Rapture deferred: Now, where’s John Galt when we need him?


We're still here. Photo: neko687 via Flickr.

No surprise, Ye of Little Faith, grumpy radio prophet Harold Camping’s rapture didn’t work out as scheduled this weekend. But maybe there’s another hope for all of us garden-variety sinners to rid ourselves of people who are self-righteous, nutty or just dangerously ambitious.

Who is John Galt?

In honor of the terrible movie version that just came out of Ayn Rand’s terrible book Atlas Shrugged, I’m kind of hoping that free-market revolt leader John Galt might step into the vacuum here. Now would be a perfect time for him to recruit the biggest and the baddest greedheads — er, I mean the best and the brightest champions of free enterprise and individual initiative — to his rich guy’s general strike.

With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, I’ve got a little list.

Start with the Koch brothers. Society could certainly do without their funding for climate science deniers to spread lies and their funding for the Tea Party to spread fear and anger among America’s retirees.

Then, why not throw in the other CEOs of Big Oil and Big Coal, starting with Exxon’s Rex Tillerson? If they went on strike and stopped buying members of Congress, I know they’d not be missed.

Finally, we could certainly do without Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs and all the other banking grifters, hedge fund managers and other Masters of the Universe who create no value for the economy but just move money around all day. And just drive up the price of call girls and cocaine at night.

Just following orders

Alas, replacing the actual humans in our plutocracy would probably make little difference. Call it fiduciary responsibility. Any corporate head is responsible by law to “maximize profits” for shareholders.

So if the Kochs or Tillerson were replaced by say, Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama, those saintly guys probably wouldn’t last a quarter in the C-Suite. If they tried to cut the budget for buying politicians and plow the savings into workplace safety, Wall Street would sink their shares into the toilet. Their boards would vote them out before you could say 10-Q.

Did getting rid of Don Blankenship and Tony Hayward stop mining accidents or oil spills?

Not to absolve rich bad guys of any responsibility. Surely, your average anti-apartheid churchman or Tibetan meditator wouldn’t be drawn to corporate America in the first place. It does take a certain kind of personality to enter the glass tower at all and a certain ambition and ethical system to do what it takes to claw your way to the top. No accident that 4% of top corporate leaders are psychopaths.

— Erik Curren

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  1. Auntiegrav says

    If those CEO’s of ‘note’ didn’t exist, our purchases of products and services would have created them.

    John Galt is busy trying to build the free energy machine and to get people to stop buying so much, but most days, he gets distracted by the internet.

    ….and it’s “WHO is John Galt”, not “Where is John Galt”….. but you knew that 😉

    • says

      Auntiegrav — I did play with the John Galt phrasing a bit. In another article I said “I don’t care who is John Galt.” Here I was tempted to write “Who ISN’T John Galt?” but I restrained myself. I think you’re right that our demand for cheap energy has created the Big Oil, Big Coal and other CEOs responsible for today’s energy policies. So we can certainly start by reducing our demand as a political statement.

      • Auntiegrav says

        Thanks for the article. It also inspired another bit of insight which had been creeping around in my head ever since reading Atlas Shrugged. There are a few different aspects of it, one which my wife pointed out (those ‘captains of industry’ are actually Marketers, not Makers). One of the delusions of Ayn Rand is that people who are good at solving problems end up in charge of companies. This is rarely the case in my experience. Those who are really productive are the easiest to exploit by pay and job security (they would rather not be bothered by the politics/social aspects of management). John Galt is an anomaly: someone who is a ‘maker’ that figures out society and subverts it (2011’s Big Brother would have him in Gitmo so fast that his machine wouldn’t have time to turn to dust). Those “brains” that he takes from the world in Atlas Shrugged don’t actually produce the stuff: they exploit the masses just as the “leeches” of government do: through belief system/carrot and stick processes called “employment”. Sure, there are some exceptions even today that actually serve the community, giving service at least within an order of magnitude of what they receive, but today’s capitalism environment is one of cashflow away from the sources of value. Today’s John Galts are not going to stay in the U.S. where they might pay taxes or pay reasonable wages. They are in offshore havens, setting up deals through economic hit men to steal as many resources away from the dumb productive masses and the earth as they can. Conspiracy? No. This is simply the result of humans using all of the tools at their disposal; without predators or resource scarcity to moderate the collective behaviors of the species. Trying to ‘fix’ this problem is really a waste of time until it dies like all other empires: broken and destitute. At some future iteration of the boom/bust Imperial cycles, perhaps someone actually will learn from history and install an unbreakable code of conduct that moderates human desires, but until then, we only have this roller coaster ride and the fantasies which feed it. The survivors will be those who learn to live without money for brains (even people without it make their decisions based on it).

        • says

          It does seem like the people who really create value in business — the engineers, inventors, front-line employees who come up with ways to do things better — aren’t necessarily the ones who rise to the top. I agree that many of today’s corporate leaders are more concerned with image management, and in some cases, public policy. They do seem more like the politicians that Rand hates so much rather than creative producers like Galt. In the future, if our society can no longer sustain very large corporations, maybe there will be more of a chance for true talent to guide smaller more manageable businesses.

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