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Who is John Galt?Posted Tuesday, March 17, 2009, at 3:35 PM
I read Ayn Rand's massive novel "Atlas Shrugged" when I was a high school student, young and idealistic and somewhat stifled. As one of the smartest kids in my grade, I was often frustrated with others less intelligent who held back the class or asked the teacher redundant questions. Thus, Rand's emphasis on the importance of the mind in society was very appealing to me. Her belief that intelligent people should be the rich and powerful made me feel good and wish that things were actually that way.
In reading this tome, I didn't pay as much attention to the government's role in Rand's story. She condemns any sort of government interference as socialistic, and her intelligentsia begin disappearing when the government tries to regulate their companies. They live as exiles in their own land, waiting for the government's ultimate collapse, as a way to say, "I told you so."
John Galt is the instigator of that learned retreat from society, and in recent weeks, bloggers and pundits have taken to referencing him as an inspiration for Americans now in our troubled economic times. Some have encouraged people to find ways of paying less income tax as a way of "going Galt," rather than fully withdrawing from society. Bartering, instead of buying and therefore paying sales tax, is also recommended.
In my mind, however, all these Galt references are a little bit out of line. Right now, the American government is not placing undue regulations on the brightest, most innovative minds in our country. We are giving money to corporations who are unable to manage their own funds and businesses. The CEOs of AIG and the Big 3 auto companies have not created new inventions that will revolutionize our lives, as did Galt with his static electricity motor. Instead, our modern-day businessmen found ways to gamble with the stock market and chose to take high salaries at the expense of their companies' bottom lines.
As a matter of protest, telling the everyday American to try to pay less in taxes is a valid suggestion I suppose, though the everyday American does not have the intellectual prowess of Galt. Of course, paying less in taxes would also hurt local and state governments, who are not necessarily at fault. But, comparing the CEOs of today's troubled companies to Galt is ridiculous. Both situations do involve big government, but the circumstances are rather different. If today's CEOs want to retreat from society, perhaps they should consider prison.
I am not writing this post as a defense of Rand's ideals, but I do hate to see literary references twisted and skewed. For myself, I have decided that objectivisim -- the name for Rand's philosophy -- is not the best way for a modern society to function. It may sound good in theory, especially to those of us who consider ourselves intellectuals, but it is a little too heartless overall.
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Sydney is a former staff writer for the Democrat-News. She received degrees from University of Missouri in both music and magazine journalism. She played oboe with the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra and the Marshall Municipal Band while she was in Marshall.