President Obama has proposed ending the Bush tax cuts in 2011, bringing the top rates from 33 percent to 36 percent and from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. The lower of these hikes would apply to individuals making over $200,000 and households making over $250,000.
This is not really news, as Obama has been talking about it since last summer. What is news is the remarkable reaction of some conservatives, who declare that they (or someone else) will “Go Galt” in retaliation for this return to pre-Bush tax rates.
This phrase refers to a character in Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged who leads the “producers” of American society — mostly wealthy industrialists — in a strike to show the socialist little people, aka “parasites,” who’s boss. (When she wrote the book, the top U.S. tax rate was 91 percent.)
Randian themes are constant if usually muted in the rightblogger universe; prominent rightblogger Megan McArdle began her career as “Jane Galt” (though she now claims she appreciates Ayn Rand mainly as beach reading) and top rightblogger Instapundit has plumped Rand’s ideas for years. But in recent days many more of them have gone full metal Randroid.
There was a harbringer of this during the election, when Dr. Helen Smith, wife of Instapundit proprietor Glenn Reynolds, asked her readers for “some ways to ‘go John Galt’ (legally, of course) — that is, should productive people cut back on what they need, make less money, and take it easy so that government is starved for funds…”
One of the suggestions Smith entertained was that “productive people” stiff waiters and other parasites — “perhaps tipping less or not at all would be a good way to save money as a way of ‘going John Galt.'” She proposed leaving servers a snotty note instead.
The idea mostly lay dormant until the emergence of protests over the stimulus bill, when the Ayn Rand Center announced that sales of Atlas Shrugged had risen dramatically. This canny (and unsourced) piece of book promotion had a predictable effect, and gave rightbloggers a shiny new hook.
Parasites such as ourselves who labor mightily for much less money may wonder if these folks consulted their tax preparers first to find a more traditional and less self-defeating way to hang onto their earnings. The more cynical among us may wonder if these folks are really going to do such a thing at all.
Some of Malkin’s subjects admitted that they didn’t really make enough to go Galt to any effect, but dreamt that others would do it for them: “If I were a wealthy 55-year-old in Manhattan, I might seriously think about early retirement rather than paying 60 percent of my income in federal, state and city taxes,” said one, perhaps unaware that rich Manhattanites of any age have many other wealth-retention options available to them.
A doctor quoted by Instapundit contemplates “having fewer employees, seeing fewer patients and taking time off,” though given plummeting job numbers there’s a good chance she’d be doing that anyway, Galt or no Galt.
Such pickings have been slim, at least in the credibility department, so a few (though only a few) rightbloggers bravely stepped up to the plate themselves.
“By going John Galt — reducing my income to the point that I no longer subsidize anyone else via government imposed wealth transfers — I hope to hasten the inevitable collapse,” said Laura of Pursuing Holiness. She also said that “My goal is not to extend the misery; it’s to hasten the inevitable crash so we can recover quickly.”
(As Laura is a web designer in New Orleans, we hope she is serious, as we imagine the net effect of her Galt-going will be extra work for other designers more in need of the money.)
DSM of Reboot Congress gave his “theological reasons for going John Galt… First, I feel that socialism violates the ten commandments.” However, DSM further informed readers, “I’m a stay-at-home dad so I’ve chosen to do work for which I will not be paid.” So we can expect his Galt-going effect to be minimal.
More believable and entertaining is one Montana Ice Weasel, who reveals that he went John Galt way back in 2005. “Boy, things have changed since the days of the lake front home, with 3 boats on our private dock, all the pocket money etc.. are gone but things are simpler now,” he said. “‘Starving the beast’ has actually become a lifestyle and a reason for many things including my quitting smoking, and restarting my home brewing.” He also informed readers that “The US government stopped reporting the M3 several years ago but I guarantee you there are a bunch of near-worthless FRN’s (Federal Reserve Notes) that have been held for that purpose only,” and “myself and several others who have been able to see several years ahead are now looking at ‘end game strategies.'”
How wonderful it would be if more rightbloggers had Ice Weasel’s old-school survivalist moxie and would join him at his compound! But for the most part, they’ve been telling other people that it’s their patriotic duty to go Galt.
At American Daily, Thomas Lindaman exhorted the troops, “You are not alone. When you stand, you stand with legions of others who agree… When you stand, you scream, ‘I am John Galt, and I will not submit!'” without, alas, announcing that he would be joining them — though with his declaration that “John Galt is Sarah Palin, a woman who was no-nonsense in her approach to government and to this country,” Lindaman is probably not predicting that Palin will go off the grid, but rather implying that a no-nonsense attitude will serve as Galtism enough for patriots who’d rather not make actual financial sacrifices.
A further hint that going Galt is meant to be more aspirational than actionable came from Dr. Melissa Clouthier who, after a long, spirited Galt rant, admitted that “producers aren’t going off-grid and escaping the system in strict Ayn Rand fashion… well, we still have to eat. And food stamps are embarrassing.”
Just so. Talk is cheap — but talk is what rightbloggers have, and so they’ll continue talking up a go-Galt revolution that few will actually take up in earnest. It’s one thing to blog, and even to tea-party, and another to take seriously the revolutionary fantasy that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett will repair to Galt’s Gulch and take internet shouters with them.
The triumph of capitalism to be found in the Galt schtick is of a more traditional kind: It excites the troops and drives them to increase rightbloggers’ web traffic. (Not to mention their t-shirt sales.) In modern America, revolution is something you sell to suckers to get them to buy your products. Go Galt, like Go Gulf and Go Greyhound, is not a battle cry — it’s a marketing slogan.