Let's Get Back to the Atlas Shrugged Guy

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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.
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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.
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