The 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy Pushes Back!

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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.
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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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