In ancient Greek mythology there is a character that supposedly supports the earth on his shoulders. Without this figure that, according to Greek legend, literally carried the weight of the world, everything would spin out of control and chaos would ensue. This is why Ayn Rand, in her timeless classic Atlas Shrugged, aptly chose the name Atlas in the title of her book. She was drawing a parallel between Ancient Greek fantasy figures and real life free market entrepreneurs. In the same way Atlas upheld the world as the Greeks knew it, so do folks engaging in the free market uphold our economic way of life.
Unfortunately for all of us, the second word in Rand’s classic is shrugged. This implies that, as the world would tumble if Atlas shrugged it off his shoulders, so shall our economy when those willing to work are abused enough. The point is that economies are upheld by the initiative of countless individuals engaging the world with his or her unique talents and abilities. The most successful economies on the Earth are those that provide the freedom for folks to profit from the works of their hands. When, however, the wages of the work of their hands is placed into hands that are idle, the incentive to act is erased. Once that incentive is erased even those who worked will wait for a hand out, for there is no reason to work when those who do not receive the same wage.
Some may hear of the themes in Atlas Shrugged and claim that they are far-fetched fantasy. To those folks, I’d offer the following evidence. The number of people taking full advantage of the currently 99 weeks of unemployment compensation in this country is an example. There have been economic downturns and depressions all throughout American history; however, it has never taken this long for unemployment to drop and the economy to rise. There are good reasons. First off, big government programs and policies punish those who create jobs, thus removing any incentive for them to expand their businesses to hire new employees. This lack of demand for employees, driven by bad political policies, drives down the average wages earned by many people who’ve managed to stay employed.
At the same time that private sector wages have decreased, due to public sector (government) intervention, taxpayer-funded freebies through unemployment programs have increased. Thus, many folks who were laid off from higher paying jobs, and can only find less-high paying jobs in the current job market, opt to live off of unemployment rather than taking a job to make ends meet. The prevailing attitude among too many of our fellow Americans is “why work to make the same or less than the government is willing to pay me for doing nothing?” I guess that, if one has no moral conscious about living off the labor of others, this is a logical question. Thus, a well-intentioned increase in unemployment compensation has had the unintended effect of subsidizing high unemployment.
The dual devastation of job and wage killing government programs and policies, coupled with increased taxpayer-funded handouts under unemployment programs, has many producers asking “why?” Folks who’ve always tried to make it on their own in America are looking around and realizing that too many are making it off them. Thus, they too quit trying. This is what it means for Atlas to shrug: that even those who have the ability and the energy to produce will quit when the incentive to do so dries up. My fellow Americans, it’s time for us to take notice, Atlas is shrugging his (rather, our) shoulders.