Who Is John Galt?
by Carson Starkey
Americans are living through a unique time of political paradox. Elected officials and ideological enthusiasts possess the capacity to blanket media outlets with an endless variety of messages. They can hoist the banners for the War on Christmas, announce the urgent need for English-only or flag burning constitutional amendments, and trumpet the inevitable anarchy that follows from women wearing pants. Ordinary voters are under constant surveillance whenever they’re not screeching at passing cars or talk radio programs. Traffic cameras capture every move in urban life. Police departments shake down working people with fines and tickets designed to raise revenue while shuttling mostly people of color into feedback loops of poverty and incarceration (Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Ferguson Report, March 5, 2015). In a time of unrestrained access and monitoring, we can rely on one phenomenon to remain mystical and undefined…conservative public policies.
We can draw a straight line from Massachusetts Puritans and Virginia planters telling their social subordinates (usually people of color, women, and the economically disadvantaged) to accept The Almighty’s judgment to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan assuring Fox News viewers that they have soon-to-be-disclosed but for now secret plans for every socioeconomic ill. Donald Trump will defeat ISIS…somehow, but he can’t tell how or when. Congressional Republicans will find a way to insure more people with lower costs by repealing the Affordable Care Act…somehow, but they can’t explain when/how that will happen, what the trade offs will entail, or who will make sacrifices. For the past forty years, conservatives have been promising higher wages and greater economic security for the majority of Americans, but they always get distracted by massive upward redistributions of wealth in the form of rich people welfare (tax cuts and subsidies), and forget to administer their previously promised plebeian quality of life expansion. Which goes a long way towards explaining why wages have been stagnant since Bruce Springsteen first introduced us to Mary’s swaying dress (Economic Policy Institute, “Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts, January 6, 2015, Reference to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” from the “Born to Run” album, 1975).
We soon observe that the Puritans, planters, and free market Praetorians never disclose their highly touted solutions. They stay perched in their fortresses, plantations, and penthouses, smirking through slavery, monstrous economic inequality, and foreign policy catastrophes. Are John Galt’s acolytes secretive, dishonest, or clueless?
Much like the work of Ayn Rand, the answer is unsophisticated and disheartening. Little about our political and economic history can be described accurately as prologue. American conservatives lack originality, though we should stress that they always have plenty of ideas, as a common refrain among liberals is that conservatives have run out of ideas. To borrow from Sam Elliot’s immortal Big Lebowski Narrator, far from it dude. You can thank Saint Louis Park, Minnesota after you finish reading this entry. Conservatives have plenty of ideas…aggressively unpopular, unfair, unworkable ideas that, when implemented by elected officials and other powerful individuals, impose needless suffering on large swathes of less powerful people. Their policy solutions are always variations of faith-based healing. Pray to somebody-Republican Jesus (who directs His followers to harm the poor, use violence to solve every problem, and create incomprehensible financial instruments in The Temple), John Galt, Alan Greenspan, a buffoonish Macy’s tie salesman with a silly toupee, or a polytheistic assortment of billionaires-and hope that your chosen omnipotent figure alleviates your earthly suffering. When your prayers go unanswered, go back to work and await further instructions from the appropriate cable news commentator.
The boring truth is that Nick Hanauer was right. If conservative policies have or had any connection to reality, America would be a wildly different place than it is in 2017. We’d be drowning in jobs because rich people would have trickled oceans of wealth down upon us as byproducts from their obscene tax code-derived welfare gifts that Ronald “avowed segregationist and apartheid supporter” Reagan and George W. “trillion dollar investor in Iraq and Afghanistan” Bush bequeathed them. Instead, Americans live with horrific, multi-generational poverty from Appalachia to East Los Angeles. (Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk, March 2012).
Now would be a good time to stop waiting for John Galt, because nobody has ever laid eyes upon him. Which means that he’s not coming. Not now, not at any time during President Tie Salesman’s administration, and not ever. You can mourn that fact, or you can take actions to improve your quality of life.
John Galt Does Not Exist.
by Troy Olson
Exactly. Who is John Galt? Not Donald Trump, not Mark Zuckerberg, and quite frankly – not anyone who has ever actually existed on this planet.
There are a few that certainly come close, but even they had to have parents, a community, teachers, mentors, a road and a bridge to make their work, ideas, or innovations possible.
President Trump and the one-party state is not building roads and bridges, they are building a wall and using fear and hate to make terrified people more terrified. Where will it all end?
Well for starters, it won’t work. New policies will indeed be undertaken and passed, implemented and forged. But America will not be made great again or whole again, and what is great about America will recede before us as long as Trump and the one party GOP state is in office. I want this country to succeed. Usually I would cheer triumphantly for our leaders to succeed in helping improve the country. Not this President, and not this administration. For their political success will be the undoing of centuries of democracy, norms and traditions, and their policies will not work because the last four decades already inform us that they will not work. That’s right. Everything they are undertaking has already been attempted and failed miserably by policy outcome measures and the preferences of the American people, who as seen below, prefer a set of wildly different policies.
Simply put, we know that policies of tax giveaways to the rich, corporate socialism, and forever war won’t work because the last 40 years have happened.
The thirty year time span after World War II, when the labor share of income was at its highest, was the most broadly prosperous time in American history.
Why? Because we invested in people. Wages rose with inflation and productivity rather than stagnated. We led with ideas and committed to the fundamental aspects of our national character that actually made us great:
1. Quality public education, for more and more people.
2. Investments in continually modernizing infrastructure like roads, bridges, and the interstate highway system.
3. Yes, Open Immigration laws so that the best and the brightest are drawn here, and so that those seeking opportunity add to American life, continually energizing our society with new ideas and perspectives. This one has had a few interruptions, but broadly speaking throughout American history our laws have been welcoming.
4. Government support for Research and Development (remember when we went to the moon?).
5. Implementation of necessary and proper regulation on private economic activity (sorry folks, Donald Trump won’t magically make your 401k go up, but the next financial crash brought to you by Government Sachs and the big five surely will deplete it).
Even before Trump, we have been drifting away from all of this.
If you think doubling and tripling-down on these policies is going to actually “Make America Great Again” I’ve got some land to sell you on the planet Alderaan.
All of these policies, whether by the administration or by Speaker Ryan and the GOP Congress are built upon an Ayn Randian worldview that fundamentally, like Karl Marx before, misunderstands and misrepresents what a human being actually is and wants. Human beings are not cut out for the rugged individualism of Atlas Shrugged, or Steve Jobs biopics.
Individualism has its place, but without a compassionate community to support, foster, and nurture people into productive members of a civil society, then all is lost. Human beings are by our very nature-overwhelmingly social beings. All religions and biological theories of human beings recognize this key distinction. Even our love of ideas springs from our love of people. We would not have made it this far if we just wanted to construct walls, divide, and hate one another.
Just as elements of collectivist thought failed to account for the spirit of individualism present in our society, so to will the Randian politics implemented by authoritarian measures. These policies will fail and ruin this land. Because this is not what people are about. We take care of our own, and we do it with a little help from our friends.