There is a scene in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged where one of the main characters , the owner of a large and successful steel manufacturer, is criticized by his fellow business owners for standing up to overbearing government regulation. Some of the comments these “businessmen” made were “we can’t afford to arouse resentment,” “the public won’t take it, there’s bound to be a lot of indignation,” “we’ve been trying hard not to give any grounds for all those accusations about selfish greed—and you’ve given ammunition to the enemy.”
The following colloquy began with the steel company owner replying rhetorically:
“‘Would you rather agree with the enemy that you have no right to your profits and your property?’
‘Oh, no, no, certainly not—but why go to extremes?
‘There’s always a middle ground.’
‘A middle ground between you and your murderers?
‘Now why use such words?’”
Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, when government regulation, while relatively light by our present experience, was steadily increasing.
Rand, as prescient as she was, really had seen nothing–or probably could imagine–what it was to become.
In response, our business leaders have become what’s known as crony capitalists. They have taken a “if you can’t lick ‘em, join em” attitude, and gone over to the dark side. As a result, they are no better than the looting and mooching politicians Rand decried. It is no accident that the Obamacare legislation is such a tome. The 2000 plus page length was necessary to accommodate each of the lobbyists on K Street—henchmen of the crony capitalists and everyone else who seeks what they believe is their share of the boodle from Washington.
Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel last Thursday praised a latter-day Rand hero in the person of Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam. McAdam criticized Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders view on corporate America as “‘uninformed,’ ‘contemptible,’ and ‘wrong’—among other things.” But, as Strassel pointed out, it would have been more praiseworthy if McAdam would have applied the same characterization to “the ‘Not I’ business community that helped create this moment.” That is, the present descendants of Rand’s craven businessmen. Strassel continues:
“American businesses aren’t immoral. They create jobs, prosperity, investment and tax revenue. They are the essence and the requirement of a democracy. Far from an immoral system, U.S. capitalism is the wonder and envy of the world. The greater wonder is that it remains so, despite the pusillanimous behavior of its most prominent representatives.
“It has been many a year since corporate America could claim to have an intact spinal system, though its retreat into nervelessness has accelerated over the past decade. We’ve reached a moment at which Mr. Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren can daily tar companies as the villains of the world, and receive applause from voters both left and right. Blame it on the great recession; blame it on a litigious environment; blame it on President Obama. But mostly blame it on the companies themselves. When asked time and again who among them would stand up for the American way, they mumbled ‘Not I.’”
Another colloquy from Atlas Shrugged is apropos and worth quoting:
“‘If one single businessman had had the courage, then to say that he worked for nothing but his own profit—and to say it proudly—he would have saved the world.’
‘I haven’t given up the world as lost.’
‘It isn’t. It can never be. But oh God!—what he would have spared us.’”
We might have been spared Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—or even Donald Trump.
Strassel concludes that “Businesses have long justified [kowtowing to the regulatory crowd] by noting that capitalism is rooted in self-interest, and that corporations are simply pursuing that interest when they dodge fights or engage in crony capitalism. But there’s short-term self-interest and long-term self-interest. The long-term is now here, in the form of Bernie Sanders.”
Citation to and quotes from:
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Part Three, Chapter IV “The Sanction of the Victim”.