Human Events Blog

Sen. Ron Johnson and the American “tipping point”

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) recently gave an interview to the Atlas Society, which as the name suggests is dedicated to the study of Ayn Rand’s writing.  Near the six-minute mark in this ten-minute interview, Johnson is asked about parallels between Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, which describes a future society in which the “makers” refuse to subsidize the “takers” any longer.  Johnson’s notion of how this scenario might be playing out in modern America is interesting.  He sees it less as an act of angry defiance (“going Galt,” as fans of the book describe it) and more like a form of weary surrender, in which exhausted small businesses give up fighting the State and sell out to larger, politically connected corporations:

What Johnson describes as the “tipping point” is similar to what I’ve long described as “The Great Crash“: the moment at which all the smart people who don’t feel like playing along with the collectivist agenda decide to cash out.  (The smart people who make big money by playing along with the collectivist agenda are a different story.)  I predicted we had about 10 years back in 2010, and I’ll stick by that prediction.  A great mass of dark clouds seems to be forming around 2020, as you can see from a visit to the web site of Sen. Johnson, who is one of the Senate’s great masters of chart fu.

With all due respect to the Atlas Society, I think this is the part of the economic and cultural breakdown that Rand got wrong, but Johnson has right.  If you shout “Let it burn!” and make a big production out of escaping the clutches of the redistributive State, as Rand’s rebellious “makers” do – one of them quite literally burning his life’s work to the ground on his way out – you make yourself a target.  You give the dying socialist State another group of “enemies” to rally against.  Better to cash in your chips and step back from the table without saying a word.  I think Johnson is right – we are seeing the early stages of this, right now.  The crisis will come very suddenly, because the people who don’t want to play any more can leave the table both quietly and quickly.  They have options for protecting their assets and swiftly re-arranging their lives, including physical re-location, that simply aren’t available to the middle-class citizen.

This is how I put it, back in 2010:

The system was doomed to crash because its vast array of taxes, spending, and regulation destroy the very wealth that sustains it. It ran out of fat long ago, and began feeding on muscle… and now it has worked its way down to the bone. Wealth is a product of choice, and every action taken by a collectivist government destroys wealth by reducing the options available to its citizens. Liberal politicians assume the population will go on blindly producing the same extraordinary prosperity, no matter how much the government skims off the top. That’s why every outbreak of bad economic news is “unexpected” to them, as well as the media who share their assumptions. Has a nation ever grown poorer after reducing the cost and power of its central government? Why would anyone assume a nation could grow richer by reducing the size and power of its private sector?

Two years on, we’re cutting ever closer to the bone, the bad economic news remains universally “unexpected,” the spectrum of choice available to consumers and entrepreneurs is more limited, and the ratio of net tax producers to tax consumers is less than 1.5 to 1, by some calculations.  And much of the public still doesn’t seem to grasp that choice, and wealth, only flourish for consumers if they are permitted to entrepreneurs.  I wonder if Atlas will get to shrug before he goes face-down in the mud, with that massive globe firmly lodged between his shoulder blades.

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