Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who Is John Galt and Where is He?

Ayn Rand. Photo courtesy of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Europe is looking really bad. Like it will blow up at any moment. Not blow up as in ICBMs: but kabooming into some sort of unprecedented economic chaos. Then, I just read a piece by economic journalist Michael Lewis about how the city of Vallejo, California is actually in bankruptcy, the city of San Jose is pretty close to it, and the entire state of California is next. Followed by the whole of America, I guess.

I started remembering how, in that crazy Ayn Rand book, Atlas Shrugged, this character called John Galt takes all the smart, creative people to a secret valley in Colorado and starts America over again. 

Like many precocious teenagers, I found Atlas Shrugged, with all its melodrama and bodice-ripping simplicity, to be impossible to put down. I remember a summer day when I had to walk to town for some reason (maybe the book was due at the library!) and I read Atlas Shrugged for the whole two miles. (Probably not as bad as texting and driving.)

But when I tried to re-read the book as an adult, I couldn't get through it.

Ayn Rand was a bit like one of the characters in her book(s)--if that is possible. You can read about her enormously eccentric life in one of her biographies.

But, we can at least say she had experience with the world falling apart when, as a child, she and her family in Saint Petersburg, witnessed the Russian Revolution, the White Russian counter-revolution, and the famine and purges that followed.

So, I guess it isn't any wonder that when she got to America she looked at everything through that lens and wondered if the worst might happen here too.

Now I'm beginning to wonder if, just because she took that idea to a novelistic extreme, it doesn't mean she couldn't be right. (Lots of qualifications in that sentence, you'll notice.)

I'm sad to say, within one of the recent articles I've read about all the economic problems facing the West, I have learned a new word: autarky. "The state of being self-sufficient."

I really hope it doesn't come to autarky, as I think my blood sugar couldn't tolerate a strict diet of just my tomatoes, along with my apple, blackberry, apricot, and guava crops. Though, if I could just find my father's .22, I could supplement those with a few squirrel pot au feu for extra protein. 

The worst thing I fear about economic breakdown is that I'm afraid someone will make me read Atlas Shrugged again. 

But, just in case:  does anyone have John Galt's iPhone number? 

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1 comment:

Jack said...

OK, Robin. Now you've done it; you've struck the Occupy America nerve. Up here, the collapse of the housing industry and restrictions on timber harvesting - including reasonable ones - have helped drive rural Oregon toward an economic black hole. That's just one aspect of a shaky economy, with the legislature struggling with their conciences trying hurt the fewest people while meeting a mandated balanced budget requirement - no borrowing from China to let states announce unfunded mandates like the feddies can. Promise the sky and go on vacation. After you reach 14.7, why, heck, let's make it 20 trillion. Who cares? More B-2s. Attack somebody, we can afford it; we're humanitarians, and by God, the ones who survive will like us so much, they'll let in our corporations. Full-range health care for everybody! Heck, let's pay for everyone's college education! California's troubles came to mind when we look around. These local and international threads weave a tapestry of despair and increasing hopelessness suggestive of the 1930s. We can only place our hope now in the inherently cyclical nature of capitalist economies, having lost faith in either party's theories. The Soviet-model command economies concealed their difficulties through party control of the media and control of the economic levers. We have no such 'luxury'; our mainstream media can harvest signals of collapse - or recovery - by directly heading out to the street. Boardrooms are another matter; on that front, we have to trust business to be honest with us. Right: Trust us - derivatives are safe; no, it's OK, go ahead and sign, the mortage will fit your no-money-down income level just fine; trust us - our prospectus is 100% honest, and if it isn't, it's the taxpayer's fault for bankrolling our tax-deducted outsourcing pockets, so they'll make good on your losses. Promises have been made by both parties that exceed current and potential revenue, whether 200+ F22s and the option to continue to stick our troops in the middle of spats all over the world (a new deployment of 'advisors' to Uganda announced this week, no less; of course, corporate mercenaries can rush in behind them to fill their pockets once the uniforms clear the way); or a guaranteed safety net for boomers. From Greece to Italy to Ireland to Vallejo to Prineville and the lands of emptied factories and abandoned homes, it all seems ripe for a fundamental re-write. In previous spirals of this scale, people have rushed into the arms of poulist and dogmatic leaders. For now, hopeful signs are being fed to us through the machine ('Retailers see increased sales this holiday season'; read, "There will be growth in the Spring"[Being There]). Maybe, hopefully, those statements are backed by real recovery. Has Governor Brown announced some heretofore undiscovered revenue stream? We certainly don't see much hope up here. Whoever - wherever it comes from - can put people back to work will have the throngs in the palm of their hand. The alternative is further collapse, spiraling out of Europe onto our shores, as you describe. If I were smart enough to have a solution, I'd pick up the phone. No such luck. I'll step out now and put my head in the sand; wake me when it's over.