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Are Americans Going John Galt?

May 3, 2010

"We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force."

- Ayn Rand

Author and objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand was born in Russia just before the Bolshevik Revolution. She literally witnessed the slaughter and the dismantling of her country from the window of her father's pharmacy which was subsequently seized by the Leninist state. As a young woman, she fled to the United States, where she never forgot what she saw in her native country. She developed a deep distrust of government as she became one of the most celebrated writers of the mid-20th century.

Rand was eerily prescient when she penned the crown jewel of her literary career, the 1,100-page tome she appropriately titled, Atlas Shrugged. The novel was twice as long as it needed to be, filled with long philosophical soliloquies about the evils of socialism; but it was so prophetic concerning America's future that today, in the age of Obama, Pelosi and Reid, its annual sales far outpace those of 1957, the year it became a New York Times best seller.

Deep into the story, the main protagonist, John Galt, is revealed to the reader as a brilliant young engineer who has decided to stop the engine of the world. He has invented a motor that can convert static electricity into electric power, but he refuses to share his knowledge or his invention with the world in an atmosphere of ever-intrusive government intervention into the private sector.

Slowly, methodically, Galt recruits the best and the brightest from the fields of science, mathematics, business, the judiciary, literature and the arts in short, the greatest minds of the age and convinces them to withdraw from a society increasingly hostile to individual achievement and merit. One by one, they form a secret community of their own in the mountains of Colorado. They work at menial jobs, refusing to contribute their talents to a society that not only refuses to appreciate them but actually lives off their productivity.

The result is a progressively decaying civilization where bureaucrats cannot understand why their welfare state is losing all of its best producers. And therein lies the frightening parallel with today. Could the most creative and productive members of society be "going John Galt"? Yes, they could.

An April 25, 2010, New York Times headline reads, "More American Expatriates Give Up Citizenship." The story opens with this statement: "Amid mounting frustration over taxation and banking problems, small but growing numbers of overseas Americans are taking the weighty step of renouncing their citizenship."

It seems that Americans living abroad are being treated like terrorists by U.S. banks, an unintended result of the USA Patriot Act. People who have had accounts in their American banks for decades have suddenly seen those accounts closed because of their foreign addresses. Increasingly, U.S. citizens are being denied banking services in American banks and, in some cases, by foreign financial institutions as well.

Then there's the fact that the United States of America is the only industrialized country in the world that taxes its citizens on income earned abroad even when they are taxed in the country in which they are residing. One expatriate describes it as "taxation without representation." Another said that the rate of expatriation by Americans is just "the tip of the iceberg" in what we will see in the years to come.

If the misguided Obama health care scheme is allowed to stand, look for an additional exodus of people from that field, most notably physicians. Why should they subject themselves to the heavy hand of government control? And can small business people be far behind? As Lisa Schifferen has opined on her blog, "The Corner," at National Review Online:

"So, what happens when the heart surgeons, dentists, litigators, and people who employ 10 to 20 other people in their mid-size businesses decide that they don't want to pay for the excessive, pointless spending that the president finds so compelling?"

What, indeed. I think I saw the name "John Galt" on the blue vest of a greeter at Wal-Mart the other day.

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Copyright ©2010 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.