very Americans who have gained the most and suffered the least.

    You can't look at this long battle, and say 'well, we're being targeted by the selfish' when in actuality, this was part of the bargain, that you could swindle people for decades on lower taxes that truly benefit the wealthiest, that you could make generating revenue through taxation politically unfeasible, and that the people would ultimately be powerless when cuts eventually have to happen, particularly if you predict catastrophe if they did not. This is a long public relations struggle, and frankly, this is the correction on it. Taxes get restored on the Americans who benefited most from tax cuts. This is how the system corrects. If you want a system where everybody puts in, where everybody pays their fair share, well, then don't promote a system which swindles the middle class, the working class and the poor to make a sale for the wealthiest. If we're in this together, then we should, together, be fighting against future across-the-board tax cuts by any party that promises both those cuts and that we will continue being able to pay for social security, for medicare, for education, for mental health and all the services which we take for granted until they are absent. Ronald Reagan, in a later life of public service, ensured that mental health, that basic protection for the homeless veterans of America, would get demolished. This is not a charitable donation. This is part of a basic commitment a country should have to its citizens, particularly to those it has asked to serve. And this fight has repeated itself for years, with the party that advocates tax cuts saying they support the troops until all of a sudden, we can't afford veteran's benefits.

    This is not a secret method. This is how it works. And it's all done in protection of the wealthy. And that's not a bad gambit to run. It's pretty effective. But guess what, its results are evident when you look at California. People eventually find out they need services. People eventually want to part with less than they thought they could give up. People eventually pass propositions, and people, like the wealthiest Americans, continue to look out for their own checkbooks when they do. This is what decades of tax cut advocacy gets you. Eventually, people realize they don't want smaller government, and the system finds a new balance, and it's far less friendly than the balance you fought against, where our sacrifice was both more and shared. Luckily, there's a correction for this too, as we see through the Democratic Super-majority in California. The chance for a party to fix the system, to tip the scales back, to make a shared sacrifice what it should be. I hope they have the political courage to do so. I hope they are willing to part with the Super-Majority if it means using this time, now, to save the state from decades of sales pitches which, as is evident, promised more than they could deliver, and would only result in the certain chaos brought on by a conflation of interests among the most direct democracy.

    More »

  • Getting Back to the Atlas Shrugged Guy

    Can the 53% dictate what the 1% will pay?

    Atlas.jpg

    I have a good problem, but a problem nonetheless: more very, very interesting responses have come in on this topic than I have been able to process in real time. Especially while going from Juneau to Anchorage to (soon) Fairbanks! For past installments on "the Atlas Shrugged guy," please see this compilation.

    Here's the plan from this point out:

    1. In today's dispatch, I quote two sort-of-supportive comments about the Atlas Shrugged Guy, though both of these readers are criticizing-ASG-critics rather than actually supporting him.
    2. As soon as I can manage, and I hope later today, I'll give a sampling of the several thousand anti-Atlas Shrugged Guy messages that have come in.
    3. After that, I'll give some of the final replies of The Guy himself.

    Here is the short version of a sort-of-defense. This comes from an American I got to know in China who is now back in an academic setting in America:

    Brief thought: is it possible that the 16 metric tons of piling on by semi-bewildered Obama supporters [in an earlier dispatch] evinces a left-wing information bubble, somewhat in parallel to the right-wing bubble you reference in point 8 of your latest post?

    That is to say, many, if not most, Obama supporters are unable to understand why any sane and rational individual could have possibly been against Obama in this past election in no small part because they themselves are in a self-segregated bubble of their own? Instant reactions upon hearing someone would dare support the GOP from my lefty friends usually range from "must be racist" to "must be stupid" with very little (perhaps only "must be ignorant") in between.

    I speculate that this lefty bubble is mildly more porous than its righty counterpart, if only because lefty types seem to be less sure of their views and more open to doubt than righty types in my experience, but what do I know. Educated in the bubbles of Seattle, Cambridge, New York, and Berkeley; possibly no bigger bubbles than these.

    And here is the longer version. This one comes from someone I also know, who is a very successful tech figure in California.

    Clearly the "shrugger" is rare among your readership and strikes a painfully discordant note here. He writes in haste and fear, but our founding fathers were fearful of government and politics shapes people's actions as surely as the earthquake conviction shook Italian scientists. The monoculture of your inbox moves me to the rare step of sharing a personal story. Maybe my logic and data will be less easily jeered than his plea from the heart.



    I was born in California. Eight years ago our voters approved Proposition 63, declaring that the state's mental health services for poor people were intolerably underfunded so persons with incomes of one million dollars and above should be taxed an extra 1% to fund them. That is, Californians wanted to do something nice for poor people who are sick through no fault of their own, and 53.8% of the state voted to compel less than 1% of the state's residents pay for it.

    The day after the election I stopped my charitable giving to organizations that serve Californians. Yes, the indigent deserve my help, which is why I have been charitable, but they also deserve the help of the 99% who exempted themselves from participation. What had been kindness became stealing so I withdrew my volunteerism--that is, I "shrugged" slightly by directing my giving outside the state.



    I awoke Wednesday [Nov8] to find that California Proposition 30 was passed by 53.9% of our state's citizens to raise the taxes on 1% of California families. It raises the marginal tax rate by 10.6% for those with incomes of $250,000 to $300,000; by 21.5% for those between $300,000 and $500,000; by 32.26% for those between $500,000 and $1 million; and by 29.13% for those with incomes over $1 million. The stated intent is to increase education funding from elementary schools to universities. Education is wonderful and benefits all, yet 53.9% of Californians feel that it should be funded by just 1% of the state's families.

    In a sense the funding shortfall was manufactured. Amidst severe financial paucity politicians chose to budget for everything except education (including new railroad trains and tracks,) then raise the rhetoric of doom in education, proposing this tax on a tiny minority to pay for it. Also, this new tax will apply retroactively back to January. Most of the world derided the former Burma's punitive ex post facto laws yet this Proposition, with its minority targeting and time travel aspects, passed without comment on either point.


    Do you see the parallels here? Let's be clear about them: 53% to 54% of Californians feel the benevolent concern de jour is sufficiently important to civil society that 1% of Californians should be compelled to pay for it. Frédéric Bastiat wrote of this human trait in 1848, "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."
     
    My response? My family will leave California and the 53% who seek to pay for their way of life by taking from 1% of the citizens. I've created several $500M/year businesses in California over the last 20 years. My future successes, should they happen, will not happen here. We will work where a majority does not see us as prey or our productivity as their plunder. Elder care obligations mean that I cannot leave immediately, so I will pay 30% more state taxes. But when obligations to my parents are resolved, we will depart this state; between now and then, all hiring and capital investments I influence will be out of state.
     
    Your readers may laugh at me as a "childish and ignorant echo of AM radio" or "selfish Galt-type who thinks he owns his accomplishments" as they've laughed at the other fellow, but if any of them stop to realize that gifts from our government are stolen property, or fact-check and consider how today's California foretells tomorrow's America, then they will better understand your shrugger's panic. If there is any echo at all, it is not from "the rabid right" but Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America:
    "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years."
    We've proudly passed our 200 years but de Tocqueville's prospect has never anticipated my state, the nation, and our new Congress and President more vividly. In fact neither the For norAgainst Proposition 30 arguments in the State's official voting guide  mentioned that taxing the 1% exclusively to pay for the 99% was a point to consider. No wonder he is concerned about his ability to soldier on, just as I am concerned that a voting majority of Californians and Americans celebrate what they "won" on Tuesday with no regard for what the country lost.
  • By Popular Demand: One Last Immersion in the World of the 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy

    'Going Galt,' and the response

    Atlas.jpg

    Here we go:

    1. The "Atlas Shrugged Guy" made his first appearance in this item. In it, I quoted two self-identified small-business owners, one a tech-world person whom I actually knew, the other someone who wrote in over the transom, on what would happen if Barack Obama were re-elected.
    2. Much back-and-forth ensued. See here and here, with related links. 
    3. Then we had his stream-of-consciousness election-night posts as it became clear that his nightmare was coming true and Barack Obama would be returned to office.
    4. I have received 16 metric tons of response on this, virtually all of it hostile to the original writer. (Here is one exception.) Additional points before we go to sample messages after the jump:
    5. Is this a real person? Yes. I know his name, location, and that he has a business.
    6. Is he "trolling" or sending a deliberate parody of right-wing talk points? No. I have sufficient reason to believe these are actual his actual views. I'll mention more at the very end.
    7. Is he actually going to shut down his business? More on this later on too.
    8. What's the point here? I offer this -- and some of the guy's very latest reaction -- to illustrate the phenomenon discussed in Conor Friedersdorf's item: Members of the right-wing info bubble seem genuinely caught by surprise that their views seem extreme, unreasonable, or deluded, or unreasonable when removed from their hothouse environment. That may be the most important cultural-political effect of the election two days after: the right wing's version of what is (unjustly) known as the "Pauline Kael problem" -- the astonishment that Barack Obama could actually have won, when everyone they know and talk to shares the view that he's an utter-failure, different-from-us, business-hating socialist.
    9. How many am I using here? I got about 2,000 messages in this vein -- that's a very high response. I'll quote enough to illustrate a range of views. They are all AFTER THE JUMP, so stop now if you think this theme is overdone (as some correspondents did.) Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.

    Why publicize this at all? Many messages in this vein:

    Why would you give some rambling lunatic who "claims" to be the owner of a "high-tech" business, a soapbox to stand on?  The imbecile probably sells stuff over E-bay while listening to Rush all day.  His complaints are a laundry list derived from AM radio talking points.  Complete BS.  You'll make these people think they have a credible leg to stand on.

    He's just a bad businessman. Also a popular theme:

    The Atlas shrugged guy (I'll bet a couple rounds of beer the writer is a "he") sounds like one who wants to take all the credit when his business does well and blame the government when it isn't. For an "entrepreneur" to complain that taxes and regulations are hurting his business is missing a key point: his competitors work in the same tax and regulatory environment.

    And:

    This guy is too irrational or delusional to be a successful businessman.  I've worked in high tech for decades, someone who has built up a successful business with several high paying positions wouldn't just shut things down because he or she doesn't like Obama's re-election.  He or she would sell business and pocket the after tax profits.  

    And:

    Since he's such a clear-eyed realist, what exactly does he think Romney would do that would cause his business to grow? Repeal Obamacare? Besides that fact that it wouldn't happen, the effects on a small business focusing on aviation would appear to be minimal in the short term ...

    Similarly:

    If we zoom out and look at the reality of Obama the President, what he actually has done, his policies have been, in many ways, more conservative that Bill Clinton, Bush Senior, Reagan, Ford and Nixon. He actually signed a bill allowing guns in natural parks. His administration's regulations are not significantly more onerous than any administration that came before.  He has done palpably little to polarize the nation. On virtually every single issue which became polarized, the policy that he introduced or sanctioned was originally a Republican policy.

    So whatever your Atlas Shrugged guy is responding to, it is not Barack Obama or his policies.  And if he decides to quit, it won't be because of Barack Obama and his policies. It will be because a particularly virulent and radical movement of political ideas got whipped up by the Republican Establishment and was allowed the hope of success.  It was the abandonment, by one half of the political establishment, of traditional boundaries that would not be crossed (filibusters, debt ceiling, voter suppression etc.) which have threatened the integrity of our national institutions.  The Republican party for years has talked about starving the beast. They seem now to be looking to throttle, maim and quarter the beast.

    Fortunately, I happen to agree with your other writers that if Atlas Shrugs, no one will care. Because the vast majority of the American public, if the Republican agenda were put to them in a straightforward manner, would reject it.  So let them all move to Singapore. We'll do just fine thanks.

    WTF?:

    Your informant promising he will close up shop if Romney does not win has failed to explain how he has kept his head above water during the last 4 Obama years

    WTF 2:

    1) A payroll of "almost 500K per year"?  I don't know what they pay people in the Research Triangle, but in California that would be maybe 5-10 employees. Shutting it down isn't going to have a huge impact (in the larger picture, that is--obviously it's a problem for a few employees).

    2) There's no way to prove what might have happened (as the President has noted, with some regret), but I would venture to say that a business of that scale would likely be dead anyway if the President hadn't acted to shore up the financial sector and get the stimulus bill passed. One could argue that any President would have done the former (and it was Bush who started the process)...but then again, remember McCain's dithering after the Lehman failure?  And the latter would almost certainly have been smaller and less effective as stimulus had it been crafted by a Republican President.  Both of these things were necessary to avert a depression, and in a depression Atlas Shrugged Guy's business would have been toast.  So where's the gratitude?

    3) Whenever someone complains about over-regulation in a general sense, it's like Salieri complaining about "too many notes".  *Which* regulations is he talking about? Worker safety?  Environmental? Without specifics, the complaint is meaningless.  Maybe--just maybe--there are particular regulations that are a net negative--that are a burden on businesses, without corresponding benefit--but if so he needs to make a specific case about particular regulations.  (Also, too: some of the most burdensome regulations on any business are at the local level (business permits, zoning codes, etc.)--which is obviously outside the purview of the President.) 

    4) Profits don't drive growth. Consumption drives growth, and growth drives profits.

    Facts just don't matter:

    For background, I'm an African immigrant to the U.S (from a country that has been demonized in relation to Obama), working in the high tech sector. I definitely see elements of extreme Libertarian ism in that letter and what I shall politely term 'taking extreme liberties with the truth' (also colloquially called 'bullshit' in less polite circles). But I also see a dog whistle appeal to racial resentment that makes these types of arguments appealing. When I hear 'Obama and his ilk' being called parasites I'm reminded of many other times I've heard similar arguments, all aimed at African Americans and minorities. I follow Ta-Nehisi Coates writing and he has dissected similar arguments in the past.

    But what gets me is that every single point in the letter writers argument can be refuted by a simple Google Search or a minute of research. This is not a letter based on reality, it is someone looking for justifications for their bigotry and dis-regard for their fellow citizens. I have a belief that at the base of it Libertarian-ism is just a ideological framework to justify selfishness.

    What kind of business is this anyway?

    In his original rant, Atlas tells us he run[s] a high technology company with several very high paying positions In his subsequent self-defense in a later blog entry he is a bit more specific: now have a payroll of almost 500k per year.

    Huh? Assuming that the 500K is actual salaries, not including benefits, FICA, etc,  it's still a joke unless he's only got two employees. The company I retired from, a truly world-class leader in engineering, is having trouble recruiting newly minted Ph.D's because starting salaries are "only" about $130K. It's been five years or so since a friend with a PhD in computer science and about 12 years experience went to Google for something north of $200K.

    I'm not sure what sort of "high tech" Atlas is into, but he's obviously not paying very many people, and certainly not paying them what the tech community would call "very high" salaries. I can't imagine he'll be very much missed when he takes a hike after Obama wins tomorrow.

    And:

    Count me among the skeptical about Mr. Shrugged's bona fides.  Mr. Shrugged initially said that he runs " a high technology company with several very high paying positions".  In his pushback, he says he has "a payroll of almost 500k per year."  Maybe things are different in his part of the country, but the math isn't squaring with what I know of high paying positions in tech.  Then there's the complaint about how he doesn't want to deal with declining growth, right after he indignantly says he can't possibly be a spoiled child because he works long hours.  What kind of business owner thinks they're never going to have to deal with economic downturns?

    Don't let the door hit you:

    I am from India, and have advanced degrees in Engineering and Management.

    If people in High-Tech industry in US decide to close shop, I am sure that many of my peers in India would like to take the opportunity to fill the gap in supply, if any.

    Regional issues:

    You suggested that the man is from a place like Middle TN. [JF note: Actually not there - I said "middle South"--but similar idea.]  If so, being in high tech here is quite difficult.  The labor costs are low, but the labor is also very poor.  I moved here from Silicon Valley over 10 years ago, and only now is there some movement towards the creative and innovative practices which make high tech "high."  I also want to underscore the sentiment of another respondent about how high tech is dependent upon federal R&D.

    I have no choice but to stay because of family obligations.  However, talented individuals with skill tend to leave as quickly as possible.  The labor shortage for skilled people is considerable and the use of offshore Indian companies (often with horrific results) substantial.  The quality of work is also order of magnitudes poorer than the work I have been involved I on either coasts.  I also spent 10 years in New England working in high tech.  More people here work as programmers without a solid computer science background than I have ever encountered before.  This leads to very bad software design.

    Middle TN is not a creative nor innovative place.  I have dipped my toe into the waters here a few times, but realized that I am tired of justifying what I do to bosses and employers like Mr. Shrugged based on ROI.  Even while working in a university ...  ROI, not principles, concepts, imagining for the purpose of designing for the future, etc.  If Mr. Shrugged leaves from a place like Middle TN, he won't be missed.  As I mentioned, if he has developed his employees well, allowed them to be creative, innovative, keeping up with changing skills, full family supporting young men AND women, then there are 100's of jobs available for them.  And maybe those employees will find a more innovative and thoughtful employer as well.

    We're talking about a larger problem:

    It seems to me that "Atlas" describes his problem, although none of his critics or defenders commented on it: "I have never seen it this slow and a second Obama term will spell the end." His business is going broke, and he blames it on Obama. All the rest is his explanation of how none of it is his fault. It may be that a stronger economy would help his business, but I have my doubts. I have no doubt that he is stressed by his failing business. It's unfortunate that he buys the Republican argument about the source of the (broader) problem rather than recognizing insufficient aggregate demand, calling for a stronger stimulus program, not a weaker one.

    His defender, who equates imprisonment for a scientific opinion with a slightly higher marginal income tax rate, is milder than Mr. Schwartzman, who equated ending the carried-interest preference with the Holocaust. Still, it's difficult to not be embarrassed for him.

    The long-named critic is surprisingly accurate in his assessment of job creation. Republicans try to make the whole thing more complicated than it is. Looking around, it's not difficult to identify work that needs to be done: There are people without homes, people without enough food, streets that should be repaired, parks that should be maintained, to name some obvious examples. The problem is *not* in identifying useful work to be done. The problem is having a social arrangement that rewards people for doing useful work. The people who do the arranging (managers and financial types, for example) deserve some reward, but only if it results in useful work actually being done.

    I'll skip the discussion of what constitutes useful work, but note that it doesn't have to presumptively include an additional few thousand square feet of housing for someone who already has several thousand square feet of housing per family member.

    Big deal:

    This fellow is blowing too much smoke to be taken seriously. He uses every trope he ever heard on FOX & Limbaugh & Beck.  ONE KEY EX. :  If his biz is solid, he can sell it and the new owners will keep making things and employing people. Only he has left the workforce. Big deal; biz owners sell all of the time. He facetiously claims that if he closes his operations, then everybody suffers. But that's not true at all. If there is a demand for the product or process, then his employees are still able to work that business model. If there is no demand, he would have gone out of business anyway. This guy's rhetoric doesn't pass the smell test.

    The hypocrisy of the defense contractor. This was the most popular category:

    I can only assume that Atlas must be a defense contractor.  If Obama wins he'll fold up shop because he's that much less likely to have a contract.  If Romney wins and fulfills his promise to spend more on defense than the Pentagon requests, there will be more defense dollars from which Atlas can "build" (*ahem*) his business.  Maybe he should move his business to a less Socialistic country--one with more "freedoms," fewer leeches, and lower taxes. 

    Canada?...no....Australia?....no....Singapore?....no.  I'm sure I can think of one in a minute.  When have we ever had a form of government that this guy insists he deserves?  What evidence is there that a Republican president will exert any sort of fiscal discipline?   The question isn't whether there will be too much spending, the question is "where do you want your tax dollars spent?"  Do you want them spent on weapons systems and farm subsidies or social services and education?  At least with Democrats you're more likely to have the tax revenue to cover the spending.

    If Atlas is successful it's because he's lucky.  He certainly doesn't come across as thoughtful.

    And:

    An anti-government defense contractor?  I think you've been had. [JF: His current business is not defense contracting, though apparently that's in his background.]

    First world problems:

    I don't understand his reasoning except that he thinks he is somehow in a business where no one else will have the same expenses as he does. Either he finds ways to increase his prices and lower his expenses, or he closes. If his talents or skills or products are in high demand, the market will adjust.
     
    The larger picture is that what he does--make something or sell something--happens in the context of the larger society we live in--rich, stable, confident, fairly predictable. We can make money in America, hand over fist, because we have a stable market and government and society. We aren't Somalia or India.
     
    And the people of these United States have worked and paid for this stability. Returning tax rates to the onerous levels of the Clinton era does not seem like that much of a jump. We aren't even talking taking tax rates to the Eisenhowerian level.
     
    It is expensive to live and produce in a rich, expensive, first world country. That is the price of making a living by having a business. A business owner would, or should, carefully consider all his costs before entering a business.

    Back to hypocrisy:

    Surely I won't be the only one to notice - even if Atlas doesn't - "missile technology", "GPS", "wireless telemetry" are all military technologies.  Does he have a single customer that isn't a federal contractor?  Has he made a single penny that didn't derive from tax dollars?  I can only hope he's not in that part of the middle South that derives all its power from the TVA.  Tony Stark has nothing on your Irony Man.  

    And:

    So he took nothing, and made something. Didn't this guy say he has a degree in physics? The refusal to acknowledge the foundation (laid in large part via the government) on which business success is had, and the eagerness to blame the government for any possibility of business decline is very telling of this person's worldview. If I succeed, it's because I'm so intelligent and worked so hard. If I fail, it's not because I wasn't intelligent enough or didn't work hard enough; It was the government's fault.

    Tech people refusing to acknowledge the seminal role of military-driven government research in just about everything they do is like Paul McCartney claiming to have invented music spontaneously. Maybe no one had written Eleanor Rigby before, but not having to come up with an orchestra from scratch was pretty handy.

    A few years ago my best friend was reading Atlas Shrugged and was going on and on about it. I asked my dad if he'd ever read Ayn Rand. He snorted, "Yeah." I asked "Well?" He said "Juvenile." I haven't been able to come up with a better one-word description for the way these people think.

    And:

    His hypocrisy at other people's "handouts" is endlessly amusing when he built his company around gps, the missile guidance system of the US military that Mr. Shrugged certainly did not build. He has made a living out of a system built with taxpayer's money (all $12 billions of it, for the initial system, plus the ongoing maintenance costs), and now throws a hissy fit because he has to pay some back.

    He adds: "Is it so unreasonable to advocate a government to leave me alone and live within its means?" Yes, it is, when you depend on that same government to keep the satellites in orbit that keep you in business. If he were a gold miner that dug by hand and walked to his buyers, then he'd have a leg to stand on. But as a technologists that depends on universities to come up with the ideas and the US military to build them, he hasn't.

    In general, as a non-US citizen, I must say that these fervent "small government" advocates come through as utterly ignorant of the world they live in. He really sounds like he believes that the police, and roads, and satellites he depends on to run his business are services he shouldn't pay for, and that he has never needed (!).

    And:

    Your latter day John Galt makes all the same chest thumping arguments that I've been hearing since I read Atlas Shrugged in my Sophmore year of High School in Orangevale California (Class of '69). I really had to laugh when he boasted about putting himself through Seattle U (me: UW, paid for it) and then added that he was putting his children through college too. What? Is he trying to turn them into wimps? Shouldn't he have the courage of his convictions and tell them to move out, get a job and create their own futures? Why does he allow these slackers to pick his pocket?

    And then there is the usual assertion that he can allocate his profits better than the government. Added to which are complaints about regulation and, in his follow up, redistribution of wealth. But I am just wondering, he claims that his business develops some sophisticated avionics & etc., the kind of stuff I wouldn't understand. I bet my brother would though. He's a GA Tech grad, works for Boeing and has spent a fair amount of time building smart bombs and drones and so on. Which is to say that when he was doing so, he was working on a government contract. I'm betting that this guy does some not unrelated government contract work, works with Boeing more often than not and that most of the regulations he complains about have less to do with sales taxes or Worker's Comp and more to do with the delays and cost overruns that are inevitable when fitting various sub-contracted sub-systems together.

    So, I imagine he's got a nice thing going on doing business with a company whose single largest customer is the U.S. government. Nothing wrong with that. I suspect it would be pretty hard to manufacture and sell advanced avionics without working alongside other advanced avionics guys....

    The John Galts of the world take great pride in their personal accomplishments, and justifiably so. But, to borrow Clinton's quote of Bob Strauss, "every [John Galt type] wants every[one] to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself." It just ain't so.

    Segue:

    I think the most interesting dimension of the "Atlas Shrugged" saga is whether or not your correspondent will in fact close his business if Obama wins. Please, I beg you, follow up with him and hold his feet to the fire... make him prove that he has in fact entirely closed his business in response to Obama's re-election. And then follow-up with his employees, and see how how they fare. To me, this smacks of the "moving to Canada" canard so many on my side of the aisle thundered on about in 2000 and especially 2004. I think sound money says your correspondent may be exaggerating, but you really should work to keep him honest in the coming months. And if he does fold up shop, you'll have a great story following the fallout.

    This now leads me to a bait-and-switch policy announcement. Contrary to what I said several thousand words ago and in this headline, it turns out that the above is only about half of the sample I plan to use. But at the moment it is all I can manage, especially over Amtrak's I'm-grateful-to-have-it-at-all but-ever-shaky wifi coverage. Also, I have heard back from our understandably somewhat-taken-aback small businessman, with his second-thought reactions about the controversy he has provoked. I'll get back with that, plus a few more reader messages, as soon as feasible. For now plenty to digest.

    More »

  • The Election-Night Thoughts of the 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy

    Someone displeased with the night's results explains his views.

    It's too late at night for me to plug in the links to the preceding items about the "Atlas Shrugged Guy," who has promised to close down his business and its $500,000 annual payroll if the election went the wrong way. (Actually, here some previous links: one,  two, three.)

    Without comment, here were the items in my inbox from him through the evening.

    AynRandGuy.png


    AynRand2.png

    This stream is unedited, in that the messages came in as shown without intervening responses by me (I was away from internet-land). I've photoshopped them in one way only, which is removing all of his real name except the first letter.

    When I get up tomorrow, I'll quote some of the incoming material about his outlook.

    For now, congrats to the victors and sympathies to the losers on Election Day 2012.

  • The 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy Has His Full Say

    A response to his critics

    I open the electronic mailbag to find 150 or so reader replies about the 'Atlas Shrugged' guy, who plans to close his business and eliminate its "$500k total payroll" if Obama wins today. First Atlas post here; second here; third here.

    For now, I say thanks for the messages, and I'm letting them sit. But following yesterday's one-time-only all-day Festival of Posts™, here is the one-time-only Election Day Plan:

    1) I will post a full statement from the Atlas Shrugged businessman in standalone form, since many people criticizing him have been heard and may yet again.

    2) I will go out and vote.

    3) When I get back I will put up a one-time-only, explicitly non-precedent-setting "Election Day Open Thread" post, allowing people to post their comments. UPDATE: Never mind! This turns out not to be technically possible at short notice. Probably for the best.

    Here is the reply from the 'Atlas Shrugged' business person, who says he will close down if the election goes Obama's way tonight. This came after he read the long preceding string of criticisms:

    I just had a chance to sit and read this on large screen. Funny, I'm am to be burned at the stake? Spoiled child?

    I put myself thru college selling scrap metal and working. I have a degree in physics from Seattle University. I worked avionics and fly by wire systems and missile technology for 16 years and switched to embedded systems, gps and wireless telemetry (no not wifi, wifi is for pussies) for the past 10 with a emphasis on extreme ruggedization. We do research and development into new technologies and guess what funds that; r&d? Profits which apparently are now a resource better allocated by the geniuses in government than I.

    The comments are mere bitter mockery. I treat my employees very well, the issue at hand is growth. Growth is fueled by profits, not regulation and taxation. The national issue is not taxes it is spending and over regulation. Maybe you and your readers could enlighten me as to the 18 tax cuts I got that I have no clue about?

    Is it so unreasonable to advocate a government to leave me alone and live within its means? Is it necessary that to insure a few requires the control of a entire industry? Student loans are now the business of the federal gov? Really? Since when is, or was, a college education assured? I paid me way, I am paying my children's way? I am the spoiled child? What but a child are you to expect, demand, I pay for secondary education?

    No, I stand as a man whom is proud to know the virtue of hard work and thru work alone i expect to reap the wealth of my labors. Giving back implies I took something. I took nothing and created something. I feel no guilt, why should I? Your readers can pound sand.

    I stand by my assertions. I will be fine, will they? Maybe they should vote for the business guy? The business of America is business, isn't it?

    I appreciate a chance to respond. So seldom does anyone do such.

    And when I wrote back asking if I could quote the material above:

    Quote away.

    It is not as if I relish this thought of moving on but the decline in business is a reality I must, as a business owner, deal with. I didn't get here by being lazy nor stupid. What I am is tired. I made a promise to myself long ago that if it starts to decline I am not riding it down to the bottom.

    I should point out I am not opposed to a reasonable means tested safety net nor the usual responsibilities of govt. What I am opposed to is a ideology that promotes redistribution of wealth simply on some moving target of "fairness" and a debt that is unsustainable and that, despite claims of the pols, is not going to be fixed by taxing the rich.

    If your down on your luck or cannot make it, that is one thing. However, a lifestyle generation after and after on public assistance is just plain wrong.

    I could pontificate ad infinitum, we shall see tonight which vision for America prevails.

    Just one more note for now. If I were to encourage you to revisit a single item from yesterday's Festival™, it would be this. Or maybe this. Happy Election Day.

  • The 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy Pushes Back!

    A business owner defends 'going Galt.'

    Earlier in today's Festival™ I quoted a self-reported small business owner who said that if Obama is re-elected, as now seems likely, the businessman will live out the reality of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and deny the "takers" in the economy the benefit of his wealth- and job-creating efforts.

    A lot of readers made fun of him, many suggesting that the letter was a clumsy parody designed to make anti-tax, anti-Obama attitudes look bad. For instance:

    If you put (sic) after every spelling and grammar mistake that Atlas laid down, you'd have one sick rant.
     
    The "Obamaphones" is the thing that really wrecks the suspension of disbelief.  And hey! That Milton quote. That's the devil talking.
     
    I personally do not believe for an instant that this guy is president of anything or employer of anybody.

    Similarly,

    This reminds me very much of the letter passed around by right-wing emailers, also supposedly from a business owner, that was debunked.

    And:

    Like most  John Galt pretenders, your high-tech job creator is a fraud.  The tip is there in his comment about S Corp revenues: he has read a talking point somewhere but missed the difference between operating income and net income.  As a very small business investor myself, I am certain that even mom-and-pops know the difference between operating revenue and taxable income.  [Hint: they lease their delivery van.]  Your Galt wannabe apparently doesn't even understand the advantage of the S Corp pass-through and thinks he's at a disadvantage.  Or would be, if he really ever got within 10 miles of running a business.

    As it happens, I've now had several exchanges with the author of the original message; I know what business he runs; I've seen lists of his speeches and writings; and I know that he lives in .. well, I'll narrow it down to a relatively high-tech area of the middle South. I give him the stage again, followed by several other responses. Let's do this in three parts.

    1. The guy himself. Before I knew his real identity, I asked by email, Do you really own a business? He said:

    Yes I do own one. I started in 2002 in my spare bedroom and now have a payroll of almost 500k per year. I will close it if he wins.

    I found out who he was, and then got this more extended defense:

    I enjoyed the spoiled child comment best. Spoiled children usually work 60 to 70 hours a week? What the readers fail to grasp is that the market is shrinking. I will do just fine, I am highly skilled. What I don't want to deal with is declining growth and growth is revenue driven. I don't understand why people cannot grasp that we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending and regulatory problem.

    Simply put, why should I work myself into the dirt for no return? This is, or was, my dream. Why is that suddenly something I didn't build nor deserve to reap reward from?

    Maybe your readers should ask, whom [sic] are they to take the fruits of my labors? Is not creating jobs a form of sharing wealth?

    I will gladly rebut anyone whom [see above] wished. One man said no and all of Rome trembled? I am no afraid to stand my ground....

    2. His defenders. Let's start with a very successful tech executive I know in California. He writes:

    That capable people may choose to disengage from what they experience as an exploitative society or government is not merely the realm of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Recently an Italian court convicted six of the country's seismologists and leading national disaster staff for manslaughter for having failed to predict 2009's L'Aquila earthquake which killed more than 300 people. One visible response was the immediate resignation of several scientific and national leaders

    The more significant, and I believe insidious, response is that a number of scientists that I know directly have decided never to offer a clear opinion on anything to the government or in an official capacity. In a recent European Commission and European Union summit it was clear that a general "stepping back from clarity" is underway in parts of the science community. Will there be an earthquake tomorrow? "Maybe or maybe not." Is the climate changing? "Maybe or maybe not." If this understandable reticence becomes more widespread in Italy then a semi-return to the Dark Ages will have been accomplished.

    This is not unlike Rand's portrayal of the act of desperation by those abused by predatory societies. John Galt was still there, but he was laboring in the underground railway not designing engines of the future. Italian scientists still have the greatest insight on their
    areas of expertise, but the choose not to utter them. There is another approach in such cases, to blame oneself for the abuse by others, always working harder to earn their fairness. The progressive income tax system was designed to scale the punishment of the individual with their financial accomplishments in life. Many have withdrawn their capital from this system just as John Galt withdrew his mind. Likewise, a business owner who may come to feel crushed by "Obamacare" or other majority of voters take from minority of producers laws may well step back and reconsider their own actions. Is their continued participation a perpetuation of their own abuse? If their answer is 'yes' then a withdrawal is as reasoned as fleeing an abusive spouse.

    Could Tuesday's election be our L'Aquila earthquake? Maybe or maybe not.

    Actually, that is the only such message so far. Which brings us to:

    3. And yet the critics persist. A sampling of the other point of view. First:

    I notice that your correspondent calls himself "highly educated" but still spews discredited right wing talking points like gut welfare requirement, and Obamaphones. I thought one of the distinguishing characteristics of being educated was the ability to separate fact from nonsense but looks like your correspondent is so delusional that all that expensive education seems wasted IMO. So I would suggest he remember the old adage  - "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt".

    Also on Obamaphones:

    The part of the "Atlas Shrugged" email that got to me was the mention of "Obamaphones". At least a half-dozen people with smug smiles have asked me (a public interest attorney) what I think about "Obamaphones". I tell them that they have been lied to. The program was created in 1984 to help people pay for landlines; Bill Clinton expanded it. The first time the program was extended to cellular phones was under George W. Bush. The phones are not paid for out of Treasury funds but are part of the fees each cell customer pays in their monthly bill. I repeat this and no one believes me. Here's the Snopes.com takedown of the rumor/propaganda:

    On the general philosophy of "going Galt" and withdrawing your efforts from a parasitical "taker" society:

    Philosophically I'm a libertarian. i don't agree that the atlas shrugged guy should destroy his business just because Obama gets reelected.

    It would only make sense for him to do so if Obama were like the villains in the novel, hes not. The villains in Atlas Shrugged are complete communists/Stalinists. Obama at "worst" is a center left progressive who believes strongly in the free market, but also in strongly regulating that market in new creative ways (dodd frank, obamacare ect...). I'm 24, and I voted for Obama in 2008, but I voted for Romney this time.

    Also I'm sure many people would gladly trade places with him, but you dont just get to where he got without really hard work. If someone wants to take his place, than do for yourself what he did. Spend the years of hard work blood, sweat, stress and tears he likely spent building up his business and then you can "replace" him.

    Ayn Rand's philosophy was one of self-reliance and building win-win relationships with other people based on enlightened self-interest. She said its ok to do what you want, and not worry about being self-sacrificing (especially in win-lose relationships where you are the loser)...

    And:

    What really strikes me about that rant from the Randian entrepreneur is its complete lack of patriotism and gratitude.

    Is this entrepreneur's patriotism so low that love of country won't motivate him to carry on and continue doing his best to be a job-creator?  Is it really the case that any increase in taxes or regulation is going to cause him to pack up his marbles, so to speak?  Pretty pathetic.

    And where, where is the gratitude for his situation?  I know Randians are not particularly religious, but I would think Republican Christians would be put off by the profound ingratitude to Providence in this guy's email.  Of course, most of the religious right strike me as profoundly ungrateful too, but it always surprises me that no one points out this un-Christian attitude.

    And:

    Allow me to pile it on. That "job creator" is insufferable, and too full of himself.

    "Why, I make to much so pay more of my fair share? Maybe you should attempt to understand the concept of a S Corp and how it's income becomes, for tax reasons, my income. "

     Highly educated? Judging by his spelling I doubt he made it beyond fifth grade.

    And:

    Allow me to add myself to the list of people rolling their eyes at the "Atlas" guy. One of the more bizarre tropes in this election is this weird subtext that if Obama is reelected, things will go to hell in a hand basket. Wait: isn't he *already* president? So, isn't voting for him a signal for more of the same? I mean, I suppose you can say you don't like current trends and want to go off in a different direction, but it's almost as if they are in denial that he's president NOW. There is too much of a core in the Republicans of people who seem to be completely crazy. If Obama winning could do nothing else, it could only help to get the Rs to spit these people out and get back to reality-based governing.

    Rush, on the other hand, isn't so much delusional as he is just a big fat lying political operative/entertainer. I do not for two seconds (about as long as it took me to read what he wrote; God forbid I should actually listen to him) that he believes a word of what he said about Sandra Fluke. It's sheer sophistry, if you can use such a highfalutin word for an audience who can't spell it. That's the other big Republican problem: too many people who can't tell the truth.

    It's kind of ironic that, registered as a D as I am (because I'm in Maryland, and that's the only way to get a vote in most elections), I'm increasingly finding myself wanting to morph into a Rockefeller Republican. But there's no way for that to coexist with the crazies and liars that seem to dominate Republican discourse these days.

    And, with a spiritual angle:

    I read "What If the GOP Loses? 'Atlas Shrugged' vs. 'The Fire Next Time'", and noted two worlds of the GOP. One is comprised of money worshipers and the other of those fearful of eternal damnation. The current iteration of the GOP has been an unholy union formed by expediency. Change will come about from a revolution in thinking on the "Christian' side.

    The winds of this can be seen in a book called, "The New Pharisee", by Jeff Saxton. As the navel gazing begins after the election, this work will surface in many communities. It will usher in a major debate about what makes one a Christian and the proper life of a Christian. There will be much soul searching which will ultimately result in a major split in the GOP and an exodus of Christians from the party.

    Social issues will no longer carry the weight they do now. Because sin is sin, regardless of the act and it is not "ours" to judge. The hypocrites who now call themselves "Christian" will feel increasingly uncomfortable in the renewed Church and will not be as free with their "stone-throwing" as they have been to date. It will be interesting to watch.

    Consequently, It will be difficult for the Republican Party to carry on in it's current form. Without the Religious Right, they will have money but fewer voters. They will continue to lose access to the "Oval Office" and many Senate and House elections. South of the Mason-Dixon it will never be the same. It there is one thing conservative "Christians" fear more than anything, it's eternal damnation. They will adjust their behavior accordingly. This will be seen as a complete withdrawal from politics and its "worldly ways". They will focus on family and Church and ignore the rest. There will still be sermons about abortion but no reach for political action, just the opposite.

    And:

    Look. I know why you posted that email. I get it. Your readers get to relish in the hathos (thanks, Sully, for that nonword). You get to contrast it to the email of the much more thoughtful, much more grammatically persuasive tech company honcho. You get to appear to have taken the high road by giving space for a dissenter.

    But it needs to be said: that was some weapons-grade bullshit.

    The runniest part is the premise that he (if he is who he says he is) will quit. The fallacy that the wealthy will just stop being productive if they are too heavily taxed is one that needs to be called out loudly and often. (I'm about to start writing to this troll directly.) Really? You're really going to just give up ALL your income because you have to pay an extra three cents on the dollar - above the first quarter million you make? Good. Do that. That will really demonstrate your refined sense of leadership.

    But here's the heart of the turd that needs to be called out even more often and in a deafening roar. You, Mr. Tech Company Owner of such great import, are not - I repeat - NOT Atlas. This whole individualism myth you're so invested in is the legacy of people WHO OWNED OTHER PEOPLE. There is no such thing as independent financial wealth. No. Such. Thing.

    You drive a nice car, right? Audi? Benz? Maybe a Tesla? (Unlikely.) That's your rich-guy-totem; that's how you let the world know how much of a big shot you are when you're just going out for a burger. But think for a second about that car. You can have all the money in the world, but what good does it do your over-compensative driving desires if the following people decide to "shrug": the people who mine the ore for your car's metal components, the people who process the ore into consumer grade alloys, the people who machine the metal into parts for your car, the people who assemble those parts, the people who extract the oil that fuels your car, lubricates its moving parts, and makes up its plastic components, the people who refine the oil, the people who install the components, the people who program, assemble, and install the electrical components, the people who test its fuel efficiency, driving performance, and accident safety, the people who design, build and maintain the roads you drive on, the people who work at the gas station, the people who produce the electricity that keep all of these functions happening, the teachers who shape all of these people into functioning adults, the healthcare professionals who keep them alive, the janitors who keep the hospitals they go to clean and safe, the farmers who grow the food that sustains everyone in this whole project, the people who make the heavy equipment for the farmers... Have I made my point? Atlas is everyone who allows you to enjoy the luxuries of wealth.

    If there is a parasite class, its made up of people who "own capital" and "manage" and "earn" profits from the people who do real, hard, sweaty, nasty, monotonous work every day, and then after counting the profits they've reaped from the work of all those other people have the gall to complain about how hard they have it. And it's interesting that you claim to be from the tech industry. It's interesting because that is an industry that is second only to the financial "industry" in terms of pure, unabashed parasitism. Oh, you don't think so? You think you've created whatever it is you produce in some vacuum of innovation? Well, in fact the only reason that the US tech industry as we know it exists is because of corporate socialism. The government uses tax payer dollars to fund R&D via the Pentagon. They pour billions and billions of dollars into lots of cool shit. Most of it doesn't really serve a purpose, or if it does, the purpose was already being served by technologies that are far more advanced than what the rest of the world has. But when that cool shit serves a new purpose and also happens to be marketable to consumers, the government gives the technology away to the tech industry, which then manufactures its products in Asia, ships them back to the US, at which point the tax-paying American public pays for it once again. That's right. We fund the research. We create the demand. We pay retail price. You get the profit. It's a pretty sweet deal for you and your ilk. Yeah. Ilk. I can use that word too, and I swing a hammer in a factory that competes with Chinese labor, so come at me.

    You have neither a leg to stand on nor a crutch to lean on. I sincerely hope you're a man of your word. Shrug. Do it. I dare you. Go to western Colorado, grind your own flour, split your own wood, dig your own grave, you heroic individual, you. The rest of us will continue busting our asses at real jobs that matter, paying taxes that significantly limit our ability to pay for things like food and unreasonably high rent for our small apartments, getting by with minimal healthcare and generally doing all the things that you take for granted. Or maybe one day we'll have had enough of people like you. And we'll shrug. And you'll see that we don't, in fact, need shareholders or executive boards to tell us how to put food on our tables, roofs over our heads, how to teach one another, how to care for one another.

    You are afforded the life you have by the consent of those you hold in contempt. I advise you to not tempt us with the catharsis of withholding it.

    Disrespectfully,
    A Working, College-Attending, Volunteer-Tutoring, Tax-Paying, Civically Engaged, Higher-Information-Than-Thou-Hast, Member and Probable Leader of the Generation That Does Away With Your Bullshit

    Temper, temper! Just one more:

    If Obama wins, I'd be interested to see a column where you look into whether the guy who says he owns a high-tech S-Corp actually does own such a business & actually retires.
  • No Love for the 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy

    Business people who don't buy the Randian view of the world

    Atlas.jpg

    Many readers are getting in the spirit of the one-time-only day-long Festival of Election Eve Updates. Here are responses to the previous item, in which the founder of one small high-tech business predicted a crackup for the Republican party if Romney loses -- and another person, who says he also runs a high-tech business, said he would shut his enterprise and lay off all his workers if the election went the wrong way.

    Representative sample of incoming messages, most from people who identified themselves also as being in business. Number one:

    ...If your correspondent who is about to shut down his company if Obama wins is serious, could you have him contact me? I'd be glad to satisfy the market demand he's leaving behind. The economy won't miss him at all and will go creating jobs just fine.

    Of course, I'll understand if this is too snarky to post. I'm just fed up with the "job creators" who think they create the market rather than demand creating their opportunities. As a business owner myself, I understand that without a functioning society, my business skills amount to zilch.

    And:

    To your correspondant who wrote: "I will tell you what happens, I close my business of 10 years and lay off my employees."

    I doubt I was the only person who read this and thought "Don't let the door hit you on the ass." You'll have no problem finding someone to flat-out trade places with you. Perhaps one (or all!) of your employees. Just sign the business over to THEM and let 'em deal with "all the headaches." You'll love living on temp work and medicaid, boss, it's a fricking party down here.

    Unless of course this is a parody, in which case: bravo, sir or madam! Well played. You managed to make American business owners look like cackling be-monocled stereotypes. If this is the face of the Republican party, I want nothing to do with it ever again.

    And:

    "I will tell you what happens, I close my business of 10 years and lay off my employees. I am done. Thats what happens."..

    I love hearing this tired trope from the right and is a great example of the echo chamber in action. Talk radio and fox news hammers this point repeatedly to the point that people actually believe that money is the sole motivation for entrepreneurs. If you're in business for the sole purpose of making money and you feel the past four years has been terrible then maybe you should close shop, you're in it for the wrong reason anyway.

    I believe most people are in business because they want to create something and believe in what they're doing. Part of creating anything requires working within the regulatory framework, it's part of doing business. That's part of the challenge, if you're not up for it, or the financial returns aren't enough for you then I say good riddance, we're better off without you and your company.

    My gut tells me that this guy enjoys having power and "stuff" more than he cares about his ideals.

    And:

    Here's a response to "Atlas will shrug" email:

    Two words: spoiled child.

    So glad I don't work for this person. This is nothing more than a "conservative" rant and offers nothing. Seriously, he's going to close his business if Obama wins and let go all of his employees? Talk about a lack of professional ethics, much less business sense.

    And:

    Your "Atlas Shrugger" is full of it.  He (you just know it's a he) is bluffing.  And if he's not, then the niche in the economy his business takes up will be filled in by someone else, and he'll be poorer, and that will be it. 

    What these Randians don't get is that their jobs do not provide money for employees like mannah from heaven.  His customers will become someone else's customers, his employees someone else's employees, and no one will miss him

    And finally a question, from someone in DC who wonders:

    whether your Atlas Shrugs correspondent really is what he says he is (i.e., the head of a high tech company)? That whole letter read more like an exercise in Randian mythology than a genuine self-portrait. But maybe I'm giving the human race too much credit...

    The answer is: I don't know. I'll send this post back to the original Atlas Shrugged reader and see what he says.

    For the record, I didn't hear from anyone defending the Atlas perspective -- nor anyone complaining about the other post.

    More grist in the mill ahead.

  • What If the GOP Loses? 'Atlas Shrugged' vs. 'The Fire Next Time'

    One campaign, two literary allusions. Take your pick!

    This is part of the one-day-only, all-day-long Festival of Election Eve Updates.

    Two days ago I posted speculations from several readers about what would happen inside the Republican Party if, two days from now, Mitt Romney does not emerge as the president-elect. Would the party keep heading rightward, judging that their main mistake was choosing a RINO as the nominee? Would head the other way, in an attempt to pick up support among Latinos, young people, women, etc? Sam Popkin went into similar questions today, explaining why he thinks a civil war has already broken out within the GOP.

    Now, two very different replies from two people whose main similarity is that they are business owners.

    What if Obama wins? Atlas will shrug. From a person whose geographical location (or, in fact, anything else about him) I don't know. To be clear, he says he runs a high-tech business, but I can't vouch for that myself:

    I will tell you what happens, I close my business of 10 years and lay off my employees. I am done. Thats what happens. You might consider me one of those know nothings but I am highly educated, run a high technology company with several very high paying positions and am very much steeped in US History and am a stalwart in the notion of individual liberty and self reliance.  Freedom and liberty built this nation, not parasites like Obama and ilk. Obama has never produce anything in his life. Nothing, zero. Yet he is qualified to lead? Really? I have worked for leaders and he is no leader.

    The economy picking up is a joke. Really? Where? 100% debt to GDP and counting and for every job created 75 food stamp recipients?  I have never seen it this slow and a second Obama term will spell the end. The tax increases alone are enough for me to call it quits. Why, I make to much so pay more of my fair share? Maybe you should attempt to understand the concept of a S Corp and how it's income becomes, for tax reasons, my income. Hence while my income may look very good on paper the vast majority of my income stays as operating revenue. So much for the fat cat theory, no?

    Why should I continue to work myself into the dirt just to have it confiscated to transfer wealth to a parasite class? The work requirement for welfare gutted, Obamaphones, the taxes in Obamacare alone are enough to throw in the towel.

    [Your column] is a fantasy of deranged and feckless liberal gibberish. What your now calling the mainstream is terminal unemployment and lower standard of living for all but then again, we all know that is the lefts dream right? After all, when your mentality is zero sum gain then making the rich poorer the poor become richer, correct? WHy let reality get in the way of your fantasy? Had the housing market, for example, been left to market forces without government intervention the housing bubble would have never happened but hey, another brilliant idea from the left. Good intentions are all that matter right?

    Try this. Open a business, deal with all the headaches for a few years, payroll, taxes, permits, employees and then come back and explain to me how Obama has helped me?

    You want jobs, you create them because I am finished. Atlas will indeed shrug and I have no clue whom you and other democrats think is going to pay the tab because there is no money left to burn.

    Then again, for the left the end justifies the means. As Milton said;, "better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven?"

    What if Romney loses? The fire next time. This is from someone whose provenance I do know. Also a founder and head of a small high-technology business:

    If the GOP does indeed suffer a defeat in 2012, renewing the party will be much more difficult than 1972 was for the Democrats.

    The Democratic Party of the Nixon-Reagan era could look to compromise with Republicans on a wide range of areas because those areas -- tax policy, military budgets, welfare reform -- were things on which compromise was possible. The things that could not be compromised -- civil rights, peace in Vietnam, and Social Security -- were never under serious attack.

    The Republican Party today regards sexual reregulation and religious belief as core to its identity. Abortion is murder, homosexuality is depraved, and the twin terrors of Islamic Fundamentalism and Humanism threaten to unhinge society. These are not issues on which compromise is possible.  One can regard a change to the tax code or to welfare rules as unwise, and yet acquiesce in trying the experiment. One cannot acquiesce to what one considers murder and depravity.

    The obvious parallel, alas, is to the New England resistance to slavery, 1828-1860.  Though good people tried to find a way, there really was no path to compromise. If slavery is evil, Thoreau argued, you can't sit by and regret it. If it's not evil, Calhoun was right. Between them, there was no place for Dan Webster, and the memory of Shiloh meant that, for a century, US politics carefully kept to topics on which compromise was possible.  The original nativism and know-nothing conspiracies receded. The anti-Semitism that was such a disaster for Europe never got a really respectable foothold; we had Lindberg and Father Coughlin but not Mosley and the Duke of Windsor. American Protestants stopped fighting over doctrine and stopped fighting against Catholics.

    For a long time, it seemed that no compromise was possible on the integration of the South, and the Senate was organized to make such compromise unnecessary. That ended when,  in 1948, Humphrey convinced the Democrats that segregation was no longer something that could be countenanced, that it had to end whatever the consequences for the party. And of course that did split the party and transformed the landscape of American politics into the world we know. (In the end, Johnson saw that the South could compromise on integration and still be the South: "Guess who's coming to dinner?" might be a a bit of a shock, but if it's Sidney Poitier and he's a doctor, you could live with it and talk about the Dallas Cowboys.)

    How does today's GOP sit down for a nice dinner with Planned Parenthood, Sandra Fluke, Lena Durham, and Richard Dawkins?  I used to know Republicans socially. My parents and aunts and uncles all did. I don't anymore.  Democrats and Republicans are beginning to dress differently, to wear their hair differently. Limbaugh really thinks that Sandra Fluke is a slut. You simply can't have both of them to dinner.

    In a real sense, Romney already is the Republican turn toward moderation. It's untenable; you can't defend the unborn one day, and promise to keep Roe v Wade the next. The only way Romney could moderate his positions was to be seen to lie, to convince people that he held contradictory opinions but would govern the way they hoped. There's just no viable position for a potential nominee who is more moderate the Romney. As an intellectual exercise, one could imagine a Republican who supported immigration reform, a stronger social safety net, and overturning Roe and Griswold - but this would simply alienate the tea party while remaining unacceptable to almost all Democratic voters.

    There might be scattered opportunities for the GOP, but I think this may be their high water mark, the first of a long sequence of bitter losses and painful memories, of choices between bad and worse.  But I have a very bad feeling about this: I think it ends in a televised battle on the California border between state police seeking to apprehend an attractive young physician on charges of capital abortion, and the California National Guard who are determined to save her. The old vineyard of the grapes of wrath is closer than we imagined, and the fruit hangs heavy on the vine.

    More ahead.

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