Getting Back to the Atlas Shrugged Guy

By James Fallows
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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/getting-back-to-the-atlas-shrugged-guy/265088/