The Moment of Truth — March 14, 2009

Atlas–Shrug This!

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the delicious meat of the tough nut to crack.

CNBC financial reporter Rick Santelli famously yells out among the stock traders, “How many of you want to pay your neighbor’s mortgage?” This because instead of giving all the money in the federal budget to the people who sold unpayable mortgages or insured them Obama wants a portion of the budget to go to subsidize the people who paid for the mortgages, paid what they could, anyway. These are mortgages on which Wall Street got rich for the last few years. Well, Mr. Santelli, I have a question for the public: “How many of you want to pay for your neighbor’s private jet? How many of you want to pay for your neighbor’s Picasso? How many of you want to pay for your neighbor’s trip to Dubai? How many of you want to pay for your neighbor to get his son acquitted for a hit-and-run perpetrated while driving your neighbor’s Lamborghini on cocaine and Veuve Clicquot? How many of you want to pay your neighbor a half-million-dollar bonus for losing all his bank’s assets in the riskiest of investment strategies?”

Sales of copies of Ayn Rand’s pile of extra cushiony bathroom tissue, Atlas Shrugged, are going through the roof? Seriously? It’s the roof of a garden shed, but still a roof. Who are the pathetic suckers who are buying this book up? Or is this one of those spikes in sales contrived via bulk purchases negotiated between a think tank and a few organizations sympathetic with the message of that tank. There’s an Ayn Rand Institute? How do they spend their work days, sitting in solid gold bath tubs full of chinchilla milk thinking about how worthless poor people are?

Know what Atlas Shrugged is about? It’s about the wealthiest people in the USA getting so fed up with paying taxes that they go on strike, refusing to produce the wealth that keeps the ungrateful masses from starving.

Let me just say this, first, on a practical level: I have friends who have started their own farms, their own bars, their own import businesses, their own investment brokerages, friends who can build cars, friends who can fabricate steel, friends who can weld, friends who can live in the wilderness, climb mountains—friends who’ve found themselves in the Andes with nothing more than half a sandwich in their pockets and were not worried in the least—friends who are experts on alternative energy, friends who can build atomic clocks, practice medicine, write contracts, balance books, who have mastered any number of languages, friends who can make an astrolabe out of a coffee can lid a coat hanger and some cabinet hinges—I’m one hundred percent confident that we can continue civilization without the wealthiest financial wheeler-dealers “creating” wealth. I’m probably the only person I know who would feel helpless for a while. Everyone else I know is tough, adventurous, generous, brilliant, motivated—full of joie de vivre and ambition. Leave the Prudential building empty and we’ll put it to good use. Stop paying farmers to grow wheat for General Foods and we’ll help get that earth growing food. You don’t think we can figure out how to keep the electricity grid running? You’re actually standing in our way of doing that far more cheaply. Exactly what favors do you think you’re doing us? If you stop making Barbie dolls, it would free up a lot of resources for making condoms and fishing lures. Defense? You think we won’t be able to defend ourselves? You forget the Revolutionary War my friends. And the Vietnam War, come to think of it. You think suddenly all practical skills and ingenuity will vanish along with your glorious presence? You think no one else is waiting in the wings to get a mining company together? To ship goods? Mathematicians will forget how to do math? Engineers will lose the ability to engineer? No one in your absence can figure out how to capitalize an international corporation?

Please, go right ahead, underestimate the power of human beings to live without you golden gods who inhabit the penthouses of the world. Look, you’re not airline pilots. Entrepreneurism is an attitude that motivates a person to acquire skills and knowledge, it isn’t a skill in itself. Just about everyone I know is a possible entrepreneur if that’s what they turn out to be interested in or see a social need for.

And the premise that these lords of the universe work harder than anyone else is backed by what? I know people who’ve worked three jobs and are in the can, never made more than thirty thousand a year, and they’ve been paying for the wealthy to run the economy into the ground.

The only thing us lesser people lack is the sociopathic narcissism to think our presence is what holds society together. The grotesque narcissism that would enable someone to write a book about the wealthiest people in the world, a novel asserting that their wealth is commensurate with their importance to society, a novel asserting they are so necessary that if they ceased their activities the civilized world would grind to a halt—and, most incredible of all, the megalomaniacal narcissism to call that novel Atlas Shrugged. Oh, the weary weary uber-wealthy, the world weighs so heavily on their shoulders. Grotesque, sociopathic, megalomaniacal narcissism, that’s the one irreplaceable quality these self-appointed gods of civilization possess.

Atlas Shrugged? Are you for real? Atlas dropped the ball years ago, Atlas never had the ball, Atlas has been sitting on the ball and in fact just took a huge dump on it. Atlas farted. For such an infantile gesture of self-seriousness as that title Ayn Rand should be considered a fool the way Einstein is considered a scientist. Ridicule should be inseparable from her name just as heat is from fire.

What psychologically intact human being can be but outraged and disgusted by the idea that a class of people who squandered a trillion dollar tax cut at the beginning of the Bush administration, to whom we, the US public, surrendered so much of the public weal, who were given trillions of dollars of wealth created by all of us, wealth that could have gone to schools, health care, roads, bridges, capitalization of a new energy infrastructure, trillions we the public sacrificed on the theory that making the rich richer would somehow take care of everything—this class which brought the nation’s economy to its knees, now begrudges helping fund our nation’s basic needs. This class is so in love with itself that shame and introspection are simply not in their mental skill sets.

Have you heard of the documentary, “A Day Without A Mexican?” You know why it’s not called Atlas Shrugged? Because the people who made it aren’t utterly detached from reality. Because doing actual work gives one perspective. Because spending the day going from rooftop to rooftop in a helicopter to chew the fat with other geniuses could lead you to believe you’re the glue that holds the entire planet together. People who don’t have private islands have a more realistic idea of what they do to contribute to society.

You know why the uber-wealthy don’t go on strike? Because they know there are millions of smart, hardworking people ready to take their places. Some, like Warren Buffet, know it and appreciate it. Others, like the Koch family who fund the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, know full well that the public would be entirely justified adopting the stance that they’re being ripped off by the US dharma of wealth worship. The Kochs are consciously aware that the public is always this [-] close to discovering they don’t need these extra layers of ownership, they don’t need the stock market, they don’t need to surrender their social concerns to have a healthy economy. That’s why the Kochs and Scaifes fund these think tanks that pump out nothing but pro-profit, anti-taxation propaganda.

Unfortunately for those Kochs, we now see that even if we do give up our social concerns we don’t get a healthy economy. When there is no incentive for the rich to curb their greed, they’ll devour the whole planet. Has there ever been an administration that has given the capitalists and financiers more freedom that the Bush administration? Has there ever been an administration that’s given more public resources away to the private sector, and more money to the financial sector? And what’s the result? There may in fact be a direct correlation between how much we spoil our capitalists and how much harder the rest of us have to work to keep our heads above water.

Yes, Atlas is spoiled. Atlas is a spoiled brat. There have been many peasant rebellions, there have been plenty of labor strikes, and they often work because labor is necessary to the process of making and moving and trading physical wealth. The wealthy don’t go on strike, they screw the rest of us over, that’s how they punish us and express their disgust with us. But that’s just business as usual for most of them. Spare the guillotine, spoil the Atlas.

There was a joke when I was a kid. A kid would ask, “How come there’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but no Children’s Day?” And the adults would say in unison, “Every day is children’s day!”

Atlas whines and cries and poops his pants every day. Atlas is an overpaid whining bitch.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!