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.I don't know. There may have been some word other than "tough" originally intended for use in that last sentence.
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.
And I'm still scratching my head about that long-ago comment about John Galt and Alan Greenspan.