“The Despoiling of Ability”

As if having read my blog (Shared Sacrifice) from Tuesday and reprising his role as the villain, President Obama said this yesterday:

Look, I want everybody in America to do well. I want everybody to have a chance to become a millionaire. I think the free market system is the greatest wealth generator we’ve ever known. This isn’t about punishing wealth. This is about asking people who have benefited most over the last decade to share in the sacrifice. I think these patriotic Americans are willing to pitch in—if they’re asked—because they know that middle-class families shouldn’t have to pick up the whole tab for closing the deficit.

So this idea of balance, this idea of shared sacrifice, of a deficit plan that includes tough spending cuts but also includes tax reform that raises more revenue—this isn’t just my position. This isn’t just the Democratic position. This isn’t some wild-eyed socialist position. This is a position that’s being taken by people of both parties and no party.

I have never heard Obama state that he wants to force wealthy people to pay more to the government. What I have always heard from Obama is the euphemism of “asking.” Of course, this euphemism is dishonest. And, of course, the government has been punishing the “wealth generators” since income taxes were instituted in 1913.

Obama is right that, as I wrote on Tuesday, the notion of shared sacrifice is shared by both parties and among most independents too. But the position is indeed a socialist position.

Instead of forcing or even asking the wealth generators to sacrifice, a statesman for freedom would do well to address the wealth generators with these words from Ayn Rand (1957, 739–740) in her novel, Atlas Shrugged:

The despoiling of ability has been the purpose of every creed that preached self-sacrifice. The despoilers have always known it. We haven’t. The time has come for us to see. What we are now asked to worship, what had once been dressed as God or king, is the naked, twisted, mindless figure of the human Incompetent. This is the new ideal, the goal to aim at, the purpose to live for, and all men are to be rewarded according to how close they approach it. This is the age of the common man, they tell us—a title which any man may claim to the extent of such distinction as he has managed not to achieve. He will rise to a rank of nobility by means of the effort he has failed to make, he will be honored for such virtue as he has not displayed, and he will be paid for the goods which he did not produce. But we—we, who must atone for the guilt of ability—we will work to support him as he orders, with his pleasure as our only reward. Since we have the most to contribute, we will have the least to say. Since we have the better capacity to think, we will not be permitted a thought of our own. Since we have the judgment to act, we will not be permitted an action of our choice. We will work under directives and controls, issued by those who are incapable of working. They will dispose of our energy, because they have none to offer, and of our product, because they can’t produce. Do you say that this is impossible, that it cannot be made to work? They know it, but it is you who don’t—and they are counting on you not to know it. They are counting on you to go on, to work to the limit of the inhuman and to feed them while you last—and when you collapse, there will be another victim starting out and feeding them, while struggling to survive—and the span of each succeeding victim will be shorter, and while you’ll die to leave them a railroad, your last descendant-in-spirit will die to leave them a loaf of bread.

There is much more to this passage, but I don’t want to disclose spoilers. The entire novel is an answer to Obama and his ilk. More importantly, the entire novel is a tribute to and celebration of the wealth generators.

As I write this post, there are signs that the Republicans will soon capitulate to Obama and agree to raise the debt limit and to increase taxes on the most productive Americans. It seems that some Republicans are being spooked by hints that credit-rating agencies such as Standard & Poors are about to lower the U.S. government’s credit rating, as President George W. Bush was spooked in 2008 by those who claimed that the economy would collapse into depression without the TARP bailouts.

But if the Republicans don’t cave in by tomorrow, I will write about what our government should do specifically about this debt-ceiling “crisis.” Hint: We should admit that the government has been defaulting in spades since Franklin Roosevelt, and that the government is bankrupt. We should not raise the debt limit. We should continue military spending and eliminate most of the rest (though we should continue Social Security and Medicare for another year or so—and no longer). But more than simply cutting spending, we must explicitly renounce the notion of the welfare state.


Rand, Ayn (1957), Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House.

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