In Atlas Shrugged, Galt is the man behind a strike of industrialists, businessmen, and creators determined to stop the corrupt — because it is socialist — “motor of the world.” They withhold their skills and production, claiming that they have no practical or moral obligation to help others who cannot help themselves. They create and achieve to serve their needs only. Any external benefit…well, you have no right to be thankful, but be thankful anyway.
This stylized philosophy of selfishness increasingly has been embraced by today’s GOP conservatives, including Paul Ryan, the man who wanted to be our country’s vice president. This is also the party that claims it represents the best interests of all Americans, including working Americans.
How does this square? Maybe it is time to ask again, Who is John Galt?
Let’s take a look at this so-called “skills gap.” Supposedly American business owners would hire if only they could find workers with the skills to do the job. These complaints come loudly from the country’s dying manufacturing sector, placing blame for job loss on an unskilled American workforce.
Last Sunday, Adam Davidson handled this well in Sunday’s New York Times. In his story “Skills Don’t Pay The Bills,” Davidson argues a different point. The workers are there, he points out, but the wages are not. Davidson explains how the wages offered for highly-skilled positions don’t adequately compensate the costs of gaining those skills. Or, they don’t compete with other low-paying jobs, such as managing a shift at a fast food restaurant, which require less costs to obtain. What would the self-interested skilled worker choose to do?
To further counter the myth of a skills gap, Davidson also quotes Mark Price, a respected labor economist, and Price adds that if there is an inadequate supply of skilled workers, the price of that labor would increase (it is a supply and demand thing, Republicans) and that doesn’t square with the low pay offered to workers or Bureau of Labor statistics. (An economist? Statistics? Empirical evidence? Bah!)
With more and more wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer firms and individuals, the costs to competitively enter these markets and take advantage of our skilled labor becomes prohibitive. We end up with almost naive — if not childish — expectations and demands from some job creators. It is the “less is more” zombie run amok! Eventually such petulance will cost even the factory owner, unless he sells to someone like Bain and everything goes to a factory in India or Vietnam.
What’s going on?
Perhaps the workers are pulling a John Galt. Perhaps they don’t want to worker for the elite socialist class, the people at the top expecting something for nothing. Perhaps the workers want to stop the corrupt motor of the world. Maybe?
Perhaps not consciously or deliberately, but by refusing unsuitable compensation, aren’t workers saying thanks, but no thanks, John Galt style? Isn’t this a what’s-in-it-for-me reality? In Atlas Shrugged, the “job creators” take their marbles and go play with themselves in some mountain enclave of the greedy. In the United States today the skilled workers take their skills across the street to McDonalds.
How can the United States expect to compete in the future with a trend like that? (That’s a rhetorical question.) It makes a thinking person wonder who really cares about our future. Certainly the ultra-rich will survive our decline, at least for a generation or two, but will the country everyone claims to love survive?
Maybe Ayn Rand wasn’t so batty after all; perhaps she just had her world vision upside down. You see, when you look at the world through Ayn Rand’s eyes, the workers have every right to not work as the creators, they have the same interests…self interest.
In the end, however, none of us, rich or poor, will do very well in a depressed future. History, economics, and common sense should be enough to see that self-interest is invested in the interests of others. There is indeed a sort of collectivism that serves us all. Perhaps that shared self-interest is the John Galt who matters.
- The Antidote to Ayn Rand (truth-out.org)