Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world


Going Galt

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 1:06 am

I've finally started reading Atlas Shrugged.  It's been on my reading list for one or two years now, but, with all the Ayn Rand talk recently, I decided to get to it.  I'm only 200 pages in, which leaves me 800 more to go.  I find the prose to be a little overbaked at times, and the book is probably longer than it needs to be.  The characters are also odd and anything to do with sexuality is downright… strange – as if it's begging for Freudian analysis.  But all of that doesn't bother me much.  Though I'm not to it yet, I know the general idea of what the society's producers wind up doing and who John Galt is supposed to be.  This has given rise to the going Galt call among many in our current economic and political climate, advising people to scale back and contribute as little as possible to a looting society.

Wandering around the blogosphere, I've seen interesting comments about Rand and going Galt.  Many criticize her writing and characters or call her books the equivalent of pulp sci-fi.  They mean this last one derogatorily, but I don't see the problem with it.  Science fiction isn't meant to be real or even necessarily realistic; it's an often allegorical story exploring social issues.  I certainly don't think there's going to be a free-wheeling Captain Kirk out exploring the galaxy someday who has to broker a peace between two alien races whose only difference is which half of their bodies is white and which is black.  But that wasn't the frickin' point now, was it?  The point was the racial issue the story was addressing.  Similarly, it's seems silly to dismiss all of Rand's points just because the characters are too ubermenschish or unrealistic or some such or that what the producers do wouldn't really happen.  Well, that's not the frickin' point now, is it?  She's using a story to illustrate an overall point, philosophy, and argument.  That requires intellectual honesty in taking her position at its strongest and examining that.

As for the going Galt, many criticize it that it will make no difference and trolls love to dare people to actually go Galt and see what it does for them or the effect it will have on society.  That dare is usually accompanied with some kind of insult, epithet, or abbreviations standing in for laughter.  But I don't think the criticism being offered here is fair either.  Below is what I wrote about the topic for the comment section of this Denver Post article.  If you look at the comments (the later comments), you can see the back and forth between me and several other people.  I eventually stopped replying because I had other things to do and it seemed to get to the point where nothing new was going to be added by either side, which makes the debate tiresomely repetitive.  Though I do hate leaving a debate like that because it gives the appearance of surrender, something I don't do lightly (or much at all).

Anyway, the comment:

I keep seeing a rather curious misunderstanding of the going Galt phenomenon. While the book posits it as captains and titans of industry punishing the looter society by removing from it their own productivity, the real life version is more subtle. It's not that people will purposely remove themselves or drastically scale back in order to punish "looters." They will merely scale back in smaller ways due to simple incentives. If there is no incentive to excel or produce more, then why should anyone do so? If there is actually a disincentive to produce more and if success even seems to be punished, then why excel?

Let's say a dentist makes $300,000 a year, but realizes that after federal, state, local, and social security taxes, he'll get to keep only 40-50% of the last $50K he makes. He's likely to reason it's better to scale back his business. He'll have more time to himself, work less, but not lose much financially if he cuts back to, say, $250-275K. Sure, he may miss out on $20-$25K, but he'll figure that's better than putting in $50K worth of work and still lose as much. So he'll scale back. But by doing so, he'll hire fewer employees, cut back on hours for current employees (or even lay off a few), contribute less in taxes, and provide less of a service to his community. He's not consciously going Galt and he may not even care about politics at all. He's merely pursuing his own financial interests, which are affected by society's incentive structure.

Now imagine many, many more people like this dentist doing the same thing with all sorts of producers and employers merely following financial self-interest and scaling back. This is the going Galt problem that exists and the effects will cascade throughout the economy and government. People need to have an incentive to work harder and produce more and that incentive is that doing so will earn them more money. Take that away and their behavior will change.

In the Communist countries, it was "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us," only because the government forced them to work certain jobs. Here, it will simply be, "We work less because we can't get paid more."


  1. You’re assuming homo economicus. A large percentage of citizens can be fooled by the framing of their taxes such that they don’t realize that additional effort won’t lead to gain proportionate to past effort.

    Comment by Sean — 5/27/2009 @ 3:23 am

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