Are We Doomed?

Published September 2, 2011

This issue of FIRE Policy News once again chronicles the descent of America from a land of freedom and opportunity into a second-rate country dominated by government regulators, politicians, and rent-seekers.

From housing markets to banking, from insurance regulations to management of the country’s money supply, the trend always and everywhere is toward trading based on compulsion instead of consent, of businessmen needing permission from politicians and regulators before risking their own capital and energy, and of corruption and fraud being rewarded and honesty punished.

Ayn Rand saw all of this happening half-a-century ago. She described it vividly in a novel published in 1957 titled Atlas Shrugged.

I first read Atlas Shrugged many years ago and was deeply moved by its defense of reason, individualism, and self-interest against the onslaught of emotionalism, collectivism, and phony altruism. It remains a powerful indictment of statism and crony capitalism; you can open the book to almost any page and read a passage that could be commenting on a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal.

I asked Steve Stanek, managing editor of FIRE Policy News, to give the front page of his newspaper to a quotation from Atlas Shrugged (it appears on page 390 of my edition) because it so accurately describes the situation we face today.

Unemployment is at heights not seen since the Great Depression despite massive “stimulus” spending by government and “monetary easing” that is keeping interest rates at zero while massively inflating the money supply. Nothing the government has done has promoted economic growth or led to the creation of more jobs. In fact, its efforts are having just the opposite effect.

Rand could have been describing Barack Obama when she had Francisco d’Anconia say, “You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization, and you wonder why it’s crumbling around you, while you’re damning its life-blood – money.”

Only society’s producers can create wealth. To do so, they need to be able to trade based on consent rather than compulsion, to innovate without first obtaining permission from bureaucrats, to profit from meeting true market needs and not from having an inside line on subsidies and privileges, and to be protected from force and fraud by laws that are fairly and uniformly enforced.

Until America returns to the principles and policies that once made it great, its producers are entirely justified in staying on the sidelines, enjoying some time off and avoiding the pressure and stress of putting their capital at risk to serve others.

The way back has been presented and explained too many times for liberals and statists to cry, “but I didn’t know!” The damage, which is considerable, lays at their feet and not at the feet of the producers.

Atlas has shrugged. Will government now create the conditions necessary for the return to prosperity?

Joseph Bast ([email protected]) is publisher of FIRE Policy News and president of The Heartland Institute.