Atlas is shrugging

By Stephen Moore

“Government help to business is just as disastrous as government persecution. … The only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.” — Ayn Rand

Congress has just approved an economically bloated $2.2 trillion spending relief bill, an amount more substantial than the GDP of all but a handful of countries. It is only the third massive relief bill, and we’ve been told several trillion dollars more would have to get spent. Then there are the trillions of dollars more of Federal Reserve Board liquidity injections. We are starting to talk about real money here.

The politicians believe that sending $1,200 checks to people will “stimulate” the economy. Among the many mistaken provisions of this new law is a welfare benefit to workers that pays them more money if they quit and become unemployed than if they stay on the job.

Here we go again. A decade ago, during the height of the folly of the bank bailouts and trillions of dollars of spending for “shovel-ready projects” (that didn’t create jobs but plunged our nation into greater indebtedness), I noted in a Wall Street Journal article that with each successive bailout and multibillion-dollar economic stimulus scheme from Washington, the politicians were reenacting the very acts of economic stupidity that Ayn Rand parodied in her 1,000-page-plus 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. In many surveys, Atlas rates as the second most influential book of all time behind the Bible.

For those of you who have not read it (first, shame on you!), the moral of the story is that politicians invariably respond to crises — that, in most cases, they created — by spewing out new, mindless government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to spawn even more programs. At which point, the downward spiral repeats itself until there is a thorough societal collapse. Isn’t this precisely what is happening now?

In the book, the well-meaning politicians pass bills such as the “Anti-Greed Act” to prevent companies and wealthy people from making too much money. Another of my favorites was the “Equalization of Opportunity Act,” which required successful people who invented things and started new businesses to share their wealth. Now, in real life, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders propose legislation like this all the time. They rant daily against “greedy” millionaires and billionaires (though Sanders dropped “millionaires” the moment he became one) and wonder whether the wealth producers of our economy deserve to exist at all. And these two were competitive in the Democratic presidential nomination.

We are living through the Ayn Rand dystopia right now. We have given police-state powers to the government to shut down “nonessential businesses” and tell people whether they can play golf or go for a hike. Some of these measures may make sense based on public health, but at what point are we degrading the rights of individuals to choose risks for themselves?

At one point in Atlas Shrugged, the incompetent rent-seeking politicians finally have to admit that they have brought the economy to its knees with all the do-goodism. Out of desperation, they ask the heroic business owners in society what they must do. “First, abolish the income tax,” they are told.

Sound like a wild-eyed idea today? Guess what? For the $2 trillion-plus that Congress has just spent to protect the economy, we could have completely eliminated the personal income tax on every worker and business this year. Isn’t it abundantly evident which would have been the smarter choice to revitalize our economy?

I can just hear Warren shriek: “This would benefit ‘the rich!'” But, of course, the people who are suffering most from the lockdown on the economy and other power grabs by the government today are the lowest-income workers.

In Atlas Shrugged, everyone gets poor, and if we stay on our current turn toward statism and don’t stand up for our rights, we will be poorer and a lot less free.

Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with FreedomWorks.

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