Wikinvest Wire

Who is John Galt?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Some time ago, a commenter noted that, during his 18 year term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan was just doing what the main character did in Ayn Rand's classic work "Atlas Shrugged".


Already overloaded with unread books that mostly just collect dust and unwilling to have a crack at what Wikipedia describes as "one of the longest novels ever written in any European language", Carolyn Baum's column today thankfully answered the question that flitted through my mind some time ago when that comment came in.

Who is John Galt?

Of course, a couple of simple queries at Wikipedia probably would have answered that question at the time, but, to be honest, 1000-page books just intimidate me. And so do Wikipedia entries where the Table of Contents is too big to fit on the the first screen and then when you look to the right for the scroll bar, it's just a little bitty thing (indicating that the entire web page is humungous).

Anyway, today, the question of John Galt has been answered.

After recounting all the recent woes of the U.S. economy, Carolyn notes:

Any day, I expect some government official to unveil the John Galt plan to save the economy.

Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand's magnum opus ``Atlas Shrugged,'' stops the world by going on strike. He and the ``men of the mind'' literally withdraw from the world after watching their wealth confiscated by the looters (the government).

Toward the end of Rand's 1,000-plus page novel (or polemic), the economy is in shambles. Desperate, the looters kidnap Galt and prod him to ``tell us what to do.''

Galt refuses, or rather tells them ``to get out of the way.''

Road Is Cleared

You probably can sense where I'm going. Today's economic and financial crisis would resolve itself more quickly and efficiently if the government got out of the way. Yes, there would be pain. Some banks would fail. Others would clamp down on credit to atone for the years of lax lending standards. Homeowners-in-name-only would become renters. Housing prices would fall until speculators found value.

That's not going to happen. The bigger the mess, the more urgent the calls for a government solution, the more willing government is to oblige.

We want laissez-faire capitalism in good times and a government backstop against losses in bad times. It's a tough way to run an economy.
I don't know. There may have been some word other than "tough" originally intended for use in that last sentence.

And I'm still scratching my head about that long-ago comment about John Galt and Alan Greenspan.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Anonymous said...


financial crisis would resolve itself more quickly and efficiently if the government got out of the way.

this always puzzles me - just WHO in hell do people making these comments think the government IS anyway ? Who is Hank Paulson ? Who is Dick Cheney ? Were they brought up in caves by elders expressly to act as leaders ? what were they before they were in government ? what will they be after they leave ?

most of the government IS business, run BY businessmen (for a few years) FOR businessmen (which they once again will become). Who the hell do they think "government" is working for ? "Government" always does what business clamours for, because its THE SAME PEOPLE in each group ! Whose advice do you think Hammerin' Hank is listening to over lunch? Wall Street ? or Main Street ?

Really it just astounds me that people haven't woken up to the fact that the people telling the "government" to get out of the way are the same people telling it what to do. the mind boggles.

shtove said...

Greenspan was a devotee of Ayn Rand in the 1950s - he describes her circle of influence at the start of his recent autobiography. How that fits in with his "Galt moment" I do not know.

Anonymous said...

I also have had this theory for a long time....Greenspan isn't able to play the role of Jphn Galt entirely (removing the most productive members from society), but he was able to fulfill the role in that he gave our depraved society and politicians everything they asked for, ie: more credit. The mindset in the US for the last decade has been that they should have everything without having to work for it, and essentially any form of behavior is acceptable, etc etc.

I didn't think Baum's article was representative of Atlas Shrugged really. Although, if you look at some of the things that are happening with the government now, it does make Rand look eerily prescient.

Read the loooong speech by Galt that occurs about 2/3(?) of the way through the book, the speech he gives over the radio (should be able to easily find it posted on the net), and see if it seems relevant to whats happening in our world today.

Anonymous said...

Per anonymous "if you look at some of the things that are happening with the government now, it does make Rand look eerily prescient".

Not really. Try Schumpeter instead.

Mathlete said...

The people telling the government to get out of the way are not the same people telling government what to do. Businessmen hate competition and they use government to thwart their competitors. Just look at any business' political contributions. Aside from a few politically motivated sectors (like defense for Republicans or lawyers for Democrats) most business has both parties on the payroll.

People who tell government to get out of the way are small business (can't influence gov't), many economists, and those who fall on or near the libertarian end of the political spectrum (like George McGovern!). I can only think of one or two CEOs that are truly for capitalism and free markets: TJ Rodgers of Cypress Semi and Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Apollo said...


Regarding your head scratching about the connection between John Galt and Alan Greenspan:

As you know, Greenspan wrote an article in 1966 (for Rand's Objectivist Newsletter) about the importance of the gold standard. Hence, many people couldn't understand why he had accepted a position as the top central banker, a job that required the creation of endless fiat currency. A theory was promoted that Greenspan was *really* still an advocate of the gold standard, and that he was secretly inflating the money supply so much to cause the destruction of paper money and force a return to the gold standard. The parallel to Atlas Shrugged more closely resembles not John Galt, but Francisco, who pretends to expand his copper mines while secretly destroying them.

Obviously, given Greenspan's lust for prestige and power, this theory holds no water. He is merely a man who sold his soul.

I've read your blog for a while now, and I bet if you read the first 20 pages of the novel, you literally couldn't put it down.

Tim said...

I guess I touched on the same issues in Three Sins, One Gift - The Gift: Hastening the Demise of Fiat Money.

Whether intentional or by happenstance, whether inspired by Ayn Rand and an Objectivist self interest, motivated by his early years as a gold bug, or driven by a simple desire to be popular, Alan Greenspan's actions have resulted in drawing nearer the end of another era of fiat money.

Maybe I'll give the book a try some day.

Anonymous said...


yes, you are right : "small business", entrepeneurs, etc are asking "government" to get out of the way, not big business, who are the ones telling themselves (when wearing their "government" hats) what to do.

Unfortunately, the distinction is never made, and worse, likely escapes most people's minds. It would do the US a great service if the distinction WAS made clearly so that the populace understood it.

-Marcello (who can't remember his Blogger password...)

Anonymous said...

What we have today: Recently our company did a review of all work done and why it was done. I had never thought of that as a review subject,but once I saw the results I about packed my bags and headed to CO. over 80% of the paid time spent by executives was handling something that had nothing to do with our work but rather covering our asses with the goverment, attorneys or none product related work. So 80% of our payroll is spent on fixing things that aren't broke, being watchfull of things that haven't happened and in most cases would never happen, one the biggest problems of all of the problems was dealing with people that wouldn't do what they said they'd do, and trying to get them to do it or finding someone else to do it, in a lot of cases we'd paid to have it done already and had to pay again. WE have no way to stay in business sending everything we make on looters and dead heads.

A little story that just happened, I was going over a stack of property tax reciepts that we'd paid, looking over the properties some I knew some I didn't but one that I did was a small property with very little value and the next one was about 5 time it's sizes, the later had taxes about half of the first one. So I contracted the tax office in that county and posted a complaint, I just got the answer, they raised the first one's taxes even higher and said I could go to court about it if I wanted to.
I say let them have it and let's see just how long it is before they come looking for us to save them.

  © Blogger template Newspaper by 2008

Back to TOP