Tomorrow, my Fox Business Network show about Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged will finally air. That should stop the emails like this one from Karen Cooper:
"Oh for the love of god! 'Atlas Shrugged' explains about 99 percent of what's wrong in all of the arenas of topics: health care, education, climate change, unions, the economy, etc. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE cover 'Atlas.'"
Cooper makes a good point. Even though Rand published Atlas in 1957, her descriptions of intrusive and bloated government read like today's news. The "Preservation of Livelihood Law" and "Equalization of Opportunity Law" could be Nancy Pelosi's or Harry Reid's work.
The novel's chief villain is Wesley Mouch, a bureaucrat who cripples the economy with endless regulations. This sounds familiar. Reason magazine reports that "as he looks around Washington these days," Rep. Paul Ryan "can't help but think he's seeing a lot of Wesley Mouch".
Me, too. I also saw a lot of him under George W. Bush.
So I'm conducting this unscientific poll: Who is our Wesley Mouch? Hank Paulson? Tim Geithner? Barney Frank? You can vote here.
Personally, I think Chris Dodd's ridiculous financial proposals ought to win him the honor. But he isn't among the choices on Fox's list. As I write this, Geithner, President Obama and Barney Frank lead the voting.
My first guest on the show (Fox Business Network, 8 p.m. Eastern Thursday, repeating at 10 p.m. Friday) is BB&T Chairman and Atlas fan John Allison. Allison's bank, the ninth largest in America, is doing very well, but he's angry the government forced him to take TARP money.
Allison once told The New York Times, "To say man is bad because he is selfish is to say it's bad because he's alive."
I'll pack the audience with some Atlas haters. That shouldn't be hard. My daughter's boyfriend offers up his Yale classmates. Many "liberals" agree with the "South Park" episode in which one character said that "because of this piece of s--t, I am never reading again." Rand brings out ferocious hatred in some people.
Also, I'll get a fish pedicure. Really.
This is a dubious Turkish idea that's become popular in Asia and is now trying for a foothold (pun intended) here. Instead of scraping dead skin off their feet, people have little garra rufa fish gently chew on them.
Fourteen states have banned fish pedicures, claiming they are unsafe, and other local governments have proposed bans. OK, compared to the assault on entrepreneurship described in Atlas Shrugged, this is sort of a dumb example, but look — I work in television — dumb examples can make good points.
The bureaucrats say the fish can't be sterilized without killing them. They say customers will get infections. People could die! It's not safe! And it's cruel to the fish!
Has anyone died? Can you refer me to someone who got an infection? Anyone? The bureaucrats' answer is always no. But it's better to be cautious, they say.
In fact, the free market sorts such things out far more efficiently than bureaucrats. It's just not good business to hurt your customers. My 30 years of consumer reporting taught me that businesses rarely do this, and — here's the market's self-regulation — those that do don't stay in business long. That's not a perfect system, but it's much better than central planning. Had today's bureaucrats been in charge decades ago, they would have banned things like aspirin, cars and airplanes.
Sadly, they are in charge now. That makes the Atlas message important today.
Although Rand idolizes businessman in the abstract, Atlas Shrugged makes clear that she (like Adam Smith) understood that they are not natural friends of free markets. They are often first in line for privileges bestowed by the state. That's called "crony capitalism," and that's what Orren Boyle practices in Atlas. After my Atlas Shrugged show, I plan a show on that subject. Suggestions invited.
I don't want to be controlled by business any more than I want to be regulated by Nancy Pelosi or Wesley Mouch.
I want the freedom to make my own choices.
John Stossel hosts the TV show "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He is the author of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media (January 2005) as well as Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel — Why Everything You Know Is Wrong (May 2007), which is now available in paperback.
15 comments from readers
This is a watershed moment in Objectivism -- its author's ideas getting national media attention at a crucial moment in our nation's life.
One day, we who love liberty will look back upon this moment and many others to come as the public turning points.
How can you not love a guy like that? Freedom.
That's what it's all about. We fought for it, we need to fight to keep it. Thanks John, for every effort you make to bring the light to the darkness of mass altruism, disguised in so many forms as religion, socialism, authoritarian controls, government regulations, so many disguises.
This is war! We must all speak out. Follow John's lead. He is the truth.
Personally, I never regarded Wesley Mouch as the 'ultimate villain' in "Atlas Shrugged." The most vivid portrayal of naked spiritual evil is, in my opinion James Taggart. Rand peels him like an onion, with every dark layer after dark layer revealing how the concept of being "anti-life" is a reality.
Functionally, what about Dr. Stoddard, whose contempt for having to justify himself in the marketplace ultimately eventuated in the grotesque, but too credible, Project X? Shades of the Climate Change Hoax and the counterfeit scientists profiteering from it...Who, in human history, has cruelly and unnecessarily scared more children and robbed more people without firing a gun?
On my last reading of Atlas, Mr. Thompson reminded me of George Bush. Not in the same league of evil as those who surrounded him, but aw shucks!
Finally, the consummate evil person in Rand's Hall of Vampires remains, for me, Ellsworth Toohey. The community organizer. Miles ahead of his ultimate successor, Barack Obama, an amateur by comparison.
In summary, John, those like myself are, and should be, eternally appreciative of your integrity and courage...Thank you!
We can try to tackle the problem from the top down, but every time we remove one world-class Mouch there will be a hundred others eager to fill the void. Ultimately the war won't be won simply by neutralizing the visible Mouches who reach the top, but by discouraging the development of a multitude of mini-Mouches in our own homes, schools and neighborhoods. The battle against meddlesome local regulations is no less important than the effort to unburden the nation from federal -- and now global -- assaults on liberty.
Chris Dodd is going away, so he won't be my choice, although John's comments about his policies are spot on, as usual.
If they get any part of this health care fiasco, we are in for a long cold winter.
By the way, note for John Stossel: please interview Nathaniel Branden on your show. He more than anyone alive can speak authentically to Rand's ideas as he discussed them with her, first-hand. I hope he lives forever, but he's 80. So get him on video tape now.