Friday, March 20, 2009

Uninformed remark of the day.

Matt Yglesias wrote:
Atlas Shrugged is a stupid book, Ayn Rand is a stupid woman, and John Galt’s ideas are stupid. That said, none of them are nearly this stupid. Rand’s novel isn’t about a world in which executives who build companies based on a lot of incorrect decisions, then pay themselves millions of dollars while bankrupting their firms, then come to the government hat-in-hand asking for bailouts, then find that the bailers-out want to attach some strings to their hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds and then go to hide out in Galt’s Gulch. That doesn’t make any sense at all.
Has Yglesias actually read Atlas Shrugged? One of the lead villians is James Taggart, an incompetent businessman who wants to use political influence, not talent, as his source of income. Rand wrote of "Mr. Mowen," the president of Amalgamated Switch and Signal Company, who can't complete jobs and argues that business must be run for the good of everyone. There is Orren Boyle, the head of Associated Steel, who is a prime example of the corportists who use state power for their own benefit. Paul Larkin is another businessman who is unsuccessful and part of the looters. The board of directors of Taggart Transcontinental are all the worst sort of businessmen.

I do fear that Rand overestimated the number of decent businessmen at the corporate level. Corporate America is happily and inseparably intertwined with the political elite. And a huge amount of legislation acts to redistribute wealth in their direction. The media, however, keeps up the charade that government and Big Business are in opposition to one another. Uninformed leftists then push for regulations, to rein in Big Busines, but which Big Business then uses to their benefit since these regulations usually restrict competition and drive up costs. Meanwhile Big Business is lined up to get "bailed out" at the expense of the true entrepreneurs and businessmen, the small business owner.

Big Business is not, as Rand thought, "America's persecuted minority." Big Business, working with the political elite, is using state power to plunder the productive segments of the economy. This is not to say that some large corporations, probably most of them, don't also produce things of value. But production of value, and using state power to one's benefit, are not mutually exclusive. Most corporations managed to do both. But Big Business is not the champion of free, depoliticized markets by any means.

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