Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Six More Weeks of Statism

On this Groundhog Day, we can safely predict at least six more weeks of Obama disillusionment, even if he manages to start a war with Iran.  Dan Reichwald points out a Jonathan Chait piece noting that despite attempts to spin the election of Scott Brown as if it’s not a referendum on Obama, the recent failures of multiple less-noticed Democratic candidates seem to track disillusionment with Obama pretty well.

I do not expect to see Americans rise up en masse against the government.  Things simply aren’t awful enough, and at least half of them like government.  And we’ll probably never see a revolt of talented industrialists like that Ayn Rand depicts in Atlas Shrugged, either, since most of our major corporations are now bland, board-run entities without principles, happy to suck at government’s teat when it boosts the bottom line and pleases short-term investors while undermining the market as a long-term system.  (An economy composed of less stock-trading and more family-owned firms might have turned out differently over the past century, absent arguably-unlibertarian limited liability laws, and might have been less bubble-prone to boot, but I suppose that ship has long since sailed and that no financial-sector firm is likely to be so radical or right-thinking as to fix this problem.)

The best we can likely hope for, then — much as it might gall some — is to install another Republican Congress, this time with a clearer anti-government mandate (born of Tea Party-type fervor across the nation and a broader growing resentment of Obama overreach and underachievement).  Even then, we shouldn’t expect them to create a laissez-faire paradise any more than they did in the late 90s or early 00s, but imbued with a clearer sense of mission and an acute awareness of how short the electorate’s patience has grown, they might at least block more bad initiatives from Obama.

I mention all this before more narrowly addressing Rand in order to make it clear that I am neither a Rand-like utopian (dystopian?) who thinks that “getting the philosophy right” is the important thing (and that current political calculations don’t matter) nor just a cheerleader for the GOP.  Somewhere in between is that productive middle ground where ideology nudges the public (or the media types who in turn nudge the public), the public nudges at least one consequential political party, and that party then serves some sort of useful strategic purpose, even if only by way of limiting the damage the state continues to do.  A starry-eyed optimist I am not.  (Neither is Ted Balaker, who created this forty-two-second Reason parody of Obama-as-job-creator, by the way.)


Dave said...

“…since most of our major corporations are now bland, board-run entities without principles, happy to suck at government’s teat…”

Maybe we’ve already seen the revolt of the industrialists – In Atlas Shrugged isn’t this what happened as the first left and drove out the rest?

William O. B'Livion said...

Mr. Seavey:

If it were only six more weeks…



It’s a lot more complicated than can be rendered down to a paragraph (or however many I wind up puking into Mr. Seavey’s space here), but there are many reasons why “characters”–people with interesting personalities, enthusiasm, an interest in the world around them and the problems of that world, and an intelligence and desire to solve those problems don’t wind up (or stay) at the head of major corporations for long. The two exceptions I can think of are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Neither of whom would be sympathetic characters in a Randian novel.

First off is the nature of a corporation–meaning a company with publicly traded stock–is that you have internal politics and external politics to balance. You have a board of Directors to whom you report and who tell you (in greater or lesser detail and degrees of autonomy ) what direction(s) the company will take. The stock holders also insist on profitability over different timescales (the most idiotic is the quarterly). A publicly traded company has a legal *obligation* to maximize shareholder value, but there is no definition of what “shareholder value” means–in otherwords, I as the CEO and President of Damaged Worlds, Inc. could decide to dip into cash reserves and run at a loss for the next 2 years to bring to market a revolutionary power generation device that is the size of a breadbox, the cost of a fish taco and will power your house for a year. However my stock holders want their quarterly dividends.

Guess what? No widgets. So my smartest move would be, if I could afford it to buy back the rest of my stock, take the company private and tell the world to f’off.

Secondly, in any company larger than about 5 people has politics. The larger the company, the more the money, and the more internal politics. Characters tend to be polarizing and cult of personality-ish. People LOVE Steve Jobs, or they hate him. People idolize Bill Gates (inside Microsoft) or HATE him.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs haven’t worked on a real project in years. They haven’t followed something from problem to solution to product day by day all day long in decades. They run companies and to do that you have to be interested in running companies, not in writing code, welding parts and machining widgets or mixing chemicals.

That’s a little disjointed, but make sense?

Dave said...

Mr. O. I don’t think we’re in disagreement. I just wrote a sentence that looking at it now doesn’t make much sense. I was saying the factors you describe encouraged the first industrialists to leave in the beginning of Atlas Shrugged and the same dynamics drove out the rest throughout the course of the story.

What I don’t understand is how people can evoke Atlas Shrugged as a reason to support humongous multinational public corporations. True she clearly paints government as far worse, but those types of companies are clearly bad as well.