I accepted a review copy of I Am John Galt, by Donald Luskin and Andrew Greta, with some trepidation. I was recommended to the publisher by a friend, and agreed to read and review the book on the explicit understanding they’d have my honest opinion — i.e., that if I thought it stank, I’d pan it. This is the kind of thing that can strain friendships.
I’m happy to say, my misgivings were unfounded. This is a good, readable, and vitally important book.
I was afraid the book would be meaningless to anyone who had not read Atlas Shrugged and was steeped in Objectivist literature. No such thing. One does not have to have read the novel, though I’d bet money a lot of people who read I Am John Galt will be motivated to read Atlas Shrugged.
This is not a book for archetypical heroes of fiction, titans of industry, or giants of philosophy. This is a book for you and me: People who produce, rather than steal, their living. And the book explains how this is our fight, too.
But this is no abstract, unreadable philosophical or economic tract. The authors, to put it bluntly, kick ass and take names. They take issues you’d expect to be as dull as ditchwater, make them vitally interesting, and put faces on them.
Cui bono? Who became wealthy beyond dreams of avarice from policies that have all but wrecked the economy of the richest nation on earth?
Meet Angelo Mozillo, who spent billions of our money to inflate the subprime mortgage housing bubble. (“Subprime” is an economic term that means “probably can’t pay it back.”) And meet the politicians who benefited from his largess in extending sweetheart real estate loans. They’re in here, names and all.
Meet Barney Frank, the politician and serial liar, corrupt to the core, who wields the power of a commissar over an economy he neither understands nor gives a damn about, so long as he can satisfy his basest appetites.
Meet economist, New York Times columnist, and toady to would-be tyrants Paul Krugman, who has been wrong in every single significant prediction he has ever made, but whose reputation as an economic pundit somehow remains undiminished.
And meet Alan Greenspan, the economist who was actually a friend and associate of Rand’s for many years, who at a crucial time inexplicably turned his back on his own principles and better judgment when he could have been a voice of opposition people might have heeded.
And how did incompetent nebbishes like Frank and Mozillo get the power to destroy wealth on a scale unmatched by any barbarian invasion of civilization?
The astounding revelation in the book is, largely because they wanted it. Men who can produce wealth — do. It is through the sheer indifference of the producers to political power that tends to cause it to fall into the hands of those whose only talent is networking with the like-minded. You’ll see this in the parable of Microsoft and the Lobbyists.
So who stands against them? Who’s on our side, in a conflict that increasingly looks like the beginnings of a revolution?
Meet Steve Jobs, who helped invent the modern world, from the sheer joy of creating technological marvels that were fun toys. And find out what they did to him.
Meet Bill Gates, who more than any other man made the personal computer into something more than “the world’s most expensive etch-a-sketch.” And find out what they did to him.
Meet John Allison, the banker who made Objectivist principles into rules for mind-boggling corporate success. A man of integrity who built one of America’s strongest banks, and actually attracted more business by making it the bank’s policy to extend no loans whatsoever for financing private property seized by eminent domain. And find out what they did to him.
Meet Milton Friedman, the brilliant economist who cogently explained how the principles of economic freedom translate into the greatest good for all — and, yes, how Ayn Rand dismissed this as “collectivist propaganda.”
My initial misgivings about I Am John Galt resulted from the fact that it compares characters and events from a novel with their counterparts from the real world. I feared it would land too close to what I call “the great book fallacy” — the notion that, at a critical moment of history, a single book comes along that rallies a vast inchoate resistance to tyranny around a central set of ideas. Tom Paine’s Common Sense or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin are often given as examples.
A close examination of history shows that, in each of these cases, there was a long period of discussion in the marketplace of ideas before the issue crystallized around a brilliant summation. Historian of the American Revolution Bernard Bailyn showed the issues that the revolution was fought over had been disseminated and discussed in hundreds of now-obscure pamphlets that circulated on both sides of the Atlantic for fifty years before Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence.
Some have long hoped Atlas Shrugged would be one of those world-changing books, if only enough people could be persuaded to read it, or see a movie made from it. But after fifty years and millions of copies it’s evident something more is needed — including more books like I Am John Galt that help bridge the gap from fictional archetypes to real-world examples. They show Rand had actual, living people in mind when she created characters like Wesley Mouch and Robbert Stadler — perhaps even people she’d seen in Soviet Russia.
And now we’ve learned to our shock and horror that they aren’t caricatures, but living breathing men and women. And they have power over us, just as she tried to warn us, almost in vain.
On the subject of Ayn Rand herself, Luskin and Greta are concerned with her ideas, and her almost-prescient picture of a collapsing civilization. They neither ignore nor dwell upon her faults as a human being, because they just aren’t relevant in the context of a discussion of her ideas. Likewise the schisms among her followers are not dealt with because they simply have no relevance to the discussion at hand.
I Am John Galt is readable, and this is the first criterion for a book written to take on the entrenched power supported by media whores endlessly repeating what “everybody knows.” There are graphs and sets of numbers, but they’re presented in a way that is easy to understand and does not get in the way of the narrative. This is, by itself, an impressive accomplishment — and I speak as a journalist who specializes in explaining policy, financing, and engineering infrastructure issues for general audiences.
So is it going to preach only to the choir? I have to step back and think carefully about this, because I am familiar with Ayn Rand’s writings, and have been since I was a teenager.
In the half-century since its publication, Atlas Shrugged has never been out of print, with sales each year jumping from the tens of thousands yearly, to the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s and ’90s. All told, with pass-around readership, that’s tens of millions of people who’ve been exposed to the book and the ideas therein.
However, one can’t help but notice there aren’t tens of millions of Objectivists or even libertarians around. Ayn Rand’s effect on the culture is undeniable; but if even half the people who’ve read Atlas were converted to the philosophy therein, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
That’s where this book, and others like it, come in. What this book does is actualize the principles in the novel, pins them down and shows how they relate to what is going on all around us.
As I read the book, each time I thought “Yes but...” my objection was answered within a page or two. Eventually I realized that what these two men have done is take the organizing tools defined by leftist Saul Alinsky and use them to advance a message of Capitalism and Freedom — the title of Milton Friedman’s work for laymen.
And it’s about time, too!
The book is available for immediate purchase, in traditional as well as Kindle editions, from Amazon.com.
Stephen W. Browne is a writer, editor, and teacher of martial arts and English as a second language. He is also the founder of the Liberty English Camps, held annually in Eastern Europe, which brings together students from all over Eastern Europe for intensive English study using texts important to the history of political liberty and free markets. In 1997 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights for his work supporting dissidents during the Milosevic regime. His regularly-updated blog is at StephenWBrowne.com.