Ayn Rand Was Right All Along
Are you familiar with Ayn Rand? If not, perhaps you should be. Regardless, I want to share some ideas I have pulled from her work.
What is a businessman? Is it merely a man who works in business or commerce? The book Atlas Shrugged presents characters such as Hank Rearden, James, and Dagny Taggart, as people who all engage in commerce but whose intentions and motivations for doing so are very dissimilar (Rand, 1996).
The villains and the heroes begin to show themselves, and reflections of fiction begin to emerge in our own reality as the story unfolds. It is then we discover that the characters presented are not all businessmen. Wealth may be created by production. However, some wealthy people have never produced a thing or even contributed to that production yet feel they have the right to consume or acquire without legitimate trade. Atlas Shrugged demonstrates the differences between those who earn versus those who take.
Characters such as James Taggart, Orren Boyle, and Wesley Mouch illustrate the unethical side of business. These are the villains who take from those who have produced, either for themselves, to redistribute to their friends or to redistribute to those with the power to vote and perpetuate or even exacerbate their power to take in the first place. The question one must ponder then becomes, “is it ethical to take something from someone and give it to another?”
According to the definition, redistribution is an economic theory, policy, or practice of lessening or reducing inequalities in income through such measures as progressive income taxation and antipoverty programs (Dictionary.com, 2013). Simplified, this model requires that someone merely take from those who have and give to those who have not.
Imagine one having a desire for the money in a neighbor’s safe, so they hire someone to acquire the money. The person who retrieves it receives a cut for his efforts. Labor, ingenuity, thought, and self-reliance were all demonstrated in this example; however, what has just occurred (according to most court systems) is burglary due to the blatant disregard for ethical standards, regardless of the premise of reducing the inequalities in income.
It remains a fairly basic concept that has been demonstrated in the courts numerous times. Theft is defined as stealing. Stealing is to take (the property of another) without right or permission (American-Heritage, 2003). No matter how you approach this, taking something from someone without their consent is wrong and unethical.
Atlas Shrugged demonstrates that money is not the measure of a man but that what matters is how he acquired it. As suggested in the book, paper money is worthless unless it represents value through production (Rand, 1996). In other words, people trade their labor/ideas/skills/etc. in exchange for money.
For some unknown reasons, the courts remain drastically divided on the matter. Still, the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution clearly states that no one will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation (US Const.). If that is true, can it even be legal for a government to take money without legitimate trade? Perhaps the question then becomes, “is money even private property”?
At your job, you trade your labor for money. Money is the medium by which you can acquire goods or property. Upon purchase, these goods are considered the private property of the individual who bought them because it is land or belongings owned by a person or group and kept for their exclusive use (Collins, 2003). Therefore, money and property must be the same. If they were not, then everything one purchased with money would technically be owned by the printer of that money. By extension, this negates the 5th Amendment altogether and renders it a moot point. However, this is obviously not the case because the preceding is valid.
So, as you can see, by definition, basic logic, and Occam’s Razor, taking money from one to give to another without consent is not only unethical but is also legally, Constitutionally, and morally wrong, regardless of who tries to say it is right and regardless of what reasons they may provide. By extension and for clarity, this idea also includes progressive income taxation and antipoverty programs derived from, or for, either persons or businesses.
Hank Rearden and Taggart demonstrate the other side of this paradigm. As they both struggle to produce by ethical means, they are continually pulled back by the leeches who both impede their ability to move forward and drain them of their monetary abilities to execute production better. Via frivolous laws, taxation, and antipoverty programs, both Rearden and Taggart struggle to keep their companies alive. In essence, they are the well from which the other characters draw their life-giving water, but without consent, restraint, or even the ability to moderate either the rate or perceived necessity of the pull.
Though often attributed to Alexander Tytler or Ben Franklin, it has been repeated throughout the years that when people discover that they can vote for the candidates that will give them money, it will herald the end of a republic. In the United States, we are guaranteed a Republic style of government. The Republic, of course, is arguably the fairest form of governance which secures the ability to be self-reliant, engage in commerce and acquire happiness with limited restriction. However, Kenyen Brown, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, references witticism when stating that “the Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself” (Brown, 2002). Powerful words that mirror the overall theme of people like Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, and for that matter, Ayn Rand.
That being said, it should be known that Atlas Shrugged is not a celebration of business. Instead, it is celebrating and recognizing labor, ingenuity, innovative thought, and self-reliance through ethical means. A definition of business is the practice of making one’s living by engaging in commerce.
Arguably the most effective way to engage in commerce is by understanding or controlling the means by which you engage in it and being the producer of the products or services you bring to exchange. If you profit from this but are not a contributor to this endeavor, you are merely a looter or a leach. However, the business community and hardworking freedom-loving people do themselves a disservice by merely addressing it like that.
The broader theme of the novel seems to be an attempt to define precisely what people like James Taggart, Orren Boyle, and Wesley Mouch are, or perhaps better said, are not. Who are people who engage in business, who have acquired power, esteem, and status, but who merely sponge off of actual producers and provide little to no significant additions to the endeavor? Ayn calls these people looters, the plunderers of business. They take revenue and means forcibly and unethically without the right to do so. Is this not theft, as demonstrated earlier?
If Hank and Dagny are honest businessmen, then James and Orren are dishonest anti-businessmen because they oppose Hank and Dagny’s ideals, motives, efforts, and actions. Though, perhaps the terms looter or anti-businessmen is not strong enough. It remains clear that people like James only commit to the creativity that allows them to further drain the well before them.
By basic definitions, people like James and Orren are thieves or perhaps the epitome of true villains. However, if we recognize the actions and motives of people such as Rearden and Dagny as heroic, we must recognize James and Orren for what they are. After all, what do you call something that lives solely by deriving its benefits at a host’s expense? A parasite.
A Real-World Scenario
This is where the conversation can get complicated and somewhat uncomfortable. Unfortunately, many in this great nation do not realize that they are directly benefiting from the labor of specific individuals who are unfairly taxed at significantly higher rates. At the same time, many who directly benefit proactively advocate for the continuation of that labor and benefit but reject proposals for improved compensation measures. Are these people looters?
By definition, we could almost classify this situation as a type of involuntary servitude. Moreover, those performing the labor and being looted have no recourse and are forced to pay their exceedingly high tax rates under duress or threats by the government and financial institutions. These victims have no choice but to either perform and pay or succumb to the dependency schemes that only exacerbate the problem and empower the looters. However, this reality is largely the result of politicians manipulating their constituents on behalf of the large banks.
Perhaps we all need to take a closer look at the various services provided to us in our communities, consider who truly funds the bulk of them, and reject the astroturfing that our politicians dish out in their effort to distract us from the root of the bigger problem. Of course, this would require us to think about someone other than ourselves. Unfortunately, I fear that is something most are unwilling to do anymore. Tytler’s Cycle demonstrates why. If you are unsure what this real-world scenario describes, this message may be for you.