Who Is John Galt?

I just finished watching the first two Atlas Shrugged movies. The third one should come out this year. I read the book a while ago, and I do still remember how the story ends- although I am curious how many minutes John Galt’s multi-page speech turns out to be.

I am not a follower of Ayn Rand. I think she was very traumatized by what happened in her country of birth and what she thought was happening in her country of refuge and that comes out in the story. However, I do think that she brings up some good points. It’s particularly telling that the story written in the 1950’s can so easily be moved to 2016. With how the economy (read, stock market and housing market) has improved in 2013, it’s not as clear a jump as it was in, say, 2011. It’s still a much easier sell for a future than it would have been in 2007, though.

What I pull away from her work is that innovation and hard work need to be rewarded. I don’t think an absolutely free market is the way to do it, but too much interference in the give and take is a problem. If we don’t let the brightest minds and strongest work ethics get the biggest cut, we’re removing a really big reason for them to share their bright ideas and work their fingers to the bone. If they get no more credit than the person that shows up and plays Angry Birds for half of their shift, why should they contribute more?

Don’t get me wrong- I am not happy with the differences between the 1% and the rest of us. The divide is too wide for a healthy society. However, I won’t begrudge those that started with little or nothing and made it to the 1%. Heck, even the ones who inherit their wealth, but then build on it through actual work are still pretty ok in my book. The problem is when they have the money and contribute nothing. Dagny inherited her wealth, but worked her butt off to keep her family’s business working- not just for money but because it was necessary for getting things done in the country. Her brother, James, is the kind of rich person that really, really doesn’t do our world any good. He wanted, and accepted, no responsibility even when his were the only shoulders left to carry it.

In the story, it’s the manufacturers and inventors that go on strike. In our world, I’m wondering what would happen if the farmers went on strike? What they do isn’t farming anymore. It’s strip-mining for grains and vegetables and meat. What would happen if there was a place for these folks to go if they wanted to walk away from the mockery of a living they’re making? If they all stop farming tomorrow, they lose their farms. But how long would they need to be gone before we start trying to give them their farms back again to run as they please? We don’t have anyone to take their places.

Food shortages aside, what sort of havoc will they wreak on a system that doesn’t even count “farmer” as a job on the census? For starters, it’ll be hard to bet on porkbelly futures if there’s no pork. The same with commodities like grain. That’s a hit for the stock market. Chemical manufacturers will lose a very, very large customer base if they aren’t selling pesticides and fertilizers. The same goes for pharmaceutical companies- to the tune of 80% of sales. I’m really not sure what Monsanto would do, and I really don’t want to find out. They have their hands in all aspects of modern farming to the point that you can’t grow heirloom plants anymore without risking them looking over your shoulder to see if you’re “stealing” their genes.

We can’t forget about the food shortages, though. How long would it take us to work through the backlog of processed foods? And the grain stores held against future need? Then what? We could import from other countries, but that gets expensive, fast. Particularly if they choose to exploit our situation. We aren’t growing any food, and we can’t afford to import food . . . but unlike food shortages of the past, the bulk of people can’t turn to gardens. They don’t know how, they don’t have access to land, or they aren’t allowed to use their land that way. I wonder how long restrictive HOAs would last under those circumstances?

If farmers walked away from their fields tomorrow, how long would it take us to realize that they serve a far more important role than they are currently being given credit for?

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