The 'Atlas Shrugged' Guy Pushes Back!

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:

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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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