“Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” which opens April 15th, is a movie unlike any other. Based on Ayn Rand’s novel, it dramatizes the fundamental conflict gripping our world: the battle between those who create value and wealth through their own efforts (the producers) and those who seek them through force (the looters and moochers).
With eerie accuracy, Rand’s novel depicted — in 1957 — the very struggle between these diametrical opposites that we’re witnessing today. This battle couldn’t be more important because the fate of civilization rests on the outcome. Since this conflict inescapably affects everyone, it’s crucial to know which side you’re on.
In Atlas Shrugged, producers like railroad executive Dagny Taggart and self-made steel titan Hank Rearden create new products and services, offer them in free trade, and consequently become rich. They are exploited by looters and moochers like Dagny’s brother James Taggart and steel executive Orren Boyle, who seek government intervention that favors them and thwarts their competition. In the story, the producers are vilified and their property expropriated, until they disappear. Without them, the country collapses.
Sound familiar? Today, America is in decline. The Wall Street Journal reports that “the number of U.S. IPOs has plunged to an annual average of about 130 since 2001 from an average of 503 during the 1990s.” Our nation’s debt is skyrocketing. Government has seized unprecedented control over industries like healthcare and banking. Corruption, group warfare, and the sense of “entitlement” to other people’s money are rampant. As Steve Moore notes in “We’ve Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers,” public jobs, money, and power are burgeoning while the private sector is shrinking.
In this epic drama of our age, what does each side have to offer?
Makers are essential to life. Humans must exert effort to create the food, housing, clothing, and other things we need and want. Producers are the people who make that effort and deliver the goods.
Some think producers are limited to corporate moguls, but in fact, they include anyone on any level — from janitors to company presidents, in small or large organizations — who earn what they have and don’t steal from others.
Producers offer their goods through voluntary trade — capitalism. Whenever producers have been the freest, the result has been an explosion of wealth and prosperity and a high standard of living for everyone. Witness 19th-century America or today’s least-regulated fields, like technology.
The opposite type is the taker, who wants to forcibly live off others’ efforts. Looters are takers who jockey for positions in government in order to seize wealth and gain power over producers. Moochers vote the looters into power in order to receive government benefits like welfare, subsidies, grants, business advantages, or jobs.
Since its inception, America has been a land of producers. The world’s most can-do people cleared farms, opened shops, lived and traded with one another in harmony, and created the great middle class — the producer class. Now, many Americans take no responsibility for their lives. Instead, they line up for money that’s not theirs; it’s simply “Obama money.”
How did fiercely independent Americans become submissive subjects of ever-encroaching looters? Like any deal with the devil, our compact with the looters has its seductions — and ultimate price to pay:
1. The looter state lures us morally by masking its acts of compulsion as charity. Claiming its programs help the needy, it ignores the fact that real charity is voluntary and doesn’t confiscate wealth. It vilifies producers as “selfish” if they don’t comply. When brazen looter Joe Biden claims it’s patriotic to fork over your dough to the state for redistribution, what happens to our moral right to control our own money?
2. The looter state lures us financially by promising us “entitlements” — a house we can’t afford, an art center we can’t fund privately, a surgery with no bill. But these freebies are unearned, unsustainable, and come with strings attached. When we become freeloaders using government funds, it’s always on government terms. What happens to our dignity — and responsibility — to pay our own way and our right to set our own terms?
3. The looter state lures us to give up independence for false promises of security. The poor, the sick, the elderly are told a beneficent government will care for them. But Social Security, for example, is bankrupt and a Gallup poll shows that the majority of people now realize they’ve been had. While the looters build a house of cards that collapses when they run out of other people’s money, what happens to our ability to take care of ourselves?
4. The looter state corrupts our character. Consider: the teacher who wants state-monopoly protection against competition and prevents parents from choosing alternative schools; the public employee unions that fund politicians who reward them with compensation far exceeding private-market rates; the poor who demand public assistance rather than ask politely for private charity. What happens to that cornerstone of liberty, our respect for the rights of others?
5. The looter state destroys our grasp of reality. In science, hot political topics like global warming get funding while real scientific problems languish; in education, young minds are fettered with concern not to offend, rather than flying free among the facts; in business, making a politically correct car supersedes making one that sells; in farming, growing what brings a government subsidy supersedes growing what customers prefer. When every aspect of life is politicized, what happens to our ability to see facts and truth?
6. The looter state turns us to violence. We begin to resent and envy those who have what we don’t. As prominent moocher Al Sharpton says: “The dream is to make everything equal in everybody’s house.” If anyone tries to curtail the massive wealth redistribution required for such “equality,” we turn to thuggery and mob action, as in Greece and Britain. What happens to our honor?
The lines are drawn in the sand. Where do you stand? Will you mooch with the looters and give up everything — your work, your money, your liberty, your mind, your character, and your soul — for a few fleeting stolen goods and illegitimate advantages? Or will you join the producers, in a world of free minds, free markets, wealth, prosperity, protected private property, and liberty? See “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” then read the book — and decide.
Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in healthcare today.