When we saw this link to a Pajamas Media video, in which Dr. Helen Smith interviews rightblogger Megan McArdle and a trio of folks who are alleged to be going John Galt — the latest cool conservative fad, in which patriots reduce their productive labor to foil the socialist Obama Administration — our first instinct was to shut down the laptop and take a walk, maybe to a bar. But then our thirst for knowledge got the better of us, dammit, and we watched the thing.
McArdle comes out looking like Alfalfa for some reason. Dr. Smith reminds McArdle that she once blogged under the name Jane Galt, and asks if she’s a Randian. “Not exactly,” she says, looking embarrassed. “I actually chose the name in a kind of a funny way.” (She used it to give liberals a hard time on Times bulletin boards back in the day.)
Dr. Smith asks McArdle how strong the parallels are between the collapse of the Russian economy and ours. While McArdle admits that “what Lenin did is radically more extreme” than what Obama proposes, she still sees “a situation where government is being massively expanded and that’s always a time of great uncertainty for people, when you don’t know what the goverment’s going to do there’s always this temptation to withdraw and hunker down and wait it out.”
Which, while not quite the Red Tide, reminds her of the Great Depression: McArdle says she had discounted Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, but now that she sees that horrible New Deal thing happening right before her eyes she approves of Shlaes’ thesis. “FDR is frequently credited for being a fan of bold consistent innovation and experimentation,” she says, “and that sounds great if you’re working in a lab.” But it can be destructive in real life, which is what that bastard FDR did.
Dr. Smith says people are Going Galt by working less, and McArdle buys it: “Absolutely no question, on the margin people work less when their tax rate is higher for the simple reason that when something costs more people want to do less of it.” Like, remember back in the Eisenhower Administration when the top tax rate was 91 percent, and everyone just sat on their asses? It’s a good thing we had all those Mexicans to build those interstate highways for us. Of course, McArdle “can’t just go to The Atlantic and tell them I want to work 20 percent less this year” But why not? Isn’t the Second American Revolution important enough to her? But she is sure others will. (Sigh, it’s always someone else.)
Then McArdle answers critics who say Europeans at least have more free time: “That’s true, but in fact they spend an enormous amount of their leisure doing stuff that Americans pay for. Like they paint their own houses and mow their own lawns and they do all of these things themselves.” Quel horreur! Fancy McArdle painting anything when she could be doing economics. “Well,” she continues, “if you have a heart surgeon it’s not really a good use of society’s resources to have him mowing a lawn. That’s not what he’s best at.” So, comrade enjoys puttering around the house, eh? The Central Committee has spoken — you and your wife get back to the work you do best; we’ll send a trained baby sitter to watch your kids.
They aren’t making libertarians like they used to.
Sensing her advantage, Dr. Smith presses: Does McArdle expect “real unrest,” she hopefully asks. There’s already “real unrest” in Europe, McArdle says, and “you may well see not just local unrest, but governments who are in trouble with their citizens often look outward to start trouble beyond their borders as a way of deflecting domestic pressure about their economy. Hitler is the famous example of this.” So — World War III! But won’t that lift us out of this Depression like WWII lifted us out of the last one?
Asked to advise Obama, McArdle says, “Be humble… systems are incredibly complicated” and you can “wreck” them if you’re not humble. She points to the old Soviet Union, which after the fall gave birth to “oligarchs bidding on private assets” and setting up a series of “quasi-capitalist militaristic fiefdoms.” Sounds like creatively-destructive libertarian paradise to us, but Dr. Smith eats it up and sends McArdle to the green room, where she no doubt mutters, “Fuck it, if I can’t have the Times column I might as well play to the yahoos.”
Then here come our special guests! Engineering consultant Byron Price, web designer Lindsay Rae Fauba, and Eric Bruner, a college student. Dr. Smith says they’re “three brave souls” because “we had a lot of people writing in saying, you know, I might get fired, the Obama thugs might come after me.” The panelists seem unrattled.
Price wants to “define going Galt in my mind.” He means “rejecting the philosophy of altruism and the idea that man is a sacrificial animal. And so what these people are doing — I don’t know if they’re doing it consciously or subconsciously — but they’re rejecting the idea that their productivity, the fruits of their labor, can be disbursed to other individuals through taxation or what have you.”
Dr. Smith asks if he’s a Randian; he says he’s not a “hundred percenter.” Nonetheless he says “I incorporate her in my life where I can.” (Maybe he has a lock of her hair in his wallet.) His plan is to “reduce my taxable income, I’m gonna do it legally, but I’m certainly going to look for other options so I can reduce the amount of federal taxes to the government.” So… H&R Block? “It’s immoral,” he continues. “We’re not our brother’s keeper, we don’t belong to the state…” For a non-hundred-percenter, he sure seems to have the lingo down cold.
Lyndse Rae Faba is going to go Galt by, first, quitting smoking. What! We thought smoking was a politically incorrect activity enjoyed by all conservative men, women and children. She explains: “If children want free health care they can take up smoking and pay for it themselves, I guess.” (?) “I have a whole list of things I’m working on in an attempt to remove as much of my assets and as much of my productivity as I can… I see this theft, and I’m certainly not going to have things that I’ve worked hard for and things I’ve earned and my labor removed from my possession and thrown about especially to causes that I’m not OK with.” She is also removing “all of my debt as well as my cash” out of banks and putting them into a credit union, which she must not know is a cooperative entity run on a not-for-profit basis — what would Galt say to this suppression of creative capitalism?
The college kid says “Going John Galt isn’t really essentially a political or economic sort of strike, it’s a moral strike, rejecting the moral code of altruism, and accepting and spreading the morality that Ayn Rand puts forth which is rational selfishness.” His plan is “following Ayn Rand’s morality as much as I can and spreading her philosophy as far as can.” So he’s not going John Galt so much as going Dorkus Malorkus. Dr. Smith is thrilled, because all the other kids seem to be into Obama; what is so different about him? “I take ideas seriously,” he asserts. “I take morality seriously, I think that philosophy moves the world and I can grasp things with my mind and that if I want to change things I can persuade people.” Dr. Mrs. says maybe his classmates “don’t have as developed critical thinking skills”; the kid snickers. Someday he will show them all.
Our eyes glazed over at this point, but here’s the rest of what we picked up: The web designer ditched her health insurance for an HSA, because she’s young and strong and won’t get sick. The engineer says we haven’t had capitalism in America since 1913. The student says “a lot of my friends are objectivists,” meaning we can expect a Leopold and Loeb incident ’round his way in the near future.
And, a funny thing: Though these citizens haven’t actually said they’re going off the gird, or even indicated they would reduce their workloads, Dr. Smith asks them what they’re going to do with their free time. But apparently they already have a ton of it. The web designer uses her free time to knit and read, and she knows a free store where she may volunteer — amazingly, Mr. Virtue of Selfishness doesn’t object. The engineer (who says he “used to be in the corporate world” and felt like a “round peg in a square hole,” so maybe he’s been unemployed all along) is going to read still more rightwing books. The student blogs and has an objectivist club and distributes paper copies of his posts, which can only add to his popularity.
Mark it well, citizens: it’s the birth of a very important movement.